MOVE BEYOND THE BARRIERS

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There are so many things that can stand in the way of people working together.  You can likely describe life-examples of these five common barriers.  You would be wise to consciously avoid, destroy or learn to navigate over them in your career and your organization.

Language

We think of generational challenges driven by language barriers, but there are many more obstacles caused by language.  Too often we seek first to blame before we seek to understand or verify that we are understood.  Our online lives create a culture of catch-phrases and niche concepts that tend to isolate instead of to unify us with the people we touch.  Seek clarity!

Poisoned Wells

We still call this gossip, and it is a universal poison to say something negative about a person and hinder a possible relationship between them and someone else.  It becomes “poisoning the well” when the poisoned person could have been a ‘well of knowledge’ or resource or support for the person who now sees a barrier between them and the help they need.  Poisoning how people perceive others is divisive and weakens teams and careers; there are wiser ways to offer advice or caution.

Ego

Ego can be a double-edged sword.  Honestly, ego can provide the energy to risk and lead when logic and planning are unavailable luxuries.  But living on ego can also be the death of careers and relationships.  A smart question to ask yourself: does your extreme confidence serve yourself or your team?  Servant leadership holds some key concepts for creating a safety net for those who are attracted to creating ego barriers.

Silos

Silos evolve when leader-focus is prioritized within one’s own team instead of being balanced on how contributions effectively support the organization.  This imbalance can be sparked by many factors, but silos are commonly found between groups where hand-offs of clients or information occur, around teams that require unique skill-sets, and where limited exposure creates a blindness to customer perspectives.  Put away your tug-of-war mentality & sharpen your trapeze skills to balance your consideration of all aspects and needs: stay focused on the common direction, fight spatial blindness by building bridges & making neighbors, and never allow engagement in petty divisiveness.

Tenure

How long are the new people in your group called “new?”  Until they feel and are treated like contributing members, others will go around them as if they are a literal barrier.  Obviously on-boarding and resource best-practices are critical for lowering this barrier.  Culture-adoption comes more quickly when vision is translated into clear direction & values into behavioral expectations.  Temporal blindness exacerbates the barriers when no one shares critical team history that will help new-comers create effective credibility and camaraderie.

We are currently helping clients conquer these obstacles.  Let’s talk – you don’t have to battle these barriers alone.

Find more of what you need by opening our BOX of BLOGS from 2017

Who Wrote These Vile Goals, Anyway?

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Everyone wants to ask this question at least a few times during the year… the first time is usually toward the end of the first quarter.  Why?  Because it isn’t so easy to get them right!  Short story is you must start with an understanding of where your whole organization wants to go and how it plans get there.  Long story is there are so very many ways that goal completion can get off-track and become ineffective busy-work or another lost file-folder.

Here are a few, simple – but often neglected – ways to avoid getting lost on the way to effectively creating and completing company goals:

  • Insure your goals are documented as measured results and not as lists of actions; completing actions rarely guarantees producing targeted results.
  • Don’t overload your list; in the whirlwind of doing business, most groups can only manage 4-6 significant objectives throughout the year.
  • Prioritize regular celebrations of goal progress and evaluation – just do it; pulling over to find where you are on the map will never be as exciting as fighting the day-to-day traffic of to-do lists.
  • Create expectations and approval processes for adjusting objectives as your business realities and priorities change; every year people waste time and expect bonuses for completing obsolete goals.
  • Collaborate to identify all aspects of the organization that drive strategic goals and clarify individual team impacts; silos bury businesses!
  • Break goals into actions with assigned due-dates and owners; this is the translation into employee-performance language.
  • Require employees to share their methods for tracking completed actions and any additional efforts that impact goals; without credible tracking, you forget the details by year’s-end and, much worse, you can’t document or reward the extraordinary employee-efforts that drove your success.

If you need fresh eyes on your goal-setting practices, we have those eyes – and lots of experience finding the gaps in how performance management links to your strategic planning.  We can help you close those gaps and meet those critical objectives!

Find more of what you need by opening our BOX of BLOGS from 2017

Land Your Changes Safely

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Like most leaders, you likely spent a fair amount of energy creating and implementing changes in your organization last year.  Don’t waste that energy by failing to follow up a few months after the change is implemented and ensure all the wheels are still on the bus: the frequent assumption that everyone took initiative to incorporate your wonderful change into their part of the operation is… a fatal mistake.

Each business change follows a similar cycle of being announced, launched, and resisted.  Then it battles through the crucible to find the right fit that adjusts the vision to the reality that will produce the result that prompted the change.  After changes reach the implementation stage, there is more to do: by implementation, we mean adjustments have been made, new practices have been adopted and documented, and results of new practices are being measured.

At this point, most of us are exhausted and ready to wrap-up this change-project!  And it is true that we need to give it some traction at this point – to establish habits and collect baseline measures.  But beware of tying that bow too quickly!  Here is a list of operations aspects that could derail the hard work you put in last year!

CHECK FOR POST-CHANGE BLIND-SPOTS

Strategic Plans – Look to the future and prepare for how your change impacts next steps the business will take; it may need tweaks or updates to maintain effectiveness.

Recurring Processes – Check the adoption of your change by each operational process it touches; other process owners are often last to communicate, adopt, measure and update their SOPs with others’ changes.

Compensation Practices – Ensure pay structures, spiffs, recognition, and teams are adjusted to align with modifications to responsibility levels, revenue impacts and work schedules.

Current Projects – Partner with owners of projects planned or started during your launch cycle; verify any aspects of your change that need to be woven into their project plan or results.

Company-wide Communication – Be aware that it is often years before changes are documented in orientation, marketing, websites or global SOP resources.

Individual Priorities – Drive the provisions for development of new skills and behaviors and for adjustments to employee goals and performance measures; without these drivers, employee enthusiasm to implement your change could soon waver.

We are here to help your team successfully navigate those choppy change-management waters.  From understanding the dangers to customizing a strategy to get safely to your destination with your crew engaged: tell us about your change-challenge!

Find more of what you need by opening our BOX of BLOGS from 2017

Not Another Staff Meeting…

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Do people forget about your staff meetings?  Do you find yourself herding them into the conference room… or see eyes rolling at the reminder… or bring food-bribes to lighten the burden?  Group meetings are important for most teams, but when attitudes close minds, meeting effectiveness is dulled or even deadened.  Closed minds do not convert that time out of production into the engagement required to apply the meeting benefits to performance.

Weaving one or two of the following aspects into each of your agendas can act as that ‘spoon full of sugar that helps the medicine’ like policy change, data-updates, corrections, reminders, reporting, etc. seem more digestible.

Empowerment

Encourage people by using their own competence; open the floor to ideas or examples like how they customize smart solutions for customers or use their judgement to ensure the proper balance between the business and client needs.

Trust

Ensure you consistently build trust: hold yourself accountable to behave like you expect them to, address the issues instead of the people, clarify expectations through discussion and employee-validation, be loyal to both the company and individuals, show respect for all input even if you need to question it.  (List is not exhaustive…)

Change

Never let them be totally surprised by a change.  Talk about the business needs in ways that help adjustments feel like solutions when they are introduced.  Implementations are always problematic, but resistance can be reduced when people don’t feel betrayed by the news.

Feelings

You don’t need to agree with feelings, but you’d better affirm they are real.  People have them – don’t ignore them.  Share yours – wisely.  Craft ways to allow them to be voiced safely, respectfully and in confidence.

Development

Meetings are a great place to create energy round quick, career-impacting learning that has little to do with their current jobs and everything to do with their next opportunities.

Strategy

Include the business reasons for each practice adjustment; bring it back to mission, vision, and goal-levels as often as you can.  Soon they will make those connections, and that practice will seep into their judgement calls and performance.

Some of these ideas require facilitation skills neglected by many managers.  If your hesitation to the list above was a squeamish feeling about what will be said if you allow open discussion in your meetings, you may need a refresher or coaching on strategic facilitation.  Even if you just need a sounding board, we can certainly help.  Give us a call.

Find more of what you need by opening our BOX of BLOGS from 2017

What’s Time Management, Anyway?

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Managing time seems like an oxymoron because no one has figured out a way to stop or speed it.  Managing tasks and events is a skill that each professional on your team probably struggles with in today’s work structure.  The questionable habit of over-filling job descriptions with responsibilities has resulted in impossible targets.  Cultures that create expectations to postpone vacation, prioritize work and to be ‘always on the clock’ are common.

You continue to have employees who do not meet deadlines or who shortcut time-required quality under pressure to check a box.  Hoping they will find their personal magic-bullet to overcome these challenges, you keep ‘time management’ on their development plans and suggest trainings and tricks to help them control their productivity.

Resurrecting an old language within your group may help.  Identifying activity by the quadrants of urgency & importance is not a new concept, and currently Covey probably has built the most extensive content around it.  But using this language as a way to identify priority for your team may be a better way to create successful understanding, expectation and accountability for effectively using time.

Urgent & Important

Priorities that should be considered urgent as well as important in your work-world may be obvious to you, but often they are not as obvious to your employees.  Discussions around the situations that fall into this category can make an amazing difference as individuals remove from this quadrant items they had assumed should be there.

Urgent but Not Important

Failing to talk, as a group, about this waste of time you witness in your team is just irresponsible.  If you see people continue to respond to unimportant items with urgency, they obviously do not understand the priorities of their job.  Strengthening their judgment and clarifying expectations in this area is a core responsibility of a manager.  And you will be doing yourself a favor if you do it with group discussions to ensure no one is driving their own agendas in this area under the table.

Not Important & Not Urgent

Making this ‘quadrant priority’ a common language allows you to easily question or coach individuals who make mistakes in prioritizing, who have time-wasting habits, or those who are stealing time from others.  This is often where most time-drain happens.  People need breaks and fun to function as an effective group.  When there is no plan to meet these needs, individuals still take time for them.  With group discussion, you have more control over incorporating them in ways that are not harmful to productivity.

Important but Not Urgent

For many, this is the most difficult quadrant to use effectively.  It is different in each culture, and it may not even look the same for the individuals in your team.  Often, for your most valued employees, the time they spend here is critical to business success.  Creating a team language with discussions about how this quadrant drives team objectives can literally drive increases in productivity and results.

Managing what one does with time is indeed an individual effort, but creating priority should not be done in a silo.  Let’s connect if you want to talk about ideas on facilitating these discussions or about making this time-tested concept a results-producing reality in your team!

Communication: The Lifelong Conservatory

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The individual inspiration required to create effective human interaction within our relationships is reflected in the frequent description, the art of communication.  Marital communication is a bit like seasoned dance partners moving gracefully in response to their partner’s movements – after years of enduring and avoiding the pain of stepping on toes.  Parent-child communication seems to develop from loving sovereign and subject to teacher-student to every type of evolved effort to survive or sever or strengthen their mutually desired relationship.

So the lifelong journey required to maintain effective communication might more accurately be called a conservatory, where artistic discovery is personalized by each learner, instead of an institution where standardized content is delivered to the masses.  Our customized curriculum, gathered randomly or with purpose, polishes our efforts to explain, inspire, entertain, or influence.

Where do we start when creating a strategy for this continued education?  From thousands of resources, you will choose help in meeting the diverse needs of your professional relationships, audiences and situations.  Here are some considerations as you matriculate your continued education.

Discussion Basics

Look for tools and practice opportunities that help you strengthen effective 2-way communication; dialog in many arenas has deteriorated into competition.  Seek tactics that help you learn to keep others engaged, that lower walls raised during conversation, and that bridge language or culture differences.  Learn to solicit input with curiosity, direct questions and collaborative efforts graciously, and recap for clarification humbly… while maintaining a safe and honest environment.

Collaboration Tools

Clear, clinical, direct communication has a significant role in execution of work within and between our now global organizations.  Learn to use tools that ensure scores of individuals instantly know who needs to do what and when, that ensure clarity of responsibility level and expectations, that ensure changes are documented and available immediately around the world.  But also, be sure every human that must receive that communication knows how to use those tools!

New Methods

Be curious about new methods, systems and tools that are being used by professionals in other fields of expertise.  As technology changes and global interaction grows and languages and generations bridge, people change the way they work together.  There is no excuse for using stagnant ideas and methods that make group interaction more difficult than it needs to be.

Refreshed Applications

Some communication tactics will always be the best choice: a hug, a hand-written sentiment, sincere praise, a story….  But even these, we must evaluate in reference to the receiver.  Ensure you know how to adjust them for the situation and confirm they are appreciated and accepted with understanding.

Your opportunities to sharpen effective communication will never end.  Keep searching, keep stretching, keep saying it, keep showing it.  And if you need a sounding board to test your new skills or ideas, give us a call!

Four Conversations of Supervising

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Pinball management is foundational to supervising people.  As soon as you open your car door in the parking lot, you might as well brace yourself for the little metal ball to hit you in the rear and propel your day dramatically from one direction to the next, until, with no energy left, you free-fall into your chair for a quick breath… before your metal ball drops back into the pocket, and you hear the plunger-spring being pulled back again.

To survive in this type of environment, you need to be prepared to react to each bump, bell, and whistle.  Supervisors at the top of their game know how to facilitate four specific types of employee conversations, and they raise their score by intentionally applying them daily in a variety of situations.  When you build a good template for these four leadership conversations, you can adjust them slightly to fit scores of situations.

Setting Expectations:

Supervisors lead expectation-setting conversations all day long.  A few of these are one-directional, but most of them should be two-way, so the employee offers input on the expectations.  You may recognize this communication as on-boarding new employees, feedback on observed activity, goal-setting, project or task assignments, direction changes, and especially the conversation creating an employee’s plan for their improved performance.  The core objective for each of these is to clarify expectations and to set the trajectory for employee success.

Confirming Performance:

These conversations confirm that you and your employee are on the same page concerning their current skill and performance status.  It is a coming-together to evaluate their progress compared to the previously set expectations.  The core of this conversation is used often in regularly scheduled one-on-one meetings to review standard performance stats or realities; it is also used as follow-up to check progress on improvement or project plans.  It is essentially the same in yearly performance reviews, since there should be no surprises for either party in that conversation.

Encouraging Career:

Discussing employee career plans in a way that encourages their skill and behavior development is great, but you must also ensure they realize they own these professional targets, and they are responsible for driving the learning.  Though, if there is opportunity for any current application of their new knowledge or skills, you may find budget to help them.  These conversations are sometimes formal, mandated meetings, but the following casual exchanges can be even more powerful in spurring employee initiative and enriched contributions:

  • Follow-up questions to stimulate the value of a recently-completed learning activity
  • Introductions to informal mentor relationships with other leaders or peers
  • Sharing of a current experience, learning, or exposure opportunity you see as aligned to their career goals.

Verifying Engagement:

Vital conversations that confirm an employee’s satisfaction status or current confidence in their contributions are often seen as frivolous or optional.  These chats can encourage your employee to offer discretionary effort, and you gain insight into issues that limit contributions to the bottom line.  These are often casually formatted conversations that may feel like simple curiosities to employees.  They can also be effective as structured requests for opinions or perspectives openly aimed at learning both facts and feelings from your people.

It is sometimes tempting to try for double points in the pinball game of leadership by combining these conversations.  It is wise to try and keep them separate.  For example, when you sit down to set expectations for an improvement plan, your employee should already have ‘recovered’ from the performance conversation where you discovered what’s causing their current issues.  As you closed the earlier discussion confirming their poor status, you probably scheduled the conversation to create a plan together – a plan that sets expectations for their success.  Even if the conversations are only separated by an hour, this allows you to create a more hopeful direction.

If you feel like you live in a pinball machine and you’re the little metal ball, please call and see how we can partner to help you be better equipped for the bumps and bruises that can result!