strategic planning, idea, plan, action

Top Mistakes When Aligning Strategy and People

A recent survey found that one of the top frustrations of CEOs is aligning strategy and people. This was interesting to me because of the amount of research and experience available to companies about strategy, change management, employee engagement, etc. Moreover, aren’t companies meant to move an idea or strategy from the abstract to concrete reality by way of their employees?

I was curious to see what made aligning strategy and people so difficult even today. To find out, I interviewed some colleagues in Human Resources, and here are the top three challenges that emerged from our conversations:

1. Top leadership was removed from the day-to-day realities of the business.

A common impediment cited when aligning strategy and people was that senior and executive management remained separated from the reality of frontline employees during both the planning and implementation stages of initiatives. That is, top leaders often built a strategy and an implementation plan on untested assumptions and inadequate information (which caused initiatives to fall short or fizzle), mostly because they did not get vital information from employees who did the work. This, of course, lead to allocating misguided or inadequate resources and setting inadequate or unrealistic goals and milestones.

Also, by remaining removed from what was happening near the point of customer contact, employees didn’t see the strategy or tactics as realistic, which in turn made senior management lose credibility. Further, by remaining distant from the frontline realities, top leadership didn’t act as role models for everyone else. Instead, they seemed to take a “do what we say, not as we do” attitude by imposing their perspectives and plans on employees as they directed the work from afar. Thus, employees viewed senior leadership as avoiding accountability and passing the buck, which led to employee resentment that undermined employee engagement and, ultimately, the initiative itself.

2. The organization fails to intentionally prioritize and align strategy, vision, goals, and daily work

Another challenge that came up was a lack of shared understanding of how to translate strategy and goals into actionable tasks and behaviors that would make the desired difference. Often, top leaders assume that once goals were communicated to each respective area of the company, the people would automatically know what to do to get the desired results. Each successive layer of leadership throughout the organization provided little guidance throughout the organization about how employees needed to adjust and redirect their focus, energy, and targets. Further, many companies failed to prioritize how and where to deploy resources at various stages throughout implementation. This created confusion around the cadence and priority of work among departments, divisions and teams.

Instead, when implementation began, it became painfully clear to those performing the work where different areas of the organization stepped on each other’s toes, were working at cross-purposes, or were pursuing uncoordinated outcomes. The end results were internal conflict around competing interests between departments and divisions, confused communication, and even resentment between areas.

3. The organization lacks shared values and behavior norms.

Another reason that for the conundrum of aligning strategy and people was that the organization had not intentionally identified, defined, and prioritize its values. This meant there were few if any norms for how people were expected to work together. Without shared values and norms, each company area and each individual substituted their own values or their own interpretations of company values as they performed their work, made decisions, and interacted with each other. For example, one department valued creating profits for shareholders over everything else, even though that was not a primary goal of the initiative. This caused confusion and resentment as the one department worked at cross purposes with other departments. In other words, without shared values and norms, misinterpretations and miscommunication occurred frequently, leading to mistrust between different areas of the organization.

To conclude, in the 21st century, CEOs still struggle with aligning strategy and people, which goes to the heart of what leadership is all about. To do it better, most in leadership positions need to focus on what others in the organization need from them. First, senior leaders and executives to engage with employees at all levels of the organization to inform the strategy and implementation and remain engaged as role models throughout. Next, senior leadership must intentionally and clearly translate the strategy into current priorities and monitor and adjust those priorities throughout the initiative being mindful of and helping to resolve competing interests along the way. Finally, top leadership must foster an intentional, common culture that defines and reinforces a common language and common value-based behaviors to enhance collaboration.

 

WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with executives and senior leaders to create team environments that optimize ownership, accountability, learning, and results. Learn more at firebrandconsultingllc.com.

individual, team, team identity, team purpose

5 Ways to Transform a Group of Individuals into a Team

In the U.S., most people are taught from an early age to be individually competent and independent. It’s no wonder that most of your employees have some difficulty in knowing how to work effectively within a team. Here are five things you can do to forge a collective sense of “team”:

1. Create Routines That Signal Start of Team Space

Being part of a team is like being a partner in a marriage — both require individuals to give up some of their individual desires and aspirations in service to the group. (Read a previous post I wrote about the ego “sacrifice” required here.) As a team leader, you can reinforce this notion with routines that are designed to signal that the group is entering “team” mode and to put their individual goals to the side.

Examples of these routines are:

  • At the beginning of team meetings, consider starting with a few seconds of silence to allow everyone to bring their focus into the meeting.
  • Use a team “check-in” to allow each individual to engage with the rest of the team from the start.
  • During an initial team or project launch, ask each individual to share what baggage they intend to leave behind (past quarrels or resentments, habits, tendencies, etc.) that won’t serve the team purpose and stakeholders.

In short, you can build small habits into team processes to reinforce the notion that everyone is moving into team mode where the team and its work is the focus instead of furthering individual agendas.

2. Frequently Revisit Team Purpose

To maintain the focus on the collective team endeavor, always remind your team of its purpose. Reminding the team why your team exists is a fundamental way to establish and re-establish team focus. Everything team members do — from the behaviors needed to achieve team success, to the goals and objectives they strive to achieve, to the processes they create for high quality output, should all come from to the team’s purpose. This is also true for each decision made and the roles and responsibilities assigned. In short, team purpose informs everything your team does. Team purpose reminds your team that their collective endeavor is not about them as individuals as much as it is about the team as a whole and the benefit it provides to others.

3. Keep Stakeholders at the Center of the Team’s Work

It’s easy for team members to get overly focused on their individual agendas and responsibilities. Yet, your team’s success is ultimately measured by how well its collective work provides beneficial value for stakeholders. In fact, stakeholders and their needs are the reason for your team’s purpose, which in turn drives your team’s work. (Read a previous article on how to take yourself out of the center.)

To keep your team’s focus on stakeholders, connect with them from time to time. Staying in touch allows your team to discover how well your team is providing valuable benefit to them and whether the relationship is good. When your team sees its stakeholders as central to team operations, you prioritize the collective team endeavor of serving stakeholders over individual team member interests.

4. Make Vulnerability and Fallibility Okay

One of the big reasons individual team members can be overly focused on themselves is that they want to appear capable. Yet, each human on your team has flaws. To mask those flaws, individuals often balk at admitting they sometimes lack skills or that they make mistakes. That’s why it’s important that you as team leader show that it’s okay to admit you aren’t all knowing, may lack some ability, and will own up to mistakes in the spirit of learning. Additionally, your team might consider creating norms around these concepts.

Acknowledging human frailties permits team members to accept each other as individuals. It also can focus them on learning together as a team rather than protecting their individual egos.

5. Create Team Accountability for Individual Team Member Development

As suggested by Keith Ferrazzi, you can forge a deeper focus on the team by creating a Team Relationship Action Plan. The key to such a plan is to ensure each individual team member identifies their own areas for growth. Then, they ask for what they need from other team members to make gains in those areas. This creates mutual accountability between each individual and whole team for individual development that furthers the team purpose and goals.

To conclude, individual talent and creativity are necessary contributions to team success. However, successful teams are able to create a singular team focus to serve their stakeholders. Don’t rely on this happening naturally; consider trying some of these ideas to routinely reinforce what it means to be a team.

 

WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with executives and senior leaders to create team environments that optimize ownership, accountability, learning, and results. Learn more at firebrandconsultingllc.com.

failure, learning

Why You Should Prize Failure

Failure happens when a desired or expected outcome doesn’t materialize. It can happen whether or not there was something you could have done about it, too. Whether the mistake is a small glitch or a major flop, failure often weighs heavily on you personally because you’ve been conditioned that, without exception, “failure is not an option”.

This is a lot to overcome. In most people’s experience, nothing is perfect; you and the people around you are flawed, and the world is constantly changing. Thus, you’re not always going to get things right on with mistakes, foibles, and failure and re-frame them as ”learning”:

1. Failure points to weaknesses in behavior, skill, processes, your overall system, or level of support provided.

Use an error to examine a weakness in how you are performing the work. People involved may need to build technical or interpersonal skills. The steps designed to produce the work output may be inadequate. Also, you might need to increase follow ups or check ins during a process to increase the ability to get and give needed guidance.

2. Failure provides you new information and data about what does and doesn’t work.

Mistakes help you home in on what will ultimately work well, especially when you are in uncharted territory. Repeated, incremental failures can help you fine tune toward success.

“Mistakes are the portals of discovery.” – James Joyce

3. Failure can highlight false assumptions.

Consumers didn’t embrace the Ford Edsel in the late 1950s in part because the company mistakenly assumed consumers wanted big cars when they wanted smaller, more economical ones. The maker of Coke incorrectly assumed that it would convert Pepsi drinkers if it made its product taste more like its rival. While it’s too bad that these companies went all the way to market with ill-conceived products, they did learn that their thinking was flawed at a fundamental level.

4. Failure can create curiosity that leads to inquiry and more engagement.

With an eye towards learning, you can use failure to focus your team on the work. To do this you must avoid blaming and shaming individuals, which can drive a wedge in the middle of your team. Instead, focusing on what happened can bring your team together to solve problems. Additionally, your team can go one step further to share what they learned with others in your organization.

Perfection is not the goal. Nothing and no one will ever be 100% error free. Rather, view the performance of work as a creative process that can teach you a lot through the errors, mishaps, and failures that occur along the way. Be grateful you have opportunities to discover what and how you can improve the next time.

 

WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER OR BLOG? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with executives and senior leaders to create team environments that optimize ownership, accountability, learning, and results. Learn more at firebrandconsultingllc.com.

team - put work at center

Build a Team of Self-Motivated Self-Starters with This Subtle Mindset Shift

Are you frustrated because you don’t think your team takes responsibility or is as accountable as they could be? Do you feel like you have to hold people’s hands too much? Do you believe all or some team members lack self-motivation?

You might be feeding into this problem.

You could be unwittingly creating a dynamic that subtly communicates to your team that they shouldn’t make a move without you. For example, if you have a more directive leadership style, you might consider yourself the “hub” to your team’s “spokes”. Effectively, you place yourself in the middle of almost every interaction and decision made on your team. In contrast, let’s assume your leadership style is more “hand’s off”. In this case, your team might be confused about their roles, accountabilities, and decision-making authority. With this confusion, they are more likely to hold back from taking appropriate action.

Assume you have the right people on your team. You can make a subtle mindset shift in how you envision your team, its focus, and way of operating to get things done. Instead start by taking yourself out of the center of that team. Stop seeing yourself as its “hub”. Instead, shift to envision yourself on the “rim” of the team “wheel” along with and your team.  Then, envision the team placing the “work” or current goal in the center. In other words, make the “work” the hub and focus for all action and decision-making instead of you.

When you and your team put the work in the center, you are no longer the “go-to” person . . . the action taker . . . the person team members need to appeal to for permission. Also, you won’t feel the need to be in every little loop.

Rather, you’ll begin to see each of your team members spot what they need to do to address an issue or to move a project forward to reach the goal. Your team will take the reins more readily and more often without feeling the need to rely on you to get the go-ahead.

This frees you up to take on the role as resource, guide, facilitator, and obstacle remover — a much more productive place for a team leader to be at any level in the organization.

If you don’t want to be the parent or the babysitter to your adult team, stop putting yourself in the center of the team. With this one small shift, you will lead your team towards greater self-direction, accountability, and responsibility.

You can view a short, related YouTube video on my channel here.

WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with executives and senior leaders to create team environments that optimize team ownership, accountability, learning, and results. Take her 5-minute quiz on to find out how you’re doing at creating a high-performance team environment.

teams, adaptive leadership

How Uncertainty and Conflict Lead to Innovation and Creativity

Did you know that teams rated as the “best” make more mistakes (not fewer) than others? How come? Because the better teams that make more mistakes DISCUSS them. When they do this, they can work together to reduce them. In short, these “better” teams operate in an environment of “psychological safety”.

According to Harvard Business School professor and researcher, Amy Edmondson, psychological safety is the “belief that you will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes.”

In contrast to a work environment the emphasizes only accountability to produce results, an environment of psychological safety is one that:

• Appreciates diverse perspectives and encourages disagreement instead of assuming there is one correct perspective or answer.
• Allows team members to admit what is unknown, uncomfortable, or uncertain. It is not a trendy “safe space” designed to shelter team members from things they don’t agree with.
• Focuses on experimentation to find ways to address current challenge. To this end, it encourages appropriate risk and allows mistakes.
• Approaches challenges as a system instead of looking for one thing or individual to blame.
• Allows for imperfection and encourages acknowledging personal fallibility and flaws without encouraging unproductive, dysfunctional behavior.

Through her research, Edmondson identified 3 leadership behaviors that help create psychological safety:

1. A Learning Framework.

Work is framed as a learning problem; not an execution problem.  This is accomplished, in part, by acknowledging uncertainty and interdependence. In this way, the team knows it’s OK to encounter fits, starts, detours, and failure before it arrives at an end result.

2. Lean in to Vulnerability and Flaws.

As a leader, when you acknowledge your own fallibility, you emphasize the need for all to speak up and add their perspectives. You can say things, like, “I’m curious to know how you see this.” or “What am I missing here?”

3. Model Curiosity.

Ask lots of questions to show the team how to speak up to get the information they need without being afraid to look less than competent.

For your part, creating psychological safety means that you as a leader must manage your emotions and reactivity. You might think you’re modeling curiosity to encourage participation in a discussion. However, if you get visibly upset at what your team’s input, you’ll undermine psychological safety.

In conclusion, when you create psychological safety with your team, you create an environment that taps into the human element of work instead of treating them as simple cogs in a machine. When coupled with high accountability for results, psychological safety helps you create a learning team that constantly adapts to challenges. In this way, your team has the best chance of expressing its full potential. And that leads to more innovation and creativity in your organization.

Learn more about Amy Edmondson’s research and how to create psychological safety in your organization with her book, The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety or her TedX Talk.

WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations, by gaining greater presence and composure, focus, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

management, role

What Story Do Others Tell About You?

Exerting more positive influence with others can take a lot of listening, especially with individuals and groups who appear to be at odds with you. You know your good intentions and probably see yourself in the best possible light. However, the story you tell yourself about yourself is not always the same narrative others tell about you.

When I started a job as HR Director in a unionized workplace, I had no idea the amount of existing baggage that would be heaped on me by others who had been around awhile. Bad blood had existed between previous HR Directors and some employee groups. Simply by stepping into the role, some factions automatically assumed the worst from me. It seemed no matter what I did or didn’t do, my actions and words were interpreted in the most negative light possible.

Even though I didn’t see myself at odds with these groups and even though we shared a common purpose, it took years before the defensiveness decreased enough to have productive interactions. Some groups had crafted a story about me that served their purposes, and I often unintentionally stepped right into their negative narrative because I wasn’t fully aware that my behavior was so easily misinterpreted.

What’s Their Story?

Maximizing your influence starts with identifying the various factions that have an interest in an issue or initiative. These are groups of stakeholders who band together based on common values, interests, and motivations around the issue.

Next, imagine the story they tell about themselves and about you. How do they see themselves? Why do they care? What do they stand to lose in the situation if things don’t go their way? How would they describe YOUR values, interests, and motivations in the particular situation? When you layout each faction’s values, interests, and motivations, along with your own, you can start to see where you can create common ground and where you might need to bridge a divide with the right appeal.

How Does Your View of Yourself Play Into It?

For clarity with each faction, take a good look at yourself. Decide how you want to be seen with each faction. This can help you stay focused on the broader relationship you want to create as you work through a particular challenge. Next, identify your strengths. This helps you know what you can leverage to bring to discussions and the work. Also, be aware of how this group and its interests might trigger you into an emotionally reactive state. What insecurities or vulnerabilities might they hit on that will “tweak” you? When you prepare for what can set you off, you’ll be better able to recognize it when it happens and prepare your reactions accordingly.

With this information, the story other individuals or factions are telling about you emerges. If it’s not the story you want them to tell, start working to change the script. Use this information to exert the most positive influence possible by gaining credibility along the way and seeking a win-win result.

 

WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations, by gaining greater composure, focus, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

anxiety types

Is Your Influence Recognized and Rewarded in Your Company Culture?

Which leadership behaviors are reinforced in your company? In particular, does your company culture recognize and reward behaviors you would describe as more “masculine” or those you would describe as more “feminine”? And maybe it’s a balanced blend of both.

Male and Female Brains

To set the stage, not all women exhibit 100 % feminine thinking, speech, or behavior. Not all men, have completely male mannerisms, behaviors, or thought and speech patterns. Each of us is our own unique combination of masculine and feminine traits. However, current brain research shows that most women tend to have more female brains, while men tend to have more male brains. Brain structure and functioning is also influence by gender-related hormones of estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, oxytocin, etc. And because of that most women show a propensity for more “feminine” ways of operating, and most men exhibit more “masculine” modus operandi. The culture in which you were raised adds a layer of gender-based expectations.

This makes it interesting to look at the kinds of behaviors your organization tends to reinforce. If you’re a woman in the workplace you know this ground quite well. Even though most workplaces today are roughly 50/50, male/female, most corporate cultures in the US are still very male-oriented. Thus, it is commonplace that your thinking, speaking, and other behaviors are misinterpreted by the corporate culture and the men around you. Because of this, the way women interact within their companies is interpreted and explained away through a male lens. In fact, more and more research shows unconscious bias in companies adversely affects, not only people of color, but also women, especially when it comes to promoting individuals into leadership positions.

For example, the leadership model has been shifting over the past couple of decades from using mostly hierarchical authority towards more egalitarian influence. This seems great for most women because the female brain tends to seek out complex and robust relationships. Most women want to create good relationships in the workplace. Once they foster relationships, they also work to maintain those relationships and keep them intact. On the other hand, the male brain is wired to prove prowess and strength. So, so men tend to be more aggressive and competitive, looking for ways that they can prove themselves.

Relationships Versus Competition

Apply this to one area of being successful in most companies: showing your success by stating your accomplishments. This often comes up in performance reviews. Because women generally seek to maintain relationships, they will tend not to brag about their accomplishments for a couple of reasons. First, if you’re a woman, you don’t want to appear as though you’re better than other people because you’re trying to relate to others without positioning yourself as “better”. Second, you realize that other people contributed to your success. Third, if you have to brag about what you accomplished, it diminishes any recognition you received for your feat.

Conversely, men aren’t defining themselves primarily by their bonding and relationship skills. Rather, if you’re a man, you compete to the best most accomplished or best performer. That’s why most men don’t have a problem bragging about their accomplishments. In fact, it’s important that they call attention to their abilities. Consequently, men generally can more easily talk about their wins.

Collaboration and Influence

Another area where your influence and might be missed is through collaboration. Masculine versus feminine notions of “collaboration” can look different. Women will ask others to participate in projects or decisions. As a woman, you may hold off landing on an answer to a challenge and gather a lot of input from others up front. Not only do you value the connection with the people, but you might be looking for a lot of different perspectives or ideas that about the challenge. This inductive thinking is about gathering more ideas for a better solution. In contrast, male collaboration comes from a competitive competence angle. If you’re a man, collaborating with others is a way to test out your ideas and see how well they measure up. With this more deductive style of thinking, you start with your idea and see how well it stands up to challenges from others.

How have your behaviors been perceived through the lens of your company culture? How are you perceived by various factions within your company culture? What are the implications for you and your leadership?

WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations, by gaining greater composure, focus, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

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