Friday, January 30, 2009

More stress. More jerks.

When times get hard, people become more stressed. Stress can also bring out the worst in people. I like to say that stress is the killer of effective leadership.

It seems like we are in a pressure-cooker these days. Times, tough enough for even the best of leaders to withstand.

It isn't just the people that have lost their jobs that are suffering. Even those that have jobs are suffering because the demands are high and they are working bone-crushing hours. People are no longer expected to do one job, they are expected to pick up the pieces after the layoffs.

It's snapping time. People are losing their social graces. So it begs the question: Do you work for a jerk?

I have tapped into Joseph Grenny, who is the co-author of The New York Times Bestseller: Influencer, Crucial Conversations, and Crucial Confrontations for some insight on this topic. Read on to get some perspective on this.

Work for a Jerk? by Joseph Grenny

For many people, work has lost its luster. Employees who were once motivated to come in early or stay late now have a tendency to take off early, show up late, or even call in sick. Is this trend simply a sign of a career slump, or is there a reason employees seem to be getting the corporate life sucked out of them?

Popular opinion cites unacceptable hours, low pay, and bad work assignments as leading causes of career blues. Naturally, these grievances are enough to cause any employee to grumble. However, according to a recent survey by VitalSmarts, an innovator in corporate training and organizational performance, these grievances are actually the least common concerns among employees. More than 50 percent of survey respondents listed a disagreeable boss as their number one reason to want to pack up and leave.

These disgruntled employees aren’t just daydreaming about leaving – two out of every three people who are bugged by their boss are actively seeking alternative career options. If you’re feeling stifled by your supervisor, leaving the office may feel like the cure. But what happens when you stumble into a new office with a new boss – only to discover that, once again, you work for a jerk?

Even though the grass seems greener on the other side, the problem may not be with the disagreeable boss – despite the fact that he or she could use a personality adjustment. The problem could in fact be an employee’s unwillingness or even inability to candidly share concerns about his or her working relationship with the boss. The survey revealed that only one in five people have even attempted to fully lay out their concerns with their boss.

It’s no wonder people aren’t enjoying their careers as much as they could be. When you can’t approach your supervisor, work suddenly feels less enjoyable and productive, and more like detention.

After twenty-five years of research in the field of organizational effectiveness and interpersonal communication, the VitalSmarts team of researchers has determined that most people don’t know how to candidly and respectfully express concerns to anyone, let alone a person of higher power or authority. It turns out that when it matters most, most of us do our worst at communicating our concerns. Disturbingly, almost two-thirds of survey respondents admitted they will quit before ever really speaking their mind.

However, a disagreeable boss does not have to be the ticket to a dead-end career. With the proper set of skills, any employee can turn a less-than-pleasant working relationship into one that will restore a desired level of respect and civility. In fact, survey respondents who stated that they do speak up and feel skilled at holding what we call “crucial confrontations” with their bosses were more satisfied with their current jobs and less likely to look elsewhere. They were also less likely to badmouth the boss to others or to work around the boss’s weaknesses.

So, if you begin dragging your feet on the way to work because your boss is disagreeable – maybe even a jerk – use the following skills to successfully confront your manager and begin the path to career revival.

  • Work on you first, the boss second. Get your emotions in check by looking for how you may be adding to the problem. It isn’t that the boss doesn’t have faults; it’s that most people tend to exaggerate their boss’s problems and ignore how they may be contributing.
  • Hold the right conversation. Most people think they are giving their boss feedback, but fail to get to the real issue that concerns them. If your fundamental concern is that your boss doesn’t respect you or that you don’t trust your boss, find a way to discuss that issue without skirting around it.
  • Start with safety. It can be tough to tell your boss you don’t trust him or her. But it is completely possible to do so without rupturing the relationship if you can help your boss feel safe. People feel psychologically safe when they know you care about their interests and respect them. Start with: “I have a concern I’d like to discuss. It’s important to me, but it’s also something I think will help me work more effectively. May I discuss it with you?”
  • Facts first. Don’t start with harsh judgments or vague conclusions like, “I don’t trust you,” or, “You’re a control freak.” Instead, start with the facts. Strip out any judgmental or provocative language and be specific. For example, “After you told me you brought me up for a promotion in the HR meeting, two people who were at that meeting e-mailed me and asked why you hadn’t recommended me for it.”

I think he provides some great points. I know that most people think that now may not be the right time to have these conversations, but that is incorrect. Now is the time. It is when the pressure is on, that you need to take action to make it right. What do you think?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Creating a High Performing Culture During Tough Times

It is hard to look the other way and deny our economic situation. It seems like it is the only thing we read about these days. It's the focus. We read about it in the papers. Businesses are talking about it. Our new president is addressing it. We are even being hit with it at home... as we increasingly know someone else being "let go."

Most people I encounter ask me how my business is surviving "these days."

What can we do to work within these times? How do we get people to do more with less? How can we continue to build a culture that is productive when everyone left is worried about being let go?

This post's featured contributor, Holly C. Green author of More than a Minute: How to be an Effective Leader and Manager in Today's Changing World offers some great insight.

Creating a High Performing Culture During Tough Times
by Holly G. Green

Excellence happens in context™

High performance and success are not dependent on one simple factor or as a result of one or two things. The entire context you operate in greatly impacts your results. This context includes the culture of the company - how things get done, how decisions get made, what works and does not work as far as behaviors and what gets rewarded and how. It is the complete environment in which employees interact with each other and with other stakeholders.

Every company has a culture. The key to building a high-performing culture is to make sure you consider ‘what’ and ‘how’ you will get to your destination points (the clear definitions of where you are going in a specific time frame).

  • What do the ‘norms’ in the organization need to be to enable everyone to work effectively on the right initiatives?
  • How can you clarify and reward the behaviors you desire and enact appropriate consequences for undesirable behavior?
  • What elements of the culture need to change?
  • How much change is required, and how do you successfully implement the change?

The majority of employees want to be a part of a compelling future, want to know what is most important at work and what excellence looks like. When you create a culture of performance and success, you inspire loyalty with employees and other stakeholders, and you create advocates who promote the company positively to others.

The specifics of a high performance culture are unique to your company because they are based on what will work best for you to get you to where you want to go within the parameters you have defined. Every decision you make, almost every behavior you engage in has advantages and disadvantages, so there is no one perfect way. There is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to culture.

However, there is ample research to help us understand some commonalities for what makes a high performing culture. The following are common attributes across 200 high performing companies.

Clearly define what winning looks like.

  • Look across the entire organization and define what it looks like from a variety of perspectives – Sales, Marketing, Finance, R&D, etc.
  • Tap into your employees as a resource. Listen more and keep employees vested in success by communicating. Ask them if they have all the tools they need to be successful in their jobs. Ask what would help them be even more productive?

Measure what matters and what employees can relate to. Focus on additional metrics besides the financial ones.

  • How are customer leads handled in order to achieve a desired profit margin?
  • How are customer orders, returns, inquiries handled?
  • How are products determined & developed?
  • How does work get done (collaboration or individual efforts)?
  • What are the customer and employee retention targets?

Be sure to communicate these other metrics on a monthly basis. Employees who are not in the financial world will be able to relate better to the results and will feel more included in the process. Visibly reward the desired behaviors and results.

Develop an ownership mentality and enable-educated risk-taking.

  • Educate your employees by communicating acceptable behaviors and boundaries.
  • When individuals understand the boundaries in which they can operate, as well as where the company wants to go, they feel empowered with a freedom to decide and act, and most often make the right choices. They begin to think and act like an “owner”.

Keep an eye on the external environment.

High-performing organizations complement their drive to create a culture aligned to their destination points with an ongoing vigilance of looking at the external environment.

  • Build Deep Relationships: Talk to your current suppliers and customers about their business and their perceptions of what’s going on in the marketplace.
  • Keep tabs on your competitors and what is going on in your particular industry.
  • Take a look at other industries especially those doing well in tough times. What can you learn or adapt from their approach?

Monitoring the ever-changing environment gives you the edge in responding to new technologies and new competitors as well as downturns or upturns in the marketplace.

Commit to setting up employees for success and nurture their trust.

  • Think back to a time when you did not have the tools to do your job, or when you did not feel supported in getting done what you thought had to be done or even when you had a boss who was more of a hindrance than a help. You probably did not perform as well as you could have. Now contrast that memory with one of feeling particularly successful. How many things or people can you list that influenced the difference in your performance? There are a lot of factors involved so make sure to think through what excellence will take and set your employees and yourself up for success.
  • Tools might include training, coaching and feedback as well as engaging employees in sharing ideas and candidly discussing issues.

High-performance organizations do not take their culture for granted. They plan it, monitor it and manage it so that it remains aligned with they want to achieve. Through the process of clearly defining your destination points, as well as creating your breakthrough model and operations plans, you will have explored both the ‘what’ and the ‘how’.

Completing and effectively communicating your strategic framework helps drive important components of the culture. When the destination is clear, people develop a sense of direction and focus, and this in turn contributes to a thriving culture and a successful journey.

A virtual cycle evolves when the strategic framework is cloudless, the culture is intentionally defined, and individuals are held accountable to achieving the behaviors and results outlined in both. Higher results are possible and, in fact, a more probable outcome.

I agree with Holly that trust is so critical to rebuilding a culture that is able to do more with less, especially when they don't take it for granted. What do you think?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Is business just a transaction for you?

Despite the recession, I experienced quite a few business transactions this holiday season.

No matter what store I found myself in, it was crowded and busy. Those cash registers were certainly ringing!

Having the memories of the holidays behind us and some credit card bills yet to pay, I have thought about these transactions as a reminder for how we may not want to conduct business in the new year.

Shopping during the holidays is often a thankless experience. But all transactions don't have to be like that.

It reminds me why I used to like staying at the Ritz Carlton versus the W. Both are great hotels, but that extra personal connection I received at the Ritz made all the difference in my experience.

"Welcome back Ms. Lopez, would you care for a non-smoking room again this time?" And, they would come around from the desk, look into my eyes, give me a handshake and say "its nice to have you stay with us again." They handed me my room keys and other information as they asked if they could be of further service. I felt their genuine concern and care for me as their customer.

There is a reason I believe connection is the key to achieving results in life and at work. It's the same reason that explains why people who achieve long-term success know how to build committed connections with their customers.

Here is the reason: Business is NOT a transaction, it's PERSONAL. Business requires connection.

The minute we think it is just the transaction, it's the minute we lose our ability to influence, guide and lead. We lose the opportunity to connect in a meaningful way.

Now, this concept may be easy to understand when you think about customers, but as a leader you need to broaden your definition of who your customer really is. As leaders, our teams, colleagues, suppliers, bosses and subordinates are all our customers. Leaders serve others.

Generation Y has it right, this is the generation that is taking connection to a whole new level in business and in their lives. They expect business leaders to connect emotionally with them and they are changing the shape of business today and forever. Just to put in perspective, Gen Y changed the face of this past year's presidential campaign. They had direct connections with President Elect Obama. They felt his genuine concern and care for them as his customers. In doing so, President Elect Obama was leading them.

Gone are the days of command and control hierarchies. If you think you or your position are "above" the connection and you revert to doing business as a transaction...beware. Business today is about committed relationships built on a foundation of transparency, trust and connection.

Is your leadership mindset stuck in yester-year?

If you are looking at business as a transaction where you "just get your work done" and get on with the rest of your life, well you are in for some eye-popping reality when dealing with the expectations for the 21st century.

Just yesterday, an airplane came crashing down in New York's Hudson River. I saw a few recounts of the episode told by survivors. They each had amazing things to say about the pilot. Many believe he is a hero, a leader amongst leaders, not just because he did his job the best he could and they all survived, but also because he fulfilled his role by connecting with those around him.

He was one of the last to leave the sinking plane.

For him, his job was not just the transaction: take-off, fly and land safely, but it also encompassed a responsibility for his passengers. A connection to those he served. He had an authentic and genuine concern and care for his customers.

He risked his own life for the sake of others. This is the ultimate demonstration of connected leadership. He walked the talk, he didn't just pay lip service to the idea.
When we connect, there is a real and genuine exchange. One that builds success to an even-higher level because it builds trust and loyalty. Connections are not one-sided, they allow both parties to benefit from the exchange.

So what about you? Can you begin to think about changing your mindset about your business transactions and connecting with those you lead? Do you have a genuine concern and care for your customers and for those you serve?

Friday, January 16, 2009

Moving from Manager to Leader

I have coached people that have recently taken on a new leadership role. One of the most difficult transitions people make is moving from manager to leader. Often, we underestimate the differences in skills needed to succeed in a leadership role vs that of a manager.

I particularly find that Dr. Karen Otazo's advice in the following article is helpful. Read on to see what she has to say about it.

The Gaps in Your Personal Work Habits Show Up When You Move Up
By Dr. Karen Otazo

Moving into leadership is like moving up in school. No matter how smart and motivated you are, if you don’t know how to organize yourself, the complexity of your new environment will overwhelm you.

You probably advanced because you were the best at what you did. But what got you to where you are may not work anymore. In the past, you may have been able to “wing it” by relying on your wits, but the higher you go on the organizational chart, the more complicated things get.

George unexpectedly moved up from managing a small group of twelve salesmen to leading all of 400 employees in sales and marketing for his company. A smart and enthusiastic leader, he found that he could no longer do what he used to do which was to drift around his department as he cajoled, praised, and pumped up his twelve people. Now he had twenty-nine direct reports and a total group of 400 people reporting to him. The little things that he used to do, like going out with some of the members of his team for happy hour, didn’t go down well with the new team.

Your new leadership position will require you to hone your personal work habits.

Keep up with scheduling: Ensure that you or someone who works for you puts every appointment and meeting on your calendar and that you show up on time.

Delegate with quality standards and due dates: Give your staff and support functions enough guidance and time to get the work done and then hold them to the deadlines.

Follow up on delegation and commitments: Have your assistant keep a follow-up file so that you are on top of all pieces of delegated assignments.

Make decision making clear: Let others know if your decisions include them and whether they have input into the decisions that you make. Also let them know when a decision is theirs to make.

Follow the money: Have someone keep track of budget figures and expenditures on a monthly basis and balance the inflow and outflow.

Ensure fairness in all you say and do: Use checklists to keep track of which staff members you compliment or coach, so you don’t inadvertently ignore some of them.

Let go of being one of the guys: Find leader-like and appropriate ways to interact in your new role. Spend time with your team and with your colleagues at meetings and meals. You need to forge a new way of working with others that is based on your leadership status, and sometimes that will mean maintaining some distance from your group.

Unless you invest enough time and thought in setting up effective working systems and relationships early on, you will get into bad habits and never be able to completely move up. You’ll get overwhelmed, like George, by the complexity, the meetings, and your inability to control the details that you used to attend to. And the better you were at doing your job before, the more frustrated you will be about not being able to do what you used to do. Moving up as a leader involves a lot of letting go while still guiding others with interest and support. The sooner you stop doing parts of your old job and embrace the complexity of your new job the more effective you will become.
See more on Dr. Otazo t

What do you think?