Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Have Them Show Their Work

At some point in elementary school, we begin to hear from our teachers that it is not enough to simply fill in the blank with an answer, that we also need to "show our work".  Why is that?  Because it allows the teacher to review how we came to our answer.  Did we use the right formula, was our logic sound, did we understand the key concepts, etc.  In assessing our progress on the educational journey, teachers are evaluating both the quality of our decisions and the final outcomes.

I was reminded of this when I watched one of Dan Ariely's videos on BigThink called Promoted to the Level of Incompetence.  "One of the problems with promotions is that we promote people based on outcomes, not about the quality of their decisions," says Ariely, Professor of Behavioral Economics at Duke University.   

There is an element of this in annual performance evaluations.  In most programs, we ask the leader to document successful outcomes against their goals, which becomes the justification for the performance rating, the size of the annual raise, the bonus, and ultimately, consideration for the next big promotion. 

What's wrong with that?  Well, as Dan Ariely argues, the outcome is not the whole story.  Like the teacher, we need to evaluate both the final answer and process for how the leader got there.   

A well rounded performance evaluation includes a measurement of behaviors and competencies such as judgement, integrity, collaboration, and strategic thinking, and change management.

Ask your team to show their work, and include that in your evaluation of who is ready graduation and who needs more time with you at the chalkboard.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Wonderstruck by Taylor Swift's Mom

We gave our 6th grade daughter an early birthday present this year - tickets to see Taylor Swift in concert at Madison Square Garden on the last night of her Speak Now tour. 

I love Taylor Swift for being a role model my daughter can look up to, for writing songs with clever lyrics that tell authentic stories, and for staying true to herself and her dreams.

But it was Taylor's mom who left me "Wonderstuck".

My daughter made three large posters to bring with her for the show with messages she hoped Taylor would see:  "I wrote lyrics for your next album", "Your lyrics mean the world to me", "We have the same birthday - December 13th".  The posters were colorful and a lot of thought and effort went into their creation.  When we arrived at MSG there were lots and lots of posters, most of which were lit up in some way so that they could be seen from anywhere in the arena.  Hers were not, and hopes of them ever being seen, much less read, were dashed.  Still, she  held them high, cheering and singing at the top of her lungs.

Halfway through the show, we noticed that people were being selected from the crowd and brought to an open area just to our right.  And, the person overseeing the selecting was none other than Taylor's mom. 

Taylor left the stage and started walking through the crowd hugging and waving to fans as she made her way to another small stage that rose from the floor - right next to us!  She then proceeded to sing three songs from that spot while her mom looked on, smiling at fans and singing along.

My daughter held up her posters with new determination, changing to a new message each time the small stage rotated around.  Maybe Taylor saw them, maybe not.  Her generous smiles and thank you's were delivered to one and all in attendance. 

It was Taylor's mom, just a few feet away, who noticed.  She pointed to the birthday poster and then made the heart symbol with her hands that Taylor and her fans have made famous.  My daughter turned to me, crying happy tears, and said that this was the best birthday present we ever gave her.

So it's a member of Taylor's incredible support team who was the highlight at the show for me - Mom.  Thank you.  We were Wonderstuck, all the way home.



Monday, November 14, 2011

FREE Management Webcasts and Podcasts

Looking for a way to supplement your management training and development program without blowing the budget?  Check out these free webcasts from the American Management Association (AMA). 

Upcoming titles include: 
  • Unleashing Growth Leaders in your Organization
  • How Emotional Intelligence Drives Effective Leadership
  • Making Smarter Decisions Without Drowning in Information
  • Crucial Steps for Ensuring Project Success
 Can't commit to a specific day/time?  Try a free podcast from the AMA instead and listen in when it fits your calendar. 

Webcasts and podcasts are offered by many organizations and have multiple advantages:
  • All team members can attend, including those in a virtual office
  • Opportunity to learn from a variety of trainers/speakers/coaches/industry experts
  • Preview the message from an author before buying their book
  • Great resource for leaders looking to expand their knowledge into other areas of business 
  • Low cost/No cost
See you in class.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

What's Your Leadership Blind Spot?

Have you seen the latest Allstate Mayhem ad?  It's about blind spots, a scary and real danger for any driver as depicted with dark humor in this commercial.

Blind spots are also a danger on the job.  There's an excellent article and slide show by Loretta Malandro, PhD on Bloomberg Businessweek called Discover Your Leadership Blind Spots.  To quote the article, "Our behavioral blind spots create dire and unintended consequences: They corrupt decision-making, reduce our scope of awareness, create enemies, silos, and camps, destroy careers, and sabotage business results." 

So true.  Yet the good news is that blind spots are just behaviors, and behaviors can be modified.  "Blind spots are not flaws; nor are they malicious. They are automatic behaviors. The real culprits are not the blind spots themselves. The problem is when they are unidentified and mismanaged."

So unlike Mayhem in the Allstate commercials, our leadership blind spots are not intentionally harmful.  I think this is an important point because we often believe that others realize the impact of their behaviors and thus further assume an intent to disrupt, or insult, or dominate, etc. 

The article concludes with these tips:  "The first step is to ask others for their candid feedback. Your opinion about how you think your behavior affects others isn't sufficient. The reason these behaviors recur is that you're not aware of what you're doing. Second, take accountability for your impact and stop justifying your behavior by defending your positive intentions. Third, in the absence of a structured process, ask those who do see certain weaknesses to coach you the moment your blind spot surfaces. Finally, stop the behavior the instant you see it by acknowledging it."

The link for the slide show with the author's top ten list of leadership blind spots can be found on the first page of the article, or you can click here for viewing.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A Thank You to Remember

Here's an employee morale idea that your team members will remember for years to come.  And for those in the US, Thanksgiving is the perfect time of year to deliver this message.

Custom Written Thank You Cards - Addressed to Both the Employee AND their Family - Mailed to their Homes

I did this for each member of my management team and they did the same for their direct reports, and so on, until we had one for every member of the department.  Each card had the same typed message, signatures from the management team, and most importantly, a handwritten personal note from their direct manager expressing specific appreciation either to their family or to the individual.  The cards were mailed to home addresses before the Thanksgiving holiday. 

What, no money, no gift card?  That's right.  It's what you put in the handwritten note to the family or individual that holds the real value. 

Examples of the feedback from employees: 
     "When I travel for work, my wife has to be both Mom and Dad.  Your note recognizing what she does to support me in my career and all the extra effort she puts in meant so much to her."
     "This was the first time my kids ever saw something expressing how much I'm valued at work.  It led to a wondeful conversation with them about what I do in the office and who I work with."
     "I've been putting in a lot of extra hours these last few months for our new client and my family has missed me.  It was great that you put in the note how important my contributions have been and that you appreciate their patience and support while we get this client established."
Here are some two examples of the typed message that would come before your handwritten note:

Example for Employee:
 As we enter the Thanksgiving season, we at (enter your company name/department here) want you to know that we are most thankful for our dedicated and talented staff of professionals.  We appreciate your time, your gifts, your spirit, and your commitment.  
We also want to extend a special word of thanks to your loved ones for their support in your endeavors.  May they be proud to know that your contributions make all the difference in our success story. 
Example for Management:
   As we enter the Thanksgiving season, I want you to know that I am so grateful to have you on my management team.  I know that your work with (enter your company name here) is just one part of your busy life, and I admire your dedication to your career and your employees. 
     I would also like to thank your family for all that they do to support and encouragae you along the way.   They are an extended part of our team, and I appreciate the important role that they play.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.

Further logistics for those who like the detail:
     What if the employee is not married/does not live with a significant other?  Send the card to the employee at home and make sure the handwritten note still acknowledges something specific about that person's contributions and what you appreciate about him/her.
     If they do have a family, how do I address the card, to the "Smith Family"?  Yes, on the outside of the card.  However, on the inside of the card put the employee's first name, the spouse/significant other's first name, and children's first names.  This might take the help of your HR department to get proper spelling, etc., but it's the kind of extra touch that shows you see your employee as a key member of a team both in the office and at home.  If names are not available, address the inside to the employee's first name "and the entire Smith Family" or something of that nature. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Tell Me A Story

In this video short video from The Wall Street Journal, James Rogers, CEO of Duke Energy, shares his strategy for getting buy-in on change.  Stories.   

Stories allow us to convey a message in a manner that invokes emotion and creates an experience people can connect to in a way that a business memo never will. 

A book I've mentioned before in this blog, The Influencer by Patterson, Grenny, Maxfield, McMillan, and Switzler, also recommends the use of story in change efforts.
     "A well-told narrative provides concrete and vivid detail rather than terse summaries and unclear conclusions.  It changes people's view of how the world works because it presents a plausible, touching, and memorable flow of cause and effect that can alter people's view of the consequences of various actions or beliefs." 
The book goes on with further detail as to why this strategy is so effective.  Even better though, the authors share some incredibly powerful stories of successful change efforts for individuals, organizations, communities, cultures, and entire countries.

One of the reasons we use story in coaching for change is because of how differently a person listens to story - guard down, ears open, mind open, and engaged.  Compare that to how a person listens to advice, even when the advice was solicited - defensive, ears listening for criticism, mind arguing with the speaker, and closed off.  Advice or lecture invites debate while story invites reflection and connection. 

If you're looking for a better way to introduce change to your teams, consider the use of factual, authentic, experience-based storytelling.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Cross-Training for Strength Development

Do you have the enviable challenge of what to do next after receiving a 360-degree assessment that ranks you at or above the norm on every level of competency?  Everyone is happy with your work as a leader, no clear weaknesses to apply yourself to, just keep building on your strengths.  What does that mean, keep doing the same thing? 

No, turns out it doesn't, at least not according to the research conducted by Zenger, Folkman, and Edinger, authors of The Inspiring Leader.  For the overview, check out this short slide show "How To Improve Your Strengths".  It contains the complementary skills to 7 (of 16) core competencies that can boost performance to the next level.  Meaning, find a core competency you excel at, and then work to develop a complementary skill.

The October, 2011 HBR article "Making Yourself Indispensable" goes on to share more detail on the research conducted by these authors when they analyzed the 360-degree surveys of 30,000 developing leaders.  What they found is that some pairings of strength attributes resulted in far higher scores on overall leadership effectiveness than either attribute did on its own. 

The authors recommend the business equivalent of cross-training—enhancing complementary skills that will enable leaders to make fuller use of their core strengths.  For example, if you are highly skilled in "problem solving and analysis", developing the complementary skill of "communications" could ensure that your ideas are fully embraced and implemented.

If you're looking for ideas on how to take a strength to the next level, this article is for you.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

That's Not So Easy

The Staples' Easy Button isn't going to help employees out with the number one request on their wish list for office improvement:  Eliminate Office Politics

In preparation for "Improve Your Office Day" on October 4th, Staples released results from a survey they conducted in September (Staples Survey) sharing employee wishes for better technology and more comfortable office furniture.  But granting the number one request isn't so easy as a trip to Staples.

Management is the major influence on the role of office politics within a company's culture.  It's the classic example of The Shadow of A Leader (Senn-Delaney Leadership).  If politics are created and encouraged within the leadership teams, individual employees will follow suit.  And even those who make their best efforts to "stay out of it" will be affected if their direct management and/or team members are playing the game.

Office politics are a distraction to the real work of the organization, draining energy and wasting time.  They can be the very reason teams fail to reach their full potential.  If you suspect your team is suffering from the politics game, this survey could be a great conversation starter.   

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Show Them More Than The Money

"Love 'em or Lose 'em" (image shown here from Amazon) is a book that came out over a decade ago, currently in its 4th edition.  It was a popular management resource during those years when jobs were plentiful and thus staff retention was critical. 

For many organizations, the arrival of the recession and job eliminations put retention concerns on the back burner.  For those organizations, it's time to dust off the tools and get busy. 

Back in 2000, I attended a workshop developed around the book and its concepts.  One of the key messages I remember was that once an employee was at a certain level of compensation, the retention strategies that were most effective had little to do with money.  Employees will always say they'd like a raise.  But when asked why they stay with a job, retention has far more to do with the behaviors of their direct management and the quality of the work assignments than it does with the size of their year-on-year raises. 

Well, that was over a decade ago, you say.  And today we still have companies who are just getting back to giving out those annual raises, at a much smaller percentage than they once were, so the money matters. 

True, but the lesson is still the same.  Money matters to a certain point, but once you cross the threshold of a solid compensation package, it's the manager that shows their employees more than the money that holds on to their team.   And for the managers that kept on showing the love all through the recession, employee loyalty will be there even when other opportunities come knocking.

There's a great one page tool that we received with the workshop based on a key concept from the book that the authors call What Matters Most?  Employees select the top three behaviors out of a list of 26 (A-Z) that they need from their direct manager - and none of them include monetary compensation.  I used it with my management team for many years during annual performance reviews.  It's a good tool when getting to know new direct reports, and it's interesting to see how the requests change over the years for the same person.  For example, after a few years. "encourage me to expand my skill set" may evolve to "recognize my accomplishments" or even "give me autonomy and power to make decisions".  And the employee you hired who was single and selected "talk to me about my career ambitions", may find behaviors like "support my need for work/life balance" more important once married with children.  Or not.  But that's the thing, you don't know if you don't ask.

So don't assume - ask.  Ask before the recession eases, ask after it eases.  Ask your entry level employees, ask even if they're senior management.  The dialogue itself shows that you see each member of the team as a unique individual, and that's showing them more than the money.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Crossed Wires

We have a cell phone family plan with AnyPhoneCompany USA (seriously, just insert any phone company name here and it will suffice).  Over the summer, they alerted us that they were ending a partnership with another company that allowed us to include our vehicle phone in the family plan.  As a result, we needed to either cancel that line or move it.  No biggie, I could move it.

To say this was a challenging endeavor would be an understatement.  Long story short, 6 phone calls and 2 retail store visits later, the line was moved.  What a waste of time, theirs and mine.   

After the switch finally went through, we started getting calls from AnyPhoneCompany USA saying they were sorry to have lost us as a customer and would like to talk.  Now since we were actually still customers, just not for that line (the line they told us we had to cancel or move), I ignored the first two messages.  But after the third one, I figured someone needed to tell them they were wasting yet more time trying to reactivate me.   

I called customer service and sure enough, the rep told me there was a "glitch in the system".  I had been put into a general pool for follow up reactivation calls.  And I was not alone - all the other customers affected by this change were getting calls, too.

Been there, right?  As consumers, we all have stories like this we could share.  And that's unfortunate, because these kind of changes just don't have to be so painful for businesses nor their customers. 

I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that for AnyPhoneCompany USA, an experienced project manager working with the right crossfuntional team at the onset of this change initiative would have made all the difference. 

But then again, it usually does.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Letting Them Grow Up

My son started high school this year and I miss him already. 

He'll only be home with us for four more years and then off to college he goes.  It's incomprehensible to me on so many levels, not the least of which is being able to see him as someone who is capable of making this big transition.

Don't get me wrong, as his mom, I'm his biggest fan, but I've also got a front row seat to all the areas where he still needs development to be ready.

Ever felt like this in the office?  You're behind your team 100%, but as their manager you also know better than anyone where each of them still needs to work on their development. 

The risk in both cases is continuing to see an individual as they were rather than who they are.  None of us is ever done with development.  Ever.  But, we can work to get ourselves to the point where we're ready to move on, and we need the people around us to recognize the growth and support us as we make the shift. 

My litle boy is growing up.  In a few years he'll leave the nest.   I miss him already.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Choose or Decide?

In an earlier blog, "Feed the Brain, File the Papers", I shared my new approach to tackling bothersome paperwork clean up - find something interesting to listen to while I work.  And this is how I came to hear Sheena Iyengar speak about Choice on Ted.com

Having just finished reading her book, I highly recommend it.  It's a great learning opportunity about how we view choice the world over, and particularly applicable to those in the field of marketing.

The book got me thinking about how business leaders (here in the US) use the word Choose versus Decide.  Using different language can shift the way we think about a situation or are perceived in a given situation.

As Sheena spells out in her book, for Americans, choice is a very important part of our definition of freedom and thus our history and identity.  Our connotation for choice is a positive one, perhaps even more so than in other cultures.  For us, lots of choice is good, little to no choice is bad.  Having lots of choice implies plenty of good options, meaning that they align to our preference, our style, our taste, or maybe just our mood du jour. 

Decisions incorporate the application of judgement which is likely why "decide" is more common in business language than "choose".   

Consider the following use of these words in specific business situations:

"I've decided to make Mike the lead on this project" - Manager speaking to the team
      The manager uses "decide" over "choose" in this instance because choosing could imply favoritism, or that there were several good and even equal options to select from, which may or may not have been the case. When the manager says they've decided, it's less likely to be put into question and sounds final. 

"I had no choice" - Manager speaking to the team about a layoff/downsizing
     Actually, the leader did have a choice to make - participate in the process and contribute to the final outcome, or opt out and let someone else make the call about who stays and who goes (but then, a true leader wouldn't take that second option, would they?).  This particular expression is not one I'd ever recommend a manager use because it weakens employee perception about that leader's authority and erodes confidence.  But I know why it happens - saying he/she chose a specific team member to be laid off feels too personal and goes against our concept of choice as a good thing.  And since judgement is applied in the selection process, we'd use the term decide rather than choose.  Additionally, HR and Legal implications factor in on the final outcome in a layoff, thus contributing to their sense that they had no "choice" in the matter.   

 "We'll need to decide on a strategy by the end of the quarter" - CEO to the senior leadership team
     Depending on where they are in the process, decide may actually mean develop, document, discuss, and then decide, but the focus is on getting to the results by a certain target date, so decide is used.  Choose is not used in this situation because strategy involves judgement as opposed to preference.

"I'd like your input before I make the final decision" - Leader to a trusted team member
"I'm trying to choose between these two, which do you recommend?" - Leader to the waiter at a business lunch
     Both statements indicate that the speaker is looking for more data, yet the language of the first first has more of a "the buck stops here" message.  The leader is asking the team member for input, but not asking them to make the final call.  During the business lunch, he/she is saying "I could go either way on this, which option (final outcome) would you pick?" under the assumption that the waiter has a good knowledge of the menu offerings. 

It's interesting to listen for when people use these words, choose and decide, and in business, it's important to understand how they are each perceived when spoken.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Balancing Act

I am a huge fan of "Season 25: Oprah Behind the Scenes" on the OWN network.  And I'm not even a regular Oprah viewer.  What I loved about this series was that it was all about her team and how they delivered incredible television during a year when they were in full transition mode. 

Season 25 was the end of the Oprah Winfrey Show, and that meant many, many people within the Harpo "family" would be looking for new employment.  And while a year's notice is more than most will ever receive, if you watch the behind the scenes episodes you'll come to realize that it will probably take them the whole season to get their heads around the fact that "the best job ever" is going away.

Here's the Preview Clip for the season:  http://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/Preview-Season-25-Reality-Show-OWN-Video

What strikes me about this clip, and what I noticed when I watched the show, is what I'd call The Balancing Act - the highs balancing out the lows.  And of course, maybe that's just good editing on their part, but it's what we'd all strive for with our own teams. 

We make mistakes, we present ideas that get shot down, and we disappoint the boss.  But if it's balanced, we also create awesome final results, and we celebrate them together as a team and the boss joins in. 

Under highly stressful and emotional conditions, Oprah's Teams in Transition elevated the show's final season to a level of quality they'd never even attempted before.  And the leader of those teams, Oprah, knows it, appreciates it, and expresses it for all to hear and see. 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Multipurpose Tools

A RACI chart is a tool commonly used by project managers for keeping track of who is Responsible, who is Accountable, who needs to be Consulted, and who needs to be Informed.  This is discussed and assigned at the start of a project, and then reviewed and revised as needed throughout the project until it's completed.  Yet RACI is one of those tools that can be used by people in many areas of business and for multiple purposes. 

One example is the major change initiative.  When roles and responsibilities are in flux and team members are transitioning, this tool is very effective in providing clarity.  It also gives the team a common business language that shows how they are each needed, but in different ways in order to make an assignment successful.

Another application is for the leader whose workload (or work team) no longer fits their micromanagement style.  It can give visibility to who has what, while allowing the leader to shift to the more senior level of Informed on less critical functions. 

It can even be used as a tool to show a leader that there's an imbalance within the team (e,g., one person is always assigned the role of Responsible and another the role of Consulted), or that skills and experience are not properly matched to tasks and functions.

If this sounds like something your team might benefit from, check with your organization's Project Management Office and see what kind of templates they use.  Or, click on this link for a great article written by Project Smart on getting started with RACI:  A Practical Guide to RACI.