The Problem With Our Problem Solving

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We spend a lot of time at work in meetings solving problems. Our team meetings often allot 15 -20 minutes to discuss the problem, brainstorm up solutions, and agree on a delivery date. We march back to our desks and jump into execution mode.  What if we turned our problem solving approach on its head- and even more importantly on its heart? Human Centered Design doesn’t start with time or an agenda. It starts with identifying who are we solving this problem for. IDEO is one of the most famous human centered design organizations, and their Human Centered Design approach has three phases: an Inspiration Phase to understand needs, an Ideation Phase to distill what you learned, then an Implementation Phase bringing the solution to life.

Be inspired by the problem. Our traditional problem solving spends the least amount of time here – but if we jump right to a solution how do we know it solves anything? Right now I am working on the problem of transition for many of our central services leaders during our merger. I have experience (unfortunately!) in this situation from my past, so an easy and efficient solution would be to cut and paste my last approach to my current company. The next stretch I could take is to consult with my HR peers – internal, external, best practice – and identify tools to apply.  A human centered design approach means actually observing and interviewing our managers to find out what they want. We have attended staff meetings, met with leaders one on one, and made notes as we walk around our building to identify what we need to solve for first. Our initial list of problems includes lack of communication to and from managers, uncertainty on how to retain employees, and a desire for clear process.

How Might We Ideate? When we follow a human centered design process, we have to stay in a learning and curiosity mode.  For many of us suspending our inner knower is a challenge, and even if we patiently moved through inspiration, our solution engine is revved.  It is easy to take what we heard to validate what we know how to do or want to do. But this stage is about still understanding the problem, not landing on a solution.  The phrase “How might we..” is a helpful way to keep the funnel open. We asked the question “How might we address the lack of communication?” Part of the exercise is putting some crazy ideas on there.  We could have a communication contest. We could ask the new CEO to call all managers. We could post all the answers we have in the cafeteria. One of our how might we’s lead us to informal coffee sessions with leaders and our HR team to have a safe forum to ask questions, confirm answers, and practice/discuss how to communicate to employees.  It is also key in this stage to prototype and test. Try something and validate if it is or is not a solution. We were sure having one of our senior leaders speak at an all employee meeting would be viewed positively.  It wasn’t. But it was a good takeaway on how the leader prepped and what people infer.

Implement a Success. Now that we have observed and interviewed, ideated and tested, we are finally ready to implement. Keeping our focus on the needs of the end user throughout the process should give us high confidence that the solution is actually what people need. Check out this link for a great video that summarizes the IDEO process and a real solution you’ve likely seen in your day to day life. In our case we implemented several different communication approaches to try and address as many of the gaps as possible. The key theme- make it informal, two way, and authentic.

There is a real problem with the way we solve problems today at work. HR has the opportunity to be leaders in the area of human centered design. Teaching and bringing this approach to both our functional projects and our business challenges has the opportunity to uncover all kinds of cool new ideas and solutions. So break free from your meeting mindset and focus on inspiration, ideation, and implementation to create something amazing.

 

Set a New Year Revolution vs Resolution

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At the start of the year many of us set our new year’s resolutions. According to the  article, Ten Interesting Facts New Year’s Resolutions, the most common resolution made is to exercise more (almost 40%!)  Unfortunately, about 22% of resolutions fail after about a week, 40% after a month, and 50% after 3 months. So why do we get back on the same hamster wheel year after year? Perhaps it’s time for a new cycle- a revolution vs a resolution. The word revolution has several definitions: (1) the action of going round in an orbit (2) the completion of a course (3) a sudden, radical, or complete change. Send 2019 into a new orbit with your own revolution.

Get wrapped around the axle. A common challenge with resolutions is that we don’t stop with just “exercise more.” We decide our real goal should be exercise more, be faster, get stronger, look better, and wear cuter exercise clothes. Sometimes the power of simplicity can power a goal to the end line. Pick one thing you want to improve on. Keep narrowing in on that idea until it is finite, measurable, and doable. Refine your “exercise more” goal to “I want to ride my bike 3 times a week for 45 minutes.” Now make that your thing.  Schedule around it. Post about it. Track the # of times you ride and for how long. No need to add miles or speed… just focus on the goal. Maybe your thing is to read one leadership book a month. Great! Same steps apply… and so can great results.

Complete a course. You may decide your course is a spin class or maybe it’s an online certificate. In either case building your goal around something with a clear beginning, middle, and end can be helpful.  A lack of timeline in the “exercise more” resolution is part of its downfall. How much is more? For how long? When have I achieved that goal? A key word here is complete. It’s ok to take six months to complete six online sessions. It’s also ok to knock through the same sessions in six weeks. The only right answer is what is right and realistic for you so that you can see it to completion. Then mark that completion with a celebration. Reward yourself for your hard work once you break through that ribbon at the end.

Change your perspective. Another definition of revolution is a fundamental change in the way of thinking about or visualizing something. This may be the way you think about exercise (Who would spin? Why would I get up that early? I just can’t do it), or the way you think about leadership (Who would believe that? Why would people follow her? I just don’t get why they don’t get it). Changing our paradigm is critical to achieving our goal. Franklin Covey has some fantastic resources on paradigm shifts. I love the quote they shared from Thomas Kuhn.  “All the significant breakthroughs were break-withs old ways on thinking.”  Challenging assumptions, listening and talking to people with different perspectives, and jumping in and trying something new are all steps we need to take to create our revolution.

In 2018 I set a goal to ride or run 2018 miles. I achieved that in December. I focused on my revolution. I completed all the class challenges at #addiction cycle, my spin studio. I got over myself and got up and did it. So what will be your 2019 revolution? Whatever it is, if you make it your central focus, commit to completing it, and are open for a change, you can meet whatever goal you set.

Change, Priorities, and Possibility Walk Into a Bar…

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But in this scenario there is no punch line, there is just a punch to the gut. You see, for the last year and a half I have worked for an unbelievable leader, done meaningful work, and been part of a supportive and flexible team. Then last week it was announced we are merging with one of our competitors and our headquarters is moving to Texas. The good news is I have been in this scenario/bar before – the bad news is I hadn’t planned on returning, and definitely not so soon. So as I look to the new year, I will be raising my glass to change, priorities, and possibilities and making the most of this cocktail.

Managing Change.  You can’t actually manage change- you can only manage how you show up in it. I had the opportunity in my last acquisition to create a leadership blog and training series on Leading Through Transition. I am grateful I can dust that off and share it with Abra leaders.  I am excited to be part of our integration team and to learn some new skills through this merger. I am appreciative that I have time to figure out what’s next for me. I don’t believe things happen for a reason but I do believe you can be the reason opportunities happen when the unexpected comes your way.

Prioritize Priorities. I had already been toying with making “Important” my word for 2019. What is really important to me? Is that where I am spending my time? Did I treat each day and each person with importance? I love the 7F Wheel by Paul Batz and the Good Leadership team, and rely on my family, friends, and fitness to make my wheel- and life- roll. This change may cause a bump to my finances and my future, but if I have faith, have fun, and have my family, friends, and fitness I know I will be ok. As Stephen Covey wisely said, “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”

Invite Possibility.  It has only been 7 days since the merger was announced. There are many possible possibilities ahead. As a planner – and let’s face it, control freak- I like to know the options so I can start building around them. I rationally know the short term will be ambiguous, so am choosing to focus on the long term. What do I want to do 5 to 10 years from now? What can I be doing today to start that journey? Who can I connect to and learn from?  The new year is always a good time to invite possibility and to imagine what else can be ahead.

My husband and I love wine and love touring vineyards. I really like this quote by wine maker Allen Sichel: “Wine is a living thing. It is made, not only of grapes and yeasts, but of skill and patience. When drinking it, remember that to the making of that wine has gone, not only the labor and care of years, but the experience of centuries.” Magic happens when you can combine skill, patience, and care. So here is a toast to change and to resetting priorities and reimagining possibilities in the new year.

 

Give the Gift of Leadership

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The holiday season is upon us. Diwali has ended. Hanukkah starts Sunday. Christmas and Kwanzaa are around the corner. People are already in full swing on their holiday shopping. Black Friday deals are everywhere, and we set a spending record of $7.9 billion on Cyber Monday. But your mom always said, the best gifts are free. You don’t need a gold card, or gold, frankincense or myrrh to be wise this season. Wise leaders will be giving their presence, their time, and their appreciation.

The present of presence. All of us multitask, yet according to a Forbes article, 98% of us are not good at it, and multitasking actually decreases productivity by 40%.The truth is we cannot be present if we are not fully engaged with those around us. Were you listening when your employee said they had to leave early to check on their mom? Did you ask why? Did you ask how you could help? Did you ask the next day how she is? When we are truly present with others we hear and feel what is important to them and show them that they are important to us. To give the gift of presence, you will have to give up some of your screen time for real life connection time. Gift giving tips: (1) Shut off email and phones during meetings and one on ones and give your team your full attention. (2) Arrive 5 minutes early to meetings, and check in with people vs. checking your email. (3) Block daily or weekly time on your calendar to connect with your team in their space. Don’t bring your laptop- focus on asking, observing, and learning.

The gift of time. We tend to measure our time at work by the number of meetings, emails, and tasks we checked off our list each day.  These are often urgent, but not important distractions that fill our time but are not fulfilling. What if instead we measured our time at work by the number of people we coached, the new ideas we learned, and the recognition we gave?  Our teams regularly tell us in engagement surveys they want more information, more recognition, and more development. So, let’s give them what they want – your time and insights. Gift giving tips: To give the gift of time you will have to give up on getting to the bottom of your inbox. Don’t worry, it’s an impossible quest. Instead work on putting these 3 tips into practice: (1) Save time by setting team norms around emails. This is a great list of ideas to start with. (2) Block your lunch hour every day. Yup- everyday. Take different people on your team out to lunch and/or connect with peers at an electronic free meal. (3) Use team meeting time to inform and engage. Select a few key topics to cover and use 80% of the meeting for brainstorming, sharing best practices, and problem solving.

Packaging appreciation. As you write out your holiday cards ask yourself, when is the last time I gave a team member a thank you card? Small, regular signs of appreciation have the biggest impact on engagement and loyalty.  A sticky note that says “Your presentation was awesome and so are you. Thanks for making a difference on our team.” will stay up in someone’s cube for months and takes seconds to write. One of my favorite managers gave me a subscription to a scrapbooking magazine because she knew it was one of my hobbies. It probably cost her $20 and 15 years later I still appreciate her thoughtfulness. Gift giving tips: (1) Add recognition as a 5 minute agenda item to your team meetings. Encourage people to thank each other. (2) Buy a pack of blank cards and keep them on your desk. Commit to writing out at least one card a week. (3) Ask your team what kind of recognition is valuable to them – we all like to be recognized differently, so customize your gift.

Make this season merry and bright by giving your team the gift of your leadership. The investment you make in being present, giving time, and showing appreciation will come back multifold. The best part of giving the gift of leadership is you can give it every day, and it never goes out of style. So, give it, celebrate it, and enjoy it all year long.

Tricks and Treats of Succession Planning

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It’s that scary time of year again. What ghost may come out of the closet and spook someone? Who is seen as both an angel and devil? Is the path we’re on a trail of terror? No I’m not talking about Halloween. I’m talking about succession planning. Just like our favorite October holiday, it is an annual tradition that tends to involve a lot of costumes, smoke, and mirrors. But there is a better way. HR plays a key role in identifying the tricks to make succession planning a treat. This mean focusing on your purpose, the process, and a playbook.

The trick? Be clear on the purpose. Before you deploy the next succession planning session, ask yourself, what is the purpose of this exercise? In fact, I encourage you to apply the 5 Whys. If your purpose is that it’s important to know our talent, ask why. Do that five times so you can strip it down to a skeleton and see what is essential to your organization. For some companies, the purpose may be accelerating people into leadership roles. But if your executive turnover is really low, beware- that strategy may come back to bite you. The last thing you want is to build a pipeline of supply with no demand. For others, it may be diversifying the skills and experience of your leadership team. Or perhaps it’s intentional rotation of talent across business segments. The treat? Aligning with your organizational priorities and gaining support from leaders. Too often succession planning lurks in the shadows of executives’ minds. A clear purpose makes it an essential business process that earns agenda time throughout the year.

The trick? Simplify the process. Be honest. If you explained your succession planning process to people outside the business world would it make any sense? I actually shared our process with my stylist once and her reaction was priceless- ranging from eye rolling  to confusion to horror. The same thing our managers feel when they see the Frankenstein processes we’ve built. We can dismantle this monster with a few simple questions. What data do we need? How will we use it? What can we measure? Why does it matter to business results? The treat? Moving from labels to data insights. One way to make this pivot may be to collect data on executive jobs filled in the last 12-18 months. What percent were filled internally vs. externally? For the internal candidates, what was their 9 box rating? For those filled externally, had internal successors been identified? Were they considered? Why or why not? This can be an insightful discussion and help leaders move the conversation from “he’s high potential” to “she’d make great future leader, but her lack of marketing experience is holding her back.”

The trick? Build talent playbooks. The first spell I’d like to cast is to banish all succession planning binders. I’m quite sure business strategies, customer engagement, and financial forecasting aren’t managed in a binder in your organization. Succession planning needs to be an active, interactive process and we can help leaders keep it alive by creating some simple plays for them to run. Tips on how to talk to their team about  performance and potential. Ideas on how to create meaningful development plans. Resources to help with mentoring and sponsorship. Forums to discuss cross team volunteer opportunities. The treat? Seeing succession planning earn the mindshare and timeshare of other core business processes.

Succession planning doesn’t have to be scary. It definitely should not be a life-sucking process. We can move this key talent process out of the dark by shining a light on purpose, process, and a playbook. So treat yourself- and your business- to a simpler, more sustainable, and more impactful approach to succession planning.

 

 

 

Renew, Reboot, and Recommit

Celebrate-Rosh-Hashanah-2015-Jewish-New-Year.jpgThis Sunday was Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year. It is a time to discover a new sense of possibility, a new belief in the gifts we have to share, and a new commitment to our dreams. When we think of Rosh Hashanah we focus on the religious traditions and personal interpretation of this holiday. However, I believe there are important leadership lessons tied to Rosh Hashanah we all can benefit from. I’d like to invite you to take a moment to renew, reboot, and recommit to a good new year.

Renewal. The days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are called the Days of Awe. Many people believe that during these ten days, your fate for the next year is decided. That decision is based in part on your repentance during these ten days. This is your chance to right your wrongs, to repay your debts, and to make apologies so that you will be looked upon favorably. Imagine if we applied something similar in our workplaces. What if instead of an annual performance review we had an annual renewal process? Imagine if at your organization you set aside ten days and asked all employees to connect with their key partners to mend relationships. What if as a leader you took this opportunity to share with your team your personal lessons from the last year and to apologize for your mistakes? Think what your results might be if you invited everyone to renew their commitment to their team and to their work.

Reboot. Another Rosh Hashanah tradition is Tashlikh, where people toss bread crumbs into the water to metaphorically cast off behaviors or sins from the past, thus beginning the new year with a clean slate. This practice gives people the chance to reflect, to be introspective, and to let go of the things that are holding them back. What if we implemented reboots between projects at work? Today we hold project post morts to discuss what went well, what did not, and our lessons learned. Imagine asking those questions about our personal actions: What did I do well, what should I cast off, and how can I clean my slate for the next initiative?  Allowing time at work for reflection and introspection gives people the chance to cast off what’s holding them back and to accelerate future results.

Recommit. Tzedaka is part of the new year celebration and is translated as charity. But the deeper definition of this word means what kind of person do you want to be. We all know leaders that model behaviors that we want to emulate- or avoid at all costs. Think about the critical priorities for your business and your team right now. How do they need you to show up? What kinds of skills or behaviors are critical for you to meet your goals? Then think about building a plan around these ideas. What if we moved from IDPs to I will bes?  Make 2-3 simple, measurable “I will be” statements and post them publicly. Ask your team and co-workers to hold you accountable to these standards. Ask for their feedback on how you can move closer to these ideals.  Then at the end of the year ask for feedback on how you did and recommit to what you will do to continue to move forward.

Taking time to reflect on results and behaviors is an important practice. Building routines that give us a chance to pause and work on our relationships and behaviors is essential if we want to have a good year at work or at home. This month take a moment to renew, reboot, and recommit. It can help you set yourself up for a happy- and productive- new year.

Tri to Manage Stress

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I was attending this month’s Good Leadership Breakfast  and bumped into Lorrie Anderson – who took me to my first GLB meeting last year. She introduced me to her mentee, and commented to him, “This is the person I told you about. The one with the great fitness story about goals and stress.” So here’s my story… which is a story we all know well. Have you ever been asked to do a project that had big visibility, little clarity, and no executive sponsorship? This blog could be about all the reasons not to proceed with the project, but as we all know, sometimes that is not an option. This particular project was to develop a communications strategy for a global reorganization. Cool opportunity until I realized I was being ask to drive engagement and excitement on a project that had little traction or political support. The project was really getting to me, so finally I said to my coworker, I need to do something to manage my stress. So I’m going to sign up for a triathlon. I was a moderate runner, an occasional biker, and a basic swimmer. So what drove me to try a tri to manage stress? To get control of my sphere of control, to embrace risk, and to get comfortable with the uncomfortable.

Controlling my sphere of control. Your sphere of control has three distinct parts.  Think of it as three concentric circles. The center circle is the things you can control. That circle is surrounded by the things you can influence. That circle is surrounded by the things outside of your control or influence. I was drowning in that last, largest circle, obsessing about all the things I couldn’t control or influence and worried that both this project and I were going to sink. I desperately needed a new perspective, so I thought, I don’t know how I will accomplish this project, and I don’t know how I will accomplish a triathlon. But I do know that I can control my training. Removing your focus from what you can’t control is a critical first step in managing stress. Planning a triathlon moved me into my sphere of control. I started researching training plans. I mapped out a practice schedule. I got feedback from others who had done triathlons to get their advice. And by re-channeling all that anxious energy into productive energy, I was more patient with myself and the project. I found items in the sphere of influence for my work project and got some wins once I focused on my sphere of control.

Embracing risk. “If no one ever took risks, Michaelangelo would have painted the Sistine floor.” – Neil Simon. I love this quote and started to use it as a mirror for myself. I wanted to grow in my career, and I wanted a new challenge. Now that I had one, it was time for me to step off the steps of safety and get a new perspective. In a Forbes article on why risk is the key to innovation, they list some of the steps I took in my journey. I figured if I was going to do it, I was going to make it public to drive my accountability and creativity. Once I got the idea about doing a triathlon, I told a few friends. Then a few more. Then I posted about it on Facebook. Now people were watching, so now I was on the hook – I had to do this race. It also meant those friends were engaged with me- encouraging me, offering advice and supporting me. One of my stressors about my work project was I felt the weight was solely on my shoulders. Once I realized this project was not all about me, and that I had a great team around me, I started to get some momentum. Going to coworkers and admitting you are stuck and asking for their input is a great way to build awareness and shared ownership for a big initiative. It’s also a great way to get more insights and ideas than you could ever generate alone.

Getting comfortable with the uncomfortable. As I worked on this project, I realized my stress was tied to my fear of the unknown. What if the executives rejected this project? What if they didn’t? What might change once a decision on the reorganization was made? I was grasping on to the things that were comfortable and looking at how I thought things should be. Training for the triathlon helped me focus on the adventure. I hated (still do!) lake swimming- but I was going to have to get comfortable doing it. I was going to have to prepare that I would finish -and have a plan in case I didn’t. There were a lot of uncomfortable parts of my work project. So how did I push forward? One way to manage my stress was to look at what we could gain instead of what we could lose through this reorganization. Instead of shying away from  the worst case scenario, I looked right at it, and came up with various options – for the project and for me. Suddenly this project was less scary, and I was more confident.

I completed the YWCA Triathlon 5 years ago.  I went way off course in the swimming and lost a lot of time. I was pooped after the bike so had to rest before the run. But I finished, and I loved it. Now I set a fitness goal every year, to help me manage my stress and to push my comfort zone. Try something that pushes you. For me, I decided to try a tri to manage stress and was able to get control of my sphere of control, to embrace risk, and to get comfortable with the uncomfortable.

 

Who is Accountable for Accountability?

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We spend a lot of time in business talking about accountability.  Often the focus is other focused- how do we increase the team’s accountability? Why can’t that poor performer be more accountable? When will that partner/vendor improve their accountability? But instead of looking at the finger pointed at others, let’s think about the 3 fingers pointing back at us. As leaders, we are accountable for accountability. We do that by  modeling accountability, inviting accountability, and by expecting accountability.  Focusing on the actions and behaviors we need to do can move us from talking about accountability to creating it.

 Modeling accountability. The first step in accountability is for you as the leader to model it.  That begins with setting clear expectations. This starts with actually setting expectations. Does your team have clear objectives for each quarter? Where are they posted?  Have you shared your specific objectives for the quarter with the team? And your progress against them?  Research from Kaplan and Norton found that only 5% of the work force understand their organizational strategy. Not surprising given that their research also found 85% of executive teams spend less than one hour/ month discussing strategy.  Visual management is a simple and effective way to model accountability. Create a visual management board for your team- either a real board on a wall or a virtual one where you post the organizational goals, your leader’s goals, and your goals, and your teams’ specific objectives for this quarter. Start by focusing on your goals, and add a red, yellow, green box to show what progress you have made toward each of those goals. Update it weekly. Most importantly, be honest. It’s okay if you don’t have everything green- what you want to model is being transparent about results, openly discussing road blocks and challenges, and how to get back on track.  If you want others to be accountable, then they need to see that you are accountable – so make your accountability evident and open.

Inviting accountability. Think about what the end of the quarter looks like in your company. Do you/your leaders act like this quarter is the most important quarter in the history of the company- every quarter? Here is a list of the most common quarter end activities: Calling your team and reading them the sales results – even though they have the same report(s) you do.  Telling them you expect them to close the gap and then some, no excuses. Knowing their budget was unreasonable but driving them into the ground to meet it anyway. News flash: this does not create accountability, but it is a great breeding ground for resentment and disengagement. The word invite is intentional – you can’t force accountability and sustain great results. When people don’t buy into a plan and things head south, they jump off the race track and into the spectator seats. What you want to cultivate is a team who stays on the track and shifts into problem solving mode when they hit a speed bump. Inviting accountability forges a new road to results. Ask your team to create a quarterly plan that maps out what they will do to reach their key goals. Review them on a regular basis throughout the quarter. Shift the conversation by shifting your focus from the results (# new customers, satisfaction rating) to the inputs that drive those results. Ask questions about what’s working, what’s not working, and offer some coaching on what else they can do. End the session by asking them what specifically they will do before your next check in. And then at the next check in follow up to see what they’ve done. If people create a plan themselves, they are much more likely to be accountable to it. And you may just be surprised with the ideas they come up with.

Expecting Accountability. So let’s imagine that you have shared your goals and results with the team. You have created regular meetings to assess their progress toward their goals. And you see they are really trying. But one employee, Jim, is not consistently following through. He sort of works on his plan. He hits one or two of their goals. But he is more of a coaster than a go-getter. How you handle this will either cement or crack  your team’s commitment to accountability.  Accountability means everyone, for everything, all the time. Or it is meaningless.  Speak to Jim in clear terms about his performance, and the gap in his delivery.  Start with the facts: he committed on X date to Y deliverable, and to date you haven’t seen the results. Follow up with the impact: Because he has not completed Y, let him know the specific impact on his peers/customers/vendors. Then set the consequence. If Y is not done by Z date, he will be taken off the project. Given an unsatisfactory rating. Written up. Ask him to go back and update his plan with a new approach to hit the new date. End by asking what help he needs from you or others. Confirm his understanding and re-invite his commitment. If he doesn’t want to get on the bus, then work within a plan to get off it.  The team already knows Jim is not carrying his weight- and if you don’t do anything to address it, you risk losing both their accountability and their respect.

Being a leader means both enabling and expecting accountability. As the leader you assume accountability for the teams’ results. What you don’t want to do is assume that the team understands what it means to be accountable. Steven Covey says accountability breeds response-ability. You can drive accountability in your team and enhance their response-ability by modeling, inviting, and expecting accountability.

 

 

Excellent Integrations Start with EI

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Most of us have had the experience of working on some kind of integration – a system integration, a process integration, or a business integration. Usually we are focused on our intelligence pieces – our project plans, our schedule, and our time/cost savings. As a result, we often miss the emotional piece at the heart of this endeavor – the questions, concerns, and experiences of the team receiving our “intelligence.”  A recent Price Waterhouse survey found that gaining people’s confidence and commitment during acquisitions are the biggest challenge to successful integration. Yet only 45% of respondents said they were “completely committed” to integrating staff during the acquisition process. Improving our self awareness, managing emotions, and having empathy are the missing pieces to most integrations- and are needed to complete a project successfully.

Improving Self Awareness. In the Harvard Business Journal article, What Self Awareness Really Is (and How to Cultivate It), self awareness is like a two way mirror: it’s what you see and reflect internally and externally. Self awareness, not surprisingly, starts with self. It is understanding our values, motives, and behaviors, and how they impact others. It also means understanding how others view us.  Before charging in with your “intelligence,” stop and do some self reflection. Add the following to your project plan: How can my strengths help the team during integration? How could my development area impact the team? How am I viewed? How might that impact the project? Taking time to ask – and honestly answer- these question can have a huge impact to your integration.

Managing Emotions. Quick word association: What’s the first thing that comes to mind when I say Bobby Knight? Guessing chair thrower, yeller, maybe basketball came to mind. Winningest coach of all time (at the time of his retirement -902 NCAA Division I games) sadly is not usually our first association with Coach Knight. We all have emotions, and they are important to acknowledge. Managing emotions isn’t stuffing our emotions. It is creating a space between stimulus and response. We want Bobby Knight to be passionate. We just want him to keep four on the floor. We all have things that trigger us- that elicit a deep emotional reaction in us. The trick is not immediately responding to that stimulus. During an integration there may be a sense that the new team is resistant. That you are behind schedule. That the process/system changed, but you don’t see the expected improvement. Instead of charging forward, pause and practice mindfulness. Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” Mindfulness allows you to recognize what you are feeling – mad, frustrated, upset – which creates the space for you to take a deep breath and reset your approach. Add the following to your project plan: What emotions might I experience during this integration? How would I like to handle them? What will it take for me to do that? Creating awareness of your triggers before the heat of the moment can keep the integration from going up in flames.

Having empathy. Empathy is not sympathy. Empathy is understanding another person’s thoughts, feelings, and condition from their point of view, rather than from your own. So try it. If you were on the other side of the integration, what would you be thinking, feeling, and/or worried about? What might help you move forward? The word might is important — empathy is not based on the golden rule but rather the platinum rule: treat others as they would like to be treated.  How will you know what they want? Ask and listen. Ask the team what is important to team. What is on their mind? How can you be most helpful? You don’t need to agree with what the other person says — this is not about you, it’s about understanding them. Next listen to their verbal and non-verbal cues during the project and adjust your approach. Add the following to your project plan: How can I find out what this team wants and needs? Add a listening session to the project up front, and check-ins along the way, to be sure you continue to look at progress through their eyes, not just your checklist.

Integrations tend to be a GSD exercise. Successful integrations shift their perspective from Getting Shit Done to Solving Goals Together. Adding emotional intelligence to your integration puzzle will improve both your project and people results- and keep those pieces together.

Laughter Should Be Your Engagement Survey

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Think about the time and effort you currently put into your engagement survey. The hours reviewing questions, creating distribution lists, developing communications, executing the survey, and of course, action planning. What if I told you that listening for laughter in the workplace is an easier and more authentic way to get the pulse of your organization? Best selling author Dan Schawbel says engagement can be boiled down to four measures: happiness, purpose, belonging and trust. Laughter is a great way to measure each of these elements. So let’s engage in laughter.  

Happiness and Purpose. Wharton Professor and co author of Option B, Adam Grant, has a Ted Talk called Faking Your Emotions at Work. We all know we have to manage our emotions at work – keeping our cool under pressure, or smiling politely in meetings while that marketing guy drones on and on. But if we do this all day, it can be draining. Grant say, “It seems like the easiest way to cope is to tell yourself, ‘Well, this is just my job. I’ll pretend to be this person in this role when I’m at work.’ That’s called surface acting. It’s wearing a mask that you take off at the end of the day. It feels like the simple way to distance yourself from the role. But it creates a sense of being inauthentic, which can take a real toll.” Instead Grant challenges us to take the opposite approach. Tap into your emotions and ask yourself,  How can I make my work more meaningful? How do I find a sense of purpose in my job? Instead of being disconnected, be objective about your role and contributions. What do you love? What are you passionate about? Take off that mask and make real connections with your team.  When we play together, we stay together — and feel stronger connections. When people have tapped into their happiness and purpose you will see increased energy, creativity, and commitment—and laughter.

Belonging. Social science researcher Brené Brown defines belonging as “the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us.” She also says we know we truly belong “when we can present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world.” In Gallup’s article How to Bring Out the Best in Your People and Your Company, author Jake Herway states, “an organization full of employees who believe they belong is an organization full of employees who feel purposeful, inspired and alive — in other words, engaged. And these engaged employees are more productive and better performers.” When teams can joke about shared experience or problems they have created a social connection. So rather than asking in a survey “do you have a best friend at work?”, listen for laughter to gauge belonging.

Trust. In the Speed of Trust, Stephen Covey states that trust is rooted in credibility.  We earn credibility when we can laugh at ourselves. Trust also requires us to be self aware. Understanding how your actions are either trust builders or trust busters is a critical leadership trait. The stories you tell and the jokes you laugh at are barometers on whether you trust others, trust yourself, and/or are worthy of trust. Trusting environments invite us to be vulnerable, and when we feel comfortable, we are comfortable taking risks. When people laugh, they are in a relaxed state. They are open to new ideas because they feel safe. When we share laughter, we trust each other. And laughter deepens our trust.  As employee engagement expert David Zinger says, the shortest distance between two people is often a good laugh.  So listen for the speed of laughter to gauge your organization’s speed of trust.

Researchers found that by the time the average kid reaches kindergarten, he or she is laughing some 300 times each day. Compare that to the typical adult, who laughs 17 times a day.  Perhaps now that we’re all grown up we think we are way too busy to have fun. But studies show laughter allows our minds to juggle and connect concepts in a way that rigid concentration does not. We talk a lot about employee engagement, but really there is nothing fun in most engagement surveys. Laughter is a great pulse check for happiness, purpose, belonging and trust. So think about how you can engage in laughter in your workplace.