Part 1 of Redefining Success: Three Keys

By Richard Harriman


This post is number 1 of 3 in the series “Redefining Success” by Richard Harriman, Illuminet Associate Partner.

I’ve spent more than 30 years managing others and the expectations of organizations and, over time, I keep coming back to 3 things that have worked to either hit organizational goals, to grow individuals (often times into leaders in their own right), or both.

Success is simply the attainment of one’s goals, be it individual or organizational.  Simple, right?  The problem is that goals must be aligned in a way that the correct behaviors are exhibited and that goals are constantly re-evaluated (and possibly changed/updated) to enforce the behaviors desired.

Do you measure up?

The first of the three keys would be setting and measuring the right goals.  This will obviously vary based on industry, region, size of company and experience (among many other things), but this is the first step because it is the foundation for the others.   There needs to be a lot of attention and care to this step because if you get it wrong, it is anywhere from hard to impossible to recover unless you recalibrate – which may not be easy (contracts, compensation, staffing levels, etc.).

I worked with an organization well more than a decade ago that was setting up ways to measure an effective service desk and to put those measurements into a contract – at the time, this was trend setting, now it is passe as it is an industry standard.  One of the metrics to show success was called Average Handle Time, or AHT, and is still used today.  When the contract was put in place, this was one of the primary metrics to show that the Desk was performing well; the higher the AHT, the longer an agent was tied on a call and not answering other calls and the idea was to cut down on the ‘chit-chat’.  You can probably see what happened – agents were reducing AHT by being abrupt with end users, barely using any customer service skills and end user surveys were laden with dissatisfaction.  In this case, another metric needed to be added (customer experience, or CX) to balance the teeter-totter; although the AHT increased, so did the CX scores – an acceptable trade-off through balance.

In another example, I recently worked with an organization that placed a heavy sales metric on “In Year Revenue” (IYR), which measured revenue that could be billed in the fiscal year.  IYR is a critical measurement to understand the health of the business but by placing an inordinate amount of compensation tied to an IYR goal, sales reps figured out quickly that they had to make most (almost 70-75%) of the IYR target in the first half of the fiscal year or they would have little to no shot to hit that target as the value of each dollar sold diminished with time.  Many sales reps were faced with the conundrum of making a sale in the back half of the year or holding, if possible, until the beginning of the next one – not a place that business leaders want sales reps minds to be, especially in the third or fourth quarter.

Make sure you set the right targets to drive the right behavior and do not be afraid to recalibrate as necessary to get your teams onto the right path.

Team Building

Once you have the goals and an objective way to measure them, you need pick align resources.  I will not go into how to select resources, there are too many variables, but I will share a few things that have made me successful in the past, and I’ve had some great teams.

  • Embrace Diversity: It should go without saying, but embracing diversity is a must.  And yes, it is partly the HR checklist, but I challenge you to go deeper and to force your talent acquisition teams to think differently as well.  Diversity does not need to be overt (gender, race, etc.) – that much is obvious.  Look for diverse experience, in the workplace and in life – resources that meet the requirement but may not have had the normal path to arrive can be GOLD.  I once had a requirement to sill a UNIX sys admin position and I had to choose between the polished, 15 year experience, check all the boxes person and someone with much less experience but had a background in sales and marketing in addition to graduating HS and college early.  I took a flier; this hire quickly became one of the best hires I ever made and went onto many technical leadership roles.  This has worked for me time and time again, embrace all that diversity has to offer.

  • Play to strengths and weaknesses:  Being able to evaluate the strengths and weakness of a team as a whole and the individual parts is a critical skill for a leader.  Oftentimes and leader can do this very well, but then focuses on the weaknesses of the individual parts and builds a plan through training and/or experience to build those into strengths, which I think can be a huge waste of time and resources – not to mention frustration for all involved.  Instead, use the strengths and improve on those with training and experience, use the strengths of other team members to cover the weaknesses.  In an ideal situation, your entire team will be working to their strengths as a team and there would be no weak areas.  Build teams with this dynamic and you will have high performing teams in no time.

  • Hold each other accountable:  I believe in transparency, period.  I have found that by showing the attainment of measurable goals to the entire team as the goals are being met, positive conflict and competition occur.  To use an example from sports (which I am apt to do), imagine making all statistics for the team and the players available in real time for all to see. An example would be to show, publicly, service desk measurements for one shift versus another, one client versus another, one team versus another.  Doing this with the ability to drill down to the individual level does a few things
    • It creates positive competition.  Everyone wants to “win” and if the opponent is someone that improves as result and both are on your team, you win.
    • In a true team dynamic, the top performers figure out a way to help the low performers so that the team improves, again this is win for you.
    • Along the same thinking of everyone wants to “win”, no one wants to “lose” and the low performers tend to figure out a way to improve
    • The BEST scenario has your lowest performers at or above goals, a truly high-performing team

  • Be willing to trade out:  This is a tough one for many leaders, but as the saying goes, “If you love them, set them free.”  One of the best metrics I can assign to a leader is to track how many of their team or direct reports have moved to another team and have grown into a bigger, larger role and made a positive impact.  I learned this early; I once had a team that was doing very well within our domain, one of the top teams in the company and we were a close group.  My manager at the time had me go through a rank stack of the team (there were 9 team members total) and, while this was tough, I did it.  In my mind, the team member that was in the 9 slot was better than those in the top spots on other teams.  What happened next shook me to my core as a young leader – he asked me to move the bottom three, either within the company or out, but to move them.  I was shocked and did not want to do it, but he used my strength against me – a sports analogy.  His feedback was this (paraphrase): “Imagine this is a lineup for a major league baseball team.  These teams are in the major leagues for a reason, they are all good but they are only as good as the sum of their parts, so in this case, you are swapping out your bottom three for different talent.  Think changing from being the Kansas City Royals to becoming the New York Yankees”.  No slight to the Royals, but at the time of this conversation, this resonated heavily.  He added this nugget as well – look at the top three and be willing to move one of them as a package with some of the lesser talent.  In my mind, this was a non-starter, but I learned that not only was this necessary to facilitate some of the moves, but it created leaders from those that were moved.  And my team improved because we had a good team culture and became a team that others wanted to join.  I have never looked back and continue this practice to this day.

Become a Governor

Pulling this all together, it is key to build a very good governance model to make sure that you are getting the results you expect and that the resources are doing exactly what they need to do to meet or exceed your goals.  You can read more about governance in an article I wrote years ago on LinkedIn call “What Exactly is Governance?” – I wrote this almost 4.5 years ago and it is amazing how it holds up.  Executive summary – build a program to not only analyze all aspects of the business, but to also communicate, learn, adjust, and innovate for future proofing.  A good governance program builds better client/supplier relationships, better teams, better results.

Next week we will look at how a CIO can add some chaos into the ecosystem to drive success. If you have any questions or observations in relation to this topic, please do leave a comment!


About The Author

Richard Harriman is a seasoned leader with 30+ years Executive Level Management, Program/Project Management and Team Leadership experience. A results driven professional with a proven record for developing high-performing teams and exceeding corporate objectives. He is also the owner and sole proprietor of CANOMOJO LLC.

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