Posts Tagged ‘standards’

Relatively Better

September 30, 2015

lemonlime

The conversation I had with a board member of a deeply influential organization some months ago was troubling.

In that exchange, he described behavior of senior management as incompetent. Later, he said “But all these organizations are a mess.”

No Worse Than Jones

Relativism is a common discard. You can set the bar anywhere you want. It’s possible to rationalize almost anything by noting those who are also behaving badly or worse. Read this list and add to it the relative comments you have heard:

  • Nope, the Catholic Church has not done right by women. But, look at the Muslims.
  • Yes, teen pregnancy rates are terrible in Michigan. But, look at New Mexico and Mississippi.
  • While cronyism is common, it’s nothing like financial fraud.
  • Football and basketball coach salaries may be excessive, but look at Wall Street.
  • Air pollution is awful in California, but it’s nowhere near as bad as Pakistan.

Insecure people and brittle organizations rush to defend. Regardless of goodwill and constructive capacity, when a critical remark is made, one can expect a counter punch. Unskilled  managers wear an over-sized winner’s ribbon with an inscription proclaiming: “Not the Worst!”

Context Warp

Compensation is a typical yardstick to underscore relativism. Almost everybody looks “up,” rarely down or sideways at money. A bonanza for one man becomes the standard for another’s excess. So when the former president of Yale received an “additional retirement benefit” of $8.5 million in 2013, Columbia’s annual presidential compensation of $3.4 million looked nearly paltry. Does anyone ever mention the context is warped?

Now and then, we hear some contrast. Noting the “best in class” can be inspiring and motivating. It can encourage a different attitude, e.g., why can’t we? If New Hampshire has the lowest teen pregnancy rate, then what’s going on there we might need to learn?

While defending territory can be a common reaction to critical comments, a far more useful response are great questions. A learning attitude and listening ears are important assets. They both have the potential to support improvement which delivers, in turn, results. In serving a planned vision, leaders set standards by word and actions. Everything is not relative. It’s vital to have expectations for what’s right and what’s wrong, not simply what’s better or worse.

 Less Evil

Certainly, acting less evil isn’t the same as being virtuous. Regardless of whether others make the effort, leaders offer a principled example. Recognizing this and pressing for accountability requires important perspective: some people call it leadership.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

 

Six Features of Terrific Teams

July 16, 2015

hands

Why do we so often fail to work together effectively?  

It is clear our capability to respond to problems lags far behind our ability to detect and describe them. It’s a sad paradox when abundant resources exist. We know that solo ventures don’t have the capacity to deliver what collective work can yield. Necessarily, the big and challenging work of change requires attention to teams.

Formal teams occur in our organizations and communities when two or more people are gathered to deliver a performance objective and shared activities are required to achieve it. Regardless of purpose, well-designed teams must include: roles & accountabilities; effective communications; individual performance & feedback; and evidence-based decisions.

A checklist of team essentials is a good start to building an effective team. Research indicates these six features are necessary:

A Clear, Elevating Goal. A high performing team has a shared, clear and specific understanding of what is to be achieved and passionately believes it is worthwhile. When goals are ambiguous, diluted, politicized or individual ambitions take priority then performance lags and dysfunction prevails.

Results-driven. Teams must be structured around their intended goal with explicit accountability. Typically, teams are established to tackle problems, innovate and/or support tactics. Problem-solving teams are often an executive or leadership group where trust is essential. Autonomy is a very significant for  innovation and tactical teams must have task clarity to assure execution. Sometimes teams handle all three purposes.

Competent Members. The right people matter hugely. The “right” people have appropriate technical skills, knowledge, training and experience as well as personal attributes which contribute to the collective. Successful NBA coach Phil Jackson said, “The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.” One adds, removes individuals to develop a team. Careful thought about the optimal mix of people on a team is time well spent.

Unified Commitment & Collaboration. Loss of self, enthusiasm, loyalty, dedication and identification with a group of people are all features of unified commitment that reflect a physical and mental energy. Collaboration reflects both a safe climate and structure that encourages interdependence.

Standards of Excellence. Urgent pressures to perform with specific behaviors set expectations for team members. Performing to specified standards requires discipline and explicit process improvement. To achieve shared goals, both learning and accountability are present in an effective team.

Principled Leadership. Any effective team includes a capable captain. Team leaders motivate, educate, facilitate and construct a fair environment that engages contributions. When talented people are in charge morale goes up. Principled leaders offer a moral imperative for change. They intensely seek the shared goal. Principled leaders steer past the compromises of politics. They are receptive, accessible and demonstrate a dependable set of internal and public values. They assure team function through: good design, clear goals, a results-focus, member engagement, unity, collaboration and standards.

Team Threats & Multiple Entities

Two common reasons frequently account for weak or dysfunctional teams: politics and individual agendas. They are developmental misfires that torpedo progress and leave the promise of joint efforts unfulfilled. Politics kills both trust and substance. A focus on power precludes collective effort. Individual agendas sabotage shared intentions, interdependence and generate a toxic culture. Sometimes organizational leaders can limit these challenges through their talent selection. Regardless, principled team leaders must respond promptly to politics and selfishness because they cause teams (and organizations) to unravel.

Be aware that complexity gets magnified when coordination is not only inside your organization, but across organizations. The inputs for and implications of creating collective impact are substantial. It means we must understand how to integrate perspectives, engage multiple motives and align energies and skills in effective teams, task forces, networks, coalitions and other structures. Getting our own shop in shape is crucial so that we can constructively reach out to others and generate powerful synergy.

We know what makes great teams. If we have the will, we can do work together far better.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and managing partner at Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

 

 

 

 

 

Setting the Leadership Bar

October 22, 2013

highbar

It’s the largest annual prize in the world.

And, the Foundation’s website is clear about selection criteria. You need to be a democratically elected African head of state that has left office in the last three years and demonstrated exceptional leadership. If chosen, you get a $5 million award, plus an annual pension of $200 thousand.

The Ibrahim Prize, established by Sudanese Celtel entrepreneur Mo Ibrahim, has set some standards for leadership in Africa. Standards are specified levels of performance which define expectations.  Across the world, and in the US we have standards for safety, education, manufacturing and for food quality. Professional disciplines, like evaluation and engineering, cite standards as a reflection of their maturity. Leadership has standards, too.

This year, for the fourth time since its inception in 2007, the Ibrahim Prize was not distributed. The aim of the award is to provide a financial incentive to African leaders to shun corruption. But, the Committee was unable to find a winner from any of Africa’s 50-plus countries. Ibrahim said, “We need to really point the finger at where the responsibility lies…Let’s put the light there and let us seek heroes.”

Fareed  Zakaria, CNN host of Global Public Square (GPS), covered this story recently. His analysis: “Africa’s leaders are locked in a marathon to see who can reign longest… a crisis of governance.” He says, many African countries have had the same men in charge for more than 30 years. While these and other states are “nominal democracies” their citizens experience dictators. Their elections and day-to-day culture includes intimidation, fraud, graft and violence.

Despite poor governance, some of the world’s fastest growing economies are African. The continent, according to Ventures Africa has 55 billionaires. There are also advances in education, healthcare, and poverty reduction. So, what’s the new wrinkle?  Zakaria notes that China is now Africa’s biggest trade partner. In contrast to the history of NGOs and Western countries which have tied aid to standards, China is willing to sign trade deals with no strings. This upsets a system which previously valued transparency, democracy and peace.

We know inept leaders and toxic politics can destroy nations, organizations, communities, and individuals. What leadership standards do you set for yourself and the organizations you support? What are the attributes and behavior of people you respect and will follow?

Don’t confuse leadership with a job title. Be ready to withhold the prize if nobody meets the standards. Otherwise, anything goes.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

Staking A Claim

March 15, 2011

We need to “move the needle. “ It’s one of the most common clichés used to describe the need to generate change. It might be the best one but there are others, like: “bring home the bacon”, “beat the street”, “go gang-busters.” These translate to “help me show results.” They are about performance. As frequently said but not-so-original or interesting phrases they are often delivered with a tone of slight desperation as people try to validate their work.

Precious Feedback
The private sector learned a long time ago to incorporate metrics in their day-to-day work. Metrics and their use are also a key part of formal training that prepares you for the “world of business.” Sales, price–to-earnings, indexes, customer satisfaction scores, debt ratios, profit margins, projections, and efficiencies are all aspects central to performance in the private sector. They offer both guidance on progress as well as terminal performance ratings. They help us describe current status, aspirations and results. Metrics are essential feedback in operations, acquisitions, mergers and value. This is because they are integral factors in managing.

Many of the debates about the use, skills with and request for metrics in the nonprofit and philanthropic sector are puzzling. It’s vital, for sure, to recognize that social change is not a “controlled” space like a drug trial or cookie factory. In fact, I think the complexities of social change suggest an even greater value for the critical feedback metrics provide in managing and leading. Both evaluative thinking and evaluation are essential to all sectors.

Claims and Cause
While those who declare “move the needle” may not know it… the needle will move. Regardless of their efforts or lack of. Change is constant. There are external and internal dynamics that absolutely will influence the gauge reading or needle status. Frequently, when this phrase is used to inform/define an organization or program’s work, the construct in play is cause. It’s an intention to declare value or stake a claim. Can I declare contribution or attribution, neither or both?

The difference in contribution and attribution are relative proportion of cause. I hit the car when I ran a red light is an example of direct cause. The event is attributed to me. I gave $500 to the $4.8M capital campaign goal deems me a contributor. I am a small part of a big result. When seeking attribution it means particular protocols must be used to determine the portion of effect. It is a high standard.

For example, in determining the influence of a pre-literacy intervention for preschool children we compared children and teachers in Head Start with a Head Start control group. Those with the special intervention and preparation exceeded learning and performance measures many times greater than the control group. This allows the intervention program, with significant confidence, to claim attribution (or direct cause).

Determining contribution is not as difficult and it is more common. The role or sequence of factors in an intervention can be essential to understanding contribution. The strength of a plausible connection allows us to claim contribution. It is a part of cause. Specification of contribution should rely on multiple techniques. Models, plans and other items are useful tools in this determination.

Metrics Application
It is vital that independent and quality assessment occurs to assure credibility. There are big challenges in understanding the use and mis-use of evaluation. Evaluation is most certainly affected by politics. If not high quality, the metrics represented by evaluation can easily be “cover” or marketing. Capable professionals know this is why the field has quality standards. They also can spot shoddy quality, marketing and promotional or “lite” use of evaluation. People have anxiety about metrics because they are useful with accountability.

Individually and in our organizations, we all want to “make a difference.” We want our lives and our organizations to be relevant, have meaning and credibility. Whether the sole cause or a contributor, it’s vital to use metrics to set targets, review progress and determine influence on results. This makes evaluation an essential literacy for anyone managing and leading. The dangers and costs of mishandling are extraordinary. When done well, so is the value.

-Lisa Wyatt Knowlton, Ed. D. is a strategy architect and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. She is also a W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. Contact her via: lisawk@pwkinc.com.


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