Spending Time With the Right People at Work?

Now that we’ve reached the middle of the year, it’s a good time to take a step back and assess how we are progressing. Usually, when we do this type of assessment, we look at progress against our business plan, project timelines or other priorities we’ve identified.

I suggest we all take a look at our key work relationships and assess how those are going.  We all know that our work relationships are important for a wide variety of reasons. We also know that these relationships shift over time. Perhaps someone who it wasn’t important to have a good working relationship with in the past is now an important partner. Someone who we worked closely with in the past moved to a new role or division and we don’t really work together anymore. And sometimes, there are people we need to build relationships with but we don’t because they are difficult… or perhaps building a new relationship with them is outside of our comfort zone.

Assess the balance in your network of work relationships and ask:

  • Who are you spending a great deal of time with? 
  • Why do you spend that much time with them – familiarity? The ease of the relationships? Because you need them to get work done? It could be a combination of reasons.
  • Based on what you want to achieve, is that the right amount of time to be spending with them?
  • Who are you spending less time with but should spend more because they are important to success?
  • What needs to happen for you to be able to spend more time building the relationship?  Do you need to spend less time on those relationships that are comfortable but not as important to the work? Do you need to force yourself out of your comfort zone?
  • What’s your plan for building or expanding the relationships you need to work on? Set 2 or 3 goals for making the necessary changes to rebalance your relationships and put them into action now.

Who Is On Your Personal Advisory Board?

You’re standing at the precipice of a career-level decision. But all the options seem to have relatively equal merit – or equally poor merit. Perhaps the consequences seem a bit murky. What do you do? How do you choose? If you’ve developed an advisory board, you reach out to them for counsel. After you gain some perspective, you’re better prepared to make the decision and deal with the challenges that come with it.

Everyone should have one. Few of us do.

A personal advisory board is similar to an advisory board that many organizations make use of. Except that it’s for individuals. It’s typically not formal. And most boards don’t meet as a group, though some leaders are capable of garnering that level of support. For most professionals, it’s simply your own set of advisors that you can tap into. Sometimes, it’s for basic conversations; sometimes for helping you “sound out” ideas. Other times, for pointed advice.

A good advisory board is more than just a random group of networking colleagues. To be sure, it leverages your networking skills to “assemble” the board, but it’s more intentional in its construction and purposeful in its usage. It certainly serves as part of your broader networking efforts, but is designed from the start to be more strategic and deeply advisory in nature.

7 Guidelines for Building Your Advisory Board

When seeking out and choosing board members, most people are not going to ask “want to be on my advisory board?” The board is more of a virtual construct, though it serves a very real purpose. In any case, you should try to cultivate a trusting relationship and be up front with them . “I value your perspective and would like to be able to chat with you from time to time. Get your advice on occasion.” Some of this might happen in the normal course of your day, if it’s someone you work with or are formally mentored by. Here are some guidelines for building your personal advisory board:

  • Be Intentional – Your board is assembled based on your career aspirations and specific professional goals. What types of knowledge, experience, and skills would be most helpful to you? Which roles, businesses, and industry exposure do you need? Create a list or a spreadsheet. From there, you identify the people you would like to “recruit” for your board.
  • Think 360 Degrees – Seek out a varied set of people… those in leadership levels above AND below yours. Choose peers and employees. Leverage both clients and service providers. A well-rounded board is critical to helping you develop an agile approach to your thinking and decision-making.
  • Diversify – One of the biggest mistakes leaders can make on the job is surrounding themselves with those who think, decide, and act just as they would. It creates group-think and limits the depth and breadth of your team’s capabilities. Know your blind spots and aggressively address them. The same applies to your board. Choose from across gender, ethnic and generational boundaries, among others. The more diverse your board, the richer your perspective.
  • Evolve it– as your career and development needs change over time, so too should your board. You will have different challenges as an executive than you did as a supervisor. When you change roles or industries, the mix of your board should change as well. Also, no matter how carefully you choose your board members, some of them won’t work out. Perhaps their advice turns out to be ineffective. Or maybe they’re never available to you. Re-evaluate both the overall composition and individual members of your board at least annually.
  • Selective but Multi-level – you have only so much time to devote to your own development, so you have to make choices. There’s no magic number, but 5-10 people seems about right. You should network more broadly but create at least two levels of your board. The 80/20 rule can apply here. You spend 80% of your time with 20% of your primary network. The rest is spent finding and cultivating relationships that will be important to you down the road.
  • Pick straight-shooters – the worst advice is often the advice you don’t receive. You can’t afford to get sugar-coated or partial thoughts and ideas from people. Choose people who you know to be straight-forward communicators. And make your desire for frankness known. Finally, look for people who have the emotional intelligence to deliver such talk in a way you can hear and use.
  • Practice Reciprocity – so far this all sounds a bit self-serving. It shouldn’t be. The only way this works in the long run is if you approach this from a win-win perspective. What do I have to offer? Do your members sometimes need advice, an introduction to someone, or help on a quick project? Return the favor. Even if one of your board members is a mentor well above your pay grade, ask sincerely and confidently how you can help them.

How you leverage your board will depend greatly on a number of factors, including your comfort level and the type and quality of the members you recruit. Some people will stick to occasional conversations where they will try to absorb information and ideas. Others will ask for formal mentoring.

A growing number of people have formal, scheduled developmental or problem-solving conversations every month, sometimes in small groups. Each person comes with one or two challenges they need to figure out, and they spend time bouncing ideas off each other. There’s no exact formula, but the more specific you are about your needs and your understanding of others’ needs, generally the more productive the relationship.

We’ve all read the advice that we should manage our careers like we do our jobs. We should also take a page from forward-thinking organizations that leverage advisory boards. These boards become a strategic partner, helping the company with insights and advice critical to their success. By taking an intentional, disciplined approach to development and decision-making ability, leaders at all levels can reap the same rewards.

Who Are We Today? Who Do We Want To Be Tomorrow?

Three weeks ago, I had the pleasure of working with two executive teams. Their businesses are very different.  One is over 20 years old with almost 4000 employees.  The second is a start-up driving towards commercializing its first product.  While different, both of them were exploring a common question.  Who are we today and who do we want to be?

In both cases we started with who the team wanted to be so we could frame that sometimes more difficult conversation – who are we now?

Answering this question requires that these executives become aware of and more comfortable with the answers to several other, deeper questions about themselves and the team:

  • Do we fully understand who each of us is?  Do we understand how each of us filters information, makes decisions and communicates?
  • Are we aligned around a common vision of where this company or department is going?  And how are we, as a team, are leading it? This may seem obvious, but misalignment amongst leadership is a common cause of organizational dysfunction and average performance.
  • Are we role-modeling the characteristics we want this organization to exhibit?
  • How are we pushing each other to step out of our comfort zonesin a productive and effective way?  Innovation doesn’t happen when everyone is comfortable.
  • How do we provide impactful feedbackto each other so that we increase the team’s effectiveness rather than diminishing it?
  • What about when the inevitable happens – when we’re sometimes annoying each other? Are we avoiding certain people?  Aggressively confronting them?  How well is it working? There’s a third option that gets better results.

Why so many questions?  Because good answers require good questions.  In today’s environment, personal and organizational curiosity is a prerequisite for leadership and business growth.  And if you’re not digging deeply…, you’re limiting the depth and speed of your growth.

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.