May 2013

Shannon Wells

Better Business | by Neil Ducoff


Setting Employees Up To Win

Some employees try their best to deliver what they perceive they were charged to do and get chewed out when their performance doesn't match unspoken expectations.

Others give it half an effort knowing they can't win. The end result is always a demoralized team and de-powered culture that is capable of so much more.

There are leaders that actually expect employees to know what the leaders are thinking ... and to execute their nonverbal commands perfectly.

Employees get set up to fail more often than you think. It's never done intentionally -- it just happens. Tasks are poorly defined. Desired results are sketchy. The chain of command looks like a pile of broken links. Training is inconsistent and inadequate.

Once a pattern of getting set up to fail settles into a company's culture, getting things done takes more time, money, and resources. The company springs leaks that it cannot plug up fast enough.

Here are some strategies that will have your employees set up to win and power up your culture at the same time:

It's NOT the economy: It's easy to blame the "getting by with less" economic times we live in, but that's just an excuse. The recession is behind us so stop holding on to the recession mindset of gloom and doom. The recession taught companies to be efficient. It didn't give permission to short cut information flow, training, and the need to clarify expectations. It just taught you to do those things efficiently. Stop looking backwards at tough times. Look forward and you'll see a world of limitless opportunity.

There's not enough time: This is an even bigger excuse than the economy. Yes, you're busy because you're stuck in a routine that includes plenty of inefficient use of time. Translation: you don't have time because you don't make time. You have time to properly plan and launch projects, give feedback, conduct performance reviews, and coach your team members to get better. You don't make time for things that you don't like to do. It's the harsh truth, but you're not alone. Replace your normal routine with one that includes the tasks you might not necessarily enjoy, but that you must be accountable for as the leader.

Clarity is the precursor to excellence: Great missions have a plan with extreme clarity on the ultimate outcome. Excellence is an outcome. It is never the result of good luck, easy work, and wishful thinking. Have absolute clarity about where you're taking your company. Think of it as a vision statement on steroids. Take the time to deliver absolute clarity to your employees on what needs to be done and you'll be setting them up to win big time.

Put the hammer down: It's easy for leaders to fall into that mode where they nitpick and point out everything that's wrong in their company. Frustration builds and you wind up wandering around your company with a hammer looking only for what's not right, and whacking it.

Leaders that play the-everything-that's-wrong game not only set their employees up to fail, they set themselves up to fail.

Learn your lessons: Mistakes are lessons to be learned from. When the same mistakes keep occurring, you're not learning. You're not examining the process or system that lead to the mistake. Systems exist to create predictable outcomes. The rule is, and always will be: If you don't like the results you're getting, change or tweak the system.

Divide and conquer: My friend Jack Stack has a great saying, "With every pair of hands, you get a free brain." Command and control leaders stifle the talented, capable and innovative members of their team. The same goes for the big egos that want all the glory and recognition. I may be the CEO of my company, but my work has me on the road lecturing and coaching most of the time. My team is small and efficient. My mobile phone rarely (if ever) rings with problems I need to solve when I'm on the road.

They know the mission, and solving problems is something I trust them with. This allows me to do the work I love. If this doesn't sound like your leadership style, it's time to change.

It's about execution: It's easy to knight yourself as the leader, but it's something entirely different to grow into an effective and accountable leader. If you cannot hold yourself accountable, you will never be able to hold those you lead accountable.

Neil Ducoff is the founder and CEO of Strategies, a business training and coaching company specializing in the salon and spa industry. His is author of Fast Forward, No-Compromise Leadership and Wake Up! For signed copies, go to You can email Neil at