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!

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.


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?

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
  •, especially the “at Work” link
  • – 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.

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...   :)

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!

Monday Oct 10, 2011

Leadership, Motivation and Performance

Last week I attended a webcast on the science of motivation, led by Dan Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. The webinar was really interesting in that Pink addresses motivation as an intrinsic need, comprised of autonomy, mastery and purpose. What really caught my attention was the comment that disengagement in the workplaces costs about $300 Billion per year.

In talking about autonomy, Pink claims that “management” is an 1850’s technique and that engagement occurs through self-direction rather than by being managed. Example of autonomy in the business world include “Fed Ex Days” at Atlassian where employees are given a day to be creative and then present to a “board” the next day – called “Fed Ex Days” because they have to deliver something overnight. At Google, “20% Time” is where employees are given 20% of their time to work on things outside of their area of responsibility. In both cases, the deliverables from these activities often become parts of the corporate portfolio.

As part of the webinar, we took an “Autonomy Audit” that consisted of four questions, rated from 1 (low) to 10 (high). Pink suggests that managers try the Autonomy Audit with their teams and predict the average score. The four questions are:

  1. How much autonomy do you have over your time at work – for instance, when you leave, when you arrive, and how you allocate your hours each day
  2. How much autonomy do you have over your tasks at work – your main responsibilities and what you do in a given day?
  3. How much autonomy do you have over your team at work – that is, to what extent are you able to choose the people with whom you typically collaborate
  4. How much autonomy do you have over your technique at work – how you actually perform the main responsibilities of your job.

Greater than 34, you’re probably in the right spot; fewer than 27 or so could indicate a problem. Pink did make the point that the distribution of the points may matter more than the actual total.

The second component of motivation was described as mastery – the desire to get better at stuff and make progress in one’s work. And the only way to know if you’re getting better at something is to solicit feedback. Whether it’s asked for or not, it’s always a good idea to set out your own learning and performance goals – specify what you want to achieve, and check in with yourself once a month. Determine where you’re achieving, where you’re falling behind, any tools you need to achieve goals, etc.

Pink shared an interesting tool called “iDoneThis.” It’s basically an email-based productivity log. Each night you receive an email asking what you accomplished for the day. Your response to the email creates a calendar entry for your accomplishments. In our email-based world, this might be a great way to track your accomplishments for performance review time, your monthly check-in on progress, etc. I’ve only used it for a short time, but I find I don’t like to disappoint my calendar by not having anything to enter.

The third component of motivation was purpose. Not surprisingly, when people are reminded of the purpose of their job (or even that their job has purpose), they are more likely to engage in doing that job well. Most often, people think that leading is about the how – that is, getting the job done. As a leader, however, it’s more important to focus on the why - people do better when they know why they’re doing something.

So, what did I get out of the webinar that I think is worth passing on to you? Two things – one from a leadership perspective; the other from an individual perspective.

First - as a leader, if you feel that your team could be performing better, take a look at autonomy, mastery and purpose, and determine if those needs are being met for all your team members. If not, determine what steps you can take to improve each area. Maybe it’s as simple as explaining the “why” of a particular project; maybe you need to provide more latitude in how a deliverable gets accomplished.

Second, as an individual, do your own self-audit with regard to autonomy, mastery and purpose. If you feel like you’re lacking in autonomy, have a conversation with your manager to see what might change. If you’re lacking in motivation, do self-reviews each week to give yourself a sense of accomplishment within your job. If purpose is lacking, spend some time contemplating “why” you’re doing your job and if that fits with your intrinsic needs.

Overall, I think the webinar provided attendees with the opportunity to think outside of the “financial rewards box” when looking at ways to improve performance and motivation amongst team members. If you’d like to hear more about motivation from Daniel Pink, check out the TED talk that he gave at TEDGlobal 2009.

Wednesday Apr 27, 2011

Is Your Leadership Style Killing Your Employees?

I attended a webinar yesterday by Kevin Kruse, author of We: How to Increase Performance and Profits through Full Engagement. I typically try to find at least one or two nuggets of information in the webinars that I attend, and when I registered, I figured that any webinar on employee engagement would give me at least one good nugget. Boy was I wrong – the whole webinar was engaging!

Let’s start with some statistics (I’ll get to the killing part later). According to polls done by BlessingWhite, Conference Board and Gallup, fewer than 1 in 3 employees are engaged in their work; only 45% are “satisfied” with their work; and employee disengagement costs companies around $300 billion annually. Additionally, higher performing organizations tend to have more engaged employees (56%) than low performing organizations (27%); and companies ranked high in employee engagement had better shareholder return (17.9%) than companies ranked low in employee engagement (-4.9%).

Now, about that killing part. The engagement surveys also showed that dissatisfied employees weighed about 5 pounds more than their colleagues and were more susceptible to cardiovascular events. Even more surprising, a person’s job satisfaction has a direct correlation on their marital happiness and on the likeliness their kids will misbehave in school (this is called the “spillover effect”). And much of one’s engagement and job satisfaction comes from a person’s interaction with his or her boss. In fact, five questions can determine the quality of boss/employee interaction:

  1. My boss gives me the information I need.
  2. My boss is good at pushing through and carrying out changes.
  3. My boss explains goals for our work so that I understand what they mean for my particular part of the task.
  4. I have sufficient power in relation to my responsibilities.
  5. I am praised by my boss if I have done something good.

If you’d like, you can even take a short quiz to see if you are suffering from boss-related health issues.

In the webinar, Kevin provided a “GReaT” model of leadership. The capitalization is a reminder for Growth, Recognition and Trust, which are three high-impact drivers of engagement. Leaders can take certain step to drive GReaT leadership, including:

To drive Growth & Development

To drive Recognition & Appreciation

To drive Trust & Confidence

  • Hold 1:1 meetings to talk about 3-5 year career goals
  • Identify knowledge, skills, experience and relationships needed to reach those goals
  • Identify ways to close the gaps
  • Meet quarterly to track progress
  • Show appreciation regularly, but make sure it’s deserved
  • Hand-written notes are valued. Write them.
  • Offer recognition publicly
  • When thanking someone, explain how their actions impact the company
  • Ask for opinions and let people be involved
  • Match your words to your actions
  • Be transparent – share good and bad news
  • Acknowledge your mistakes
  • Never say anything you wouldn’t say to someone’s face
  • Focus on the BHAGs (big, hairy, audacious goals)

As a leader, you may want to think about the five questions and how you drive GReaT leadership. The culture that you create with your team members has an impact beyond just your team – it impacts every team member and every person in his or her family. Simply changing how you interact with your employees could lead to higher levels of engagement, fewer health related issues, and better family relationships for your employees…and wouldn’t that be a great impact to have on your universe?

Friday Sep 05, 2008

What Can You Do With a Virtual Team?

A colleague of mine asked me about ideas for teaming activities for virtual teams – that is, ways to reproduce the water cooler in a virtual environment. What I thought would be a quick Google search ended up being a bit more frustrating.

I found a lot of information on managing virtual teams. Not what I was looking for, but if you want the short version, it's:

  • Make sure your team has a common vision and goals. If possible try to have a kick-off meeting in person to establish vision, goals and group norms.

  • Gain commitment from team members. That in-person kick-off helps with that as everybody has a say in establishing the vision, goals and norms.

  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. Did I mention communicate?

  • Inclusion. A virtual team will likely create diverse viewpoints. Make sure that everyone has an opportunity to voice their opinions and provide input.

  • Establish clear roles and responsibilities. This prevents people in four geographic areas from working the same problem, duplicating efforts and wasting resources.

Now that you have the highlights, back to my colleague's question. How do you create that “team environment” virtually? I am in no way pretending to be the expert here, but I did find some interesting ideas around tools and activities.

Productivity Tools

Make sure that you have good productivity tools. This is probably the number one rule for success of virtual teams. Remember that “good” is relative. What may work for one team won't necessarily work for another. Some common references to tools were:

  1. Instant Messaging: Most companies will have some form of IM tool in place. These tools allow team members to communicate in real time with one another. Kolabora has a great article called Instant Messaging Tools and Technology: A Mini-Guide that outlines a variety of tools – most of them free – including features and capabilities of each

  2. Web Conferencing capabilities: Web Conferencing allows you to have a conference room type of meeting over your computer. Most of these offer chat, whiteboards, application sharing, etc. to make your team feel more involved in the action. The Center for Learning & Performance Technology has a great list of Screen Sharing & Web Conferencing Tools.

  3. Skype: If you need to conduct video calls between team members, Skype is the way to go. Not only is it free, but the quality of calls is pretty good as well. Just remember that people on your virtual team need to have a video camera on their computer for this to work!

  4. Facebook: Create a group on Facebook for your team. I admit, I'm a new user to Facebook, so I don't have a lot of details on what you can or can't do with Facebook. I did see quite a few references to using Facebook to keep in touch with your team, however.

  5. Internal Wiki site or web site: Depending upon your company's internal tools, you may be able to set up a web site or wiki site for your team to share things like a calendar, to-do lists, documents, discussion strings, etc. Based upon some quick browsing on my part, wiki sites tend to be more popular as team members can add and update information without dealing with HTML.

Virtual Team Activities

So you've got some tools in place, but what can you actually do to ensure that your team feels a sense of camaraderie? How about some of these?

  1. Video Conference

Try to hold a video conference at least quarterly so people can “see” one another. If you have people based at home, they can use Skype (see Tools section above). People based on a corporate campus can use a video equipped conference room.

  1. Online Scavenger Hunt

Come up with a list of 15-20 things that people need to find online (related to the team's goal, a current project, or something else). Divide the team into small groups, making sure office and home based people are mixed. Have prizes for various things: fastest to complete hunt; most interesting presentation found; most interesting video found, etc.

  1. Host a Teleconference Lunch

Everyone dials in for a phone call during lunch where no “work” related talk is allowed. People could share one non-work related goal/interest. You do need to make sure that people on the phone have opportunities to talk. It sounds kind of crazy, but a group of my friends had to resort to this one for a baby shower when the mom was on bed rest in another state. It worked!

  1. Expertise Arena

On your team collaboration site (facebook, wiki, web page, etc), list each team member and his or her top 3 areas of expertise. Encourage other team members to use their co-workers' expertise when solving problems.

  1. Recipe Exchange/Holiday Report

To foster understanding of other team members' cultures, have each team member provide a recipe that their family enjoys at a particular holiday. Team members may also want to share the importance of that holiday.

  1. Idea Day

Give each team member a half day where they can explore something of interest. At your weekly team meeting (because you are having a weekly team meeting, right?), pick 2-3 people to share what they learned on their half-day.

  1. Getting to Know You

Prior to a team meeting, have everyone provide some piece of information about themselves. At the meeting, have a person read the description and allow team members to match the person to the description. Some ideas include a favorite hobby, a favorite superhero and why it's a favorite, the best book that you've ever read and why; your favorite job and why, etc.

  1. E-Cards

Send team members an e-card for reaching team milestones or personal milestones (e.g. projects completed; promotions; publications; patents granted; birthdays; anniversaries; birth of children, etc.)

  1. On-Line GeoCaching Game

Instead of using GSP positions, have each team member identify a cache location and provide clues (written or pictures). Other team members need to find the cache. Progress and results can be tracked on the team wiki (or other collaboration site). Check out the Official Geocaching Site or Wikipedia if you've never heard of geocaching.

  1. Online Gaming

Get team members together to play an online game – World of Warcraft, Fantasy Football, etc.

I also found a book that I think has potential - More Quick Team-Building Activities for Busy Managers by Brian Cole Miller. The reason I liked this book is because every activity has ideas for adapting the activity for virtual teams. I didn't read the book in its entirety, but, as I said, I think it has potential. By the way, if your company has access to Books24x7, this book may be available through that site.

I know that this is not anywhere close to comprehensive, so tell me – if you work with or manage a virtual team, what do you do to make sure the water cooler exists?


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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