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Lessons from the Great American Leaders & How They Apply Now

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Measure What Needs to Be Measured

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Performance plans are action plans, not static documents. Effective performance plans must detail the specific actions leaders and employees must follow to accomplish the goals and objectives set within it. Leaders understand that without meaningful performance standards, measuring and evaluating individual performance becomes difficult if not impossible. Once the plan is implemented, meaningful performance standards allow leaders to modify and adapt their plans to actual conditions.

Leaders must use solid standards to monitor and evaluate all aspects of performance. Any measurement used should determine and create an action both on the part of the employee being evaluated and on the part of the leader performing the evaluation.

There is a natural tendency for a leader to focus his or her activities on more prominent areas that will be highlighted and spotlighted, yet every element of the performance plan must be fully addressed.

It should be noted that any standard a leader creates will direct, limit and change the behavior and performance of their employees. This is important for leaders to understand because what and how they choose to evaluate can have either a positive or negative effect on the performance of their organizational unit.

A common pitfall in establishing performance standards is overdoing them. It burdens all involved with excessive factors and controls. Leaders know that to be effective, they need to set performance standards that are relevant and meaningful. It is far better to have fewer meaningful standards than to establish many useless ones. When applied, these standards will present a true picture of the performance of their organizational unit at any given point in time. Four areas to focus on in creating meaningful performance standards are:

What to Measure

The specific elements that need to be measured will vary by organizational unit. Typically, performance standards are set around productivity and profitability. Most leaders establish performance standards by setting specific performance expectations. Examples include:

  • Progress is evaluated by the reaching of specific milestones linked to individual goals and objectives.
  • Profitability is evaluated against the budgets established for each activity.
  • Efficiency is evaluated by the resource utilization within the organizational unit.

Each organizational unit has key factors that determine their success. Leaders identify these factors as indicators of performance and look for trigger points that are early indicators of the success or failure of these factors. For instance, if a leader is managing a manufacturing unit, he or she may focus on projected orders as a key indicator of their unit’s future activities. While a production supervisor may not be interested in these future indicators, a leader looks beyond the immediate horizon to maximize the efficiency of their unit.

How to Benchmark

Once leaders know what they want to evaluate, they need to benchmark each critical measurement. This establishes degrees of confidence and reliability in their numbers. They review these statistics over a meaningful period of time to establish a benchmark of past performance in each area. The longer a leader reviews the past performance of a specific area, the higher the degree of confidence and reliability he or she establishes.

Once key performance standards are benchmarked, leaders establish “triggering events” that result in taking immediate action. Since the benchmarked statistic is the standard, a triggering event can be predetermined. This event or “flag” occurs when performance rises above or falls below a specific percentage of the benchmarked standard. This provides leaders an early warning system to proactively deal with performance problems before they get out of hand.

How Frequently to Measure

Leaders are careful not to overburden themselves with needless information. They use performance standards as a means to keep their finger on the pulse of their unit’s performance. They can easily determine the frequency for receiving reports of their unit’s performance. Some statistics are meaningful on a daily basis, some hourly, and still others only when reported over prolonged periods of time.

What Measurements Indicate

Key performance standards need to inform leaders of the overall performance of their organizational unit. Specific measurements can trigger corrective actions, while others indicate the progress of the unit against performance plan goals and objectives. Effectively utilized, solid performance standards lead and direct the leader’s actions to fine-tune his or her unit’s performance. The right balance of key standards points the way to improved overall performance and productivity.

Excerpt: Planning to Maximize Performance: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI, 2011) $ 16.95 USD


Five Critical Steps to Maximize Performance

Execution: Six Action Steps

Performance Plans Create Results and Maximizes Performance

Objectives Allow Managers to Focus on Obtaining Results

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

The Mastery of Details is an Integral Part of Leadership

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Oprah Winfrey  (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)

Oprah Winfrey
(Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)

The United States Nuclear Navy has an enviable record for engineering excellence and safety. From its inception in the 1940s, Admiral Hyman Rickover (U.S. Navy) established exacting standards for every aspect of its operation. Not content to remain behind a desk, he was present on the bridge of every newly launched vessel as it underwent its sea trials.

He was truly immersed in the details of each project and every mission, and left nothing to chance. This included interviewing every naval officer before they were allowed into the nuclear program. He stated that, “The man in charge must concern himself with details. If he does not consider them important, neither will his subordinates.

Yet ‘the devil is in the details.’ It is hard and monotonous to pay attention to seemingly minor matters. In my work I probably spend about 99 percent of my time on what others may call petty details. Most managers would rather focus on lofty policy matters. But when the details are ignored, the project fails.

No infusion of policy or lofty ideals can then correct the situation. To maintain proper control one must have simple and direct means to find out what is going on. There are many ways of doing this; all involve constant drudgery.

For this reason those in charge often create ‘management information systems’ designed to extract from the operation the details a busy executive needs to know. Often the process is carried too far. The top official then loses touch with his people and with the work that is actually going on.”

Colin Powell (U.S. Army) noted, “Sometimes details are neglected because they’re not sexy enough… Running anything is primarily an enormous amount of grubby detail work and very little excitement, so deal making is kind of romantic, sexy. That’s why you have deals that make no sense.

Good leaders don’t view details… as grubby. They view the mastery of detail as an integral part of leadership.”

As military leaders, both Rickover and Powell recognized the value of being immersed in details. They understood that in a combat environment, overlooked details can be costly in many ways, especially regarding the lives of the men and women who serve under them. This immersion in detail was also observed in other military leaders, including Robert E. Lee, U.S. Grant and Robert Wood (Sears).

A desire to immerse themselves in details isn’t limited to military leaders. It was observable in the behaviors of other great leaders, including Steve Jobs (Apple), Bill Gates (Microsoft), Elizabeth Arden (Elizabeth Arden), and Estée Lauder (Estée Lauder) to cite a few.

William Boeing (Boeing) began his career in the lumber business before he saw the future of aviation. In addition to Boeing he also created the United Aircraft Corporation and United Airlines as subsidiaries. (The Federal government ultimately broke-up Boeing as a monopoly in 1934.)

As Boeing grew his aviation business, “[he] continued to run his timber business and was able to absorb details of both lumber and airplane enterprises. Years later, he could recall the description and topography of a parcel of land and the species and quality of timber that it would yield. He believed in details and told his managers that many a wrong decision stemmed from a detail overlooked or incorrectly interpreted.”

Another aviation pioneer, Juan Trippe (Pan American Airways) immersed himself in every detail of his emerging business. “When [he] got Pan American Airways into the air in 1927 he knew every wrinkle in its flying equipment (a lone tri-motored Fokker), every part in his stockroom, every wavelet in the go-mile mail route between Key West and Havana.”

When viewed from the perspective of “ruthless efficiency,” the practice of immerging oneself in the details of managing a successful enterprise makes absolute sense. Large and widespread companies by their very nature, creates potential waste and duplication.

This is underscored by a report issued by the U.S. Government Accountability Office in March 2010 entitled, Opportunities to Reduce Potential Duplication in Government Programs, Save Tax Dollars, and Enhance Revenue, which reported wide spread waste and duplication of efforts throughout the Federal government, costing taxpayers up to $200 billion annually.

John D. Rockefeller (Standard Oil) is a notable example. “Of all the lessons John absorbed from his father, perhaps none surpassed in importance that of keeping meticulous accounts… The titan had to know to the last pipe, to the last oil storage tank at each of his refineries, to the last Standard Oil tanker at sea, to the last penny in Standard Oil’s Accounts Receivable, and to the last of whatever else he could think of in his business, where everything was, how the item or person served his purposes, and their exact value.”

Oprah Winfrey (Harpo Productions) openly admits her lack of management acumen. She delegates that aspect of the business to professional managers within her organization. Yet, this does not stop her from immersing herself in the details of her business.

“Everything is personal at Harpo. While Oprah does delegate operational decisions, she is all over her content. Before O gets shipped to the printer, she reads every word and scrutinizes every picture—typically working on the magazine, via her office PC, from 3 P.M. to 8 P.M. Tuesday through Thursday and all day Friday, when she doesn’t shoot her show.

‘She’s into every little… thing, the commas, the exclamation points,’ says Gayle King, who, as editor-at-large, is Oprah’s eyes and ears at the Manhattan-based magazine.”

Winfrey’s attention isn’t just limited to her content. She personally signs all checks and pays close attention to how her money is being spent.

Excerpt: Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) Read a Free Chapter

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2012 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Written by Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D.

January 2, 2013 at 10:50 am

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