Embrace Constraints

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Our lives are full of constraints of all shapes and sizes. From taking conference calls while dropping off kids, to making dinner with what’s in the fridge, to juggling multiple work projects, we are all constantly balancing our limited time, resources, and scope. We often talk about these three interconnected constraints in project management — changing one impacts the other two. But what if instead of talking about these factors as constraints we think about them as accelerators? In his post How Constraints Fuel Innovation Instead of Restricting It, Vishal Kataria tells the story of how Toyota broke into the luxury car market. Their chief engineer challenged the team to build a car with a top speed of 155 miles per hour, an efficiency of 22.5 miles per gallon, a cabin noise level of 58 decibels at 60 mph, an aerodynamic drag of 0.29 or less, weighing less than 3800 pounds. None of their competitors had cracked one, let alone all five, of these goals. At first this seemed to be an impossible goal. But when the team designed to meet all these collective (and sometimes conflicting) constraints, they created the Lexus LS400, which outrated the BMW 735i and Mercedes 420SEL in every category rated by Car and Driver Magazine. And for $30,000 less.  Constraints can help you accelerate your productivity if you think outside the time, resources, and scope “box.”

Time: Think of less as more. Deadlines are stressful. And companies are infamous for short changing time to meet an executive’s schedule or demand. So embrace it.  According to a recent article cited in the New York Times, the average employee admits to spending 2 hours a day on non-work related tasks. So whatever timeline you thought you had, you really had 25% less anyway.  Help focus your team with more frequent, shorter meetings. You will have a different level of energy if you hold four 30-minute meetings rather than one two-hour meeting. Tell the team when the meeting ends, that phase of the process is done. Tell them in the first 30 minutes we need to complete X so that next time we can start with Y. Creating focus and urgency can up productivity– remember cramming for your college exams? Test it out and see what new results you see.

Resources: Look for the double down. There are never enough people or money for any given project. I am currently a department of one designing the learning and talent strategy for a production driven company. I am short on time and money and so are our leaders and team members. We have limited processes or practices to build off of. Isn’t that great? Now I get to focus on bite-sized learning, as I discussed in my Refresh Your Talent Menu blog, and to ensure that each piece we decide is intentionally interconnected. I am currently partnering with one of my peers to repackage some of our customer service training as coaching training. After all, asking questions, listening, and staying calm under pressure are key skills for working with customers and employees. And by using the same concepts in both scenarios we hope to ingrain them in our leaders.

Scope: Look through a new lens. Who decides what is in scope or out of scope for a project? Very rarely is it the end user. Lets say, for example, that your company is working on an acquisition. Your hands are more than full working on onboarding and talent assessment for the new employees. You don’t have the time or resources to address what is happening in payroll. You are in HR. But ask the average employee what HR does and they are likely things like payroll and benefits – because those are transactions that impact them in a tangible way, on a regular basis, and they don’t care what function that department sits in. So before deciding what is in scope, take a step back and think about what your employees are looking for. Design your project plans around that.

Think about Apollo 13. The constraints faced by that team were unimaginable – NASA had precious few hours to figure out how to return a severely damaged aircraft to earth using only the supplies the astronauts had on board. But everyone came together and came up with an ingenious, lifesaving solution. So how can you accelerate your productivity by embracing your constraints? Take a fresh look at the time, resources, and scope elements of your current project.  As Jeff Bezos said, “Constraints drive innovation. One of the only ways to get out of a tight box is to invent your way out.”

What Great Coaches Do

 

Landry quote

Last week I attended the Inside Out Development coaching workshop. It was a great opportunity to reground myself, an experienced coach, in the core principles of coaching and to think about how to make the idea of coaching accessible and relevant to leaders at all levels of my current organization. We all can think of great coaches in our lives (yes Janice Payton I am thinking of you!). When you ask yourself what impact they had on you, you will likely think of things like, he/she pushed me harder than I thought I could go. He/she believed in me. He/she gave me confidence and recognition. I don’t think anyone looks back and says my best coach pushed me to work every night and weekend. Believed PowerPoint was an art form. Gave me the confidence that I could be triple booked most of the time. Yet all of us, even with the best of intentions, can fall prey to the reality of workplace pressures and timelines. So what can we do to make sure we stay focused on coaching vs. tasks? After my coaching workshop I am recommitting to (1) asking vs. telling  (2) staying curious and (3) business KPIs for coaching.

Asking vs. Telling.  Think about how many questions you are asked in the course of a day. From “Mom, what’s for breakfast?” to “Can you help me with this report?” to “How should we plan our (volunteer) fundraiser this year?” And like the answer ninjas we are, we usually whip out solutions as fast as the questions are coming. It may feel efficient, but as Ken Blanchard points out in the One Minute Manager, what you are actually doing is positioning yourself as a professional “monkey collector.” All those monkeys– questions/problems others have–get lobbed your way, and you now have a new collection of monkeys to solve for- in addition to your original to do list.  So what if instead of telling, we focused on asking? In this video, Alan Fine, the founder of Inside Out Development, discusses shifting from fixing the gap we see in others, to focusing on closing the gap between our telling and asking. Fine encourages leaders to build this practice by using three simple questions: What’s working? Where are you getting stuck? What could you do differently? By starting with these questions before jumping to telling, you teach your team to reflect, empower them to solve their own problems, and free yourself from the monkeys.

Staying curious. We all have reactions to situations and people. Just saying certain names or topics, particularly in our current political times, can evoke a strong reaction and facial expression. But what if we could stay curious instead of jumping to conclusions? When you are at work, and a certain name pops up on your phone, you could roll your eyes and think,”Oh great, what could Joe want now? I’m sure he’s going to blame me that we missed our milestone.” Or, you could say, “Joe and I both know we missed that milestone. I wonder what we could do to move forward? I wonder what perspective he has on what we could have done differently?” Setting your mindset to a curious state opens you up to possibility and changes the tone of your interaction before it even begins. It takes a second to make this change, but pays off in spades.

Business KPIs for coaching. Coaching has a mixed reputation. Many HR people love it because it is good for retention, engagement, and development. Many business leaders see it is as an expense, time off the job, and squishy. If we are honest, both are true. I am lucky to be tasked with building a coaching and leadership development program from the ground up. As we develop our strategy, we will be talking about increased productivity, improved customer service scores, and higher turns as our measures of success. Of course I hope to see improved retention, engagement and development as well. But those won’t be the focus in our design or metrics.  Vince Lombardi said, “Winning is not a sometimes thing. It’s an all the time thing. You don’t win once in a while, you don’t do things right once in a while, you do them right all the time. Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.” Substitute winning and losing with your business’s top initiative, and ask yourself if you are being relentless in getting to that end goal, and how your initiatives help your teams to build the right habits.

Coaching, like so many other elements of leadership, is talked about and trained on, but hard to put into everyday practice. In a busy world that rewards expertise and confidence, telling is a natural reaction. Making judgments helps us take shortcuts. Focusing on our function vs. our organization is efficient. But it can’t build your team’s capabilities or your organization’s long term success. Sloane Stone was ranked 83 before the US Open, and walked away a champion, the third player ranked outside the top 10 to win the U.S. Open since computer rankings started in 1975. Her coach, Kamau Murray, attributes her success to her hard work, her focus, and their honest relationship. “It’s a progression. It’s not like a one-hit wonder where she won a grand slam prior to winning anything else. If you look at her trajectory, it’s been a line of progression, it hasn’t been like a spike. When you have that kind of development, it’s more sustainable than a flash in the pan.” Let’s build sustainable wins for our business by building a coaching practice on asking vs. telling, staying curious, and one that is all about the business.

 

Are You Giver or Taker?

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If you were looking to hire a venture capitalist, what skills would you look for? I looked up a posting at Deutsche Telecom and they are looking for someone who is a “motivated and an enthusiastic self-starter who works on your own initiative….Confident and capable of easily interacting with senior management.” According to the book Give and Take -Why Helping Others Drives Our Success by Adam Grant, Deutsche Telecom is missing the most important quality for this competitive job: they should be looking for a giver.

Givers are people who believe that we go further together. They help others and put others’ needs as a priority. They don’t see relationships as a zero-sum game. They instead passionately believe we can all win together. In Grant’s book he highlights David Hornik, a venture capitalist who invites his rivals to hear pitches, responds personally to emails for investment requests, and will introduce entrepreneurs to his competitors. Hornik has also only lost three deals in eleven years. Hornik and others featured in Grant’s book challenge our paradigm of what it takes to get ahead in the workplace. In our increasingly interdependent, global, matrixed world it is important to self reflect and ask, am I giving or taking to get ahead at work?  Three key takeaways for me from this book are networking is not about you, check your credit score, and the impact of women givers.

Networking is not about you. Many people hate networking and see it as the ultimate taker activity, believing people build good networks to build their popularity. But as I referenced in a recent post, there is a big difference between connecting vs. networking. Networking is an opportunity to connect and help. Matchers see networking as a means to connect – but focus on reciprocating behavior. If you link in to a Matcher and ask for an introduction to someone in their network and offer to connect them to a key business leaders, he/she will gladly help you– once they’ve met that business leader. Givers know that we live in a small world and are motivated to improve the lives of those they are connected to. They gladly share their time, connections, and ideas and, as Grant says, “create norms that favor adding rather than trading value.” Step back and ask yourself, “Who have I helped lately, and what motivated me to do so?” Then think about someone from a past job and reach out and ask how you can help him/her. No strings attached.

Check your credit score. Jonas Salk is known as an international hero. In 1952 his research lab created a polio vaccine, and within two years of its release the rate of polio in the US fell by 90 percent. But Salk had a serious flaw– he was a taker. At a press conference held to recognize this enormous accomplishment, he did not recognize any of his peers. He failed to mention any of his collaborators, team members, or co-workers who contributed to this life changing event. Salk fell prey to responsibility bias, focusing on the time and effort he spent in the lab instead of seeing the team’s collective contributions. The key to a good credit score is not to keep score.  Instead, whenever your team has a big accomplishment, reflect first on other’s contributions and acknowledge them before mentioning your role on the project.

The Impact of Women Givers. Grant does not spend much time on the gender dynamic in this book, but as a working mother I had some immediate reactions to the giving/taking continuum. Women are raised to be givers, and our societal norms value women who are warm and nurturing. Grant’s research shows that givers face a tricky path — givers are statistically least likely to get ahead — giving credence to the idea that good guys finish last. But his research also shows that givers also finish first-they have the highest productivity, performance results, and revenue generation in their companies. The difference is givers who are “not selfless but are otherish.” Givers who are selfless often find themselves overwhelmed and over committed. But givers who focus on giving without losing sight of their interests are “Otherish.” They give graciously without overextending themselves. Women givers, and all givers, can increase their chance of success- and decrease their risk of burnout- by tuning into this key concept. The good news for givers is that the prototype of the successful leader is drastically shifting. According to a management survey of over 3,600 participants, givers have historically have had lower salary increases, slower advancement, and lower promotion rates. Less than 65% of givers were promoted to management roles compared to 83% of takers and 82% of matchers. This appears to align to our traditional stereotype that good leaders get ahead because of their (individual) hard work, talent, and knowledge. But that is shifting. Google recently used it’s data analytic prowess to determine the most important traits of effective leaders. The top three traits are a good coach, empower the team, and is interested/concerned with their team members’ success. Sound like an otherish giver? Good news for givers and for women givers if these traits are now seen as strengths instead of risks.

We all are part giver, matcher, and taker. You can find out your rating at Adam Grant’s website.  Grant’s book Give and Take provides numerous examples of givers and takers and how these behaviors impacted their success. I encourage you to reflect on how you interact with your network and your peers and be aware of your taking, matching and giving behaviors. Look at your network as a place to give. Be intentional about giving credit. Remember that giving is not synonymous with selflessness. And with that knowledge, go out and give!

 

 

The 3 Rs: Reading, Running, and Relaxing

Setting-Goals

It’s that time of year again. Red leaves. Orange pumpkin spice latte. Yellow school buses. All signs of fall and the return to school. Every year I feel both jealous of and motivated by these students. While most of us can’t lobby our workplaces for the summer off, we too can take this opportunity to focus on learning, committing to goals, and trying new routines.  I firmly believe that to be your best self at work you have to take time for yourself, and that setting up personal routines can help your professional productivity. I encourage you to explore the 3Rs this season: reading, running, and relaxing.

Reading. How do you stay current on your industry? On your competitors? On leadership? These “important but not urgent” questions often get buried under our emails and meetings. So here’s your chance to push reset and find some time for yourself. Drive time is a great time to listen to an audio book. Pop in some earbuds and listen to one while walking, cleaning, or at lunch. Here’s another idea- spend 20 minutes less on email and instead devote that time to learning. In an earlier post Refresh Your Training Menu, I cited LinkedIn and Flipboard as great sources for blogs and Get Abstracts as a site that synthesizes business and leadership books in to 3-5 page summaries. That 20 minute investment can pay big dividends in your career and is a great habit to try on this season.

Running. Or Walking, biking, dancing– any kind of heart pumping moving. As this Harvard Business Review article states, regular exercise is a part of your job, if in your job you are expected to concentrate, remember information, and be creative. There is a direct link between exercise and work performance – and we all want to be great at our job, right? Start with 30 minutes three times a week. Determine if morning, lunch, or evenings works best for your schedule and your body.  Set a goal. Then post that goal so your friends and family will ask about your progress. The alternative is to commit to processing information slowly, forgetting details, and staying stagnant. So don’t look at exercise as taking away from your job – see it as part of your job.

Relaxing. This is a habit I am still working on. I am the yoga student who starts planning her grocery list mid downward dog, and whose mind constantly wanders during meditation. But I know the importance of stillness and aspire to move from mind full to mindful. The app Buddhify really appeals to me- it has a collection of short meditation and many of them are designed to do while you are doing something else- brilliant! I also like the Do Yoga With Me website that offers free yoga lessons at all levels and multiple lengths. Another recent challenge in our house? Shutting off our phone after 8:00– and instead linking in with the faces in the room vs. on the web. Find that space where you can reconnect with yourself and what really matters to you. It will lower your blood pressure and help you center.

As CS Lewis said, we are never to old to set another goal or dream another dream.  We are all busy, but just one less TV show, meeting, or Words with Friends fest will pay huge results. This fall, lets all be students of the 3Rs and commit to reading, running and relaxing.

Connecting vs. Networking

Networking

“Networking is not about collecting contacts. It is about planting relationships.” MiSha.

The New York Times just ran an article this weekend titled Good News for Young Strivers: Networking is Overrated. The article describes networking as schmoozers getting together just to be seen and heard. The author laments that we focus on who you know instead of focusing on accomplishing great things, which, he argues, helps you develop a network. His belief is that “Networking alone leads to empty transactions, not rich relationships.” We agree on this last point – you can shake 100 hands but get to know no one. It is also true that doing good work helps open doors and can attract connections. However, people can’t connect to you if they don’t know who you are, and good work can’t be discovered if it can’t be found. I think it’s time to redefine what networking is and how to make it valuable for all parties. Networking requires three essential ingredients to be effective: connection, collaboration, and conscientiousness. No artificial sweeteners or flavors included.

Connection: Networking is not sending a stranger a LinkedIn invitation. It is not measured in business cards. Networking means connecting with someone because you are interested in their expertise. It also means showing your appreciation for their time by being prepared and respectful of their time. The book The 20 Minute Networking Meeting has some great tips on how to effectively connect during networking sessions. The key takeaways are:

  • Be prepared. Be on time– in fact be early. Stick to your scheduled time. Plan what you want to cover in advance. Google your contact in advance so you know their background and current role/projects.
  • Focus on discussions, not bios. Give a one minute overview on yourself (yes one minute). Don’t ask them to walk through their background- you should have already reviewed it. Don’t ask anything you could find out online. Do use your time to get 3 insights: For example, what do they think about X? Or, I noticed that you did Y- I’d love to hear more about how you did that. Or I’d like your advice on Z – and to share my thoughts for your feedback.
  • Ask for three more contacts. Good people know good people. Based on your discussion ask who else they know that has a similar interest or expertise they would recommend you chat with. Be sure to follow through and connect with those individuals and show your gratitude for their generosity.

As a rule people are incredibly giving of their time. It is up to you to invest that time wisely so that you make a good impression and a meaningful connection.

Collaboration: Networking is the act of both getting and giving. You should be getting information, advice, and contacts during your networking meeting. You should also be giving that individual something in return. After your meeting follow up with an article he/she might be interested in. Offer to connect him/her to people in your network. Post about the work this individual is doing and help promote their project. Networking is also about paying it forward. We have all been – or will be – new to an industry, laid off, and/or working on a stretch assignment. Creating connections with up and coming talent, people in transition, and those new to an industry helps them build confidence and contacts. It also helps you build your network so that when you need some advice or help, you have a bank of goodwill to draw upon.  Leadership is not based on power- it is the ability to empower. We all have the power to collaborate and connect, so be generous with your time.

Conscientiousness: Like any habit you want to build, creating a routine and prioritizing time for the habit is critical to making it stick. Networking feels like a chore if you view it as something that takes you away from real work and/or something competing for your time. However, if you think about networking as connecting to interesting people to collaborate with,  you create a totally different mental framework. I once had a leader who was an exceptional networker. I finally asked him how he could keep up on all the people he stayed connected to. He showed me that he had created a spreadsheet of people he wanted to stay in touch with, wanted to get to know, and had collaborated with in the past. Every Friday he set aside 15 minutes to review his list and see who he had not talked to in a while. He then sent out a personal email to three people from his list stating why he wanted to connect and offered some potential dates/times. That simple approach kept the importance of connecting in his consciousness and helped him execute on his networking goals.

The truth of the matter is that the world runs on relationships. Right Management has conducted a multi-year study on how people find jobs, and every year networking is the number one source.  Corporate America is not a meritocracy – you have to do good work and you have to have good connections to get ahead.  Connections that are authentic are built on the desire to learn and share, and connections that last are built with intention. I encourage you to lean in, not out, when it comes to networking and plant rich relationships by striving for connection, collaboration, and conscientiousness.

Motivate Without Authority

Motivate-Your-Teams

In most organizations you have to know how to get things done by working with others. There are often times where you don’t have direct authority for a team or a budget, but you are accountable for the outcome of the project. Most companies focus on teaching the skill how to influence without authority in these situations. The emphasis is learning what is important to your stakeholders and demonstrating how you can bring that value to them. I have taught and trained on this concept many times over the years and do believe that learning how to navigate organizations and relationships is essential. But I recently asked myself, why do we call it influence without authority and how are we inherently framing up relationships with that language? The definition of influence is “the act or power of producing an effect without the direct exercise of command.” Synonyms for influence include impact, determine, guide, and control. Now contrast that with the definition for motivate, which is “to stimulate (someone’s) interest in or enthusiasm for doing something.” Synonyms for motivate include inspire, stimulate, encourage, and excite. I’d like to coin a new phrase and discussion about how to get work done in organizations: Motivate without authority. In this definition the emphasis is on connecting to the customer, embracing autonomy vs. authority, and inspiring through your actions.

Connecting to the customer. Engagement surveys over the last three decades have shown that meaningful work is the single most important element to employees. Purpose is a huge intrinsic driver and one of the most powerful ways to create meaning is to connect people with the end user. At Deere & Company, farmers who buy tractors are invited to visit the factories with their families. Assembly line employees are then invited to meet the farmers, hand them their tractor key, and watch them start their tractors for the first time. Olive Garden restaurant managers regularly share letters from customers with their teams and thank them for creating a great guest experience. Instead of influencing your team, show them how the new project/process you are talking about will meet the customer’s needs and drive meaningful work.

Embrace autonomy vs. authority. I hate to be the one to break it to you, but most of us have very little authority over others. But instead of bemoaning that fact, how can we embrace autonomy? Appreciate the reality that each group you want to motivate likely has different, perhaps competing, schedules, priorities, and resources. Instead of trying to control the outcomes, think about how building trust can make your team much more efficient. Often our desire for authority comes from a lack of trust. Ask yourself if you trust the team, then ask yourself if others can/should trust you based on your behaviors. Reflect on your motives and competencies and see if/how they might be impacting your team dynamics. Stephen Covey’s Speed of Trust offers a list of 13 behaviors that can build or erode trust and provide some great ideas on how to motivate without authority.

Inspiring through your actions. Forbes conducted an interesting research project. They looked at a list of the 1,000 most inspiring leaders and analyzed how they inspire those around them. They came up with a list of six different skills used by these inspiring leaders:

  • Visionary—providing a clear picture of the future and being able to communicate that to the team.
  • Enhancing—creating positive one-on-one relationships along with team relationships by being a great listener and connecting emotionally with people.
  • Driver—displaying a focused pursuit to make the numbers and complete things on time and generally being accountable for personal and group performance.
  • Principled—providing a powerful role model of doing the right things in the right way.
  • Enthusiast—exuding passion and energy about the organization, its goals and the work itself.
  • Expert—providing a strong technical direction that comes from deep expertise.

I think the two skills that are most often overlooked on this list are being principled and leveraging your expertise. Many people inspire through their vision and their enthusiasm, but it is equally impactful to motivate others by showing in your actions that you are principled and have a valuable expertise. Whatever your natural style is, show your team that you are authentic and that you are committed. They will not only be influenced, they will be inspired.

Vince Lombardi said, “Individual commitment to a group effort–that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” I believe we grow commitment not through influence or authority, but through motivation. By connecting teams to the customer, embracing their autonomy, and inspiring others through our actions, we can motivate others without authority and build lasting commitment.

Refresh Your Training Menu

Stuart SaladYou are planning a dinner party and want to serve today’s most popular dishes. You do a little research and get to work on your menu: homemade cream of celery soup, potato chip tuna casserole, and broiled grapefruit for dessert. Right on trend- for the 1950s. If you served that today, your guests would, at minimum, be surprised. But many of us in HR are still serving an out of date training menu: 3 days of content delivered lecture style with big clunky binders for participants. Our customers consume content in a totally new day today. They also curate and create content daily. It’s time for us to update our approach to learning and focus on what our busy leaders and employees can digest. This is not to suggest we should abandon workshop sessions that provide the time to go deeper on content and apply new learning. It is to suggest, however, that it’s time to expand our learning menu by serving bite sized learning, adding new ingredients, and trying some new recipes.

Serving Bite Sized Learning. Our employees and leaders are interested in their development. The challenge is that development is “important but not urgent” and is competing with throngs of “urgent and important” and “urgent and not important” emails, calls, and texts. We can help our teams find time for themselves by serving bite sized learning that has 10-15 minutes of content. There are so many great resources for this, including business and leadership book summaries from Get Abstract, hundreds of free videos and discussion guides at Lean In, innovative speakers and ideas shared through Ted Talks, and curated content from sites like Flipboard. These can also be great reinforcement resources to send out after a training to follow up on the learning.

Adding New Ingredients. A great Ted Talk I recently watched was titled Three Ways to Spark Learning. In this talk, Ramsey Musallam talks about how being a science teacher, a dad, and having a health scare gave him some new insights about learning. His take always are that curiosity comes first, we should embrace the mess, and practice reflection. Imagine you are leading a training on performance reviews. Your leaders come in, eyes rolled, expecting a lecture. But this time you take a new approach. Instead of telling them that performance reviews are great, drive engagement, and create performance records, you start by asking “I wonder how we could make the performance review process easier?” After gathering their ideas, you acknowledge that performance reviews are messy- both in the execution and in the delivery. You then offer some ideas on how to make the best of everyone’s least favorite process. You end by asking the leaders to reflect on their last performance review discussion and what they will do differently this time. You can still include tactical information they need to know and do some skill building in the class. But by adding some new ingredients to your facilitation, you just might spice up the discussion and the learning.

Try Some New Recipes. We encourage learners to take risks and try new approaches. But we don’t always this advice ourselves. Here are two creative approaches to learning to consider: a flipped classroom and an unconference. Flipped classrooms are common in education. The concept is that instead of lecturing when the kids are in the classroom then sending them off to do their homework on their own, teachers provide video/online lectures to watch at home, and use class time for discussion and projects. The same approach can be used in adult training. Send out pre-work and use more of your classroom time for discussion, questions, and application. If you are feeling really brave, try an unconference. The concept is very simple. At an unconference, there is no agenda. No topics or speakers have been pre-selected. Instead, attendees review a list of all possible content and decide what they want to hear about. Most unconferences includes less common approaches such as Big (or Little) Question sessions where someone asks a question he/she want to know the answer to and engages the group in a peer  discussion. Show and tell sessions give participants the chance to share a cool project/update and use that as a springboard for discussion. There are also more traditional lectures and/or group discussions options offered. This approach may be more stressful for the facilitators but almost always increases attendees’ engagement and participation. 

Julia Child said, “No one is born a great cook. One learns by doing.” Julia Child also included recipes for cream of celery, potato chip cassarole, and broiled grapefruit in the Joy of Cooking in the 1950s. But she continued to evolve her craft, grow with her audience, and innovate new dishes. How can you refresh the training for your organization?

 

 

Engage Grief at Work

Kerzenlicht

July 21, 2015. I was leading a team meeting when my phone rang. It was my husband, so I picked up and told him I was in the middle of a meeting and asked if I could call him back. “No,” he said, “You’re going to need to step out. I have some bad news to tell you.” He told me that my dad had just passed away. In that moment I had to recompose myself, tell my team that I was leaving, and begin my journey of navigating the logistical, legal, and emotional process of losing a loved one. You suddenly find yourself a member of The Club No One Wants to Belong To, and wishing that you could go back and be more supportive and understanding of those who joined this club before you. Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant capture so many lessons learned in their book Option B. Here are a few lessons we can deploy at work to help employees who are grieving, that also improve engagement for the full team: acknowledge the elephant, build confidence, and be flexible.

Acknowledge the elephant. Western society doesn’t have norms on how to deal with grief. “How are you?” may be a polite greeting, but it isn’t a helpful one. As Sandberg says in her book, “I wanted to scream my husband just died, how do you think think I am? I didn’t know how to respond to pleasantries. Aside from that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?” We worry so much about saying something awkward or reminding our coworker about their loved one that we err on saying nothing. A good opener can be, ” I am so sorry to hear about your loss. I want you to know you don’t have to go through this grief alone. We are here for you.” Give the person the opportunity to talk about their loved one. After my dad passed, a coworker commented, “Your dad must have been a great guy. There were so many loving stories of him at his service. I’d love to hear more about his time in the Peace Corp if you’re up to talking about it sometime.” Showing a sincere, specific interest and giving the person the choice of how and when to talk about it builds gratitude and engagement. Inviting the elephant into the room allows the person to be authentic, and builds a trusting environment for the entire team.

Build Confidence. Losing a loved one shakes you to your core. You lose your center and have to rebuild.  When people return to work, it is important to help them find their new normal in the office. Before he/she returns, ask the grieving person how they would like their first day to go. Share with them what is on the team agenda and invite them to attend any and all meetings they feel up to. We are trying to be helpful when we say things like, “I’m sure you’re not up to taking on this project yet so I gave it to Mary.” Or, “I know you have a lot on your mind so you don’t have to come to the sales meeting.” What that can sound like to the grieving person is, “You clearly don’t have it together, so I don’t want to give you something you will screw up.” Find a project that uses the person’s skills to help accelerate his/her path to productivity.  Let him/her get some quick wins and show your appreciation. This same grace should be given to our high potentials in stretch assignments and our new hires/transfers joining the team. Showing that we are confident in people’s talent gives them the confidence to climb the learning curve and engages their hearts and minds at work.

Be Flexible. Business marches to a quarterly drum that seeks order and deadlines. But there is no one experience or timeline for grief. A key part of helping the grieving person re-acclimate at work  is setting an initial plan, then adjusting it regularly. When one of my employees had a stillborn, we talked about how she wanted to return to work. There were days when it was important for her to be at work, and there were times where working at home to crunch out some reports was the right thing to do. She knew I trusted her and I knew that offering increased flexibility allowed me to retain a valuable employee. We also revisited her workload on a regular basis. The team worked together to temporarily reorganize our work to help our friend have a successful re-entry while ensuring our commitments were met. Outcomes based goals are meaningful and motivating for everyone on the team, and help the team ensure the most important things get done. It also gives the grieving person the flexibility he/she needs to re-acclimate to the workplace.

Anna Quindlen wrote,”Grief is a whisper in the world and a clamor within.” We all have something clamoring within, that appears only as a whisper to others. Engage your team by acknowledging elephants, building confidence, and offering flexibility. This also creates a safe place for grief to reside and allows grieving employees to thrive.

Champion Experienced Talent

Wimbeldon

This year’s Wimbledon was notable – Roger Federer won his eighth singles championship and, at age 36, is the oldest man to do so. Venus Williams was the oldest woman since Martina Navratilova to reach a Wimbledon singles final at age 37. In sports and work we often focus on our up and comers – which to be sure are a critical part of our talent pipeline. But what is our strategy to keep our most experienced talent engaged and winning? These employees hold our tribal knowledge and legacy resources, but instead of drawing them into our inner circle, we often assume they are on their way out to pasture. To get the most out of our most experienced employees we should take some lessons from our Wimbledon stars – go big and go home, draw on and redraw experience, and grow your grit.

Go big and go home. Federer is featured in an ESPN article, titled Once More with Feeling. The critics have been questioning his ability to stay competitive and overcome his injuries, suggesting it may be time for him to retire. It is true that he has been nagged by injuries – including tearing his meniscus in 2016 while bathing his children in Melbourne, which required surgery. Federer could have seen this as a sign it was time to hang it up. Instead, he changed his approach to training. He focuses on how he can save energy, picking and choosing key tournaments. He also embraces his time off, realizing that time off the court is a key part of allowing him to succeed. “I can just play the tournaments I want to play and enjoy the process,” he says. “If I do show up and play, I love it. When I’m in training, I enjoy being in training. When I’m not in training, if I’m on vacation, I can enjoy that. I’m not in a rush. So I can take a step back and just actually enjoy.” As leaders it is important for us to encourage and celebrate this kind of balance for our experienced talent. Imagine that instead of lamenting “Mary”s” inability to travel as much anymore, we sent her to our most critical engagements, and had her spend more time in the office training and mentoring the team? What if we partnered with “Dave” on a phased retirement plan, allowing him to work for us part time so we can preserve his knowledge? Expecting results and respecting personal time are not ideas in conflict – in fact they are both essential ingredients in retaining our most experienced employees.

Draw on and redraw experience. Federer’s reputation is that it all comes easy. He is seen as the standard of perfect tennis by many, and it is this perfection that draws in many of his fans. But even Roger Federer experiences doubts and negative self talk. In the 2017 Australian Open he was down and getting down on himself. But then he said he reset his mindset, “not thinking too much about the what-ifs … the pressure, the moment. I know it’s huge, we all know it’s huge, but just try to shake it off. Don’t freeze up. Fight, but don’t try too hard and want it too much.” He went on to win the game, and in his opinion, have one of the best matches of his life. In moments of great stress, our most experienced talent has the frame of reference to draw on what has worked before and the confidence to redraw the final chapter. As leaders we need to learn how to tap into this combination to fuel the team. Is your Lean project team feeling stuck? Invite your most senior salesperson to share her customer knowledge and help shape the final design. Struggling with your new marketing campaign? Ask some of your tenured technical experts what feels authentic to your brand, and where you are coming off wanting it too much. Encouraging our experts to share their experience and thoughts with us can drive both engagement and innovation.

Grow your grit. Venus Williams is one of the greatest tennis players of all time. Williams holds fourteen Grand Slam doubles titles and two mixed doubles titles, five Wimbledon singles titles, and at this year’s Wimbledon, extended her record as the all-time leader, male or female, in Grand Slams played, with at total of 75. She has won four Olympic gold medals, and has 49 singles titles, second among active players on the WTA Tour. She is second to sister Serena Williams, who has been her most challenging rival. Williams has demonstrated incredible grit on the court – including several comebacks after injuries and being diagnosed with Sjögrens Syndrome. She has also shown grit off the court, facing criticism for her physical looks and play and for her outspoken style. She fought for – and won – equal pay for female athletes at Wimbledon, and she was cited as  “the single factor” that “changed the minds of the boys” and a leader whose “willingness to take a public stand separates her not only from most of her female peers, but also from our most celebrated male athletes.” Honoring the grit of our experienced talent is key to showing our employees what we really value. Consider creating a Grit Award in your organization, highlighting the finance leader who helped you successfully navigate multiple mergers and have him share his lessons learned.  Expand – or start – Lean In Circles in your organization and have experienced women share their war scars and wisdom with other women – and men – in your company. 

“Champions keep playing until they get it right.”- Billie Jean King.

On the court and in your building are champions who have been working hard to perfect their game over the years. They have a tremendous amount of knowledge, connections, and resources that can help you serve up an ace if you tap into them to help you go big and go home, draw on and redraw experience, and grow your grit.

 

 

 

 

Leadership Lessons from Princess Bride

Pbride2

“Good night, Westley. Good work. Sleep well. I’ll most likely kill you in the morning.”- Dread Pirate Roberts.

It is the 30th anniversary of the cinematic classic, The Princess Bride, this year.  This fairy tale adventure centers around Princess Buttercup and the hero, Westley, who is on a quest to find and save her. It is also a story that unfolds as the grandfather reads the Princess Bride book to his grandson, while the boy recovers from his illness. There are so many great quotes and moments in this movie. There are also a lot of good, timeless leadership lessons embedded in this tale, including some gems from Prince Humperdink, Vizzini, Inigo Montoya, Westley, and the Grandfather.

Prince Humperdinck:  Prince Humperdinck has a leadership title but does not focus on or rally supporters. He is totally self-absorbed and pursues Princess Buttercup not for love, but for power. There is a scene where Westley was captured and Humperdinck is asked if he wants to come to the dungeon. The Prince responds, “You know how much I love watching you work, but I’ve got my country’s 500th anniversary to plan, my wedding to arrange, my wife to murder and Guilder to frame for it; I’m swamped.” Ever worked for this guy? The outtake: Titles don’t make leaders, character does.

Vizzini: Vizzini is the movie’s villian, hired to kidnap and kill Princess Buttercup. He plans elaborate schemes to trick others and to try to get his way. He is convinced that he is the smartest person in the room and that no one else can be trusted, so talks down to everyone he encounters. It is “inconceivable” to him that anyone else could outwit him. In an exchange with the Man in Black he states, “I can’t compete with you physically, and you’re no match for my brains…Let me put it this way. Have you ever heard of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates? (They are) morons.” His ego prevents him from connecting to others and ultimately, in an elaborate game of slight of hand costs him his life. The outtake: Leaders need brains, and they also need humility.

Inigo Montoya: Inigo Montoya joins our hero on his quest, not to save Buttercup, but to avenge his father. His life’s purpose has been to find and kill the man who killed his father. He has unquestionable dedication and drive- but it is this same single-mindedness that narrows his perspective of the world. He laments to the Man in Black that “It’s been twenty years now and I’m starting to lose confidence. I just work for Vizzini to pay the bills. There’s not a lot of money in revenge.” After almost wrongly killing the Man in Black, he does finally get to put his iconic line “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die,” into action. The outtake: Leaders are motivated by passion and the big picture.

Westley: Westley is our hero. He is a farmhand in love with Princess Buttercup who sets out to earn the money needed to ask for her hand in marriage. Of course like all good movies it is not all smooth sailing for our hero, Westley, who has to use his wits and his sword to fight pirates, to outwit Vizzini, and to find his way back to Buttercup. His simple background and demeanor belie his commitment and passion. This may be best represented by his line “As you wish.” At first Princess Buttercup thinks it is because of her status that he defers to her but as their relationship progresses she comes to see it is because he loves her and wants what is best for her. The outtake: Leaders are found at all levels.

Grandfather:  The Grandfather brings the book the Princess Bride to read to his sick grandson who initially wants nothing to do with it. Once the Grandfather promises to skip all “the kissing parts” the grandson relents, then is quickly enraptured by the story.  As the grandfather is reading the story to the grandson about the Buttercup’s upcoming marriage, the grandson interrupts, “See, didn’t I tell you she’d never marry that rotten Humperdinck?” to which the Grandfather smirks and replies, “Yes, you’re very smart. Shut up.” The grandfather successfully draws his grandson into the story by inviting him to partake in the adventure and letting his Grandson form his own ideas and draw his own conclusions. The outtake: The best leaders draw the outline and let you color in the details.

The movie Princess Bride has humor, action, and adventure. It also has a lot of good leadership lessons embedded throughout the film. Think about the characters in your office and the parts that they play.  Most importantly, remember that “wuv, tru wuv, will fowow you foweva… So tweasure your wuv. ”