Walk Your Talk

A few weeks ago, my blog focused on leading by values and the importance of communicating your organizational values clearly and constantly. Another critical element for leaders to practice is what I call walking your talk. Leaders must make every effort to become living symbols of their organization’s value system. Walking your talk means that your company values act as a set of guidelines for decision making, problem solving, and general day-to-day business operations.

For this process to work, you need a method of identifying gaps between values and behaviors. One way is to describe what the current situation is and what you want the desired situation to be, and to document action steps for making the change. Let me share an example from our own company.

We used to have a conflict at the end of each month among our sales, accounting, and shipping departments. One day, we brought representatives from each department together to discuss the issue in a fact-finding meeting. What we learned was very interesting.

The cause of the problem was a compensation policy stating that a sale couldn’t be credited to a sales person’s goal until the product had been shipped and billed. Since every sales person received bonuses based on monthly performance, they wanted every order fulfilled by the last day of the month—even the last-minute orders. This put extreme pressure on the shipping and accounting departments. In fact, in some cases people in those departments were working twelve-hour days at month end.

When everybody put the issues and their personal perspectives on the table and began to work on solutions, it actually became quite easy to eliminate the pressure caused by this policy. The group worked together to develop a new solution for dealing with the end-of-the-month workload crunch. And our corporate values provided the framework for the team to work together when solving the issue.

It would have been easy to continue to recognize the revenue at the expense of the people. However, Relationships was a corporate value—and making some people work twelve-hour days wasn’t honoring that value. Our leaders and teams walked their talk and restructured the process to honor both regular working hours and sales goals. The solution recognized the importance of both people and results.

Ignoring this issue would have put corporate values at risk—but using the values to solve the problem fortified their importance.

Think about situations that need to be improved in your organization. Then use your values to drive conversations and do the right thing. Leading by values is a continuous journey—and it is never too late to start walking your talk.

Leading by Values

I write and speak a lot about the importance of having strong corporate values. I believe when a company is truly leading by its values, there is only one boss—the values.

In light of this, I challenge you to think about something:  Are you truly leading by your values?

Now, don’t worry, I’m not underestimating your own personal importance as a leader in an organization. I’m asking you to consider whether your organization’s values are ingrained in such a way that they provide guidelines for daily communication, decision making, and problem solving. Do your people use the values consistently to make decisions for the good of the whole organization instead of for one department or individual? Do your people participate in valuable, honest discussions because they know they are operating in a safe environment? Do your people take pride not only in the organization as a whole, but also in their role in the company? Do your people consider the company values to be actual rules of operation, not just suggestions?

One way to ensure that your core values serve your organization well is to communicate them to people clearly and constantly. We recently revised our values at The Ken Blanchard Companies in a collaborative process that invited participation from every person. The values were defined, approved, and announced at an all company meeting.  A dedicated team developed a plan to roll out the values to our people over a period of several months by focusing on one value each month. This helped everyone develop a deeper understanding of each value so that they were able to incorporate the behaviors of the values into their daily actions.

The team used standard communication methods such as creating posters for office walls, plaques for every person’s desk, a document that listed each value along with examples of congruent and incongruent behaviors, and a Facebook group. But they didn’t stop there—they took the launch much further. For example, one of our values is Focus and Clarity. The team arranged for all-company webinars that detailed how to set clear goals and focus on goal achievement.  Then they held an activity where people could learn archery. Believe me, when you are aiming an arrow at a target, you experience the importance of focus and clarity! Each month, creative activities like these have provided a different way for people to embed the respective value into their own belief system.

I encourage you to consider how your company values are communicated to your people. Are they buried away in a manual—or are they a part of everyday conversations, decision making, problem solving, and planning? Leading by values means stating and restating your organization’s values until they become second nature. This creates a secure, nurturing work environment where people thrive—and where values rule.

A Simple Framework to Manage Performance

A critical skill for any leader is managing the performance of others. In our book Putting the One Minute Manager to Work, Bob Lorber and I introduce the ABCs of management as a framework to help leaders and their people succeed. It is a simple way to get back to the basics of influencing performance.

A stands for Activators—this refers to things a leader does before performance. All good performance starts with clear goals, so in this phase of the framework leaders must make sure employees understand (1) their areas of responsibility and (2) what good performance looks like in each of those areas. Goal setting is critical because it activates the management process. Once goals are clear, the leader provides the appropriate leadership style—directing, supporting, coaching, or delegating—to help the employee achieve the goals.

B is for Behavior. Here is where the leader observes what employees say and do while working on their goals. Leaders take note of tasks being completed (or not), deadlines being met (or not), and progress being made (or not). Since goals are clearly developed and agreed to in the first step, it is easy to determine whether people’s behaviors are contributing to the accomplishment of the goal or taking away from goal achievement.

What leaders observe in the Behavior stage determines the basis of a response. This leads to the C element in the framework—Consequences. In this phase, leaders manage the behaviors they have observed. If an employee is making progress, the leader praises that progress; if not, they redirect the employee to help them get back on track.

The ABC framework makes managing performance easier for leaders as well as their people. Employees have clear goals and an understanding of performance expectations—and leaders manage consequences in a helpful, respectful way. Give it a try!

Don’t Just Sit There, Say Something!

Managers typically react to the performance of their direct reports with one of three responses: positive, negative, or no response at all. It isn’t hard to guess which one works best for increasing good performance—the positive response.

A person who does something correctly and receives a positive response will most likely continue to perform using that desired behavior in the future. By the same token, a person who receives a negative response for doing something wrong will most likely not repeat the behavior. So, in effect, even performance that gets a negative response can improve if the manager coaches the person and encourages them to improve.

The most dangerous response a leader can offer is no response at all. Think about it. If someone performs tasks and completes projects correctly and receives no response from their manager, how do you think they will perform in the future? The good performance might continue for awhile, but eventually it will decline. Why? Because no one seems to care.

What about the person who makes mistakes but is never corrected? It seems logical that if a person is left to fail again and again with no support or direction, their performance will get even worse. It is the leader’s responsibility to help everyone succeed. Ignoring bad behavior hurts not only the individual, but also their manager and the organization as a whole. It’s just bad business.

Even though leaders are busier than ever these days, most still notice when their people are doing great or when they need coaching. The big mistake happens when the manager doesn’t say it out loud. I often say “Good thoughts in your head, not delivered, mean squat!”

If you want your people to achieve and maintain high performance, let them know that you notice and care about the things they do right—and that you want to help them when they are off track. Share your thoughts. No one can read your mind.

Be consistent with your communication and you will build a consistently high performing team.

The Way You Think Can Change Your Life

Lately, I’ve noticed a lot of people engaging in what I call “ain’t it awful” conversations. Believe me, I understand that with things going on like the terror attacks around the world, the controversial Presidential campaigns in the United States, and even the weather, it is easy to slip into a negative mindset. But hand-wringing and downbeat discussions aren’t going to change anything. In fact, it can make things worse by taking all your thoughts into a downward spiral.

Now is the time for positive thinking. I always loved working with Norman Vincent Peale because he used to say “Positive thinkers get positive results.” That is such a powerful message, and we need to keep it in mind to be able to rise above the negative and focus on the positive. We are free to choose our thoughts—and thoughts guide our behavior. It is essential to keep uplifting messages in our head so that we are able to think more clearly, make better decisions, and approach life with a better attitude.

I don’t want to minimize the difficulties we all face in life such as illnesses, money problems, stress at work, and a hundred other things that can drag you down. But I know that a peaceful mind will give you more energy—and that will help you get through tough times.  My wife, Margie, uses a gratitude exercise to help her focus on the positive. Each evening she writes down the top three positive things that happened in her day. Sometimes it is as simple as getting a much-needed rainstorm in our time of drought, or reconnecting with an old friend. The point is that she ends her day with positive thoughts and a peaceful mind.

Try it for yourself. I encourage you to think about it from two perspectives—your personal life and your work environment. I think you’ll be surprised how this simple shift in thinking will change your outlook on life for the better.