Good Metrics vs Worthless Ones, Part One

Metrics

Maybe it’s just that time of year, but I am somehow getting into a lot of discussions about metrics.

Sales metrics.

Compliance metrics.

Safety metrics.

Evaluation metrics.

And on and on…

What is grabbing my attention is how I often I am seeing worthless metrics.

And by worthless, I mean devoid of worth/value/utility.

Sure they measure things, but they don’t actually tell anyone anything. And worse, they don’t actually drive the desired outcome.

Because that’s the whole point, right? Getting the right things done?

Let me give you a brief example that everyone should find familiar… Safety.

Anyone who has every worked in a larger organization (even as the cashier for a fast food joint) has seen the safety posters and seen the safety numbers. My favorite safety metric is “days without an incident.”

Does it clearly measure something? Of course it does. But, by itself, it doesn’t really tell you anything.

By itself, knowing how many days we have gone without an incident does not necessarily mean we are safe. We could just be lucky. There could any number of bad/risky behaviors at play, but since we are only measuring incidents – and not the behaviors that lead to safety – people can easily fall into a false sense of security.

Lazy workerAnd the worst part of this particular dynamic is that the better the number, the lazier people can become.

This happens in Sales all of the time. People make plan (or even beat plan) for one period and suddenly start to sleep coast.

It happens in Production, where Quality numbers look good for one month, then drop off the next. Then go back up, then drop off again. It becomes a consistently up-and-down pattern over the course of a year.

And here’s what is going on.

If the only thing that is being measured is the final result/outcome, you don’t have a metric any more. You have turned it into a goal. Instead of focusing on doing the right things, people are focused on whether or not the numbers look good.

But here is the kicker: Metrics are not goals. They are simply indicators of whether or not the goal is being achieved.

Picture this: It’s the Olympic Finals in Team Sport Z. The winning team gets the gold medal. Before the game starts, the coach of the underdog pulls his players together and says, “I’m proud of you all. We’ve worked hard to get here. I know we are about to play the most important game of our lives, so here is what I want you to do. Score X points. Do whatever you need to do to get to X points, but if you don’t score X points, we fail.”

Can you see the ridiculousness of that approach? Can you see the foolishness of telling people to just focus on the score?

A great coach will never focus on the score. He/she will focus on doing the right/best things and let the score take care of itself. Does the score matter? Of course it does. But it’s just a metric. It’s not the game.

Let’s go back to the safety analogy. What is the actual goal here? It is NOT to go Y number of days without an incident. That is just how we will measure the goal. The actual goal is to have a safe, engaged working environment, right?

This means that people need to do things to create that safe, engaged environment. They need to take safety training. They need to conduct safety audits. But there is more than formal activities involved. People need to look out for each other. They need to watch each other’s back – and hold each other accountable. They need to proactively look for and address potential risks. And so forth.

It’s the same things in Sales. Hitting a number is not the goal. Generating revenue and protecting revenue are the goals. There are a TON of things involved in effectively generating and protecting revenue, like researching customers, connecting with different altitude levels, identifying and solving problems, making your value tangible, and so forth. The numbers are just ways to measure if these things are being done.

FocusDo you see my point? Clarity of the actual goal drives different, better behaviors. But if the team has turned the metric into the goal… the result will be different, worse behaviors.

In closing (at least for part one of this particular rant), let me give you a simple test.

Ask the people on your team what their goals are. If you only hear metrics as the answer to your question, you have a real problem. Your metrics have hijacked your goals. And that is going to lead to a bunch of bad behaviors.

But then, you can probably already see that now.

I mua. Onward and upward.

By Tim Ohai

Management vs Leadership, Part Two

As I continue my rant thoughts about the difference between management and leadership, let me recap the core difference between the two concepts.

Management is about optimization and leadership is about transformation.

The Office Michael ScottSo, if you don’t mind, I’d like to stop using the terms manage/management and lead/leadership for now. I get too many reactions from people who cannot separate the bitterness of their past experiences with bad managers. It always leads to some sort of knock against the idea of management – which is just absurd. I mean, get over it already. We’ve all had those bad experiences, but you can’t knock the value of driving because of idiots with driver’s licenses. You get my point…

Instead, I will simply say optimize when I mean manage and transform when I mean lead.

Okay?

At the master/uber strategic level, this distinction is huge. In other words, what is your strategy about – optimizing or transforming? It’s amazing how often I ask this question to folks and they don’t have any clarity on the answer. Which guarantees that everyone in the organization is making up their own answers as they go. Which would really suck if the most senior leaders of that organization actually intended the answer to be one or the other.

Imagine that – an entire organization trying to optimize their way through a transformation… Surely, that doesn’t describe your company.

(Side rant thought: We live in an age of massive shift. This means that MOST companies, if they are not brand new, need to transform how they work. Their entire model is rooted in Industrial Age realities (and thinking). These realities are either rapidly fading into history or, frankly, no longer exist. If you are one one these companies and your master strategy is not about fully transforming – and the people in your company are not committed to fully transforming – you’ve probably got substantial problems.)

But I want to turn our attention now to the individual level. Mainly, I want to talk about YOU.

Have you ever assessed your ability to optimize and/or transform?

It seems to me that we have all the capacity to do both, but in very different levels of proficiency.

For example, I am pretty good at optimizing, but I get bored with it after a while. I much prefer to transform. I see needed changes and am willing to completely dismantle sacred cows standardized processes and roles to create entirely new capabilities.  As a result, my proficiency in transformation is higher.

But how do I measure my proficiency in optimizing/transforming?

Let me give you a simple way to assess it.

At the most basic level, there is the team. And when I say team, I simply mean a collection of people.

The next level up is how those people work. It is their processes and the way that the team works with each other.

The next level up is how the team works with other teams. It is the interconnection of various processes and relationships to produce outputs together. (Note: together means collaboratively, not in spite of…). These relationships can be internal to the organization or even external (hello, customer – and even supplier). And you cannot simply say how you worked with one other person (like your buddy in Finance) as a “team.”

Finally, the ultimate level is how you use information to make decisions. I call it information flow. It is WAAAAAAY bigger than simply using lines of communication, reporting, or technology. I’m talking about collecting data, analyzing it, and getting the entire organization to make decisions with it. The entire organization. Making decisions. To drive results. Not creating a report and sharing it with stakeholders.

Got it?

Now, here is the test – how high have you gone in optimizing and/or transforming?

Coaching soccer(Note: This is a napkin tool. It is REALLY dumbed down – enough to fit on a napkin as part of a lunch/dinner conversation. If you want to get serious, you have to assess more than one experience, in more than one level of complexity. Getting your kid’s soccer team transformed is wildly different than getting your team transformed in a Fortune 500 company.)

  • Have you optimized a team? This means that you got the wrong people off the bus and the right people on the bus.
  • Have you transformed a team? This means that you have actually redefined the roles on the team (and maybe even the purpose of the team). Then you got the right people into their new roles.

IF you have successfully done either of these, you may move up to the next level in that category. If you have not, you have to stop. This is your current optimize/transform level of proficiency.

  • Next, have you optimized how your team works? This means that you have refined their processes and workflows to get better results.
  • Have you transformed how your team works? This means that you have redefined their processes and workflows to get new/different results.

Assess and continue IF you have successfully done either of these…

  • Have you optimized how different teams work together? This means that you have refined the roles, processes, and workflows of different groups to get better results.
  • Have you transformed how different teams work together? This means that you have redefined the roles, processes, and workflows of different groups to get new/different results.

Assess and continue IF

  • Finally, have you optimized information flow? This means that you have reassigned/distributed the organization’s people, budget, and resources to make better decisions to get better results.
  • Have you transformed information flow? This means that you have created/secured the organization’s people, budget, and resources to make new/different decisions to get new/different results.

I know this is a really crude approach to defining your management/leadership proficiency, but do you get a picture of where you stand? Can you see your own journey of optimizing and transforming?

When I walk through this exercise with folks (including myself), it is amazing how often we over-evaluate our proficiency levels.

  • We often mistake (or assume) our leadership proficiency because we optimized really well. Once.
  • We often mistake (or assume) our management proficiency because we have only transformed things.
  • We often get wrapped up in job titles and dollar signs because the initiative we worked on delivered big numbers. But we were not in the actual position of being THE PERSON in charge of the optimization/transformation.

The implications go on and on…

If you are an individual contributor, give yourself an honest assessment. Do you want to be a better manager? Do you want to be a better leader? Do you need to change roles – or even companies – to make those changes? Define what your goals are and put a plan in place to pursue them.

Chimps on the teamIf you are a senior leader (or even THE leader), give your team an honest assessment. Who are your managers and who are your leaders? But more importantly, what is your strategy? Is it to optimize or transform? And is your team up to the task?

I mua. Onward and upward.

By Tim Ohai

Management vs Leadership, Part One

Sacred CowFor this post, I’d like to take a shot at a very sacred cow (at least for some folks) – management vs leadership. Frankly, I can already tell this is going to take more than one post, so let’s call this part one.

Personally, I’ve been talking about the topic of management vs. leadership for years, but I’m suddenly seeing a surge in the topic with some very good posts and even some of the dialogue in the comments section on my own rants.

So, let me ask you – what is the difference between management and leadership?

If you give me anything that sounds like “managers are bad and leader are good” I’m going to call BS on you.

Because that kind of pop industrial “insight” is about as worthless as they come. There are great managers and there are horrific leaders. We’ve all worked for them. So please don’t give me some tired recitation that leaders are somehow members of the Golden Age of Heroes (and yes, I just went comic book geek on you).

The next possible answer you’ll likely give me is some variation of Peter Drucker’s quote that “management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”

I agree with that – to an extent. In other words, the concepts of management and leadership truly are different. And they are both centered on the act of “doing.” But pulling a quote from Drucker is still not sufficient for this discussion. Here’s why.

Management is about optimization and leadership is about transformation.

Think about that for a moment.

Good management – and great managers – focus on driving more efficiency and effectiveness into their process/team/organization. They seek out waste and try to elevate performance. At the end of the day, they are fundamentally optimizing how we work.

But they HAVE to do things right AND do the right things. Therefore, Drucker’s quote as the only point of definition is incomplete.

Bad ManagerYou cannot consider yourself a good manager if you make people do the wrong things in the right way. That is bureaucracy. That is insane. And that is why “management” often gets treated as the “lower” discipline.

But criticizing the concept of management because of crappy managers is like criticizing the profession of selling because of aggressive vacation time-share sales people.

Good management is absolutely critical because optimization is absolutely critical. There is nothing ignoble or inferior about management.

Then there is the idea of leadership.

As I said earlier, leadership is about transformation.

And that is an entirely different game.

Good leadership – and great leaders – focus on driving the organization into the unknown. Hopefully, because that is where the organization needs to go. It is Nokia transforming from the forest and power industry into cell phones. It is Apple transforming from personal computers into defining the very foundation of how entertainment is consumed. It is Microsoft transforming from the monster who thumps all competitors into the cloud-based partner that everyone will (hopefully) need. Leadership is willing to disrupt efficiency and effectiveness in order to achieve something new – and greater. At the end of the day, leaders fundamentally transform how we work.

But they still HAVE to do things right AND do the right things. It’s just different things than what managers have to do.

So, here is the real question for you…

Do you need to optimize or transform?

Small fireIf you are an individual contributor, keep your thinking small. Start a small fire. Pick something that you need to optimize or transform and then tackle it. Identify a personal process or a personal tool and make that the focus of your attention. Build momentum from this. Slowly create your own business case for bigger optimization/transformation.

If you are a senior leader (or even THE leader), start many small fires. Do not light one big fire. I have personally been a part of these kinds of attempts and they only make people run away. And I have the burn marks to prove it. Identify a collection of processes, tools, or even roles and start making incremental changes. Take a pilot approach. Learn from the small experience before sending it out to the larger organization. And slowly create your own business case for bigger optimization/transformation.

But be CRYSTAL CLEAR on what you are asking people to do. They MUST know if you are expecting optimization or transformation. Because if you allow any ambiguity on the overall objective, they will create their own definitions of success.

And optimize/transform the wrong things in the wrong way.

I mua. Onward and upward.

By Tim Ohai

Four Reasons Why A Sales Process Will Never Work

Let me begin by saying that I believe in having a great sales process. At the same time, I do not believe that a sales process is going to provide any value. I have seen way too many sales teams try to anchor their entire strategy on the implementation of a sales process. And it’s just stupid foolish such a colossal waste of effort. (Man, I can tell already that this is going to be a rant – sorry).

Here’s why I think that way. 

NO ONE ACTUALLY USES THE PROCESS!

Seriously, how many times have you seen a sales process get rolled out – and there is zero accountability for actually using it. And by accountability, I do not mean getting yelled at, harassed, or shamed for not following the process. I mean quite the opposite – being empowered to use the process and being evaluated on your effectiveness with it. THEN working to master both the process AND your role. With role being primary to process (and THAT is a whole other rant – you can see my thinking on this topic here). 

Which brings me to the point of this particular rant.

I see four reasons why a sales process never gets used/adopted. Call them root causes. Whatever. But these four culprits are some of the main reasons why stuff like forecasting is a nuclear dead zone miserable experience for so many. And if any of these problems exist in your organization, don’t be surprised if your sales process (and sales team) is suffering.

Tension with a ropeNumber one – The sales process doesn’t integrate with other parts of your business (Marketing, CRM, forecasting, etc.). What I mean by this is that far too often we complain about the separation between Sales and Marketing (or Sales and IT, or Sales and leadership, etc.). There’s this constant tension as the Sales team never fully implements whatever Marketing, IT, leadership, etc. intended. This is usually because what was designed by non-sales folks was focused on just one aspect of the sales experience – not the entire sales experience.

This creates a bunch of demands on the sales person that actually disrupt the process. Or worse, shuts it down.

Picture this: Jonathan the Sales Rep is busy trying to schedule his week. He’s got targets to hit and customers to serve. And while he is throwing everything he has into getting his pipeline running at full strength, Marketing shoves a new product/brochure/lead into his queue that has nothing to do with the current customers that he is trying to serve. Then there’s the CRM system that just got upgraded to “make his job easier.” It makes no sense to him and he cannot see how it makes the sales process more effective. It just gives someone in “management” more data to obsess about. Jonathan’s sales manager starts sending him email “reminders” to use the new Marketing stuff and CRM update.  Jonathan gives up on the sales process and starts doing his own thing to manage his time AND make Marketing/IT/Leadership happy. Process killed.

Number two – The sales process is not customer-focused. At all. Every term is couched in an internal context. Prospect. Approach. Present. Negotiate. Close. This is completely irrelevant to customers. Which means that they will not contribute to the process. They won’t respond to it. They won’t engage in it – or finish it. This makes it really hard for sales reps to stay committed to the process. Who wants to follow a process that rarely ever gets completed?

Picture this: Katrina the Sales Rep is trying to talk to more senior buyers. She has gone through the training, been coached by her manager (kinda), and now has to log every attempt she makes to connect with executive customers. But her sales process has nothing to do with those people. The C-suite could care less about being prospected, approached, etc.

Female sales rep on phoneAnd they do NOT want to buy. Their budgets are strained and their timelines are shrinking. What they do want to do is solve real problems and drive measurable outcomes. But Katrina’s sales process doesn’t actually account for that. So instead of tracking how relevant she is, she simply tracks all of her activities. Which delivers absolutely ZERO insights for the people who are trying to support her and make her more effective. Process worthless.

Number three – The sales process is too linear. Look, if you are trying to sell in more complex situations (especially at the enterprise level), no one makes a decision to buy based on a series of progressive steps. Why? Because human beings are involved!

Think about that. We don’t work in straight lines. We don’t think in straight lines. And we certainly don’t make decisions in straight lines. We start down a certain path, involve other folks, take detours, go back and rethink what we thought, and so forth. This is especially true in the context of a knowledge economy. It’s no wonder why the myth of “buyers are 2/3 of the way through the buying process before engaging sellers” is cited so often (It’s wrong, but sure seems real). Because we’re telling sales people that they have to follow a linear process in order to get sales.

Stop it! Make the process about gates that the customer goes through in solving a problem – not the stages of a linear decision-making experience. Think like the buyer. And engineer a sales process that allows the sales rep to move with the buyer through their problem-solving journey.

But instead of doing this, we tell the Jonathans and Katrinas of the world to use a linear process. And to forecast against it. Then God forbid that the customer actually goes backward in the straight line of a process. Process meaningless.

And finally – number four – The sales process is never just one process. Sales is about all kinds of processes. There’s the opportunity management process (which is what we usually mean when we say “sales process”), and the customer relationship process (which should lead to more opportunities), and the customer administration process, and on and on…

Tangled messWhen we look at this as multiple sales processes, not just a singular sales process, we get a different perspective on what we are asking our reps to do. They have a LOT of work to do if they are to manage opportunities/manage relationships/provide administration/etc. These processes are all connected to each other, making it a gigantic tangled mess if not respected. And I don’t think enough leaders and non-sales people have enough empathy for what is required to do all of these things in an aligned, integrated way.

Picture Jonathan and Katrina again. While trying to manage their “sales” process, they have a solid list of follow-up activities to do. This includes tasks related to protecting their accounts, not just trying to land new deals. But they get caught up in their follow-ups and forget about prepping for their next call. They struggle to squeeze something in, but preparation has become hit-and-miss. Which translates into how they execute their opportunity management process. It becomes equally hit-and-miss. Like all of their other processes.

But if they’re still hitting their numbers, nobody really cares. Process overwhelmed.

Now, for those of us who actually want to use a health sales process, we simply have to reverse engineer from these four ideas:

  1. Integrate the sales process with the business. Or if you REALLY want to be smart, integrate the business with the sales process. Because nothing happens unless something gets sold.
  2. Make the sales process customer-centric. Or rather, don’t define a selling/buying process. Define a problem-solving process.
  3. Make your sales process more of a non-linear pattern than a sequential process. Allow for buyer (and seller) behavior to be harnessed, not battled.
  4. Recognize that multiple sales processes exist. Never work on just one process without thinking of its impact on the other sales processes.

I mua. Onward and upward.

By Tim Ohai

P.S. Special kudos to my co-author and partner in crime, Brian Lambert, who inspired this post over one of our many random conversations.

Do Your Questions Matter?

I’ve got a question for you.

Do you create the answers to your questions before you ask them?

Think about that for a moment. Because your answer may have major implications for your success.

Shift perspectiveOn one hand, there is certainly value in asking the right question so that you can set up a real dialogue. A carefully crafted question can spark a shift in perspective or open the other person to a different point of view.

On the other hand, there is very little value in asking a question that is purely designed to make you look good/show that you already know the answer. These kinds of questions actually steal value.

They steal your ability to generate insight. These kinds of questions do not allow the possibility of information outside of what you already “know.” People who ask these kinds of questions are only setting themselves up to explore the obvious.

They steal your credibility as someone who can help. These kinds of questions do not position you as a trusted advisor. People who ask these kinds of questions will eventually be ignored.

They steal your influence on the conversation. These kinds of questions say you are not really listening, which is essential for two-way communication. People want to dialogue, not be set up for a lecture. People who ask these kinds of questions will find themselves unable to engage in a conversation beyond their initial pitch.

And that’s what you want, isn’t it? You want an authentic conversation, right?

As I’ve been writing this entire blog post, I have been acutely aware that every question I have asked – from the opening line to the previous paragraph – has been on the edge of tumbling into the realm of “I already know the answer.”

SquirrelLook, I know very well the lure of getting someone’s attention. I can get sucked into that trap as quickly as a squirrel with ADD. It’s gratifying, exciting, and fuels a multi-billion (trillion?) dollar business. People want to be liked, shared, pinned, and basically given public recognition for even the smallest of efforts (“Look, here’s a selfie of me waiting in a line!”).

But in business, we need to define “success” differently. Our goal, especially if we consider ourselves responsible to help others, is to not be the center of attention. It’s to make the other person the center of attention. The customer/client/end user is the focus. Make them the hero of the story. Right?

So, here’s your mirror moment. Go back and read the last few emails where you were trying to persuade someone. Look at the last presentation you gave to a potential client. Read the communications you sent to a stakeholder in order to further your own point of view. Look at every time you were trying to shift someone else’s’ perspective.

How many times did you ask questions that you already knew the answer to?

Did your questions invite dialogue or did they simply prove your point?

How many times have you done this in the past 12 months?

Mouse trapIf you don’t like your answers, come join me in the corner (and the comments section below) because even I forget this principle from time to time. The key is to increase our self-awareness that such a trap exists.

Questions are powerful. Asking the right questions to drive the right conversations is even more so.

I mua. Onward and upward.

By Tim Ohai

Happy 2016… Now, Stay On Course

Well, your first week of 2016 is over. Gone. History. What new thing did you accomplish? Is it enough?

DictatorIf you are like me, the little dictator voice in your head is constantly talking, constantly demanding “more.”

This year, I told the little dude to shut up.

Not in the sense that I don’t want to challenge myself, but more in the sense of silencing the urge to do something “more” or “new.” I don’t want to start anything new. I want to keep doing what I’ve committed myself and my teammates to do.

That means staying the course. That means finishing what we’ve started. That means choosing not to get distracted by the myriad of shiny “opportunities” that are all screaming for our attention. That means executing against the long-term strategy that was defined a couple of years ago. We are certainly evaluating and changing our tactics as needed, but the strategy is the same.

With these thoughts in my head, my friend, Mike Weinberg, just posted an interesting article on LinkedIn connecting the firing of NFL head coaches to turning a sales team around. That got me thinking further.

Unmet expectationsWhat was the common theme for every one of the NFL firings? It was unmet expectations, right? Each of these gentlemen failed to meet the expectations of their organizations. For some, like the coach of my favorite 49ers (Go, Niners!), it was a train wreck waiting to happen. For others, like Lovie Smith (now former coach of the Buccaneers), it was a case of “not enough.”

This really put me down the rabbit hole – what would have been enough? Was their strategy so wrong? Were their long-term goals not aligned with the ownership? I don’t believe this was the case. I think the real issue was one of execution. In other words, these coaches failed to meet expectations because they didn’t (or couldn’t) execute their strategy. Some situations were complicated by unrealistic expectations (please don’t get me going on Jed York right now). Others had very focused, laser-sharp expectations that were VERY realistic. In either situation (and everything in between), the key to staying has everything to do with executing the strategy.

Look at the teams that didn’t fire their leaders.

New Orleans decided to keep Sean Payton, Indianapolis decided to keep Chuck Pagano, and Dallas still has Jason Garrett. The common theme for each of those stories is continuity. It’s a lot harder to start over than people realize. These teams seem to recognize that. Will they change strategies? I’m not sure. But my gut tells me that they will only modify their strategies slightly to account for the current reality. The fact that they are keeping their leaders tells me that they likely believe the strategy is right – just execute it better.

And this is the lesson: staying the course, pushing through the obstacles and learning from your mistakes until success is achieved, is INFINITELY better than starting over every calendar year.

Cross the finish lineIn other words… finish what you’ve started.

I mua. Onward and upward.

By Tim Ohai

A simple, but CRITICAL, truth…

Maybe it’s just me, but lately I’ve been seeing a TON of craziness in business. Clearly, with the year winding down and the holiday season ramping up, many people are experiencing the insanity stress of making massive changes to a long-term strategy that simply isn’t working or needs to be rethought. But there’s more to it. I am seeing way more resources get taken away or “re-allocted” than I normally do. I am seeing budgets get strained to the point of breaking. I am seeing timelines shrink and deadlines pass. And above all else, I am seeing people just being exhausted, confused, or simply struggling to keep up (and often all three at the same time).

What is going on?

Some people like to say it’s the “new normal.” As if it’s sort of funny (in a really twisted/masochistic way), but – hey – get used to it. Abuse can be good for the soul, right?

No.

Not at all.

But I think abuse accurately describes how people are feeling. In other words, I don’t think the craziness is simply the result of having to work in a rapidly changing world. Is change happening? Heck yeah, it is. In an historically rare way (if you want to see my ramblings thoughts on what I mean, look here).

Not happyBut crazy change shouldn’t equate to abuse. Which is how most of the folks I talk to feel. Now, let me be clear. The folks I talk to don’t all tell me they feel abused. But they exhibit the same signs. They all feel like victims (of their customers or of their bosses or of their employees or of their suppliers or even of Life in general). They all feel beaten down. They all feel like there is nothing they can do. And worst of all, they all feel like it’s not their fault. Which only confuses them more. Because they keep wondering things like, “What did I do/am I doing wrong? What do I need to do? How can I escape?”

Mirror moment: Am I talking about you? Seriously, take a long, hard look in the mirror. Do you feel like you’re getting abused? Or at least feel like you’re in a 15-round fight that has just entered the 22nd round? Are you looking for the exit sign? At work? In your family? If this is NOT you, there’s a really good chance that you know someone who is feeling this way. If this IS you, just take a breath right now. A long, slow deep breath. Let it out. Do it again. And one more time. Now, keep reading.

I have walked this same path.

Sunrise pathI know it well. But I learned one thing that changed my entire perspective and has even minimized how often I feel this way. It’s a simple idea, but very complex to execute.

Ready for it?

Your life has purpose.

Seriously, there is a genuinely divine reason for you to be alive. Call it faith. Call it being spiritual. Call it being fluffy. I frankly don’t care. But it is the single greatest anchor that I have that has literally fueled me through the toughest of times and the best of times. And it applies to you.

Your life has purpose.

You may not be living it right now, BUT your life has purpose.

Your situation may not be ideal right now (it may even downright suck), but YOUR life has purpose.

You may be fighting a truly life-threatening battle, but your LIFE has purpose.

You may be wondering if you will even get through today, but your life CURRENTLY HAS purpose.

Your life has PURPOSE.

Now, if you don’t know what your purpose is, maybe it’s time to figure it out. If you do know your purpose, and you have let it slip from the driver’s seat of your soul, it’s time to fix that. 

Purpose signIt’s time to reevaluate work/family/Life through that lens. Look for what aligns and what doesn’t. Eliminate the things that don’t align. Cling to the things that do. Influence what you can. Adapt to everything else. And if that adaption means you have to change significant things, then change significant things.

30 years from now, what is going to matter most? Make decisions today that align with those priorities. 

Your life has purpose.

And if you need to some extra support in this journey, drop me a line.

I mua. Onward and upward.

By Tim Ohai

Killing High-Performance Teams, Part Two (AKA the priority problem)

In my last blog post, I tackled the effect that a lack of clarity has on high-performing teaming. The short summary of it is this: take away clear goals and clear roles and you will only get broken processes, poor performance, and a ton of unnecessary stress.

In this follow-up to that post, I want to spend a little bit of time on the (lack of) clarity problem’s partner in crime: the priority problem.

GoalI see this issue a lot. Leadership spews shouts communicates a goal. Let’s assume that it’s a legitimate goal (Note: this is a HUGE assumption, because most often what is communicated is NOT a goal at all – it’s usually just a metric that is supposed to be attached to a goal. Hello, sales “target.”). The goal is then widely proclaimed and possibly even put on a dashboard and a score card and a poster and an email and… You get the point. EVERYBODY knows the goal. Which if that were the only condition, then fine. My rant would be over.

BUT then, something interesting happens. ANOTHER goal is added to the dashboard/score card/email/etc. It may be complimentary to the original goal. It may not be. But it is equally important. And it is equally proclaimed – far and wide.

PrioritiesThen – you guessed it – another goal is added to the first two. Then another. And another. And another. Until there is no clear number one priority. In fact, the idea of a single priority that trumps all other priorities is completely lost. And God forbid we actually get a clear sense of the order of priority for the remaining goals. Leaders simply say, “It’s all a priority.” At which point, nothing is a priority.

Something tells me that you know exactly what I am talking about.

When this happens, there are usually one (or more) of the following causes.

The first likely cause is: You have a weak business. What I mean by his is that the actual health of your business is weak/soft. Healthy businesses – at the minimum – have good innovation, revenue, financial stewardship, legal compliance, and consistent operations. If any of these are weak, people will start trying to fix them. I specifically chose the term “people” instead of leadership because literally ANYONE will have an opinion on what needs to be done and will inject their (usually well-intentioned) thinking into goals that will “fix” the problem. Not only does this create unnecessary complexity and potential conflict (e.g. Are my revenue goals less important than my legal goals?), you get even more chaos (the bad kind) when people have not even properly defined the gap. For example, don’t fix revenue issues when a lack of innovation is the root cause. The resulting mess of competing priorities simply confuses and de-motivates your people.


Weak 1The second likely cause
is: You have weak leadership. Of course, this is a bit of “the chicken and the egg” to me. As in which comes first, weak leaders or weak business? Regardless, you will know you have weak leaders when they do things like:

  • Avoid providing clarity when asked
  • Inject extra goals to feed his/her ego
  • Get confused by all of the goals and couldn’t prioritize their way out of a small bag
  • Play politics over roles and processes instead of helping drive the right goals

If this describes your current state, I am very sorry for you. You have two good options. Change leaders or change leaders. In other words, get leadership behaviors to change or get rid of those leaders if they won’t change. The impact of weak leaders on what gets prioritized (or de-prioritized) is massive. ‘Nuff said.

And the third likely cause is: You have a weak strategy. If the strategy is (a) not addressing the gaps in your business health and/or (b) not addressing gaps in your leadership, it is weak. It is designed to look good on paper. And nothing else. It will not execute. It will only generate lots of new, competing goals that people will have to commit to in order to make sure that the real work of keeping the business afloat is done. In this scenario, even healthy attempts to drive the right priorities will get swallowed up in fatigue as people exhaust themselves to do everything. Again, no bueno.

In summary, let me put it to you this way: If you have the authority to set priorities, you have the obligation to do it well. Make sure that your business health, leadership team, and strategy are strong enough to drive clear priorities. It’s a simple concept that has dramatic implications. And if you have the desire be even more effective, drive some clarity as well.

I mua. Onward and upward.

by Tim Ohai

Killing High-Performance Teams, Part One (AKA the clarity problem)

Bad teamingIf you or your team struggle with stress, you have a clarity problem.

If you or your team struggle with conflict, you have a clarity problem.

If you or your team struggle with broken processes, you have a clarity problem.

If you or your team struggle with consistent underperformance, you have a clarity problem.

Why do I say these things are all clarity problems? Let me explain it this way.

Suppose your team has a stress problem. If you paused long enough to analyze the situation, you’ll probably find the cause of that stress to be that things aren’t going the way they are supposed to go. The flow – dare I say process – that your team is relying on to get stuff done is most likely broken. In fact, if that flow/process could get on track, the stress would likely go away.

BUT before you put your energy into fixing that process (or worse, forcing everyone to follow it dogmatically), pause and think a bit more. Are all of the roles that drive the flow/process working as they are supposed to? Are people clear on what they are responsible for? And more importantly, can everyone on the team accurately recite what everyone else’s roles are? Do people know who has veto authority and the boundaries of that authority? Because if people aren’t clear on what their role is – AND what their team mates’ roles are – not a single process will work as planned. There will be no handoffs, no teaming, no support, and ultimately no accountability to execute the process.

ClarityBUT before you put your energy into driving role clarity for everyone, pause and think a bit more. Are the goals that this team is pursuing clear? Are they aligned? Are they even the right goals? (Side thought: don’t tell me that your goal is to hit a number. Ever. That is not a goal. That is just a metric for your goal. Period.) Because if your team does not have goal clarity – the kind that drives real alignment in roles and processes – the resulting stress is not only understandable but to be expected.

And here’s the rub.

I SEE A LACK OF CLARITY EVERY DAY.

I see people pursuing the wrong goals and stressed out of their minds. I see people pursuing competing goals (and don’t even get me started on the impact of personal agendas) while consistently underperforming in unfathomable ways. I see broken processes and broken relationships – and if we can pause long enough to think about “why” – we find that a lack of clarity around goals and roles lie at the heart of pretty much all of it. Noel Tichy goes as far as saying 96% of all of this junk is created by unclear goals and unclear roles.

GrowthSo, certainly, there will be outliers that exist. But that’s irrelevant. Hypothetical what-ifs are less valuable to you than taking a hard look at the goals and roles that everyone needs to make success happen. My belief is that if you focus on clarity at this level, the stress/conflict/underperformance/etc. will go away. It will literally evaporate. Processes magically start working – and even improve. Relationships and communication breakdowns clean up. Personality wars become minimized. And you can then focus on the things that everyone truly want – high performance teaming and healthy growth.

Mirror moment: 

  1. When you look at your situation, where is the biggest root cause of malfunction? Broken processes, unclear roles, or unclear goals?
  2. If you could create massive clarity around goals (to drive alignment) and roles (to drive accountability), how much of the stress/conflict/underperformance/garbage would go away?
  3. What does this tell you?

I mua. Onward and upward.

By Tim Ohai

The 4 EASIEST Ways to De-Motivate People

I just spent a couple of weeks with some great sales folks and their managers. And, as is often the case, I got into a side conversation about one of THE MOST IMPORTANT FACTORS of driving high performance: motivation.

Tired runnerIt’s classic, right? If you are the leader of a group of people – especially in the role of professional sellers – how do you keep people driven to achieve success? And more importantly, can you actually motivate someone… or are they the only ones who can be involved in the motivation process?

But I want to take a different approach to answering that question. Frankly, I think asking how to motivate someone else is the wrong question (really, you can’t motivate someone else – only they can motivate themselves – everything else is just a form of manipulation). Therefore, this rant blog post is NOT about how to motivate someone.

It’s about how to de-motivate them.

Demotivation is the exact opposite of motivation. Instead of inspiring action, one is squelching it. Turning off the will to choose. Literally crushing the desire to act.

ChainsIt is perhaps equally as powerful as motivation. Demotivation keeps poor performers (and even potentially strong performers) at the bottom of the heap. It keeps whole groups of people subconsciously in invisible chains. It keeps entire nations in submission to tyrants and despotic regimes. And, if you are a leader, you can absolutely affect someone’s de-motivation (or even be the cause of it).

Now, some of this is actually – and illogically – self-imposed. I’m not going to address that now. I want to talk about HOW people wound up demotivated in the first place. What was done to them? How could people just like you and me end up in such demotivated states?

There are typically four factors that I see as the culprit. Four specific patterns that on their own are insidious. Put a couple of them together and you’ve got a cocktail for literally sucking the soul out of living.

The first factor is task difficulty. In other words, having to do something that is just too hard to do. If someone is given a task that – no matter how many times they try – they cannot experience success, they will eventually quit. If you want to de-motivate someone, take away their tools and other resources. Force them to use a CRM a sales process an ivory tower sacred cow something that makes their job harder to accomplish.

The second factor is isolation. In other words, being left completely alone (even in a room full of people) without any feedback, encouragement, or offers to help. What’s the “big” punishment in a prison? Isolation. Why? Because it is so effective at turning someone “off.” If you want to de-motivate someone, take away the human relationships they need. And not just support functions, but also team mates.

The third factor is information overload. In other words, being given the end of a firehose of data to drink until everything becomes a “priority.” Because, then, nothing is a priority. All the information (be they emails, telecons, meetings, product specs, competitor data, etc.) is “important.” Until someone is paralyzed by it all and they cannot decide what to do. If you want to de-motivate someone, simply give them massive amounts of information and tell them to sort through it all in order to complete a task. Or worse, make them memorize and use ALL of it.

The fourth factor is unrealistic expectations. Also known as “WTH?!” and “You’ve got to be kidding me!” In other words, people are held to standards that they have no way of achieving. In this situation, they wind up living in a constant state of failure, where family reunions with unhealthy relatives are considered a “vacation.” If you want to de-motivate someone, continuously raise the bar on your expectations of someone – especially right after they achieved some measure of success.

So here’s where I go nuts. Why, oh why, do we allow these factors to be so rampant in our organizations? Why do task difficulty, isolation, information overload, and unreal expectations get such a hall pass when our leaders do them? Or worse, build them into roles and execution plans?! Ego-driven “stretch goals” anyone?

All leaders – be they leaders of businesses, government agencies, churches, or schools (and even families) – need to know these four factors of demotivation and search for them. Relentlessly hunt them down. Then squeeze the life out of each one. I’m serious. If you are a leader – or want to be one – addressing demotivation is a MANDATE.

If someone is making a team mate’s job harder than it needs to be, stop it immediately. If someone is struggling to complete the task, either coach the gap or reassign the player to a role that they can do.

If someone is isolating a team mate, especially if the offender is in an official support role (like IT, HR, or Finance), stop it immediately. Drive open the lines of information flow. And if someone is imposing their own isolation (consciously or not), stop it. Show them how to network and get connected to others.

If someone is creating information overload, stop it. Create clarity around what is important and what is not. Seek out the purely “cover your ass” stuff and eliminate it. Lead by example. And lead with accountability.

Mirror momentAnd finally, if someone is generating unreal expectations, stop it. But look in the mirror first. This one, above all others, is as tied to your credibility as anything else you do as a leader. Because once you get a reputation as “that” leader, well… you know where it goes.

Okay. I feel better now. But more importantly – do you?

I mua. Onward and upward.

By Tim Ohai