Wednesday Apr 16, 2014

Start-Stop-Continue in Transitions

What do Sigma, a Leadership class and a webcast have in common? They’ve all created ideas that are swirling around in my head! Let me start from the beginning. I was sitting in on a leadership class for midlevel leaders, listening to a conversation about competing priorities and how to address them. Last week I listened to a web-cast that suggested leaders should create a “Do Not Do” list. I’m also exploring some ideas around transitioning to a leadership role and what an individual needs to do differently.

I struggled a bit with a “Do Not Do” list because it just seems a bit negative, and then my Sigma training kicked in and I thought of a great exercise we used to do…and I think it might work for new leaders, or really anyone who’s taking on a new role. It’s a simple Start-Stop-Continue exercise to identify behaviors and actions that you need to address.

Here’s how you do it. Take a piece of paper and draw three columns on it. At the top of one column, write Start; in the next column write Stop and in the last column write Continue. Then, close your eyes and really think about your new role - imagine what it will look like if done very successfully. If you’re a first time leader, you’ll want to think about how your leadership role is going to be different from your individual contributor role. If you’re a midlevel leader, you’ll want to consider the difference between managing people and managing managers. And if you’re an individual contributor, you might want to review your development plan and think about what your goals are for the future.

Now, open your eyes and write down those behaviors or actions that you need to Start doing in your new role. Continue to write down behaviors and actions that you need to Stop doing and then Continue doing. Now, take a good look at your list. Will your role or development be negatively impacted if you stop anything on the Stop list? Will your role or development be positively impacted by those things on the Start or Continue list?

If you have so many things on each list that you feel overwhelmed, try prioritizing the list. This may require a conversation with your manager!! You might ask questions like:

  • When choosing to continue a behavior/activity, what can I do to be more effective in that behavior/activity?

  • What behaviors or activities do the best leaders I know exhibit? Are those on my list?

  • What have I said I would never do as a leader? Are those on my Stop list?

This list could end up being your friend – it can feed into your development plans; it can help you prioritize your work; it can help clarify your role. If you choose to do this, I would make two suggestions. First, share your list with your manager to get his or her input. He or she might have some ideas that could provide a clearer focus for you. Second, keep your list and pull it out every quarter to review. This is a great way to determine if you’re modifying your actions and behaviors the way you want or intended.

Hopefully something like this can help keep you on track when changing roles!

Monday Mar 10, 2014

Why Leadership Development Programs Fail...and What a Leader Can Do About It

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been seeing headlines about leadership development programs – unfortunately, the headlines are not that great:

  • The #1 Reason Leadership Development Fails
  • 10 Reasons Leadership Development Programs Fail
  • Why Leadership Development Programs Fail
  • 5 Reasons Leadership Development Programs Fail
  • Why So Many Leadership Programs Fail
  • Why Leadership Development Efforts Fail

I’m sure you get the picture (fail). Leadership development is hard (fail). It’s tough being a leader (fail). My favorite was an article that gave me the #1 reason why leadership development fails and then gave me 20 things to focus on to ensure success. I kind of thought if I focused on the #1 reason I might be okay.

I have to admit, these articles made me frustrated. I felt like there was a lot of blame being placed on the fact that development was just plain hard, but also a lot of blame placed at the feet of people like myself who create different kinds of development programs. As I looked through the list of reasons for failure, however, I realized something. If a leadership development program fails, it might have something to do with the participants as well! WHAT??

Let me explain. We could build the best leadership development program in the world – the exact skills needed as discovered through a needs analysis; skills tied to business objectives; a perfect implementation plan; metrics that truly measure the bottom line impact of the program – you get the picture. BUT, there is still something missing in this perfect program.

You…and maybe your manager.

I believe that you have to take ownership of any development opportunity in which you partake. What does it mean to take ownership? Glad you asked! To me, ownership looks like this:

  • You take responsibility for your development. Remember making a Christmas list when you were a kid. Santa didn’t know what you wanted unless you wrote it down and mailed it to the North Pole. Your manager is Santa – you have to write down what you want and let your manager know. They can help provide the toys tools, but it’s up to you to determine which tools you need and what you will do with them.
  • You ‘personalize’ your development. Your development plan is uniquely yours, and any program you attend should align with that plan. When attending a development program, you should spend some time prior to the program thinking about your expectations and what you want to learn. During the program, compare what you’re learning to your expectations to make sure they align. Work with your manage before and after a program to reinforce what you learned. By focusing on your plan, you can make sure that your needs are met.
  • You have to be humble. You sign up for a development program because you want to learn something. That means there is something you don’t already know. Everyone in the room is in the same position, so there’s no need to prove that you’re the smartest person there.
  • You have to have a “right” mindset. A development program is not a five-day, expense-paid vacation away from the office – it is your company’s investment in you and the skills you bring to the company and your team. Your job is to be present at the program by turning off your devices and concentrating on your investment. Use your breaks to check email or take calls.
  • You should expect the support you ask for. Have a conversation with your manager to discuss the support that you might need before, during and after a program. Maybe you want to discuss expectations about a development opportunity. Maybe you need your manager to not call you or email you ten times in an hour while you’re in class. Maybe you want an opinion of how you’re changing your behavior three weeks after the program. All of these are valid needs, and, if you’re willing to have that conversation with your manager, you should be able to expect that support. After all, improving your leadership skills also helps your manager.

So there you have it – five things you can do to make a leadership development program (or any development program) more successful.

As a leadership development consultant, my job is to create the best possible program that gives you the core knowledge and skills you need to do your job; as a program participant, your job is to spend the time and energy needed to plan your development and apply the knowledge and skills of any program to your individual plan.

As Humphrey Bogart said in Casablanca, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Tuesday Jan 21, 2014

No More Micromanaging!

Micromanaging drives me nuts!! You know what I mean – you are hired for your expertise, and then your new manager watches over you like you’re the newborn babe, and they are first-time parents. Further, they actually want to “work with” you on your projects. It actually makes me a bit twitchy just thinking about it. (As a disclaimer, I do have to say that I haven’t had a micro-manager in many, many years).

As a parent, I can totally understand the need desire to watch over a new person – you want to be sure they’re on the right track, that nothing messes them up, that you’ve helped them be a success. As a manager, you want to do those same things, but most people in the workplace don’t want or need another parent. So, manager, what do you do?

You.  Let.  Go.

Period.

I’ve had two experiences this winter that have taught me that letting go is one of the best ways to help someone succeed. The first experience was watching my 9-year old daughter spar at a karate tournament. She had sparred three opponents back-to-back and was in her fourth match. In the middle of the round, she took a kick to her gut, and I saw her fold in half. I wanted to run across the mat and make sure that she was okay, but her sensei picked her up like a rag doll, focused her attention away from being hurt, and she finished the match…with me on the sidelines.

My second experience was taking my 6-year old son skiing for his first time. I put him in ski school, wondering if he was going to like skiing, if it would be too cold or windy, if he would spend most of the day laying on the ground after a fall, if he would miss me, and so on. When I checked on him at the end of the day, he was grinning, having fun and showing off his successful runs down the bunny slope. His instructor (the feedback loop in his world) even said that he had great coordination, lots of strength and needs to move up a level the next time he skis. But I wasn’t even there!

In both of these situations, my instinct was to micromanage – to get right in the middle of things and make sure that everything was going to be okay. But guess what? I didn’t, and everything was still okay. As a matter of fact, not micromanaging allowed my kids to learn to rely on themselves, work through the pain, gain confidence and achieve things they’ve never done. All by themselves. And my guess is that they are going to take those lessons forward into everything they do.

So the next time you want to get right in the thick of things with your employees, force yourself to step back. Make sure they have the right resources to get the job done, but then let them do their job. Maybe the only thing they need from you is your faith in them that they will achieve the goal. And then your employees will be the one who grow and gain confidence in their abilities. And isn’t helping your employee to do just that what being a manager is all about?

Tuesday Nov 12, 2013

Do Great Work

Have you ever attended an online conference and actually had a desire to attend all of it??

Yesterday I attended the first day of the Great Work MBA program, sponsored by Box of Crayons and hosted by Michael Bungay Stanier. The topic of the day was “Grounding Yourself,” and the day featured five speakers on five different topics.

I have to admit that I started the first session with kind of a “blech” feeling that I didn’t really want to participate, but for some reason I did. So I listened to the first session, and I was hooked. I ended up listening to all of the sessions for the day, and I had some great take-aways from the sessions – my highlights included:

  • The opposite of bravery isn’t fear, it’s settling. In essence, you need to be brave in order to accomplish anything. If you’re settling, you’re not being brave, and your accomplishments will likely be lackluster.
  • Bravery requires confidence and permission. You need to work at being brave by taking small wins, build them up and then take slightly larger risks. Additionally, you need to “claim your own crown.” Nobody in the business world is going to give you permission to be a guru in X – you need to give yourself permission to become a guru in X and then do it.
  • Fall in love with obstacles. Everyone is going to face some form of failure. One way to deal with this is to fall in love with solving the puzzle of obstacles. You don’t have to hit it if you can go around it.
  • Understanding purpose brings out the best in people and the best people. As a leader, drawing in people who are passionate and highly motivated about their work creates velocity for your organization. Being clear about purpose is the first step in doing this.
  • You must own your own story. Everything about you creates a “unique you” that is distinct from everyone else. As you take ownership of this, it becomes part of your strength. It’s not a strength if you’re running away from it.
  • Focus on what’s right. Be aware of your tendency to interpret a situation a certain way and differentiate between helpful and unhelpful interpretations.
  • Three questions for how to think differently: 1) Why? 2) Who says so? 3) What would happen if? These three questions can help you build alternative perspectives and options that can increase resiliency.

Even though this first day was focused on “Grounding Yourself,” I see plenty of application in the corporate environment for both individuals and leaders of teams. To apply these highlights to my work environment, I would do the following:

  1. Understand the purpose – of my company, of my team and of my role on the team. If I know the purpose, I know what I need to bring to the table to make me, my team and my company successful.
  2. Declare your goals…your BEHAGS (big, hairy, audacious goals).Have the confidence to declare what you and/or your team is going to accomplish.Sure, you might have to re-state those goals down the line, but you can learn from that as well.
  3. Get creative about achieving your goals.Break down your obstacles by asking yourself what is going to stop you from achieving your goals and then, for each obstacles, ask those three questions:Why?Who says so? What would happen if?
  4. Focus on what’s right.I had a manager who asked us to write status reports every week.“Status” consisted of 1) What did I accomplish; 2) What will I accomplish next week; 3) How can my manager help me.The focus on our status report was always “what’s right”(“what’s wrong” was always a conversation at the point in time it was needed).

I’m normally a skeptic of online webcasts/conferences, and I normally expect to take away maybe one or two ideas. I’m really glad, however, that I took the time to listen to all of the sessions yesterday, and I hope that my take-aways inspire you to think about how you might do great work also.

Thursday Aug 08, 2013

Scenario Planning for Your Career

Why would you “scenario plan” your career? Scenario Planning is used to chart uncertain futures and possibilities. And let’s face it – careers seem to be on an ever-changing path of uncertainty, so why not plan for those possibilities?

I’ve been intrigued with the concept of scenario planning since about 1995 when I was asked to participate on a small team to create scenarios for our business and help define our "move-forward" strategy. Shell Oil has been creating scenarios since the 1970s and is probably one of the best known companies in this area.  Using these scenarios have helped Shell predict future possibilities and move nimbly to address them.  Shell believes so much in scenario planning, that they've even published "Scenarios: An Explorer's Guide" for people who want to expand their scenario-thinking capabilities.

If you’re unfamiliar with scenario planning, the gist of it is this: you identify a problem and two major forces likely to bear on that problem. Lay these two forces on a grid (x and y axis) and come up with “stories” for each quadrant of the grid. The stories outline what the future looks like and how you got there. Then devise a strategy for surviving each of the scenarios.

Wired magazine wrote a “Guide to Personal Scenario Planning” using the example of an aero-space engineer and possible career scenarios. This is a great step-by-step guide to get you thinking about different possibilities for your career.

My career is in corporate education, specifically leadership and professional development. When I apply scenario planning to this, two major factors that might impact me are “free agent” employment where people bid on jobs they want and the need for “just-in-time” (JIT) content. My grid, then, looked like this:

Once I had this grid, I was able to create the “stories” for each quadrant:

 And from there, I was able to create the implications of each scenario and possible actions I should take to prepare for each possibility:

Scenario planning takes some thinking - especially when you're first creating your list of uncertainties that will become your x and y axis.  I also found that while extracting the implications from the stories wasn't that difficult, defining possible actions to take required some more thought.  I tended to view actions from the "corporate organization" perspective rather than from the "me" perspective - possibly due to the fact that I've used this process in organizations, and that's what I'm used to.

Scenario planning isn't going to solve every career problem for you, but as you think about a career conversation with your manager, it might provide some ideas and possibilities that you've never considered.  Yes, it's a powerful tool for business strategy, but it can be just as powerful for your career strategy!


Wednesday Jul 31, 2013

Innovation, Leadership and a 5-Year Old Boy

There is a lot of talk in the learning industry right now around creativity, innovation and leadership.  I even attended a conference last month where the focus was on leadership and innovation - that is, what can leaders do to foster innovation and build a culture of innovation?

A couple of weeks ago, my family drove to the mountains to pick up my daughter from church camp.  On the way there, we got an earful from my five year old son:

"What if we made a gun that would bring our pets back to life?" he asked.

"Do you think we could build a parachute that would take you up so you could see everything and then go down to the exact spot you wanted?"

"Maybe we could try..."

"Mommy, did you know that if you do..."

"Perhaps we could..."  (yes, he's five and uses the word "perhaps")

"Why can't we..."

"They should make a spy dog that never dies."

You get the picture.  And if you listen to a group of five-year-olds, you'll hear them build on each other:

"Yea, and then we can..."

"And if you move this, we can do..."

"Ohh...check out what happens when..."

simply followed by huge eyes one one reverently whispered "AWESOME!!"

During my son's chatter, it struck me - innovation is a lot like 5-year-olds, and leadership is a lot like parenting.  Let me explain.

If we want to have creativity and innovation in the workspace, we need to foster creativity in our teams like we do in our five-year-olds.  We want people on our teams who are going to start their conversations with "What if," "Why can't," and "Let's try."  You also want those people who add on "oh yea, but what if we also did..."  These are the people who are willing to take a risk, fail, learn, and then take another risk.  In five-year-old talk, they "play good."

As a leader, you need to support this creativity differently than you do other work.  Let me give you an parent example.  My kids have math homework, and if they get something wrong, we tell them it's wrong, have them review the work to figure out where they made a mistake and then fix it.  In the work world, this is our standard approach to managing performance - assign work, make sure it's done correctly and correct as needed.

However, when my kids are playing "what if," I typically come back with "oh yea, well what about ____?"  We actually have a lot of fun doing this, and then I start thinking about how we could monetize any of these ideas and retire to a beach where a young man brings me umbrella drinks...but I digress.

 Think about the people on your team who start their conversations with "what if' and "why not" - is the typical response (from either you or other team members) "that never works...we already tried that before..." or is the response.  "Hmmm.  Well what about...?"  As the leader of your team, your conversations with these people need to be different thatn typical "business" conversation.  You might come back with:

"Tell me more."

"How can we expand on that?"

"What could make it different/better?"

"What could create a "wow" factor?"

Sometimes, innovation and creativity simply comes from having the right group of people having the right conversation...and, just maybe, looking at things with the curiosity of a five-year-old.  As a leader, maybe your role is just coming up with the questions you could ask that end with your team whispering "AWESOME!!"


Monday Mar 04, 2013

Be Mindful of...Well, Everything

When I was about five or six years old, I spent a lot of time in the summer practicing cartwheels in our yard. When I was seven, I entered a gymnastics gym for the first time, and it was love at first tumble. More than 20 years of my life have been spent with the sport of gymnastics, and I’m finding out that the sport has served me well – even in the area of business.

As I started to compete, we used a technique called “visualization.” With over 48M hits on Google today, “visualization” was new back then. The concept is simple – use mental imagery to “see” yourself going through your routine perfectly. You’re called…you present to the judge…you mount the balance beam…your toes are pointed…you do you first tumbling element…perfect stick… full turn…perfect stop at the end…getting ready for your dismount…deep breath…relaxed…push off the beam…great height…twist…turn…land…stay tight…no steps…perfect...present to judges…smile…walk off the floor with shoulders squared.

The concept of visualization is so powerful because during the process, your brain directs your muscles to work in a desired manner, creating neural patterns in your brain that are identical to the actual physical performance of the movements. This mental rehearsal allows you to train your mind and body to actually perform the skills. Visualization allows an athlete to improve self-awareness, increase concentration, focus on purpose, reduce pressures, and manage his response to a situation.

The same concepts are a growing trend in many business related fields, but it has morphed into the term “mindfulness.” Mindfulness originates from Buddhist teachings and is now commonly incorporated into aspects of western psychology. At its core, mindfulness can be described as a state of nonjudgemental, present-centered awareness – basically, “being in the moment.”

Mindfulness is huge in the leadership field – a Google search will return over 6 million hits! Mindful leadership simply means giving your full attention to the moment without. According to Harvard professor Bill George, mindful leaders “tend to be more effective in understanding and relating to others, and motivating them toward shared goals. Hence, they become more effective in leadership roles.”

Mindfulness can be an invaluable tool for leaders, engaging the part of the brain responsible for building and sustaining relationships, defining purpose, improving self-awareness and managing stressful situations. Let’s say that you buy into the concept of mindfulness and think it can be helpful – how can you practice mindfulness? WikiHow provides five steps to get you started:

1) Learn more about mindfulness. Being aware of what mindfulness is can help you understand how you might incorporate it into your daily activities. With a big thanks to my colleagues, here are some resources that you might want to check out:
  • Book: The Mindful Leader: Awakening Your Natural Management Skills Through Mindful Meditation
  • Mindful.org, especially the “at Work” link
  • Mindfulnet.org – follow the links on the right for Mindful Leadership

2) Start practicing mindful meditation. No, you don’t need to sit in a dark room and chant “ummm.” Instead, find a quiet spot each day and spend five minutes focusing on clearing your mind. Pretend all your thoughts are on a blackboard, and your job is to clean the blackboard so you can start fresh.


3) Practice mindfulness outside of meditation. Be aware of yourself and your emotions, but practice removing distractions so you can focus on the moment at hand.

4) Have gratitude. Recognize those things that you might have taken for granted. Acknowledge the foundations that have been established that you can build upon.

5) Analyze. When faced with any situation, take into account those things that can color your judgments – consider your physical body, your feelings, and your state of mind. Try to remove these things from the situation so you can make better (i.e. non-biased) decisions.

For me, it started with visualization to be more aware of my body and my reaction to stressful situations (e.g. a gymnastics meet). Mindfulness extends this practice to be fully aware of my environment, including myself and those around me.

General Mills has introduced mindfulness into their organization, and, as a result, 80% of participating leaders say that they are able to make better decisions with more clarity; 89% say that they have become better listeners. Genentech based a training program on the principles of mindfulness and experienced a 50% increase in employee collaboration, conflict management and communication and went from “rock bottom” employee satisfaction scores to one of the best places to work in the IT world.

Is mindfulness the newest “magic bullet?” Highly doubtful, but practicing mindfulness does offer the opportunity to think with clarity, engage in the moment, make better decisions and improve your performance. And if you’re a leader, those are not bad traits to model to your team.

Monday Feb 18, 2013

What is the Return on You?

In the corporate learning industry, there’s a lot of talk about who is responsible for employee development. If you’ve read any of my posts, I’m pretty sure that you can tell I think each individual is responsible for his or her development. The resources offered in one’s work environment (managers, classes, mentors, etc.) are simply tools to help you achieve your goals. With that in mind, I’d like to challenge whoever is reading this to think about the Return on You (ROY).

I was first introduced to ROY about eight years ago when I read Fred Nickols’ article “Forget the ROI of Training: What’s the Return on You (ROY)? ROY started me thinking about how I approach work. Is work just a job where I’m entitled to certain things, or is work my contract with my employer about what we will provide to one another? Your answer to this question, I think, determines your approach to work and your satisfaction with what you do.

So, what is ROY? ROY is defined as “the return on your company’s investment in you.” Simply put, ROY is the benefit you provide your company after subtracting your wages and benefits. What is your economic value to your company? Are you a good investment for your company? Do you provide a net worth, or are you an expense? Kind of scary to think about, isn’t it?

In my last post, I questioned who your CEO was. I’ll give you a hint, your CEO is reading this right now. So, if you are the CEO of yourself, what does that make you when you’re at work? I think that it makes you an independent consultant. Whoa!! An independent consultant, you say? But that means I have to be really serious about my work. Umm…yea. You do.

Think about it. We grumble because our manger/VP/company (you pick) doesn’t provide us the opportunities that we think we need. What if, instead, we approached our work like a consultant and our employer like our customer? You still need to work, but now you need to figure out what your end goal is. You now need to figure out how your work meets the goals of your client and the goals you’ve set for yourself. You need to figure out where your skills are lacking and how you’re going to meet those gaps in order to meet your client’s needs.

If you’re not scared yet, take a look at Nickols’ work on ROY – at the end of the paper, you’ll find a worksheet on calculating the Return on You. Take out your learning notebook, because here’s your assignment: after reviewing the ROY worksheet, identify the value(s) that you bring to your company. Step two: think about your current job role and document the benefits that you think your company expects from you and the benefits/growth you would like to receive from this job role.

No relationship should be one-sided. Hopefully by thinking about the benefits you and your company provide to each other, you feel that you have a little more ownership in the relationship between you and your company

Tuesday Jan 15, 2013

Who's Your CEO?

I love the start of a new year simply because it offers a clean slate. Most often, I have this feeling in September when school starts, but I’ll take it in January as well. Because the start of the year is a great time to start something new, I’m going to start something new with my blog. Besides writing more regularly (that’s on my list of resolutions), I want to write about topics that will provide you an opportunity to hopefully grow in your role, regardless of where you are on the org chart.

A while back, I wrote a blog called Developing You 2.0 where I outlined the top ten competencies that I think you’ll need to survive in a 2.0 world. I think those competencies still apply, and I’m planning to expand on those in future posts. Today, though, I want to focus on something else – your CEO. I’m not talking about Larry Ellison (for any Oracle employee) – I’m talking about the CEO of you. If you were your own CEO, what would you tell yourself?

Some time ago, I read a blog post by Kent Healy titled Why you should run your life like a start-up company. In this post, Kent talks about the concepts of business – asset management, capital, resourcefulness – and how they relate to managing one’s own life. I’m going to take this a step further.

I read and hear a lot of talk about people’s managers not letting them do certain things; or executive management at a company keeping people oppressed and unhappy in their jobs; or managers being responsible for <fill in the blank>. What I don’t hear a lot of is “I’m responsible for me.”

Your manager doesn’t know that you want to do a particular job or have a particular skill or want to learn a new skill if you don’t speak up. If you are your own CEO, you need to promote your company, and the only way to do that is to speak up about yourself. That is your responsibility. Laying the mantle of “professional development” at your manager’s feet does absolutely no good if you’re not willing to have conversations about what you’re good at and what you’d like to learn.

In case it wasn’t clear…YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE for your professional growth, your development at work, yourself. Your manager is only a tool that can help you achieve what YOU want to achieve, but you need to have development conversations with your manager so he or she knows what it is you want to achieve.

If you’re willing to jump into a learning adventure, grab a notebook and answer these questions: If you are the CEO of you, what would you identify as your top 3-5 assets? What are 2 or 3 things you do to nurture those assets? What are 1 or 2 things that you currently do that do not benefit your company? And finally, what is your biggest corporate goal this year? Remember, when answering these questions, you are the company.

I’m not sure where all of this will lead this year, but I’ve got a ton of ideas about personal learning environments, learning networks, you as a consultant, ROY (return on you), motivation and engagement, creating your brand, and building You 2.0. I can’t promise an assignment every time I post something, but keep that notebook handy!

Thursday Sep 06, 2012

Remote Workers...We're Not That Bad!

I work from home a lot – my team is located in different cities and countries, my manager is in a different city, and most of our work is done via conference calls, email and collaboration through Oracle Social Network. We’ve figured out how to be effective and involve team members, regardless of where we are all located.

When I mention that I work from home, a lot of my friends will laugh, roll their eyes or use their fingers to make quotation marks around “work from home.” Their belief is that I’m sitting at home, eating bon-bons and watching television. The attempts at humor only multiply when they know that my husband also mostly works from home.

So, it was with great joy that I read the Lifehacker article Why Remote Workers Are More (Yes, More) Engaged. I’m not going to re-write the article for you, but four highlights from the article include:

  • Proximity breeds complacency –because communicating with employees sitting next to you is so easy, you may not do it well.
  • Absence makes people try harder to connect – because you have to make an effort to connect to your team, you tend to pay better attention when you do connect
  • Leaders of virtual team make better use of tools – when working remotely, you will use technology (many different forms of it) to connect with your team. This daily use of the tools makes you more proficient with those tools
  • Leaders of far-flung teams maximize the time spent together – getting together takes effort, time and money, so leaders tend to filter out distractions when teams do get together.

These points made me happy because I’ve seen the same things play out in my team located around the world. And I’m not saying that a virtual team is more effective than a co-located team – but my virtual team doesn’t have the option of filing into a conference room for a face-to-face meeting whenever we want. Instead, we have to figure out how to work effectively without meeting face-to-face.

Am I more engaged as a remote worker? I’d like to think that I am. I’ve been on calls with colleagues at 3am – this would never happen if my only option was to be in the office. I can leave my “office” to pick up my kids from school…and I’m willingly back online after kids are in bed to finish up anything I need to. Oracle Social Network lets me use my iPad to engage with my teammates when I’m waiting at music lessons, the doctor’s office or any place else with a network connection. I feel like I’m more connected with my team, and I feel like I’m more connected with my family life. So yes, I am a remote worker, and I am engaged.

If you lead a virtual team, I challenge you to increase the ways that you communicate to effectively engage your team. If you are on a virtual team, I challenge you to think about how you might interact with team members to keep both them and yourself engaged in your work. And if you have some great ideas on how to make virtual teams (and workers) effective and engaged, please share those ideas in the comments!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go get a bon-bon...   :)

Thursday Jun 07, 2012

Go Big or Go Home

For those who don’t know, Oracle sponsors a group called “OWL” – Oracle Women’s Leadership - and the purpose of the group is to create local and global opportunities that support, educate and empower current and future women leaders at Oracle. This week, I had the opportunity to attend the Denver OWL roadshow, and I was really impressed with the quality of speakers and interactions that I experienced.

One theme that arose throughout the day was that of “Lean In.” In a nutshell, “Lean In” requires you to take advantage of the opportunities that you’re given. One of my personal mantras is “Go big or go home."  That is, if you’re not willing to give it your all, don’t do it at all. Regardless of how you phrase it, it’s a life lesson that I believe needs to be tossed in our face every so often simply, if for no other reason, to get our attention.

You are given a finite amount of time in your life; in your job role; in your interactions with others. Do you make the most of the opportunities given to you every day? Or do you believe that life just happens, and you have to deal with whatever is handed to you?

I have a challenge for you. Set aside any concerns or fears you have about something and Lean In. Make the most of an opportunity presented to you…or make your own opportunity! If you start with just one thing, you’ll start building a mindset to make the most of additional opportunities. Not only will you be better for leaning in, but I’m betting that those around you will be better for it as well.

Tuesday Mar 06, 2012

Will Employees Go Above and Beyond? Depends on You!

Sometimes, the stars align and point you in a direction that you just can’t avoid - and so it is with me and employee engagement. What made me think it was time to write about employee engagement?

  • I was asked to review Employee Engagement 2.0 by Kevin Kruse. This is a great little eBook that addresses engagement in easy-to-understand terminology and even provides a six step action plan to start integrating employee engagement into your thinking
  • I received another fortune cookie (see my last post) that read “Nothing motivates a man more than to see his boss put in an honest day’s work.” To me, that simply means that if you, as a leader, are not willing to engage in your work, your people won’t either. And with regard to the fortune cookie, yes, I probably do go out for Chinese food too often.
  • I watched an episode of Undercover Boss in which a CEO of a fast food company visited a store, disguised as a potential employee. The manager of the store was condescending to employees, and one employee was crying as he admitted it made him “feel worthless.” The CEO broke his disguise and shut down the store until all employees could be trained and the store could meet the principles and values that the CEO had for the company.

When I entered “employee engagement” in Amazon’s search engine, I found that 119 books on the topic have been published in the last 90 days. A Google search on “employee engagement articles” returns over 8 million hits. Restricting this to just blog entries still gives a person over 800,000 reading opportunities. Employee engagement is huge, obviously, but you may be asking yourself why all the fuss? Probably because recent reports are bringing to light some (kind of scary) facts:

  • Only 31% of the world-wide workforce is engaged. Nearly 17% are actually disengaged to the point where they are effectively working against their company. (BlessingWhite)
  • The lost productivity of actively disengaged employees costs the U.S. economy $370 Billion annually. (Gallup)
  • 1in 4 employees are actively looking for a new job – including employees considered high performers. This could impact company performance and create retention challenge as we move through 2012. (Corporate Executive Board)
  • Trust in executives can have more than twice the impact on engagement levels than trust in an immediate manager. Employees are more likely, however, to trust their managers than their executives. This places a huge burden of proof on the executive levels of a company. (BlessingWhite)
  • Highly engaged organizations had a shareholder return 19% higher than average (in 2009); low engaged organizations had a shareholder return 44% below average. (Hewitt Associates)

If you’re still reading, maybe I’ve convinced you that employee engagement is important. But what IS it, and what can you do about it? From the readings that I’ve done, I’ll define employee engagement as the degree to which someone is committed to their company and willing to put in discretionary effort to help the company meet its goals. We all know the people who put in minimal effort (they’re not engaged); but an engaged employee will go above and beyond what is expected. As a leader, there are some simple steps you can take toward engaging your team members.

Make the Connection Between Work and Organization Strategy. According to a Corporate Leadership Council report, this is the number one driver of employee engagement. Take time to communicate the business strategy to your team and explain how the work your team accomplishes impacts that strategy. If you’re complimenting someone on a job well done, be sure to tie it back to the strategy. For example, someone does a great job satisfying the customer – you might say “Brenda, the customer was really pleased with how you handled their fire drill yesterday. Work like that will definitely help us realize our customer retention goal. Thank you.”

Be mindful; Walk the Walk. The fortune cookie said it – your employees are watching you. Employee Engagement 2.0 says “First and foremost we need you to be engaged.” Many different surveys of employees show that employees don’t leave companies – they leave managers. Engagement needs to be a priority. If you can make choices every day that show you are interested in communicating, growing and recognizing your team members, your team will put their trust in you.

Provide Opportunities to Grow. In the BlessingWhite report, only 52% of employees surveyed felt they had opportunities to grow or advance in their careers. We all know that money is tight in today’s economy, but have conversations with your people about what they would like to do – you might be surprised that many of your people are not interested in a standard “career” that moves up the management ladder. Once you know this information, it’s easier to see unique career possibilities that come up – lateral moves, special assignments, “in place” development, presenting at a conference, etc.

Have a Stay Interview. Unlike an exist interview, a “stay interview” is conducted when your employee is still your employee. The goal of a “stay interview” is to find out what motivates a person to stay with a company, what they value in their job, what they might need to learn to be better at their job, what you can do to make their job easier. There are a variety of resources on the internet listing “stay interview” questions – I liked this one. Give it a try – take an employee to coffee and have a conversation around what motivates that employee. I’m pretty certain that you’ve got nothing to lose.

For me, employee engagement can be boiled down to one simple rule – the golden rule – treat others the way you would like to be treated. You probably want to be valued for the work you do; you probably want to do work that is intellectually stimulating; you probably want to be in a position that uses the best of your skills. Not surprisingly, your team members probably want these same things. Have those conversations with your employees, and chances are pretty good that if they know you genuinely care about them, they’ll go the extra mile for you.

Wednesday Jan 18, 2012

The Lesson of the Cookie

My family went out for Chinese food the other night, and the end of the dinner brought fortune cookies (my kids’ favorite part). When I opened my fortune cookie, the fortune said:

It is never a shame to learn from others.

Wow! Given that my background is in learning, my job focuses on learning, and I’m an avid believer in lifetime learning, this was a great fortune to receive. It also made me wonder why someone might feel shame in learning.

Delving back into my past jobs, I thought about two vastly different managers. The first manager was one who came into our department knowing nothing about the work that was being done – he was brought in for “his managerial skills.” Instead of taking time to learn what worked and what didn’t, he proceeded to tell all of us how things were going to be done. I was asked to do some research, and when I gave this manager the research results, he became angry that I spent time doing the research. I know – it confused me also!

The second manager that I thought about was in a situation where multiple companies had been purchased in a short timeframe, and we needed to integrate those companies as quickly and as efficiently as possible. This manager, when asked about specific topics in meetings, would turn to a staff member and say “I hired you for your expertise in this area. What are your suggestions?” Let me repeat – in meetings that staff and executives attended, this manager would admit he didn’t know the answer and ask the “expert” for his or her opinion.

Both of these managers were considered leaders on the corporate org chart, but which one was considered a leader by the employees? (This is a rhetorical question, by the way).

As a consultant, I had plenty of customer questions that I couldn’t answer. Using some great advice from my mom, my response was always, “I don’t know, but I'll get an answer for you by tomorrow.” Before the next day, I was online trying to learn from my fellow consultant so I could have an answer for my client. Surprisingly, I had many clients who told me that I was the only consultant they ever hired who admitted they didn’t know an answer – and those clients were all impressed that I was willing to learn.

Sometimes as leaders (whether of teams or projects), we think that we have to have an answer for everything lest we be perceived as lacking knowledge. We can’t graciously accept “teaching” from people because we’re “the boss.” In reality, we make a better leader if we’re able to admit that we don’t have all the answers and learn from those people who might be smarter than we are. In the words of the cookie…it is never a shame to learn from others.

Friday Jan 13, 2012

7 Ways to be a Better Leader in 2012

The past couple of weeks, I’ve received a lot of newsletter emails about resolutions – I guess the beginning of the year is a good time for that! Most of these newsletters have an article or two about improving your leadership skills in 2012. Rather than send you to all the web site to sift through loads of content, I thought I might summarize for you some of the tips on being a better leader in 2012.

1. Take time to reflect. By being reflective, you give yourself time to think about what is going well and what needs to be changed – this time gives you a chance to learn from your experiences. Some questions you might ask (both for yourself and for your team) are:
  • What are you most proud of in 2011?
  • What are you most looking forward to in 2012?
  • What are the goals/steps that you are dedicated to moving toward in 2012?

2. Re-focus your team. Everyone is more excited about the job that they’re doing when they understand how their work ties into business goals. Take time in a team meeting to ask questions like: Where are we going? What do we believe in? Why do we exist? Don’t have those team meeting? Start scheduling them.

3. Ban “To Do” lists. Yes, getting things done is important, but I also have things on a “to-do” list that don’t really matter if they get done or not. Instead, start tracking an “Accomplishments” list to differentiate between the mundane (checking Facebook) and the truly important.

4. Paint Your Legacy. What do you want to look like in 10 or 20 years? What do you want your team members to say about you when they talk about the manager they had in 2012? Imagine what you want this future to look like and make the choices today that will get you there tomorrow.

5. Be social. “Social” is here to stay. Learn how you can use social media/activity to your advantage. You can use it to build your brand, engage team members, interact with peers, etc. The old advice was to “manage by walking around” – social activity is how you do this in the digital age.

6. Work your network. This does not mean “use people to your advantage;” this means being conscientious of your relationships. Work at building relationships and making them better. Don’t forget that part of networking is giving back to the other person – make sure that when you’re requesting help, you can offer help in return.

7. Engage your people. Engagement doesn’t equate to money (don’t get me wrong, money is nice, too). Engagement is your ability to get your team excited about the work they’re doing; it’s the level of motivation one has for his or her job; it’s the team’s ability to solve problems with you removing roadblocks. If your team is engaged, chances are pretty good that you’re excited about going to work as well.

Probably most important in these seven tips is how you’re going to change. Instead of saying “I want to develop my network,” decide the specific actions or behaviors that you are going to start or stop this year to mark your accomplishment. If you want to “develop your network,” maybe you’ll join a professional organization and attend meetings, or maybe you’ll start tweeting. Maybe you’ll stop working 18 hours on Thursdays so you can attend those meetings. By outlining those things to stop and start, you’re likely to see actual changes throughout the year

Here's to a great start in 2012!

Wednesday Dec 28, 2011

Leadership Lessons From Santa Claus

As we finish out 2011 and look forward to 2012, I thought I’d take an opportunity to reflect on the leadership lessons we can learn from Santa Claus. Here are the top ones that I came up with:

Engage with a Vision. The elves aren’t being paid a bonus to get all those presents done. Instead, Santa relies on the vision of fulfilling dreams to children around the world. Elves aren’t simply employees – they’re dream makers. Your employees aren’t simply employees either – what are they?

Have Audacious Goals. Let’s face it – having a simple goal that’s easily achieved is really no better than having no goal. Flying around the world and dropping presents at every house in a single night is an audacious goal that requires a detailed plan. What’s your goal?

Build a Strong Team. Santa has nine reindeer (eight + Rudolph), and he’s responsible for making sure the team is in top shape before that audacious goal can be achieved. Make sure that your team is in top shape – knowledge and skills are in alignment – before you ask them to strive toward the goal.

Know Your Strengths. Santa’s strength is employing Christmas magic – how else can he shimmy down chimneys? Rudolph’s strength is lighting the way. The elves are great at building toys. Everyone has their own strengths. Make sure you know what the strengths are of your people.

Build Your Network. Santa can’t be everywhere at the same time. That’s why he has all those helpers sitting in malls listening to kids’ wishes. Make sure you build your network so you can learn what the wishes are of your employees and colleagues.

Be Sensitive to Others. Santa is aware of customs and cultures around the world and makes sure that he addresses those cultures and customs. Do you do the same thing?

Never Forget Your Impact. Santa has the ability to change peoples’ lives. I’ve never forgotten the wonder at coming home from church as a seven year old and seeing presents from Santa under our tree. I’ve never forgotten the VP who took time from her schedule to mentor me. Know that you have the ability to impact others – positively or negatively – it’s your choice.

Santa may not be real to everyone, but his leadership lessons certainly are.

Best wishes for an engaging 2012!
About

Sandy's ideas about learning, organizational & personal improvement and other stuff.

I work on Oracle's Leadership Development team, but all thoughts and opinions expressed here are solely my own!

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