10 Tips to Help Your Team in a Disrupted Environment

Coronavirus is creating more disruption than many of us have ever experienced. It impacts our personal lives and professional lives. It’s doing the same for everyone around us. The situation changes daily with closings, cancellations, and now, decisions to have many people work from home.

Working from home may be a new way of working for some people or old hat for others.  Either way, it’s now a reality for everyone. Here are some tips to help you successfully lead your team as they adjust to working in a new way, in a new location, in a world of disruption.

1. Reflect. how are you feeling about what is going on? How do you feel about the remote work? In times of uncertainty, your team largely will calibrate their response to the uncertainty based on your response. Set up routines for yourself to help you ‘keep calm and carry on.’

2. Show empathy. people are experiencing everything from minor concern to outright fear, not to mention disruption on multiple fronts. In addition, people may not be able to create the most productive work environment. Schools may close. They may have older relatives they need to check in on. Their ability to shut it all out may be taxed. Talk about Feelings First.

3. Move off email, communicate real time. Even in the most email-driven organizations, we see each other all the time. When everyone is remote, we don’t. Relying only on email can feel isolating. Pick up the phone. Get on Skype. Make a live connection.

4. Set up a cadence for communication. What was your cadence up to this point for team and individual meetings. Keep that. What else do you need to add? This is a rapidly changing situation. At a minimum, daily updates, should be the norm until the pace of disruption slows down. The length of the updates can change, but the regularity shouldn’t change abruptly.

5. Check-in, 1-on-1. do personal check-ins with each person. Make sure they are adjusting well and have what they need to succeed. Ask questions. Actively listen.

6. Collaboratively create contingency plans. There are lots of unknowns and risks right now.  What contingencies might your team need? For example, how will the team adjust if members become ill and are out for several days? What if someone has an ill family member they need to care for? Working collaboratively on these plans will create buy-in and better solutions.

7. Create a virtual break room.  Create ways that team members can catch up with each other and chat. It can be as simple as having each other’s cell phone numbers to send texts, hop on Skype/Facetime or actually call each other.

8. Focus on engagement. It’s really easy to feel disconnected when everyone is remote.  Key drivers of engagement are helping people feel they are part of something bigger, the ability to make progress and feel competent, and the ability to make decisions about how one works. Make sure your team members are feeling good about these factors.

9. Break the tension. This entire situation can be nerve wracking.  If your team is not dealing directly with the health crisis, building in some fun could help bring some relief.  A silly contest, posting pictures of your ‘home office’(which may be the kitchen table!), a rotating responsibility to share a dad joke everyday could be just what the team needs.

10. Review the week. Whether on shared drive, Slack, or a live meeting, review the week with everyone. What did we accomplish? What issues are we having? How is our communication cadence working? How is everyone feeling?

One of your goals is to create a level of predictability for your team in a highly unpredictable situation. The more quickly you can use some of these tips consistently, the quicker you will all create a rhythm that works for your team.

Do you need some help getting your head wrapped around what to do with your group, specifically? Do you want someone to help your group exceed expectations in a very difficult environment? Call Edith at 1.978.475.8424 or email her at e.onderick-harvey@nextbridgeconsulting.com.

Help Your Team Learn From Mistakes

One of your people walks into your office with that look. You know the look. The one that says… I have something I need to tell you that I really don’t want to tell you.

I’ve written in the Harvard Business Review online about ways to help your team be open to change. How you handle mistakes is key part of helping you team thrive during change and become more innovative themselves. The way you handle mistakes can create psychological safety or fear. You have to ask yourself… what’s my goal here? How can I manage this conversation so that we make the mistake a growth opportunity… one that pays dividends down the road?

Helping your team learn from mistakes includes 5 actions you should take during conversations with your team.  The first and last are actions you should take during conversations with your entire team on a regular basis. The other three are for those times when someone with that look walks into your office:

Action 1: Model the Way

Acknowledge and be accountable for your mistakes, especially if you are a senior leader. Too often, people who are a few layers removed from you in the organization feel like you may be where you are because you did not make significant mistakes. Tell stories of times you made mistakes and how you moved forward. Learning from mistakes is easier if leaders show you how.

Action 2: Respond Rather Than React

When someone comes to you with a mistake, you may feel frustration, disappointment or even anger.  Use your emotional intelligence to respond rather than react. Ask yourself a few questions. How does this make me feel? What would be the most productive response in this situation, if our goal is to use mistakes as a learning and growth opportunity? How is the other person feeling? How can I help both of us use this as a springboard for innovation?

Action 3: Acknowledge feelings first. 

No one feels good about making a mistake. Ask how they feel about the situation. Recognize that it can be difficult to make a mistake, much less to have to tell your boss about it.  You might want to tell them you’ve made that mistake (or one like it) yourself in the past.

Action 4: Ask questions. 

During the conversation, you may be tempted to jump right into problem-solving mode where you explain how to fix things. Resist the urge. Instead, ask questions. Let the individual explain the situation and follow-up with questions that allow the two of you to turn this into a learning conversation.  If you could do this over again, how would you approach it?    What do you think we need to do at this point? What is an important take away you have from this situation? What could I have done to support you differently? How can I help going forward?  When someone figures out how to fix their own mistake, they begin to learn how to fix mistakes in general and even how to avoid similar ones in the future.

Action 5: Champion the mistake-makers (judiciously, of course)

In a 2010 Inc. article, Michael Alter tells the story of how he created a ‘Best New Mistakes” competition at SurePayroll and its impact on the culture. The rules were simple – you must nominate yourself, explain the mistake, and what you learned from it. Entries were read, discussed and winners were chosen at company meetings. It was approached in a light-hearted way, allowing everyone to have fun and learn at the same time. Alter ‘formalized failure’ and allowed people to get over the stigma associated with mistakes.  

When one of your team members comes into your office with that look you want them to walk out feeling understood and even energized by the opportunities created by their mistake.

What other tips do you have for helping your team learn from their mistakes? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at info@nextbridgeconsulting.com.

What do 181 CEO’s Agree On?

Purpose Matters

181 CEO’s signed a letter from the Business Roundtable last week, stating that purpose matters and shareholders are not the only stakeholders who should receive value from the endeavors of business.

They specifically note that there are 5 stakeholders they are accountable to – shareholders, employees, customers, communities and suppliers. Interestingly, as a young consultant, my firm used this framework for strategic planning with our clients back in the late 1980’s. By taking this more holistic view of who should benefit from the corporation, the purpose of the organization became more meaningful to everyone the organization touched.

We’ve spoken about purpose for years. It’s what gets people up in the morning. It’s what makes people put in the extra effort when it’s needed. It’s what makes us feel a part of something bigger.

Empirical research now supports the fact that purpose and profit go together. Research by Gloria Gartenburg and George Serafeim found that companies with high levels of purpose outperform the market by 5-7%. This finding, according to Gartenburg and Serafeim is on par with companies that have best-in-class governance and innovative capabilities.

According to Gartenburg and Serafeim just having a purpose is not enough. Success comes when:

  • Senior leadership has embedded that sense of purpose through the organization, especially at the middle manager level
  • There is strategic clarity throughout the organization about how to achieve that purpose

Purpose as a Core Tenet of Successful Change: These findings made me think about one of the critical elements of change I’ve been writing about for years, including recently in HBR Online and elsewhere. Clear, compelling purpose provides clear direction and ensures that everyone understands the “why “ of the change (i.e., the purpose), not just the what.

Today, organizations have to be able to change quickly. A natural outgrowth of rapid change is uncertainty and, at times, frustration that what we’re doing today flies in the face of what we did yesterday. However, if your organization has a clear sense of purpose and change is continually tied back to that purpose, uncertainty can be managed, and frustration minimized.

And when that purpose is not just aligned to shareholders but to the multiple stakeholders, the change will be meaningful in new ways. It will not just be a singular group who benefits. Rather it will have more meaning for the entire ecosystem of the organization.

Those organizations who establish a meaningful purpose and embed it in the culture of their leadership and their organization stand the best chance of thriving amid the chaos of constant change and upheaval in the world.

Disruption, Anyone?

Google is getting into the gaming business. According to the Wall Street Journal, they’re launching with a cloud-based service, hardware component and separate controller. Google is set to disrupt another industry.

There are plenty of disrupters out there. Some are behemoths like Google or Amazon. Others seemingly rise from nowhere. And, no matter what our industry, disruption is a very real possibility. We can’t run from it. We can’t hide from it. We need to be ready for it.

How can you get ready? Or even better, how could you become the disrupter?

Keep in touch with new technology. It can be overwhelming because it changes so rapidly. That’s the exact reason we need to stay in touch with it. Join a tech-focused professional group. Check out tech blogs. Pay attention to the everchanging buzz words – AI, autonomous vehicles, blockchain – and then find out what they mean. And ask, ‘how could this impact the work we do and the value we provide to clients?’

Look outside your industry. Clients invariably ask me ‘what are other company’s like ours doing?’ It’s not a question of what other company’s like yours are doing, it’s what are other companies unlike yours doing? I don’t know the gaming industry but it’s quite possible gaming companies didn’t look at Google as a company ‘like ours.’ Have your team look outside, too.

Listen, really listen, to your customers. Don’t just ask how you can do what you do better or how to improve your product. Ask them what their problems are. Find out what they want to solve. It quite possibly will have nothing to do with what you are currently providing. The question is then, do we have an opportunity here? Your team is probably positioned even better than you are to ask these questions and see the opportunities. Make the asking part of their job.

Build space to experiment. With different perspectives added to your thinking, there should come new ideas. Give space and resources to experiment. Try out ideas on a small scale. Learn from the failures and build on the successes.

Disruption, almost by definition, is something you’re not prepared for. It can be a disaster for companies and individual careers alike… so you have to get prepared. So, before Google, the start-up around the corner or across the globe turns you and your company upside down, invest time and resources making yourself as disruption-proof as possible.

Improve Your Global Mindset and Strategic Thinking

Recently I had the pleasure of talking with a Danish company at their annual meeting in Dubai. It reminded me that some of the most instructive client relationships I have (especially the long-term ones) are those that provide me with a global perspective. It also reminded me of this newsletter article I wrote several years ago…

Some of you may have heard the story of the truck stuck under the bridge and the dilemma of how to get it unstuck. If you don’t know it, I’ll share it at the end of this post.

I thought about that story at a recent professional meeting where the topic was developing a global mindset. All of the speakers had interesting perspectives to share and one in particular made a point that was particularly thought-provoking. His company’s research had shown that experiencing another culture had a significant impact on one’s strategic thinking. He further explained that “experiencing” a culture didn’t mean going there on vacation for a week or two.

It is immersive, longer-term experiences like ex pat assignments or managing global teams where you had to travel to work within their culture. The speaker noted that these assignments have this profound impact because they change your perspectives on the world, how it is organized and how it functions. These different perspectives allow you to be more nuanced in your thinking about how different parts of a whole interact, the variables that impact it, and the implications.

How, then, can someone stretch their perceptions and perspectives and develop their strategic thinking when working globally isn’t a possibility?

Seek out Projects That Involve Global Teams.  It’s not the same as working overseas, but working on projects with global teams is a great start. It will expose you to different ways of thinking, conversing, and decision-making. Regardless of your role, really listen to others.

Regularly interact with people in a different function or area of the company. Marketers and engineers don’t think alike. Operations folks think differently from researchers. See how someone different from you may be experiencing the same organization, issues, etc.

Interact with those outside your industry.  For years, benchmarking was the buzzword when you wanted to get a more strategic perspective and to understand the industry more broadly. The problem is that it is a closed-system approach. Biotechs benchmark other biotechs. Car manufacturers benchmark other car manufacturers. The perspective of someone in a totally different industry about your issue or situation will cause you to think about the variables and interactions more broadly, more strategically. It helps you see the forest for the trees. One of the things that made Steve Jobs so successful at product design was that he thought about products and perspectives he gained from things like digital animation architecture.

Hire people who are different from you. I hesitate to say hire for diversity because too often that is narrowly defined. In addition to the more commonly referenced and important diversity categories, we can hire for diversity of thought, experiences, and education. Also, the US has new populations from other cultures within the country that can be brought onto teams. So, if working globally isn’t possible, the US still has a rich population of people to choose from. Then, regularly ask those you’ve hired for perspective and input on the business issues you are working to address.

Thinking about your daily business interactions expansively will help you develop the broader perspective needed to think more strategically.

So, the story about the truck stuck under the bridge goes like this…  A truck was stuck under a bridge, backing up traffic. The police, fire and tow truck drivers were trying to figure out how to get it out, but they had no workable solution.  A little boy walked up and asked what was going on. The police officer explained the dilemma. The little boy looked at him and said. “Let the air out of the tires.”

Among other things, the story illustrates how important it is to look for and value unique perspectives, especially those outside your typical orbit. Something a more global perspective can provide us.

Is Storytelling One of Your Leadership Superpowers?

I’ve been working with some senior leaders recently on using powerful tools like storytelling to engage others in strategy. Just last week, I also saw a headline that Marvel’s most recent movie – Ant Man and the Wasp – opened in 1st place this past weekend. It was their 20th straight #1 opening. Marvel is telling some great stories. How can we, as leaders, start telling some great stories?

A recent article in The Mission identified 20 Storytelling Lessons We Can Learn from Marvel, analyzing what makes them so good at the art of the story. I’m not going to discuss all 20, but but here are three that all leaders can use to make storytelling one of their superpowers.

  • Heroes are not inherently interesting. Only dynamic, flawed characters can connect with dynamic, flawed humans. Too often leaders, especially senior leaders, are viewed by other people in the organization as being different from them. And, too often, these leaders hide the parts of themselves that would make people believe any differently. I’ve facilitated many leadership sessions where a senior leader shares his or her story. The most impactful stories are those where the senior leader opens up and shares the stories of the hardships, the mistakes, the questioning of themselves and the missteps that they have experienced in their lives and careers. And what they did to overcome those challenges that led to success.
  • The world is more than blue sky and green grass. Create a believable universe, not a pretty backdrop. When we tell a story, we may tend to gloss over the parts that aren’t too pretty. We only talk about all the benefits that will come from the company transformation. Just like showing your own human, less than perfect side, you should paint a realistic picture of what your team and your organization faces. “The new organizational structure will position the company to be more successful. AND… yes, it will mean growing pains. Some people will no longer fit into the company’s future, and some people will have to learn new ways of working or report to new managers. And we’ll all have to manage a degree of uncertainty as all the kinks are worked out. We don’t take these steps lightly.  But there is no growth without growing pains.“
  • Avoid info-dumping by maintaining a thread of suspense until the last possible moment. I recently saw a video by Lani Peterson, who is an executive coach and storytelling expert. She explained what happens when we talk facts and figures. She notes that we make sense out of information by turning it into a story and comparing it to other stories we’ve experienced. We, as the listener, have to do all the work. As leaders, if we are focusing on facts and figures – info dumping – rather than weaving a story that builds to a important point, we are not engaging our listeners. Instead, they’re in their own heads, working to figure out how to make sense of what we are telling them. When you’re communicating, don’t rely on Powerpoint or spreadsheets to share where the organization is going or why a particular decision was made. Build a good story that pulls the pieces of the story together, allowing for the big reveal at the end.

If you’re a fan of Iron Man, one of Marvel’s most successful heroes, you probably see all three of these dynamics play out. Marvel gives us a character, Tony Stark (he inhabits the iron suits) who is deeply flawed. Like most people, he struggles with his weaknesses, overcoming them on the way to saving the world. Likewise, Marvel also doesn’t try to paint the good guys’ organizations in the story with an overly flattering brush. Like the heroes, the agencies eventually overcome their own challenges. And finally, like most good stories, there is a feel-good twist at the end. A sense of the heroics of overcoming difficulties both superhuman (defeating an evil empire) and every-day (salvaging a friendship, or coming together as a team) in the service of a greater good.

Growth by Design

I was having a conversation with a CEO earlier this week. The business is very successful and healthy. But like most CEO’s, he is concerned with growth and what’s next for his company. During our conversation, we talked about taking a step back, what I sometimes call taking in the view from the balcony. This view allows you to see how the different aspects of the business and organization are working together (or against each other) to achieve today’s results. And begs the question… how effectively will our current structure and processes spur that next phase of growth? Taking this view helps you to create growth by design, making it easier to align and integrate purposefully. And it prepares the organization to take that next step.

Growth by Design is our framework for helping clients build an organization that can propel them to the next level. It has three core components.

  • It’s starts with compelling clarity, ensuring alignment of the vision, mission, goals and culture. Every leader and every employee should know at all times exactly what their priorities are and how they fit with the strategy and goals of the organization. A how they both serve the mission.
  • Second, you need to leverage the critical drivers – understanding and instilling the growth imperative, making change agility part of your company’s DNA, and ensuring you have the talent to innovate and execute.
  • Third, the organization needs to build adaptive structures and processes– both business and human resources/talent processes and structures — that meet today’s needs but also prepare the organization for what’s next.

Asking the right questions and finding the best answers will help even the most challenged CEOs and senior teams cut through the fog. Building a compelling strategy for what lies ahead… begins by design.

Five Behaviors of Leaders Who Embrace Change

I had the opportunity to share my insights on the behaviors of leaders who embrace change as part of Harvard Business Review series Competing in the Future.

In today’s VUCA environment, leaders can no longer manage change, they need to enable it. In the article, I discuss how “Successful change-agile leaders at all levels in the organization respond to changes in the business environment by seizing opportunities, including throwing out old models and developing new ways of doing business. They try to make change thinking contagious, embedding it into everything they do from the most fundamental daily interactions to the most complex strategy.”

To read the article, click here. After you’ve read it, let HBR and me know what you think in the comments section.

Know Any Toxic Bosses?

As I was preparing for this week’s newsletter, one word seemed to be showing up over and over again in what I was reading. The word: toxic. People are talking about toxic bosses. Articles are referring to toxic cultures. Even as I was preparing a program for MassTLC’s Recruiters Academy, I was looking back at a workshop I did for The Boston Club about managing toxic relationships. Some interesting things came to light. Here are a few:

Eight Qualities.  In one of the most thorough studies of management behavior ever, Google identified 8 qualities of toxic bosses. They include: being frustrated when you have to coach employees, double-checking every employee’s work (the micromanagement we all love to hate), you’d rather stay in your office than talk with your team, and, interestingly, you feel constantly behind and split in too many directions. I hear the last one from many leaders. If you’re unable to manage your workload, it’s difficult to help others manage theirs. You can see the complete list here.

Gallup surveys say that as often as 82% of the time, companies make mistakes in whom they choose to be managers. Not all bad managers are “toxic,” but a percentage will be. How does this happen? Are we putting too much weight on past results to predict future performance? Especially when the past results and how they were achieved don’t resemble what’s required in the future?

Economics of Toxic Cultures.  A recent article in HBRmakes an argument for the economic reasons companies don’t fix toxic cultures. It states that cultural capital is a type of asset that’s analogous to physical capital or human capital. Just like these assets, there are risks associated with how you manage your culture. Too many companies don’t manage the cultural risks purposefully and aggressively enough and it often leads to toxic environments.

Peter Drucker famously said “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”  Toxicity can start at the personal level and quickly spread across a culture. Too often it’s tolerated because it’s a single person or someone who gets results. We think it can be contained. Containment isn’t the best strategy. It’s too easy for the figurative walls to break and allow the toxins to seep out.

Next week, we’ll talk more about how to deal with a toxic boss.

Which Blind Spots are Hurting You? Your Team?

“Knowing yourself is the root of all wisdom.”
– Socrates –

One time when working with a coach to prep for a job interview, I was videotaped.  I was completely unaware of some of the things I was doing.  With the help of the coach I was able to see the behaviors that could interfere with my success.  I was made aware of my blind spots.

The most successful leaders I work with are always looking for ways to continue improving, and that includes uncovering and addressing blind spots… which often change over time.

Blind spots can be feelings and thoughts we have, mental models we employ or behaviors we exhibit that we aren’t fully conscious of.  Or behaviors that we just aren’t aware are producing a negative result.  These could include overestimating your change agility or being too data driven.  Perhaps relying too heavily on your own enthusiasm for a project, or not knowing about a new market disruptor that is about to impact your business.  And we are all familiar with leaders who don’t see how their communication style is impacting others.

Not understanding your blind spots can significantly limit your success as a leader.  It limits your team’s performance.  It can even cost your company its market and customers. 

Some leaders don’t understand that they are shutting down innovation or new thinking.  I work with teams all the time where performance is hurt by members who don’t realize, for example, that they’re interrupting too often, or conversely, not vocally contributing enough.

Kodak famously had a blind spot about the impact of digital photography on their market.   They chose to do nothing with the very technology that was invented by one of their own engineers in the mid-1970’s. From the executives’ viewpoint, they were incredibly successful.  They dominated the market.  Why worry?

Other people usually see your blind spots long before you do, so you don’t want to be unaware of them for long.

One of the best way to discover them is through frank feedback from others, coupled with self-reflection.  Here are three approaches to gathering feedback that, when used effectively, will uncover your blind spots:

  • Conversations focused on feedback.  You may be thinking, I’ve asked people to give me feedback and I don’t’ get any.  Don’t discount the fact that you may be getting feedback, but it’s either too subtle or you’re not tuning into it. Remember – it’s a blind spot. And many people are reticent when given general invitations. Can I really give feedback about anything?  It’s more effective to ask for feedback about specific situations or behaviors.  If you’re having trouble with employee feedback, ask a peer you trust.  If it’s a team issue, ask someone who worked with you on another team.  Finally, if you’re known for not asking or for not reacting well to feedback, it’s going to take a while.  Be patient.  Keep at it.
  • Formal 360 feedback.  Handled correctly, this can be a powerful tool for collecting feedback because it is often gathered by someone other than you and then shared with you. This can help people feel safer about sharing what may be unpleasant for you to hear. I use a mixed approach of a survey tool and confidential interviews to help the executives I work with gain a 360 perspective.
  • Validated, reliable self-assessment toolsthat generate in-depth feedback about your personality preferences.  They are predictive of how you typically behave in various situations. I’ve found Insights DiscoveryTMto be one of the best of these tools.  It’s easy to use and utilizes a straightforward framework that generates nuanced, personal results.

Simply becoming more self-aware and identifying your blind spots is not enough.  You can know that you’re coming across as a jerk and still continue to be a jerk.  You need to be purposeful in applying that awareness to your own improvement.  Some people refer to this as mindfulness – being self-aware and acting with intentionality.

Follow up on your new awareness with an intentional approach for development.  It should include:

  • Yourself through coaching or numerous different learning opportunities
  • Your team through conversations focused on how each other’s strengths and blind spots impact the team, as a start
  • Your organization through purposeful development of a culture of self-awareness and intentional action.

There are a number of strategies and techniques you can employ to overcome blind spots.  If you’d like to continue the conversation, please contact me at 978-475-8424 or e.onderick-harvey@NextBridgeConsulting.com.