Efficiency doesn’t make you a leader

© Nattanee Srisuk | Dreamstime.com

© Nattanee Srisuk | Dreamstime.com

I was recently reminded (rather uncomfortably) about the difference between working for a manager and working for a leader. 

When you step into a position where you will be responsible for people and the work that they accomplish, you need to make a decision: are you going to be a manager or are you going to be a leader?

If you choose to manage, your focus will be on efficiency, so you will direct people on what to do and how to do it. Your focus is on the work, and the people are a means to getting it done.

If you choose to lead, your focus will be on development, so you will inspire people to achieve goals. Your focus is on the people, and the work gets done as a consequence of developing them and their skills.

Note that, in both cases, the work gets done; but there is a substantial difference in what happens after the work is completed. There is always more work to do, but people don’t always stay. When you choose efficiency over your people … well very few people like to be treated like a commodity resource, so you will have to find and train new resources again and again.

So how do you know whether you are a manager or a leader?

  1. Do you give your team members directions or goals?
  2. If a team member does something differently than you would, do you criticize or encourage?
  3. When they report progress, do you look for what they missed or what they got right?
  4. When they express a new idea, do you nurture or find fault?
  5. Do you communicate often, and do you include praise?
  6. Can you describe a personal benefit each person gets from being on your team?

Work doesn’t love or respect you, people do; and when people love their leader, they (and the knowledge and skills they hold) stick around. That sounds to me like a much more efficient way to get things done.

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Posted in Coaching, Leadership, Productivity | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Are poor communications sinking your team?

© Elena Duvernay | Dreamstime.com

© Elena Duvernay | Dreamstime.com

We all know that strong communications is important to effective team work. If you read through the description for any leadership position, I can almost guarantee it will include “strong written and oral communication skills.”

And yet, poor communication is one of the most common sources of broken teams. How common is it? Tell me if any of these symptoms hit home:

  • Molehills become mountains – seriously. Every tiny hiccup brings the team to a halt.
  • Infighting – finger-pointing, openly and behind people’s backs.
  • People don’t come to meetings – or when they do, they don’t participate.
  • Poor coordination – forget collaboration, simple hand-offs between teammates fail to happen.
  • No one asks questions – even when they should.
  • A general lack of enthusiasm, commitment or engagement for the team’s objectives.

While there are many factors that can contribute to a dysfunctional team, I’ve found that strong communications above all else are at the heart of getting the team back on track. Why?

  • Communicating regularly and completely builds trust (which cuts down on infighting).
  • Bad news can be put into perspective when the team has the big picture (so the molehills stay molehills).
  • The more informed people are about the project or objective, the more effectively they define their contribution (which improves coordination).
  • When communications are bi-directional, and team members feel they have a voice, they engage (in meetings and otherwise).

Here are 5 tips for setting up team communications that work:

  1. Make them regular and as often as practical. Weekly is a good place to start, daily for fast moving, agile situations.
  2. Make sure at least some of them are in-person. If you have a distributed team, make an effort to have some meetings “together.” Skype and Google Hangouts work well for helping your remote people be present.
  3. Make sure to share the good, the bad and the ugly. Some leaders think bad news will demotivate the team, but nothing disengages the team faster than lies of omission.
  4. Make an effort to solicit input from the team as often as is practically possible. Involving more people in the decisions takes a little longer, but it increases commitment from the team.
  5. End meetings with next steps. Make it a round table (where each person says what they are doing next), and you increase engagement and coordination among the team members.

So if your team is struggling, show off your “strong written and oral communication skills” and up your communications game.  It might just right your ship.

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Volunteering vs. VolunTELLING

© Eleni Seitanidou | Dreamstime.com

© Eleni Seitanidou | Dreamstime.com

I recently contributed to an article about the new role of volunteering in the workplace. Offering volunteer opportunities (or corporate social responsibility, CSR) is fast becoming a positive differentiator in recruitment and retention. On the surface, this looks like a win-win-win: companies look good, employees feel good, and the community partners gain some much-needed support.

But in the ensuing discussion, one colleague pointed out that this has also given rise to the volunTOLD phenomenon: companies wanting the benefits of a CSR program decide to implement it come hell or high water. Management picks a partner organization and requires its employees to give time to it. In implementation, it becomes part of everyone’s job description to volunteer (which, of course, isn’t really volunteering). Inevitably, a program like this fails to garner the recruitment and retention results desired, and eventually the company gives the whole thing up declaring it was nothing but a big lie and a fad.

“Life is a journey, not a destination.” (And so is corporate volunteering.)

To actually see the benefit of establishing a CSR program, you have to focus beyond the end result of volunteering, because it is the way you implement the program that brings the greatest benefits. A successful program inevitably begins with the employees in a grass-roots fashion. It occurs bottom-up, not top-down. Here is why this approach works best:

  1. When you ask the actual volunteers how they want to volunteer, you get stronger commitment.
  2. Committed volunteers make the most passionate and dedicated leaders.
  3. It provides an opportunity for employees who may not have leadership experience to develop those skills (which can benefit both the employee and the company).
  4. Additional employees will volunteer in order to hang out with their coworkers — it gets popular support.
  5. When managers participate (as volunteers), it builds a stronger trust relationship with the employee leaders, and that is a foundation for better teamwork on the job.

So if you have a company and you want to give a CSR program a try: please, please, please don’t volunTELL. Here are some simple steps to developing a better program:

  1. Determine what you are willing to commit to the program as the sponsor. Will this be a once-a-year thing? Or is there a monthly commitment? How much time will you give to the employee leader to organize the program? Different companies can tolerate different levels of commitment, but I warn you not to be too stingy here. This is your primary way of showing your commitment to the program, and that will impact how successfully it will resonate with the employees.
  2. Ask the employees what they would like to do. Take a simple survey. Ask where people already give their time or would like to if they had an extra-hour per month to do it.
  3. Once you have a winner program, ask who would be interested in leading it. Have people apply like any other job; but remember this is an opportunity for you to develop a new leader in the organization. Look for employees who may not hold leadership responsibility now, but who have some traits you would like to develop. If you really want to use this to develop leaders (or are nervous about making a poor choice), consider making it a termed position (like 1-year) to spread the opportunity around.
  4. DO NOT MAKE PARTICIPATION MANDATORY, but do give time to those who want to participate. Volunteering (like anything else) isn’t for everyone, but if you want a thriving program, giving people a half-day once a quarter or year to do good works is worth it. Think carrot, not stick.
  5. Shout about it. Make sure to thank the participants, recognize the successes of your new leader, and celebrate what they accomplish. Even if its just internal publicity, this is the secondary way you show your commitment to the program.

Corporate social responsibility is not a miracle of recruitment. When you think about it, it is a logical benefit to offer employees, especially those of the Millennial generation who have shown themselves to be drawn to social issues. If you treat it like a fad, you will get shallow results; but if you truly commit to the program, you will see the legendary benefits you’ve heard about.

PS – Contact me if you want some help 🙂

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5 Ways to be a better team member

© Westernstudio | Dreamstime.com

© Westernstudio | Dreamstime.com

There are a lot of articles out there talking about how to be a good team leader. For certain, the success of a team can depend heavily on the attitude and actions of its leader.

But it is not fair to lay all the blame for team issues on the leader. Team members have to do their part to make the team successful as well. Here are 5 ways you can be a stronger team member:

  1. Be fully on the team. Whether this is a team you selected or one you were assigned to join, you will not be successful if you do not understand and commit to the team’s goal. If your goals are not in alignment with the rest of the team, you will always be working at odds with them.
  2. Give other team members the benefit of the doubt. Trust is essential to a strong working relationship. It might seem that another team member isn’t as efficient or capable as you are, but thinking like that just puts a wedge between you and your teammates. Seek instead to understand what’s going on and how you might help.
  3. Share your knowledge and skills.  Each member of the team brings different experience. Share what you know and what you think. The team may not always see things your way, but a constructively differing opinion allows the team to make choices from a position of knowledge.
  4. Speak up … tactfully. Contrary to popular belief, you can disagree with someone or hold them accountable without pissing them off or burning a relationship. Use a little of #2 above to bring the topic to light. Do NOT just ignore the situation — that will just create hard feelings between you and your team mates.
  5. Look for reasons to celebrate. Sometimes, when everyone is heads down on a project (and especially when you are under a lot of stress), the team is so focused on moving forward that they forget to celebrate what they’ve accomplished. Help your team leader and team mates feel good by recognizing the things that went right. That will keep everyone energized.

Even when you are not the team leader, you can still be a powerful part of making the team successful. The team leader plays a big role in establishing a positive working environment, but the team members need to hold up their end of things as well.

It is, after all, a team effort.

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How awesome is your company?

© Wissanu99 | Dreamstime.com

© Wissanu99 | Dreamstime.com

One of my favorite jobs (and the one I get asked about most in interviews) was my role as the leader of the Awesomeness Team. The purpose of this team was to develop a sense of connection between employees, which made working at the office, well, awesome. In addition to making work a bit more fun, the program yielded three very tangible benefits:

  1. It gelled the team. As employees built relationships and trust with each other, they worked together more effectively.
  2. It ensured people knew each other well enough to have difficult conversations and hold each other accountable.
  3. It reduced turnover. When the cost to recruit a new employee can run as high as $3500, there is great incentive to keep the awesome employees you already have.

Now, some of you might be reading this and thinking, “Isn’t that just an employee incentive program? That’s not new.”

No, Awesomeness is not about incentives.

I worked several places that implemented incentive programs, all of which eventually fell flat and failed to meet the proclaimed objectives (which were usually to improve morale and reduce turnover.) The problem with most incentive programs is that they try to improve the environment by rewarding individual behaviors. As soon as the reward is gone (or is reduced, because “this program is costing too much money to run”), there is no incentive to continue the desired behaviors, and everyone goes back to their old habits.

Awesomeness is about creating an environment where the desired behaviors are fundamental, and the employees do the right things because they want to do them. It’s cultural, not compensatory. And before you ask: the amount of money spent on our program was relatively low. There was no point where we had to “cut back” — in good times and bad, the awesomeness continued.

Sound too good to be true? I can assure you it works, and it does not require unicorn horn, fairy dust or black magic; but starting an effective awesomeness program DOES require that you follow 3 basic principles:

  1. Don’t make it about money, make it about connections. It is surprising how little you need to get people engaged with each other. We started with offering fun things to do over lunch on Fridays, like board games and a paper airplane contest. The idea was to get people doing something together.
  2. Take time to learn how the employees like to connect. Our group liked to go outdoors (cornhole anyone?) and compete (Jeopardy!) Look for clues in what the employees like to do in their spare time. Get this information from face-to-face meetings — after all, this program is all about making connections (and a survey just doesn’t do that).
  3. Make it a program of the people (but make sure it has management support).The employees need to own awesomeness. Management’s job is to give them a budget, give them authority, and then let them do what they need to do. The more diverse your employee representation, the more effective the program will be.

People want to work in awesome environments, and if you give them awesomeness, you’ll get awesome results.

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Forest, meet trees: 5 ways to maintain your confidence despite setbacks

© Dgmate | Dreamstime.com

© Dgmate | Dreamstime.com

Even though we don’t always admit it, we all have big dreams. I’m privileged to work with people who have the courage to chase some of those dreams. As I ride shot-gun through their journey, I can’t help but notice that it always seems to go through three phases.

Phase 1: The Adventure begins

At the start, the goal seems so far away. You might even think you can’t get there from here. You are full of doubt. It takes great courage to admit you want to chase that goal and take the first step. Tentatively, you take a chance.

Phase 2: Ease on Down the Road

You start on the path, and your first few accomplishments raise our confidence. You see that you really can do this. It feels good. You are energized. You pick up steam.

Phase 3: Aah! It’s on Fire!

Something snaps, and you become impatient to get to your destination. You are less forgiving of your shortcomings and more upset by setbacks. The great feeling you had after your first accomplishments is gone. You start to wonder if you were foolish to try to chase this goal …

DON’T QUIT! You are not foolish, and you are not crazy. It’s a can’t-see-the-forest-for-the-trees kind of thing.

The closer you get to achieving a goal, the more immersed you get in the present and the drive to make progress. It’s easy, in this hyper-focused state, to forget where you came from and how much you achieved. Being able to step back and acknowledge your achievements again can help you find renewed confidence and energy.

If you are getting ready to chase a big goal, here are 5 support tools you can use to help you regain focus:

  1. At the outset, write a description of your starting state that you can read later, when you can’t remember what it was like before.
  2. Write an encouraging letter to your future self for when you feel low. Describe how reaching your goal will change your life.
  3. Keep a running list of accomplishments, even if it’s just a bunch of sticky notes on the wall.
  4. Keep a journal of early setbacks and how you overcame them, so they can inspire you when you hit the devastating later setbacks .
  5. Create or find a “vision board” to inspire you whenever you need it. It can be something small — a single picture or a word written on a piece of paper in your wallet.

Remember: if you have the courage to take the first step toward your goal, you have what it takes to go all the way to phase 4: Success. Refocus, don’t quit.

PS – Having someone ride shot-gun and help you navigate always helps, too 😊

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Millennials are AWESOME (and if you don’t think so, you aren’t using them correctly)

© Ekaterina Pokrovsky | Dreamstime.com

© Ekaterina Pokrovsky | Dreamstime.com

Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it. (George Orwell)

I’m happy to see that there has been a rash of articles recently defending Millennials.  Until recently, the press has been littered with articles about how narcissistic, lazy, entitled and rude this generation is.  Well, I can name at least one Baby Boomer or Gen X-er I know who can be described as narcissistic, lazy, entitled or rude, so it has never appeared to me to be an entirely generational issue.  (BTW, I am NOT a Millennial, so let’s just get that out of the way.)

So where does all of this negative Millennial press come from?

I was having lunch not too long ago with an older friend (a Boomer) who was expressing frustration with the Millennials, specifically with their lack of employment loyalty.  In his words, “As they are on their way out the door, they tell us they love the company, yet they still leave.”

This exchange encapsulates the confusion about Millennials.

And confusion it is.  From my perspective (as a Gen X-er who has been working with Millennials for some time now), this new generation of workers isn’t worse than those of the past, just different as molded by the times in which they were born; or, as Joel Stein put it in his 2013 Time article:

“They’re not a new species; they’ve just mutated to adapt to their environment.”

Like any powerful tool (and they are powerful — as of 2015, Millennials are officially the largest portion of the US workforce), understanding how it works and how best to use it will yield the best results. In this case, successfully working with (and retaining) Millennials depends on understanding and appreciating both sides of each behavioral coin. For example:

  1. The Short Attention Span.  Millennials have grown up in a world where things happen at the speed of the Internet.  Some sneer at their lack of patience; but Millennials also apply that expectation of speed to their own tasks.  If I ask a Millennial to do something, it usually gets done quickly (and if it doesn’t, it probably means they are stuck and I need to check on them.)  This can be a problem when paired on tasks with those of us in the slower, older generations — to avoid frustration on all fronts, it usually works best to give Millennials standalone tasks or tasks that feed the front of a process.
  2. The Google-Plex.  Millennials Google everything.  In fact, this can lead to a frustrating belief that if they can’t Google it, it can’t be done.  On the flip side, they are the first ones to keep from re-inventing the wheel.  I’ve seen a Gen X-er  avoid something new for months when he could have finished it in a day if he had only Googled for a sample.
  3. Hyper-connectivity.  It can almost be comical to watch them try to put their phone down for a 30-minute meeting; on the other hand, they quickly connect with coworkers, they get back to you right away, and they sometimes have critical information faster than anyone else. Get them pointed at the right kinds of information, they can be a great reconnaissance asset.
  4. The Parent Trap.  Millennials have a kinda creepy-close connection with their parents.  One friend who lives near a university told me she saw a girl at the grocery store calling her mom to ask which cereal she likes.  Many of the Millennials I know connect with one (or both) parents multiple times a day (via text or phone).  While it seems a little silly to be so dependent, at least they aren’t afraid to admit they don’t know something (with those they trust); and they are comfortable working with people of other generations.
  5. Love at Work.  Career-wise, Millennials are driven by something different.  It may seem crazy since they are graduating with more debt than any other generation, but 59% of them say they would take a lower paying job if it meant they could do something they love (and I can confirm this from own experience). More than half also expect to change careers at least once over their lifetime.  Quite simply, they are motivated to chase what they love, and they have no expectation of staying in one place to find it; but if they love what they are doing, they are all in.

Narcissistic, lazy, entitled and rude? Some. Lacking loyalty? Maybe from a corporation’s perspective. Impossible to work with? No way.  I’m excited to be working with this generation.  They are changing the face of the workplace, and to use them best, we just need to adapt to OUR new environment.

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