Facilitating to Agreement

It has been a while since I contributed to my blog and I wanted to get back to it. So when I got an idea for content from a webinar participant, I thought this would make a good post.

I recently conducted a webinar on creating role profiles. A participant asked, “When partnering with our leaders and top performers, what is the best way to help them hash through what is really “most important”? Particularly when there is a conflict in their experiences/understanding of the role?”

This is a very common challenge for training, HR, and OD professionals. Often times, we facilitate conversations designed to create a list that everyone agrees on. The list can be the most important competencies to drive success in a role, the key values of our organization, the top goals for the next year, or any number of items. In these conversations, people don’t always agree. That, in and of itself, isn’t bad. However, it’s not to say that it is easy to handle.

I tend to facilitate these discussion by following a few steps. First, we want to set a goal of having a certain number of items. This helps people understand that we can’t include everything and helps in later steps. If possible, you can be a little flexible in terms of the number of items but the point is that people focus on a specific outcome. For example, you may focus on the top six competencies that drive success in the sales role.

Next, we will brainstorm possibilities. Here, the hardest part is staying away from analysis of an idea and focusing on getting as many ideas as possible.

Then, we want to narrow the list to meet our goal. This happens by doing a number of things. I first combine duplicates and eliminate things that don’t make sense. I then use multi-voting where everyone gets three votes for every seven to nine items. For example, if there are 20 items, each person gets seven or eight votes (your call). They can use their votes for different items or apply multiple votes to one item. Multi-voting is only a way to gauge interest. You can then move quickly by asking to eliminate items that received no votes and accept items that have a lot of votes.

That will only leave the items with a few votes. This is where the most discussion and possible conflict arises. Remember that as long as conflict focuses on deciding whether to include an item, it is healthy and is a sign that the team is effective.

To start narrowing this “short list”, you will go through each one-by-one and ask if someone wants to advocate for inclusion of that item in the final list. If no one wants to advocate for an item, you can ask to eliminate it. If someone advocates for including an item in the final list, you will want to ask if anyone wants to advocate for it’s removal. If no one wants to remove it, you can ask to include the item. If there is not immediate agreement, you can leave the item to later.

Look at the list of items that participants have agreed to include and see if it falls within the goal you set in the beginning. If it does, you may ask to eliminate the few remaining items that are left since you most likely have the most important items. If it is short, you may need to review the remaining items where there was no agreement. One thing you can to do is ask to revisit the list in a few days and have people bring data with them to support their position. However, getting to agreement on these items is difficult and often involves a lot of probing to get at the real source of disagreement.

If an agreement on the remaining items cannot be made, there has to be a fallback method for deciding (such as, the leader decides based on the group’s input). This should be clear from the beginning.

Keep in mind that the above process assumes you are going for consensus (everyone agrees to support the decision regardless of whether they personally agree with it). The key to success is constantly reminding them that we are only talking about your topic and not solving world hunger.

If there is a lot of disagreement, you may want to create a model with all the accepted items as well as those in question. Then, this oversize model can be tested to see which items are most valid.

Handling disagreements and conflict is not easy. The most important thing is to keep disagreements focused on facts and trying to arrive at a specific desired outcome rather than making it personal. In addition to what I include here, there is more to do to prepare people for the discussion and intervene during the discussion. As the facilitator, following this process also tends to reduce conflict and keep everyone focused on the goal.


Environment and Performance

How do you interact with your environment and how does it impact you? In this post, I will discuss the next of the 7 Factors that drive performance: the Environment. I will briefly define what it is, talk about the two types of environments, and help you understand how to determine if this factor is the most important reason for the level of performance achieved.

In my book, I define Environment as the physical, emotional, and interpersonal elements that form the context in which a person works and lives. Environment is everything outside of us. It is not our innate abilities (talent), knowledge, skills, or motivations. Those come from within and determine how we interact with our world. Rather, it is how the world interacts with us. When we get to work each day, the arrangement of our desk, how our office is set up, the relationships we have with others, and the constraints put forth by the organization can have an impact on our performance.

In the definition of Environment, you may have noticed that the environment includes elements specific to work and elements specific to life outside of work. Therefore, there are two types of environments that we interact with. The first is our personal environment and includes all the things outside of work. The second is our work environment and includes all the things at work. Since we are almost all human (there’s a few people I’m not so sure about), we have a finite amount of energy. How we use that energy has an impact on our performance. Also, both environments impact each other. In other words, things that happen at work impact our home life and things that happen at home impact our work life.

In working with people to leverage an exemplary strength, you can discuss and observe what is done at work and outside of work. For example, how do they organize their work space, how do they interact with others, how do they leverage the culture to elevate their performance, and how do things outside of work drive them to achieve exemplary performance levels? In working with people to develop an expandable strength, you would ask about the impact of these elements on their performance to determine if there is something in their personal or work environment that is holding them back.

While there is much discussion of the elements that make up the work environment, we often stay clear of discussing things that are happening outside of work. We don’t need to counsel people if things outside of work are impacting their performance in a negative way (nor should we unless we are qualified and licensed to do so). However, knowing this will help us understand how someone is using her energy and why performance is or is not at the exemplary level. We can then we can apply the right solution to grow her performance and not make assumptions and/or excuses about the person or the organization.

Talent and Fit: the Link to Performance

In my earlier post, I discussed the background of my 7 Factors model for driving performance to the exemplary level. Although there is no particular order to the 7 Factors, I will discuss the Talent and Fit factor first.

This factor consists of two separate but similar items so let’s start with a few definitions. The first part of this factor is talent which consist of the innate abilities one has as a function of their genetic and psychological makeup. These are the things that are hardwired into our brains, are the way that we are physically structured, and includes our personality. For example, I may have an aptitude for math and just understand calculus formulas almost effortlessly. The other part of this factor is fit. This is where we prefer to use those talents. For example, I may have a great talent for sales but dislike the products and services of my company.

Where performance is concerned, the part talent and fit plays is largely determined by the nature of the job. If a job requires a person to write technical documents, she should have the talent to do that and prefer to use those talents within her organization. Other jobs may just require basic abilities that are easily taught so talent and fit is not so much of a causative factor.

The talent and fit factor is often the first thing leaders look at when performance is lacking. Too often in my career, I have heard leaders say that a person is not the right fit. I have also heard them say that a certain person lacks the ability to perform at a higher level. This is really code for “I have no idea what to do” or “I don’t want to take the time to figure out how to help this person”. Later, when that person is transferred to a new leader, he often performs much better. This shows us that talent and fit was not the real issue to begin with.

When looking at what drives performance it’s important that we take into account the person’s innate abilities and their preference for exercising those abilities within our organization. Even though I start with talent and fit, it is often the last factor that’s to blame for lack of exemplary performance. It’s also the factor with the fewest remedies. If talent and fit is the factor that’s truly a play, all we can do is change the job itself to leverage the person’s talents, move them to a new job that leverages their talents, or, in the most severe cases, get rid of them. So when using this factor to gauge performance it’s important that you take into account all it’s going on with the other  factors first.

What Drives Performance

Many of you that know me are aware of how interested I am in the factors that drive performance. In fact, I have been so interested in this topic that I created my own model and have published a book on the topic. Over the next few months, I would like to talk about the factors I have identified that drive performance.

Before we get into that, this edition of my blog will provide you with some background. I will be short and to the point so I encourage you to contact me with any additional questions.

My interest started in college back in 1986. I took a course that required a project and mine was on decreasing absenteeism and tardiness. Amazingly, I actually got results from my intervention. I studied the topic for years and, after extensive research into every model I could find, I found that every model had gaps. To remedy this, decided to develop a more holistic and simpler approach to impacting the performance of people.

The model I will discuss has 7 factors that drive performance. That’s probably why I call it the 7 Factors model. I have found through my experience and research that these factors account for all the reasons for performance. The factors are talent and fit, tools and resources, the environment, motivation, clear expectations and accountability, process, and knowledge and skill.

I have found that these factors can be applied to individual, team, and organizational performance. What differs is the process used in each of those cases. While my first book focuses on a strengths-based approach to developing the performance of an individual, the same 7 factors (but a different approach) would be used to address a team or an organization.

In my next post, I will discuss the talent and fit factor. Until then, let me know if you have any questions or comments.

What are Competencies?

Any time I examine a position in the organization, I try to determine what makes the best performers tick. We can benchmark and look at best practices but they may not be much use within a specific organization.

In looking at a specific position, you can divide the work into the what and how of the job. The “what” part consist of key responsibilities and tasks. For example, a sales person may need to call on at least 40 prospects per day. The “how” part consists of the behaviors, skills, traits, and abilities needed to perform well. Following our example, when the sales person calls a prospect, the way he or she should communicate with courteousy, effective listening, effective questioning, proper rate of speech, proper tone and volume, and should follow a process for achieving the desired outcome of the call. Each of these could be a different competency that someone prospecting over the phone would need to engage in to do their job well.

One thing in particular that I have seen is that people developing competencies struggle with what the difference is between a skill and a competency. After all, the word skill is used in a preponderance of the definitions of competencies. My suggestion is to not get caught up in trying to differentiate the two. While academically it matters, practically it doesn’t. People that will be using the competency models we create really don’t care. They just want a model of what they should do and how the best performers do it.

In taking a look at documenting this, the “what” part of a job is usually contained in the job description. The “how” part of a job is contained in a competency model or list of skills. When taken together, you now have a profile of what success looks like for a particular job.

One last piece of advice is to get everyone behind the definition of what a competency is before developing your models. Agreeing on a common language is sometimes difficult but serves as a guideline when developing models.

Our Perceived Time Crunch

What I and the people I talk with should be pondering is whether or not all this activity is leading to the results we want.

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I was in the airport last week waiting for a rescheduled flight after my first flight was canceled and my next was re-routed taking me over 1000 miles in the wrong direction. As I sat in the incredibly overpriced restaurant, I realized that in slightly more than five minutes, I went from being rushed to having too much time. How did this change in perception of time occur? The answer was simple; I let other things rule my time.

Whenever someone asks how I am, I respond almost by instinct that I am doing good but am very busy. What’s funny is that just about everyone else says they are busy too and wish there were more hours in the day. How can this be? I know I can rationalize that I am involved with a lot of important projects in my role as SVP of Talent at Learn.com but that’s not the right way to think. What I and the people I talk with should be pondering is whether or not all this activity is leading to the results we want.

This question caused me to look more strategically at what I am doing and ensure everything I do is contributing to the goals of the organization. There is a tool we use in organizational development called “Start, Stop, and Continue”. I looked at all the projects and compared them to the goals of the department and organization. For each project I determine whether this is something I should continue or stop. Then, when I have eliminated those that don’t contribute to moving the organization forward, I look for gaps and determine what I should start doing. This helps to narrow the field to the most important few rather than being busy with many urgent but unimportant projects.

So what are you doing that contributes to your goals, what should you stop doing, and what should you start doing to move forward faster. Hopefully, your final list will be small but critical to your success. At the same time, it should free up some time so you can do things you may enjoy but did not give yourself permission to do because of those urgent but unimportant projects you were so busy with.

Rules, Rules, Rules

There’s an activity I do at the start of each Tour on Talent (http://www.tourontalent.com) where participants go around the room looking for others who meet the description in one of the items on their sheet. There are only two rules in this activity. The first is that you can not sign your own sheet and the second is that no one can sign your sheet more than once.

The amazing thing is that each time I do this, people add rules. They say others are cheating if they look to see who “Went to Band Camp” so that they can have that person sign their form. They rarely approach me because they think there is some rule against having the facilitator sign their form.

In our debrief, we discuss the concept of phantom rules. These are rules people make up that aren’t really rules. This type of thinking permeates all we do. The common analogy is that we put ourselves in a box as pointed out by Mike Vance and Dianne Deacon in their book, “Think Outside of the Box”. The challenge is to recognize which rules are real and which rules are phantom ones. Getting rid of our phantom rules frees us from their constraints and promotes innovative thinking and creative solutions. This is the essence of brainstorming and why it is so effective. In brainstorming, you don’t stop to analyze whether or not an idea is good or bad or fits within the current thinking. You just get the ideas out and leave the analysis to later. A key question I ask when people say, “we can’t do that” is, “Is there a rule against it?”. Most of the time there is not.

Think of the phantom rules constraining your performance and take steps to free yourself. It will pay dividends in terms of your creativity and accomplishments.