Before everyone's eyes glaze over let me set the context for this. When I write that we should listen I view this in the active or intentional sense. I believe that those closest to the action are best able to identify the issues and opportunities. People want to do a good job and nothing is as frustrating as seeing a potential issue or opportunity and not having a structure in place to share it. As humans we want to contribute and to help out. Using these tips, by this point you have staff measuring performance, you are touching base with them through micro-meetings and you are holding them accountable for tracking and improving that performance. A key part of that is to listen to what they are telling you and if necessary be an advocate for their ideas.
Listening is NOT Chasing Opinions
Lets be clear managers and leaders deal with "suggestions" all the time and much of the time the "suggestions" fall into the "in my opinion" category. An opinion is something that is unsubstantiated and so using up time to listen to this is frustrating. However, by this time your team is tracking performance metrics and discussing findings. They now will have data to back up what they are seeing whether it is a potential problem or an opportunity. Too often we allow ourselves to chase opportunities without having the "numbers" or the data to back it up. This should not be the case with your team. They will be able to make a pretty compelling argument using the data they have collected so don't let that go to waste.
Listening IS Providing A Structure for Input
Often this aspect of your listening will begin with something brought up in a micro-meeting or when you are having staff share performance measures with you. These are the venues that are "gold" with regard to listening. It is an opportunity for you to affirm the work of your staff and to provide direction too. If, for example, someone presents a thought regarding a process that looks promising but still lacks data to validate it then you have a perfect chance to give direction about what sorts of numbers you want that would provide you with the comfort to make the change or take it to the next level. They will chase those numbers down because they are now invested in making sure they can provide support for their idea. This also becomes an affirmation that they are a part of the team and whether the idea sees the light of day or not they got a chance to contribute. That matters!
Listening IS Intentional
Often in my discussions with leaders they tend to take a casual approach to this issue. After all we all think we spend a lot of time listening to our staff. The difference is that you need to be intentional. There are several reasons for this but let me share just a couple.
We Don't Listen As Much As We Think We Do
In several studies conducted on the issue of communication a group of managers and leaders were asked to rate their level of communication with their staff. In addition they were asked to list the various ways that they communicate and how many times they communicate regarding an issue. Most of the managers felt that they were good in this skill and many cited emails and meetings as the primary tools for communicating. In this process their staff too were given surveys on how well they viewed their managers communication skills and the results were interesting. Where most managers used on average two or three methods to communicate a piece of important information it was found that to do this effectively they needed to layer their communication at least 7-10 different ways or times! The kicker though was that most managers emphasized communication as the dissemination of information to staff and staff put more emphasis on communication as the dissemination of information to management and on this issue they were miles apart! It was far more important to staff that they be able to communicate easily and openly with leadership than those leaders had realized.
If You Don't Track It, It won't happen
The other reason for being intentional about your communication is that in the rush of day to day activities it is easy to let things slide on the listening side. You need to make a list or set a schedule that you hold to so that you "know" you are getting out and listening to your staff. It is too easy to get caught up in administratia and come to the end of a day a realize you haven't really seen any body.
You want a team that is engaged and performing and you have provided some key pieces to make that happen through tracking, accountability and micro-meetings. Giving them a structure that provides an opportunity to share with you and contribute to the team goals is a natural outgrowth of those things. If you don't provide it the result will be the same as starving a fire of air. You can provide fuel and heat but without air it won't last. Take the time to listen. It is truly a key component to ramping up the "H" Factor on your team. Performance Leadership - Think About It!
The most challenging behaviour to master with regard to affirming your team and building human component 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 behaviour dealing with team performance such as admitting mistakes, needing help or just saying sorry.
Accountability is Hard!
It is not by accident that embracing accountability is not often written about. I won’t sugar coat it, this is the hardest behaviour to master. In fact, statistically this is the biggest challenge that leaders face over all the other behaviours that they need to develop. We all tend to get uncomfortable with idea of calling someone out for a behaviour 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 behaviour. Rather you will probably make note of it during your meetings or say something 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.
Accountability is Affirming
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 behaviour that impacts the team has to be done and is one of those indicators of a strong and cohesive team.
Accountability is Respectful
Once you have your team tracking their own metrics around their performance it is vital that you hold them accountable. What that does NOT mean is walking up and looking at their charts tracking their metrics and tearing them "a new one." What is does mean is asking them to show you how they are doing, getting them to explain the highs and the lows (something they will want to do given a safe environment) and by asking them what their plan is to improve the problem areas they have identified. You can also keep the door open to them should they decide they need help - but let them tackle their issues first. A healthy team will come to understand that truth and embracing accountability will come easier as they practice it. 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! It's all about connecting to that "H" factor. How accountable is your leadership and your team? Performance Leadership – Think About It!
If you want to change something you have to track it. Don't believe me try improving your golf game or your bowling score without tracking the score! Setting goals and rising to a challenge is a key part of our wiring as humans. For example I am at that stage in life where I am fighting an uphill battle against calories. Up until the time I turned 30 I never gave a calorie a second thought as my metabolism allowed me to consume as many as I wanted with little impact upon my weight. Now however that is not the case and in my war with calories I have discovered that if I don't track it - I lose - the battle that is. I don't lose weight I lose the feedback that I need to win the battle where it is most important in those moment by moment decisions where the data on my calorie intake is crucial to maintaining a strangle hold on those little stinkers! I have learned that these calories are important and I need to track them.
Pick Something To Track
The same is true with your team. Each of them has a role to play and each of them have activities and things to do that either advance the teams pursuit of its overall goals or inhibit that pursuit. You will have a pretty good idea of what you want each of your team to set as goals and what to track but key in this discussion is that each of them has to make that determination on their own and they have to see the need for them. If you run a team of Executive Assistants for example you may want them to be proactive and set as a goal that they should always have their VP or CEO, CFO, COO's fully briefed and ready for each meeting. However, you need them to see the importance of tracking hits and misses on that metric and you need to give them the latitude to experiment and honestly track it without getting chewed out! You may guide the conversation but they should own the metric they want to track. Using the above example, the easiest metric would be to simply count the number of successful meeting preps vs the number of unsuccessful meeting preps. If they come up with that idea and decide to track it, they will own it. From there setting goals becomes easy.
Make Failure A Stepping Stone To Success
Key to all of this is to allow you staff to dive into the failed meetings. It doesn't matter how many failed meetings there are as long as they can look at those failures and drill down to why they failed and come up with solutions to try for the next meeting. If they are afraid to admit failure to you and hide it, you all lose. You have to give them the comfort to say they failed and also the accountability to come up with a solution. What is wonderful about this process is what amazing things will get discovered in those "post" meeting analysis and the processes they will come up with to ensure success.
Don't Manage The Process, Let Them Do It!
You have to avoid the temptation to "manage" or engineer the process. In one LNG plant there were issues with safety around the use of the golf carts that were used to get around the very large site. Golf carts don't go that fast but this site was built in a Louisiana swamp and so all the roadways were raised to alleviate issues around flooding and ground water levels. Crews were being careless and rolling carts when doing things like backing up and so on. Since this plant was still in construction the upper management who where engineers (bless them all!) decided to engineer a solution. Seat belts were installed, governors were put on to regulate speed and yellow safety lines were painted on all the roadways that the carts used. Guess what happened? Nothing - incidents continued at the same rate. Finally one particularly bright engineer suggested they ask the crews what might be done about this issue. Guess what they found out? Most of the safety incidents were the result of two individuals who were notoriously poor drivers. They suggested assigning mentors to drive with those individuals for one month and to implement a policy of one month suspension from cart use (that’s a lot of walking) for every incident. Because it was "their" idea the crews owned it and safety incidents all but disappeared. This was the crews goal and they took it on and completed it.
Success Breeds Success
Regardless of what your team does whether it be front line operations or something in the corporate or office setting there are goals that they can be setting and pursuing. Once they do they will succeed and nothing breeds success like success. If it is important to the progress of your team measure it and set some goals. Setting goals and overcoming the challenge is a key human characteristic. Performance Leadership - Think About It!
Ramping up team engagement (an “H” factor indicator) is one of those activities that many talk about but few know how to start. That is because developing employee engagement is one of those "soft" skills that they don't tell you about when you move into a leadership role. It is a big area of concern because the research and data on this area is alarming - according to Gallup global employee engagement sits at 18% and North American engagement sits at 33%! Think of it this way, at best you get one to two days’ worth of real engagement from your staff each week. Does that put it in a more tangible context for you? This issue is similar to the research that tells us that as humans we really only use about 10% of our brain's capacity. Decades of study have been put into trying to figure out how to tap into that other 90%. The good news is that with regard to employee engagement there are answers that are fairly straight forward and easy to put into place that will see your teams engagement soar!
Micro Meetings Starting At The End
Micro meetings are really an example of using many of the engagement tips we are going to discuss all at once. I am going to take a counter-intuitive approach with this set of articles and start with this rather than end with it. Why? Because it is something that every manager can start doing now without even knowing what the other techniques are. What will become apparent though, is that as you learn some of these techniques you will see how easily they can be inserted into a micro-meeting.
This is also counter-intuitive in that adding another meeting to a schedule that is probably jam packed with meetings seems like a bad idea. I have consulted in companies where I added up my meeting hours and out of a 40 hour week I had close to 28 hours booked with meetings - and that was the norm! So I get it - adding a meeting seems like a bad idea.
What IS a Micro-meeting?
A micro-meeting is not your typical meeting. It is in reality a touch point during the day and not much more than that. Many places I have consulted they actually have micro-meetings although they don't call them that and don't even view them as meetings - but they are and that this the beauty of it! In one place the operations guys would meet outside the shop first thing in the morning for a "smoke" break. This is a routine they had done for years. They visit, joke, talk about sports or family AND talk about what is happening in the shop. They share problems and discuss solutions, plan for the day and then go to work. This is not formal, it is not planned and it usually lasts between 3-5 minutes! What is interesting is that the moment someone suggested a formal meeting at the start of each day the team balked at it as a waste of time - lol!
So a micro-meeting is exactly what these guys were doing - informally. Visiting, touching base, providing some social affirmation that they were part of the team (I wanted to throw some psychology in there to give that some weight!) and yes, discussing issues and brainstorming solutions. This should be organic and should flow naturally. Of course introducing the idea of a micro-meeting to the team is going to sound formal and anything but organic so here are some options.
Looking For The Setting
Look for times during the work day where part or most of your team tends to congregate. It could be at break around the water cooler, or for a smoke break or at the coffee shop/breakroom - you get the picture. If you are already doing this informally and did not realize it then great, if not then start and for the first while at least, just listen. Soon enough you will be invited to provide feedback on something I guarantee it. Again this is not about being sneaky but it is about avoiding "formality" and building a relationship (remember that “H” factor?). Look for when folks take a break and take a break with them. If you haven't figured this out yet you may need to do this a couple of times during your day just to make sure you have touched base with everyone on your team. In some cases what happens too is that people find out the "boss" is hanging with the group in the coffee room and eventually everyone wants to be there because it is an opportunity to have the "bosses" ear. Taking the time to just visit and listen is valuable on its own merit so if it stays at that level initially don't worry about it.
Take The Direct Approach
If those types of gatherings are not happening or don't lend themselves well to your situation don’t worry. It is okay too to take the direct approach. Work with your team to come up with a time that would work for a daily micro-meeting. Give them the biggest say on this as you will need their buy in and assure them it will never be more than a few minutes, 5-10 tops. Use it as a touch point but remember to also let your team visit a bit and do what you can to keep things as organic as possible. What you want from this micro-meeting are two things; first build relationship and second take the pulse for what is happening on the team. Listen to what they are sharing and facilitate getting them to come up with solutions when issues arise. Where you can, support those decisions. Keep it short, be supportive and its okay to provide some direction too when needed.
Keep it Short
I know I keep stressing to keep it short because it can get away on you. With one group when they started their meetings ran usually less than two minutes - I know because I timed them! But as the team and the manager became comfortable and they began to see the value in the meeting it got to the point where it ran almost 45 minutes. You will be tempted to go longer because everyone is going to be invested but you can now harness that investment at the more formal regular team meetings.
You may be thinking to yourself can 5 to 10 minutes really make that kind of difference in engagement? It does! We are going to look at how this fits into the other tips for effective engagement in the next few articles but you are going to find that your team is going to blossom with the attention and you are going to start getting information that lets you stay in front of issues rather than chasing them down with a fire hose. You will be amazed at how including the “H” factor on your team can make such a difference! Performance Leadership - Think About It!
What you say matters.
One of the biggest challenges that I see businesses leaders face is the issue of "what" and "how much" information to share with their team and with their clients. For most who move into leadership because of their skills on the team this is particularly true. Those folks you once complained with and vented with are now "your" team and suddenly that type of activity could not only be counter productive but very much a CLM (Career Limiting Move)!
What’s more is suddenly you may also see what you communicate up the line to be something more problematic than it used to be. Do you share the issues you are dealing with and risk looking like a weak leader? Do you say nothing and hope you can resolve the issues on their own or better yet hope that those issues will simply go away? I always wondered why communication was considered a soft skill - lol!
Who do you emulate?
If you are in a healthy company or organization you will have a good pool of leaders to watch and emulate which in most places is how the art of communication is passed on. Open communication built on trust and vulnerability make this skill so much easier to master. By that I mean those types of groups where you can ask your question and not feel awkward. No one expects perfection just improvement and that comes with being transparent about the issues at play.
If you are in a company or group that is not healthy you will still have a pool of leaders to watch and emulate its just that the things they pass along may not enhance your skills in this area.
These are the the leaders who never really transitioned to a full understanding of their new role. They will share information and vent with their team much more than they should. The reason for this will be varied but typically they feel that it keeps the team on side with them. It may be an effective short term solution but upper management may see it as a negative.
Some leaders will be information hoarders who see this as a commodity and use it to advance their career or group goals. They become the informal conduits of information. This can clog up the flow of needed communication and certainly is a performance inhibiter.
Some will be the "keep your head down and mouth shut" type of leader who will strive to stay out of the lime light (good or bad). They take the approach that as long as the team doesn't lag behind the others and doesn't draw attention to themselves they can't get into trouble. Not bad per se just not performance.
And some leaders will be what I call the plumbers; delivering solid waste down and solid waste up. They think that leadership consists of berating and driving performance through threats and criticism. They think too that communicating the deficiencies of certain people on their crew up the line is a great way to demonstrate that they are "on top of things". It is a fear driven approach to communication that is premised at some deep level upon the idea that as long as they are doing the shovelling of the solid waste none will land on them.
Right Is Not Always Easy
The question I am sure that has crossed you mind is how do you perform as an open and transparent leader in an organization that is not known for that? In one company that I worked with I had a group of young leaders that I was coaching in Operational Excellence. Of that group a couple had decided they wanted to embrace this approach whole heartedly. They were the newest leaders in the bunch and were at the bottom of the totem pole so to speak. And yes, this company was not an open and transparent communication type of company.
While some of the older leaders in that group had become practiced at being "plumbers" these two new leaders went the other way. In each case I saw transformational changes on their teams as they took to the new approach. It garnered a lot of criticism among some of their leadership peers but what could not be argued with was the improved results that they achieved. They upheld the company goals and explained them to the team in terms that related to them and how their work was relevant. They upheld their teams to upper management in terms of how they were striving to meet company goals and advance the bottom line. The result were remarkable and within a short span of time they were rewarded with more senior positions. It only took two (and often it only takes one) to be willing to step out of their comfort zone to get others to take a new look at how they communicate. It wasn't easy but it was right.
Whether you have been in leadership for a while or are just moving into it examine how your company communicates, how you communicate and make sure you understand how to make your communication work for you and for your team. The need to be in sync with the company and the team and to know you are contributing are at the core of good communication and a key part of the "Human" (H) factor for improving workplace culture. Performance Leadership - Think About It!
Start with Why
One of Simon Sinek’s first books had this title. It caught my attention and I have to admit he has some great stuff to share. In a nutshell he explains that people don’t buy “what” you do or make they buy “why” you do what you do or make. He goes on to explain that the “what” piece of us is formed in the neocortex part of our brain that is also where the language and logic centers are found. Thus we can talk about “what” all day long.
What Drives Us
The challenge as he states it is that because we can all relate at this level there is little that compels us around the “what.” That what compels us is around the “why” we do what we do or why others do what they do. This is a much harder challenge to communicate because the “why” comes from the limbic region of the brain which is not connected to the language center but rather is responsible for what drives us, what motivates us, what feeds our passion and our interest. When you are a Mother Theresa the “why” may seem obvious to most observers but when you make computers for example the “why” becomes harder to define.
IBM and Apple both made computers but what drew people to Apple? Two statements by Steve Jobs made back in the 1980’s’ sums up his “why” pretty well:
"To make a contribution to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind."
"Man is the creator of change in this world. As such he should be above systems and structures, and not subordinate to them."
We Connect at a Gut Level
If you remember the Orwellian style ads that Apple ran back then you would know that they reflected this “why” and that is what connected people to Apple. They were disrupters and were keen to have their machines reflect our humanity not have humanity reflect the machines. Our interaction with our machines whether you are a windows person or an Apple person reflect the contribution of Steve and Apple to our understanding of the Human/Machine Interface. After all icons are a uniquely human way to communicate!
The H Revolution
So I could tell you my what, and if you have been following my blogs for a while you have pretty much already figured it out. So let me share my “why” with you. As a an amateur history buff I have been intrigued by the progression of our modern era, beginning with the Industrial Revolution. What intrigued me was the movement away from work that was “naturally human” to work that in fact diminished our humanity. We moved from a society where work gave us meaning, purpose and significance (even if it was for sheer survival to start with) to simply being a cog in the machinery.
During the Industrial Revolution we raced to keep up with the machines and in this current Information Revolution we race to keep up with the machines. Don’t think this is so? Let me ask you the question; do you know what “going off-grid” means? I rest my case.
We continue to work in a society where people are viewed as capital and it is normal to see budgets met by slashing staff when times get tough. This to me is heartbreaking. My “why” is this; I believe that the next golden age in the progression of humankind is what I call the H revolution or simply stated – putting our humanity back into our work.
It is about giving back to those who work with us, all of us, that sense of purpose, and meaning and significance in what we do. Where we are more than just cogs or decimal points in a profit/loss report but something far greater than the sum of its parts. Imagine working in a place that not only valued it’s employees but proved it by encouraging them tackle the dilemma of a “down turn” by letting them come up with solutions that did not sacrifice the staff but tapped into that amazing innovation that exists within human communities faced with a challenge.
If this sounds “fluffy” believe me it is not. It is hard work and it strains all the things that connects us as a community but in the end it will produce meaning and purpose and it will be worth it.
The why makes a difference. Consider this “why” statement by a company that makes computers: “Apple designs Macs, the best personal computers in the world, along with OS X, iLife, iWork and professional software. Apple leads the digital music revolution with its iPods and iTunes online store. Apple has reinvented the mobile phone with its revolutionary iPhone and App Store, and is defining the future of mobile media and computing devices with iPad.” Hard to believe it’s the same company. Why matters!