Imagine that you have been invited to lead an organisation to the next stage of its development. One priority may be to encourage people to deliver higher professional standards. During your first meetings with the managers they have said things like:
“We have many good people in our work place. But how do we deal with those who do not behave in the required way? We have tried many approaches. But they still do not show the right attitude or deliver the required quality. What can we do?”
Great teams implement the right strategy with the right people in the right way. Let’s assume that you have a clear strategy for achieving the team’s picture of success. The next step will be to get the right people.
Bearing in mind the professional standards required, you may take the ‘blank piece of paper’ approach. This involves exploring the following route.
“Imagine that everybody left tomorrow and offered their services back to the organisation. Who would you hire and what would you hire them to deliver?”
This question will probably highlight three things. a) The people you would definitely rehire; b) The people you might rehire; c) The people you would not rehire. You can then focus on getting the right people in the team.
“That sounds simple, but it isn’t easy,” somebody may say. “Sometimes we are dependent on people who have the right skills but are difficult characters.”
Let’s start by considering one of the key steps taken by people who build successful teams.
You can build a queue of people
who want to work in the team
Great teams communicate a compelling story, strategy and road to success. They also put enormous effort into recruitment. They build a queue of people who want to work in the team.
This is the approach I took, for example, when running a therapeutic community for troubled teenagers. One way to ensure the youngsters behaved responsibly was to have a queue of applicants waiting to fill their places.
If a person broke the rules, they would be choosing to go back to where they came from, such as an institution for offenders. They therefore chose to behave responsibly and keep their place in the community.
Every successful team I have known has built a queue of potential team members. They have also made it hard to get into the team. This approach works.
Let’s assume, however, that you are taking over a team. Whilst you will put lots of work into getting the right people, you will also need to set the scene for the existing team members. This calls for taking the following step.
You can, when taking over a team,
give people a chance to deliver
the required professional standards
Sometimes this can be challenging, particularly if you are taking over a demoralised team. The people may not have been shown the professional standards that are required to deliver the picture of success.
You will therefore have a moral obligation to explain these standards. People can then decide if they want to opt into delivering these for the team.
Choose the most appropriate format for communicating these standards – either in whole group or one-to-one sessions. It will then be important to give people key messages about the following things.
The team’s goals.
The encouraging environment you will create to help people to reach the team’s goals.
The professional standards that people will need to demonstrate to help the team to reach its goals.
Before you do this, however, it can be useful to prepare the ground by taking the following steps.
You can clarify the Professional Credo
Good leaders are like good parents. They are positive, predictable and create an environment in which people can achieve peak performance.
Bearing this in mind, it will be important to involve the key managers in building the professional credo. Why? They should be acting as positive models for their people during the day-to-day work.
You can explain to them that: a) The team is required to deliver certain goals for the organisation; b) The team can add to these goals and have some autonomy regarding how it delivers the goods.
Bearing these things in mind, you can work with the managers:
To clarify the picture of success.
To clarify the professional standards – the spirit and skills – people will need to demonstrate to ensure the team achieves the picture of success.
To clarify why it is important for people to demonstrate these standards if they are to achieve the picture of success.
The managers in a team, for example, have a moral responsibility to explain why it is important for people to behave in these ways. The guidelines are there for a reason; they have not just been plucked out of the air. They can explain that:
People who continually deliver high professional standards
will obviously increase the chances of delivering success
People can sometimes go overboard when describing the required standards. This can result in producing huge instruction manuals that the managers then supervise.
Sometimes this is necessary, such as when flying a plane. But it can also be effective to produce simple guidelines that people can follow in their daily work.
How to make this happen? One approach is to compile a list of Dos and Don’ts that people can bear in mind to achieve the goals.
Here, for example, is a sample list of Dos. These provide guidelines, rather than cover every eventuality, but people can apply these in their daily work.
You will, of course, create your own kind of credo. Before launching it, however, it can be useful to take the next step.
You can prepare the ground before
communicating the Professional Credo
There are several things you can do to prepare the ground. Here are some steps that it may be useful to consider.
Describe examples of where people are
already delivering the professional standards
People respond well to positive reinforcement. So highlight specific examples of where people have already done great work. This can help:
To show people they are already following some of the successful principles.
To show people ‘what good looks like’.
To show people how they can follow these principles in the future.
Show people that they are already doing some things well. They can do even more of these things in the future.
Describe the principles that embody true professionalism
One approach is to share the work of eminent writers in the field. You can, for example, send people articles about David Maister’s work on professionalism. This will underline the principles you want people to follow in the organisation.
David, who retired in 2010, was acknowledged as one of the best business thinkers in the world. His approach went far beyond the intellectual language normally used in such fields. It involved both the heart and the head.
David gave the following advice to people embarking on a professional career. They should focus on the following three guidelines.
You need to do something you feel passionately about and be passionately committed to getting somewhere.
You need to understand how people – you, your clients and you colleagues – work.
You need to be somebody who has readily observable principles and be seen to actually follow these in practice. People can then decide if they want to work for you or with you.
Writing in his book True Professionalism, David explained how to translate these principles into action.
“There are relatively few new ideas in business, if any at all. How often can one repeat the basic advice of:
‘Listen to your clients, provide outstanding service, train your people, look for and eliminate inefficiencies, and act like team players?’
“The problem, clearly, is not in figuring out what to do. Rather, the problem is to find the strength and courage to do what we know to be right.
“The lesson is clear: Believe passionately in what you do, and never knowingly compromise your standards and values. Act like a true professional, aiming for true excellence, and the money will follow.
“Act like a prostitute, with an attitude of “I’ll do it for the money, but don’t expect me to care,’’ and you’ll lose the premium that excellence earns. True professionalism wins.”
David said that every professional service firm in the world has the same mission statement. This involves delivering:
Outstanding service to clients.
Satisfying careers for its people.
Financial success for its owners.
Some firms actually do these things, wrote David. Other firms write the words and then forget them. His book provided a vast resource of ideas and tools for running such a firm.
David then co-operated with Charles Green and Robert Galford to produce The Trusted Advisor. This classic book outlined the following guidelines for helping clients to succeed.
True professionals provide knowledge, models and practical tools that work. They then do everything in their power to help the client to achieve their goals.
You can relate the Professional Credo
to some of organisation’s core values
Many organisations create values statements. Great organisations actually try to ‘live the values’, rather than just ‘laminate the values’.
Looking at your organisation’s values, there is probably one that relates to professionalism. This may be framed as: ‘We want people to take responsibility … deliver high quality work … be professional’ or whatever.
You can use this value as a springboard when sharing the professional credo. But you may need to position it carefully, however, by saying something like:
“One of our organisation’s values is: ‘To ______.’ We are actually going to try to live that value.
“Whilst there may sometimes be cynicism about values, we are really going to try to follow this key principle.
“The tangible ways that we are going to translate it into action are, for example: a) To ____; b) To ____; c) To ____.”
Good leaders often start by focusing on one value and getting some early wins. People believe what they see, rather than what they hear. So it is vital to show how a value has been translated into tangible results.
There could be a downside to relating the credo to one of the organisation’s values, particularly if the values have not been lived. But it is something worth considering. You can then show how you are serious about translating the values into action.
You can communicate
the Professional Credo
Let’s imagine that you have prepared the ground. You have communicated:
The specific times when people in the organisation have performed brilliantly.
The specific principles that people followed to perform brilliantly.
The specific professional standards that organisations must demonstrate to perform brilliantly in the future.
You can choose the most appropriate format for communicating the professional credo. There are several things to bear in mind when sharing the ideas with people. It will be important:
To explain the organisation’s story, strategy and road to success.
To explain the principles that people will need to follow to achieve the picture of success.
To explain that the professional standards that will be required to deliver the picture of success.
You can then explain the professional credo. Wherever possible, it is vital to:
Bring the credo to life with real-life examples that show
how people are already following some of the principles
Great leaders recognise what they can and can’t do for people. They can communicate a compelling story, strategy and road to success. They can also create an encouraging environment and give people the support they need to do the job.
Such leaders employ people who are prepared to do the work required to achieve the picture of success. They therefore give people the chance to reflect. People can choose whether: a) They want to follow the principles; b) They don’t want to follow the principles. Each choice does, of course, have consequences.
You will present the credo on your own way. Here is a framework that it is possible to use, for example, when interviewing potential candidates, together with some possible wording. People can then decide if they want to contribute to the journey.
You will obviously change the wording if you are presenting the credo to existing employees, but the principles still hold true. It is vital to explain ‘The Deal’. You can explain:
The organisation’s role in helping people to work towards achieving the goals.
The employee’s role in working towards achieving the goals.
People can then decide if they want to contribute towards achieving the picture of success.
You can clarify with people whether they
want to follow the Professional Credo
Let’s assume you have communicated the credo. You can then give each team – and each person – the opportunity to show how they want to follow the principles in their areas. If appropriate, for example, you can invite each team:
To present the specific things they will do to deliver the professional standards.
To present, if appropriate, the support they would like to deliver the professional standards.
To present the quick successes they will produce to deliver the professional standards.
This is similar to the approach that Bill Walsh took when taking over the American Football Team, the San Francisco 49ers. Bill believed it was vital for everybody in an organisation to deliver certain Standards of Performance. Providing they did this, he said, ‘The score takes care of itself’.
Did it work? Bill encouraged people to focus on delivering the required standards, rather than on ‘winning’. It took two seasons – 1979 and 1980 – to turn around the ailing team. The 49ers then won the Super Bowl three times – in 1981, 1984 and 1988 – before Bill retired.
Bill took over the team in 1979. Interviewed for the book The Score Takes Care of Itself, by Steve Jamison and Craig Walsh, he said that his aim was to create an environment of excellence.
The first two years were difficult. He aimed to build a top-notch organisation, rather than one that was toxic. This called for hiring great people and moving on those who chose not to meet the required standards. Bill explained:
“I came to the San Francisco 49ers with an overriding priority and specific goal – to implement what I call the Standard of Performance.
“It was a way of doing things, a leadership philosophy that has as much to do with core values, principles, and ideals as with blocking, tackling, and passing: more to do with the mental than with the physical.
“While I prized preparation, planning, precision, and poise, I also knew that organizational ethics were crucial to ultimate on-going success.
“It began with this fundamental leadership assertion: Regardless of your specific job, it is vital to our team that you do that job at the highest possible level in all its various aspects, both mental and physical (i.e., good talent with bad attitude equals bad talent).
“There are also the basic characteristics of attitude and action – the new organizational ethos – I tried to teach our team, to put into our DNA. Of course, for this to happen the person in charge – whether the head coach, CEO, manager, or assembly line foreman – must exhibit the principles.”
This called for commitment to details, such as people having a positive attitude, being prompt, showing good sportsmanship – no strutting, posturing or cheap shots, controlling of profanity, treating fans with respect and exhibiting a professional demeanour.
People were expected to practice relentlessly until their execution at the highest level was automatic – routine ‘perfection’. Bill said:
“Maintenance workers, ticket takers, parking lot attendants, and anyone receiving a pay check with the emblem of the San Francisco 49ers on it were instructed as to the requirements of their own job’s Standard of Performance and expected to measure up.”
Some people chose not to meet these standards: so they were replaced by those who were prepared to deliver the goods. Here is an introduction to the Standard of Performance.
You will obviously follow this approach in your own way. The key will be to encourage, educate and enable people to follow the standards.
Great teams are made up of people who have ‘similarity of spirit and ‘diversity of strengths’. They also have the right balance of consistency and creativity. Whilst certain standards are mandatory, you need characters, not clones.
You can therefore, where appropriate, encourage people to focus on how they can express the standards in their way. The key, however, is that they must contribute to achieving the organisation’s picture of success.
“This approach sounds tough,” somebody may say. “Isn’t it also rather demanding, especially if it is a person’s first job?”
It is actually much tougher not to explain the standards, because then people are all over the place.
My own experience of working in business, sports and recovery programmes is that it is important:
To explain the organisation’s purpose, principles and professional standards.
To expect people to behave like adults, rather than like 12-year-olds, and expect them to understand.
To encourage people to reflect and decide if they want to contribute towards achieving the goals.
You can communicate success stories about
people following the Professional Credo
“Reward the behaviour you want repeated,’ is a key principle in building successful cultures. You will do this in your own way. But one approach is to keep publishing success stories about how the credo is being translated into action.
This approach is more likely to work, however, if you appoint a ‘mission holder’. Make sure one person is in charge of ensuring the success stories are collected and published.
You can set them the target of, for example, publicising four such stories each month. They will then be carrying out a key task in educating your people to deliver the professional standards.
Different people use different frameworks for sharing success stories.
The approach outlined below invites the writer to start by choosing a title for the story. They can then bring it to life by writing a compelling story, using video or employing other media.
The following format invites people to describe the specific situation, strategies and successes. It also asks them to summarise the learning.
Different people may, however, use different headings to cover these or other relevant themes.
Great teams implement the right strategy with the right people in the right way. You will do this in your own way.
One approach is to encourage, educate and enable people to follow a professional credo. Making this happen will provide a springboard for achieving on-going success.