In addition to regular traffic signs, drivers often encounter other types of signs. For example, have you ever been surprised by a key route that has recently been designated one-way, or that there’s a temporary detour? In those instances, you have to follow the signs, adjust plans, and adapt to all of these new inputs to get to the destination.
Here’s the bad news about looking for signs in business. There usually aren’t any. Sure, you have market studies, and feasibility studies, and cost-benefit studies, and compliance studies, and studies of other studies, but very rarely do they clearly tell you when and where to turn.
In business, you are on your own most of the time. And when you’re on the business road you’ve got to keep going—even when you are in uncertain territory. And sometimes you have to fix the bicycle while you’re riding on it.
But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Here are three action items to help you reach your destination successfully.
- Make it clear to everybody on your team that it is part of their job to look for the clues that it is time to make a turn. And tell them that sometimes that turn isn’t even on the current agenda. You need gutsy people out there where the rubber meets the road. They’ve got to deal with reality.
- Make it safe for people to communicate with you. Very few trips come off exactly as planned. But how many times have people followed along with a driver obviously going the wrong way until everyone’s completely lost, and then said, “I had a feeling we weren’t going in the right direction.” There are always going to be glitches in the plan, and even times when the original plan should be downright scrapped.
- Do what you can to improve the signal-to-noise ratio. Protect people’s time. They can’t be nimble and ready for change if they are buried in bureaucratic distraction and static. They can’t do every last thing that somebody dreams up in a “perfect world.” There is no such thing as a perfect world. Don’t just keep adding to their to-do list; you need to add to their not-to-do list.
Seeing and reporting signs is challenging. Dealing with them successfully depends on having the information in the first place and the initiative to share it in the second place. This stuff isn’t easy. But it’s the stuff that business is made of.
About the author
Dr. Dick Ruhe is a best-selling author, keynote speaker, and senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies. You can read his posts here on LeaderChat the fourth Saturday of each month.
Accountability, accountability, accountability. It’s an issue that comes up time and again as leaders and HR professionals think about the one underlying challenge in their organizations that holds performance back. It’s a silent killer that operates below the surface in organizations and it’s tough to address.
A best-selling business book (and one that I had never heard of until earlier this month) addresses a key piece of the accountability issue. Leadership and Self-Deception was first published in 2000 and then re-issued as a second edition in 2010. The book has sold over 1,000,000 copies since it was published and sales have grown every year since it was first “discovered” by HR, OD, and change practitioners.
What makes the book so different (and hard to describe) is that it looks at work behavior as fundamentally an inside-out proposition. We basically act out externally what we are feeling inside. Bad behavior externally—doing just enough to get by, compliance instead of commitment, and putting self-interest ahead of team or department goals—are justified because of the way that that colleagues, managers, and senior leaders are acting in return.
The folks at The Arbinger Institute, the corporate authors of the book, call this “in the box thinking” and they believe it is the root cause of many of the problems being experienced at work today.
Is your organization stuck “in the box?”
Wondering if negative attitudes inside might be causing poor accountability on the outside in your organization? Here are a couple of questions to ask yourself.
- Where are the trouble spots in your organization? Where are people getting the job done but it seems to always be at minimum level of performance—and with a low sense of enthusiasm and morale?
- What are the possible attitudes and beliefs among members of that team or department that make them feel justified in their behaviors? Why do they feel it is okay to narrow the scope of their job, focus on their own agenda, and do only what’s required to stay out of trouble—but not much more?
- What can you do to break the cycle of negative thinking that keeps people “in the box?”
Climbing out of the box
Surprisingly, the answer to breaking out of the box starts with expecting more of yourself and others. People climb into the box when they decide to do less than their best. The folks at Arbinger describe this as “self-betrayal” and it sets in motion all sorts of coping strategies that end up with self-focused behaviors. Don’t let that happen in your organization. Here are two ways that you can help people see beyond their self interests.
- Constantly remind people of the bigger picture and their role in it. Set high standards and hold people accountable to them.
- Second, and just as important, provide high levels of support and encouragement for people to do the right thing. Make it easy for people to put the needs of the team, department, and organization ahead of their own. Look at reward, recognition, and compensation strategies. Look at growth and career planning. What can you do to free people up to focus on the needs of others instead of themselves?
Change behavior by changing beliefs
Accountability is a tough issue to address because most people feel justified in their actions and opinions. Don’t let your people self-justify their way into lower performance. It’s not good for them and it’s not good for your organization. Lead people to higher levels of performance. Help people find the best in themselves.
If there was one question I’d like to hurl into deep space, “What’s in it for me?” would be it. The main reason is that the “What’s in it for me?” question breaks down our hope that we might accomplish something special together, and all be better for it.
When individuals prioritize their own needs and gains at the expense of others, our sense of relatedness decreases—and both intra-team competition and interpersonal suspicion increase.
This amounts to a special form of self-protective behavior—hoarding and hiding information. It’s akin to sealing off a wing of the company library and saying that the information will not be shared with others to help solve the issues and challenges of the day. This behavior hinders the organization’s ability to learn quickly, which reduces its capacity to compete and serve its clients.
It’s especially troublesome when a manager asks the question.
Recent Blanchard research published in the Journal of Modern Economy and Management revealed that people who perceive their managers as primarily self-oriented experience more negative emotion and are less likely to speak positively about the organization to industry colleagues, friends, and family. They also have higher turnover intentions.
Conversely, people who see their managers as highly interested in the needs and well-being of employees at least as much or more than their own personal needs are statistically much more likely to:
- perform at high levels;
- use more discretionary effort;
- positively endorse the company to industry colleagues, friends, and family;
- be highly ethical in their jobs;
- have the intention of staying with the company longer.
In other words, a manager who is others-oriented fosters the kind of behavior and intentions that help organizations thrive.
So, what can you do to build more employee goodwill—and help fling “What’s in it for me?” into deep space?
- Stop using the phrase yourself.
- When you hear others using the phrase, share the business and personal benefits of being more others-oriented than self-oriented.
- Cite the latest research as often as you can—because people will want to know you have strong evidence for your new point of view.
Working together effectively is a key competency in today’s work environment. Here’s hoping that you and all your colleagues will together enjoy much shared happiness and success.
About the author:
The Motivation Guy (also known as Dr. David Facer) is one of the principal authors—together with Susan Fowler and Drea Zigarmi—of The Ken Blanchard Companies’ new Optimal Motivation process and workshop. Their posts appear on the first and third Monday of each month.
“Change is hard,” explains Madeleine Homan-Blanchard in a new article for Chief Learning Officer. And being asked to help someone change is a tough assignment—especially when that someone is a senior leader in your organization—just ask anyone responsible for learning and development and they’ll tell you.
Have you been asked to help someone change?
Here are five suggestions from Homan-Blanchard that will give you your best chance for success.
1. Begin with data and dialogue. Business leaders live and die by the numbers. One of the only ways a leader will agree that change is needed is by being presented with unequivocal data and feedback.
2. Make it relevant. Leaders need to understand how their efforts to make and sustain any change will pay off. For instance, the investment is worth it because it will increase their business results or make their work days easier.
3. Mix it up and customize. Because each leader is growing and learning at a different pace across a spectrum of skill sets, learning leaders need to be prepared with a blended approach that uses all available resources, including online learning, classroom experiences, cohort or peer coaching, professional coaching and mentoring.
4. Consequences matter. Culture also plays a substantial role in effective leader development. Be clear that certain leadership behaviors are non-negotiable and even cause for dismissal.
5. Respect must be earned. Learning leaders who seek to support leaders’ change efforts need to be role models for growth and change, too.
Helping another person change requires clear direction, support, and accountability over time. It also requires a proven process. In an upcoming virtual workshop for leaders looking to identify and change unwanted leadership behaviors Homan-Blanchard outlines three key strategies individual leaders can use to manage their own change.
1. Identify behaviors that need to change. Articulate the gap. Put words to where you are now, and where you want to be. This helps you to understand the nature of the shift you need to make and keeps it real.
2. Practice your new behavior. Start in a safe environment with people you trust. Tell people that you are trying something new. Ask for help in tweaking your new behavior. Ask for support in identifying triggers, and in holding yourself accountable. Remember that you will not be good at your new behavior. Try on new things one at a time. You can make a lot of changes, just not all at once. Give yourself a chance to master one thing first—then you can move on to the next thing.
3. Try on your new behavior in a real-life setting. Promise yourself to do it ONCE, either once a day, once per opportunity, etc. Define a minimum for yourself and reward yourself every time you do it. Be kind to yourself throughout the process. Real change is hard, but worth the effort.
Coaching is an act of service
Helping someone change requires a service mindset. The process can be challenging, but also very rewarding when you can help people identify and modify behaviors that may be holding them back in their careers. To learn more about Homan-Blanchard’s advice for facilitating change, be sure to check out her article, How Do You Get Leaders to Change? Also, be sure to check out her upcoming online workshop, Taking the “Un” Out of Your Un-Leaderlike Moments.
Innovation also requires collaboration. Very few ideas can be successfully implemented without the cooperation and buy-in of others. Unfortunately, innovators often struggle in this area–especially if they fall in love with their idea and become defensive about feedback.
In an upcoming Leadership Livecast on Un-Leaderlike Moments I share a story about the way this sneaks up on unsuspecting innovators. See if this has ever happened to you.
The birth of an idea
You come up with an idea—it’s one of your best ideas—and you can’t wait to share it with the other people on your team. So you do. And you know what? They’re just as excited about it as you are. You decide to go in together and make this idea a reality.
But soon after, something you didn’t plan on starts to occur. Your teammates like your original concept, but they have some thoughts for making it better. They begin to share their thinking and give you some feedback. How do you react?
Dealing with feedback–two typical paths
If you are an experienced innovator, you take some time to really listen to what your team is sharing with you. You explore what they are saying, you ask for details, and you draw out the essence of their ideas. You realize that no matter how good your original idea may be, it’s always smart to treat feedback as a gift and to listen closely with the intention of being influenced.
If you are a relatively new innovator—and you are really attached to your idea—you may see feedback from your team in a completely different light. Ego can often get in the way and now you become defensive when others suggest changes. You dismiss their feedback as uninformed, uninspired, or just plain limiting. Instead of listening with the intent of being influenced, you listen just long enough to respond and remind everyone why the team should stay on course with your original concept. You become so focused on leading change that you don’t notice the energy, enthusiasm and participation of team members falling off as you march to the finish line.
It’s not until you get there and turn around for a group high-five that you see their weary exasperation with your leadership style. They congratulate you on your project.
A better way
Don’t let that happen to your next idea. Here are three ways to innovate and collaborate more effectively:
- Create space for other people to contribute. Take advantage of everything that people bring to a team. Utilize their head and heart as well as their hands.
- Listen to feedback. Explore and acknowledge what people are suggesting. Listen in a special way—with the intent of being influenced.
- Recognize that no matter how good your idea is, it can always be made better through the input of others. As Ken Blanchard likes to say, “None of us is as smart as all of us.”
True innovation requires passion and collaboration. Create some space for others. It will make your ideas stronger, give you a better chance for success, and create needed buy-in along the way.
PS: You can learn more about the 40 different thought leaders presenting in the October 10 Un-Leaderlike Moments Livecast here. It’s a free online event hosted by Ken Blanchard.
The way an organization responds to mistakes tells you a lot about its corporate culture. In an article on innovation for Fast Company, Scott and Ken Blanchard look at the different responses they’ve seen in working with organizations.
Some organizations see mistakes as opportunities to learn. These are the organizations that create innovative environments where people grow, develop, and improve.
Other organizations respond to mistakes by finding fault and assigning blame. As the Blanchard’s explain, “It’s a negative approach that assumes neglect or malfeasance that requires punishment. This type of attitude produces a risk-averse organization where people play it safe instead of stepping out and trying new ideas.
“Now your organization takes on a culture similar to the classic arcade game, Whac-A-Mole, where most employees keep their head down except for the unsuspecting novice who pops his head up only to have the oversized mallet pound him or her back down if their initiative fails. Once an organization develops that type of culture, it is very difficult for innovation to take hold.”
What type of culture do you have?
For organizations looking to improve, the Blanchard’s recommend a three-step process:
1. Examine your current attitude toward mistakes. As a company, what’s your typical reaction to mistakes and failures? Are they seen as an opportunity to learn or to assign blame?
2. Consider your impact as a leader. What you are personally doing to encourage people to take risks and try something truly innovative? Keeping new ideas alive is hard work. Are you recognizing the efforts of people who take risks in spite of the threat of failure?
3. Find ways to engage in positive practices as a discipline. It’s so easy for things to turn negative—both internally, inside your own head—and externally as a corporate culture. As a leader, it’s important to shift from a backwards looking attitude of fault and blame to a more forward-focused approach of identifying cause and responsibility.
Give your people the benefit of the doubt. Assume the best intentions. Instead of assigning blame, look to assign responsibility for moving the organization forward given what was just learned. Leaders who take this more constructive approach can begin eliminating the fear and negative inertia that plagues many organizations. With practice, you’ll see the difference you can make in the creation and adoption of new ideas.
To read the complete article, check out To Encourage Innovation, Eradicate Blame at Fast Company
When asked for an example of what he meant by this, he said, “Well … we are asked to acknowledge the customer, get details about the situation, listen, ensure relationship building occurs, and exceed the customer’s expectations. But when I call my manager with a question, he just gives me an answer. For example, I needed to know if we could redo one of our customer policies given some new circumstances. My manager didn’t clarify, listen, or anything. He just said, ‘Follow the policy.’”
Chad’s observation intrigued me, as it made me realize that we forget sometimes how closely our people are watching us. I love the question: “What are people saying about YOU at the dinner table?” As service champions, to properly support our frontline service providers we must model the service we expect others to do—we must CRAFT a vision of collegiality.
C – Connect: Our role is to build relationships of care with the people who will be serving our customers. One of the kindest ways to bring people together is to acknowledge the importance of their position and note that they have the power to change problems they discover. “Thanks for bringing this to my attention. We want to ensure our policies and procedures serve the customers at the highest level. Let’s follow the policy today, but let’s bring this up at our weekly meeting to see if others have similar issues. Maybe we’ll come up with a great idea to solve the problem.”
R – Recognize: We need to recognize the good others are doing. Praise individuals to the whole team—send an email specifying what someone did, how it made you feel, and its importance to the organization. For example, let’s say the manager addresses the aforementioned issue at the weekly staff meeting. She could say, “I would like to take a minute to thank Chad for bringing up an issue that was driving a customer away and for providing his insights. It helped us to clarify our policy and exceed this customer’s expectations while creating a new policy to serve future customers at the highest level.”
A – Analyze: Consistently analyze information regarding customer issues so that you can see and share trends while proactively problem solving. At weekly meetings, be a catalyst for innovative change by having people share their issues, examine the causes and impact of those situations, and then brainstorm best possible solutions. Creating communities of practice increases motivation to act and serve.
F – Follow up: Check back in to be sure customer situations were resolved properly, and to draw out ideas that could be utilized in the future to build organizational intelligence. A few days after resolving the situation above regarding the flawed policy, the manager might call Chad and say, “I want to thank you again for bringing up that issue regarding the policy change. Did it feel to you like our solution was a success? Do you have any other thoughts?”
T – Talk: Ask open-ended questions, listen, and acknowledge emotion while connecting to the heart of the situation. In the example above when Chad called his manager, the manager might have asked, “Is there anything else you’d like to share so I am sure I understand the situation correctly?”
By collaborating with your service providers and unleashing their best thoughts, you are modeling the service you would like them to provide for their customers. As leader and service champion, you need to CRAFT, then showcase, the behaviors that will create the devoted customers who will become your #1 sales force.
About the author:
Vicki Halsey is one of the principal authors—together with Kathy Cuff—of The Ken Blanchard Companies’ Legendary Service training program. Their other-focused posts appear on the first and third Thursday of each month.
People are stuck in place, not particularly happy with the way things are, but staying put because they don’t have any better options. It’s a “quit and stay” mentality that has been hard for leaders to address. The tools they’ve used in the past to motivate performance—pay raises, promotions, etc.—are no longer available. Instead of the usual extrinsic motivators, leaders and managers have been forced to try and find new ways of creating an engaging work environment.
But most leaders don’t know how to create that environment, explains Bob Glaser, a senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies. “Many leaders would prefer to deal with what they know instead of taking a risk with what they don’t know. As a result, leaders don’t think outside the box to look at other options. They know things are not where they need to be, but they are not able or willing to deal with it, or move in a new direction.”
The result is sub-optimized performance, says Glaser. “If you don’t have engaged employees, then they are not really going to take care of customers….they just do what they need to do, day to day, and not much more.”
“It’s normal behavior during economic downturns,” shares Glaser. “But it causes people to focus more on protecting their turf as opposed to looking for innovative new ways to contribute to the organization. It’s a self-serving, ‘circle the wagons’ type of attitude that is counterproductive to the organization.”
Breaking the cycle
While you may not be able to influence the organization as a whole at first, most managers have a sphere of influence where they can make decisions and where they can impact results and outcomes. Inside of this team, group, or department, managers can change the environment that will allow employees to be more engaged. For leaders up to that challenge, Glaser recommends a three-step approach.
1. Create a micro-vision. Leaders need to have a vision of what they want their team, their department, or their group to look like when they are performing at a high level of excellence. Focus on both results and the behaviors that will drive the results.
2. Get everyone involved. Next, involve people in shaping that vision for the department, group, or team. When it’s done right, it’s not just the leader’s vision, but it is the collective vision of where the group wants to go. Work together to create solutions where everyone feels that they can contribute, that they can make a difference, and that they are owners of at least that part of the organization.
3. Reward and recognize desired behaviors. Everyone is operating under a huge scarcity mentality. That takes its toll. People are stressed, working hard, and they’re trying to do the right thing, but their efforts just seem to maintain the status quo. Without explicit rewards and recognition to move in a new direction, it’s not going to happen. Be sure that you explicitly define expected behaviors and then measure alignment with the expectations.
Are your people growing—or just trying to survive and get by?
Ready to start growing again? Begin by putting fear on the back burner and focus instead on moving in a positive direction encourages Glaser. ”Rally people around an organizational vision and show them how they contribute to the vital work the company is involved in.
“When everyone understands how they contribute and how their work makes the organization better, when leaders can put their own self-interest aside and focus on the needs of others, it can have great impact on morale, engagement, and results.”
You can read more of Glaser’s thoughts in this month’s main article of The Blanchard Companies’ Ignite newsletter. Also check out a free webinar that Glaser is conducting on May 23, Leading from Any Chair in the Organization, courtesy of Cisco WebEx and The Ken Blanchard Companies
It’s the start of a new year and a great time to take stock of where you are and where you are going as a leader. The ability to think clearly and make the best decisions is a key part of any leader’s role. Yet, many leaders tend to fall into bad thinking patterns—especially after a couple of years on the job. Here are three of the most common bad habits and what to do to avoid them.
1. Either-Or thinking
Executives are asked to make decisions—and they get more difficult the higher up you are. People or profits? Centralized or decentralized? Frontline decision-making or command and control? Leaders will often have to choose from among opposing viewpoints and the people supporting those viewpoints will be expecting and asking you to endorse either Plan A or Plan B.
Always consider a Plan C first. While opposing camps argue for why their plan will work while the other point of view won’t, see if you can find a solution that incorporates the best of both proposals while minimizing the downsides.
For example, should we empower our frontline people to make decisions? Yes. Is there the possibility that they will make mistakes if we do? Yes. Does that mean we have to choose between all decisions being made at the frontline, or all decisions being made at headquarters? No. There is a better decision that allows frontline decision-making and maintains accuracy and consistency. Find it.
2. Confusing decision-making with taking action
As a leader, it is easy to think that your job is primarily to make decisions. Decision-making is only the first step. The purpose of leadership is to take action and move. If five frogs are sitting on a log and one decides to jump, how many frogs are still sitting on the log? The answer is five until the decision to jump is actually acted upon. Don’t confuse decision-making for taking action. Take action!
3. Making announcements with little follow-through
If good decision-making is hard—taking action is even more difficult. The biggest trap for leaders is focusing too much time on getting things started and too little time on following through to achieve results. Legendary former chairman of Herman Miller, Max De Pree once likened leadership to being a third-grade teacher when he said that it oftens means repeating things over, and over, and over again until people get it right, right, right. As a leader you need to keep the vision alive—even after the newness wears off. You also have to provide people with the tools and resources they need to get the job done. Remember that there is a strategic and a tactical side to leadership. To be effective, you have to be good at both.
Resources to help you get started
There are a lot of great resources available to help leaders get started or stay focused on making decisions and taking action. Here are three that focus specifically on each of the points above.
- To help combat either-or thinking, check out Polarity Management by Barry Johnson. It details a step-by-step process for finding the best solution when faced with seemingly opposite choices.
- Who Killed Change? A great book which identifies the “usual suspects” that kill good ideas in companies and keeps decisions from turning into action.
- Helping People Win at Work Identifies a clear, 3-step process for setting goals, providing resources, and following up effectively.
Make 2012 your best year ever. Exercise your decision-making power. Strive for the best solutions, take action, and follow-up. You’ll be surprised at what you can achieve when you do!
The average organization is losing an amount equal to $1 million dollars each year that better leadership practices could prevent according to recent white paper from The Ken Blanchard Companies. So why isn’t there a greater sense of urgency to change things? Of course, it’s different in different organizations, but here is one of the most overlooked reasons why organizational practices don’t change—even when there is evidence that it could have a strong financial benefit.
Sometimes knowing can seem like doing.
According to authors Jeffrey Pfeffer and Bob Sutton, organizational inaction can often be traced to a basic human propensity: the willingness to let talk substitute for action. In their classic Harvard Business Review article, The Smart-Talk Trap authors Pfeffer and Sutton explain that in business, “When confronted with a problem, people act as if discussing it, formulating decisions, and hashing out plans for action are the same as actually fixing it.”
But the results can be disastrous for a company. As Pfeffer and Sutton point out, “Brought to a standstill by inertia, their problems fester, their opportunities for growth are lost, and their best employees become frustrated and leave. If the inactivity continues, customers and investors react accordingly and take their money elsewhere.”
So how do companies get past this inertia? In studying companies with a strong propensity for action, Pfeffer and Sutton have found five common characteristics:
- “They have leaders who know and do the work.” Leaders in these organizations have either grown-up in the business or spend a good portion of their time managing by wandering around.
- “They have a bias for plain language and simple concepts.” Leaders focus their efforts on a few, straightforward concepts. They consider “common sense” a compliment rather than an insult.
- “They frame the questions by asking ‘how’, not just ‘why’.” Leaders look for ways to get things done instead of looking for ammunition for assigning fault.
- “They have strong mechanisms for closing the loop.” Leaders make sure ideas turn into action.
- “They believe that experience is the best teacher ever.” Prototyping, testing, and feedback is encouraged. People are expected to take risks, occasionally make mistakes, and keep learning.
How would you score your organization in these five areas? Is your corporate culture more “talking” or “doing” by nature? If it seems a little conversation-heavy, develop an attitude of action. Understanding, planning, and deciding are just the first step. Doing is what counts. Take action today!
Ready to get started? Join us for a webinar this Wednesday!
The High Cost of Poor Leadership: The three performance gaps you have to address Wednesday, December 7, 2011, 9:00 a.m. Pacific, 12:00 p.m. Eastern, 5:00 p.m. UK and GMT
Poor leadership practices cost companies millions of dollars each year by negatively impacting employee retention, customer satisfaction, and overall employee productivity. In this Webinar, Blanchard Program Director David Witt helps you take a closer look at the effect that leadership has in each of these three areas and what you can do to improve performance.
You’ll learn that
- Less-than-optimal leadership practices cost the typical organization an amount equal to as much as 7% of their total annual sales
- At least 9% and possibly as much as 32% of an organization’s voluntary turnover can be avoided through better leadership skills
- Better leadership can generate a 3 to 4% improvement in customer satisfaction scores and a corresponding 1.5% increase in revenue growth
- Most organizations are operating with a 5 to 10% productivity drag that better leadership practices could eliminate
Drawing on proprietary original research, you’ll learn which management techniques generate the best results and also look at some of the common cultural roadblocks that keep companies from implementing them. You’ll also learn how to overcome these obstacles and make the shift from knowing to doing.
Organizations need to make sure that they are getting the best out of their people by providing strong, consistent, and inspiring leadership. Don’t miss this opportunity to learn how to evaluate and improve leadership practices throughout your organization.