Building on Strengths Key to Improving Organizational Health

Building on Strengths Key to Improving Organizational HealthIn our culture development keynotes, workshops, and retreats we’ve been citing research from the largest study of organizational effectiveness ever undertaken. A few years ago McKinsey & Company published their extensive research in Beyond Performance: How Great Organizations Build Ultimate Competitive Advantage (click here for my book summary and review).

The research study identified nine elements that combine to support and sustain high-performing organizations; Leadership, Culture and Climate, Direction, Accountability, Coordination and Control, Capabilities, Motivation, External Orientation, and Innovation and Learning.

A recent article in McKinsey Quarterly updated the research. “The Hidden Value of Organizational Health – and How to Capture It” shows that the payoffs from organizational health is even larger than found in the original research. The authors also report on four combinations or “recipes” that when companies were strongly aligned on them “were five times more likely to be healthy and to deliver strong, sustained performance than companies with mixed (or random) recipes.”

The four practices are clustered around Leader Driven, Market Focused, Execution Edge, and Talent and Knowledge Core. Three of these clusters include factors such as career opportunities, inspirational leaders, open and trusting, employee involvement, bottom up innovation, talent development, rewards, and recognition, and personal ownership. These factors are generated by strong leadership and high performance cultures.

In looking at how to increase effectiveness this research strongly correlates with our work on strengths-based leadership in three key areas:

1. “…fix all broken practices (by improving them enough so that a company escapes the bottom quartile)” is very similar to our findings that leaders must address any Fatal Flaws before trying to build strengths.
2. “Trying to exceed the median benchmark on a large number of practices is not effective” parallels our research showing that focusing on improving a number of leadership competencies is much less effective than focusing on one strength at a time and building it to the 90th percentile.
3. Developing strengths “increase the probability of building a healthy organization by a factor of five or ten” is very similar to our research showing that building 3 – 5 strengths will put a leader in the top 10 – 20 percent of all leaders.

The evidence keeps growing; building strengths is the pathway to peak personal, team, and organizational performance.

The Nine Behaviors of Outstanding Performers

The Nine Behaviors of Outstanding Performers Do you wonder what would make you really stand out and vividly show you’re ready for more responsibility and career growth? Are you uncertain which actions would lead to your highest productivity and personal effectiveness? Or are you and others in your organization unsure what criteria to use in promoting frontline performers into leadership roles?

New Zenger Folkman research provides clear answers to these key questions. The study analyzed data from 50,286 360-degree evaluations of 4,158 individual contributors. They compared those rated as good performers (40th to 70th percentile) to great performers (90th percentile and up). There was a dramatic difference in productivity between good and great performance. Average performers had productivity ratings at the 46th percentile. The best performers’ productivity was rated at the 89th percentile!

So what differentiates the good from the great? As outlined in their Harvard Business Review blog, “The Behaviors that Define A-Players“, Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman found these nine behaviors — in rank order — lead to extraordinary performance:

1. Set stretch goals and adopt high standards for themselves
2. Work collaboratively
3. Volunteer to represent the group
4. Embrace change, rather than resisting it
5. Take initiative
6. Walk the talk
7. Use good judgement
8. Display personal resilience
9. Give honest feedback

The good news is you don’t have to be superhuman and great at all of the nine behaviors. As I outlined in “Exceptional Leaders Aren’t Well Rounded“, our research shows that developing a few of these areas into towering strengths will elevate effectiveness from good to great.


For the past 30 years and Leadership Excellence have identified and recognized the Top 500 leadership organizations in their yearly ranking. At this year’s conference Zenger Folkman was honored with being awarded 1st place in the three top categories. The “Global Leadership Excellence” Award was given for Zenger Folkman’s flagship leadership development program, The Extraordinary Leader. Zenger Folkman also placed 1st in the category for “Top Partner and Providers” Award. Finally, Jack Zenger received a new award for “Top Leader of the Year,” based on his exceptional thought leadership and unparalleled contributions to the training and development industry.

Learn more at Zenger Folkman Receives Highest Honors at Leadership 500 Excellence Awards.

Employee Engagement Reflects Leadership Effectiveness

Employee Engagement Reflects Leadership EffectivenessWhen our three kids were growing up I was — sometimes painfully — reminded of the old parenting adage; “children act like their parents despite all attempts to teach them good manners!” When Chris, Jenn, or Vanessa behaved poorly in public — if I took a deep look in the mirror — I could recognize their behavior. It clearly came from … their mother!

It’s often difficult to face up to the role we play in shaping the behavior of others we lead. In the workplace it’s easier to the blame the team member, organizational culture, declining work ethic, societal, or other factors. Those out-of-the-leader’s control issues do influence behavior.

Employee engagement has become a huge problem. Disengaged employees lessen customer service levels, have many more sick days, quit and leave, quit and stay, diminish quality and innovation, shrink productivity, weaken teamwork, and infect others with negativity.

Organizations looking to increase employee engagement will often examine pay and benefits, enhance working conditions, upgrade facilities or equipment, implement flexible schedules, provide childcare, focus on work/life balance, or offer training and development opportunities.
Google is an example of a company providing these and many more benefits to attract, engage, and retain their top talent.

A recent Harvard Business Review article reported on how “Google’s Project Oxygen” reduced turnover and increased retention. “The data also showed a tight connection between managers’ quality and workers’ happiness: Employees with high-scoring bosses consistently reported greater satisfaction in multiple areas, including innovation, work-life balance, and career development.”

In his latest Forbes column, “70% of Workers Aren’t Engaged – What About the Managers?“, Joe Folkman points out that we need to place the blame where it belongs. “Workers follow the lead from the person above them. Effective leaders produce engaged employees.” Joe’s column features a chart showing a sharp rise in engagement as leadership effectiveness increases.

Next Wednesday (April 23) Joe Folkman will present a complimentary (no-charge) webinar on Seven Ways to Increase Employee Satisfaction Without Giving a Raise. He’ll show Zenger Folkman’s research on key leader behaviors that drive engagement.

Leaders often blame generational differences, unions, organizational rules and policies, waning work ethic, society/organizational culture, pay and benefits, and the like. But decades of engagement studies point to what we might call a leader’s adage; “employees act like their leader despite organizational attempts to engage them.”

Make Performance Appraisals an Inspiring Event

Make Performance Appraisals an Inspiring Event
Last week I was working with a diverse group of senior operating executives at their professional association’s leadership forum. The new research we reviewed and discussions we had on building leadership strengths resonated strongly with the group — especially our Best Leader/Worst Leader exercise (see “Exceptional Leaders Aren’t Well Rounded“).

What especially rang true for participants was our discussion on the abysmal state of performance reviews. We agreed that most performance appraisals are about as fun as being poked in the eye with a sharp stick. Yet just glossing over this profoundly weakness-based approach with word games like “improvement opportunities” or “lesser strengths” don’t make the experience any more positive (see “Changing Forms Doesn’t Create Strengths-Based Performance Appraisals“).

Next week Joe Folkman will present a complimentary (no-charge) webinar on Seven Ways to Increase Employee Satisfaction Without Giving a Raise. He’ll show Zenger Folkman’s research on key leader behaviors that drive engagement. Among these approaches Joe will show the impact of providing development opportunities, a learning environment, powerful communication, and how a leader makes people feel.

Performance management approaches using positive, strengths building methods can be highly energizing. In their white paper Making Performance Appraisals an Inspiring Event, Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman outline these three steps:

1. Focus on Impact and Set the Bar for Improving Strengths
2. Make Goals to Improve and Follow Up
3. Directly and Promptly Address “Fatal Flaws”

They follow these steps with ZF research showing these five keys to helping people improve:

1. Willingness to Take on a Challenge
2. Accepting Feedback
3. Be Honest
4. Be Considerate
5. Innovation

Click here to download the white paper and read more about these steps and keys.

The main objective of performance discussions is a personal development plan leading to ever higher effectiveness. Highly effective leaders don’t poke, prod, and pick at weaknesses. Extraordinary leaders and coaches use strengths-based approaches to build higher performance.

Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman Named Thought Leaders of the Year

Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman Named Thought Leaders of the YearIt’s been two years since Jack Zenger and I explored partnering once again (our previous companies, Zenger Miller and The Achieve Group worked together in the 80s). Since forming The CLEMMER Group in 1994 we’ve been approached by many consulting and training organizations to work together. We’ve always chosen to do our own thing and develop our own programs and services. In A New Era Begins: Our Strategic Partnership with Zenger Folkman I gave five key reasons for this change in direction; 1. Jack Zenger, 2. Strengths-Based Leadership Development, 3. Research/Evidence-Based Leadership Development, 4. Coaching and Inspiring Skills/Philosophies, and 5. A Powerful Fit with our Culture/Leadership Development.

Nearly two years of working with Jack, Joe Folkman, and the ZF team and implementing ZF’s programs and services with our Clients has exceeded our high expectations. Their strengths-based leadership development approaches are on the leading edge of a big — and long overdue — shift in our field. Major and leading companies such as General Mills, Gap, Wells Fargo, Yale University, Deloitte, Marriott, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Viacom, Thomson Reuters, and many others have adapted and often customized The Extraordinary Leader and The Extraordinary Coach as the foundation of their leadership and culture development work.

Now on the heels of Training placing Zenger Folkman in their Top Training Companies, ISA – The Association of Learning Providers, have just given Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman their 2014 Thought Leader Award. ISA’s awards committee explained the unique partnership of these two leaders: “Initially, Jack and Joe developed an unexpected partnership. Jack has spent more than 50 years working in human resources for some of the largest companies in the world. Joe is a statistically inclined organizational psychologist who has focused his career on building statistical models that interpret human behavior. Together, they developed a training and development company that was grounded in data and backed by practical ideas. While the partnership wasn’t immediately obvious, it has proven to be successful with many worldwide companies.”

This is a peer group award from the top organizations in the training and development industry. Click here to read more about this prestigious award.

Visit our Zenger Folkman Featured Resources for a selection of case studies, white papers, and recent webinars showcasing ZF’s thought leadership and cutting edge development approaches. Click on Join Us at the Extraordinary Leadership Summit for an exciting and rare chance to join me, Brad Smith, Jack, Joe, the ZF team, and leading ZF practitioners and Clients in Park City, Utah this July.


Webinar: 7 Ways to Increase Employee Satisfaction Without Giving a Raise

Webinar on Developing Extraordinary Leaders and CoachesAs baseball great Yogi Berra (known for his “Yogiisms”) or Canada’s bombastic hockey commenter, Don Cherry, might have said “it ain’t rocket surgery.” Dissatisfied frontline servers don’t produce satisfied customers. Disengaged employees don’t provide the discretionary effort leading to peak performance. Discontented team members don’t create inspired and energized teams.

In a thriving and highly mobile economy dissatisfied employees will often quit and get another job. In today’s economy job opportunities are scarce and fewer employees quit and leave. What’s even worse is they “quit” — and stay. Or older employees waiting for their pensions to mature or hoping for a severance package slip into “on the job retirement.”

Overall job satisfaction is on a steep decline. Many people feel trapped in their current jobs and increasingly feel like going to work is checking into “day prison.”

However, not all organizations are experiencing these dismal results. A recent assessment of employee satisfaction by Zenger Folkman’s Clients showed a significant improvement over past years, though this company was not immune to the effects of the recession.

ZF has looked deeper at this issue and found very consistent themes over multiple datasets from 94,000 employees in multiple companies. Joe Folkman and his research team factor analyzed the top dimensions to identify seven factors that created a positive increase in employee satisfaction even during the economy’s poorest times.

Join Joe Folkman on April 23 at 1:00 PM ET to learn more. Click here to register. This webinar is complimentary. There is no fee to attend; however seats are limited.

Thoughts That Make You Go Hmmm on…Mindfulness in the Age of Complexity

Dr. Ellen LangerEllen Jane Langer is a professor of psychology at Harvard University. Over the past 35 years she’s written eleven books and more than two hundred research articles on mindfulness, illusion of control, decision making, and aging. Her landmark book, Counterclockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility (click here to read my summary/review of it), reported on her experiments proving elderly men could improve their health by acting as if it were 20 years earlier.

These quotes are drawn from the March 2014 Harvard Business Review interview, “Mindfulness in the Age of Complexity:”

Mindfulness is the process of actively noticing new things. When you do that, it puts you in the present. It makes you more sensitive to context and perspective. It’s the essence of engagement.

Mindfulness helps you realize that there are no positive or negative outcomes. There’s A, B, C, D, and more, each with its challenges and opportunities.

Stress is not a function of events; it’s a function of the view you take of events. You think a particular thing is going to happen and that when it does, it’s going to be awful. But prediction is an illusion. We can’t know what’s going to happen.

I tell leaders they should make not knowing OK — I don’t know, you don’t know, nobody knows — rather than acting like they know, so everyone else pretends they know, which leads to all sorts of discomfort and anxiety.

I think chaos is a perception. People say that there’s too much information, and I would say that there’s no more information now than there was before. The difference is that people believe they have to know it — that the more information they have, the better the product is going to be and the more money the company is going to make. I don’t think it depends as much on the amount of information someone has as on the way it’s taken in. And that needs to be mindful.

Life consists only of moments, nothing more than that. So if you make the moment matter, it all matters. You can be mindful, you can be mindless. You can win, you can lose. The worst case is to be mindless and lose. So when you’re doing anything, be mindful, notice new things, make it meaningful to you, and you’ll prosper.


For over three decades, Jim Clemmer’s keynote presentations, workshops, management team retreats, seven bestselling books, articles, and blog have helped hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. The Clemmer Group is the Canadian strategic partner of Zenger Folkman, an award-winning firm best known for its unique evidence-driven, strengths-based system for developing extraordinary leaders and demonstrating the performance impact they have on organizations.

Don’t be Fooled into Focusing on Weaknesses

Don't be Fooled into Focusing on WeaknessesApril 1 as April Fool’s Day or All Fools’ Day can be traced back to the Roman festival of Hilaria and the Medieval Feast of Fools or the Feast of the Ass dating from the fifth century in various European countries. In 1392, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is set in on March 32 or April Fool’s Day.

Another long tradition that’s deeply embedded in our culture is the belief that becoming a better personal, team, or organizational leader means fixing our shortcomings. As Joe Folkman explains in the two minute video clip, What Makes a Great Leader, this thinking causes leaders to try improving themselves across a full range of skills — many of which they don’t enjoy and aren’t likely to improve. That’s proving to be ineffective, if not foolish.

But ignoring a big weakness that’s causing us a major problem is also foolhardy. The key is distinguishing whether our all too human weaker areas might be a flaw fatal to our leadership effectiveness. In his follow up two minute video, Leadership: Weaknesses vs. Fatal Flaws, Joe explains the critical difference and shows how Steve Jobs’ towering strengths overshadowed his well-publicized weaknesses.

Tomorrow we publish my March blog posts in the April issue of The Leader Letter. The first two blogs deal with readers’ continuing struggles with wasting time on weaknesses. A widely held belief that’s misdirecting many development professionals and leaders is the myth of the well-rounded leader. As I write in this blog post, I’ve been guilty of perpetuating what’s now proving to be a foolish misconception about leadership development.

This issue also provides updates on, and archive links to, recent webinars, introduces Brad Smith as our new Director of Business Development, and new research on creating a culture of quality. And we outline this summer’s Extraordinary Leadership Summit in Park City, Utah. It’s a rare chance to meet and mingle with ZF leaders and organizational leaders who are pioneering strengths-based leadership approaches with distinctly “unfoolish” results.

Beware and don’t be fooled by pranksters today (Google’s notorious for April 1 tricks). And maybe it’s time to stop fooling around with fixing weaknesses and closing gaps.

For over three decades, Jim Clemmer’s keynote presentations, workshops, management team retreats, seven bestselling books, articles, and blog have helped hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. The Clemmer Group is the Canadian strategic partner of Zenger Folkman, an award-winning firm best known for its unique evidence-driven, strengths-based system for developing extraordinary leaders and demonstrating the performance impact they have on organizations.

Creating a Culture of Quality

Creating a Culture of QualitySocial media is a key force in making the Internet truly a world wide web of interconnections. And that means the penalties or pays offs of low or high service/quality levels are exponentially multiplied.

Technology for collecting and analyzing data along with process management approaches like Lean/Six Sigma are powerful management tools. They can pinpoint areas that need improvement and map out what needs to change with “hard” clarity and impeccable logic.

Yet study after study shows up to 70% of service/quality and other organizational change efforts fail to make a lasting difference. A major stumbling block is changing behaviors up, down, and across the organization. This is a “soft” leadership issue at the heart of change.

Consulting directors Ashwin Srinivasan and Bryan Kurey have just published “Creating a Culture of Quality” in the April issue of Harvard Business Review with the latest in a long series of similar studies showing the huge impact of culture on service/quality levels. They start with research in the tradition of many ‘cost of poor service/quality studies’ reporting companies in the top quintile in their study report 46% fewer errors. Based on survey reports that it takes two hours to correct a mistake, they calculate the lowest performing companies in the survey spend $774 million a year to resolve preventable errors. This is $350 million more than top performing companies. “For every company moving from the bottom to the top quintile would save a company $67 million annually.”

The authors’ “Four Essentials of Quality” are prime examples of the impact of “soft” leadership and culture on “hard” results:

• Maintaining a Leadership Emphasis on Quality
• Ensuring Message Credibility
• Peer Involvement
• Employee Ownership

Management systems, processes, data and analysis are often used to push employees toward using service/quality improvement tools and desired behaviors. Employees comply and — with enough “snoopervision” — meet minimum requirements.

Leadership pulls employees from compliance to commitment. Employees enthusiastically go above and beyond. They drive to increase service/quality because they want to, not because they have to.

Further Reading/Viewing:

• “Leadership and Culture Development to Boost Employee Engagement
• “Leadership and Culture Development is Critical to Lean/Six Sigma Success
• “Six Essentials to Creating an Extraordinary Culture
• “Is Your Culture Anchored in Strengths or Weaknesses?
• “Archived Webinar on Our Leadership and Culture Development Approaches Now Available
• “Links for Digging Deeper Into Leading a Peak Performance Culture

For over three decades, Jim Clemmer’s keynote presentations, workshops, management team retreats, seven bestselling books, articles, and blog have helped hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. The Clemmer Group is the Canadian strategic partner of Zenger Folkman, an award-winning firm best known for its unique evidence-driven, strengths-based system for developing extraordinary leaders and demonstrating the performance impact they have on organizations.

Join us at the Extraordinary Leadership Summit

Zenger Folkman Extraordinary Leadership SummitZenger Folkman is rapidly being recognized as one of the leading-edge leadership development and consulting firms of the 21st century. Global leaders in the automotive, financial, engineering, technology, retail, consumer products, and professional services sectors are using ZF’s ground breaking systems as the foundation of their leadership and organization development.

Now in the second year of our ZF partnership, we’re seeing firsthand the power of their strengths-based leadership and coaching development systems. If you’re interested in dramatically boosting personal, team, or organization leadership and coaching skills there’s an incredibly rare opportunity you’ll want to seize this summer. And you could combine this powerful Leadership Summit with vacation and leisure time in picturesque Park City — one of Utah’s top tourist destinations favoured by entertainment stars during Robert Redford’s Sundance Film Festival.

For about the cost of our two-day public workshops you have an extremely unique and unusual chance to immerse yourself for three days:

  • Hear from — and chat with two leading international authorities in leadership — and especially the revolutionary new field of Strengths-Based Leadership: Joe Folkman and Jack Zenger.
  • Learn from ground-breaking leadership/organization development approaches. Speakers include:
    • Bill Ribaudo, Managing Partner — Deloitte
    • Joe Garbus, VP, Talent & Leadership Development — Celgene
    • Brenda Norman, Director, Workforce Planning & Development — State of Minnesota
    • Rhonda Ryan, Program Manager, Leadership Development — Sony PlayStation
    • Mara Olaizola, Talent & Career Development — Renault
    • Linda Simon, Sr. VP, Leadership & Org Development with Maureen Williams, Director, Leadership Development — DIRECTV
  • Participate in two of the three Zenger Folkman core workshops; The Extraordinary Leader, The Extraordinary Coach, The Inspiring Leader (click here to get more info and download brochures), or Elevating Feedback. Our standard fees for two days of these public workshops alone will cover this Summit fee and most of your hotel costs.
  • Have breakfast, lunch, or dinner — or just chat time — with me or Brad Smith (our new Director of Business Development) to discuss what you’re learning and how you can apply the powerful leadership development approaches from this Summit.
  • Get up close and personal, network, and share best practices with senior leaders and leadership/organization development professionals.
  • Spend time with senior ZF executives, Bob Sherwin and Barbara Steel, co-authors of the highly acclaimed How to Be Exceptional: Drive Leadership Success by Magnifying Your Strengths.
  • Network and enjoy dinner at Jack Zenger’s “manor estate” home on 80 acres overlooking Midway and the Wasatch Mountains.

This is not a massive convention with hundreds or thousands of people. It’s a relaxed and intimate meeting in a beautiful setting. I attended the last two Summits and they were outstanding. So register now to ensure a seat!

5th Annual Leadership Summit

July 28 – July 31, 2014 — Park City, Utah
The Chateaux Resort Deer Valley
(30 minutes from Salt Lake City airport)

I hope you can join us for one of this field’s premier leadership development events.

For over three decades, Jim Clemmer’s keynote presentations, workshops, management team retreats, seven bestselling books, articles, and blog have helped hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. The Clemmer Group is the Canadian strategic partner of Zenger Folkman, an award-winning firm best known for its unique evidence-driven, strengths-based system for developing extraordinary leaders and demonstrating the performance impact they have on organizations.