Feedback and Rewards

Put a Winning Team into the Competitive Fray to Create Breakthroughs over Competitors

Donald Mitchell asked:

At the end of the AFC Championship Game in NFL playoffs in early 2007, the New England Patriots fell just short of beating the Indianapolis Colts at home. In thinking about what happened, the Patriots realized that they needed better players and improved teamwork.

During the off season, the Patriots added many of the top performers in the 2007-2008 NFL season . . . players like Randy Moss, Wes Welker, and Adelius Thomas. Each one was signed to a contract that provided lots of incentive to perform well.

As of Week 15 of the following NFL season, the Patriots had become only the second team to start a season 14-0.

There’s lesson there for all of us. Who is on your team and how they are directed makes a large difference in achieving breakthroughs.

To achieve 20 times more, you need to learn and continually use all eight steps of the breakthrough solution process in the correct order.

The steps are listed here:

1. Understand the importance of measuring performance.

2. Decide what to measure.

3. Identify the future best practice and measure it.

4. Implement beyond the future best practice.

5. Identify the ideal best practice.

6. Pursue the ideal best practice.

7. Select the right people and provide the right motivation.

8. Repeat the first seven steps.

This article looks at the seventh step.

Recruit and Coach a Winning Team

People are the critical resource for any organization. Without the right people, it’s hard to exceed the future best practice and approach the ideal best practice (the best anyone will ever do).

Keep in mind that few people, no matter how talented, function well in a changing environment. Still fewer can work well on a team instituting changes.

One naysayer can discourage a whole team. Someone who uses too much influence can stifle others.

You’re looking to create a rare and delicate balance in your dream team of change makers.

Change? Over My Dead Body!

It might seem that the best way to implement any change is to work with those who know the job best — those who actually work with the process every day. But if big changes are needed, this approach isn’t always a good idea.

Use only the old crew and you are likely to run into a very serious foot-dragging stall. Even the best workers lose their perspective over time.

Experimental evidence shows that people new to a job have a much easier time with understanding the need for and enjoying the pursuit of changes.

They can be taught whatever history they need to know without being stalled by it. The current crew can play devil’s advocate — to keep the new team honest, as it were.

But don’t hold their experience against the current crew. Provide them with a new challenge in a different part of the organization where they are unfamiliar with the operations.

You need very capable relative strangers to take on a change project, but they don’t have to be people from outside the organization. Look for as wide a range of perspective, skills, and knowledge as you can.

Build a Dream Team

You must find people who are energized or excited by a change. Your ideal team members must see change as a challenge that will help them grow personally. Select team members who will feel that being chosen to work on approaching the ideal best practice is the most wonderful thing that ever happened to them.

Beyond enthusiasm, what do you need? Open-mindedness.

Is There a Leader in the House?

Naturally, choosing the right team leader makes a big difference in your results. Look for a leader who shares the enthusiasm of each team member and knows how to harness that enthusiasm. In addition, you want someone who places the interests of the team and the organization ahead of any desire to exercise power as top dog.

Avoid borrowing a leader from another organization (whether they be consultants or outsourced service providers). Such outsiders will have a harder time reflecting the values of those they lead.

If you cannot find an appropriate leader in your organization, be sure to hire someone who will help create the excitement necessary to bring off major changes and who matches your company’s values as closely as possible.

Four leadership qualities determine success:

1. Shared values with the organization

2. Understanding the problems thoroughly before beginning the mission

3. Ability to persuade others that the project will succeed

4. Skills relevant to the task.

If your top candidate is in good shape except for skills, consider how you could use some training to fill in those gaps. It’s easier to fill in for ignorance than for a lack of values.

Don’t Ask Permission, Ask Forgiveness Later (If Necessary)

Sometimes the need for change is so daunting that the organization’s leaders won’t be able to cope. When that circumstance occurs, consider saving the organization by using what we call “stealth” change.

Rather than beginning by selling the people at the top and making great promises and proclamations, keep it all hush-hush. Recruit a few highly admired people who have the talent to lead the change by creating models of the new ways on the quiet.

After setting the standard, loan talented teams who can install the better ways to a few more highly admired people who are in trouble with making their budgets. Ask your bailed-out leaders to visit the rest of the organization to explain the successful change and to welcome visitors who want to learn more.

Within six months, such stealthy projects can often run circles around formally authorized teams with tons of resources.

Launch Your Team into Escape Orbit

Before finalizing your choice of team members and leader, let those you are considering know that there’s risk involved. Team members will be betting their careers with this assignment.

Team members and leaders who perform well will likely be asked to solve another problem or pursue a different opportunity — that’s their career reward. If they don’t execute the changes, they won’t have jobs to go back to . . . but you will help them locate a new position in another organization.

As you can imagine, knowing that you cannot retreat to your old job is unsettling, even demoralizing, information. People who have routinely exceeded the future best practices to approach the ideal best practice report that this up-or-out approach is necessary.

Team members who like a challenge will thrive in this environment. But it’s not for everyone. You are creating personal burning platforms that will make team members realize that the project’s success is essential. Take on only those who are willing to accept the personal danger from this risk.

What about financial rewards? Incentives for a special project should in no way mirror the organization’s existing financial incentives. Success should result in far larger than normal bonuses for team members at their given levels.

Pick incentive levels that will excite exceptional and appropriate excellence. Many organizations choose incentives that are too high. Larger financial incentives quickly fail to add greater excitement. Instead, financial incentives that are too large encourage people to play it safe to be sure to get a minimum reward of the overwhelming largesse.


You need to change some of the ways you manage your organization now, locate your change leaders, prepare leaders for the change tasks, and encourage change leaders to be effective and enthusiastic.

What to Stop Doing

You have some ineffective methods. Those have to stop. You also need to stop doing things that take up time you need
for the change projects. Consider your answers to the following questions:

1. What are the habits that wil
l push your organization in the wrong direction as you pursue the desired changes?

2. How can you encourage people to abandon those habits?

3. What incentives do you provide now for those habits that need to be removed?

4. What messages need to stop being sent?

Find the Best Change Leaders

The following questions will help you identify change leaders:

1. Who has the best track record in your organization for leading the types of changes you desire?

2. Who else could be an effective contributor to the change process through new ideas, communicating the change, or organizing the change effort?

3. Who are the people in your organization who are most excited about the potential to make these changes?

4. How well do the candidates’ values match the organization’s values?

Prepare the Change Leaders

Use these questions to enhance the effectiveness of your change leaders:

1. What information do the change leaders lack that can be readily provided?

2. How can that information be shared quickly and accurately?

3. What skills or training will they need to be effective?

4. How can this training be timed to help them when it will be most relevant to the tasks at hand?

5. What resources will they need?

6. How can those resources be provided in a timely way?

Activate the Change Leaders

It’s not enough to have the talent and desire. You also need to be properly focused. Each of us responds differently to rewards and recognition. For each of your team members and leaders consider the answers to this question:

What combination of fulfilling desires for recognition, reward, and feedback is right for each person to help him or her reach the highest level of performance?

In answering this question, remember that creativity researchers have found that rewards for being creative often backfire, while rewards for accomplishing a predefined implementation task usually work well.

The best way to begin is by talking with each person about what motivates her or him for the tasks that need doing.

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