Archive for the 'Team Engagement' Category

Mind Your Assumptions

Saturday, May 25th, 2013

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
― Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad/Roughing It

I just returned from a very educational and interesting trip to Eastern Europe during which we had local guides explain each stop along a river cruise. We were taught about the history, culture, and current conditions of each locality.

During one presentation, our guide told us something that really struck me as it relates to my work as a leadership development consultant. He told us that often visitors think of the citizens as unfriendly and impolite because they will not be willing to give directions or will be unresponsive to a comment or question. In fact, we were told, they are embarrassed about their poor English. In another lecture, we were informed that what would appear to be conniving or manipulative behavior is the adaptation many people have made after years of Communist occupation during which survival skills and distrust took precedence over grace and openness.

How often do we, at work or in our communities interpret and make judgments about our colleagues or neighbors based on our own assumptions and interpretations about behaviors? A direct report is late to meetings? Well you surmise that he is disrespectful of others’ time or is disorganized. A colleague never takes you up on going out after work for a drink? She must be unfriendly..or not like you. That new guy down the hall never shakes hands? He must be a snob or have no manners.

Well, maybe the late person is overscheduled and a perfectionist who needs to prepare for meetings, or does not realize that lateness is not acceptable in your company culture. Maybe the unsociable employee has a sick relative or new baby at home. And maybe the unfriendly new employee has a health or religious reason not to shake hands.

International travel is a great reminder of how we need to be more sensitive and mindful at home: Not everyone thinks like we do!

Feedback Follow Up

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

For many years I have been enchanted by the reactions my clients have when receiving employee survey or 360 Degree Leadership Survey or Interview results. And what really impresses me is that, once aware of the small things they do that make a big difference in terms of how they are perceived and how those perceptions affect business results, they take a very mature, focused and intense approach to fixing what does not work and building on what does.

Almost every feedback discussion focuses on that catch-all phrase: communication style. This is such an unexplored and undefined area that it is no wonder that executives and leaders are often blindsided when they learn how they are misunderstood, how much time is wasted in chatter, confusion and complaints. Once they pay attention to the impact of how and what they say, and then become as strategic in communicating to staff and colleagues as they are to customers, amazing things happen. Formally frustrated, resistant or confused folks are engaged, aligned and ready to perform. It all starts with understanding your most important audience: your people.

The best way to begin is for you to get some critical information that underlies the feedback you have received. You can use the data or themes of your recent evaluations as a basis for one-on-one conversations as follows:

  1. Schedule individual meetings in a neutral and private place.
  2. Clarify that the purpose of the meeting is for you to better understand more specifically what is going well and what can improve based on the feedback you have received.
  3. Make sure the individual with whom you are meeting understands that this meeting is intended to benefit the whole organization and you are speaking with a number of people.
  4. Ask open ended questions, focusing on “what” and “how” rather than “why” and “who”.
  5. Relax and listen. If you disagree, stay open and focused on what you are being told…even if it makes you uncomfortable or defensive. Paraphrase and confirm and expand what you hear…seek to understand not argue.
  6. Ask for examples to clarify broad generalizations. “Tell me more” can expand the conversation.
  7. Express your appreciation and indicate that there will be follow up.
  8. Then, create and execute an action plan. Verify it with those with whom you meet to make sure you are on track and enlist their support.
  9. Plan to follow up at three month intervals to assure continued attention to the plan and to enlist additional information that will enhance your progress and instill trust in your attention to development.

Make it a great day!

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

Today in my email box I received three small thank you notes from clients, and two from professional colleagues.

It made my day!

Got me thinking as well: How rare and the gracious a written “thank you” has become today.

When you take a few minutes to write your appreciation for a meeting, a meal, a piece of advice, or a favor you are increasing your endorphins and those of the recipient. And, you probably encourage more help, caring and attention in the future. A thank you note really does not take much time but it does require attention and discipline to execute. The more specific you can be about what was appreciated, the more effective your communication becomes.

Our hectic days can become overpowered by annoyances, little jabs to our sense of wellbeing, rushing, pressures and uncivil interactions.

What do you focus on?

If you look for opportunities to show gratitude, you will increase your perception of generosity, caring and friendship.

During a typical busy day, do you note others’ kindness?

Start a “showing appreciation” project. You may be surprised at how it makes your day!

New Job….New Boss

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

Well, you have done it: landed that terrific new position. And here is where the work begins!

A wonderful career writer, Tom Jackson, said: “ A job is something you do, not something you get.” Your job search may be over, and your on-boarding is just beginning.

And, with it, all of your self-management, relationship nurturing, thoughtful messaging and marketing skills that you honed during the interview process will be called upon even more. Just as you mapped out a search campaign, prepared for interviews, followed up, did your research, and conducted thorough due diligence while pursuing your new position, you will need to position yourself to be effective with your new boss, colleagues and reports from the very first day.
Some things to consider:

  • Contract with Your Boss: Set priorities based on how s/he defines success. If you don’t know clearly what they are, ask.
  • Absorb Before Acting: Understand the culture, the chain of command (formal and informal), the potential and the resistances before taking action….especially if you were brought in to be a change agent.
  • Align Yourself Cautiously: Find out who the influencers, informers, historians, insiders and outsiders are before forging allies or defining adversaries.
  • Ask Many, Many Questions: Learn how decisions really get made and by whom, find out whose success depends on you, discern the most immediate concerns, and whether the culture and stakeholders will support your vision/mission.
  • Perform a Staff SWOT: Interview and assess key players and all of your staff members individually to better understand their expectations, needs, issues, conflicts, goals, frustrations, dreams.
  • Plan a Few Early Wins: Engage in information gathering, feedback, float pilots and small projects to measure the reaction to small, incremental changes. Build on achievement and successes and acknowledge generously. Recognize and shape desired behaviors, business initiatives, and ideas.
  • Attend to Style: Focus on feedback and self-awareness…adapt style to context. Balance drive with an empathy for the challenges change and transition create. Be accessible, steady and inspirational.
  • Think, Plan and Act Forward: Avoid the tendency to compare your new home to the one you just left.

“New Normal” Executive Themes

Monday, June 28th, 2010

My career management consulting colleagues and I have been comparing notes recently on workplace trends, issues and challenges.  A trenchant summary came from one client quote:

“The pressure is to drive productivity and assure quality.   At the same time, we need to stay attentive to the “soft stuff” with fewer resources, more job loss anxiety, steeper deliverables, while operating around the clock and around the world in virtual teams.  Something’s got to give.”

The obvious solution is more attention to leadership and engagement.  Yet, one of the biggest complaints we hear is that there is no time even to schedule regular one on one update, review, planning and development meetings with highly valued talent. Why?

  • Multitasking on multiple platforms is the Standard Operating Procedure that limits time to plan, dream, or interact
  • Many leaders, managers and employees are going on automatic through their day, defaulting into a task, check the box, transactional mode
  • People display frustration and insecurity when they don’t have enough time to properly prepare, think, get or give information or feedback, leading to communication, confidence and trust gaps

And the irony here is that at a time we need leadership commitment to drive results, engage employees and increase morale and motivation, we risk draining our talent because:

  • Teamwork, mentoring and feedback and leadership development suffer
  • Overload and inadequate “touch” time bread misunderstandings, misaligned action, procrastination, risk aversion and inhibit collaboration and collegiality
  • Talented and highly valued executives and managers too swamped to take advantage of development programs, organize off sites or meetings with career management consultants

If your to-do list is overloaded with transaction, and you and your people are suffering, whenever possible, put people and relationship as a priority in your schedule.

Here are five creative ways to schedule interaction by re-framing the time you think it will take:

  1. Plan shorter and more frequent conversations
  2. For anything that requires tone or nuance, wait, breathe, compose and then communicate by voice or in person
  3. Use emails only for quick, factual, short transactions
  4. Demonstrate concern and interest in others by really listening
  5. Provide on the spot feedback and appreciation—it will go a long way

Liking Linking

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

Liking Linking!

All of today, I have been occupied with LinkedIn, FaceBook, texting and emailing to be in touch. I did not have one voice to voice or face to face conversation outside of my interactions with my husband. This is very unusual for me as my work, friends, family and avocations generally bring me in active contact with others. I think about my clients who are finding themselves inter-personally isolated because they work virtually or are in career transition.

Virtual communication gives the satisfaction of immediacy in getting and giving information. You could spend many hours on-line believing that you are nurturing your connections and creating opportunities.

Social and business networks are useful transactions for informing and expanding your “presence”. However, I think that relationships still require commitment, chemistry and context to develop. Online communication…email, twitter, social networks, blogs, while great for sharing information can fool active participants into thinking they are connecting/networking/branding/getting “out there”/getting noticed. Virtual communication, however, is not a substitute for the value of in-person or live voice-to-voice intimacy.

On-line has the advantage of immediacy and the disadvantage of lacking nuance and context. Because it is written, sent and read quickly, it can result in abrupt judgments and replies.

Misunderstandings and misinterpretations cause a great deal of time spent resolving conflict. Just think of the tension that can be avoided by a conversation that requires listening, give and take and clarification. So, I recommend emails, texting, and social networking be used for factual, not emotional or nuanced, messages. When you really need to “talk”, make a date to meet in person, Skype, stop by someone’s office, or pick up the phone.

A really great way to capitalize on any virtual communication is to use it as a supplement rather than a substitute for live human contact. It is great to stay in touch and it is not a replacement for high touch.

Virtual Success

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

This blog entry is going to be different:  It is co-authored by my colleague and co-writer, Karen Otazo with whom I have just had the great pleasure of launching No Time 4 Theories/Executive Series . We wanted to share with you some lessons learned and insights gained from our collaboration, as we realized that what we have just experienced is the way many of you  all are now, or will be very soon, working.

Karen and I have been collaborating and communicating around professional issues, insights and initiatives for around 5 years.  During one of our many phone discussions, we realized that we shared a lot of views that were not currently written about.  And so, it began as a casual comment, “you know, this could be a great book!”

We began in July to collect our ideas, convert ramblings to outlines and maneuver our way through communication, technology, schedule and “day job” commitments. We found that we actually were living the changes we were writing about.

Our intensity about this collaboration heated up as the economy melted and then froze.  Our clients urgently needed our perspective and expertise to help them navigate the seismic disruption and change they are struggling to understand and manage. And so, we began in earnest in October to put our ideas into a format that would be attractive for our readers.

From that awareness grew an agreement that we wanted to write and publish together in the most modern way:  virtually, technologically and stylistically.  Virtual teams, virtual networking, virtual newspapers, virtual everything led us to create a more-than-virtual writing team.

Here are a few things we learned we wanted to share with you:

Move beyond the traditional and tested ways to match the rhythm and format of your work with the market needs:

We learned from a set of sample reader discussions that we needed to work quickly, efficiently, cost effectively and eliminate all the layers and processes that would hold up the end product. In addition, we focused on a series of guides which would appeal to our busy and diverse executive readers. Finally, we decided to self publish (which would bring the materials to market quickly) and offer our writing on-demand and in e-book format as well.

Gather a team of enthusiastic experts who will work with as much energy and commitment as you do:

We were fortunate in being able to gather together a virtual team that were excited about this new way of working, new media and the topics we were addressing.  When we ended up working through the holidays, which we had tried to avoid, everyone just pitched in and did what needed to be done without complaint.

Identify and work off strengths:

We constantly checked in with each other to make sure that each team member had information or resources and the skills/experience to carry out unexpected assignments.  Some of us were better at content, some at technology, some at process and project management.  We laid out what the next step was and team members volunteered and teamed. Flow ruled!

Marshall creativity and enthusiasm by clarifying roles based on strengths based on project needs, not ego:

One of the biggest challenges of a virtual team is sorting out priorities, resolving senses of urgency, accommodating to different styles (content, timing, process) and being careful to always know who is on first to avoid things being duplicated or falling through the cracks. Emails work for facts, voice and face to face is better for feelings.  Whenever we sensed a sensitivity, we made a call and worked things out.

Communicate BEFORE there is conflict and clarify roles early and often:

There were times we all jumped in and we had to step back to find out who was on first, who had the expertise, who had the time, who had the desire to take the lead.  We took turns being in charge depending on the circumstances and content. At times, we got confused with emails flying and schedules slipping. So, we just helped each other move the project along by identifying the stuck moments with great sensitivity and compassion. It was great to apply our counseling skills with each other!

Give feedback quickly, clearly and often:

Sheryl and I both have spent our entire professional careers encouraging people, giving feedback with care and clarity. So, we were sensitive to and committed about constantly checking in, comparing notes, clearing any misunderstandings, pitching in when the others were busy, being honest about deadlines and accountabilities.  We became adept at trading off and pitching in when our “day jobs” or personal lives required.  We kept our eye on the motto:  don’t explain, don’t complain…just do it or delegate it.  And we had a lot of “Yeah Team” moments!

Use technology wisely and where appropriate for your needs/styles:

Since we’re both great talkers, initially, we tried using Dragon Naturally Speaking (voice recognition software) to record as we discussed our ideas.  Frustrated with the pace of the technology, we moved into having one of us take the lead on a topic, develop a first pass and then used email and phone dialogue, Skype, three way meetings and even face to face time to organize, edit, polish, cut and finalize.

We never could have completed our first two guides without the dynamic and engaged team.  Thanks to:

Nick Kolakowski, our Editor

Mike Bain, our Graphic Designer

Lucio Furlani, our Web Master and more!

Lori Quaranta, our Cheerleader and On Line PR Consultant

Ian Spanier,  our Photographer

Yeah Team!

Turn of a Phrase….

Monday, October 13th, 2008

The way we use words reflects our internal world, affects our external environment and shifts world-view as well. Snap comments, judgments and reactions can reverberate in unintended ways.

For example, take the word “devastation” related to our economic crisis. Would the impact be the same if we used “disquieting,” “disruptive” or “dissatisfying?” When we complain about our political, financial or personal futures, what messages are we absorbing and expanding? Are we attending to the impact of our words on the listener as we spill out our reactions and conclusions?

In his New Years sermon, Rabbi Peter Rubinstein of Central Synagogue in New York City reminded us of past truly devastating events: the destruction of the Temple, the Civil War, World Wars I and II, the Holocaust. He entreated his congregation to remember its roots: decency, kindness, optimism, friendship, family and faith. He invited each of us to think of one thing we each could do to re-establish our sense of self-worth in the face of our shaken financial wealth.

We each, in our own worlds, can create a sense of control, commitment and competence by consciously choosing how we speak in our own heads and out loud. We have a choice of stemming or spreading the fear and foreboding. We create our moment by moment life by how we think and how we speak.

So, I pass on to you the Rabbi’s suggestion: think of one thing you can do, plan or talk about with your family, friends, co-workers, neighbors that is meaningful/purposeful for you right now. Choose something small, and within your control, an activity or relationship you may have put aside in the interest of forwarding your career.

Every day, practice considering what you say, how you frame your current view of our changing world. Think about ways you can revise your perspective in light of what you have and can build rather than what you have lost.

A conscious, positive shift will influence the responses you get and create a cycle of hope to replace what is becoming a national cyclone of fear.

Dream a Little Dream

Thursday, May 31st, 2007

When you dream about your future, what comes to mind?

Many recent studies of employee engagement claim that as many of 70% are spending work time pursuing or considering changing careers. On good days and challenging ones, you may be among those who are living in the world of “if only”, chasing an illusive dream, looking for passion, reinvention, or change.

Often, I find that people who are struggling with this issue are so busy doing what is expected of them…or chasing an ideal…that they have never taken the time to listen to themselves. Or, they are among the many for whom life or other people have conspired to cause them to bury their inner voice. Many look for techniques, systems and books to provide the answer to their career quandary; or focus on changing their career to resolve the existential issues in life….that have no “solution”, but require working through/accepting.

Pay attention to your dreams. Deconstruct, interpret, explore, write down, go beyond the evident to uncover the symbols or implications of your visions. The dream itself may be trying to tell you something. In my experience, people who want to discover or recover their passions have a sense of what they love to do/want to do but have buried, sidelined, dismissed or avoided it. Use your dreams to start an internal dialogue, gain insight, broaden your self-awareness. A career/life investigation takes courage. Often working with a career consultant will help you uncover and integrate hidden or buried desires and dreams. You may not have to change the work you do…you may find that you need to change the way you work, or expand your sense of occupation to include unmet elements with volunteer or avocational options.

Here are some thoughts to help you maximize your contemplation:

  • Career dreams are symbols, that when deconstructed, can light the way to many real career options. They often need further analysis to convert them from unconscious and ambiguous images, ruminations or fantasies into grounded areas to explore.
  • Thoughts about a career ideal or choice may really be about an occupation you wish to pursue or the dream may represent a need or an unfulfilled piece of your self that can be integrated into your current work/life.
  • Taken literally, or acted on impulsively, a career dream can throw you off course, lead to an exhaustive search, or land you in a poor fit, with unsatisfying results.
  • Dreams without action become fantasy–and this can can lead to a cycle of unmet desires and disappointment.
  • Explore your career dreams with your career management consultant to help distinguish desired but unrealistic ideas from possibilities that can be actualized. For example, you can work on:

Turning dreams into occupations
Turning your unfulfilled career around
Turning weaknesses to strengths
Turning professional conflicts into collaborations
Turning an dream into a business solution

Pleasant dreams!

Learning to Lead

Tuesday, December 26th, 2006

This, being performance and bonus time, you may have been given feedback about your “leadership”, “teamwork” and “people” skills. And of course, you are committed to make big changes in 2007. Many executives believe that 360 and management feedback given to smart, capable and ambitious individuals results in desired change. Would that it were so simple.

Have you ever watched a baby learning a new skill? At first s/he demonstrates random movements. Getting a pleasurable result (making a parent smile, hearing a noise, setting something in motion, grabbing a toy, tasting something sweet, getting praised) results in repetition and eventually a new habit. It takes time, trial and error, and reinforcement, to create a new behavior. Yet, so many adults think they will learn to lead, change perceptions of themselves, develop new people skills just as a result of getting feedback. It does not happen.

An article in Fortune entitled Five Levels of Greatness last October outlines the stages required for developing new behaviors.

To take that model a little further, I recently created a Leadership Development Process tool (download here) for my clients mainly in response to unrealistic expectations for leadership development coaching. Many of my clients, having been successful in turning around businesses, executing strategy, and displaying complex professional expertise believe that learning to lead well is simply executed based on data. But, the truth is that, even when we are all grown up, every new skill starts with awareness and then moves through a set of developmental steps to eventually become habit.

So, congratulate yourself on having achieved the first stage. Then, provide yourself with the input, reinforcement mechanisms and patience you will need to convert the data to a deliverable!