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.

team, collective, individual

Challenges of Forging Individuals Into a Team

How does a sense of team emerge where the whole is prioritized over the individual, especially in Western cultures where the emphasis is on the individual?

A team is a specific type of group where individuals come together to accomplish a shared purpose. In a team, the individual team members bring their unique talents and perspectives and work interdependently to achieve a unified outcome. This requires mutual responsibility, accountability, and support.

Move from a Focus on Individual Team Members to a Focus on the Team Purpose

With the complexity of today’s world, many companies are finding that individuals working by themselves but together with a common goal doesn’t rise to meet the demands of today’s complex and changing world. The creates an “every person for themselves” approach that falls short. Thus, the challenge for many companies today is to create true team where its “all for one and one for all”.

Forging individuals into a team requires the ability to create conditions where team members express their individual talents in service of the team, while keeping their focus on achieving the team’s purpose and serving the team’s stakeholders.

This is easier said than done because most people have been raised to focus on their own talents, needs, and goals. When this is the case, a focus on individuals is at the center of decision-making. Instead, this is where the team’s collective purpose, goals, and stakeholders should be. Consequently, the team can easily devolve back to being a group of individuals, each in pursuit of looking good individually.

As with most things in life, it’s a balancing act. A healthy team must strive for a balance between encouraging the individual team members to fully contribute while ensuring the shared team purpose drives the work.

Here are some things to monitor if you want to forge a collection of individuals into a high-performing or even transformative team:

Strive For Your Team’s Individual/Team Balance

A team leader along with the team must strive to create conditions where individual team members:

  • know which unique skills, knowledge, and abilities they contribute to the team.
  • are willing to reflect on their abilities and their limits to grow through the challenges of working with others.
  • have interesting and purposeful tasks to perform.
  • are willing to engage in productive conflict to find creative solutions with others.
  • are willing to ask for and offer help when needed without judgment.

Additionally, the team as a whole must:

  • agree upon a shared purpose, norms, goals/aspirations, and priorities.
  • recognize and appreciate individual contributions and encourage individual growth.
  • prioritize its work together with the stakeholders and shared purpose at the center.
  • take collective responsibility to improve as a team and to assist each team member in their individual development
  • engage in dialogue and productive conflict to find creative solutions
 Warning Signs That You’re Losing the Individual/Team Balance

To strike that individual/team balance, there are also things to avoid.  For example, signs that the focus is too much on individuals include:

  • individual opinions and preferences drive decision-making over what’s best for the team and its stakeholders.
  • the team allowing a louder or outspoken team member to dominate team discussions frequently.
  • the team allows individual preferences or behavior to derail group progress towards a shared goal.

Signs that the team might be stifling individual participation include:

  • group think sets in — team members don’t challenge interpretations or points of view out of habit or because they fear not being seen as “team players”.
  • a dogmatic or misguided group personality emerges that isolates the team and creates difficult interactions with others outside the team.
  • the team as a whole dismisses individual contributions (+ and -) that could lead to breakthroughs.

Building a great team is not easy. When you get full team member participation that serves the purpose of the team, it will be a thing of beauty.

 

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.

 

implement idea

This is Why It Takes Patience to Implement Your Brilliant Idea

Difficult and uncertain situations often highlight weaknesses and failures in our habits, systems and practices. Energized by any “Eureka” moment, you might emerge from difficult situations as an evangelist for a new ideas or ways of doing and being. As you begin to enthusiastically share your ideas and insights, you will often find your brilliance and excitement are not enough to energize others to change or act.

Instead, successfully bringing your brilliant insight into concrete reality when others are involved is not only about the specific policies, procedures, processes, and finances required to implement it. It requires understanding the psychological and sociological aspects of the stakeholders who will implement it, benefit from it, and be otherwise impacted by it.

Here are two things to focus on to make implementing a new idea a little easier over the long-term:

Develop a Shared Cause or Purpose with Others

Dale Carnegie famously said, “People support what they helped to create.”  Others won’t readily get on your bandwagon, even if you have authority over them. Even though your idea, insight, or cause has become apparent to you, others may not have shared the difficulties that gave birth to your idea. For this reason, many won’t understand what your insight will do for them. For some, it might even be threatening.

Thus, much of your initial work will be to create dialogues with stakeholders. These dialogues should center around the themes related to your new idea. This way, you can discover how it could relate it to their experience and be worthwhile for them. Additionally, you’ll see how you can adapt your purpose to encompass a wider group of stakeholders.

With a shared purpose, it’s more likely others will willingly invest their time, talent, and energy to bring it to life. With a critical mass of stakeholders joining you, momentum will begin to carry you forward.

Be Prepared to “Go Slow to Go Fast” Despite Your Enthusiasm

Turning your valuable insight into real change may require letting go of quick fixes and embracing delayed gratification. Meaningful change is often systemic change, and that can take time. This is true especially in the beginning stages when you are enlisting others to join with you. You must be prepared to change direction and handle setbacks.

For example, some stakeholders will be very supportive of your endeavor. You will be tempted to focus on their validation and stay the course. However, be mindful of less enthusiastic stakeholders. Some may attempt to slow or even undermine progress openly or covertly, quietly or adamantly. Take the time to engage with less supportive stakeholders to discover their concerns and how those concerns can be addressed. You may need to re-visit and adapt your shared purpose. And you may not be able to please everyone, but engaging with even the naysayers and remaining open to concerns will build your credibility.

Another way to “go slow to go fast” is by experimenting with one little change at a time to see how it goes. You’ll will be able to test any assumptions about which new ways of operating are needed or practical.

Don’t underestimate the psychology and group dynamics of creating a worthwhile endeavor from a new idea or insight. The hard work is not creating the new processes or procedures to implement. Rather, the real work happens when you bring together multiple stakeholders, who have different points of view, visions, fears, and allegiances. With time, patience, and a willingness to adjust and learn, you can make progress with a shared purpose and permission to experiment.  You’ll be fine — as long as you are prepared for conflict, resistance, complaining, uncertainty, disappointment, and disillusionment along with excitement, satisfaction, and sense of achievement.

 

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. Learn more at firebrandconsultingllc.com.

Team camaraderie, group training

This is What’s Keeping You From Building a High-Performing Team

It’s invisible, silent — you’ll never know it’s there. But it most likely occurs on your team and will keep it from doing its best work.

It is the fear of speaking up about ideas, concerns, questions, and mistakes.

Twenty years of research at Harvard by Amy Edmondson found that the best teams overcome the stigma around being wrong, asking questions, making mistakes, or presenting wild ideas. That is, members of the best teams feel an obligation to speak up with ideas, questions, concerns, and about mistakes.

Surprisingly, teams that encourage members to speak up don’t make any fewer mistakes than other teams. However, because they speak up, they are able to address issues that would have otherwise remained in the shadows. Thus, the teams that encourage speaking up learn from mistakes, catch and address issues early, take more risks that lead to innovation, and are better able to adjust to improve their work.

How Come Your Team Members Don’t Speak Up?

There are a few reasons your team is staying silent when speaking up could be helpful. First, they are normal human beings who have adapted over eons to survive. Your team, like all of us, are wired to prefer certainty over uncertainty. Thus, they choose the certainty of remaining quiet and over the uncertainty of the reaction they’ll get for speaking up (e.g., getting fired or ridiculed). Additionally, humans are wired to fit in and be part of the group, instead of sticking out like a sore thumb with a crazy idea or “silly” question.

Second, past experience taught your team how to avoid pain. Past experiences of speaking up in their families, at school, or at work by asking questions or even opposing others, likely trained them that speaking up usually isn’t worth the negative reaction received.

Third, it’s possible that your team environment and/or company culture, has some respect for hierarchy and/or unwritten rules about when, where, how, and who can and should speak up. Your team’s reticence to speak up may signal that you or your company reinforces silence, even if the culture claims to value speaking up.

Why Speaking Up is Important.

According to Edmondson’s findings, the belief that one can speak up without reprisal is called “psychological safety”, and it is THE critical factor in creating a high-performing team. This is especially true when outcomes are uncertain and where people are interdependent on one another to perform work and achieve goals.

Separately, Google reached the same conclusion when it reviewed the data on its own teams to determine what made the best teams the “best”. Google found  five factors important to creating the best teams (including clear roles, goals and plans; meeting deadlines; and doing meaningful work). Of those factors, psychological safety was the lynch pin. In other words, a team could have the other 4 factors of high-performing teams, but without psychological safety,  they didn’t do the level of work that would distinguish them as the highest performing ones.

How come? When individuals feel safe to speak up about things that might show their ignorance, lack of skill, or unconventionality, new ideas come into play and new learning occurs that allows teams to innovate and improve their collaboration and the quality of their work. This is huge because when psychological safety is present, team members are able to overcome the ingrained aversion to speaking up that comes from biology, experience, and culture. So, even if they make the same number of mistakes as other teams, they have a better chance of catching mistakes earlier, addressing and resolving issues that may not have surfaced, and improving the work they do in the future. . . all by feeling free to speak up without fear of punishment or reprisal.

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 leaders who want to have more positive impact within their organizations, by increasing executive presence and composure, focus, and influence with their teams. Take her 5-minute Leadership Impact quiz at https://assess.coach/firebrandconsulting to discover how she can help. Learn more at firebrandconsultingllc.com.

speaking up, truth to power

Speak Up to Disagree with Someone More Senior

Have you ever been in a situation where you wanted to state your disagreement or take a stand with someone who’s in a high position than yours,  like your boss, board chair, or someone else in leadership? It’s tough because you want to respect the person and/or the position, and at the same time, send the message that you think they’ve got something really wrong. Disagreeing with those in power was seen as an important function even in medieval times to the degree  that it was institutionalized in the form of the court jester. The jester was the only person who could use humor to disagree with or point out the follies of a ruler.

In today’s world, when you want to take a stand, or state something that someone in power may not agree with, consider a few things before you do that, so you remain a credible, respectful team player.

1. Check Your Own Motivations

Make sure that your message is not about you, but is for the good of the organization or your team. This is key because when you work with others, the central objective is not about furthering your own agenda. Rather, it’s about keeping the work at the center of the discussion and doing what’s right in the best interest of the project, the team, or the company. When you act out of unselfish motivations, you will likely reap personal benefits in the long run because because you will be seen as someone who is credible and has honorable intentions.

2. Assume Good Intentions

Everyone has good intentions and so does your boss and other powerful people. You might disagree with an assumption, an approach, the way they have framed the issue, but assume the underlying objective or reason for their “take” is good. You just need to figure out what those underlying motivations are for this individual and acknowledge them.

3. Speak Up When Stated Principles and Values Are at Stake

It’s not worth it to speak up about every detail that you disagree with. Speaking up to disagree with someone in a higher position is warranted when you see a stated ideal at issue. As you speak up to address the issue, go to the root of your disagreement by referring back to a broad principle that is very important to the company or to that specific individual. Observe how their current position seems to be at odds with a deeply held principle, purpose, value, or behavioral norm. By highlighting where you see the rub with what they’re advocating, speaking up to disagree is based on a loftier ideal and not simply a difference of opinion.

4. Help Them Save Face

This is not about you putting your boss or other senior person “in their place”. This is about you simply speaking up in a way that helps them to see the deeper issue that you’re trying to highlight. To avoid making their viewpoint seem “wrong”, you can propose a different solution or alternative that aligns with the higher ideals and with their their concerns. When you disagree in this way, other with seniority are more likely to listen to you and see you as someone who speaks up thoughtfully.

I can’t guarantee that everything will work out every time, but when you do seek to speak up to disagree with those more senior than you in this way, you remain respectful, maintain your credibility, and will be seen as a “team player”.

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. Take her 5-minute Leadership Impact quiz at https://assess.coach/firebrandconsulting to discover how you might be holding yourself back.

Learn more at firebrandconsultingllc.com.

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.