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.

 

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.

 

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.

Are Your Values Valuable?

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Every company has a set of values. They are the norms that describe what is important to the organization, and the behaviors that are encouraged and rewarded. Some of these values are what you see on the walls of the building- but often there are different values playing out between the walls. The new CEO at Uber has just rewritten their values, dropping  “hustling,” “toe-stepping,” and “principled confrontation” and replacing them with, among others, “We celebrate differences” and “We do the right thing. Period.” Or perhaps you are on your second or third iteration of your company’s values, leaving your employees skeptical that you really know what you stand for. If your company’s values include integrity, commitment to customers, or teamwork/trust you’re in good company-According to the Booz Allen Hamilton and Aspen Institute’s Business and Society Program researchers, 90% of companies reference ethical behavior/integrity, 88% mention commitment to customers, and 76% cite teamwork and trust. As my CEO, Ann Fandozzi, says, “I’m pretty sure our competition’s values aren’t we have no integrity so come work here. If your values don’t differentiate you, then they aren’t valuable.” Yet values do matter. According to a global survey by HR.com, one of the top 5 drivers of employee engagement is alignment between your personal values and your company’s values.  At Abra we are on a quest to create values that mean something to our team, to our customers, and to the way we do business.  We are getting great input, feedback, and buy-in as we work to create not just new values but a new way of leading our teams and our business.

Values and teams. It is ironic that the two most common approaches to creating values is either to hire an external consultant or to have a small group of executives pen them.  If values are our guiding principles, then we believe our employees should lead the way. When we began this journey, I spoke to the executive team and said for this to resonate across the organization, our values must come from voices across the organization. We are a national, production-driven organization, so this is not an easy task. But we partnered with the leaders across our stores and organized short focus groups. When we couldn’t pull people together, we took our notepads and talked with employees at their workstations –in the paint booth, next to a car, at the front desk. We asked 5 questions:

  • What do you like best about working at Abra?
  • What makes you proud to be an Abra employee?
  • What makes Abra unique?
  • How does a satisfied customer talk about Abra?
  • What does Abra need to do to become the Employer of Choice?

Over the course of 5 months we collected 90 pages of notes from over 300 employees. We are now going through this feedback and extracting the essence of what our employees said. We are not editing or changing their words – just summarizing.  The nuances and examples our teams shared are the heart of what they value- and will be reflected in our final summary.

Values and Customers. My family likes Panera. They have a great selection of healthy foods, and the quick food vs. fast food environment quells my mom guilt. We love our Panera because of Justine. Justine always greets our family with a smile, remembers my kids’ orders, and engages them in small talk.  To engaged employees, the organization’s success is personal. It matters. It’s a reflection of them and what they believe in, who they are, how they show up in the world. In a service industry, the customer’s experience IS your brand, so your company values should also reflect what is important to your customers. We are reviewing our customer survey data to identify common themes from our customers and our employees. We want our values to be our brand – but more importantly we want them to be our Justine –the essence of your experience with us.

Values and Business. Identifying the values is the easy part. Creating the process to integrate these values into the way you conduct business is hard. There are some obvious places to start – interview guides, recognition, and communication. These steps are critical, but if you want to see a great model of building your business around values, look at Zappos. All Zappos’ employees spend their first three to four weeks manning phones in their call center. This training helps new hires learn the business, but it also provides an internal resource for the company.  Zappos does not hire temps during the busy seasons – all employees are expected to sign up for shifts in the call center during the busy seasons. For employees hired directly into the call center, once you complete your four weeks of training  you are offered $3,000.00 to leave the company.  Not stay- leave. The Zappos’ philosophy is if you haven’t committed to the company and the values, then you should leave. Think about what that could look like – and say about – your company if you did something similar. Powerful.

The article Ban These 5 Words from your Corporate Values Statement recently appeared in the Harvard Business Review.  (1) Ethics and Integrity -as discussed, those are table stakes. (2) Collaboration. As the author says, if your employees aren’t working collaboratively, listing it as a core value isn’t the solution. (3) Authenticity- that should not be an aspiration, it should be a reality. (4) Fun- if you have to claim you are fun, you probably aren’t. (5) Customer-centric- all of us in the for profit sector best be customer-centric. Dig deeper and do the hard work to really understand what is important to your employees and your customers. Take an honest look at your business model and ask if this aligns with what our employees and customers value? Join me on a quest to create values that mean something to your team, to your customers, and to the way you do business.

 

 

 

50 books by 50

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I have always loved to read. I was “that kid” who took her book with her everywhere –reading on the bus, in the doctors office, at the dinner table. Today I still love to read but struggle to find time to read and feel torn between reading for work and reading for pleasure. Apparently I am not the only one struggling with this. According to a recent LinkedIn post by Amit Somani only .5% of people in the world read more than 3-5 books a year. So I decided to set a goal to read 50 books by age 50. That means I will need to double my reading rate and sustain it for two years. How I am going to do that? Good question! Here are some of the tips I plan to employ -and how it relates to leadership: Decide what supports the goal, learn from others, and follow your passion.

What supports the goal. Most of us have worked at a company with a WIG (wildly important goal) that was something like double sales by 2020 or increase our customer base by 30%. Aspirations are great but without clear plans to support them, won’t be more than a bumper sticker slogan.  With any kind of goal it is helpful to ask questions like these, from the Huffington Post article 5 Leadership Goals:

  • What have we tried to achieve in 2017 that we must accomplish in 2018, and how will that be rewarding to you (and your team)?
  • What targets are we hitting — and which ones are we missing due to our own actions as executives?
  • Is there anything I can do to get out of the way of — and, indeed, accelerate — our success?

These questions are insightful whether you are trying to improve quality, reduce turnover, or increase your reading. In my case, reading is rewarding, so what I will accomplish this year is setting a target of reading at least 20 pages everyday. I will accelerate my success by setting a firm bed time and creating a routine of reading every night before I go to sleep.

Learn from others. Whatever goal we are trying to achieve, we can pick up ideas and insights from others. I currently have over 500 books on my Amazon reading list. So one way to prioritize those books is to see what others recommend as their top reads. President Obama posted his reading list, as did Daniel Pink, Richard Branson, and hundreds of other thought leaders. Pick one or two that you already know and love and challenge yourself to follow the recommendations of someone outside of your normal go to group. Share your challenge internally and find out what your peers/other functions are doing that relates to your goal. My internal inquiries led me to read Lean Turnaround and  Four Disciplines of Execution  as my first two books this year. Ironically by starting with a discussion about Four Disciplines, I am now leading a training session on 5 Choices,  and am collaborating with senior leaders on our shared priority of driving productivity through improved people leadership.

Follow your passion. I love the quote, “If it is important to you, you will find a way. If  not, you will find an excuse.” That definitely applies to me and the goals I set for working out, at work, and now reading. The gap isn’t really time- we all have 24 hours in a day. It’s how we use and prioritize our time. Goals that ignite us are easy – creating a new leadership program, developing the acquisition strategy, defining a new customer segment. Goals that are outside of our expertise and interest are usually the ones that we keep deferring. In my earlier post Improve Through Improv I talked about tapping into- and trusting- the talents of the team to achieve your goals. Leveraging people’s strengths and passions is a natural accelerator.  So in my quest to read 50 books by 50 I give myself permission to pass on the books that don’t fuel my fire, to quit the books that aren’t engaging me, and to seek books that are aligned with my personal and professional passions.

Rachel Anders said, “The journey of a lifetime starts with the turning of a page.” Whether you are reading or on the journey to achieving a different goal, deciding what supports the goal, learning from others, and following your passion will help you get to your destination more quickly, and make it a more enjoyable ride.

SKOL Leadership

 

Vikings win

What. A. Game. I live in Minnesota and while I am a Packer fan, for the last minute and a half of Sunday’s playoff game I was sweating purple. This miracle finish was just the latest chapter in a miraculous season. After losing their starting quarterback and starting running back in the opening weeks, somehow the Vikings, led by their third quarterback, Case Keenum, and their defense pulled the team together. Not only have they stayed together, they ended the regular season with the second-best record in the NFC.  As I watched the game I thought, this is an awesome leadership moment in motion. The Vikings showed how teamwork, strategy, and persistence are what it takes to lead and to win.

Teamwork. Good teams work together and come together, especially under times of stress. Great teams are clear on their goal and commit to their specific role in helping the team achieve it. In the Harvard Business School article The Biggest Mistake You (Probably) Make With Teams, author Tammy Erickson gives the analogy of an emergency room, and writes,  “Before the next ambulance arrives, they have no idea of the nature of the task ahead. Will the patient require surgery, heart resuscitation, medications? The condition of the next patient is unknown; the tasks that will be required of the team, ambiguous. But at no time while the team waits, do they negotiate roles: “Who would like to administer the anesthesia? Who will set out the instruments? Who will make key decisions?” Each role is clear. As a result, when the patient arrives, the team is able to move quickly into action. The Vikings acted surgically – each person focused on exactly what had to happen on that last play so the patient- in this case their playoff dreams- had a chance of surviving. In her research, Erickson found that the most successful leaders ensure roles and responsibilities are clearly defined, everyone understands the project’s importance and ultimate objective, and the team is empowered to determine how to achieve their agreed to “what.” So help your team be great by setting clear goals and roles, and empowering and encouraging them to determine how to win.

Strategy. In football the coach can’t take over the various roles on the team, but off the field ask yourself, am I trying to be the quarterback, running back, and wide receiver or am I the coach? Mike Zimmer’s role was to create a strategy, make sure the team knew how to execute the strategy, and to build their confidence so that they could achieve their goal. Leaders don’t win games- they build teams that win games. In the article Doing Less, Leading More, author Ed Batista writes that many leaders believe if we work longer, harder, and smarter than our team, we’ll inspire by example. But he cautions that if you lead like a “Doer-in-Chief” you can’t pivot your teams from fire fighters to fire marshals. In Sunday’s game, it was evident that Zimmer had instilled a fire marshall mentality in the team – don’t panic when the heat is turned up, focus on execution. We can do the same in our roles with our teams if we do less, lead more, and stay focused on our strategy.

Persistence. Let’s not forget, the Vikings were not only down by 1 with 23 seconds on the clock. They have been down similar roads before. The Vikings have lost their last five NFC Championship games and lost four Super bowls. None of this is lost on the Vikings or their fans, nor is the fact that Minnesota is hosting the Super bowl in just 4 weeks. In the article Never Quit: Strategies on Perseverance From 6 Seasoned Entrepreneurs, entrepreneurs share what it takes to be persistent. The willingness to “take the hit.” Lead confidently, think big, and influence your outcome. As entrepreneur Roy McDonald says, “You can influence the outcome with the power of thought and intention. It’s important to focus on what you do want, instead of what you don’t want.” That mental toughness, or Grit as Angela Duckworth would say, is all about what goes through your head when you fall down, and how that—not talent or luck—makes all the difference in a person’s success.

In football and as a leader you want a team with strong teamwork, strategy, and persistence. Even before Diggs’ touchdown, the Vikings had to stretch their bench to get the right people on the field. They had to ensure everyone understood the playbook. They had to make big plays to be up 17-0, they had to have grit after the Saints came out with 17 unanswered points and they really had to dig deep when they were down in the last 23 seconds of the game. Their success- and the success of strong business teams– comes from knowing the plan, and committing to execute the plan. It means having a leader who clears the path and empowers the team. It also means having an unwavering belief that you will achieve your goal. I encourage you to think with SKOL leadership so you can see and celebrate your  team’s success.

Do Less More Often

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It may be early to be thinking about New Year’s resolutions but as 2017 is winding down, I find myself reflecting on the number of lessons I learned this year. 2017 was a quite year for me. I was laid off from a great job working for a great boss, John Vegas. I also got a great opportunity to shift from designing learning and development content to delivering change management training across the country. I sat on the other side of the “here is your package” table and got to feel firsthand what good and bad acquisition practices look like. I learned to introduce myself as “in transition” at networking events, and to get comfortable with not having a work identity. I gave myself the best gift of all – taking the summer off to spend time with my family, seeing every concert that we could, and taking some fantastic vacations. So what’s my big hairy goal for 2018? I am planning to do less more often. This means embracing JOMO, canceling subscriptions, and better balancing .

Embracing JOMO. I just read this article about embracing the joy of missing out (JOMO). Instead of stressing out that you can’t get it all done or can’t get to both meetings you were invited to, try a new approach. Admit that there is a problem, and acknowledge that the problem is not you. You can’t do it all and that’s ok. So embrace it. Find joy in training someone else to help with your projects. See the joy in your team when you say, I trust you. You can cover this meeting and fill me in. This mindset can allow you to focus on what really matters and do a few things really well, instead of spreading yourself too thin. This will be a challenge for my extroverted, execution-oriented personality but I am convinced it will help me to stay focused and to be more productive.

Cancelling subscriptions.  I volunteered to co-lead my daughter’s brownie troop when she was in first grade. It appears to have an auto-renewal policy until she graduates. I started a list of all the things I find myself still doing just because I started doing them, and am starting to cancel my subscriptions to these commitments. That means prioritizing my networking groups and cancelling some subscriptions so I can focus on others. It means asking myself if there is a different way for me to subscribe my time at work so I can stay focused on my top priorities. It even means stepping down as the troop leader so I can decide if there is a new subscription my daughter and I want to explore.

Better Balancing. Doing less still allows for doing. I also want to increase my workout goals and to read more next year. I want to work on our learning strategy and be available to create on demand training for leaders.  My goal is to have clear priorities and commit to my priorities. Investing time in my family, my health, and my hobbies are my priorities for next year. So now they will be my filter for making decisions. Stephen Covey has a great quote: “Instead of prioritizing our schedule we need to schedule our priorities.” I am learning that one of the priorities I need to include on that list is white space. White space for thinking and planning at work and for unwinding at home is one of the best commitments of time we can make. Finding the balance of doing and being is my biggest challenge- and one I will prioritize working on in 2018.

I read the book Essentialism in 2016 and it really struck a cord with me. In this crazy world of doing, how can we do less more often? 2017 gave me an opportunity to put those ideas into practice and taught me some invaluable life lessons. I have moved through transition into a new great job, with a great boss, doing some great work. But instead of jumping back on the hamster wheel, this time I am being more intentional about embracing JOMO, cancelling subscriptions, and better balancing.

Tweet Your Vibe

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“Tis the time of year to be thankful. To be generous. It is also a good time of year to think about the vibe we put out into the universe – both the physical and online space we occupy. Thanks to Catherine Byers Breet for sharing this photo and this article. It got me thinking that we all should be thinking, what’s my Tweet, how do I Tweet others, and why we should Tweet each other better.

What’s My Tweet? In the 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey’s second habit is to begin with the end in mind. In this chapter he asks the reader to imagine their literal end. Picture yourself at your funeral. What are people saying about you? What impression did you leave? A slightly more updated question is, if your family, friends, and coworkers were to describe you in 160 characters, what would they say? You may also want to check what have they said about you on social media. We all create a vibe- all we can control is if it is intentional or unintentional. What would you like your headline to be? With that end in mind, think about how you treat others, and make an intentional effort to live up to your ideal self.

How do I Tweet Others? The 7 Habits also encourage us to synergize. This means to believe that 1+1 is 3 and that by treating each other with respect and listening to different opinions we can come up with the best solutions. In today’s digital world it is easy with the quick stroke of the keyboard to criticize those we don’t agree with. The golden rule should apply both our physical and online communities – and is part of keeping a positive vibe. Being mindful is also key when interacting with our teams. We are so busy doing that we leave little time for connecting, engaging, and encouraging our employees. How we “tweet” them comes out in all the micro decisions we make -to say hi, to be present, to show genuine interest. These micro decisions can have a macro ripple.  Your words and your impact will be how your team “tweets” about you as they talk about their day with friends and family.

Why we should Tweet each other better.  In an earlier post, Connecting vs. Networking, I talked about the the power of connection, collaboration, and conscientiousness. In this day and age it is only a matter of when- not if- we lose our job, are acquired, or experience a major reorganization. When you need help guiding new terrain, who will be there for you? Who were you there for when they asked you for help? We live in a big small world. Put your positive vibe out there and help to Tweet someone’s story and skills. Create the positive energy needed to propel each other forward.

What we say and do – in person and online- matters. It creates a vibe that either fuels or flushes their energy. There are over a 160 ways a day we can be intentional about showing up as our best self. The best gift we can give ourselves and others is to be mindful about what’s our Tweet, how we Tweet others, and Tweeting each other better.

 

What Great Coaches Do

 

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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?

Giveandtake

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!