D. Kevin Berchelmann
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Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Troops Eat First

The troops eat first.

In earlier times, this was a simple axiom, borne of logic: First came the horses, then the troops (foot soldiers), then the officers. Over time, it was shortened to simply, "the troops eat first."

I would suggest that it's just as relevant today as then, though for different reasons.

In leadership effectiveness, it simply means, "Take care of your people -- especially the good ones -- so they won't have to do it themselves." I often tell C-level managers that "someone has to look after the well-being of your solid performers." If you don't do it yourself, the employee has to. Usually with the help of an outside friend, headhunter, or someone with influence and priorities other than yours.

Make sure they are "fed." Developed, mentored, given ample opportunity. Not necessarily a big, cumbersome, formal effort, but something that clearly shows them that, "Hey, I'm looking out for you -- no need to look elsewhere for development & growth."

The troops eat first, el generale...


Kevin Berchelmann 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Hey, Where'd Everybody Go?? Poaching back in vogue...

I've had several clients and colleagues ask about impending staffing challenges; more specifically, what happens when opportunities for key performers are appearing in ready form?

We are staring down the barrel of impending poaching opportunities. Most efforts at reorganization and such have distilled talent down to key performers; Now, other firms are going after them. 

It's coming...  What to do? Some things to consider:

1.  Anybody who tells you money doesn't matter... well, they'll lie about other things as well.  Money isn't a prime motivator for most; it's seldom even a satisfier, but it can be a dissatisfier... People expect to be paid what they are worth, and if another, reasonable organization offers them 25% more, your pay is the issue. 

Fix it now.  Get market lines on your compensation, and act proactively - it's simply too late after they've received an offer.

Once and employee receives an offer, you're on borrowed time.  Even if you convince them to stay for the moment.

2.  YOU know they're good, but do THEY know that YOU know??  Top performers know they are top performers.  Not necessarily egotistic, they do, however, have solid self-awareness.  The question most have is, "do you recognize the value that I bring to this organization??"   "Do you give me the recognition that value deserves??" 

And not just money; there's personal recognition, peer recognition, intangible rewards, and professional development investments.  All of these tell top performers that you know they are top performers..

3.  Ask Them!  To quote Tom Peters, "This company had a unique way of communicating; they talked to each other!"  Want to know what those top performers really need?  Do something really whacko and ask them.  That's right, plain, simple English.  "Say, Top Performer, I've been wondering.  You do such a good job around here (remember, s/he knows this already), I wanted to make sure we were taking care of you properly.  What can we do so you will continue to really, really like working here for us?" 

Top performers are generally reasonable; you won't hear "double my salary," or "give me 10 weeks of vacation."  You may hear, "Well, I'd like to spend some time working in R&D;" or "I was hoping to start my MBA, but I'm not sure if the schedule will work..."

Then, to coin a line from Picard, "Make it so."

Keeping top performers isn't nearly as difficult as we sometimes think it is.  It's a function of being aware of their value, and ensuring that THEY are aware of our knowledge of their value.  Then, do right by them.  That's your best bet in immunizing them against the coming poaching epidemic...

But that's just me...


Kevin Berchelmann 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Those Who Can't Do... TEACH!

An article in a recent Wall Street Journal once again extols the virtues of getting rid of performance reviews. It's written, of course, by a career academic and author who fancies himself a consultant as well.

Therein lies the problem. I have no problem with academics, per se. I just want them to remain in academia. It's when they venture out into the real world that their distorted perceptions and laboratory theories fall apart.

Someone need to lock those guys up, before they do real damage to some unsuspecting company.

In summary, this gown-wearing, tasseled professor believes that performance reviews have no impact on measurement, pay, development or, in fact, performance.

And perhaps, given his limited, myopic experience, that's been true. And I'm certainly not one to claim that all performance reviews are of great value. Some aren't. Sometimes managers, untrained and unprepared, fail at the effort. Sometimes, we don't communicate regularly enough to prepare them for success.

But to paint all performance management with the same "ineffective" brush is, well, just plain stupid. Well-trained managers, managing performance in a well-thought process, can create a higher-performing organization than would ever occur if we were all left to our own devices.

You would, of course, have to spend some time in the real world to know that. The real reason for this article in the WSJ? The proposed alternative: 

                           "Performance Previews" 

That's right, an entry piece to introduce--in all likelihood--this pointy-haired ivory-tower resident's new book. Didn't see that coming.

More consultant-speak and fads. Yes, that's what we need...


But that's just me.


Kevin Berchelmann 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Training--Avoiding a Train-Wreck

Training is essential for success—always has been, always will be. But like everything else, not all training is created equally. Nor is there one-size fits all when it comes to employee training (leadership, technical, interpersonal, whatever). Some things to consider...

1. Don’t dump into training. In the short term, an employee will only rise as high as his or her trainer. Put an idiot in charge of training, and don’t be surprised when you’ve got intellectually challenged drones rolling off the assembly-line.

2. Segment or modularize training. It’s true that “the brain can only absorb what the butt can endure.” Thinking you can sit a plebe in a classroom setting (or technical training scenario) for five straight days and them actually learn anything, well, that even sounds stupid. Create useable, absorbable chunks of homogeneous learning. Send ‘em out, and let them try it on for size. Bring ‘em back and try some more...

3. Don’t train on anything unless you’re certain it’s a training opportunity. If an employee’s job is to press the big red button when the big black dial reaches “10,” and they don’t, it’s likely not a training challenge. We frequently confuse training needs with corrective actions, and sometimes even discipline. They are neither. Training is for—and only for—demonstrated skills shortfalls.

Olympic athletes need training; professional actors and musicians need training. Even the best professional sports players in the world need training. It’s only in business where we think, “...nah, she’ll be ok. She can just learn by watching Bob.”

Dumb, dumb, dumb.

But that's just me...


Kevin Berchelmann 

Friday, January 17, 2014

Talent Management Strategy MUST Match Business Goals...

If you really believe you'll succeed, why aren't you planning?

So, you spend time, effort, and money on charting a viable SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities & threats). Flip charts and laptops everywhere, you determine you've got a great grasp on reality in your company and industry.

Next, your smart minds put their heads together and create a future that Orson Welles would be proud of -- one that is actually visionary, and takes real data and information into account.

You trend financials, benchmark with other, equally astute and successful companies and industries. In the end, you bless it, print it, bind it, and distribute it. If you are in the top 5% of firms, you even create a mission that supports it, and an execution plan that appears to match that incredible vision.

You work your plan.

Then, 6 months later, sitting around that same conference table in those same, familiar chairs, you lament to a group of like-minded talented executives that, "We're doing it guys -- we're kicking butt. Now, if only we had the management talent, we could really make this work."


Did you not believe your research, SWOT, or strategy? Did you feel uncomfortable in your comparison benchmarks? Did you not really trust that $250K of McKinsey consultant's input?? (sorry, had to throw that in...)

Why on earth would we spend the effort required to create viable strategy and subsequent plans for product, service, and marketing results, and not spend that same effort analyzing, identifying, and creating leadership talent we will need when we get there?

Because we're still not making Talent Management an integral part of our strategy.

And folks, I'm not saying "Human Resources," per se, I'm saying Talent Management. We need to make that same effort -- SWOT analysis, current state identification, desired outcomes, competitive benchmarks -- in identifying the supporting talent management strategy, for 2 reasons: First, to make sure we have the horsepower to carry out those grandiose plans and execution items toward our vision, and as importantly, in case we actually achieve our results.

Don't get caught unprepared. Spend the same effort ensuring you have the leadership and management talent available -- sourced and/or developed -- when launching any viable business strategy and execution effort.

You can't get there without it... but then, you already knew that.

But that's just me...

Kevin Berchelmann

Friday, December 20, 2013

How to Pay... and to WHOM??

I recently had a discussion with a client about "merit" pay increases. Never mind the current concerns over giving ANY pay increases; we were discussing how to divvy up the dollars. She asked me how, if we budget for across-the-board adjustments, do we also recognize performance...?

Also recognize performance??

Therein lies the problem.

If ALL employees (presumably even low performers) get a pay increase, then your high performers are diluted. Your contentment scale is reversed; lower performers are thrilled to see a pay raise -- ANY pay raise -- and high performers are ticked off, since there's only a 1-2% delta between them and the slugs.

My recommendation is always to take care of the people who take care of you (company) FIRST. The remaining money becomes the pool for "all others." You don't scrape around for dollars to also recognize performance... you recognize performance first, then you "scrape around for dollars" for all the rest.

But that's just me...


Kevin Berchelmann

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

I Want to Develop Somebody... but Who??

Recently, when discussing the details of succession planning (uh, oh, here he goes again...!) I was asked the following by a colleague:

What general competencies, skills, attributes or potentials should we be seeking in someone worthy of developmental efforts, and how do we determine them in candidates? Are those things different for potential departmental/functional heads versus those being considered for C-level responsibilities?

My shorter version: "Who the hell do I develop?"

First, I believe skills & attributes (or competencies, if you prefer) are relatively unique to the positions involved. Having said that, my same triad for hiring easily applies to significant development.

A developmental candidate must bring to the table:

a. Moral and ethical foundations. By now, the person's character and belief/value system is pretty much locked in by past interactions with family, friends, colleagues, and school. They need to bring ethics appropriate for your position with them...

Look for evidence of successful, difficult decision-making, and drill into the thinking that took place. Uncover judgment errors and do the same drilling.

b. Work ethic. This is ingrained in people by the age of 4. Someone either has it or not. Bring it with you or move along. Examine evidence of "finishing what you start." Often times, well-intentioned people with a mediocre work ethic will promise the moon, and even begin subsequent implementation.

Many 'starts,' however, will die on the vine. Also investigate resourcefulness that shows a "can-do" sort of accomplishment attitude.

c. Intellect. Remember, you can't fix 'stupid.' You just can't. Many have tried in vain before you; learn that lesson quickly and judge accordingly. They must bring with them sufficient intelligence to perform future responsibilities without excess, preventable error.

Intellect possessed must match that required by the role. Repeated mistakes or errors in judgment, inability to grasp simple decision-making analyses, lack of confidence in personal actions and decisions frequently point to issues with intelligence.

So, spend some time and effort deciding who you really want to develop; a one-size-fits-all approach simply won't work, and will tire everyone out unnecessarily. Not every "Manager" has the wherewithal to be developed into a Director or VP, and certainly not every VP has the potential to become C-anything.

Cardinal rule of decision-making: Think, reduce, decide.

Don't make this any harder than it needs to be.


Kevin Berchelmann


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Leadership in 2013--Different than 2012??

I post something like this each year, to help us all keep our eye on the ball...

How'd you do last year? Did you get the things accomplished that you set out to do at the beginning of the year? Most of them? Some of them? Any of them??

If so, great. If not, why not? Now – right now – is the best time to answer the following questions:

1. Regarding those things successful last year, what made them so? Was it because of me and my leadership, or in spite of? Is it repeatable, and if so, do I know exactly how I did it in the first place? For those I lead, have I appropriately recognized their successes?
2. If we failed to accomplish some of our plans, goals, or objectives... why? Was it because we failed to do something we could have done, or were there really – really – circumstances beyond our control (honesty is important on this one)? For those I lead who performed less than satisfactorily, am I addressing that performance appropriately?

Be honest with your answers to these questions; use them to determine directions and realistic expectations for this year.

While you're asking questions, how have you performed as a leader? Have you asked anyone... like those you lead? If not, now's the perfect time. And I don't mean just "hey, Jane, how am I doing as a leader?" Believe it or not, that might not actually elicit a meaningful response.

Nor do I mean some ├╝ber-elaborate 360-degree feedback effort that has everyone wishing they were never born. I'm talking about just using something simple, like Start, Stop, Continue.

Sit down, one on one, with those you lead directly. Tell them you want – need – their feedback to improve, and to make their jobs better (and likely easier). Tell them you'll be asking three questions, and you would like at least one input or response for each question. Then ask...

What should I Start doing that I'm not doing now?

What should I Stop doing that doesn't seem to help you or others?

What should I Continue doing that you feel is positive?

Ask the questions, then shut up while they answer. No defensive drilling down, no "but what about...?" comments, nothing but "thank you for that input."

If you'd like a simple worksheet for this, you can download one here:

And don't forget to follow up with them in a few months to see how you're doing with their inputs.


Kevin Berchelmann 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

High Performance Leadership

How many of us drink Starbucks coffee?  How do you drink it?  Venti Mocha double-shot?  Fat-free Tazo Chi Latte?  We all have our own, special way of having our Starbucks drink; what happens if you get it and it isn’t exactly what you ordered?  Not hot enough?  Tastes “off,” for some reason? 

How long does it take for your Barista  (server) to coordinate that “do-over” decision with the various levels of supervisory management?  How about “instantaneously??”  Those employees have the training to know what to do, the knowledge to be able to recognize it, and the authority to do what’s right.  In short, they are empowered.  Yes, that “E” word.  It’s overused today, but don’t let the fad of word overcome value in the process.  Empowered employees make their company’s money.

Starbucks may not know it’s exemplifying high performance; the company may not realize it is a shining example of effective principles to run a service retail business.  They just know it’s good business, and frankly, common sense.

The Principles of High Performance Leadership are just that – principles.  Basic truths or assumptions.  They are the essential qualities that determine characteristic behaviors.  It’s not rocket science.  They can help guide your organization toward desired behaviors and business outcomes.

What are we today, then, if not High Performing?  Let’s take a look at “traditional” organizations.  In 1903, a man named Frederich Taylor coined the phrase scientific management.  He and other big thinkers of his time believed that standardization and control were necessary for organizations to be successful.  For brevity’s sake, we won’t list each component of scientific management here; suffice to say it was most everything we have come to resent in a typical workplace.

In the industrial era, Traditional Organizations, and Scientific Management, worked.  New manufacturing processes were being developed, mass production was introduced, quantity was the name and manufacturing was the game.

Today, we have the real need to better use employees, their talents and abilities, and creativity.   We need flexibility, integration, synergy.  And we need a common purpose.  Enter the High Performing Leader.  The basic principles – and remember, they are merely principles, include things like a shared purpose, a holistic view, structure that fits the organization, continuous learning, employee empowerment, and managers play a more developmental or facilitation role.

The real key to High Performing Organizations is, of course, leadership.  How much impact does leadership have?  Does it help if you realize that the average multi-billion dollar company has a lifespan of 17 years?  

I'll say that again: The average multi-billion dollar company has a lifespan of just 17 years...

How about the fact that one-third of the companies on the 1970 Fortune 500 were not on that list in 1983?  And 35% of those in 1983 are not on the list today.  Why?  Typical answers include the influx of competitors, not understanding customer requirements, under-capitalization, and lack of business strategy and/or goals.

Clearly, today’s senior managers can no longer do it alone; they need help and resources from the entire organization, including our workforce.

Leadership principles – all of them – have been in use for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.  The theory is not new.  Some of the applications may change over time, but the theory is not new.  Consultants occasionally need to sell a book, so they’ll take a tried management concept, give it a new name and an interesting “spin,” and off we go… fad of the month.  And we sometimes get too wrapped up in this whole leadership versus management issue.

Let me offer a compromise look at leadership, since I believe it to be folly to consider an ineffective manager capable of being a successful leader.  Leadership is the successful application of sound management practices, effective motivation, and personal credibility.  All must exist to be a successful leader.

The principles of High Performing Organizations aren’t a magical list to tick off, or a series of tables and charts to compare.  It can really be summed up as a combination of empowered employees alongside successful empowering leaders.  If we can teach both employee and manager to lead… well, we’re almost there.

But that's just me...


Kevin Berchelmann

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Myth of Leadership by Birth

Leadership is a learned skill. 

It can be taught, internalized, and applied. The "thoughts" or "beliefs" that some leaders have may make their personal convictions stronger, but people--followers--only see tangible actions. 

Having said that, I also believe that, like all skills, some are born with a higher propensity to learn and apply certain things. I've been playing golf off and on for 30 years, and still largely a weekend business hacker; I've seen others able to pick up clubs for the first time, and two months later were "all caught up" with me. They had the innate propensity to learn those skills; they recognized and capitalized on that propensity.

See my brief video on this and other leadership myths...

I've seen people who are essentially non-leadership in all they do become powerful leaders with proper reinforcement and education. 

We complicate leadership unnecessarily, and there's little new under the leadership sun. It hasn't changed much in a couple thousand years, regardless of the latest glossy hardback that says different. 

But that's just me... 


Kevin Berchelmann