Past performance is generally best predictor of future behavior
The most vexing thing about truth is the inescapable logic behind words and actions. Truth isn’t hard to accept when we’re on the side of right. But when we’re struggling, or short on resources and time, truths are akin to the long arm of the law in the Old West.
What’s worse — the grudging acceptance of these clearly superior actions often are wrapped in simple, direct and impossible-to-forget phrases. One of my favorites is “Our strengths are our weaknesses.”
In “10 Truths About Leadership … It’s Not Just About Winning,” I share the story of a 13-year journey that we at The Berry Co. undertook in search of a better way to do business. It was only after much success early in my career that my strength — a history of overcoming virtually all obstacles — had become my weakness as I became so obsessed with winning that it almost destroyed me.
Fast forward 25 years — I would suggest the need to win at all costs is now the most pervasive and damaging personality flaw of Wall Street and Main Street businesses alike, followed closely by the need for instant gratification and self-indulgent behavior among management. Too many former blue chip companies with a good history have succumbed to these liabilities and tarnished their pedigrees by becoming poster children for greed.
Unfortunately, corporate America’s crimes have permeated every part of our society, from youth sports to Hollywood to Fortune 50 companies. The most difficult challenge is how not to fall into the trap of compromising core values while pursuing personal and professional goals. How do we build an organization where winning fosters the correct behavior and establishes the right outcome? How do we create an environment where peers and staff feel valued and respected?
The answer is simple, but not easy: it’s about focusing on behavior, not results.
As mentioned in last month’s article, corporate values are determined by adhering to a code of conduct, a set of mores that are appropriate for influencing an outcome. We introduced The Leadership Pledge as a behavior-driven model at Berry and focused all our attention on five steps:
1. Recruit, hire, and retain;
2. Provide the support;
3. Set the standard;
4. Share honest feedback; and
5. Encourage individual accountability.
The 10 truths are the underpinnings of the steps and provide life’s leadership lessons.
As our reorganization journey at Berry began, it became obvious as we attempted to reinvent ourselves, our work had to begin with our people.
One of the two things that have shocked me most as I’ve worked with more than a hundred organizations the past four years is senior management’s lack of focus on people. Leadership is not an HR function! It must start at the top, belong to everyone and be the single biggest priority for great organizations.
Truth #1 is “Past performance predicts future behavior.” We had developed bad habits in the hiring process, the worst one being that we thought we could change people.
Guess what? People don’t change! Research tells us that our personalities are formed beginning at the age of three and culminating in our early teens. Curt Coffman, who wrote the foreword for my book, and Marcus Buckingham uncovered this in their breakthrough book, “First, Break All the Rules.” Yes, we can influence behavior, but if the prospective hire doesn’t bring with them the qualities and behaviors that are consistent with the requirements of the position, there is very little chance for success.
When we looked across our sales force of more than 500 individuals, we saw two qualities that all our best people possessed, the first being character.
Character is the “who” and “what” of a person. It represents everything we think, everything we say, and everything we do. Of the nine definitions in Webster, the one that best describes the character in business is “possessing those qualities of ethics, integrity, and morality that distinguish one individual from another.”
The second element is talent. This is not a skill nor knowledge, that is, qualities that can be taught. Talent is a foundation, a set of core competencies. Talent and the behaviors that manifest themselves in our best sales people included commitment, competitiveness, capacity and passion. According to Coffman and Buckingham, talent defines the “why” and “how” of a person.
So it’s simple! Find people whose talents properly align with the requirement of the position and there will be a high probability of them being successful. Buckingham, in his book “Know your Strengths,” reminds us to avoid our weaknesses and focus on our strengths. I call it finding our “sweet spot.”
Then and only then will you maximize your God-given talents. As leaders “you can make them more than they are, but you can’t make them something they’re not.” The only time we realize our dreams is when we help others realize theirs.
Let me close by acknowledging a few of the best companies that are right here in Dayton. At Step 1: Recruit, hire, and retain: I’ve seen The Berry Co.(admittedly, I’m biased), McGohan-Brabender, Dayton Freight, The Dayton Development Coalition, Miami Industrial Trucks, UD Athletics and many others. These organizations are among the best because Dan Graham, Pat McGohan, Tom Cronin, J.P. Nauseef, George Malacos and Ted Kissell, as leaders of their respective organizations, make recruiting, hiring and retention their top priorities. It’s not a coincidence that their organizations all enjoy success in results and creating an environment where employees feel valued and respected.
In the end, if it’s important to the leader, it will be important to the people.
Next month: Truth #2, “Motivation is a personal responsibility; inspiration is the responsibility of others.”
Pete Luongo is retired president and CEO of The Berry Co., executive director of the Center for Leadership and Executive Development at the University of Dayton, author of “10 Truths About Leadership … It’s Not Just About Winning” and a public speaker. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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