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August 28, 2017

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3 Ways To Drive For Results And Still Be Likableby Zenger Folkman

Most bosses want to be a hero, a mentor, and a friend to those that report to them. A recent Bloomberg article told a story of one boss, Richard Laermer, who decided to let his employees regularly work from home.

“"We hire adults, they shouldn't be tied to the office five days a week," said Laermer, who owns a New York-based public relations firm. "I always assumed that you can get your work done anywhere, as long as you actually get it done.” Unfortunately, for his company and situation, he was wrong. “Employees took advantage of the perk,” Laermer said. One was unavailable for hours at a time. Another wouldn't communicate with coworkers all day. “The last straw,” he said, “was when someone refused to come in for a meeting because she had plans to go to the Hamptons.”” Laermer wanted to find a way to keep his employees motivated and happy. Frequently, many find that efforts like this don’t work

There are many leaders that feel if they want to drive for results it will negatively impact their relationships with employees. While being a demanding leader often strains relationships, I’ve found from a recent study that there are ways for leaders to drive for results while remaining likable.

1. Employees like leaders who are able to communicate clear strategy and direction.

People are willing to drive for results when they clearly understand what is being asked of them. Relationships become strained when employees feel confused and frustrated about the vision and strategy.

Florence May Chadwick was the first woman to swim the English Channel. During one of her swims from Catalina Island to the California coastline she ran into trouble. A thick fog rolled in and she could no longer see her end point. As result, she began to doubt herself and gave up. Once out of the water she learned she was only one mile from the coastline. On her second attempt the same fog rolled in, but this time Florence pressed forward with a vision of the coastline that she couldn’t see. That vision helped her achieve her goal.

Just like Florence, employees need to have a clear vision in order to stimulate them to achieve great results.

2. Employees are more driven and fulfilled by stretch goals.

There is a paradox between satisfaction and effort. If you ask people what would make them happier, most will request a break, less work, or a vacation. However, our research has shown that the experiences that do the most to build satisfaction are challenging assignments, accomplishing difficult tasks, and making the impossible possible.

One such leader who excels at setting stretch goals is the CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos. The idea of offering free shipping that was fast, predictable, and included in a yearly membership fee not only seemed crazy, but was a nightmare for the logistics department. In the first year Amazon lost millions in revenue and there was no evidence this gamble would pay off. However, the increased site traffic made the marketplace work, and the data they accumulated boosted their sales efforts. This stretch goal shaped Amazon into what it is today.

The easy path isn’t very satisfying or rewarding. To get results, set goals that will truly stretch people.

3. Employees deliver results to leaders who inspire them.

Micromanaging people doesn’t stimulate them to go the extra mile. Leaders who inspire employees can unleash an energy within people to do their best work. It isn’t about pushing people, it’s about pulling them.

In a tale told by Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, during the First World War there was a small group of Hungarian soldiers stationed in the Alps. A younger lieutenant sent a small group out on a scouting mission. Shortly after their departure there was a terrible storm and the group was lost. After three long days the lieutenant was relieved and surprised when the squad returned. “How did you survive and find your way back?” he asked. The leader of scouts explained they were lost in the snow, had given up hope, and resigned themselves to die. Then one of the men found a map in his pocket and with it they believed they could now find their way back. They then handed the lieutenant their valued map – which was of the Pyrenees mountains, not the Alps!

It wasn’t the map that saved this group of people by providing accurate directions. Instead, this group had a leader who used that map to inspire them to keep going and not give up. Often you may think that your ability to motivate others is not perfect or inspiring, but neither was a map of the Pyrenees mountains.

You don’t have to choose between being a results-driven leader and a people person. There are multiple ways to get what you need and still be a boss your employees want to work for. My research has shown that leaders who utilize these behaviors both increase the probability of delivering great results and creating a positive, engaged work environment.

This article was originally published on Forbes.


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October 19, 2011


Six Core Elements to Leading a Peak Performance Cultureby zengerfolkman

--This is a guest post from Practical Leadership blogger, Jim Clemmer--

Organizational culture development is a complex topic with many intertwined leadership components. Establishing a peak performance culture in what's sometimes called a "green field" situation has different challenges than changing an established culture (sometimes called "brown field").

A participant in our culture change work recently observed and asked:

“Many companies are older organizations and are simply staid and entrenched. You are a great advocate of personal growth in our leaders. How do you bring this about in organizations? Personal development (or self awareness being the more accurate description) does not come from reading a few books or attending the odd seminar. Much like attending a psychologist or counseling, it requires a genuine desire for change/growth and sustained effort, sometimes over many years. Most contemporary leaders would simply be too busy or challenged by it to want to engage in this sort of thing. How do you think we can tackle this dilemma?”

He put his finger on a key challenge of revitalizing an established "brown field culture." It has to start with the understanding and motivation of the organization's key leaders for deep and sustained change. Often that means a transformation. Rarely will incremental change or implementing current practices more efficiently or faster be enough.

We've been working with more and more executive teams who proclaim strategies for transforming their culture toward higher safety, customer service, innovation, Lean/Six Sigma approaches, productivity, employee engagement, or new technology platforms. Often their intentions are strong but their understanding of just what it takes is weak. They're innocently ignorant.

In their Harvard Business Review article, “Cracking the Code of Change,” Michael Beer and Nitin Nohria write, “The brutal fact is that about 70% of all change initiatives fail.” This is consistent with what’s being reported in many studies of transformation and change efforts.

We’ve found these “fatal five failure factors” are tightly intertwined roots of the problem:

  • Partial and Piecemeal Plans and Programs
  • Poor Assessment of Systems/Processes and Perceptions/Attitudes
  • Leadership Lip Service: Behaviors Undefined and Underdeveloped
  • Not Building Cause and Capacity for Continuous Change
  • Weak Implementation Framework, Plan, and Infrastructure

Every organization has a culture. The critical question is whether it’s by design or by default. Leading or designing a peak performance culture calls for weaving together many elements. Central to successful culture development is balancing the discipline of systems, processes, and technology management on a base of effective people leadership.

The framework we’ve found most successful has six core elements:

Focus and Context (Vision, Values, and Purpose)

  • Bringing alive the vision, values, and purpose/mission at the centre of organization's culture to eliminate the “snicker factor” that comes rarely used statements hanging on walls and posted on web sites.


  • Focusing the entire organization on external customer needs and expectations.
  • Strengthening internal partnerships working back from external customer expectations (outside-in) across teams and departments.
  • Extending "the customer service/quality chain" out to external partners such as suppliers, distributors, and strategic alliances.

Strategy and Direction

  • Aligning strategy, structure, and roles up, down, and across the organization.
  • Establishing three – five annual strategic imperatives to focus daily operations and strategic change/improvement efforts.
  • Cascading a goal deployment system for disciplined follow through down all organizational levels.

Measures and Rewards

  • Balancing leading indicators like operational and customer service or quality with lagging indicators such as financial measures.
  • Establishing a feedback-rich culture for continuous learning and improvement.
  • Aligning reward and recognition programs and practices with desired behaviors.
  • Continuously changing and improving through reviewing, assessing, celebrating, and refocusing.

Processes and Systems

  • Streamlining processes at the local/tactical, cross-functional/departmental, and strategic/organizational levels.
  • Aligning key organizational support systems (HR, IT, financial, controls, planning, etc.) to reduce frustration and boost performance.

Learning and Development

  • Delivering effective education and communications strategies, systems, and practices.
  • Assessing and closing skill development gaps.
  • Building more strong departmental, project, and cross-functional teams.
  • Assessing and closing gaps in organizational learning, knowledge management, and innovation.
  • Building a strong planning process and infrastructure to support ongoing transformation and change processes.

This type of integrated framework keeps culture transformation efforts from falling victim to the Fatal Five Failure Factors. It provides a template for assessment, priority setting, planning, implementation, and course correction. This creates a leader led and designed culture for peak performance.

Culture change and organizational transformation is complex, takes time, and requires strong leadership. But the core elements of successful implementation are fairly simple and doable. If you have the leadership will; there is a way.

Jim Clemmer 

---Starting with partnership with Zenger Miller in 1981, Jim Clemmer’s practical leadership approaches have been inspiring action and achieving results. He’s published seven international bestselling books in over a dozen languages. He has delivered thousands of keynote presentations, workshops, and executive team retreats to hundreds of organizations around the globe. He’s listed in the World’s Top 30 Most Influential Leadership Gurus based on research with 22,000 global business people, consultants, academics and MBAs.

Click on Leading a Peak Performance Culture for information on his free 60 minute webcast on November 4 will expand on the failure factors and six core elements.

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May 10, 2017

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How to Improve at Work When You’re Not Getting Feedbackby Zenger Folkman

Too many managers avoid giving any kind of feedback, regardless of whether it’s positive or negative. If you work for a boss who doesn’t provide feedback, it’s easy to feel rudderless. It can be especially disorienting if you’re new in the role, new to the company, or a recent graduate new to the workforce. In the absence of specific guidance, is there any way to know what the average boss would want you to work on?

While everyone will have different strengths and weaknesses they need to work on, when we examined our database of performance evaluation information for more than 7,000 individual contributors and 5,000 managers, we noticed a reliable pattern. There were five behaviors that managers most often associated with high performance:

Delivering results. The strongest, most consistent correlations were skills that focused on achieving results. When individuals were able to achieve goals on schedule and did everything possible to get results, managers were impressed. Another critical component was the quality of work. The person needed to deliver outputs that met high standards.

Being a trusted collaborator. High performance ratings went with being trusted. Being trusted emanates from good interpersonal skills. Strong collaborators were excellent communicators and were held up as role models. Some individuals strive to stand out by working independently, so that it’s clear who deserves the credit. Our data suggests those individuals typically fail. The highest performers, on the other hand, cooperated with other groups and were trusted in making decisions.

Having strong technical/professional expertise. For both managers and individual contributors, technical/professional expertise drove their performance evaluation. People devoid of a deep understanding of the technical issues facing the organization work at a significant disadvantage. Some come into an organization with fresh expertise but, by coasting, become obsolete over time. Technology changes quickly. Keeping up-to-date is essential.

Translating vision and strategy into meaningful goals. The best performers understood the organizational strategy and were able to apply that understanding in their job to make a contribution. Those who did not make the effort to connect their work to the company strategy appeared to work in a vacuum. Often, their decisions were based on personal preferences rather than on being aligned with the vision. Understanding the strategy impacted performance ratings for both managers and individual contributors.

Marketing their work well. If someone is frustrated or disappointed with their performance rating, they often lament and think: “My work should speak for itself.” Good products are successful usually because they are not only a good product — they have been marketed well, too. The fact is, good work rarely speaks for itself. Managers are surrounded by hundreds of shiny objects seeking to grab their attention. Good work needs a little marketing.

As you read through this list, think about how you stack up on each of these. Do you have strong expertise but need to work on your collaborative skills? Are you a great team player who needs to learn to toot your own horn? How much output do you generate, compared with the rest of your team, and how is the quality of what you turn in? You can try asking peers for feedback on these areas if you can’t get any feedback from your boss.

If you’re a manager, our data dive revealed two additional qualities to focus on:

Speed. We have been tracking this dimension for several years. It’s become a critical factor influencing individual success. Information is flowing faster, competitors are coming out with new products, global dynamics are changing preferences, and the need to move work at a fast pace is a key differentiator between good leaders and great leaders. In researching our book Speed: How Leaders Accelerate Successful Execution,we found compelling information that leaders who were speedy were rated as being two times more effective as leaders, had significantly more engaged employees, and were more likely to get promoted.

The ability to inspire and motivate others. We have rated the effectiveness of this skill for more than 85,000 leaders, and found that, compared with 15 other leadership competencies, this is rated the lowest. Yet when we asked more than 1 million respondents which competency is most important, “inspires and motivates” ranks number one. Fifty years ago, people might have worked for money alone, but today people want to be inspired.

We might also humbly suggest that if you’re a manager, you try to get a little better at giving feedback.

Read the article on Harvard Business Review.

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August 3, 2017

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What Drove Your Last Performance Evaluation?by Zenger Folkman

A great deal is being written today about companies changing their performance management programs. Those companies who’ve abandoned traditional performance appraisals have gained notoriety. However, the overwhelming majority are keeping some form of evaluation of performance. We suspect that there are many reasons for that:

  • Employees want to know how they are doing.
  • Organizations need some measure and record in case of discipline or termination.
  • Organizations seek to reward the highest performing employees with greater compensation, and need justification and documentation for that.

The old form of performance appraisal, however, is vanishing. The practice of reducing an individual’s year-long performance to a single digit or word is falling out of favor. Rather than benefitting the recipient, it often does harm.

Are evaluations ever to be trusted?

An article in Harvard Business Review, argued that most performance evaluations are more an expression of the person doing the rating, then of the individual being evaluated. Researchers have identified bias that creeps into evaluations that the article suggests could account for as much as 62% of the evaluation.

They identified three primary sources of rater errors:

  1. The overall leniency of the person doing the rating. Most of us can identify with having a teacher or professor who was a harsh grader versus one who was easy-going and more generous.
  2. The “halo” effect. The overall perceptions about a person tend to color the rating of each of the specific behaviors and traits that describe that person’s performance. It is easy to have the individual scores in any evaluation process influenced by the overall perception.
  3. Positional influence. We have all heard the observation that “where you stand depends on where you sit.” A manager’s ratings are different from a peer’s or an assistant’s, in part because of the different relationship they have with the person being rated.

Researchers pointed out, however, that while the absolute rating from two evaluators may be quite different, the rank order of each specific score about the individual’s capability and behavior obtained from each rater displayed a remarkable similarity. The high and low scores would generally be the same. The behavior of the person being rated is obviously strongly influencing the scores they receive, even though one rater is measuring in centimeters and another is using inches and feet.

What behavior actually drives a person’s evaluation?

Though it is never perfectly accurate, my colleague Joe Folkman and I strongly support the view of the researchers as they explained that the behavior of the individual being rated is the major driving force behind performance evaluation. Any bias in that process can be greatly reduced simply by having multiple raters participate in the individual’s evaluation. In another Harvard Business Review article we shared that if a manager solicits the opinions of three peers and three subordinates, the combined elements of rater bias are now reduced to 24% of the total score. The performance of the person being rated is now more than two thirds (68% to be exact) of the final score. Using more than seven raters would obviously bring that percentage to an even higher level.

We examined our database of more than 7,000 individual contributors and 5,000 managers. Our quest was to find those behaviors that most strongly influenced the final evaluations made. The behaviors that managers associate with high performance were as follows:

  1. Deliver Results. The strongest and most consistent correlations were skills that focused on achieving results. When individuals were able to achieve goals on schedule and did everything possible to achieve results, managers were impressed. Another critical component was the quality of work. The person needed to deliver outputs that met high standards.
  2. Be a Trusted Collaborator. High performance ratings went with being trusted. Being trusted emanates from good interpersonal skills. Strong collaborators were excellent communicators and were held up as role models. Some individuals strive to stand out by working independently. That way it’s clear who deserves the credit. Our data suggests those individuals typically fail. The highest performers, on the other hand, cooperated with other groups and were trusted in making decisions.
  3. Strong Technical/Professional Expertise. For both managers and individual contributors, technical/professional expertise drove their performance evaluation. People devoid of a deep understanding of the technical issues facing the organization work at a significant disadvantage. Some come into an organization with fresh expertise. Yet, by coasting, over time they become obsolete. Technology changes quickly. Keeping up-to-date is critical.
  4. Ability to Translate Vision and Strategy into Meaningful Goals. The best performers understood the organizational strategy and were able to apply that understanding in their job to make a contribution. Those who did not make the effort to connect their work to the company strategy appear to work in a vacuum. Often their decisions were based on personal preferences rather than being aligned with the vision. Understanding the strategy impacted performance ratings for both managers and individual contributors.
  5. Skilled at Marketing their Work. If someone is frustrated or disappointed with their performance rating, they often lament and think: “My works should speak for itself.” Good products are usually successful because they are not only a good product, and they have been marketed well. The fact is, good work rarely speaks for itself. Managers are surrounded by hundreds of shiny objects seeking to grab their attention. Good work needs a little marketing.

When it came to evaluating the performance of managers, there were two additional qualities that rose to the forefront:

  1. Speed. We have been tracking this dimensions for several years. It’s become a critical factor influencing individual success. The world is speeding up. Information is flowing faster, competitors are coming out with new products, global dynamics are changing preferences and the need to move work at a fast pace is a key differentiator between good leaders and great leaders. In our book, Speed: How Leaders Accelerate Successful Execution, we found compelling information that leaders who were speedy were rated two times more effective as leaders, had significantly more engaged employees and were more likely to get promoted.
  2. The Ability to Inspire and Motivate Others. We have rated the effectiveness of this skill on more than 85,000 leaders and found that compared to 15 other leadership competencies, this is rated the lowest. Yet when we asked more than a million respondents which competency is most important, “inspires and motivates” ranks number 1. Fifty years ago, people would work for money, but today people need to be inspired.

In summary, then, while performance evaluations are not dead, they are clearly evolving. The strongest organizations can make the process more effective by using multiple raters to reduce bias. The strongest employees and leaders can make their evaluation better by focusing on the five behaviors that can drive their ratings the most. And for managers, in particular, the ability to execute at a faster pace and the ability to inspire and motivate others can serve as the two extraordinary skills that can propel their rise to the top.

This article was originally published on Forbes.

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September 29, 2010

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Compliance vs. Commitment: The Heart of the Matterby zengerfolkman

When I was growing up, one of the phrases my mother frequently said was “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” This phrase probably dates me; I cannot imagine current day mothers stating this same phrase to their daughters.

I began pondering “what is the way to an employee’s heart?” In workplaces today, managers and corporations are interested in motivating their employees—to higher levels of performance and productivity and innovation, so that higher goals can be met with potentially fewer resources. A frequent challenge managers face is how to inspire their team members, so that they are fully engaged.

The answer I arrived at was this: “The way to an employee’s heart is through his/her heart!” Bodies of research have shown that people don’t tend to change behaviors unless they have an emotional connection to the change. Thinking alone just doesn’t do the trick.

Let’s explore this. If you are like me, you probably ponder New Year’s resolutions and feebly come up with 1 – 3 that you proclaim you will focus on as you spring out of bed on January 1st.  And, if you are like me, you abandon most of those resolutions before the month ends. Why? Because we arrived at the decision by thinking alone. We think we need to lose that 10 pounds or resume a regular exercise regime or establish a meditation practice. However, our hearts aren’t connected to the decision. We have neither felt the agony and disappointment of staying the same, nor the exhilaration and joy of achieving the desired future state.

In order to make new decisions, and choose differently, we must go through the landscape of emotions. How does it feel to be overweight or out of shape or crabby? How would it feel if you could imagine being healthy or peaceful? Instead of thinking about how you might feel, can you truly get in touch with the feelings? Slow yourself down, close your eyes, and place yourself in that experience and state of feeling.

What happens in the workplace? Leaders hope to inspire and motivate employees, and yet most of their persuasive elements come from the thinking domain. To convince employees to reach for higher goals and achieve brilliant results, leaders employ:

–     solid rationale

–     best practice strategies and tactics

–     supporting data elements

–     concise PowerPoint presentations

–     reward and recognition systems

All of these tactics make sense to our intellectual sides. We may accept and agree with the new directions and follow, because the data make sense. On a continuum from compliance to commitment, we are likely closer to the compliance end.

However, to really inspire people and engender full commitment and engagement, leaders need to do better. They must connect to the hearts of employees. How? By:

–     connecting to their values

–     creating a vision of what’s possible

–     asking employees to imagine what it would feel like to be in that vision

–     discovering what employees most care about

–     finding a way to connect those passions to the work that needs to be done

Leaders must make an emotional connection.

When I train leaders how to be better coaches, one of the questions that I invite them to ask their employees is, “how do you feel about this?” or “How would you feel if you could make that happen?” I am frequently surprised at how much resistance there is regarding that word: “feel”.  However, passion is completely connected to feelings. You cannot be passionate about something without feeling strongly about it.

So, when you think about the next change you want your employees to commit to, consider how you ignite their passion and connect to their values. Don’t be afraid to talk about feelings. Use more than just intellectual persuasion. Remember, the way to our employees’ hearts is through their hearts!

Kathleen Stinnett -- Senior Consultant and Executive Coach

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September 20, 2012

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A Monster of a Problem: How to Help Leaders Be More Inspiringby zengerfolkman

In 1818 novelist Mary Shelley penned a novel that would go on to become a classic.  In her novel Shelley writes about a mad scientist who, in his attempt at scientific brilliance, recreates life. However, in doing so, the scientist inadvertently creates a monster that ultimately turns bitter and sets out to wreak havoc on his creator. While Frankenstein is fictional, how often do we find ourselves fighting real monsters that we create in the workplace? A failed initiative, a lackluster product, or as we often see, a confusing leadership development initiative that doesn’t provide results. Rather than developing outstanding leaders, this initiative leaves people feeling cold and frustrated. So, how do you know if your leadership development initiative is morphing into a monster?

One important test is to insure that you are helping leaders to acquire the most important skills.  Over the years, we’ve seen programs that focus on hundreds of different skills.  We’ve seen programs on learning to become intuitive, how to improve your memory and others on improving table manners.  While these are some of the more questionable topics we have observed, surely not all topics are created equal.

We’ve discovered an interesting fact. The ability to inspire and motivate others to high performance is the single most important competency that a leader can possess. Yet, studies show that relatively few leaders possess this competency at a high level. What’s more, we don’t see many organizations attempting to help their leaders acquire it.  Just as Frankenstein lacked any moral compass, such programs fail to instill one of the most important qualities that leaders need to possess.

You might then ask the question; does the ability to inspire and motivate others really make that much of a difference? Our research says that it definitively does. In a recent study, we compared the frequency of employees’ thinking about  quitting their jobs with the degree to which they felt their leader was inspiring and motivating.  The vertical axis plots the percent of employees thinking about quitting and the horizontal axis shows a leader’s ability to inspire and motivate.

The comparison is startling; 30% of employees working for a leader that was average (36-65 percentile) thought about quitting. We’re not even talking about the worst leaders; we’re talking about average leaders. The employees thinking about quitting (the ones working for an average leader) were nearly double those that worked for a leader who was in the top ten percentile of inspiring and motivating.  Three times as many people reporting to a leader in the bottom 10% think about leaving in comparison to those reporting to a top 10% leader on the dimension of inspiring and motivating.

The dollar costs are huge. The costs involved in losing an employee and then recruiting, hiring, and training a new employee are huge. Organizations can’t afford to lose top talent simply because their leader is poor or even average. In short, organizations need leaders who inspire and motivate others to high performance in order to succeed. So, how do you approach this question?

Much of what is required to become an incredibly inspiring leader depends on your leadership approach. The late Andrall Pearson, former Chairman of Tricon (later known as YUM), spent the first part of his management career leading through fear, toughness, a focus on numbers and abrasiveness. After joining YUM Brands he discovered that the company’s culture, and much of its success, was due to a leadership style built not on firm, abrasive toughness or a strict focus on numbers, but rather, on recognition, rewards, listening and appreciation. Pearson changed his leadership style from hard-nosed to a more balanced approach. By developing better communication and interpersonal skills, his drive for positive numbers became a quality his employees admired rather than feared. Ultimately, as people saw that he was willing to speak and interact with them rather than at them, his employees worked harder, were more productive and drove higher profits.

So, the way in which a leader inspires and motivates others requires the flexibility to call on a number of different approaches, as people respond differently to different styles. What you’ll notice is that the more flexible a leader is in his or her approach, the more that leader will be perceived as being inspiring. While there are many approaches or styles by which leaders connect emotionally with their team, we’ve narrowed it down to the six most prevalent. They are:

  • Energetic Enthusiast—communicates with energy, passion & enthusiasm
  • Visionary—create a clear direction, strategy & vision
  • Enhancer/Involver—people focused; shows interest & respect
  • Principled—models high integrity & ethical conduct
  • Goal-Focused Driver—focused on hitting numbers & project completion
  • Technical Expert—utilizes technical expertise to expand thinking

Just as the 1990’s slogan for Reese’s candy was “There's no wrong way to eat a Reese's,” we emphasize that there are multiple styles or approaches that leaders can employ, that enable them to be inspiring. The leader that pushes for great numbers can learn something by developing better skills with people. In contrast, the leader who is excellent at dealing with people will be more inspiring if she will use the relationships she’s developed to get people to reach for and achieve higher and more challenging outcomes. Developing skills in any one of the 6 approaches outlined above will help leaders connect to people who may respond better to one approach over another.

Think about the approach you respond best to. Notice how others respond to certain approaches and to your own preferred leadership approach. By varying your approaches, you’ll have a much greater inspirational impact and be perceived as a much more inspiring leader.

 Jack Zenger CEO, Joe Folkman President

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November 27, 2017

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Change Your Leaders To Change Your Cultureby Zenger Folkman


How would you describe the culture of your organization? Some might say, “It’s the smell of the place,” or, “It’s how things are done around here.” Research done on culture and organizational performance by Kotter and Heskett defines culture as “…gained knowledge, explanations, values, beliefs, communication and behaviors of large group of people, at the same time and same place.”  They concluded that differences in culture explains why one company succeeds where another fails within an industry. Consider Apple verses Blackberry, or Target verses Kmart. It wasn’t just the strategy that determined the success of the company, it was the culture.  The ultimate summary statement on the topic may have been Peter Drucker’s familiar saying, “Culture eats strategy for lunch.”

However, culture can’t remain stagnant.  As the economy and each industry changes, company culture needs to be constantly adapting.  Unfortunately, companies often wait too long to adjust their culture. Doing so may mean walking away from a current business model, which can be risky—or it may just be that enacting change is viewed as requiring more effort than it’s worth.

In a survey of executives from 91 companies, with revenue greater than $1 billion, across more than 20 industries, Innosight asked: "What is your organization's biggest obstacle to transform your culture in response to market change and disruption?" Forty percent of survey respondents blamed "day-to-day decisions that essentially pay the bill, but undermine our stated strategy to change." It was by far the most prevalent response. The next most popular answer, at 24%, was "lack of a coherent vision for the future."

The consequence of failure to adapt is illustrated by the Fortune 500 list. When initiated in 1955, the average time on the Fortune 500 list was 75 years.  Today it is 14.5. The S & P 500, with a century’s worth of data, shows that in 1958 firms stayed on the list for an average of 61 years.  By 1990 that plummeted to 20 years, and it is forecast to shrink to 14 years by 2026.  If the current trajectory continues, half of the S & P firms will be replaced within 10 years.

What are the options for changing company culture?

Several possibilities exist to change your company culture: hire a new senior executive; embark on a focused campaign, such as increasing innovation; restructure the organization. Into that discussion Jack Welch offered one more possibility, “If you want to change the culture of an organization change the way it develops its leaders.”

It is worth analyzing how changing leadership development could improve company culture. Our research at Zenger Folkman has shown the strong influence leaders have on every measurable business outcome: employee engagement, innovation, intention to stay, productivity, sales, performance, and customer satisfaction. If you use the metaphor of these leaders as the rudder of a large ship moving through the water, Welch’s argument becomes clearer.  Even though the leadership team is a relatively small part of an organization, they have enormous influence on its direction and in short, they shape the culture. Reshaping the rudder of the ship has a profound impact on how fast it turns and the stability of its direction.

Leadership development initiatives

It is not hard to find critics of company-sponsored leadership development.  The cynic argues, “After all the time and money we spend on leadership development, why don’t we have better leaders?”  Some argue that leadership development is often detached from corporate strategy.  Others say that the methods employed don’t have the power to truly change behavior. Still others observe that there is insufficient follow-through and managerial involvement.  Much of this criticism is justified! However, many organizations are working hard to eliminate these barriers to success.

Conversely, there are examples of success.  Some organizations see elevated 360-degree feedback scores for their executives over time.  Many firms have rising employee engagement scores.  Business outcomes, such as customer satisfaction scores, are improving. Such outcomes can be directly tracked back to deliberate leadership development initiatives.

Three ways to improve leadership development

 We strongly believe that leadership development can be significantly improved through the following methods:

• Increasing the involvement of managers in the entire development process.

• Improving the way development is delivered.

• Incorporating development into daily work.

• Ensuring that leadership development is reinforced and supported by all HR processes, including recruitment, onboarding, performance management, and compensation.

• Including a critical mass (one-third to one-half of the target population of leaders).

• Identifying specific outcomes being sought, such as innovation, customer focus, and/or profitability.

From the many possibilities, we’ll highlight three.

1. Involve Managers in the development process. When analyzing data from a study of 61 leaders in the finance industry, we noticed a significant trend. The leaders were asked to describe their manager’s level of support for their development plan, and were then placed into three groups:  unsupportive managers, somewhat supportive managers, and very supportive managers. We then asked these leaders to describe the amount of progress they had made on their development plans, utilizing the question, “I feel that I have moved forward on improving the specific issues on my development plan.” Those that answered “Agree” or “Strongly Agree” to the question were designated as “Improvers.” We found that leaders with very supportive managers were more than twice as likely to feel they had improved than leaders with unsupportive managers.

2. Build development into work. Many assume that there is a major distinction—and to some degree a barrier—between daily work and development. Conscientious employees almost always put their work first, and invariably defer their personal development until they “find time” or “have a break.” The result has been that development nearly always plays second fiddle to job performance.Jobs are a perfect classroom in which to practice and learn how to be a better leader. Daily work and development need to be brought together in closer alignment—they are not competing activities! Development enables us to be better members of the organization and to improve overall performance.

3. Build leadership development concepts, principles and nomenclature into all HR Systems. The competencies selected to be the bedrock for developing your leaders should not be confined to the classroom, or be seen as one-time events. They should be imbedded in the selection, on-boarding, performance management, and compensation of all employees.

Any student of physics knows that a body at rest requires an energetic force to get it moving. Culture is no different. Getting it to move requires a focused effort that must begin with the organization’s leaders

This article originally appeared on Forbes


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September 5, 2017

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Six Keys To Becoming A Great Persuaderby Zenger Folkman

Most of us have been in a situation where we need to persuade others to accept our position or approach. When this happens to me, I will often ruminate in my mind how the conversation might go. I imagine that my colleague will state their position, to which I will respond with such great power and amazing insight that every observer will be persuaded to my position. However, when the time comes to persuade others to my point of view, I typically find that it’s much more difficult than anticipated.

I was recently asked to coach a CEO on his presentation skills in delivering a very critical proposal to a high-ranking official. While I had a lot of ideas and opinions on skills that are important, to provide the best guidance I turned to our research to determine what the most persuasive leaders do.

In one of Zenger Folkman’s assessments, we measure how effective leaders are at clearly communicating and persuading others to their position. Using a dataset of 330 senior leaders in an organization, I looked at which behaviors enabled leaders to be more persuasive. After identifying the top 20 individual behaviors I then used a factor analysis to find the top six dimensions, which reveal that the most persuasive leaders exemplify the following behaviors:

1. More Listening Than Talking. My immediate inclination to persuade others to accept my position is to talk, talk, talk. However, taking the time to listen first is a much more effective strategy. The best persuaders want to understand the opinions and concerns of others before presenting their point of view. Those who try to persuade first often bring out the disagreement from others, causing a debate to occur and people to start choosing sides. Once people are entrenched in their position, persuading them to change is almost impossible. By listening first, leaders understand the disagreements and concerns of others. This gives them the opportunity to either modify their proposal or at least empathize with the concerns of others.

2. More Cooperative Than Competitive. Often leaders who try hard to persuade others to their position create competition between groups or individuals. Rather than looking for an integrated solution, they often create a distinctive solution that only fits the needs of one group. Those who are most effective at persuading others look for ways to cooperate; they create the bigger tent and make sure that it covers everyone. One of the greatest advantages of any organization is its ability to get groups and individuals to work together. The synergy created by collaboration can create significant value for the organization. Leaders who have a strong motive to increase collaborative efforts in the organization are far more persuasive. The lone wolves that set themselves up to win at the expense of everyone else have a difficult time getting support for their proposals.

3. More Strategic Than Tactical. It’s very easy for those trying to persuade others to get tactical early in the persuasion process. This is a mistake! People need to first understand the why before they agree to the how. Taking the time to link a persuasive idea to the strategy and vision of an organization helps everyone understand the big picture along with the pros, cons, and tradeoffs. People are willing to endure a few cons and tradeoffs if they see how this new idea or process helps the organization achieve its strategic objectives.

4. More Pull (Inspiring) Than Push (Hard Driving). Looking at 360-degree assessment data from over 70,000 leaders, we discovered the 76% of leaders were rated higher on their ability to push (drive for results) than their ability to pull (inspire and motivate others). When most people think about how to persuade others their knee jerk reaction is to push harder (e.g., “tell them what to do and give orders”). Pushing results in compliance but often sacrifices commitment. Leaders who are effective at inspiring are able to achieve both commitment and compliance, create excitement and energy in others, and are successful at enlisting others in a mission or cause. People take action and make changes because they want to, rather than they have to. To learn your preferences for pushing or pulling, we invite you to participate in Zenger Folkman’s Preferences for Motivating self-assessment.  To take the assessment visit:

5. More Open Minded Than Closed. The best persuaders keep an open mind. They realize that customers, competitors, preferences, and interests change over time and these changes will impact projects, recommendations, and strategies. When people believe that a leader is not open to new information, often they will not share any opposing information with them, leaving that leader in the dark. Those who are most open-minded thank others for their disagreements and differences of opinion. The open-minded continue to see the value of diverse opinions and perspectives.

6. More Conflict Resolvers Than Conflict Creators. The greatest persuaders resolve conflict rather by maintaining the attitude that disagreements do not necessarily lead to conflict. The best persuaders are great friends with their biggest critics. They engage in healthy debate which may eventually modify their position, or provide the persuader ideas on what might bring those who disagree over to their position.

There will come a time where you want to persuade others to your position. As you look at these six keys, it’s clear that utilizing a few of them will cause others to be less defensive about their position and open to discussion. Perhaps the great persuaders are those who are have the most understanding of both sides of an issue — they may still have a very strong position, but understanding those who disagree puts them in a significantly better position to persuade.


This article was originally published on Forbes.


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February 23, 2017

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Companies Are Bad at Identifying High-Potential Employeesby Zenger Folkman

A high-potential employee is usually in the top 5% of employees in an organization. These people are thought to be the organization’s most capable, most motivated, and most likely to ascend to positions of responsibility and power. To help these employees prepare for leadership roles in a thoughtful, efficient manner, companies often institute formal high-potential (HIPO) programs.

And yet, according to our data, more than 40% of individuals in HIPO programs may not belong there. We collected information on 1,964 employees from three organizations who were designated as high potentials, measuring their leadership capability using a 360-degree assessment that consisted of feedback from their immediate manager, several peers, all direct reports, and often several other individuals who were former colleagues or who worked two levels below them. On average, each leader had been given feedback from 13 assessors. Previous work we’d done with these organizations had shown that this assessment technique was highly correlated with organizational outcomes such as employee engagement, lower turnover, and higher productivity. The higher the leader scored, the better the outcomes.

But when we looked at the participants in the HIPO programs, 12% were in their organization’s bottom quartile of leadership effectiveness. Overall, 42% were below average. That is a long way from the top 5% to which they supposedly belong.

So how were these individuals chosen? What we found was that, in all three organizations, there were four characteristics that these individuals possessed:

  • Technical and professional expertise. It is often said that the person most likely to be promoted is the best engineer, chemist, programmer, or accountant. Having deep knowledge and expertise goes a long way in terms of getting a person noticed and valued. And it’s true that technical expertise does matter for managers. However, it’s essential to understand that what got you invited to the party is not enough to keep you at the party. People who are skilled technically but lack excellent leadership capabilities need to develop those skills.
  • Taking initiative and delivering results. Senior leaders in an organization were willing to look beyond poor leadership skills for a person who was consistently self-motivated and productive. Perhaps this is not surprising — when we asked over 85,000 managers what was most important for their direct reports to do to be successful, their number one choice was “drive for results.” Results do matter, but sometimes a top individual contributor should stay an individual contributor and not become the boss.
  • Consistently honoring commitments. When they say “It will be done,” it gets done. Inevitably, this creates trust in an individual and a willingness to look past other skills that are not excellent. There is no apparent downside to this skill until a person gets promoted and they become overwhelmed with too many assignments they have committed to achieving. We find that people who lack leadership skills don’t trust direct reports enough to delegate assignments and involve others. This leaves them drowning in commitments.
  • Fitting in to the culture of the organization. In addition to these skills, we found that underperforming people in HIPO programs tended to emphasize a specific trait valued by their organization. One organization, for example, had culture that placed a great deal of weight on being nice. Employees who showed consideration and concern for others would occasionally be considered HIPOs even though they lacked other leadership skills. The other two organizations valued people who volunteered for new programs or initiatives. People with that attitude were rewarded by being included in the HIPO program, even when they weren’t effective in other parts of their jobs. Paying attention to what is valued in an organization can help an individual get noticed.

We also noticed that the underperforming HIPOs were especially lacking in two skills: strategic vision and ability to motivate others. When filling their HIPO programs, organizations should look for people who show signs of having these skills — which are very important as you climb the organizational ladder — and not place quite so much emphasis on things like cultural fit and individual results.

For the organization, there are several risks to filling your HIPO program with people who don’t actually possess leadership potential. Leaders may well be lulled into assuming that they have an adequate leadership pipeline when in reality they have less than half the pipeline they thought. Just as bad, the organization may be missing out on the people who would make great leaders, even if they don’t fit the stereotype of a high-potential leader.

The situation is hardly any better for the people in the HIPO program who aren’t likely to flourish in senior management roles. These people may assume that their career is on track when in reality they may have been steered in a career direction that is less than ideal for them. These misplaced members of the HIPO group were often extremely effective individual contributors, even if they weren’t equipped for a senior role. These are people the organization wants to retain (which may be another reason they’d been funneled into the HIPO program — perhaps senior management has no more imaginative way to reward top contributors). When organizations push their top contributors into management roles in which they won’t thrive, however, they are running the risk of losing a top individual contributor and demotivating the people who are now reporting to an incompetent boss — and losing them as well.

But all is not necessarily lost. The underqualified people in the HIPO program who truly do aspire to senior positions in the organization should focus on learning and practicing the leadership skills required. We strongly believe that HIPOs with leadership deficiencies can eventually develop excellent skills, but the majority of those with poor skills don’t realize their deficiency. Being part of the HIPO program masks their shortcomings. So take an honest look in the mirror at what you need to learn.

As for the managers running the HIPO program and selecting people to be in it, we suggest they be a little more careful in whom they anoint.

Article was originally published on Harvard Business Review.

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October 16, 2014

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Why Leaders Give Innovation Low Marksby Joe Folkman

forbes_logoOne Saturday afternoon my son and I were given an impossible task by my wife to “remove the hideous hedge” from her sight. We sat on the porch gazing at the uninspiring sight of the pick and shovel that lay before us and dreading the hours of hard labor to come. “This is a really terrible idea,” my son said to me. “I know,” I said as my wife drove away blowing kisses, “but we don’t have choice.”

As we began the arduous process my mind was opened to a vision of my rusty 1988 Ford F250 truck. It is a wonderful vehicle that looks like junk, but has the heart of a lion. I stopped my son, “I have an idea. What if we back up the truck, attach my trusty tow rope to it and then we wrap it around those shrubs to rip them out.” A slow grin spread across my son’s face as he replied, “That will be fun.”

We were given a really hard, boring task that afternoon, but when we introduced innovation into the mix it suddenly turned into fun. It was still hard work and I won’t go into the damage we may have inflicted. But what I learned from this experience was that innovation has the ability to inspire and motivate all involved in a powerful way. ... Continued on

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