In the past, I have written often about the importance of matching talent with outcomes. For many leaders in key positions, the work of Marcus Buckingham, and Curt Coffman in their book, First, Break All The Rules: What The World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, Simon & Schuster, 1999, is the foundation for this entire subject. Yet, it has been fourteen years since the original work was published and it would be good to review the fundamentals in order to be successful during the coming 1-2 years.
Most people start in two places on this subject. First, they focus on discovering what is unique about each person and then attempt to capitalize on it. This is the core of building on talents and strengths. The second area they focus on comes from the Q12 questions, particularly the first one which states “Do I know what is expected of me?” The combination of the two is very important when finding the right match between talent and outcomes.
However, we need to examine the subject of clarifying expectations in greater detail. Here, Buckingham and Coffman tell us to keep the focus on the outcomes, to value world-class performance in every role, and to study your best people. In subsequent writing, Buckingham continues this subject by telling us to define clear expectations. He says the key to doing this is to become a manager who will recognize excellence immediately and praise it, to celebrate incremental improvements, and to show you care for your people.
For me, the critical element this morning to begin the entire process of finding the right match between talent and outcomes starts with a clear definition of what is operational excellence. Tom Peters defines excellence as a workplace philosophy where problem solving, teamwork and leadership results in on-going improvements or continuos improvements in the organization. He says that this takes place when we as leaders focus on the needs of the customer, continually evaluate and optimize our current work place activities, and develop an engaged work force, i.e. one that is positive and empowered.
I believe the critical component to unlocking this process is for all involved to understand the union between excellence and outcomes. From my vantage point, it all comes down to routine performance management and coaching. When this simple, focused, and self-tracking process happens on a regular basis, then we achieve a greater depth of understanding. Here are some questions to help you as a coach make the connection between these two key concepts:
- What actions have you taken to promote excellence and improve outcomes?
- What discoveries have you made about the connection between excellence and outcomes?
- What partnerships have you built to improve excellence and outcomes?
Nevertheless, many leaders, managers and supervisors consider routine coaching and performance management as nothing more than the optimization of status quo. “Many leaders try to optimize what they are already doing in their current business” writes A.G. Lafley and Roger L. Marten in their book, Playing To Win: How Strategy Really Works, 2013 Harvard Business Review Press. As they continue, “This can create efficiency and drive some value.... The optimization of current practices does not address the very real possibility that the firm could be exhausting its assets and resources by optimizing the wrong activities, while more-strategic competitors pass it by.”
Another line of thinking is to make sure performance management is only focused on best practices. However the above authors note that “Every industry has tools and practices that become widespread and generic. Some organizations define performance management as bench-marking against competition and then doing the same set of activities but more effectively. Sameness isn’t performance management. It is a recipe for mediocrity.”
The key here today is for us as leaders, managers and supervisors to continually define excellence and to continually clarify the desired outcomes. Then, during regular and frequent coaching sessions help all involved understand why these two issues are mission critical to the organization’s success and how we all can make this take place on a regular basis.