The most challenging behavior to master with regard to affirming your team and building engagement is getting you and them to embrace accountability. This has several layers of meaning that need to be extracted so that you understand what I mean by accountability. Certainly it means monitoring and holding your people accountable for their KPI’s or performance objectives but it also means being vulnerable as a leader as well as getting your team to be vulnerable around behaviors dealing with team performance such as admitting mistakes, needing help or just saying sorry.
It is not by accident that embracing accountability is not often written about. I won’t sugar coat it, this is the hardest behavior to master. In fact, statistically this is the biggest challenge that leaders face across all the other behaviors that they need to develop. We all tend to get uncomfortable with idea of calling someone out for a behavior issue or a performance issue.
If you are like most of us (and I mean most of us) you are not going to want to hold that team member accountable for a negative or non-productive behavior. Rather you will probably make note of it during your meetings or say something to others in passing to others on the team or in your department. Regardless of how you try to spin it this is indicative of a lack of respect as there is nothing respectful about withholding information from a peer that could help them improve their performance.
The biggest affirmation you can give your team or staff is to hold them accountable. If you think about it from a personal perspective wouldn’t you want to be told that something you were doing or not doing was not only noted by your peers but was impacting their ability to do their jobs as well?
This will date me a little but with respect to walking in that mutual vulnerable trust let me use this old adage – “Only your friend will tell you when your fly is open or your slip is showing.” As difficult as it may seem, the idea of holding each other accountable for behavior that impacts the team has to be done and is one of those indicators of a strong and cohesive team.
Let me give you an example. After one of my team meetings with a group that reported to me I was approached by one of the team members and the conversation went something like this;
“Do you know that some of the comments you made regarding that last initiative really hurt Betty’s feelings?”
“No? What did I say? I thought I had kept my comments on the concept and not on her?”
“Well, for the most part you did but you were pretty forceful and passionate and I think she took it the wrong way.”
“That is true, I do feel pretty strongly about that issue but I really was just arguing the facts, I did not think I was attacking her?”
“Try to remember she put a lot of thought into her position and you just sort of shot it down. You were right but it is how it came across that was hurtful.”
I will admit at this point I was waaaaay out of my comfort zone! Bringing emotions into the mix scare me to death. But I trusted this team member and I knew she was not trying to put me on the spot but was actually watching my back. So I took her advice, headed down to Betty’s office and had a heart to heart. I didn’t defend myself I just apologized for coming across so poorly and hurting her feelings. (Yes, I had indeed hurt her feelings.) Done. That’s it! There was no need for any strange dynamics at the next meeting or second guessing any agenda behind the go forward discussions around that issue.
Was it hard for that team member to call me on it? You bet. Was it hard to go and humble myself and be vulnerable with Betty? Absolutely! But what it saved me down the road in hurt relationships, lack of engagement and loss of productivity and unity on the team cannot be calculated. A healthy team will come to understand that truth and embracing accountability will come easier as they practice that behavior and it is ultimately the highest form of respect.
No it never gets easy, just easier and once you have experienced working on a team that is cohesive and healthy and that practices embracing accountability you will wonder how you ever managed to get things done any other way. And what’s more, it will be rewarding, enriching and fun! So tell me, how accountable is your leadership and your team?
Performance Leadership – Think About It!
There is an abundance of research on the lists of the top ten attributes companies are looking for in leadership be they internal, or coming from somewhere else. There is a lot of overlap on most of those attributes and many bodies of research try to encapsulate the more esoteric attributes with terms like Emotional Intelligence, strong interpersonal skills, sociable, team work and one of my favorites – creating social capital by creating strategic personal and professional relationships. (Bridgstock) I like that last one because it implies almost superhuman skills at being able to identify future leaders long before they have developed these skills. Impressive but really?
Not that I don’t know what they are trying to say. The core of it is that effective leaders build meaningful relationships. So if you want to make a difference in the lives of your team these are things you need to work at. You will find this a daunting task as many may have gone before you who looked like they were building relationships with their staff but were actually just politicians who were using people not advancing them. It does not take long for folks to develop pretty fine tuned BS meters because of their encounters with bosses like this.
So what do you need to do? You build a network of meaningful relationships by being open and available to anyone in your circle of influence who is open to you. Even more so, make yourself available to those who might not look like they are open or need help but actually do. In other words, be a noticer.
Best selling author Andy Andrews wrote a book entitled “The Noticer” in which he chronicles a series of lives impacted by one individual who had taken note of their situation and offered help and advice. Let’s be clear being a noticer is not about getting ahead, it is about helping others get ahead. That difference is in perspective and it is this approach that will truly see you come into the quality and type of leadership that will not only improve your leadership skills but will quite frankly be more satisfying. We are effective as leaders to the degree that we promote and advance our team. Again it is something you have to work at at first but it is worth it.
I recall early in my career taking note of one of my work colleagues who seemed to be withdrawing from the group and spending more and more time by herself. I am not sure why but I found that troubling and so one day I took the opportunity to sit down and talk with her about it. At first she was hesitant but when she realized that I was sincerely interested she eventually opened up about the issues she was facing, mostly personal but with the net result of causing her to question her career choice and effectiveness at work, with the team. In fact, she had quietly been contemplating quitting. It was a shocking revelation for a number of reasons but chief among them was that she was truly gifted and suited for her work and had the potential for a long meaningful career. I shared that perspective with her and over the course of the next few days she eventually came around to understanding how her personal issues had colored her perspective on her value at work. She committed to working on those issues and was now free of the guilt she was feeling about her contribution on the job. As far as I know she is still doing that work and is quite successful at it.
I did not think much about it at the time or afterward either. That is until I was moved into management and was given a leadership role in that group. It came as a bit of a surprise to me at the time but my boss told me that reports of my helping that colleague along with a few others had come back to him and that was the factor that tipped the scale in my favor when it came to deciding on who to select for that opening.
Be a noticer, take the time to get to know your team be there for them and help them succeed. I guarantee you that by being a noticer you will get a level of engagement and commitment from your team that others only dream about. Performance Leadership – Think About It.
Everyone says they want to make a difference. How many times have you had that conversation around the water cooler or in the break room? "If I was leading (fill in the blank) I would really make a difference, things would change. Usually these sorts of conversations happen around a perceived injustice or unpopular decision when folks are riled up. But what does making a difference really mean? Everyone knows that as a leader you can't make decisions that everyone will align with every single time so it must be more than just consensus?
Making a difference is a big issue, especially if you are a leader in a company or organization. Gallup regularly releases data on workforce trends around engagement and management and aside from consistently seeing employee engagement around 33% one of the biggest trends they see are folks who leave companies because of their manager. To put it in their terms "employees leave managers they don't leave companies."
I am going to explore this over the next few days but lets start with what I think is the number one way you can make a difference as a leader. Acknowledge and treat your staff as people. Too obvious you say? It may well be too obvious but it is also one of the biggest disconnects when people talk about what makes a bad boss.
Lets do a quick test - for the people that report directly to you see if you can answer these questions; are they married or in a relationship? Do they have children? What are their children's names and their partners name? What are their passions and skills? What are their goals in life, in the company? What have you done to acknowledge those things and how are you advocating for them?
I am sure you will have noticed that very few of those things relate to the work that person is doing at the company or on the team. Yet those things matter and they will mark someone as a great leader versus someone who is not.
Let me give an example. "Ruth" struggled with her new boss. Everything was unfamiliar and she found herself wondering about expectations and worried that she would cross lines that she did not know were there. Added to this was the burden of a rocky relationship at home and a struggle with drinking. No one at work knew about these things and while typically she could put on a smiling facade the new boss made even that difficult.
The "boss" was struggling to understand where Ruth was coming from. Several efforts to give her more meaningful and important tasks which were meant to demonstrate faith in her ability were met with suspicion and resistance. What the boss did not realize is that these efforts were perceived by Ruth as setting her up for failure so the boss could replace her.
The boss was running out of options to connect with Ruth but hung in there and decided to just try and connect on a personal level. The breakthrough came when one day as they had just completed a meeting and were just "chatting." The boss shared a bit about some of the struggles she had faced recently with some of her children. To Ruth this was a revelation and an affirmation that her boss would share something like that with her. Over the course of the next few weeks she began to open up too about the struggles she was facing and amazingly they began to formulate plans for how she could deal with them. She soon realized too that her boss was actually trying to help her succeed and that those new tasks were a sincere affirmation of her skills.
Sometimes when we can't connect on the team or business level it is important to remember that we can always connect as people. Taking the time to get to know your team as people really does make a difference. Performance Leadership - Think About It!
In the "I" centric world of today there are dozens of stories and articles of those larger than life ego driven leaders who produce dramatic results but typically never have the staying power to keep those results coming. The same can be said for those working on your team, employees who demand all your attention or employees who demonstrate high engagement and with it a compelling modesty. They prefer to stay in the background, working hard and staying focused on what is best for the company and they never let ego get in the way. Another way to describe them would be the old term "they are pillars of the community."
It is a bit like comparing sprinters to distance runners in the Olympics. Quick now, who is the fastest man on the planet at the 100-yard dash? Now, who is the world record holder for the marathon? If you said Usain Bolt for the first question you would be right. If you said Patrick Makau for the second question you probably looked it up on Wikipedia like I just did! Isn't it funny how the fast movers get our attention? Yet in business, if you were honest with yourself, who would you prefer to have on your team, the fast mover or the marathoner?
Take the example of the Kerry Group. Never heard of them? Don't be surprised, the Kerry Group has been shepherded by a series of modest leaders since its inception in 1972 as a small confectionery provider in the back of a trailer. It was headed at the time by a young accountant Denis Brosnan who was followed by two more low-key chief executives, Hugh Friel and Stan McCarthy. Still never heard of them? Under the guidance of these leaders the Kerry Group has grown to a global company that employs more than 25,000 people with operations in over 25 countries across five continents. They are now a leading player in the global food industry with annual sales at almost $7 billion (U.S.). What makes this an even more interesting success story is that Kerry is an Irish company who succeeded without one dollar of government assistance. Here was a company based out of Ireland that weathered all the economic turmoil in that countries downturn when companies all around them were dropping like flies. Not only did they survive, they prospered. Other companies had the "sprinters" such as real estate developer Sean Dunne who went out in a blaze of glory when the Irish market crashed but the Kelly Group had the good fortune to be headed by quiet, modest leadership and employees were selected around that trait as well and it prospered.
When you go on the Kerry web-site you will see very little about its leaders, you will see a lot more about its mission and its commitment to the success of its employees and the well being of the communities they live in. In a day and age where employee engagement is so crucial to company health and growth, leadership and employees willing to invest in and provide for a meaningful role for everyone on the team will always do better than those companies that serve as platform for the uber-egos that join them for their own gain.
So why is modesty a key feature of good employee engagement? I believe it is what balances the first two traits we have already discussed; urgency for all things good for the company and situational awareness or a willingness to invest in the success of others. You cannot focus your ambition on the good of the company if your agenda takes priority over the good of the company every time a tough choice has to be made. You cannot invest in the success of others if your only concern is for your welfare and not theirs. Engaged employees are modest and know when to let others shine for the good of the team. People can become amazingly invested in a company if they come to understand that the company is genuinely investing in them and are working on a team of engaged staff who exhibit these traits.
So my questions for you are what are you looking for in your employees? Can you identify the traits you need for your team? Do you know how to grow and encourage those traits? If you can’t answer these questions with certainty, then my response to you is what are you going to do to change that? Performance Leadership – Think About It!
There are a wide range of articles and research on the quality or skill that I call "Situational Awareness". Wikipedia has attempted to define this several ways including;
"Situational awareness involves being aware of what is happening in the vicinity to understand how information, events, and one's own actions will impact goals and objectives, both immediately and in the near future,"
"Situational awareness is a state achieved when information that is qualitatively and quantitatively determined by given configuration as suitable for assumed role is made available to stakeholder by engaging them in to appropriate information exchange patterns. (Sorathia, 2008)"
"What you need to know not to be surprised" (Jeannot, Kelly, & Thompson, 2003).
The one I prefer is this; situational awareness is having a sense of your role and place in an organization; aligning your focus with that role, knowing how you are impacting others around you both positively and negatively and knowing how you are performing in that role.
Situational awareness was first coined by the military and emergency intervention services to describe this quality with regard to making "gut" or snap decisions that had life or death consequences. Successful members of the unit had the capacity to gauge the circumstances, measure the risk and make the right decisions consistently. Of course in these settings a poor decision only needed to happen once to have disastrous consequences. Because the term grew out of this setting researchers and leadership coaches tend to only consider this trait within the confines of high stakes situations or high level leadership. Yet I believe that this skill is a key success indicator across any organization and any role. It is really an indicator too of high emotional and social intelligence and a key indicator of engagement.
I have dealt with recruitment and dismissal of staff for over 30 years and I have had many discussions with fellow HR professionals and leaders across many industry sectors and the one thing that we agree on is that in the majority of cases where dismissal was required the personnel involved had a poor situational awareness. In fact it was often the case that even after having been walked through all the appropriate levels of escalation; verbal feedback, written feedback, mentoring and education, and formal warning many of these people were totally surprised at their dismissal!
On the other hand we have all marveled at those whom we have brought into a company or organization who "get it". They get to know all the players, have a keen sense of the corporate culture, become the "go to" people for projects and for information and typically wind up leading if not through position then certainly by influence. These people have incredible situational awareness and are typically those who will climb the corporate ladder much more quickly than those who lack this skill.
A case in point is Jane. She came to work at a high tech manufacturing company in a support position. She took advantage of that role to get to know all the people in her company and was keen to pay attention to all the office "chatter" regarding process gaps or needs and was soon quietly advocating for change not only because it made her role more efficient but also because it was good for the company. She was quick to pick up on how her colleagues were feeling and always sought to provide the best support possible. In due course she came to the attention of those higher up the management chain and she found herself promoted to positions of greater and greater responsibility. In each case she brought the same approach and situational awareness. And in each case she was a success; a really good example of how the situational awareness skill can bring success within a company. But the story does not end there.
You see as Jane rose in the ranks and got to know the company well, she also got to know the key leadership players and evaluate their impact on the company and its bottom line. Over the course of time as changes took place in the "C-Suite" leadership she noted a distinct change in focus and priority in that group. After much agonizing she recognized that the leadership was moving in a direction that could be disastrous for the organization. She made several attempts to advocate for change all to no avail and so she began looking for a new company and a better fit. Three months after she moved to a new firm her old company filed for bankruptcy protection. Jane's situational awareness was like an internal GPS that directed her both within the company and away from the company to a new one.
Gallup and many other organizations have discovered that employee engagement and some of the markers that go with it such as situational awareness are directly related to the person employees report to. Most people like Jane leave bosses they don't leave companies. You can work to get you employees engaged and take advantage of the insights that their situational awareness brings or you can watch your key players continue to move down the hall or down the street to a company and boss that they feel good working for.
Do you listen to your team? What is their situational awareness telling you and are you tapping into it?
We have all been watching and praying for our colleagues and friends up in Ft. McMurray this last week. Stories have now started coming out of the areas touched by the fire that are inspiring and endearing. Whether it was airlines running flights out of Oil Sands bases who allowed pets on board or the heroism of our first attenders to the citizens of that city who were so calm and resolute in the face of this emergence or the massive outpouring of support from around the province and the country I am sure that we will hear of and share these stories for many months to come.
While I was thinking about it one comment stood out and it was about how folks stepped up because of the circumstances and the urgency of the need. The word that caught my attention was "urgency".
How many times have we faced challenges in our work or business and found those gems among our staff who stepped up and met the challenge head on? Those folks who operated with a sense urgency and who revealed the depth of their character through those trying circumstances. It makes me wonder too why it takes something like an emergency or a challenge to bring this out in people? How would your business look if your people all operated with a sense of urgency with regard to their roles and tasks?
Finding people who have that sense of urgency already wired into their make up is the ideal but what about those you already have on staff how do you develop that behavior? You can't create emergencies to drive this kind of behavior but you can create a challenge.
The most powerful group at creating challenges by far is the electronic gaming industry and therein lies the clue to how to do this. I have seen folks devote hours of spare time on a game on their phone or on their computer just develop the skills to "move to the next level". The challenges in the game create that sense of urgency ($16B worth of urgency last year alone!) and players work to develop skills and get instant and immediate feedback on whether that skill has been enhanced.
You may not be able to "game" the scenarios at work but you can use the same principle - metrics. Helping someone to identify and develop metrics around their role and the activities associated with it is a powerful tool for creating a challenge and in helping to develop a sense of urgency. The key to this is that metrics are used to inform that person on their performance on a day to day basis. They aren't competing against others but rather against how they did yesterday. It is the same principle whether you are playing Candy Crush or tracking response times to client requests.
Does your team exhibit that sense of urgency? If not, how are you helping them to develop it? Performance Leadership - Think About It!
Culture is one of those catch words that everyone uses to describe those intangible things that every business should have in order to succeed. I have read many articles that speak about the need to develop culture and how vital that is to a company with regard to giving it an edge over the competition. At times the idea of developing "culture" takes on almost mythical dimensions.
But lets stop and think about this for a minute and bring that conversation back to reality. Every company has a culture. The question to ask is this, is your culture intentional or accidental? Collins sums it up with this statement in his book "Good to Great" by saying "if you don't like what you see on your team or in your company, look in the mirror." Every company gets exactly what it values and those values are reflected by the senior leadership team. If that team cuts corners, or gives each other a "pass" on company policy from time to time or if the senior leadership team holds itself to a lower standard than they expect from the rest of the company you will see evidence of that throughout the company. In short what you ignore (don't deal with) you permit and so many aspects of company culture are formed in those non-written permissions.
The now well known story of Paul O'Neill and his transformation of Alcoa by focusing on safety as a priority gives us some good insight into what happens when leadership sets culture intentionally. If you have read the story O'Neill came into the company when it was struggling and against all the common wisdom of the day said, he would turn the company around by focusing on safety. When he retired 14 years later the company was worth 5x what it had been when he started. But the focus on safety was only one aspect of what he did to create the culture he wanted at the company.
When you look at the list of company values which they state they "live" everyday you get a better picture of just what happened. Here are the values that they had established;
We are open, honest, and accountable.
Environment, Health & Safety
We work safely, promote wellness, and protect the environment.
We creatively transform ideas into value.
We treat all people with dignity and provide a diverse, inclusive work environment.
We relentlessly pursue outstanding and sustainable results.
O'Neill knew that changing one aspect of the culture around safety would in fact lead to a domino effect that would impact many other areas of the company but all of this would have been for naught if the leadership of the company had failed in those first two values of Integrity and Safety.
What often is not written about is the fact that after putting safety as the key emphasis at Alcoa a safety incident occurred that happened under the watch of one of the companies star managers and someone who was a strong supporter and friend of O'Neill and these initiatives. What’s more it was discovered that this individual knew about the potential issues and had not reported them. This was a crucible moment for O'Neill and he did not flinch, the manager was let go and as difficult as it was for him to do that the message that was sent to the rest of the company was that they were not just paying "lip service" to these values and the leadership team would be held to the same or higher standard as the rest of the company. It transformed the culture at Alcoa and everyone from the front line to the CEO lives by those values.
So what is key for culture? As a leader, whether it is a small group or a company, you must know what you want and expect to get it - every time. Whether that is safety or team work or honesty or respect it is your role to identify what you want, know what that looks like on your team and drive those behaviors by acknowledging them when you see them and dealing with the issues when those values are broken.
So what is key to culture on your team or in your company? You are.