4 Secrets of Passionate Organizations

How to Create Performance Breakthroughs


How can your team reach its potential?

What if you could add a dose of passion to every member of your team?

How do you improve productivity and morale?

In his new book, Performance Breakthrough: The FOUR Secrets of Passionate Organizations, Mike Goldman reveals the four secrets for creating a more passionate organization. With 25 years of experience coaching organizations of all sizes, Mike Goldman has seen what works and what doesn’t. I recently spoke with Mike about how to create performance breakthroughs.



Effective Techniques for Understanding

To treat others the way they want to be treated, we need to understand them. What techniques do you recommend to have someone listen and really understand someone in order to make secret one work?

I would recommend using three different techniques: asking, observing and assessing.



Ask- Meet one-on-one with each team member to ask him or her about their values, motivations, and learning styles. Don’t come right out and ask, “What motivates you?” The answer you get won’t be very helpful since, chances are, your team member will just tell you what they think you’ll want to hear. You want to ask behavioral interviewing type questions like:

Think back to a time when you were incredibly motivated at work. What happened right before to make you feel that way?

Think of a time when you had to learn something new, and it just “clicked” for you. What method of learning did you use?



Observe – Watch the individuals on your team during meetings, high-stress situations, and social situations and take note of their styles and reactions. Do they take the lead in meetings, or do they follow? Are they agreeable, or do they play devil’s advocate? Do they thrive under pressure, or wilt?



Assess – Conduct behavioral and personality assessments: There are many good behavioral and personality assessments on the market, such as Innermetrix®, Profiles International®, DiSC®, etc. These assessments are typically very accurate and may give you and your employees important insight on their styles, talents, values, and motivations.




I’m a big believer in focusing on strengths rather than weaknesses. How do you make this happen in an organization?

You first need to convince leaders that people have much more potential in their areas of strength than their areas of weakness. Interestingly, once an employee is hired, many business leaders think that the biggest potential for improving an employee’s performance is to fix their weaknesses.

However, employees will rarely become strong in an area of weakness. Focusing on an aspect where an employee lacks the talent and the passion will only raise that employee to mediocre status.

Conversely, the sky’s the limit on the potential of someone who has natural talent and passion in a given area—they can become a world-class employee. Therefore, leaders should learn to leverage their employees’ strengths to achieve world-class status instead of focusing on their weaknesses and achieving mediocrity. Additionally, focusing on maximizing the areas where an employee has true talent and passion is incredibly motivating for them and beneficial for the company.

To begin executing on more of a strengths-based organization, leaders then need to dramatically change the way they hire, evaluate and assign tasks to employees.


The Four Secrets of Passionate Organizations

1: Acceptance. Accept that we are all different.

2: Leverage. Leverage the strengths of each individual on your team.

3: Impact. Define outcomes, not steps.

4: Celebration. Find ways to measure and reward positive outcomes.


Recruit for talents your team is lacking.

Hiring – When making hiring decisions, most leaders look for well-rounded individuals and create a list of skills and experiences they would like a job candidate to possess. Unfortunately, very few leaders have knowledge of the talents required for the job. Talents are habits and tendencies wired into our brains from an early age—things like leadership, flexibility, love of learning, or empathy. On the other hand, knowledge and skills are learned and mastered through experience. Talents can rarely be taught; therefore, talent is highly coveted by astute hiring managers. If talents could be learned, we would all have the potential to be LeBron James. So instead of hiring a well-rounded individual, hire a talented individual that will help to form a well-rounded team. Recruit for talents your team is lacking, not for a well-rounded candidate.



Modify your annual performance evaluation to focus on strengths.

Evaluating – Create a strengths-based performance plan by modifying your annual performance evaluation process to focus on strengths instead of weaknesses. Use the process to work with employees to better identify strengths and passions and to determine how to better leverage those areas in the future. This doesn’t mean we should ignore weaknesses. If a weakness is not core to their job, work with the employee to compensate for the weakness through training (not to make them great, but to make them acceptable) or by tweaking their responsibilities to have them partner with or delegate the tasks to someone else. If a weakness is core to the employee’s job, you’ve hired the wrong person or they’re in the wrong role.


Modify job responsibilities to match people’s strengths.

Assigning Tasks – Most companies create standard job descriptions and expect all of their employees to fit nicely inside that mold. While there are certainly some benefits to standard job descriptions, you will find that some will tie your hands as you attempt to create a strengths-based team. This does not mean creating unique job descriptions for each individual on your team. It simply means having an open mind to modify some responsibilities to better match people’s strengths. Give people additional training and development opportunities in the areas for which they have the most passion and the greatest strengths. It’s also a great idea to have people train/coach others on your team in the areas where their strengths and passions lie.



The fourth secret is all about celebration. What are some unique ways to reward and praise team members?

MG_jacket_final_2I list many different ways in my book (Performance Breakthrough) but one powerful one is a quarterly theme or contest. The key to helping people remember what’s most important in any given time period is to make it memorable and fun. The theme or contest can focus on revenue goals, customer service levels, safety statistics, or any key performance indicator deemed critical for the organization.

Another great way to reward and praise your team is the “Above and Beyond the Call of Duty (ABCD) Award.” This is a reward for doing something outside of the scope of their job in order to help a client, coworker, or supplier. Nominations for this award can be made by anyone (supervisor, coworker, or subordinate). Hold an “all hands” meeting each month where the stories behind each of the nominations are told. This is much more powerful than the typical top-down employee of the month.

Another interesting one is to include the family. Reward an employee by taking that person and his or her family out to lunch, dinner, or a show. Including the family adds a nice personal touch, which is greatly appreciated.



The Most Difficult Secret

When you work with executives, is there one “secret” that is most problematic or difficult?

They all have their challenges but “Impact” is the secret most executives have the biggest struggle with.

They struggle for several reasons:

First, as the “boss”, many leaders believe they need to be the smartest person in the room, that they need to have all the answers. This creates a dictatorial environment that significantly decreases a team’s effectiveness and passion.

Second, most business leaders believe that their employees need to earn their trust before being trusted. If you have hired the right people—the ones with the smarts that impressed you enough to choose them—and have provided them with the tools necessary to do the job, then you need to give them the freedom to get the job done. This means trusting them enough to allow them to reach their true potential. If you believe in your hiring process, then trust your people.

Others are afraid to be vulnerable with their teams, while many more are fearful of sharing confidential information—the very information their teams need to be trusted to get the job done.



The Top 3 Barriers to Growth

You help people and companies through barriers to growth. What are the top 3 barriers? What do you do about them?

The first barrier is the lack of effective leadership. This translates to challenges hiring the right people, delegating, motivating and holding the team accountable

The second barrier is the lack of adequate systems and structure. As organizations grow, processes get more complex, the organizational structure needs to change, communication becomes more difficult and systems to measure and track progress are needed.

The third barrier is an outdated business model that’s not responsive to new competition or changes in the environment.

What I do is help companies implement a new “operating system” for growth. I help them to make the right people, strategy, execution and cash decisions. We start by conducting a 2-day annual retreat for the executive team where they create their strategy for growth and a plan for how they need to execute this year and, most importantly, this quarter. I then work with the executive team quarterly to review and revise the annual plan, create a plan for the next quarter and teach them new tools to facilitate their growth.

The idea is not to try to get the strategy and plan 100% right. That will never happen. I have a bias towards action with my clients. Let’s get the plan 75% right, execute the hell out of it and tweak it as we go.


Let’s talk about ownership and letting people have the freedom necessary to get the job done. What parameters do you put into place, if any? When do you know to adjust?

The most important parameters or guiding principles are the core value and core purpose of your organization.

Core values define your personality as an organization. They’re a small set (3 to 6) of nonnegotiable rules that you live by. Most organizations have core values that have evolved over time, without any attempt to proactively define them. Core values like, “Don’t admit to your mistakes,” “Whoever screams the loudest wins” or, “Me first, company second” can become prevalent if you’re not careful. Blatantly and consistently violating a core value is a fire-able offense…always.Mike Goldman

Your core purpose is the “why” for your organization. Why are you in business? And, by the way, it’s not to make money. Profit is a side effect of adding something incredible to society. Your purpose is about why what you do matters and what difference you’re making in the world. This “why” provides the fuel that motivates your organization to greatness.

Together your core values and your core purpose should guide everything that you do—from which businesses you focus on to which people you hire to which customers you’re willing to work with.

In addition to your core values and core purpose, you need to put processes in place to ensure a high level of execution discipline so team members can be held accountable. These disciplines include aligning annual and quarterly priorities from the top to the bottom of the organization, agreeing on the right measures or key performance indicators (KPI’s) to best judge success or failure and implementing the right meeting rhythms.

Performance Breakthrough: The FOUR Secrets of Passionate Organizations



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