I recently was asked how to, as a leader, energize a large, geographically dispersed and established team of professionals. There were two more caveats: Promotions are not available and performance award funding is very limited.
On the surface, this is much like trying to draw more juice from a thoroughly squeezed lemon – possible, but very unfruitful if yesterday’s strategy was the same as today’s and today’s will be the same as tomorrow’s.
If, as a leader, you find yourself wondering when your organization will move past the daily grind and into the fast lane, consider the process of strategically inculcating pivot points in your organization's performance track.
Pivot points are the leader's anti-venom for complacency, status quo and organizational stagnation. They also define a leader's perceived effectiveness in driving innovation and organizational acceptance of change to the point of productive realization and action.
Pivot points can be dramatic or subtle. In chaos, dramatic pivot points drive the organization back into alignment and effective operations. When the most exciting thing for employees to talk about is last night’s game, subtle pivot points is the way to go. Notably, organizational energy (positive, negative and neutral) usually is a direct measurement of leadership effectiveness. A great leader recognizes this and makes positive organizational energy a mission.
Make no mistake about it, the only thing dramatic pivot points have over subtle ones is the shock factor; everything else, including dramatic change as a function of time, can occur with both.
If your beloved organization has the energy of last week’s stale bread, now is the time to introduce a pivot point by actively applying these two steps:
1. Answer the questions: What is in it for them now? What is their urgency for action?
People generally are motivated by understanding what their investment in time will mean to them in the short term. The amount of energy afforded is proportional to the perceived short-term impact.
A way to look at this is by recalling a time when you had to deliver a crucial presentation to your boss, one for which the preparation and delivery determined if your team was on the chopping block or not. In this case, the time and effort you invested surely extended beyond that which seemed possible. Nights, weekends and restless evenings probably all fell prey to the urgency of the task.
Conversely, if your presentation to your boss was simply a brief project status update for a well-run program, the level of effort on your part and subsequent sense of urgency likely was significantly different.
To foster change and engagement, you need to create a sense of urgency, a challenge, a way for your team to engage and feel part of not only the process but also the solution. Benjamin Franklin said it best: “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” A pivot point engineered through urgency causes action through involved awareness.
It is important to challenge your organization to the point of being uncomfortable. Doing so spurs professional growth and a feeling of accomplishment. Making a big deal about the importance of success in your tasking encourages your employees to feel important and feeling important is one of the first steps towards assured performance excellence. When you celebrate the small accomplishments through positive reinforcement and recognition, it seals the deal in terms of answering what is in it for them now and what is the urgency for action.
2. Answer the question: What is in it for them in the future?
Organizations that effecitvely can articulate their visualization of the future to their stakeholders are often higher performing than those who cannot or will not. Think about this: how much commitment and work would you harvest from your organization if they did not know or understand where they are headed personally, professionally, organizationally and as a cohesive team? How well will your team perform if all they did was work for the moment without the gift of personal mission visualization and achievement? Performance will likely not reach the levels desired. If this were this case, the sense of urgency to achieve greatness down the road is not present. It simply is not in the house.
Your leadership can create a defining pivot point by becoming that artist who paints the road to success in a way that your team can relate to and understand. This canvas must convey a truthful and challenging but achievable endpoint whose materialization will manifest itself in organizational vision, purpose, common causality and forthright performance.
Understanding the quantum power of pivot points and how and when to unleash them will transcend your leadership effectiveness into the next performance level and beyond. That’s what is in it for you.
So the next time you are tasked to deliver more with less, remember that the last apparent squeeze of the lemon can generate significantly more if pivot points strategically are utilized to encourage your organization to stay on the positive edge and at peak performance – not because you want it to be, but because your team willed it so, now and in the future.
Dare to think differently.
About the author: J.A. Rodriguez Jr., CSP, is the CEO of Make My Day Strategies LLC and a global Fortune 100 senior manager. In 2013, Rodriguez was honored to be selected by EHS Today as one of "The 50 People Who Most Influenced EHS in 2012-2013." He also is an entrepreneur, a patented inventor, an engineer, a certified safety professional, a professional and empowering speaker, a credentialed instructor for the University of Alabama at Birmingham, a board member of the national Voluntary Protection Program Participants’ Association, author of the book "Not Intuitively Obvious – Transition to the Professional Work Environment" and an overall great guy.