What qualities make an A Player immediately stand out?
Some qualities that immediately stand out for an A Player are as follows: accountability for results and integrity. Pay attention to the meetings you are in over the next week and notice how many employees and managers make excuses for missing goals, or do not take ownership or accountability for solving a problem. This is why the characteristics of A Players are so important. The A Players are also scrupulous in their integrity. Many people say one thing and then never follow through (or worse yet, tell a lie). A Players, on the other hand, have integrity— they consider someone not following through on their commitment as dishonest behavior.
“Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.” -John Wooden
I love your “line of choice” image. When a leader sees someone falling into the trap of blaming and making excuses, what does she do to get the player back on track?
In our cultures everyone is trained on The Line of Choice. They’ll politely call out their teammate and ask, “Isn’t that comment below the line?” or “What does an above-the-line response look like?” Or they’ll use the ABC vernacular and ask, “What would an A Player say?” or “That sounds a lot like B Player talk to me.”
Copyright Rick Crossland. Used by permission.
How to Motivate an A Player
What motivates an A Player?
One thing great about A Players is the leader does not have to motivate them. In fact, they are self-motivated. A Players truly work for passion. They find purpose in the process itself. They are not coin operated. They focus on satisfying customers, making better products, and you know what? The money follows! In fact it flows much more freely than if they had focused on the money.
“A Players are self-motivated, work for passion, and find purpose in the process itself.” -Rick Crossland
Throughout the book, you reference ethics, morals, and character. You also talk about leaders with some big personal failings. Why do so many people fall into these traps? How do you guard against it?
So many people fall into poor ethics and moral character for a few reasons. One is that their environment lets them get away with it. I’d recommend you put your antenna up this week and see how many times people in your organization tell and get away with white lies or half-truths. Odds are you will be startled by what you find. Now the question is, are you holding them accountable to clean up their act? The other root cause is that people suffer from hubris. Many folks just don’t think the rules apply to them, or they think they won’t get caught.
The way to guard against weak ethical and moral character is to build a culture where there is transparency to our actions. Societal ethics are becoming more blurred by the day. Make the adage by Aldo Leopold, “Ethical behavior is doing the right thing when no one else is watching- even when doing the wrong thing is legal,” part of your culture’s DNA. Build your systems so someone is watching and holding others accountable. Finally, the leader sets the tone for the ethical mores of your organization. Part ways with leaders with shaky ethics.
How do leaders align and engage a workforce in the midst of uncertainty?
Authors Kay Kendall and Glenn Bodinson are expert Baldrige coaches. They studied more than two dozen organizations that delivered exceptional results following the Baldrige Criteria, key principles derived and championed by Malcolm Baldrige in the mid-1980s to improve productivity and competitiveness. Their research was supplemented by talking with more than fifty CEOs to gain insights on performance excellence. I recently asked them about their work and their new book, Leading the Malcolm Baldrige Way.
What do readers, who may not know Malcolm Baldrige, need to know before picking up your book? How will studying the Malcolm Baldrige Way help business leaders?
Malcolm Baldrige was a very successful businessman before Ronald Reagan tapped him to be Secretary of Commerce. He was deeply concerned about the future of manufacturing in America. At that time, the 80s, Japan was dominating in the automotive and electronics manufacturing industries. Both of those industries – and others in America – were being plagued by poor quality, and consumers were making choices to go with Japanese products. Secretary Baldrige championed an effort to establish a presidential award based on rigorous standards that would recognize manufacturing and service organizations that achieved high levels of performance. After Baldrige’s untimely death, President Reagan decided to honor his friend with what became known as the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. Studying Leading the Malcolm Baldrige Way will help business leaders in any industry, in any situation – flourishing or in peril – learn how to align their employees to deliver exceptional results.
Why Engagement Matters
To those who think culture is soft, what statistics can you share that demonstrate engagement matters?
One study showed that companies with high levels of employee engagement have five times higher shareholder returns over five years. There is also clear evidence that engaged employees create loyal customers. If that isn’t compelling, consider the flip-side of engagement. Statistics from a recent article in Harvard Business Review cited, “Disengaged workers had 37% higher absenteeism, 49% more accidents, and 60% more errors and defects. In organizations with low employee engagement scores, they experienced 18% lower productivity, 16% lower profitability, 37% lower job growth, and 65% lower share price over time.” Those are staggering costs for organizations.
Engagement is the rage these days in leadership circles, yet still many leaders don’t work on engagement. Why is this?
Honestly, we don’t understand it. The evidence that engagement matters and impacts bottom-line results is clear. There is also the notion that treating employees as valued assets is what leaders as decent human beings ought to do. In the latest recession, we saw a lot of leaders with an attitude of “My employees should be grateful just to have a job.” As the economy picked up, we saw many employees jump ship as soon as there were opportunities to work for an organization with a better culture, where they were treated as valuable contributors to the mission and vision.
Research: Companies with engaged workers report 6% higher profits.
After enlisting in the Marines Ken Marlin worked his way up to become a captain and infantry commander. After the Marines, Ken has led a technology company and finally an investment bank on Wall Street.
Be prepared to walk away from the table. This is a great place to start. Do you have an example of when someone wasn’t willing to walk away and how that hurt them?
I have many examples both positive and negative. That’s because negotiating is much more about psychology than logic – and it has very little to do with finance. The negative examples aren’t fun to talk about. But we have had clients who simply weren’t willing to walk away from a prospective deal. Inevitably the other side took advantage. One that comes to mind resulted in a sale that I strongly advised against. Our client was a seller. The price offered seemed quite strong, on the surface. It was significantly higher in total value than those we received from other bidders – but a significant portion of the price was to be paid over three years based on the company’s future earnings. We’ve worked with so-called “earn-out” structures before and often they are fine. But, in this particular case, I believed that the upfront portion of the purchase price was much too low and the protections for my client post-deal were too weak. We pushed back of course, but the buyer touted the total value of the potential deal and was unwilling to move. I advised my client to walk away and negotiate with one of the other bidders – leaving the door open for the first one to get more reasonable. But my client was also focused on the total theoretical value and – perhaps – a bit too sure of himself and his own abilities. He was not willing to negotiate hard – and take the risk of losing this deal. He took the deal. The results were predictable. Within a year the senior management of my client’s company were out – and the sellers never received most of the earn-out. There were lawsuits. But the lawyers are about the only ones who came out ahead.
“Discipline is critical to proper preparation.” –Ken Marlin
There must be less depressing examples of the where the approach did work.
Sure, there are lots. For example, a few years ago, we had a VC-controlled client that had been negotiating the sale of their company for months with a very qualified buyer before they came to us for help. The offer was all-cash at a fair price by any measure. At the same time, it was clear that the buyer would merge the organizations and fire at least half of my client’s personnel. The VCs were mostly interested in the money, but they were sympathetic to the CEO’s desire to protect his people. The CEO had tried to negotiate, but the buyer said that their offer was “best and final” and would expire in 3 weeks. Further, the buyer said that if there were any solicitation of other bidders, they would walk from the table. The buyer was using their leverage better than my client. They assumed that the VCs would not risk losing a high all-cash offer.
I told my client that they could not negotiate if the other side perceived that they were unwilling to walk from the table. Otherwise we would just be begging. We knew that if we solicited other bids we might lose the first buyer, but that was a risk we had to take to improve the terms. My client agreed to take the risk. Once we had other bids coming in and the first buyer saw that they might lose the deal, they materially improved the cash portion of their offer. But they put even more emphasis on cost reductions. Fortunately, we had identified another interested bidder, and we were able to use our leverage – including the specter of sale to the original buyer – to obtain an offer for more money and protections for the employees. That was win-win.
About a year ago we had a similar experience internally, as the lease on our office space was expiring. We were the sole occupant of the top floor of a prestigious New York office tower. It had terraces, great light and views, and it was all built to our specifications. We were willing to stay. But the landlord asked for a rent increase that was clearly above market. He may have assumed that we would not walk away. We pushed back. We showed him that rent for comparable spaces was lower. But logic did not work. He declined to offer more than a pittance. So we went out and found another great space and used the specter of staying in the original space as leverage to negotiate great terms with the new building. When the first landlord saw that we were willing to walk from the table, he finally got reasonable. But it was too late. We moved to the new space. We love it.
“Staying safely at your home port is narrow thinking.” –Ken Marlin
Tell the truth. I love this one as part of your rules. What’s the Marine definition of lying?
I’m not saying that you can’t lie to an enemy who is trying to kill you or your friends. This is about negotiating in normal business environments – or in Marine environments when you are negotiating with so-called “friendlies” (such as local villagers). In this context, the Marine definition of lying goes beyond the standard definition of asserting something as fact that you know to be otherwise. It includes making statements – or failing to make statements – as part of an express intent to deceive. It’s an extension of the concept that my word is my bond – with a focus on being honest with those who expect that of you. Reputations are built over time and will outlast the negotiations at hand. A reputation as a liar will eventually catch up to you.
Negotiation Tip: don’t make promises that will be challenging to keep.
So in that context, how do you bluff in negotiating? Doesn’t everyone bluff?
It’s true that, in my business, many people bluff. And more than a few lie. Lying is always bad. Bluffing usually is. It is also dangerous if your bluff is called. It can cost the loss of major negotiating points – and sometimes kill the deal. That’s why I prefer the truth.
“Discipline can help ensure successful execution.” –Ken Marlin
Recognize when you have leverage-and when you don’t.How do you know what the leverage each side has? How does this impact your deal making?
In the Marines, leverage comes from a combination of superior force combined with moral certainty. Moral certainty was one of the key ingredients in how Americans won the Revolution against the superior forces of the British Empire. It was key to winning World War II, and it was also key to the US losing the War in Vietnam. Sure, there are many exceptions where superior force trumped all. See the Russians in Chechnya. But 150 years later, that war isn’t completely over yet. In deal making, the best leverage comes from a combination of being on the moral high ground and being willing to walk from the table. That leverage increases the more the other side wants to get the deal done. It’s usually not hard to recognize. In the book I relay a vignette about the CEO of a very large firm that had made an offer to acquire our client’s company. After we shook hands on what appeared to be a very fair purchase price, he began to dictate deal terms – and even to change some that had previously been agreed. The CEO acted as if he had all the leverage, when actually, by his bullying tactics, he had squandered the moral high ground. He was then left with the assumption that my client was desperate to complete the deal. They weren’t that desperate. The CEO was surprised when we walked from the table.
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” –Sun Tzu
Remember the peace. Most non-military experts will pause on this one. What does it mean and why is it so important?
Most statesman learned long ago that after most wars end, there is wisdom in finding a way for the formerly warring parties to live with each other. After the Civil War came what was supposed to be reconstruction. After WWII came the Marshall plan. When people forget that basic rule of remembering the peace, it can be bad. That’s what the allies did after World War I, forcing impossible reparations on the Germans. The result was resentment that fermented and eventually boiled over. And then we got World War II. The consequences of scorched earth policies in business negotiations may not be quite as dire. But still, the smart move is to recognize that the completion of a transaction is usually not the end of anything. It is a phase point, after which it is better if the formerly battling parties (buyer and seller) can continue to work and live with each other in peace and harmony. Otherwise, life is long, resentment ferments, and bad things may happen.
9 Negotiation Rules from Ken Marlin
Rule 1: Be prepared to walk away from the table.
Rule 2: Know where you are going.
Rule 3: Recognize when you have leverage—and when you don’t.
Rule 4: Tell the truth.
Rule 5: Remember the peace.
Rule 6: Negotiate big things before little things.
John G. Miller is a world authority on personal accountability. He is a frequent keynote speaker and the author of QBQ! The Question Behind the Question, Flipping the Switch and Outstanding! 47 Ways to Make Your Organization Exceptional. He is also the co-author of the brand new Parenting the QBQ Way. He is founder of QBQ, Inc., an organizational development firm based in Denver, CO. Its mission is “Helping Organizations Make Personal Accountability a Core Value.” He and his wife, Karen, have been married for thirty-three years. They have seven children and two grandchildren.
Procrastinating, whining, blaming, deflecting, playing the victim, entitlement. I guess I can start out by blaming you for removing all excuses! If you take all these away, then what are we left with?
A better person. The humanness in all of us leads us to fall into these traps, but they are costly on many levels. It is more difficult for me to serve others, grow myself, reach objectives, and simply be outstanding when I engage in these traps. We at QBQ Inc. have discovered these traps can be eliminated by using the tool we call The Question Behind the Question – the QBQ. The QBQ enables us to practice personal accountability and when we do, we are better in all areas of life.
You’ve worked with organizations all over the world. Often when you’re called in, the culture is not at its finest. How do you assess the state of accountability within a culture?
We listen. Our words represent our inner thinking and attitude, so when we hear people asking the wrong questions – we call them Incorrect Questions (IQs) – like “When will that department do its job right?” “Who dropped the ball?” and “Why don’t I get more coaching?” then we know there is a lack of personal accountability within the culture. The myth is, “There are no I’s in team.” There are definitely “I’s” in every single team everywhere, and when the I’s practice personal accountability, the team can do great things.