To boost performance connect with the core


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How the leaders of the US Navy and the rock band U2 connected with people so everyone wanted to gave their best efforts and align their behavior with group goals.

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To boost performance connect with the core

  1. 1. E X E C U T I V E F O R U M TO BOOST PERFORMANCE, CONNECT WITH THE CORE Michael Lee Stallard and Jason PankauE very organization’s long-term success depends advantage over several years results in a considerable differ- on employees aligning their behavior with orga- ence in productivity and performance. And productivity nizational goals and giving their best efforts. Yet is only one of several benefits that come from having anfew leaders are strong in fostering strategic alignment aligned and engaged workforce.and employee engagement. Long-term research by the Leaders consciously or unconsciously sort employeesGallup organization shows that 75 percent of American into three categories: the “stars,” consisting of thoseworkers are disengaged and 15 percent of this group are in management as well as high-potential employees;so disengaged they regularly work against their organi- the much larger “core” made up of solid contributors;zation’s goals. In addition, Corporate Executive Board and the rest, employees whose contributions and fitresearch shows that 40 percent of engaged employ- with the organization are questionable. Stars typicallyees are not aligning their behavior with organizational feel connected to the organization because they havegoals. The bottom line is that only 1 in 10 employees is power or influence. Core employees typically don’tboth engaged and aligned with strategy. These sobering feel connected. And because they don’t feel connected,statistics represent a drain on productivity that leaders over time a significant portion of them show up forcan no longer afford to ignore. the paycheck but stop caring and stop giving their bestOrganizations with aligned and engaged employees clearly efforts. In addition, they stop fully communicating. Ashave a competitive edge. Research from the Corporate Ex- a result, decision makers don’t get all the informationecutive Board shows that engaged employees are 20 per- they need to make optimal decisions. This breakdowncent more productive than the average employee. That’s in communications, in turn, results in suboptimal deci-like an extra day of work each week. Compounding this sion making and organizational underperformance. SUMMER 2010 51
  2. 2. The Value bridge makes employees feel valued as human beings, and for their unique strengths and con- tributions to the organization. Leaders build the ValueCore employees typically bridge by developing a culture where everyone respects the dignity and worth of individuals, appreciates theirdon’t feel connected to the strengths and contributions regardless of their position in the organization’s hierarchy, and helps them achieve their potential. Employees who are well treated willorganization. reciprocate. The Voice bridge makes employees feel informed and that their opinions and ideas on matters that are im- portant to them are heard and considered by decisionIn addition to the negative impact on decision making, makers. Leaders build the Voice bridge by developingdiminished communications from the lack of connec- processes and practices that keep employees in the looption reduces the marketplace of ideas inside the organi- and give them regular opportunities to express theirzation, which in turn reduces innovation. This happens views. Knowing that their input has been factored intobecause innovation occurs when an individual sees a a leader’s decision is motivating and it enhances theirpotential connection between previously unrelated future participation.ideas—shoes + wheels = roller skates. A diminishedmarketplace of ideas reduces the likelihood that inno-vative connections will be made to birth new products, Connecting the U.S. Navyprocesses, and businesses. One example of a leader who intentionally developedIf the sense of connection that exists among leaders and a Connection Culture using all three bridges is Admi-stars does not extend to the core, what can be done?A study by the Corporate Executive Board has shownthat emotional factors are four times as important asrational factors when it comes to the amount of effortemployees put into their work. In our research, we havelearned that leaders whose organizations achieve high Emotional factors arelevels of employee engagement and strategic alignmentunderstand the power of emotional connections toengage and align employees, and they are intentional four times as importantabout making core employees feel connected to themand to the organization. They have learned to buildbridges that extend the feeling of connection to the as rational factors incore. These bridges come in three distinct forms thattogether create a Connection Culture. determining the effortThe Vision bridge makes employees feel proud to bemembers of the organization. Leaders build the Visionbridge by developing and communicating a mission, employees put into theirset of values, and a reputation that connect with em-ployees. Employees are inspired by the way the leaderdescribes the organization’s identity, including its mis- work.sion and core beliefs.52 LEADER TO LEADER
  3. 3. ral Vern Clark, the chief of naval operations (CNO)from 2000 until his retirement in 2005. Over thecourse of 2009, Stallard met with and interviewedAdmiral Clark and several of the Naval officers who They have learned tohad reported to him.The CNO is the head of the U.S. Navy. He is theprimary adviser to the president of the United States build bridges that extendon the conduct of war at sea. When Admiral Clarkassumed the CNO role, the Navy was not meeting its the feeling of connection tosailor retention goals. This is problematic when youconsider the Navy’s sophisticated surveillance, navi-gation, and weapons systems and the importance of the core.maintaining the readiness of national defense. Awareof this and concerned about its impact on militarypreparedness, Admiral Clark made winning the war for ing Admiral Clark speak. Admiral Thorpe approachedtalent number one of his “Top Five” priorities. the young man to see what was wrong. The sailor toldFollowing are a few of the ways Admiral Clark and his him that he was going to ask his commanding officerleadership team built bridges so that everyone felt con- to rip up the discharge papers he had recently submit-nected and a part of the Navy. ted. Admiral Clark’s message had reached his mind and heart and for the first time, he said, “a leader told meThe Vision Bridge why I should stay in the Navy.”Admiral Clark employed the Vision bridge and con-nected with sailors by communicating that the Navy’s The Value Bridgemission is to take the “war fighting readiness” of the Admiral Clark described his strategy as using the Navy’sUnited States to any corner of the world at a moment’s “asymmetrical advantages” of the “best technology innotice. He said it was “our turn to make history” by the world” combined with the “genius of our people.”“building a Navy for the 21st century” that would be He made certain the Navy’s plans and budgets were“strategically and operationally agile, technologically aligned with his priorities. There were many ways inand organizationally innovative, networked at every which Admiral Clark demonstrated that he valued alllevel, highly joint [with the other services], and effec- sailors as human beings, independent of their rank.tively integrated with allies.” To begin, Admiral Clark strongly supported an in-Admiral Clark’s description of who sailors are as mem- crease in pay that was approved by the president andbers of the U.S. Navy made them feel proud and con- Congress. When Navy budget officials proposed peo-nected to him as their leader. He would tell them: ple cuts as part of the annual planning cycle, Clark“What we do matters. What we do is hard work. We wouldn’t allow it. Instead, he increased the trainingintentionally put ourselves in harm’s way. We are away budget to support personal and professional growth.from our loved ones for months on end. We do it be- As part of what Clark called the “Revolution in Train-cause it’s important and we are people of service. We ing,” he established the Naval Education and Trainingare committed to something larger than ourselves: the Command with twelve Navy Centers of Excellence. Heprotection of America’s interests around the world and required everyone in the Navy to have a personal de-democracy.” Rear Admiral Frank Thorp, who served on velopment plan. He changed the performance appraisalAdmiral Clark’s personal staff, recounted an occasion system to provide constructive feedback for everyonewhen he spotted a sailor with tear-filled eyes after hear- and added the requirement to leaders’ performance ap- SUMMER 2010 53
  4. 4. ter chief there who took a liking to me, Master Chief Leedy. For some reason, I don’t know what possessed him, but after I had been there about a week he cameAdmiral Clark changed up to me, and put his arm around me, and he said, ‘Mr. Clark, I’m going to help make you into a fine officer.’”legacy systems that made Admiral Clark said the advice and encouragement from Master Chief Leedy helped make him a better officer and he needed, and our country needed, the mastersailors feel devalued. chiefs to mentor and encourage today’s young sailors in that same way. Clark liked being with the master chiefs and he con-praisals that they help sailors learn and grow. To make nected with them. Master Chief Petty Officer of thehis point about how much he valued personal growth Navy Jim Herdt, the head of all of the master chiefs,and continuous improvement, Clark liked to say, “If told me that the master chiefs around the world hadyou are not growing, you’re dead.” the general attitude that “Old Vern [Clark] is countingIn the Navy, sailors who are part of the enlisted class on us and we can’t let him down.” Clark’s commentscan at times feel like second-class citizens (the “core”) made the master chiefs feel valued, and when they inas compared to the officers (the “stars”). Clark un- turn reached out to help those under their commandderstood this and made it one of his priorities to blur learn and grow, it helped the sailors feel valued too.the lines in some respects between the officers and en- Clark changed legacy systems that made sailors feel de-listed personnel while still maintaining the necessary valued. One such system was the Navy’s job assignmentdecision-making chain of command. When he traveled process. Under Clark and a program he dubbed “theto commands and bases around the world, Admiral revolution in personnel distribution,” the system wasClark only infrequently held “all hands” calls, prefer- changed to a job bidding approach with incentive com-ring to meet with leaders to share with them what he pensation provided to the jobs and locations that wereexpected. He not only met with commanding officers in the least demand. As a result, the percentage of sailorsbut also met with master chiefs (who are the leaders of forced into positions or locations they didn’t want wasthe enlisted class). reduced from 30 percent to around 1.5 percent.He intentionally reached out to the master chiefs toshow them he valued them, and he asked the master The Voice Bridgechiefs to value the sailors under their leadership and see In group meetings with leaders, Admiral Clark encour-to it that they prospered. Clark told the master chiefs, aged participants to speak up. His own approachable,“These young sailors under our command swear to conversational speaking style set the tone for others tosupport and defend the U.S. Constitution from all en- share their ideas and opinions. He asked everyone toemies, and we as leaders need to make promises in re- “challenge every assumption,” “be data driven,” andturn. We need to give them the training and resources “drill down” into the details. He challenged them toto enable them to fulfill their promise. We need to give “have a sense of urgency to make the Navy better everythem an opportunity to prove what they can do.” Clark day” in order to deliver greater efficiencies and readi-encouraged the master chiefs to mentor the enlisted ness for the dollars America invested in the Navy.sailors, and he often told a story about when he was on Clark was more concerned about getting it right thanhis first ship following Officer Candidate School. being right himself. He encouraged what he referred to“I didn’t know the pointy end of the ship from the blunt as “constructive friction.” This made it safe for peopleend. It was scary, really. But fortunately there was a mas- to disagree and express views that were outside the con-54 LEADER TO LEADER
  5. 5. sensus. As a result, Clark’s leaders felt connected to him Connecting U2and to the U.S. Navy, and they emulated his leadershipstyle, which made the sailors under their command feel The principles we are discussing are equally important in amore connected. smaller, less hierarchical organization. Consider something completely different from the military: a rock band.Vice Admiral Tim Lafleur, the former head of the Na-vy’s surface community, recounted that when data was U2 has been awarded a remarkable 22 Grammy awards,presented to Admiral Clark showing that a program more than any band in history. The band consists ofClark initially supported was not performing as ex- four musicians who have known each other since theypected, he shut it down even if it meant job cuts. This were teenagers in Dublin, Ireland: lead singer Bono,made everyone feel more empowered that they could lead guitar player “Edge,” bass guitar player Adambring about change so long as they made their case Clayton, and drummer Larry Mullen Jr. These guyssupported by data. have been together for more than 30 years when most other bands eventually fall apart, often because oneAdmiral Clark also increased connection to senior civil- member becomes recognized as the star and the re-ians who served in the Navy. He was the first CNO sulting disconnection breaks down the group. Not soto invite senior civilians to attend the Annual All Flag with U2. Bono is clearly the band’s megastar but theOfficer Meeting with active and reserve admirals. In Vision, Value, and Voice bridges are in place and histhese meetings Clark typically walked around and asked fellow band members feel like partners rather than hisvarious participants whose actions were aligned with the supporting to share with the group what they were doing.Clark called this “letting others take victory laps.” Again, The Vision Bridgethis was an opportunity to express one’s voice. Bono has articulated a clear vision of U2, includ- ing its mission and core values. U2’s mission is toResults improve the world through its music and influence.Vern Clark is quick to say that he’s not perfect. None- Bono calls it “the spark.” He feels it sets U2 aparttheless, the Navy achieved some impressive gains during from many other bands. U2’s songs address themeshis tenure as CNO, and the naval leaders I interviewed the band members believe are important to promote,praised his leadership and positive impact. In a little such as human rights and social justice. The bandmore than a year after Admiral Clark became CNO, values excellence in the music it produces and in itsfirst-term reenlistment soared from less than the Navy’s concert performances. Bono has described this valuegoal of 38 percent to 56.7 percent. as a desire to achieve the band’s potential. U2’s mem- bers value continuous improvement to achieve theirAs the Navy improved sailor retention and developed own potential, never feeling satisfied that they can’tgreater alignment with Admiral Clark’s vision, it be- become even better. Another core value of the bandcame faster and more responsive. Within a matter of is that its members value one another, and this hashours following the terrorist attacks on September 11, established the Value Bridge.2001, aircraft carriers, Aegis destroyers, and cruiserswere in position to protect America’s shores. This wasdue in part to the fact that naval leaders anticipated The Value Bridgewhat had to be done and took action before they re- Bono further unites the members of U2 by appreciat-ceived orders. At the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., ing their strengths. Bono has said that although hecommand and control of the Navy was quickly rees- hears melodies in his head, he is unable to transfertablished and planning for America’s response began them into written music. Considering himself a “lousywhile the embers of the fire from the terrorist attack guitar player and an even lousier piano player,” he re-still smoldered a short distance away. lies on his fellow band members and recognizes that SUMMER 2010 55
  6. 6. literally standing in front of him to shield him from potential harm.Bono describes U2 as a Bono describes U2 as a tight-knit family and commu- nity. He has said, “People with a strong sense of family and community . . . are always very strong people.”tight-knit family and The commitment to support one another extends be- yond the four members of the band. The members of U2 are part of a larger community that includes theircommunity. families, crew members, and collaborators. Many of them have known each other for decades. The economic profits from U2’s work are split equally between the four band members and their long-timethey are integral to his success. To Bono, U2 is “the manager Paul McGuiness. That might surprise example of how to rely on others.” Given Bono’s status as a megastar, it would not be in- conceivable if he claimed more than an equal share ofLike all human beings, the members of U2 have experi- the band’s profits. What better way to show your teamenced difficult periods in their lives. These experiences members that you value them than to treat them andhave shaped them in important ways. Bono’s mother their unique contribution as economic equals?died when he was 14 years old. Bono describes the pe-riod following her death as one in which he felt alone The Voice Bridgeand abandoned. Although he longed for the emotional U2 is further unified by its participative, consensus-support of a family, his grief-stricken father was unable oriented decision-making style. The members of U2to comfort him. Having experienced what it was like argue relentlessly over their music, which reflects theirto suffer alone, when Larry Mullen’s mother died when passion for excellence. Bono has stated that this ap-he was 16 years old, Bono reached out to console him. proach is frustrating at times but that U2 feels it isThis began a close, supportive friendship. When Edge necessary to achieve excellence. Everybody has a voicewent through a difficult divorce, the band members to express ideas and opinions.were there to support him. When Adam Clayton be-came addicted to alcohol and drugs, the band membersreached out to help him recover. Bono has stated that Conclusionwhen one of the band members is in need, the band Feeling “fired up” or “burned out” are emotionalrallies around to support him and they put that need states that have a direct bearing on productivity. Asabove the performance of the band. It’s no wonder thatone of U2’s most popular songs is entitled, “SometimesYou Can’t Make It on Your Own.”The most dramatic example of this came when U2campaigned during the 1980s for the observance of Connecting with corea Martin Luther King Jr. Day in America. Bono re-ceived a death threat that warned him not to sing thesong “Pride (In the Name of Love),” a song about the employees is essential to aReverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., at an upcomingconcert. Bono described in an interview that as he sangthe song, he closed his eyes. At the end of a verse when leader’s long-term success.he opened his eyes Bono discovered Adam Clayton56 LEADER TO LEADER
  7. 7. we pointed out earlier, research from the Corporate Develop a participative, consensus-oriented deci-Executive Board shows that emotional factors are four sion-making culture that keeps everyone informedtimes as effective as rational factors when it comes to and gives them a voice in the decision-makingthe amount of effort employees put into their work. process.Leaders at any level should build Vision, Value, and Connecting with core employees is essential to aVoice bridges to make core employees into partners leader’s long-term success. A.G. Lafley at Procter &and thereby increase strategic alignment and employee Gamble, Anne Mulcahy at Xerox, Howard Schultz atengagement. Three areas to focus on are: Starbucks, and Ed Catmull at Pixar Animation Studios are a few of the leaders who have been profiled in the Identify and communicate your group’s identity press who clearly have connected with employees at (its mission and values) to make the members of large. When leaders are intentional about connecting your group proud. with the core, their organizations realize higher levels Develop a culture where all members feel valued of strategic alignment and employee engagement. This, for their strengths and feel supported during the in turn, results in higher productivity, better decision inevitable difficult periods in their lives. making, and ultimately superior performance.Michael Lee Stallard is president and co-founder Jason Pankau is a partner and co-founder ofof E Pluribus Partners, a leadership training and E Pluribus Partners. An ordained minister, hecoaching firm. Previously he was chief market- is also the president of Life Spring Network, aning officer for businesses at Morgan Stanley and organization that helps promote spiritual growthCharles Schwab. A frequent speaker and work- ( Jason frequentlyshop leader at conferences and business, govern- speaks at business organizations and churches andment, and academic organizations, he is author serves as an executive and life coach to many cor-of “Fired Up or Burned Out.” He writes about porate executives and ministers.leadership at SUMMER 2010 57