Archive for January, 2014

Some Thoughts on What Motivates Us….

Right now it’s three degrees outside, with a wind chill that makes it feel like sixteen below. I’m not complaining, though; the sun is out, and with several inches of snow cover on the ground the landscape is quite beautiful. And anyway, this post isn’t about me.

It’s about my dog.

I have an elderly standard poodle named Kayda (short for “Wihakayda,” a Sioux word meaning “little one”) and she’s not sure what to do with herself today. Most afternoons she gets a healthy 30-minute hike at a nearby nature reserve, but it’s been so cold and icy that we haven’t been able to go for the last few days. As a result—and even at 12 years of age—she’s got a ton of energy and no real way to burn it off. So she wants to go outside. A lot.

Did I mention that it’s three degrees out there?

She goes to the door. Barks. Comes upstairs to let me know what she wants. Barks again. I stop what I’m doing and trudge downstairs. Let her out. She bites at the accumulated snow cover, then grabs her Kong, which, thankfully, she’s learned how to push off the deck and chase in an incredibly intelligent game of self-fetch. Then she immediately comes back and paws dramatically at the back door to be let back in.  I obey, then give her a dog biscuit.  All of this takes about three minutes: She, too, realizes it’s three degrees outside. Unfortunately, with all that energy—and a dog’s inability to store things in short-term memory—she wants to do it all over again 20 minutes later.

And so I find myself thinking: what motivates her?

The energy she has, of course, and her need to burn it off, come primarily to mind. But that certainly isn’t all of it. It could just as easily be the fact that coming back gets her that dog biscuit—an incentive which I’ve built into her through incessant repetition. Or it could be those savory chunks of ice—hell, I still chew on the ice cubes at the bottom of a medium soda, a habit I can’t break either. Perhaps, too, she just wants an occasional change of scenery, a chance to do something she’s not doing currently, and going outside is her only option.  Or maybe it’s all of these things.

And then I got to thinking: we often talk about motivation as if it’s a single thing, and we wonder, as leaders, what we should be doing to motivate the people and teams we work with. Should we give them an incentive (which could be anything from free pizza when they work late to a cash bonus for meeting goals)? Should we give them time to play a bit, loosening a sometimes too-stressful work structure in order to allow for some fun? Or how about a change of scenery—a new set of responsibilities, for example, or a chance to work with new people?

Or how about all of these?

Many of the companies we work with struggle with employee engagement and employee morale, looking for the right way to motivate people. Maybe, instead, we should be looking at the right ways to motivate people. Watching my dog reminds me that one size doesn’t fit all—in fact, one size probably doesn’t even fit one. People change every day, after all. Their needs change, their wants change, and their motivations change. We as leaders, can help when we remember to respond to those changes by keeping motivation at the top of our list of important employee engagement topics. It’s only through constant awareness and adjustment that we can bring out the best in people. For example, maybe people just want to have a little….

Sorry. Have to go. I need to let Kayda out. She’s barking again….


Succession Planning–Part 3: How It’s Done

In our Part 1 and Part 2 of this series on succession planning, we’ve discussed why you should have a plan and what you might think about when you start to put that plan together. In today’s post we want to talk a little bit about how to actually get things done.

First, think carefully about when you need succession. Understand the events that could create such a situation. There are more cases than you think. Sometimes people retire, and sometimes they leave when you’re not prepared for it. There are the now-and-then extended absences, like during parental leave, sabbatical, or disability. And then there are always those sudden events, like when a key employee wins the lottery and decides to move to an island in the South Seas.

Once you understand when you might need succession, then you’re ready to build that plan. As a quick reminder, we suggested that the major parts of your plan include:

  • Hiring solid people
  • Matching ‘em up to your succession needs
  • Developing these people in a thoughtful way, and
  • Providing coaching and mentoring

So how do you hire the best? First, be patient; there are many, many decently qualified candidates, but remember that you’re not out to “fill a slot,” but to improve the organization. Have a clear set of requirements. Don’t let short-term business needs trump long-term talent needs. Set the bar high. It’s important to create a culture of “only the best,” one where managers and staff alike come to expect the best—and learn how to identify such people when they meet them. Consider investing in some training for your managers so that they know how to interview. The better they are, the better will be your company’s hiring decisions.

Make sure that you assess your jobs. Which ones really need successors? (Hint—it’s probably fewer than you think—many just need some good knowledge-capture and knowledge-transfer planning.) For those that do need succession, define the roles carefully and, importantly, figure out the kinds of personal and professional capabilities that lead to success in those roles. Use simple tools to keep track of these positions.

Now do the same with your best people. Don’t just assess their skills, assess the whole person. Are they the type of people who will rise to the challenge? Who love learning and growth? Who aspire to career advancement? Not everyone does, after all, but those who do should be mapped to the roles that you think they can fill—if not now, then within a year or two. (Remember, we said this was a long-term planning process!)

Use straightforward tools to figure out who should be in the plan. You can triage using a simple model to create a short list of “high potential” candidates.  You want people you can trust, and people who can trust others. You want people who sit in the upper right of the “9 Box,” people in whom you see potential, but who are also good—even exceptional—performers today.

Then map: this is simple, but not easy. The biggest danger is not being intensely critical of all your decisions. Put decision makers—including managers and senior managers—into a room and have them both advocate and challenge the decisions as you make them. It’s crucial to get this right, because you’re about to invest time, energy—and money—into the people who end up on these charts! Remember, this isn’t just putting names next to job descriptions—this is planning your company’s FUTURE!  And while we don’t have a crystal ball, we do have our own intelligence. Now’s the time to make the very best HR decisions you can!

And once you’ve done that, then what? Develop, train, coach, and mentor.  This means finding both formal and informal mechanisms for developing not only job skills, but leadership skills. That means working simultaneously on increasing capabilities in all spheres: practical, interpersonal, professional, creative, logical, and more.  The best way to do this, of course, is to have both training programs and mentoring programs in your company, and then to augment these programs with assessment-based coaching. (More on that topic another time.)

Then lather, rinse and repeat! The beauty of a program like this one is that when you hire and develop the best people you possibly can, they, in turn, recognize the value in hiring and developing the best people they possibly can. The result? A “virtuous cycle” of continuous improvement.

What do you think? How is the succession planning program going in your organization?

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Succession Planning–Part 2: Getting Started

In our last post we shared with you the reasons why Succession Planning is not just a nice to have, but very, very important to your company’s long-term growth and success. And yet, too many companies remain stalled, not knowing how to get started with a robust, effective program. In this post we share with you a simple model for how to do exactly that. Then, in our next installment, we’ll discuss the details of how to implement that model.

First, a word about models.  Models are generally good things to have—they give you a picture, and a common language that provides both power and simplicity. But it’s also important to remember that there are lots of models out there, and each may have something to offer. So we suggest that, when looking at various models (including ours), you look for ones with flexibility. Only a flexible model will allow you and your company to be flexible as well—which means allowing you to build the type of program that works best for you.  One size, we’ve found, doesn’t fit all….

In our model, we recommend that you focus on a few simple steps. If they seem obvious, it’s because (for the most part) they are. The trick is to execute on them regularly and systematically.  Here they are:

  1. Hire solid people. Your succession plan will only be as good as the people who are in it, so hire A players—the more of them the better. Don’t settle. Hire only the best.
  2. Have a plan for when you need succession, and then assess the importance of your positions and the capabilities of your people. Recognize that it’s a long-term plan, one that should serve your company for years.
  3. Match ‘em up. Figure out where the knowledge and talent is and where you need it, then put them together.
  4. Develop these people in a thoughtful way. Think long-term, and don’t forget that the more you invest in people, the more likely they are to stick around for that next step in their career paths (rather than going off to a competitor!)
  5. Provide coaching and mentoring so that they learn what they need to learn—not just about the job they’re likely to take over, but about the company as a whole, as well as how to manage others.

If you and your team execute well, then you’ll create a virtuous cycle: the best people, properly developed, will understand the value of top performers and they, with confidence, will hire more of them, creating a domino effect of succession candidates.

Check back for Part 3 in this series, where we discuss how you can do just that.