How often are leaders’ reporting relationships fraught with uncertainty, tension, frustration, fear, passive aggression or simply a failure to communicate?
A great way we coaches can add value to the leaders we coach is helping them craft “Star Profiles” for the people who report to them. Essentially, a Star Profile (SP) captures in a few words the behaviors that would most excite the leader considering the person reporting to him or her. What actions and results matter most to the boss? What behavior is most closely connected to what’s most important?
The best SPs are simple. But that doesn’t mean they’re easy. It takes time and effort to properly craft in writing the irreducible core of a particular job. You want something that’s succinct, pithy, and energetic. It’s as if you’re writing a mini-movie script. What moving image do you see in your head that makes you jump out of your seat and say, “Yes! That’s exactly what we need!”
Example: COO Star Profile
To illustrate how the coach can help the leader craft a star profile, I’ll share a composite example. My client is the president and CEO of a growing company. She’s also the de facto COO. However, as the company has grown, and as she has started to think about the future, she realizes she needs a COO – someone who can take over day-to-day operational decision-making, thus enabling her to spend more time on the “Big Picture” – assessing trends, looking at product innovation, reading relevant industry material, and spending more time with customers, employees, investors, and other important stakeholders.
After working with the CEO, we came up with the core behavioral characteristics of a star COO – someone the CEO would feel fortunate to have on her team and perhaps someone who might eventually become her successor. Our discussion centered on both the COO job as she envisioned it, and on experiences she’d previously had with reports, successful and unsuccessful. Here’s what we came up with:
- Runs our operations safely and productively.
- Treats everyone with respect at all times, combining accountability with compassion.
- Supports me in a “permission to speak freely” relationship.
Why these three sentences?
The first sentence relates to basic job functioning. The CEO has a passion for making the company’s manufacturing environment safe yet at the same time delivering the results necessary for the company’s financial success.
The second sentence reflects her vision of a desired workplace culture. It’s one where everyone at all organization levels always treats everyone else with respect. It’s a culture where there is genuine caring for others’ welfare but not at the cost of performance expectations and accountability. Hence her choice to combine “accountability” with “compassion.”
Her last sentence describes the relationship to which she aspires. It’s one where she knows that the COO has her back, so to speak, yet is willing and able to challenge or confront her without fear of retribution. Again, we see a word combination: “supports” with “permission to speak freely.”
Of course, there are many other elements to the COO job. That’s fine. The SP doesn’t negate them. It simply reflects what would most excite the COO’s boss.
What is most important to know about Star Profiles?
Here are my responses to the most frequently asked questions:
- SPs aren’t job descriptions. An SP makes no attempt to provide a comprehensive listing of duties, responsibilities, working conditions, qualifications, etc. An SP captures the behaviors or actions that the boss would find most important and pleasing.
- Less is more. When it comes to star profiles, the fewer words the better. Why? Because the document is not intended to serve as a silent, standalone, architectural blueprint of a job. It’s designed to promote an ongoing collaborative relationship between boss and employee to ensure continual alignment and shared goals. The SP’s terseness leaves room for robust discussion of what the profile behavioral characteristics are, why they matter, and how they’re best achieved. An SP is not a hierarchical, one-sided dictation; it’s an invitation to an ongoing dialogue.
- Typically, star profiles have two or three sentences. There’s usually a sentence that relates to the work itself – the necessary quality and quantity of the employee’s efforts. There’s also usually a sentence relating to how the employee interacts with others. Sometimes there is a need for more than two sentences; however, when I’m coaching leaders, I continually emphasize the point that less is more.
- A major reason why star profiles work is the concept of the keystone habit, which is your default behavior – what you do without thinking about it. If you consciously focus on a star profile characteristic, it probably means you’ll be doing other things right without even being aware of them. Thus, the SP doesn’t have to specify those keystone-related behaviors or actions.
- The process for introducing the star profile to your reports is simple. Give them a copy. Then verbally walk-through each characteristic, explaining why you chose those exact words. Solicit their views both with respect to the words you chose, and their ideas on how to achieve the actions or results you describe.
I’ve been using star profiles as coaching tools for two decades. When the necessary time and attention are put into them, good results inevitably follow. For more on the topic, you can go here, here and here.