Best Practices

Best Practices


Whatever the size of your company you know that work gets done through people. There is a massive amount of information out there about leadership, including concepts that have been most helpful to me over the years. However Ill offer my own simple and easy-to-remember leadership model with the acronym ACME, which stands for Assess, Coach, Motivate and Engage. If you do these effectively they will help you reach the acme of people performance.


It is the job of leaders to assess how the organization is performing. Oddly enough, in my experience this is the aspect of people leadership which is least well done. This may be due to a combination of factors, including managers lack of comfort in judging others, lack of time, and willingness (intentional or unintentional) to accept underperformance, especially that which has existed over a long period.

Of course if an organization is underperforming, it is usually not solely the fault of individuals but symptomatic of issues with culture, processes, systems and tools. Start to unravel this by listening to your key people, as they usually know the main barriers to increased performance.

Regardless of these barriers – some of which may take a long time to dismantle – you likely can achieve improved performance through your existing team and people. First it is essential to really understand their individual strengths, weaknesses, stressors and motivators. Youll need to pick and choose which areas to work, but start by asking what is most important in the next year to your business performance, as well as what single factor will most unleash the persons long-term ability to achieve his or her career goals. Sometimes it is more important to enhance a strength than to try to close a gap.


Once you have chosen the areas of focus, discuss these with the individuals and see if you can get a shared commitment to address them. Examples always help to achieve clarity. Coaching needs to be an ongoing discussion rather than a once-a-year update at the annual performance appraisal. It helps to set specific measurable goals where possible. Getting the objective opinions of others who are in a position to observe the behaviors is also beneficial.


Motivation is not a one-size-fits-all thing and you need multiple techniques to succeed here. Ill refer you to the excellent work of author and career analyst Daniel Pink, who postulates that the sources of motivation are Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. Autonomy is fairly self-explanatory; as the leader of an organization it is likely in your power to grant more autonomy and to assess where it will be best utilized and appreciated. Mastery is about getting better and better at what you do, and should bring intrinsic enjoyment as well as external recognition – so dont hesitate to find ways to measure achievement, recognize it, and reward it. Setting and achieving measurable goals and milestones can be very motivating. Purpose, as Pink observes, is the big picture meaning of what we do at work. We in the lubes industry are not curing disease, yet we can be proud of our contributions to reduced emissions, improved fuel economy, equipment reliability and global development. Do you have other examples of how your company is helping society? It behooves you to ensure your employees are aware of these and can see the linkages to what they do every day.


Engagement is the emotional attachment that people develop with their workplaces. Research shows that high levels of engagement in the workplace lead to higher quantity and quality of work done, and even to improved safety performance. As a leader, and perhaps the leader of other leaders, here are some ways you can help create an engaged workforce.

Communicate information about the company so that employees can relate to its success. In the lubricants industry, people outside the technology area may shrug at terms like GF-6 or PC-11 – but they likely can relate to success stories such as winning a new customer, helping a racing team win, or getting accepted as factory-fill for a new engine.

Listen to employees and remove barriers. You cant fix everything, but I have found that if you understand a small problem and arrange for it to be solved, you gain huge goodwill. In my experience such things as better lunch rooms, simpler approval processes for vacation or overtime, elimination of needless bureaucracy, and more functional work vehicles have reaped significant benefits in employee engagement.

Share successes with employees in some tangible way, for example through bonus incentive schemes and celebration dinners.

Create opportunities to open up the company to employees families and your communities. Think company picnics or community tours.

Last but not least, say thanks directly to those who have contributed to the success. I adopted the Power Thank You as outlined by business psychiatrist Mark Goulston. It means not only saying thank you but indicating specifically how the person contributed to the success, and also how this success made me as the leader feel.

These tips have worked for me over the years and I hope they work for you. Of course they sound much easier than they are. They take time and energy but the payout is worth the effort.

For your bookshelf

Coaching and performance discussions are likely to be sensitive, and managers may be more or less skilled at conducting them. An excellent resource is Kerry Pattersons book Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High, which I have found helpful both at work and in my personal life.

Sara Lefcourt of Lefcourt Consulting LLC specializes in helping companies to improve profits, reduce risk and step up their operations. Her experience includes many years in marketing, sales and procurement, first for Exxon and then at Infineum, where she was vice president, supply. E-mail her at or phone (908) 400-5210.

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