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10 Areas to Upgrade Your Effectiveness


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“How can my organization be even more effective?” It’s a great question from my clients, and one answered first and foremost as an “inside job”—that is, I suggest and help the executive to look at their own leadership choices in 10 practical areas and identify opportunities for improvement.

Thinking about your own leadership and organization, how about giving it a try? Here’s how:

Below I explain the factors, and attached, you’ll find a do-it-yourself evaluation sheet that walks you through an assessment, and asks you to identify actions you can take. The stronger you are in each of these areas, the higher the likelihood for success for all you hope to achieve.

On to the 10 factors:

Factor One: Select and retain highly capable, self-motivated people to do the job, and avoid hanging on to others.

Getting the right people on board and the wrong people out can be a challenge. A VERY common error is to hang on to chronically low-performing people. A capable, self-motivated person can make the difference between a good outcome and a great one, while someone lacking these qualities will drag you down. Setting high standards for the people you choose, and not hanging on to others, is critical to any objective. 

Factor Two: Give your people clear guidelines, and then let them deliver in their own way—don’t hover or micromanage.

To get the most out of your excellent people, show them the game, playing field, and the values, guidelines, and milestones required to win. Then, let them play in their own way. This requires trust and verification on your part, but it is more effective than riding herd over them. Your team needs clarity from you about values, deadlines, revenue, cost, and how you define success—what will literally delight you. By combining clear guidelines and good delegation, you increase the likelihood of success, and also retain your outstanding players.

Factor Three: Give your people a sharp picture of the desired outcome from the start. 

Projects and businesses can fail because the definition of what you hope to achieve is fuzzy or a moving target. Take all of the necessary time to define up front what measurable outcomes will delight you. Studies show vagueness about key outcomes often leads to failure. Go over it repeatedly with your team until any assumptions are replaced with actual information. Leaders who have the courage to pause and clarify outcomes significantly increase the likelihood of success.

Factor Four: Create a culture where people are rewarded for being brutally honest. 

Extraordinary results require a culture in which those you lead are rewarded for telling the grit-your-teeth truth. Take inventory of the culture you are creating, and be on the lookout for hesitation when it comes to full disclosure. By modeling and inviting brutal honesty, you enable your team to detect its own errors, and correct them, while providing you the “real story,” on which you can base smart leadership decisions.

Factor Five: Supply adequate resources to the task at hand. 

Problems are often caused by either a shortage or a glut of resources. The fast-paced culture in the workplace tempts us to jump in now and be more precise about resource needs later. It takes leadership to carve out the time to calculate resource needs from the very beginning. By doing great job of allocating resources from the start, you stand a better chance of success.

Factor Six: Challenge your people by setting a high bar.

Capable, self-motivated people tend to work best when they are truly challenged. It is important to understand what motivates each key person, and set expectations within their grasp yet beyond their immediate reach. This keeps it interesting enough for them, producing a positive creative tension. Your best people are then more likely to run at full speed, even as you improve the chances for success.

Factor Seven: Implement simple yet profound measurements for success and failure.

How do you measure success? How do you know if you failed? If it’s not crystal-clear, perhaps it’s time to look more closely at your definitions of each. A great and simple measure for success and failure provide a compass for everyone involved that answers the question: where are we now, and where are we heading? Such a compass sets the stage for your team to act independently and effectively toward a common goal.

Factor Eight: Set up reliable, honest, and concise reporting on current and look-ahead progress, and watch it carefully.

A clear progress report requires three elements: reliability, honesty, and brevity. Low reliability of information causes issues. Incomplete or anecdotal information leads to bad decisions. Too much information creates an inability to focus on what’s important. Careful and ongoing attention to each of these elements greatly increases the likelihood of success.

Factor Nine: Establish clear consequences linked to the success or failure of milestones and outcomes.

The consequences related to interim milestones and final outcomes are often glossed over or ill-defined. Set milestones that – if missed – could threaten the overall effort, and link them to predefined consequences. In this way, success and failure will be clear to everyone, and no one can be surprised when consequences – either positive or negative -follow.

Factor Ten: Create a stream of continuous feedback that helps you detect and correct problems.

Outcome is a result of people, resources, and process. Great processes are designed to self-educate – that is, they are designed to identify and correct errors in a timely way. Building in real-time error-detection and correction feedback mechanisms will improve the quality of intended outcomes continuously. The process should make itself more effective over time, making “ah hah!” moments an ongoing thing, rather than at the end, when it’s too late.

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