Communication, Leadership, and Writing Your Own User Manual

Unfortunately, newborn children and team members don’t come with a set of instructions.  But here’s your chance to write your own “user’s manual.”  Creating your own set of instructions for yourself can be a great way to build stronger relationships in your organization.  It’s a technique we use at Performance Strategies Groupin which two or more people jot complete a series of sentences to identify ways to better coach and be coached, allowing team members to create a common baseline for behavioral and cultural dialogue.

This tool may be particularly useful to do so when new team members join an organization, enabling the parties participating in the exercise to accelerate an understanding about what is important to each of them.   Often, we employ this exercise to compliment our use of several behavioral profiles we use in leadership and teambuilding exercises and become the foundation for creating a coaching culture.  With that understanding, please complete the following sentences with the realization there may be one or more ideas that come to mind.  Try to identify the two or three things that are most important to you, rather than list all your possible responses.

  1. If you want to motivate or energize me, you should…
  2. If you want to frustrate or demotivate me, you should…
  3. I give you permission to….
  4. If I have done something well please…
  5. If my productivity, accuracy, or some other performance measure by which I am gaged falls short, you should…
  6. I would prefer…
  7. I like a work environment in which….
  8. It is difficult for me to…
  9. It is really important for me to…
  10. Conflict is…
  11. As I understand them my primary responsibilities by which my performance will be measured includes…
  12. I need help when…
  13. I get upset when…
  14. I am the kind of employee/manager who values…
  15. I think our organizational culture values…
  16. When I am under stress I tend to…
  17. I feel devalued when…
  18. I feel valued when…
  19. When our organization is undergoing change in policies, people, or processes, I would appreciate
  20. I am not sure who is responsible for…
  21. I am at my best when…

Keep in mind this is only a brief list of statements, not a comprehensive one.  When discussing your responses with someone else in your organization, you will likely find yourself adding to the list.  You should feel free to do so and revisit this dialogue regularly.

If you’d like more information about how Performance Strategies Group can help you and your organization improve your communication, sales and leadership skills, or with our strategic planning process, contact principal consultant, Jim Owens at


Talent Management, Variable Compensation and Sales Productivity

As companies attempt to recruit, retain, and develop talent in a highly competitive market, a few important facts should be considered. The Baby Boomer’s continued exodus from the workforce, combined with a relatively robust economy in which unemployment is at a historic low since the great recession of 2008 are driving up compensation demands for employers. Exacerbating this challenge for employers is the demographic impact of Millennials who tend to change jobs (and careers) more rapidly than previous generations. So what should organizations do in light of these trends?

First, they should be creating compensation structures that reward exceptional performance, even as they should reduce the number of metrics on which those employees are measured. Simple, straightforward performance goals related to productivity, sales, efficiency, compliance, and turnover are a few to consider across a variety of roles. Additionally, businesses now eschew annual performance review in favor of performance check-ins. We recommend check-ins are brief, frequent, and ongoing interactions between management and staff during, many of which may include the use of a performance dashboard. In short, those dashboards are like vital signs such as blood pressure, respiration, heart rate which are consistently monitored when healthcare professionals are monitoring patient health. Yet unlike those healthcare monitoring needs, organizational check-ins, should be forward-looking. In such cases, past performance (say for a week, month, or quarter) discussions must include dialogue about what employees should do more of, less of, do better, or do differently in the future. Such check-ins, based on our experience and research should create a culture of both accountability and encouragement.

In their efforts to reward performance, employer’s efforts related to the oft-dreaded annual review and an average salary increase of 3% seem a poor investment of time and money. So while there remains a continued obligation for employers not to discriminate in their compensation programs, establishing measurable performance standards and tying exceptional performance to variable compensation is an important tool in the toolbox of employers. Yet it is important to note variable compensation is meant to be variable. As one company executive puts it:

“Variable rewards based on clearly defined target goals at the individual, departmental and organizational level can change employees’ mindsets from “this is what I need to do to please my boss so I can get a big raise or bonus” to “this is what I need to do to add value to the company,” Rubino said. For incentive metrics to work, “there must be a performance threshold beneath which no payments are made,” he added. “That’s why the program is called ‘variable.’ “

Second, to insure buy-in from their teams, employers should be allowing their team members to weigh-in on how their performance goals are established, allowing for flexibility with regard to the experience and expertise of their team members. Rarely does one size fit all when it comes to performance expectations. That isn’t to say minimum performance standards based on job roles should not be established. But, say in the case of a commercial bank a Relationship Manager I may have the same duties as in many was a more tenured Relationship Manager V. So the loan, deposit, and fee income production responsibilities of each class will vary. And those goals may vary, to some degree, based on the markets in which those team members serve.

To be clear, clear, the responsibility of a sales person is to grow the incremental revenue of an organization. That may mean they have some obligations to help retain clients (as in the case of bankers), but continually growing revenue and the number of clients of the organization should not plateau for any sales professional. Revenue growth is largely what matters when it comes to sales performance and variable compensation, commissions, bonuses, etc. And, in general, the more liberal the variable compensation plan is, the lower fixed salaries should be. In some cases, again, say relationship managers in banking, employees will have non-sales related responsibilities (client retention, portfolio documentation, compliance, supporting corporate values) so their sales may represent a higher portion of their relative compensation than in true sales roles.

Third, if employers want to retain top talent (especially younger talent) those team members must see a path for growth in their expertise and the potential for being rewarded. Yet such rewards need not always be financial. They can include additional responsibilities, inviting them into organizational leadership programs, providing them with a third-party coach or an internal mentor. Millennials, in particular, are concerned about how they can grow professionally and understand how their profession matters in terms of their purpose or intentions about life—and most don’t believe their talents are being adequately utilized. Smart employers identify their promotable talent and those into whom they will pour their energies in an effort to keep them on staff—especially those who are highly productive. Fortunately, such developmental strategies need not be costly. They can be as simple as engaging such team members in strategic projects, allowing them to observe and listen in to dialogue around decision-making, developing internal best-practices or case studies for the benefit of the entire organization.

Finally, we’ve founded wisdom in the adage sometimes you can do more with one big tractor than two little ones. This analogy, when it comes to talent means hiring two lower salaried employees may mean organizations accomplish less than if they hire one higher salaried team member. It’s possible pay two employees $50,000 a piece but get less return on that $100,000, than by hiring a single employee with a $75,000 salary if that individual has more expertise, motivation, leadership ability, and determination than the other two. We call that leverage. Looking for bargains in organizational hiring and talent acquisition strategies can result in a far lower ROI. Smart employers don’t always bargain-hunt.

If you’d like to know more about how Performance Strategies Group works with organizations and individuals to help build meaningful strategic plans, our executive coaching work, or how we collaborate to help them build better leadership and sales processes and skills, contact Principal Consultant, Jim Owens at


Performance Matters: Telling Your Story

“What’s your story?”

It’s a question that’s pregnant with possibilities.  It can be posed as a accusation or as a sincere expression of interests.  But when it comes to telling their “story,” many leaders find it hard to express stories about their organizational culture, mission, challenges or victories.  Such leaders often fail to see the value of a well-told tale when it comes to engaging an audience, resorting to email as a means of so-called “communication” with their stakeholders.  They miss the primary value of story-telling when it comes to communication.  So what’s that?

It’s the opportunity to, as one writer puts it, to “make me care”  as a part of your audience.  When we coach leaders about communication we often have to remind them that they are on a quest to win both the  hearts and minds of their stakeholders.  As leaders, we have to find what is important to our stakeholders and connect with the passions, concerns, fears, or hopes,  and dreams in meaningful ways if we want to engage an audience, a customer, or an employee.  In short, great communicators make people feel a connection with the message they’re hearing.  

Over the years, we’ve asked leaders to share a story about something about their organizational values and mission.  We normally hear vague references to integrity, or hard work, agility, or even how much their organization values people.  But when asked to share an example of how that value has been born out in their organization in the last 30 days, we’re surprised at how few can do so.

So the next time you’re about to write that email, address that audience, or meet with that client, ask yourself one question.  What do they care about?  Whatever message you’re trying to craft will be far more likely to connect if you begin there, rather than if you lead and discuss only what you care about.  We will talk more about this in our next few blog posts as we address how it can help create change in your organization, building your strategic plans, or even how it will improve your sales effectiveness and customer satisfaction.  

Until then, if you’d like to know more about our executive coaching, strategic planning, or leadership and sales process consulting work, email Principal Consultant, Jim Owens, at






Performance Matters: The Boomer’s Guide to Coaching Millennials

According to a recent Gallup report, more than half of Millennials are looking for a new job.  And that same report makes clear as employees of that generation don’t want bosses. They want coaches—people who can help them develop their abilities and contribute to meaningful work. That means Baby Boomer’s in leadership roles need to approach them differently than they might have wanted to be lead themselves. So besides realizing not all Millennials (just like Boomers) aren’t all the same, what should Baby Boomer’s do if they want to effectively recruit and retain and coach Millennial.

First, leaders must realize a paycheck alone won’t result in an engaged Millennial team member—or probably anyone else these days.  Those employees also want to know how their work impacts the organization’s stakeholders—owners, customers, other employees and their communities.  They want to know why and how fulfilling an organizational mission makes the world a better place—and how their working in that organization contributes to fulfilling that mission. There are endless possibilities for coaches to connect those concerns, including: how an employee’s work may allow the organization to be generous to community and non-profit organizations, or how their work might be helping make a safer, more reliable product that give its customer’s peace of mind.  The key here is tying the individual’s work and their own sense of purpose with the organization’s mission.   

Second, leaders have to get to know their Millennial team members as people, not as a monolithic generation.  Gone are the days when a good pension and health insurance meant an employee stayed with the organization for a lifetime.  Now, more than ever, leaders and managers must invest in building genuine relationships with their Millennial team members. If roughly 80%, as Gallup also indicates, of an employee’s sense of engagement (and thus, their productivity) comes from their relationship with a manager, then retaining productive employees means leaders must invest in understanding their Millennial employee’s goals and values, helping those team members to achieve their dreams and live out their values.  In doing so, these leaders can begin to coach their teammates in the context of that understanding, creating more institutional goodwill and reducing turnover.

Finally, these leaders should know annual reviews alone are a poor means of helping their Millennial team members understand their value to the organization.  Effective coaching is an ongoing and very personal process—the frequency and fervor must go beyond simply achieving tactical institutional goals.  It is built on a clear understanding of the employee’s goals and purpose and how they can best develop their skills and abilities, and how to develop them. In sports, coaches show their players how to execute a skill. Then they allow those players to demonstrate those skills.  Once they have observed that attempt, great coaches give prompt, constructive—and sometimes very straightforward—feedback in a relationship that is built on trust and mutual respect. 

Baby Boomer leaders should know that coaching your Millennial employees is simple.  It’s just not easy.  It will require a commitment of time, understanding, and a willingness for these leaders to accept their inter-generational differences in communication styles and values.Which means these leaders will have to adjust their strategies and tactics if they want to recruit, retain, and develop the Millennial generation talent. Doing such things will, with time, become a clear differentiator to Millennials—and for Baby Boomer leaders and their organizations—creating an environment where people the get to come to work rather than have to come to work.


Performance Matters: Aligning Customer Experience & the Happiest Place on Earth

They say it’s the happiest place on earth.  

And if you’ve ever been to a Disney resort or taken one of their cruises, you’ll probably agree–even if a hot dog and Coke will cost ya twenty bucks.

When many people visit Disney, they have saved all year (or several) to make the trip.  And their expectations are high.  They want the memories, the excitement of the rides, a clean park, to see their children and grandchildren smile, and to feel safe, free from the cares of their daily lives.  But despite those high expectations, Disney overwhelmingly gets it right.  Why?

Because Disney knows their guests are–deep down–seeking an experience, they aren’t just on vacation.  Disney takes nothing for granted, even teaching their staff how to direct people to locations in the park without awkwardly pointing and grunting “Magic Mountain is that way.”

So what can banks, hospitals, schools, government contractors and non-profit organizations learn from Disney?  First, they understand what their customers want.  Second, they take nothing for granted in how they equip their employees to meet customer expectations.  Third, the right customers are willing to pay for exceptional experiences.

All the evidence points to customer experience becoming the differentiator for the exceptional organization of the future.  So if you aren’t investing in understanding what your customers want, and aligning everything your organization–especially if you’re in a service business–does around that expectation, you’re putting their loyalty at risk.

If you’ve found this piece insightful, please share it with our friends and peers.  And if you’d like to know how Performance Strategies Group helps clients with strategic planning, alignment, and stakeholder relations–including customers–email Principal Consultant, Jim Owens, at


Performance Matters: Aligning People, Processes, & Policies

Alignment.  It’s not just about getting into your favorite yoga pose properly.

If you work in any large organization, you’ve probably heard the term.  But alignment isn’t just for large organizations.  And while alignment is about getting your vision and and tactics in synch with one another to maximize productivity, it’s not as mysterious a concept as many seem to think.  But there’s a big question to be answered when trying to create more aligned organizations.  So where should we start?

Effective alignment begins with the customer!

It doesn’t matter if we are trying to align a single department or an entire organization, everything we do in any organization is about serving a customer or client.  So when we build policies, assign roles to people, or build organizational charts and processes we have to begin with the needs of the customer.  Sure, we have to make sure everything we do is compliant with laws and regulations, but when we focus on customers in that context, great things can happen.

At the moment, Performance Strategies Group is in middle of a stakeholder relations research on behalf of a client as part of a strategic planning engagement.  That means we are helping our client to identify customer’s opinions about products, their needs, frustrations, and even the reputation of the organization itself,  Yes, we’re also getting feedback from staff, board members, and other appropriate constituencies, but this, or any other organization doesn’t understand the customer’s experience and how easy or difficult it makes them to do business with us, alignment efforts are little more than a lab experiment.  

Whether you’re a CEO, a sales advisor, or a quality control engineer, you have to talk to your clients.  Okay, we will get off our soap box.  Enough said.

If you’ve found this piece insightful, please share it with our friends and peers.  And if you’d like to know how Performance Strategies Group helps clients with strategic planning, alignment, and stakeholder relations–including customers–email Principal Consultant, Jim Owens, at


Performance Matters: What did you do last night and uncertainty.


It can cause us everything from a bit of anxiety—that pit in our stomachs—to outright panic. But when it comes to our relationships when can feel uncertainty when we walk into a crowded room, meet a new boss, or make a sales call. And at the core of those experiences, we all want to reduce our sense of uncertainty.

So how can we lower that uncertainty quickly and build better and more productive relationships? By learning how, when, and where to ask the right questions. 

Consider this question:  What did you do last night?  It’s a simple question.  But it has a possibility of evoking a remarkable variety of emotions based on how, when, and where we ask. 

If it’s said gently to a teenager, even when we believe they’ve been up to something inappropriate, it might evoke a quiet, “not much.”  But if we ask it in the form of an accusation, WHAT DID YOU DO LAST NIGHT? it’s likely to evoke a denial, or worse, anger. And if we wake them in the middle of the night ask—no matter what tone we use—we’re only creating more uncertainty and anxiety.  But what if we phrased it this way after the teenager has slept the night, had breakfast and is wide awake?  Tell me about your evening last night?  Wouldn’t we avoid some uncertainty and have a more productive conversation?

When we’re with a prospect—particularly one who might not know us well—each us trying to lower uncertainty.  The prospect wants to know if we are competent, honest, and that our product is fairly priced and best for him.  So we might ask him, “What would you like to know about me and my company or our products?”before anything else. If you’re a sales person and want to become a trusted-advisor,reducing your prospect’s uncertainty first will allow you to offer something about your expertise, the benefits of your product, or even personal references in return.    Once we’ve done that, we can move on to ask our own questions about his business needs and do so in such a manner that inspires confidence in us as an advisor.

There’s much more to be said about asking questions and reducing uncertainty—and we know the teenager example might seem a little extreme.  But in the coming weeks, we’ll show you have you can use this technique with employees to lead more effectively, reduce stress, and improve employee engagement.

Until then….

If you’ve found this information useful, encouraging or might see a way we can improve it, please let us know.  And if you thought it was encouraging, forward it to a friend so they can subscribe. If you want to find out more about how Performance Strategies Group helps organizations sharpen their sales skills and processes, builds more self-aware and resilient leaders, or equip more productive teams, find us online at, or call Principal Consultant, Jim Owens @ 256-426-0305.