Conversations On The Curve: Bob Kelleher

Boost Your Team’s Engagement

Employee engagement is a challenge even in the best of times. This year, Gallup shows only 36% of US employees are engaged. Why does this matter? Companies with high levels of engagement are 21% more profitable and 22% more productive.

One of the complicating factors this year is the unprecedented change in the economy and how work is getting done. So, what does employee engagement mean in a virtual world? How do I, as a leader, meet the challenge of engaging my team at a time when stress and distractions are so high?

In this interview, Edith talks with Bob Kelleher, a leading expert in employee engagement, and founder of The Employee Engagement Group.

Here’s our conversation!

To learn more about Bob Kelleher, click here.

 

7 Tips for Better Virtual Reviews

Most managers have a hard enough time communicating with their team members. And doing so virtually is even harder. But there’s still good news for delivering that performance review virtually. A few basic techniques will go a long way to easing the difficulty.


Just like in-person reviews, the key to successful virtual reviews is to focus on the conversation.  It should be a dialogue between you and your team member that is focused on helping this individual perform at the highest level possible, to build on their strengths and support their development.  Here are 7 tips to make your virtual reviews effective.

1. Provide the review ahead of time. Give the person at least an hour or two to look at it prior to your conversation. That provides enough time for them to process the information and get beyond any initial reactions. They can “walk into” the meeting more composed, with thoughts and questions more fully formed.

2. Set the stage. Put aside your Zoom fatigue and use video (not the phone) so that the conversation feels as much like in-person as possible. If you usually rely on others to manage video calls, do a dry run so you’re able to focus on the discussion, not the technology. Know what you’re doing to do if there are connection issues. Reschedule as a video call, not a phone call.

3. Start with empathy. Begin the conversation by recognizing 2020 has been challenging and talk about specific challenges the individual has faced. Ask how they are doing (yes, even if you asked them that last week – you want to build empathy as part of the virtual conversation). 96% of employees believe showing empathy is an important way to advance employee retention. 92% believe it remains undervalued. Empathy will make a virtual conversation go more smoothly.

4. Focus on strengths.  Recognize their hard work. A great deal of research shows that managers and organizations should focus the majority of their feedback on a person’s strengths. The 80/20 rule on the ratio of positive to “corrective” feedback might look more like 90/10 this year. Of course, poor performers will require a higher ratio of “corrective” feedback. But if you go a bit easier on most people’s performance than you might normally, it will pay off in 2021.

5. Listen carefully. Active listening is harder on a zoom call. But it builds trust and shows respect. Employees who feel their voice is heard are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work. Don’t interrupt. Allow the other person time to respond. Remember there can be video delay.

6. Don’t shortchange the review. We’re all tired of endless video calls. For many, they’re more taxing than face-to-face meetings. It will be tempting to create a shorter than normal agenda or rush through the meeting. Resist that temptation. Especially in a year that requires a little more managerial TLC.

7. Beware of an office bias. If you have a split office/remote team, remember that many managers still have a bias toward people who work on site. In a year where many people don’t have a choice, it’s important to not penalize people for their work arrangements.

7 Ways to Make Performance Review Discussions Easier… and More Effective

Performance management is a source of some frustration for most managers, especially having the “dreaded” review discussion. There are ways to make that conversation both easier and more effective.


It’s that time of the year again.  No, not the holidays.  Performance review and annual goal setting time. Many people dread performance reviews.  That dread is exacerbated this year by the exceptional circumstances we’ve all been living through.  It’s too bad this sense of dread is so prevalent. Performance reviews and feedback could be easier and more effective, if we reframe our thinking. Here are 7 tips to make performance reviews easier and more effective:

1. Change the label. The term “performance review” or “performance management” conjures up images of passing judgement on a person’s performance, on their worth. A “performance and development conversation” is a two-way dialogue. We are sharing perspectives, insights and ideas. It’s a partnership. How we talk with our team members can put people more at ease.

2. Change the focus. Make the review all about developing your team member. The focus of performance conversations should not be primarily about the rating we are giving someone or justifying a salary increase. It’s an opportunity to help this individual perform at the highest level possible, to build on their strengths and support their development. According to McKinsey, superior talent is up to eight times more productive than average employees.  The more time and sincere effort you invest in your employee’s development, the higher the return.

3. Start with empathy. Ask about the challenges and realities the person is experiencing – balancing work and child-care, caring for an elderly parent, managing remote or hybrid learning or just the loneliness of being remote. Ask at the beginning of the review. Even if you asked last week. You want to establish empathy as part of the review. Why? Besides being a good thing to do? Among employees who said they feel cared for by their employer, 94% say they feel personally engaged in their work compared to 43% of those who don’t. Furthermore, according to IBM research, organizations that score in the  top 25% of employee experience report nearly 3x the return on assets and double the return on sales when compared to organizations in the bottom 25%.

4. Simplify. Start with a high-level narrative that summarizes past performance, development needs and goals. Then launch into the review. But don’t just read it together. Instead, think about using these five questions to drive conversation:

  • What accomplishments are you most proud of?
  • How well are you achieving your current goals?
  • How do goals need to change to meet new business strategy or goals?
  • How are your actions aligning with our values and culture?
  • What do you need to continue doing because you are doing it well? What do you need to stop doing because it’s not effective? What do you need to start doing instead?
5. Redefine accountabilities. In light of the exceptionally difficult year, we will want to remember to reframe our expectations. For example, is it realistic to think a salesperson will have the same level of sales as they did last year? 

6. Talk about expectations and reality.  
Discuss how those expectations can be managed against the realities mentioned above.  Ask for the individual’s thoughts on it. 

7. Focus not just on what was achieved but how it was achieved. 
For example, in remote environments, collaboration is more important but can be more difficult. Make sure people are clear on what is important for success.

Does Your Onboarding Experience Still Work, Post-Covid?

How are You Onboarding (or Re-boarding) Post-Covid?

One of the challenges of having so many people working virtually is creating and keeping a vibrant culture that helps everyone feel connected and driven by a shared purpose.

Among the earliest experiences our people have with the culture is during on-boarding.  Working in the COVD and post-COVID environment, onboarding needs to be different.  By assessing what works and what doesn’t in your onboarding, you can design an experience that’s adapted to a virtual environment and reinforces culture and connections.

Late last year – pre-pandemic – we helped a client design an onboarding process.  The design focused on making the process a more powerful tool for creating culture in a dispersed team that had grown 200% in the previous 18 months. While few companies are experiencing that kind of growth now, the lessons are relevant in today’s environment, too.

This biotech’s culture was a key differentiator for them in terms of how they achieved results and how they attracted high-caliber talent in the market.  Facing a period of unprecedented growth with geographically dispersed offices and remote employees, they were seeing a higher attrition rate, especially among employees who had been with the company for a short period of time.  They were concerned that they were not creating an effective new-hire experience. After creating a highly experiential new-hire orientation program, our client believed there was still something missing for their recently added team members — the onboarding experience onto the new hire’s team.

The first phase of our work together was to assess:
  • how onboarding was approached across the various functions/departments within the company
  • the perception of how effective onboarding was
  • how well it aligned with their corporate onboarding and overall talent strategy.
We conducted interviews with functional leaders and focus groups with recently hired team members. Our findings indicated:
  • A much more consistent and robust functional onboarding experience was needed
  • The process needed to be scalable and adaptable
  • We needed to develop resources that could be accessed by a dispersed workforce during onboarding and beyond.

During phase two, the client wanted to introduce gamification technology to deliver onboarding, manager support, and other HR practices. Our challenge was to create a functional onboarding design that worked within this platform. We knew this approach had to be highly interactive, feel personal, and provide information in bite-sized chunks across multiple formats.

The design of the functional onboarding included:

  • Video welcomes received prior to start dates
  • Visual tours of departments and office spaces
  • Videos describing each department’s purpose and responsibilities
  • A manager toolkit to lead conversations with new team member within 2-3 days of start and at Day 14.
  • Day 14 online check-in for the team member to complete
  • Gamified introduction to the company culture and how it looks in our department
Through this process, we were able to design a solution that would: 
  • Create a unique and engaging new-hire experience that more effectively integrates new hires into the culture and their specific teams.
  • Utilize technology to enhance the onboarding experience for all team members – HQ-based, field-based and remote
  • Allow for adaptability and scalability as changes impact the organization
Covid19 has changed the business reality of virtually every organization.  A winning culture attracts and integrates top talent and, post-Covid, that requires a new onboarding process that leverages technology while creating a highly personalized connection to the organization.

 

Top HR and Talent organizations, not only recognize the need for a vibrant new onboarding process, they are spending the time to assess and design a powerful experience for all internal clients.

Why Is It So Hard To Get My Organization To Change? And What To Do About It.

Why Is It So Hard To Get My Organization To Change? 

You know that change is hard. You’ve experienced it. Often, leaders feel that, with all the day-to-day demands on them, they just don’t have the time to be working on how to get to the future. It could be that the team is faced with a challenge so complex that it seems un-manageable, so they don’t face it head-on. Or it can simply be that assumption that people really don’t want to change.

Close-Up Radio

Recently, I had the pleasure of spending 30-minutes with Jim Masters on the difficulty of change and related topics. We also talked about what leaders and organizations need to do to thrive through continual change, why we call our firm NextBridge and how I came to this place in my career.

Listen to the interview.

What Role Does Purpose Play In Being Agile?

Being agile means asking people to step out of their comfort zone and into uncertainty. That can be a scary proposition. Purpose is the north star of an agile organization. Purpose creates the guardrails for action.

Trends, Bends and Opportunities

Dr. Loren Murfield, Pat Lynch and I discuss this topic and how to create agility in your organization. This daily Facebook Live podcast is a learning opportunity that helps you navigate your business in a rapidly changing environment. We discussed practical information everyone can use today to build agility and stay ahead of the competition.

 

Are You Ready for What’s Next?

As of today, 48 of the 50 U.S. states are ‘re-opening’. Massachusetts, one of the last to take the step, has decided to begin a phased re-opening next week.

I’m curious about what you envisioned re-opening would be like when we all starting staying home about 8 weeks ago. Until recently, I’ve been so focused on trying to master the current reality that I hadn’t given it enough thought. But now, my focus is mostly on the future.

Right now, we have Zoom fatigue and would welcome being able to focus only on work instead of our work, kids, dogs and parents. That said, we’ve settled into this way of making it work and, dare I say it, it feels sort of normal. But as our workplaces start to think about re-opening, we should acknowledge that re-opening won’t put an end to leading through disruption. Going back to our workplaces is going to be disruptive all over again. Soon many of us will be pulled from our current uneasy normal into the next one. Who will go back first? When will I go back? How will that be determined and how do I help my team manage all of this?

In addition, when we go back to our workplace, they won’t be the same place we left. Some, perhaps many, of our colleagues will no longer be working. We may have to go through screening on top of badging in to get into the building. Only a small percentage of us may be allowed in our offices at any given time. Hand sanitizer and overnight sanitizing will be de rigueur. And, how exactly will we all have socially distant meetings in some of those small conference rooms?

When you’re leading your teams through this next transition, remember that you have some resources and tools to rely on – like our 10 Tips For Leading During Disruption. It won’t be leadership as usual when you walk back into the office. There will be new and different challenges. When you find you need support, reach out and let us know how we can help you.

“Edith is working with us during a pivotal time for our company. Her pragmatic approach, ability to understand our business and people, along with her deep expertise in leadership and change make her my go-to call for critical, highly-visible initiatives.”
— Marcus Tgettis, most recently Vice President of Talent
Sage Therapeutics

The Listening Post

Most leaders I know have a degree of comfort talking about the nuts and bolts of change – things like what’s going to change, what process is being put in place to make it happen, and when it will happen. This article shifts the focus from “what the change is” to “how are we doing with it?” That makes most leaders a lot more uncomfortable.

However, don’t despair. There’s a structured approach you can use with your team to discuss how change is affecting them and how they, in turn, can affect change. It’s called The Listening Post.

Here’s an excerpt from my 2019 article “5 Ways to Help Your Team Be Open to Change” that originally appeared in the April 3 edition of Harvard Business Review online.

Change stirs up emotional responses that often cause people to pull back rather than to lean in. Inspiring and enabling your team to affect change requires having conversations that move people from reaction to action. Try having 30-minute meetings to discuss both the emotions related to change and the actions participants can take to affect change. I call these “listening posts.” Listening posts were originally facilities that monitored radio and microwave signals to analyze their content. Like that original definition, your listening post can help you understand key information, and can help others take action. Listening posts consist of:

  • Table setting: Define the purpose of the meeting for your team. Encourage them to discuss how change is affecting them. For example, “We’re here to talk about the change we are experiencing and understand how it’s impacting you personally and us as a team.” Invite everyone to define actions that the group will take to influence how change is happening.
  • Listening: Encourage individuals to start the conversation by sharing their experiences by using metaphors or adjectives. This gives them a safe way to talk about emotions. Share your metaphor first to break the ice. For example, you may feel like a juggler trying to keep all the balls in the air. Share that with your team. As people share their metaphors, remember to listen for who is dissenting or significantly challenged by the change. The voice of the outlier can provide key insights.
  • Consolidating: Ask the team what common themes they are hearing. Use questions like, “What does it seem like we all have in common? What is different for each of us?” Summarize key themes and confirm what you’ve heard.
  • Acting: Identify actions. These ideas need to come from the team, with you as the facilitator. Ask questions like, “What do we control, or can we influence?” “How do we want to change this?” “What role will each of you play in making this happen?”

Two things to keep in mind about this approach:

1)  Your honesty and candor about change will set the tone for this conversation.If your metaphor is that you are skating on smooth ice, your team will not feel like they can share their challenges and real feelings. If you are completely on-board and having an easy time of it, save your metaphor for last.

2)  When talking about actions, be neutral in how you discuss any corporate mandates.  Phrase them in terms of what is controllable and how your team can make decisions that affect change. For example, if people are frustrated by the change in priorities from the organization, you can say something like “Yes, the organization is shifting priorities based on what they see as critical business needs. We can’t change that. What we can decide is how we will shift our work to support those priorities. Let’s review what we have on our plates right now and make some decisions.” This response reaffirms that everyone does have some control in this situation and enables the team to make decisions about how they can move forward.

Would love to hear how you engage your teams in dialogue to move them from reacting to change to acting to make change. Let me know at info@nextbridgeconsulting.com.

How Not to Lead Disruptive Change

A few weeks ago, I returned from an amazing family vacation that took us to Budapest, Venice and Rome. We decided to take a train from Budapest to Venice to take in the soaring beauty of the Alps as we made our way through Austria and northern Italy. And it was spectacular… until we reached our last stop in Austria. That’s when we got a first-hand lesson in how NOT to handle disruptive change.

Throughout Austria we had several 5 to 10-minute stops, with announcements made in German, Hungarian and English. We made what turned out to be our last stop in Austria in the beautiful city of Villach. The screen showed our usual 5-minute wait and then suddenly it changed to 45 minutes.

Soon an announcement was made, in German only. Slowly, groups of people began to get off the train sporadically. Not knowing what was going on, I finally found a train company information officer and he told me there had been a minor earthquake in northern Italy and all rail service was stopped indefinitely so tracks could be inspected. We were going to be bussed to either the station after the areas affected by the earthquake effected or all the way to Venice – they weren’t sure.

Eventually we made it to Venice, but the hours in between that conversation and our arrival were a great example of how not to lead change…

The leaders assumed everyone understood the message:  while most of the people on the train spoke German, a very large minority did not. While other announcements had been made in multiple languages, this critical one wasn’t. We found out from fellow travelers that he announcements, even in German, didn’t explain exactly when passengers should get off the train and where they should go to wait for the buses. Passengers were only able to get this information by taking the initiative to talk directly with individual company representatives.

Focus on the technical side; forget the people side:  there were a couple of coordinators from the train company in charge of arranging the buses, monitoring their arrival and getting us on board. Eventually there were 3 buses that arrived several minutes to an hour apart. We weren’t told where to wait for the busses or when they would be arriving. And we weren’t assigned in any way to a specific bus. After the second bus, someone asked ‘how long until the third?’ The coordinator answered “5 – 10 minutes.” His colleague then chimed in “or maybe 30.” In the 45 minutes until the third bus did arrive, they were on their phones in regular communication with the transportation company.  They simply didn’t communicate with any of the passengers.

Don’t tell those affected by the change how to move forward: We finally arrived on the outskirts of Venice about 3 hours later than anticipated. The bus stopped and we all got off. Only problem was, this wasn’t the normal train station stop for those going into Venice. The bus driver didn’t tell us this; another passenger did. When we all disembarked from the bus, we asked the driver where to go. He said to the footbridge. Only problem – the footbridge is closed at midnight. The bus driver then got into the bus and drove away leaving about 20 of us to figure out how we were supposed to get into Venice. In the distance we saw what looked like a ferry stop and we went there. Eventually, through trial and error, we all figured out which way to go.

Assign change leaders who don’t know that leading change is part of their job: The coordinators understood their role to be to get the busses arranged and ensure everyone got onto a bus. The bus drivers understood their jobs to be to drive us to Venice. No one had set expectations with them that they also needed to step up and lead – to inform us of the overall plan and how each step for the rest of our journey would work, to reassure us when the busses were taking much longer than anticipated, and to prepare us for the rest of our journey.

Disruption – of your industry, your company, your team – can happen with little advance warning. Understanding that leading change needs to be a skill set that can be called on at any time, is the only way you and your team will navigate it successfully. How well prepared are you to lead change?

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.

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.