Ironically, Collaboration Makes Your Company More Competitive

collaborationIt used to be that leading a successful company was all about withholding knowledge, hording power, and smashing the competition. More and more, however, leaders today are called upon to be more collaborative – sometimes even with their competition.

Typical Corporate Structure Impedes Collaboration

“Collaboration” might sound like a wimpy term to some. In fact, it is typically viewed as a more feminine virtue. Yet, the costs of poor collaboration are concrete and even painful.

Ask General Motors about its non-collaborative (“competitive”), “silo-ed” culture that led to a defective ignition switch, which cost the company at least $2.7 billion dollars in repairs, rework, replacement part, and lawsuits. A consulting report concluded that the cause of the defect stemmed from a silo-based culture that covered up issues and did not collaborate well.

Similarly, many companies operate in silos and do not communicate effectively across spans of control. In some cases, if a manager in one silo needs something from a manager in another silo, the company’s formality requires her to send a request up her chain of command to her Vice President, who then reaches across the company to another Vice President, who in turn goes down the chain of command to the manager, and so on. This form of communication is extremely slow and subject to miscommunication. Add matrix-ed relationships  to this, where employees strive to serve multiple masters, balancing multiple roles and competing interests. Yeow!

Emphasis on Technical Skills Can Stifle Collaboration

Think about the highly skilled employees in companies within technical industries, who spent years learning a technical function. Often, their companies have not encouraged them to learn the nuanced interpersonal skills required to collaborate on teams. As a result they are not as effective at relating to others, conveying their ideas with impact, getting what they want, or helping others achieve their goals. Therefore, teams in these industries may not perform as well as they could. This results in stalled projects. Ironically, when you multiply this effect across the company — especially when teams have to work cross-functionally — the negative results from a lack of collaboration can hurt a company’s competitive position.

Fostering Collaboration Is Imperative

As companies become more complex, collaboration becomes a core skill that every leader, team, and business unit must have. In some cases, this means you must structure your company to make collaboration easier. In other cases, it means encouraging manager and employees to acquire new skills, attitudes, and behaviors.

Also, leadership today requires you to enhance your own collaboration skills to get what you want from those inside your company and external partners, like suppliers, vendors, regulatory agencies, and customers. Either way, you become a role model for collaboration, setting the example for the types of collaborative interactions you expect from your employees.

When you use collaboration wisely and well, you gain easier cooperation, more information, and greater facility to reach your targets. In short, you become more competitive.

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE 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 confidently become the leader they are meant to be as they maximize the “people side” of business. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

feedback

Be the Bigger Person When Receiving Feedback

Giving quality feedback in a respectful way can be hard. Receiving feedback in a respectful way is even harder. (Even receiving positive feedback for some is difficult.) During and after receiving negative feedback in particular, do you notice you have heightened negative emotions or niggling thoughts that linger long afterwards? That just shows you care.

When I refer to feedback, I mean any information that is given to you about your own behavior, communication, or performance that is intended to make you aware of how you impacted someone else – whether good or bad. However, I’ll focus on receiving negative feedback, which often feels harder to swallow.

As a leader, you probably find yourself being the formal giver of feedback more often than a formal receiver of it. Still, there are many opportunities to receive feedback. You can solicit feedback from individuals, via employee surveys, or through a 360-degree feedback process. You may also receive unsolicited feedback from anyone at work.

Positioning yourself as a good receiver of feedback can be very powerful for you personally and as a role model for your team and the rest of your company. It really boils down to being the “bigger” person when receiving feedback.

If possible, you can practice receiving feedback on your terms by creating the best conditions possible to get feedback. These are situations where you have a lot of control by choosing the following:

  1. the specific feedback you wan;
  2. a non-threatening setting in which to receive the feedback; and
  3. people you respect and trust to provide the feedback.

Even under these conditions, it can still be hard to receive any negative or constructive feedback, but these might be the best conditions for implementing these tips for receiving unsolicited, negative feedback:

1. Keep your ego in check.

Even if you are high up the food chain, you aren’t perfect and are not above making improvements. To avoid getting your ego too involved, frame the intentions of the feedback giver in the best possible light. What are their good intentions for giving you feedback?

2. Keep your power in check.

Be aware of any power differential in your relationship with the feedback giver, especially if you have more positional power. It’s important to keep emotions down, or you risk having a chilling effect on getting future feedback. If you feel yourself getting angry, defensive, snarky, or deflecting blame onto others, these reactions can be magnified by your power and send amplified shockwaves back to the feedback givers or throughout your team. Or your heightened emotions may really be signaling your insecurity around the feedback topic.

3. Gauge your intention vs. impact.

Based on the feedback, how big is the gap between how you thought you were coming across and the actual impact you had on others? For most feedback, this the heart of the matter, or the point of the feedback. Take stock. It is, however, harder to gauge if you don’t respect the person’s opinion.

4. Accept the feedback graciously.

To do this, be quiet and listen without arguing. Avoid minimizing the person’s opinion, turning the tables on them to give THEM feedback, or disputing the feedback. Maintain neutral facial expressions and body language, and at the end, simply thank the person for their input. You may ask clarifying questions if necessary to understand the circumstances, or you may ask for specific tips you could employ to do better next time.

5. Consider the feedback.

You don’t have to accept all feedback as true or helpful. Take time in the subsequent days or weeks to decide what feedback to accept or reject. You may want to test the feedback with others you trust or validate the feedback by noticing your behaviors in similar situations going forward.

6. Circle back to the person.

When you circle back, you do so in the spirit of letting them know you’ve been considering the feedback and to thank them again for their candor. You are not obligated to report on what you’re doing about it. Just touching base with them again lets them know there are no hard feelings and serves as a good model for receiving feedback without letting it adversely affect work relationship.

Finding out you’ve fallen short of someone’s expectations can be hard. It’s just an indication of the degree to which you do care about being the best you can be. However, you show your colleagues and employees how to be a great leader when you can practice what you preach and give feedback as good as you get it.

 

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. And get my Conversation Planner to help you decide how to give respectful feedback to someone else.

How to Balance Accountability and Relationships

women in leadershipHow do you ensure a balance in your company between maintaining good relationships with employees AND holding them accountable when they fall short in their conduct or performance. In other words, how do we avoid allowing our compassion for an individual’s circumstances to completely overrule their individual accountability and vice versa.

It is not an “either/or”. It is indeed a balancing act between both: compassion for individuals and accountability to the group or company.

One side of continuum, a leader might set the tone that focuses on maintaining the employee relationship and possibly being too compassionate to the employee’s circumstances. When this happens, you hear management make excuses for why the employee failed and/or why they didn’t address it.

On the other side of the spectrum, a leader might set the tone that focuses on strict accountability with no excuses. This is a straight forward equation where individual employees will hear about it when their conduct or performance fails regardless of the conditions the employee was operating under.

To find the balance, leaders would do well to balance both accountability with compassion for the individual’s situation. This is the ability to recognize that each individual is accountable to perform to standard and to conduct themselves to company norms tempered with a consideration of the facts and circumstances, including whether the employee knew and understood expectations and had the control and capacity to perform or conduct themselves accordingly.

So who do you need to be to lead this balance? In a nutshell, you ensure mindful accountability when you lead from a place of intentionality, confidence, and calm.

Intentionality

This is behaving “on purpose”. Choosing your response in each moment rather than reacting with words, behavior or tone that shows you forgot who you are. It starts with being clear about your individual and company values and vision as well as the plan created to move company goals forward. When you are intentional, you constantly and consistently focus and re-focus others on the fundamental “why” and the “what” every day. If warranted, you may need to modify your plan, but only after intentional, thoughtful consideration of changing conditions, not as a knee jerk reaction.

Confidence

When you are confident, you come from a place of strength and assurance. Whatever your confidence level, you telegraph it with your body language, emotions, and tone of voice, even when you don’t say specific words about confidence. You carry yourself and engage in conversations as if to say, “I’ve got this. It’s under control.”

To show confidence, you must avoid broadcasting negative emotions in reaction to setbacks or uncertainty. Negative emotions, such as fear, anger, depression, anxiety, shame, hate, etc. are signs that you are not confident. In the animal world, negative energy is a sign of weakness, and since we are animals and have brain structures similar to other mammals, we are sensitive to someone’s state based on these negative emotions. When you emit negative emotion, you aren’t relying on your executive function, which is logical and analytical. Instead, you are coming from more primitive brain structures, and your workforce on a subconscious level is perceiving that you are not coming from a place of strength.

To come from a place of strength, you have to stay confident and steady, or in other words, balanced. (According to Amy Cuddy, you can increase feelings of confidence by changing your body language using the “Super Hero” pose – standing with feet slightly more than shoulder-width apart with your hands on your hips.)

Calm

When you are calm you are able to remain centered no matter what is going on around you. This comes from a belief that things will work out in the end. To adopt a calmer disposition, remain in observation mode, taking in the things outside yourself but recognizing them for what they are – temporary events that will ebb and flow. Don’t get sucked in to the drama of the moment. Breathe deep, stay focused on the outcome you want, and keep others focused on the values and principles that are important. It helps to see the good intentions that others have underneath their words and actions, even when they come across wrong or falter in the actions.

Leadership is not a destination – it’s a journey. Your company is the perfect playground to learn more about yourself and your ability to create intentional accountability. You can have solid accountability in your company without compromising relationships. It’s up to you to model it by staying intentional, confident and calm regardless of the situations that arise.

 

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE 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 focus, self-awareness, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

lack of trust

8 Traits That Make You Untrustworthy

You would think that because people spend roughly 1/3 of their time at work, the workplace would be a critical venue for establishing trust. Yet, the 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer reported that only 49% of employees think CEOs are very or extremely credible. Along the same lines, a recent HBR article on trust at work reported that only 46% of employees place “a great deal of trust” in their employers, and 15% report “very little” or “no trust at all.”

No wonder work is stressful. If employees are spending a good deal of time in a place where there is at least some distrust, you know they are diverting time and energy to activities to create safety and security that hedge against their lack of trust, instead of putting that time and energy towards innovating and otherwise doing their jobs.

Here’s what you’re doing that might make your employees see you as untrustworthy:

 

1. You are Unpredictable.

When people can’t count on what you stand for or on the processes or criteria that govern how decisions are made in our company, they don’t trust you. Create certainty to combat your employees’ wary reptilian and avoid being erratic by switching the fundamental principles or values that guide your behavior and don’t be wishy-washy. Say what you mean, mean what you say, and follow up on the things you commit to doing.

2. You Are Incompetent.

When you don’t have the basic background and knowledge to make good judgment calls, your team will not have faith in you. Cultivate your personal knowledge and abilities instead by educating yourself on issues and concepts or asking others to enlighten you in your area of responsibility. You don’t need to be THE expert, but you need to be competent enough.

“Trust in institutions and their license to operate is no longer automatically granted on the basis of hierarchy or title, rather in today’s world, trust must be earned.” — Richard Edelman, President/CEO of Edelman, a communications/marketing firm

3. You Have a Hidden Agenda.

If others believe you aren’t being upfront about what you think or why you think it, they will definitely be leery of you. Instead, become more transparent by explaining your underlying assumptions and rationale for the opinions you hold and stances you take and do it in a way that is the company’s best interests – not your own.

4. You Come Across as Fake.

Whether you’re trying to be a super hero, a brown-noser, or are just too good to be true, if others can’t relate to you human-to-human, you won’t have their trust. Instead be genuine by owning up to your failings and to the fact that you don’t have all the answers.

5. You’re Clueless.

When your attention is elsewhere instead of on your area of responsibility, people don’t trust that you know what’s going on. Combat cluelessness by keeping your eye on the ball and focusing on issues and trends in the industry, your profession, and most certainly in your company.

6. You Have a Big Ego.

You think only you can save the day or have the answers. Broaden your perspective to avoid being immersed in own your world or focused only on your own prowess or needs and wants. Make it a practice to seek out differing points of view and explore their assumptions and backgrounds that led them to their conclusions.

7. You Live in Your Own Little World.

Foster better relationships with others to build trust. Connect with others in your company at all levels. This means you need to ask questions about their experiences and thoughts on an issue then listen to them and appreciate where they are coming from. You’ll be more likely to build more trusting relationships when people see you and interact with you.

8. You Don’t Acknowledge the Work of Others.

If you don’t recognize the contributions made by every level of employee in your company, you miss out on a big opportunity to show that you are indeed clued in and understand the impact that is made throughout your company every day. When people understand you really “see” what they are doing, they learn to trust that you are minding the store.

Ultimately, trust starts with each person, and as with most things, leaders get to go first. So, start with yourself and see how you can create more of the following in your company and become a more trustworthy and all-round better person in the process.

 

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE 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 companies by gaining greater focus, self-awareness and influence with their teams.  Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

Employee Engagement: Ready to Call Off the Wedding?

employee engagementTired of hearing about employee engagement or ready to give up? For some companies, it is an elusive concept that’s been around for decades. So, it’s telling that companies are still struggling to figure out the magic formula for attaining employee engagement nirvana.

Perhaps the quest to attain the optimal level of employee engagement comes from the fact that “engagement”, “motivation”, and “satisfaction”, while related, are confused as the same phenomenon. I think of these terms like this: engagement is how committed employees are to taking action that will benefit the company; motivation is the reason someone will put forth effort and take action to benefit themselves or the company, and satisfaction is how employees “feel” about everything once it’s all said and done.

Engagement, therefore, is intentional, committed action taken by employees to contribute, which is the opposite of being on auto-pilot. It happens when employees are so involved in their work that they take ownership in what the company produces because the see big picture for how they fit into the whole.

It all starts with respecting employees for their talents and contributions. While there may be generational differences, every employees wants to be respected and know that their contributions to the overall endeavor count for something.

With that, Liz Stincelli, DM. of Stincelli Advisors suggests these 4 actions you can take to create greater employee engagement.

  1. Be seen so each direct report knows you as a real person. Know at least basic personal information about your employees and retain appropriate workplace boundaries in place. “I do care about you, but we’re not friends – I’m still your boss”.
  2. Communicate the big picture. Give employees information about company goals and how they contribute to achieving them, basic financials, and what’s on the horizon for the company and the industry.
  3. Ask questions and listen to the answers. Find out what’s going on at the employee issue and follow up on what you did with the information you gathered.
  4. Invest in employee professional development. Bolster their skills to further company goals and to build their capacity for future career development.

If your company is still struggling to achieve greater employee engagement, don’t call off the wedding or give back the ring yet. Be mindful that you might need to adjust the way you operate to move closer to your employee engagement goals.

 

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE 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 companies by gaining greater focus, self-awareness, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

 

Liz StincelliThis post was inspired by a conversation with Dr. Liz Stincelli. Find out more about her and her company Stincelli Advisors:
Her blog site: stincelliadvisors.com
Twitter: @infinitestin
Google+: Elizabeth Stincelli
Facebook: www.facebook.com/stincelliadvisors
LinkedIn: Liz Stincelli

Stop Walking on Eggshells Around a Bad Employee

walking on eggshells

You know that you ought to address various issues with a badly behaved or poorly performing employee, but you haven’t. Because he is still around, you know customers aren’t getting served the way you expect, and you get complaints from other employees about this co-worker frequently. You’re embarrassed and frustrated because you feel uncertain how to approach the situation, and you secretly wish this employee would just leave. It would make things so much easier.

If he were gone, a weight would be lifted from your shoulders. The other employees would be able to work so much more effectively together and would probably be in a better mood. And of course, customers would be better served and more likely to buy from you more often. What has to happen for you to address this bad employee and stop walking on eggshells around him.

How did you get to where you are now? Many things could have happened. You could have made a bad decision when you hired him then didn’t let him go early on because you’re too nice or don’t know how many chances are reasonable. Maybe you’re afraid of this employee because you don’t know the right words to say to him and believe he’ll get angry if you try to address things with him, or you believe he will sue you for discrimination. Maybe he’s a personal friend or family member. Or you might just be conflict avoidant.

No matter how you ended up walking on eggshells around this employee, here’s how to rectify the situation:

  1. Avoid hiring poor employees in the first place. Maybe he wasn’t a keeper from the get-go. Learn how to hire better.
  2. Train your front line supervisors and other management staff on topics that make them better people supervisors, so they have the skills to set expectations, communicate effectively, and follow up when an employee isn’t meeting expectations.
  3. Make it part of your supervisors’ performance reviews to appreciate, reward, and recognize employees, as well as looking at whether they address poor employee behavior and performance timely and effectively.
  4. Walk the talk of your company values. All employees are watching you and learning about the way you and your management team address those who are routinely out of line or not producing to expectations.
  5. Stay the course and keep an even keel with tough employee situations. You might have to start from square one, even if the situation has been going on a long time, but you must address it.
  6. Get advice from an expert, whether that’s your HR person or your company’s attorney.

It’s disheartening when an employee isn’t doing what’s expected, but walking around on eggshells isn’t going to solve the problem. Get the support you need to address it, then see it through. Who knows? Maybe the employee will improve! Everyone else knows what’s going on. Allowing a “bad” employee to remain without improving is degrading your company’s credibility and thereby degrading other employees’ faith and trust in you and your company.

 

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE 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 focus, self-awareness, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

The Insider’s Guide to Employee Motivation

employee motivation

Often, it can feel as though you are only one who cares and is willing to do the “heavy lifting” in your company. So, how do you get your employees to care enough to work hard like you and treat customers with care like you do?

Well the research has been around for decades, actually almost 100 years, but for some reason you might be fighting it. What seems to be the case is that your employees are already motivated to get out of bed each morning and do something they love. That’s called “intrinsic” motivation. You know, but might not want to admit, that you don’t motivate anyone but yourself, so stop trying to “make” your employees do things. (Want to see your employees go passive aggressive really fast? Try to put your thumb on them to control them. They’ll subvert you every time – and with smiles on their faces pretending to conform to your wishes.)

“Leadership is the art of getting someone to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” — Dwight Eisenhower

Alfie Kohn in his book Punished by Rewards, reviewed decades of research that showed that Skinnerian behaviorism might work well on dogs and birds, but really doesn’t work on people. He boiled down what gets employees revved up to: Content (say over what they do), Control (say over how they do it), and Collaboration (be able to work with others to get it done). Daniel Pink did a similar review of the research in his book Drive, summing up the salient factors as Autonomy (self-direction), Mastery (develop and hone talent), and Purpose (have a really impactful reason for why they do the work).

In the late 1960s, an actual researcher, Frederick Herzberg concluded there were two factors required to keep people happy and productive, companies needed to (1) get rid of “dissatisfiers”, like bad policies, bad supervisors and unfair pay that caused employees to gripe about work, then (2) build in “satisfiers”, like meaningful work that gave employees a sense of responsibility and provided job opportunities appreciation, recognition and continued skill development.

So what can you do to unleash your employees’ natural intrinsic motivation?

First, set your ego aside.

Have you examined your abilities as a leader? Are you someone who others want to follow or work for? Or maybe your ego comes into play when you hire or promote people and they don’t work out. Are you willing to admit your mistake and let them go or move them back to a position that fits their skills and temperament?

Same goes for making sure that the company culture you created is not squelching your employees’ natural inclination to do something great. Make sure you don’t have restrictive or nonsensical policies, procedures, or pay structures that may be administered inconsistent or unfairly.

Second, focus on building relationships.

To build relationships with your direct reports. You should do things like:

  • Take stock their talents, current performance level, and long-term potential. This helps to determine what trajectory each employee is on — promotion, move to another position, redeploy, monitor more closely, etc.
  • Treat your people like people, not cogs or machines. Get to know them personally to a certain degree.
  • Appreciate their talents and the roles they might play in your company: devil’s advocate, trickster, historian, herald of danger ahead.
  • Set and communicate clear expectations for each direct report, tied to company goals
  • Acknowledge contributions made and note where they need to contribute more, better, or more often.Determine frequency and type of feedback they to hear from you.
  • Acknowledge their good work and willingness to go the extra mile when it happens. A simple thank you is good enough usually.
  • Reward them for their performance and commitment.
  • Develop their skills and competence.

As Zig Ziglar said, “You don’t build a business – you build people then the people build the business.” Spend time building your people, and their motivation will shine through.

 

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE 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 focus, self-awareness, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.