This is the first in a series of Class Reunion articles where I reflect on leadership training courses I have facilitated in the past. I look back at the leadership learning lessons from the course and select one topic for special focus in each article. The topic for this article is Setting Objectives.
My questions for the participants is: how much of the learning have you retained; what has experience taught you in the interim; and how are you applying it now?
My challenge to anyone who has attended leadership training in the recent past is to Reflect, Refresh & Renew.
- Reflect on the skills you learnt – including referring back to your notes in the course workbook.
- Refresh your knowledge of the subject and re-learn how to use the skills – including examples of how you have developed your skills and knowledge since the course.
- Renew your commitment to applying the skills in your daily leadership practice – including sharing this commitment with your manager and/or leadership coach as part of your continuous professional development.
Read on for more about my focused leadership learning topic for the Class of ‘07 ….
The Training Venue
I ran two 5-day Leading Others courses for Maersk in Gothenburg in the autumn of 2007. It was a great place in Sweden to be visiting and working at this time of the year. The Hjortviken Hotel is a fabulous venue, just 10 minutes from Landvetter airport and 30 minutes from Gothenburg city centre. There is stunning scenery, great woodland walks and the hotel is located right on the side of a lake. Swedish nature at its best.
The Training Programme
The Leading Others (*) programme comprised six main sessions or modules:
- Prioritise & Set Objectives
- Assess Performance & Give Feedback
- Coach & Develop Direct Reports
- Delegate & Follow Up
- Select Team Members & Optimise the Team
- Time Application
This is a residential programme for a class size of 20 first level managers who have been in the Leader of Others role for at least six months.
(*) Maersk no longer offer this programme. It appears to have been superseded by ‘Front Line Leaders’.
Question: Did you attend any of the Maersk Leading Others or Maersk Leading Leaders programmes over the period 2007 to 2009? If so, I would love to hear from you. I was one of a team of facilitators running these programmes at this time. It doesn’t matter who ran the programme, get in touch please and let me know what you discovered from the Reflect, Refresh & Renew challenge. Click the link or use the Ask Me contact form.
Focused Leadership Learning Topic
For this article I will focus on the key learnings from the ‘Prioritise & Set Objectives’ session for you to reflect, refresh and renew your knowledge and skills.
My facilitator guide for this session stated:
“This Module is about prioritising and setting objectives; two disciplines that are essential for an efficient leader and his/her team. Setting clear objectives and clarifying expectations is the starting point of empowerment and enabling people to work independently with the freedom to do what they find necessary to achieve the objective. Clear objectives are the starting point of accountability and to hold people accountable, the expectations and goals should be clear”.
I couldn’t agree more. In the 13 years since I ran these courses in Gothenburg I have developed a lot of new learning resource material of my own. You can read my LARA Leadership Learning series of 10 eBooks for free if you subscribe to Amazon Kindle Unlimited. You can read my Coaches Toolkit material for free if you are a subscriber to this Blog.
Summary of Key Learnings
Get SMART before you Start: Take stock of the resources you have available to you. Make sure you understand the skills, will and potential you have in your team. Understand demand. What is your team responsible for now, and what might you be called on to deliver in the near future? Ensure you understand the business strategy you are charged with executing and how your team goals fit in. This will ensure you are effective in setting up and communicating the operational plan and the individual objectives with your team.
Set High Positive Expectations: You might ask: ‘Why cover SMART again’? The answer is it will be difficult to assess good or poor performance in the future if you don’t set clear SMART objectives from the outset. It’s unfair to blame people if SMART objectives are not set and agreed from beginning. Remember, SM&T are the ‘hard’ elements. The ‘soft’ elements of SMART are A&R – ‘Attainable’ and ‘Relevant’. These are part of the ‘psychological contract’. This is where you can set high positive expectations. People who succeed have motivation AND hold high positive expectation around the goals they intend to deliver and exceed. For example, you as the leader may think an objective is attainable, but you need to get the get buy and agreement from your direct report to make that a reality. The same applies with relevance. Use SMART as the acid test every time you set or review objectives.
Have Planned Discussions: It is a good idea to plan for crucial conversations. What could be more crucial than setting objectives with direct reports? You owe it to yourself and to your direct report to prepare properly for these conversations. Here are some elements of that preparation. Make up your own template. Agree the objective, priority and context within the bigger picture. Relate to the role of the team and that of the individual. Agree the standard: minimum acceptable, on target and exceeds expectations. Agree metrics and milestones: what is being measured, by whom, when and how often; what are the millstones; how is progress and status described? Agree feedback content, purpose and frequency.
Monitor and Measure: Set up and implement frequent performance reviews and make the data available to those most able to influence performance. Collect, analyse and present productivity data quickly and efficiently so that those engaged can see how their performance is going and what impact decisions or actions have had on performance. Visual management systems (VMS) are an ideal way to present and communicate this. Everyone needs to know what the team is achieving and whether they are winning or not. Give feedback on performance decisively and frequently. Don’t wait for quarterly or annual reviews. Keep a record of your observations in a Log Book and use it as part of your Leadership Toolkit.
Make it Happen: You are a Leader of Others. You’ve been on the course, you’ve read the books and now you are reading this article. It’s not theoretical anymore. It’s not about having ideas how other people should do the job. It’s your job now to get the maximum amount of performance and engagement out of this group of people for whom you’ve been given responsibility. It’s very important both at organisational level and individual leadership level that you realise that your individual success and your company’s success continues to be closely and uniquely tied to your ability to consistently deliver against ambitious goals.
Maintain Momentum: The role of a Leader of Others requires your constant attention. Your number one job is simply to improve performance and built the capacity in people to do more. You are the first line of leadership for the people doing the work. Their level of engagement, commitment and work effort relates directly to how well you do your job. You are fully aware of what is happening in your workplace, whether that is very local where you can glance around and see everything and everyone, or whether it is a disparate group spread across the globe. You take full responsibility for the performance of your team and for each member of the team. This is the role of a Leader of Others. It truly does require your full attention. You provide the energy and focus which ensures individuals are working towards a common team purpose and goals are achieved. You celebrate successful outcomes and milestone achievements with the team.
Just to show I take my own medicine I did a Reflect, Refresh & Renew on the Class of ’87. In January 1987 I attended a one week residential training course ‘Principles of Effective Management’ at the Sundridge Park Management Centre in Bromley, Kent UK. My job title at the time was Divisional Director Programme Management Service. I was a Functional Leader with Leaders of Leaders and Leaders of Others reporting in to me. A functional team of around 100 colleagues.
On Thursday 15th January 1987 our course tutor introduced us to ‘Accountabilities & Objectives’. Reflecting on my handwritten course notes and personal action plan the following were important to me at the time:
Accountabilities: to review my personal accountabilities with my boss (see ‘Get SMART before you Start’ above)
Client Service Levels: to set up and agree by discussion with my direct reports their personal and team objectives for managing the elements of customer satisfaction and internal performance standard (see ‘Have Planned Discussions’ above)
Metrics: to review and improve the functional metrics shared monthly with my peers and my boss (see ‘Monitor and Measure’ above)
According to my Action Plan from the course, shared with both my boss and with the course tutor, I achieved these by the end of March 1987. Wow – that was so long ago. And yet it was very easy to find the information from my course workbook. And those principles of effective management (also the course name) have stayed with me for the past thirty three years. In that time I’ve learned so much more, observed and assessed many others; and trained and coached so many people on these topics too. Reflect, Refresh & Renew.