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Zenger Folkman blog

March 2, 2017

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The 6 Key Secrets To Increasing Empowerment In Your Teamby Zenger Folkman

A few weeks ago I was sitting at a restaurant watching waiters step around some food that was spilled on the floor. This went on for almost 10 minutes before the restaurant manager came out with a mop and bucket to clean up the spill. I am fairly certain that cleaning the floors is not part of the restaurant manager’s job description.

The incident reminded me of how much I loved having dinner with my family when we had teenagers. As soon as they would finish their meals, they would excuse themselves and exit quickly from the dining room only to hear their mother say, “Pick up your dishes!”

As a manager, do you sometime feel your employees are acting like teenagers? They focus on their part of the job, but rarely identify the work around the edges or the messes that need to be cleaned up. What can you do to create more empowerment and accountability in your team so that team members move from talking about their work, their job and their goals to our work, our project and our objectives? What can you do to help avoid the never-ending excuse making when deadlines are missed and to have an employee acknowledge, “I missed the deadline; it’s all on me!” Having employees who feel accountable and empowered creates a much more pleasant and productive workplace.

To confirm the impact of empowerment, I looked at data from more than 7,000 employees where we measured empowerment along with employee engagement. Employees who felt a low level of empowerment were rated with engagement at the 24th percentile, whereas those with a high level of empowerment were at the 79th percentile. Clearly, empowerment counts.

Read the rest of the article on Forbes.

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.

February 10, 2017

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Newly Hired? Here’s How To Be Sure You Succeedby Zenger Folkman

In the medical world, “transplant rejection” occurs when transplanted tissue is rejected by the recipient's immune system, destroying the transplanted tissue. Not surprisingly, this concept applies to a sizable portion of executives hired from outside an organization as well. These executives are hired because of their stellar records and experience in another organization, but the tendency in most organizations is to subtly and unintentionally reject the new hire.

The graph below shows 360 evaluations of executives by years of experience in their organization. Even though these new executives walked in the organization with excellent credentials, the newest hires were consistently rated as significantly below average by their managers, peers, direct reports and other respondents. For executives who are thinking about making a transition (or those who recently have made a transition) this is a significant concern. Typical estimates for failure rates of newly hired executives can range as high as 40% or more.

As I looked at the data on this group of 31 newly hired executives I discovered that not all of them were rated poorly. Four were rated in the top quartile in overall leadership effectiveness, but 11 (more than a third) were rated in the bottom quartile. Note that it generally takes at least three years for the newly-hired executive to overcome the negative bias of being new and no longer viewed with suspicion.

I was curious about what the executives who made successful transitions did differently from those who were rated the lowest, so I analyzed the data. While this is not a large sample, the results identified 10 useful clues about making a successful transition from one organization to another.

1. Is a role model and honors commitments. Leaders who were highly rated were perceived as having high levels of honesty and integrity. When they made a promise to others they kept it. When a new leader takes over an organization, people worry about job security and the ways they may be personally impacted by the new leader. While it’s seldom spoken aloud, people fear that you will treat them badly. The best leaders made a strong and visible effort to be candid and honest and to treat others fairly.

2. Willing to go above and beyond. For many people, when they reach a senior position in an organization they feel they can rest a bit on their laurels and don’t need to hustle like they did in their early career. Unfortunately, the hustle you displayed in your previous organization doesn’t count in your new position. You are starting fresh, and you need to earn the respect of others. Leaders who took initiative and hit the ground running were rated much higher than those who did not.

3. Is trusted by others. Trust must be earned and moving into an executive position in a new organization automatically puts you into an inherent place of mistrust. This is not to be confused with being distrusted. The best executives worked hard to build positive relationships with others, to be consistent in their words and actions, and to leverage their insights and knowledge to earn trust as quickly as possible over time.

Read the rest of the article on Forbes.

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3 Simple Ways To Improve Your Innovation Skillsby Zenger Folkman

A careful analysis of Zenger Folkman’s database of more than a million 360 degree feedback instruments revealed that a leader’s speed was a powerful predictor of overall leadership effectiveness. It goes without saying, that being quick is of little value, unless accompanied by doing things right. But once the necessary quality standard is met and maintained, then an increased pace produced high dividends. I’ve called that combination “leadership speed." These leaders set themselves apart from the rest in a number of ways. For example:

1. Those leaders who were rated in the top quartile on our speed index, were rated substantially higher in their overall leadership skills. Those who were in the top quartile on speed were rated on their overall effectiveness at the 83rd percentile, whereas those leaders who were below the top quartile were at the 40th.

2. Leaders who were in the lowest 10% on speed had 16% of their employees who described themselves as highly committed to the organization; whereas those in the top 10% had 64% of their employees who rated themselves as highly committed to the organization.

3. More than two-thirds of employees at all levels agree with the statement “If this organization were to move faster, it would substantially influence our success.”

How do these leaders accomplish their work quickly and with high quality? In further examining the database, my colleague Joe Folkman and I looked for the behaviors that went hand-in-hand with this optimum combination of speed and quality. We discovered that the most highly correlated other behavior was “innovation.” Innovation appeared to strongly impact the speed and efficiency of everyday work.

What are the qualities that are the precursors to some people being highly innovative and not being confined by the past? Something prompts them to break out of the mold, to see their world in new and fresh ways, and to have the courage to try something new. There are obviously many opinions on this question. Our data provides three insights:

1. Willingness To Change

It starts with a restlessness and willingness to to consider change. Many people can think of a new, faster, more efficient way to get things done. However, change takes energy, discipline, and a willingness to do something never done before. For many activities that will ultimately make us more efficient, there is a learning curve. When we change from a method we’ve mastered to a new process, we are invariably awkward at first. The new tool makes us feel at best uncomfortable and at worst incompetent. It takes time and practice for us to return to our previous level of skill, but over time we see the value of change and perhaps even wonder why we labored so heavily on inferior approaches before. This willingness to change is often driven by a fearless loyalty to doing what’s right for the organization and customer. Pleasing the boss or some other higher level executive takes a back seat to doing the right thing for the project or the company. One respondent said, “For innovation to exist, you have to feel inspired.” This comes from a clear sense of purpose and meaning to their work.

2. Not Settling For Good Enough

The people who were most likely to be innovative were those who weren’t satisfied with good performance but were relentlessly looking for ways to raise the bar. They had a philosophy of “you commit suicide when you settle for second best.” They recruited exceptionally talented people who would challenge them and their organization. They avoided bumblers, wheel spinners, and phonies. However, the most innovative people were constantly looking for better methods and options. They excelled by setting stretch goals. These goals required people to go far beyond working harder, but required them to find new methods in order to achieve the goal. The challenge of meeting the goal was often framed as “getting to the next level.”

Think about your own situation. Which activities take more time than they should. How could they become more efficient?

3. Assembling An Innovative Community

The Medicis were a very prominent, well-to-do family of bankers. In the fifteenth century they brought together and funded many of the great artists, philosophers, architects, and financiers in Florence, Italy. The Medici Effect refers to the burst of innovation and creativity that results from bringing together great people from a variety of different fields. The innovative works of many of these individuals launched the Renaissance. Few innovations are original ideas that no one else has ever had in times past. Many innovations are ideas or approaches borrowed from one discipline and applied to another. Exposing yourself to new and diverse fields can profoundly impact your ability to discover an innovative approach that will increase your speed or the pace of an organization. The success of this community relies on a climate of reciprocal trust. The highly innovative leaders were differentiated by their warm, collaborative relationships within their group. They made themselves highly accessible. Colleagues knew that their leader would cover their back versus stabbing them in the back. People were never punished for honest, well-intended mistakes.

The wonderful thing about using innovation to increase speed is that when you implement it well, it becomes an independent and powerful force that propels the organization forward. It augments leaders and increases their performance. Knowing this, a key question to ask yourself in 2017 is: “What is holding me back from being more innovative?” Your delay may be limiting you more than you know.

Read the article on Forbes.

January 16, 2017

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Steal These 3 ‘Speed’ Strategies For Leadership And Business Successby Zenger Folkman

“You just don’t understand” a manager from a university said. “Our situation is different. We are all doing the jobs of two people.” I turned to the rest of the audience I was speaking to and asked, “How many of you are being asked to do more work with less staff?” Every hand went up. Clearly his situation was not unique. Across all industries and countries, employees are being asked to do the same thing, Universally, people are being asked to accomplish more in less time and with fewer resources.

The Need For Speed

Recently, when analyzing Zenger Folkman’s 360-degree feedback data for several clients, searching for clues about what distinguished their stronger leaders from those who were less effective, we noticed a new factor consistently emerging: Speed. The better leaders moved at a quicker pace. They more rapidly saw trends. They were quick to identify and solve problems.

However, to be more precise, my colleague Joe Folkman and I determined that what made these leaders so effective was not merely that they acted quickly. Instead, it was the combination of operating at a fast tempo and simultaneously producing work of high quality. Their creation of greater value came from a quicker pace that didn’t compromise quality.

I was surprised at how frequently this showed up as a power predictor, not only for a leader’s effectiveness but also for the entire organization’s success. With so many leaders feeling the pressure of “too much to do and not enough time,” could speed be the answer? It is even possible for people to consciously increase their speed?

We've studied 51,137 leaders on two dimensions: the leaders’ ability to do things fast, and to do things right. Leaders who were effective at doing things fast (above the 75th percentile), but not highly effective at doing things right (below the 75th percentile), had a 2% probability of being one of their organization’s leader in the top 10 percent in overall effectiveness.

On the other hand, those leaders who were rated highly at doing things right (above 75th percentile), but not doing things fast (below 75th percentile), had only a 3% probability of being in that top decile category.

But now for the unexpected kicker: Leaders who were rated highly at doing things fast) and right(top quartile on both) had a 96% probability of being an extraordinary leader.

Speed alone is of little advantage. Work must be accurate. It was this combination of doing things fast and right that created the magic.

How Speed And Quality Differ

Speed and quality are both important, but they are different. We are emphasizing the importance of speed and spending less time talking about quality. Why? Because we see quality as akin to an “on and off” switch. You either have it or you don’t. If you have the required quality to satisfy a customer’s requirements and expectations, then doing a lot more often doesn’t create more value.

Speed, on the other hand, is a rheostat. It can be turned up to a higher and higher level and so long as quality is not compromised, it continues to produce ever increasing value for the firm. We think increasing speed is something the huge majority can do.

Accelerating Pace

If you want to truly understand how to increase pace without comprising quality, then you need to learn from those leaders who do it best. The research from Zenger Folkman’s database on more than 75,000 leaders shows many different successful approaches to improving leadership speed.

Read the rest of the article on Forbes.

December 19, 2016

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Great Leaders Move Fastby Zenger Folkman

There is a saying, “It takes two to tango.” That is true in many areas of life, and it happens to be true about an important dimension of leadership — speed. But that speed is not effective unless it is accompanied by a second dimension — quality.

Consider the following data to paint a more precise picture. In a study of more than 51,000 leaders, Zenger Folkman examined two dimensions: the leader’s ability to do things fast and the leader’s ability to do things right.

Leaders who were effective at doing things fast (above the 75th percentile) but not highly effective at doing things right (below the 75th percentile), had a 2 percent probability of being an extraordinary leader, defined as being in the top 10 percent of leaders.

On the other hand, leaders who were rated highly at doing things right (above 75th percentile), but not doing things fast (below 75th percentile), were nearly the same. This group had a 3 percent probability of being an extraordinary leader. However, those leaders rated highly at doing thing both fast and right had a 96 percent probability of being an extraordinary leader.

However, these two elements are not cut from the same cloth. Quality needs to exist to a certain level. Once that standard is met, there is usually no payoff in constantly improving quality. For example, if an automotive plant is stamping out door panels, and each panel meets the standard for measurement, contour and lack of surface blemishes, further quality emphasis does not produce greater value. Speed, on the other hand, is different. It has the potential for nearly limitless improvement. As long as the plant maintains quality, producing door panels at a faster rate does indeed create greater value.

Applying this principle to leadership behavior is not difficult. If a leader moves at an extremely rapid pace to get things done, but is sloppy or makes subpar decisions, that leader creates little value. Speed alone is of little advantage. Work must be accurate.

However, leaders who execute, respond and make decisions quickly and correctly will be perceived as more effective leaders than those who do not. In contrast, the leader who makes sound decisions, but who moves at a plodding pace, may create some value. But that level of value creation is far below a comparable leader in the same role who makes decisions, takes initiative, reacts to customers and drives better work processes at a brisk, ever increasing pace.

Read the rest of the article on CLO Media.

November 17, 2016

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The Traits of Leaders Who Do Things Fast and Wellby Zenger Folkman

leadership-speedAn exceptional leader we know would occasionally get a question from his direct reports in a variety of forms but with the common message, “Do you want this done fast or right?” His answer was always the same: “Yes!” He chose not to compromise on either dimension. For this leader and for most highly effective leaders we know, making mistakes is not an option. But neither is slowing down.

Over the last few years we’ve been increasingly interested in the impact of a leader’s preference for speed versus a “slow and steady” mode of operation. It’s clear that overall, organizational processes, communications, and human interactions in the world are speeding up. Many organizations are looking for ways to become more agile. Perhaps leaders worry that their organizations cannot move faster if their employees operate slowly.

We created an assessment to measure an individual’s preference for moving at a slow or fast pace. In the assessment, we also measured preference for quality versus quantity. After gathering data on more than 5,000 leaders across the globe, we discovered a strong tendency for those with a fast pace to also have a strong preference toward quantity rather than quality of work. Fifty-eight percent of respondents have this preference. We also noticed that 19% had a stronger quality focus and a slower pace. This group was concerned that working faster could create errors or mistakes. Their tendency was to slow down in order to maintain high quality. (If you would like to evaluate your own pace and see how you compare, you can take it here. It’s free but we ask for your email address.)

We meet many groups that, when challenged to work faster, worry doing so will cause errors and poor quality. The group we were interested in for this research, however, was the people who preferred a faster pace but also had a quality focus. Is this really possible? And what does it take for a leader to have both high quality and fast pace?

To research this question, we turned to another data set, one that includes information on more than 75,000 leaders. This data set contained 360-degree assessments with ratings from an average of 13 raters. In the dataset we measured a leader’s speed and their quality of output. We identified a group of leaders who were in the top quartile on both speed and quality and compared this group to all other leaders in the database. We computed statistical tests on 49 leadership behaviors. We sought to identify the most differentiating behaviors of leaders who were rated as having high levels of both speed and quality. What did they do differently from other leaders? All of the 49 behaviors were statistically significant, so we were searching for those that differentiated most powerfully.

The analysis identified seven unique factors that appear to identify what it takes to combine these two seemingly contradictory critical leadership goals. Continued on Harvard Business Review.


October 21, 2016

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3 Hard Truths About Developing Your Strengthsby Joe Folkman

strengthsbaseddevelopmentEffective leaders have widely different personal styles. There is no one right way to lead. We can approach leadership from many different angles, but the key to success is developing strengths. I often find the concept of “using your strengths” is confusing to some individuals. So today I want to share some truths I’ve found through researching strengths-based development to help leaders gain more knowledge (as well as to clear up a few misunderstandings).

1. Firstly, strengths are not always your passions.

Is a strength something you are zealous about, that you enjoy doing and that energizes you? No. That statement defines your passion. Individuals often confuse strengths with passions. People can be widely passionate about something they are not competent in. How many majors did you cycle through in college? Eventually, students find a “sweet spot” in an area they both like and can excel in. So what is a strength? It is something in which others would consider you exceptional. Research has shown there is a correlation between passion and competence. It’s not surprising that people tend to have more competence in areas where they have stronger passion.

2. Secondly, trying to be perfect in everything results in mediocre leadership.

Leaders who are moderately effective and who preoccupy themselves with incremental improvement of less positive issues will never move from good to great. Great leaders do not standout because they fixed a few minor weaknesses. They prevail because they are extraordinary in certain areas. Many leaders worry that it’s their weaknesses that negatively impact their effectiveness. They believe they’ll be defined or judged by their flaws. But this only becomes true if a person has no strengths. A study I conducted at Zenger Folkman of more than 65,000 leaders showed that those who possess just three standout strengths were rated at the 80th percentile in overall leadership effectiveness. So the good news is that you don’t have to be good at everything. You only need to hone in on a few specific areas to stand out and differentiate yourself as a leader who is great. Continued on Forbes.com.


October 12, 2016

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Why Leadership Development Doesn’t Change Some People (And How To Turn Them Around)by Jack Zenger

leadershipdevelopmentStatistics show that 40% of people are unaffected by leadership development. Here are the steps you should follow to turn the non-responders around.

My firm Zenger Folkman measures leadership effectiveness using a 360-degree feedback process in which 15 or so subordinates, peers, and the boss pool their perceptions of a leader. They complete an on-line assessment and the results are then passed onto the leader who was assessed. By repeating that measurement every 12-18 months, the organization can monitor the collective amount of change that comes from any development program. The difference scores tell you whether or not the leader in question has made significant change.

In examining the data from several large organizations we found that roughly 60% of the participants indeed get better. Some company executives are extremely pleased with that outcome. I, however, am not. Why? Because that suggests that 40% of leaders developed stayed the same, or perhaps became worse. This is frustrating to me because every participant uses the same materials, goes through the same experiences, and has the same facilitator conducting the sessions. The leaders receive the exact same inputs, but produce widely different outcomes. Continued on Forbes.com.


October 5, 2016

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Millennials Managing Boomers: 10 Ways To Bridge The Age/Experience Gapby Joe Folkman

millenialsmanagingboomersYou know that awkward moment when you are telling someone how to improve in a job they’ve held longer than you’ve been in the workforce? Today a lot of newly appointed managers are finding themselves managing direct reports that are 10 or more years their senior. Many find this situation difficult for both the managers and those being managed. What can young managers do to surmount this hurdle?

Looking through our datasets, we identified 1,217 cases where a younger leader was managing a direct report that was 10 or more years older. We separated them into two groups: 1) those whose direct reports had rated them as below average on their overall leadership effectiveness and 2) those who’d been rated above average. The graph below clearly demonstrates the big disparity between young managers rated as below average or highly effective. In spite of the relatively small sample, however, we were highly intrigued to learn what the effective leaders were doing to create this huge difference.

We looked at the effectiveness ratings based on 49 leadership behaviors and identified those that produce the most significant difference—in other words, the behaviors that seem to make the biggest difference in causing older direct reports to feel their younger mangers are doing an excellent job. As an outline, we compiled them into 10 dimensions that can make the job of managing older employees much easier. Continued on Forbes.com.


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