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 environment, psychological safety

5 Ways to Back Off and Boost Team Results

Most likely, you were promoted to your first leadership position because you were good at performing the task work related to your job in your chosen field. It’s likely that once you landed a formal leadership position, you continued operating by using your expertise to exert influence or control over the task work of your team. After all, your expertise with the work is what got you promoted.

Don’t get me wrong. Your expertise is valuable. And there is value to understanding best practices. However, when leading a team, you don’t need to be so hands-on with the daily work to create a team that achieves outstanding results. You can decrease your stress AND boost team performance by being less directive and involved in how things get done. Instead, focus your time and energy on fostering a more productive team environment, individual team member development, and relationships with and between team members.

Here are 5 ways to back off and boost team results:

1. Get out of the hub.

This may sound odd to you. After all, how can you lead the team if you’re not in the loop? As the ultimate decision-maker, you do need to be aware of how the work progresses in general. But you don’t need to know every detail. All communication doesn’t need to flow through you. In fact, this contributes to any stress you experience.

Instead, relinquish acting as the hub of the team and put the work and its purpose at the center of everything your team does. When you do this, your team learns that all of their decisions are driven by what’s needed to further the work and achieve the purpose.

2. Keep the team focused on the bigger picture.

Many details will change throughout the course of an initiative, including tactics, timelines, and even goals and strategy. Trying to control the details can be exhausting.

Instead, keep your team focused on what really matters, the bigger picture. Take time to frame the bigger picture, which includes the purpose of the work, the impact it will have, the values that guide how the team operates. Focusing on the big picture opens up more possibilities for how to tackle the work. And maybe more importantly, being reminded of the big picture can re-focus the team on what’s important after setbacks and during disagreements.

3. Clear away obstacles and distractions.

Instead of directing all the action, give team members the space and responsibility to navigate the way forward as much as possible. By taking more of a back seat, you can spend your time enabling and protecting their progress. Shift your focus to insulating the team from distractions, removing obstacles, and troubleshooting.

4. Model a growth mindset.

Results do matter. And you’re more likely to achieve and even exceed the results you aspire to by adopting an attitude of curiosity and humility. Convey the idea that everyone and everything is a “work in progress”. Focus on “perfecting”, instead of on being “perfect” or achieving “perfection”.

In spite of your professional experience, back off from thinking you know best and stimulate the team’s curiosity. Instead of telling the team what to do and how it should be done, ask questions to tease out their thinking. Based on their thinking, encourage them to take appropriate risks to test assumptions, run experiments, and learn from mistakes that can inform subsequent actions.

5. Create Accountability.

When it’s ultimately your responsibility for the team’s results, it’s tempting to take the way they behave and perform personally. It can be tempting to be too focused on controlling individual team member conduct and performance.

Shift from seeing it as your responsibility to control team members to making team members responsible for their own conduct and performance. In this way, your efforts start with communicating parameters upfront, including team and/or company policies, procedures, behavioral norms, performance expectations, and other team-made agreements and commitments.

Thereafter, if someone runs afoul of an expectation, you simply address the infraction  with an appropriate response. One caveat is that if you avoid addressing known issues, you’ll send the wrong message and undermine future accountability with individuals as well as the entire team.

It may take a new set of skills for you to get the best out of others. Leading others is less about you controlling HOW your team performs tasks and is more about CREATING CONDITIONS that encourage them to be at their best. When they do THEIR best work, you have done YOUR best work.

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 senior leaders to create team environments that boost team performance. 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.

employee engagement

Forge a Common Purpose to Unite Factions

Pursuing real change in any system is a challenge. One of the main reasons for the challenge of change is the reality of factions within any group. Because each faction has its different perspectives and different and multiple purposes around any issue or challenge, it’s difficult to hold everyone together under one or even two common purposes. Even in organizations where all employees are (or should be) united under the entity’s purpose, each new initiative uncovers multiple purposes for the various factions or interests involved.

For example, in my years as a HR Director, it was common for the Payroll department and the HR department to be at odds. This might seem strange because both groups have the purpose of creating a great workplace by ensuring employee fairness (in pay and work environment). However, each function comes from a different vantage point regarding those same employees. In carrying out the purpose of fairness to employees, Payroll often emphasizes consistent and accurate processes that designed with little flexibility.

In contrast, HR’s purpose of ensuring fairness to employees often occurs during situations fraught with miscommunication and non-standard situations. For example, it was not uncommon to learn of an issue with an employee’s reported work hours after Payroll had finished processing pay for the period. HR sought to rectify the situation before (of even just after) the pay was sent to the bank. Payroll would be frustrated processing had already occurred. Even if there were processes in place to make adjustments due to errors, the adjustments usually occurred after payday.

You see, Payroll typically had an additional purpose of creating a SYSTEM for numerical accuracy and fairness; HR’s additional purpose were often about FLEXIBILITY to address non-standard situations or miscommunication that occurs with people. Neither was correct or wrong. Each function came from a different perspective while pursuing a similar overall purpose. It illustrates why it’s important to forge a common purpose among factions – groups with different interests and perspectives.

How to forge a common purpose with the different factions you work with in your organization:

  1. Clarify your own purpose(s). List up to 10 purposes that are important to you. (Purposes are your “why” for pursuing a course of action. They are deeply-held beliefs that inspire you.)
  2. If you don’t know, find out the “whys” for the other factions you’re working with. What beliefs and “whys” are driving them.
  3. Look for overlap of purposes among individuals/factions. Focus the overlap to reshape and reframe them, so others understand and resonate with them.
  4. Be prepared to let go of some your purposes – at least for now. Concentrate on common ones.
  5. Get “real” with your common purpose(s) by using them to create or modify a concrete plan with goals, objectives, milestones, and timelines.

Even in complex situations with many factions, you can forge common purpose and use that purpose to create a plan to move forward.

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.

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.

Harmonize Your Work/Life Balance

calm responseA recent survey found that 66% of workers in the US struggle with finding the right work/life balance – and they aren’t all parents. With our 24/7 culture, even employees without children find it challenging to keep work and home priorities in reasonable proportions. The real issue isn’t the continual balancing act between work and home; rather, it is the fact you don’t know what the balance is all about.

When you are clear about what’s important to you, choices are easier to make, and you are more content with your decisions. In contrast, when you aren’t clear and find yourself struggling with decisions about where to spend your time and energy, your feelings of stress and guilt go up and your energy plummets.

To get back more energy and to counter the stress and guilt of where to focus, re-frame the idea finding “work/life balance” by harmonizing your personal identity and purpose with your current employment.

How Compatible is Your Personal Vision /Mission with Work?

Start with creating a big picture vision for how you want your life to be. Your vision includes what you want to experience and/or contribute throughout your lifetime. Your corresponding mission goes into more detail about what you want to do to make your vision come true as you use your talents and gifts.

Once you have a broad personal vision and mission, notice how compatible they are with those of your chosen career and current employer. For example, if your vision is to create a world where you help others express themselves uniquely, using your ability to empathize with others, see how that dovetails with your career. I’ll assume it is possible to fulfill you vision and mission in all careers, while it’s easier to do so in some versus others. The more you can live your own vision and mission through your career, the less you’ll struggle with work/life balance and the more you’ll be in flow.

Also, compare your personal vision and mission with those of your company. They don’t have to match up 100%. However, the less overlap, the more likely you’ll experience the dissonance between them, causing those feelings of overwhelm and lack of balance. If the disconnect is great, you may want to consider finding an employer that is more in line with your personal vision and mission.

How About Your Personal Values?

As with your vision and mission, work and home harmony is easier the more your personal values are in line with your employer’s values. To assess this, determine your top 3 personal values — the conceptual principles that are critically important to you and by which you act and make decisions. Seek commonality or connection between your personal values and those touted and lived by your company. For example, if one of your core values is “honesty” and you work for a company that is deceptive with customer and employees, then you might routinely feel conflicted at work – even if that company purports to value “honesty” or “integrity”. In contrast, if the company goes the extra mile to be honest and keep its promises with customers and employees, you’ll experience more harmony and flow.

Again, you don’t need 100% alignment between your core values and those of your employer. Yet, the more synergy there is between them, the less tension, overwhelm, and guilt you’ll have about spending extra time at work or taking time off for personal priorities.

Harmonizing Goals, Projects, and Tasks

Based on your vision, mission, and values, you probably have set some aspirations for yourself, personally and professionally. Compare these personal and career goals/aspirations with the goals you are currently charged with at work. Is there a way to further your personal goals through your work goals? Often, work goals give you opportunities to receive training and make connections that are beneficial personally.

In turn, focusing on the relevant projects and tasks that further your work goals can also harmonize your schedule between work and home. When you intentionally schedule the work tasks that further company goals, you may realize you’ve been caught up in a lot of “busy” work that has sapped your time and energy, leaving you with the stress and guilt of not attending to things at home.

That’s why it’s important to align your personal and work priorities. Doing so, can clarify the personal and work choices presented to you. When your career and current employment fit within your personal vision, mission, values, goals, and priorities, the balance or harmony between them is greater.

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 composure, focus, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

team, purpose, trust, psychological safety, goal

5 Reasons Your “Team” is Not a Team

Although there are countless books about creating better teams, participating on and leading teams remains a top frustration in most companies. Here are 5 reasons your “team” might not actually be one:

1. There are no shared goals or values.

Your “team” may believe it is working together and headed in the same direction, but when push comes to shove, each of you pursue activities that serve your individual interests and behave without accountability to each other. In other words, your oars are rowing in different directions.

In contrast, you know you are a team when you are a group that shares a few core values and pursues a measurable goal that will define the team’s success. Once a measurable team goal is set and values identified, each of you ensure every person on the team understands how to behave according to those values and is held accountable to do so. Further, you understand how each person contributes to achieving the team goal through individual competencies (e.g., ability to build consensus, drive for results, etc.) or technical expertise.

“Finding good players is easy. Getting them to play as a team is another story.” — Casey Stengel

2. There is low trust or no trust.

With little or no trust, members of your so-called “team” withhold their best and secretly look for ways to “win” at someone else’s expense without regard to a common goal. 

Team trust is strongly correlated with team commitment and follow-through on promises made to each other. To work together effectively as a team, each or you must believe the others have your back.  Also, when setbacks occur (and they almost always occur), you have to believe/trust everyone else is doing his best. This helps your team avoid the blame game and to get back on track quickly.

3. There is not a clear path to achieve the team goal.

When you only have a destination but no map to get there, a group of individuals will spend precious time wasting uncoordinated effort in different directions.

Mapping the route to achieve the common team goal assists your teammates in understanding how and when all team members’ contributions come together to achieve success. A clear path often includes quick wins to gain momentum and milestones to mark the way.

4. Communication is not open, honest, and transparent.

If people on your “team” are more concerned with withholding information and opinions while masking what they really see happening, team accountability and effectiveness are severely hampered.
To behave as a team, you must communicate in a forthright manner to get on the same page, to stay on the same page, to coordinate action, and to hold each other accountable to team commitments and values.

5. “Team” members are overly focused on their own contributions, wins, and reputations.

Ever seen a scoring basketball player point to the teammate who passed him the ball? Acknowledging contributions by teammates reinforces the notion that each person’s success is dependent on the contributions of others, no matter how small or behind-the-scenes.  No one does it alone. Recognizing each other’s contribution to the team fosters better relationships and, in turn, more trust.


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 executives and senior leaders to create team environments that optimize ownership, accountability, learning, and results. Learn more at firebrandconsultingllc.com.