The truth can hurt, and it can inspire

At the retirement celebration of a pastor who had served a congregation for 30 years, he shared this story.

Halfway through seminary two professors pulled him aside with the same message “Based on your effort, you don’t deserve to be here”.  Instead of stopping there, they went on to say “But we know you belong here, so if you want to stay here this is what you need to do . . .  and we will help you.”  He made the changes, went on to a wonderful career, and touched many lives.

Too often accountability starts and stops with getting skilled at having the tough conversations.  Of telling people what they are not doing.

What about challenging them to an unseen, yet imagined, potential?

How much time do we take to see the value of the person beyond the task?

What is the cost of asking – What do you need to be successful?  Then providing it.  Imagine the potential impact!

Leadership is about asking the question, painting the picture, and assisting in the journey.  Great followership is about listening, accepting, working, and appreciating.

How many people will be including you in their story 30 years from now?

Knowing Someone Changes How We Treat Them

I joined the board of a great organization that cares for seniors and at my orientation they shared this story.

In building a new facility display cases were placed by each room.  Filled with pictures and items for residents of adjacent rooms, they were meant as landmarks to make finding rooms easier.  This practice had proven effective even with dimentia cases.  They received a surprise.  Employees and others observed a higher quality of care because these residents became people with an 80+ year history that was known to all those around them.  In one case, it explained why a resident veteran who had been a POW tried to crawl out a window because of loud noises.  Instead of medicating the resident they provided comfort. 

History gives us context for current decisions we see people make.

When a friend acts irrational we know the history – and work through it.

What a stranger acts irrational we judge the action – and walk away or around it.

When we ask and listen it sends a powerful signal – we care.

Under stress, we too often forget to stop and listen to stories.  We see ourselve as busy.  Others see us as cold and uncaring.

Here is a tool I use to jumpstart the work relationship building process.  Instead waiting to hear the question “Tell me about yourself”, I give this info and ask for the same in return.  It is just a start, but it is a good start.

One last story . . . I used this tool to kickoff a planning session for a leadership team.  The next day the CEO called the HR leader and quietly asked for a list of names of all family members for each executive on his team.

Some things are important no matter how old we are.  Knowing someone changes how we treat them – and how they treat us.

How do you motivate others to do more? #followership

For my regular readers of my blog – this is a longer than usual entry.  Here is why . . . . . . .

I taught my class on Leadership / Followership (Building Organizational Performance Through Teamwork and Understanding) at the Holland Chamber of Commerce on Thursday (May 19th) and pledged to the participants that I would blog answers to any questions they had that could not be answered in class.   Here is the question and my answer – for clarification make a comment and we will continue the discussion . . . .

Question:  How do you motivate a follower to move up to the next level(s) without influencing, or dragging down, the others on the team?  Example:  A Minimizer to a Doer?

Answer:  This is a big question, so I will focus on the toughest situation, which is working with a Minimizer to move to a Doer.  (Here is a link to a post where I define my 5 Levels of Followership)

First question:  Start by asking yourself if this person has demonstrated a positive attitude and commitment to the organization.  Is it someone you want to have around?  If the anser is “No” or Not really”, then follow whatever process you have, but make plans to move the employee out of your organization.  Minimizers take energy that could be given to other, more valuable people in your organization.  If the answer is yes I want to keep them read on.

Part 1:  Understand the Situation (especially your role)

My first thought is to recognize the role of the leader in this situation.  The basic information that people need about their role is: (these are from the Gallup Q12 that are explained in the book First, Break All The Rules)

  1. Clear understanding of their job duties and measures of success.
  2. The tools (skills, training, support) to do the job well.
  3. An opportunity to do what they do best every day.

The first question is one that you define for them, and it would be a good exercise for you to write down the 5 or 6 key things you expect them to do in their role.  Question 2 is one you should address together based on your knowledge of what specific things they need to know and their knowledge of what they need (or might be uncomfortable with).

The challenge you will have is in the conversation to get this information on the table and have a great discussion about it.  As a leader, your key role is to get this information on the table in such a way that it can be dealt with and decisions can be made.

Part 2 – The Traps

The second issue is around the harsh realities of these situations.  In your question you mention wanting to avoid dragging the team down.  Here are three things to think about:

  1. If there is a Minimizer on the team everyone knows it and are probably waiting for you to deal with it.  Your inaction is having a negative impact on the Trust they have in you as a leader.
  2. The Minimizer probably does not know they are thought of that way.  I know leaders always struggle with this, but after being pulled into dozens of situations like this, I can safely say that at least 90% of people being fired or getting talked with about their lack of performance are surprised when it happens.
  3. Ask yourself the questions Am I ready to let them go if their performance does not improve and Am I willing to put in some hard work for the next 60-90 days to help them be successful?  These are the two questions I ask in choosing to help save someone.  If either question is NO then it is a situation that cannot be fixed so live with it.  If it is a relative (as happens with small businesses) – Maybe pay the person to stay home and get on with work.  This sounds crazy, but if they are taking energy from you and making mistakes that are costing the organization dollars it is too expensive to have them around.

Part 3 – A solution:

1.  Meet to get the issue on the table.  The key to this conversation is to make your observations known about their performance.  When sharing your feedback, focus on the situation and not the person.  When sharing the performance use the format “Here is the behavior I see, Here is the impact, and here is how it makes me feel.  Any conflict management book uses this as the basic outline.  Here is an example of how this might sound in a sentence.

Joe, you have worked here a long time and I have appreciated your dedication to this organization.  I have observed a few things recently in your performance that I want to talk about.  Last Tuesday a customer called with a problem and I heard you say “That is the only answer I have so if you do not like it, tough.”  The outcome of that discussion is the customer has taken all of their business to a competitor.  I am feeling frustrated because we worked hard to land that customer and keeping customers happy is critical to the future success of the business. 

A great resource to explore this discussion is Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott.

They have two things to do in step 1 before things move on:  1) Take ownership for the performance issues you point out   2)  Express and demonstrate the desire to make the changes necessary to be successful.  If these both do not happen (give them 24 hrs to think about it if necessary) then there is no sense keeping them.

A key piece for you in this conversation is to be open to their feedback on things you could be doing differently that would help them be successful.  Maybe they need weekly check-ins or you have not been really prompt about returning calls.  It could also be that they are in the wrong role.  Be willing to listen and consider things they bring up.

2.  Create a plan for their success that includes:  1) Short term(1-4 weeks) and long term (3-6 month) goals   2)  Area of focus to improve their performance – Build Trust, Build Focus, Build Confidence, Build Rhythm  3)  Needs they express (in areas of Support and Personal Development)

This is not an area where there is a set recipe.  The key is to ask yourself the critical question up front (do you want to keep them) and then get the truth(of their performance) on the table and Build Trust by demonstrating that you want them to be successful. 

Here is a link to a trU Tips  and a video on the topic of dealing with low performers that might also be helpful.

Great question – thanks for asking.

Breaking a team impasse #followership

For my regular readers of my blog – this is a longer than usual entry.  Here is why . . . . . . .

I taught my class on leadership and followership (Building Organizational Performance Through Teamwork and Understanding) at the Holland Chamber of Commerce on Thursday (May 19th) and pledged to the participants that I would blog answers to any questions they had that could not be answered in the class.   Here is the questions and my answer – for clarification make a comment and we will continue the discussion . . . .

Question:  I am facilitating a team decision making activity and consensus has been a challenge.  Though my emphasis is on harmony, consensus isn’t always attainable.  What do you recommend to help move beyond the stalemate?  How can I act with boldness without offending or alienating?

Answer:  Getting teams to work together towards a common goal can be a challenge, especially when it seems that personal agendas are taking priority over a team goal.  Also, if you see behaviors that are keeping the team from moving things ahead, you will have to say some things that have the potential to offend or alienate.  So let me make some assumptions here:

  • This team has a leader, but it is not you – your role is the facilitator.
  • The team has a clear goal / outcome they are working towards.
  • The individuals want to be on the team.
  • You have the ability to walk away if the team is not working

A couple of questions:

  • How clear is the team goal?  (what they are supposed to accomplish)
  • What behaviors do you see happening that are distructive?
  • How strong is the Trust within the team?
  • Are you willing / able to tell them what you see?

I assume the team is stuck and they feel it.  First, meet with the leader and plan a team meeting focused on three things:  1)  Restating (and reaching agreement) on the problem the team was brought together to solve  2)  Documenting (on a board where all can see) the solutions that have been presented   3)  Asking:  How everyone is feeling about the team? (what one word would you use to describe your excitement towards this team / process right now?) 

Point 3 will tell you where people are and might give an opening for you to describe what you see.   The discussion then should focus around What can we do to get thing back on track so we reach a decision that we can all support.  It might also give you a window to address some of the behaviors that are not moving things forward, and you might even encourage the team to create a set of guidelines they all agree upon to guide future discussions. 

The key is getting them to see the goal, agree on it, and make a commitment to finding a solution.  This will give you a chance to share what you see and restart the process using some good brainstorming, documenting, and teaming techniques so people begin to understand the value each brings to the table.

If the commitment is not there, I would walk away.

4 Habits to Build, 1 Initiative to Avoid (#Retention)

In organizations, initiaves around people and talent happen because we allow good habits to go away.  Keep the key habits and you avoid most initiatives.  Let me give an example:

I am hearing lots about the latest Initiative —>  EMPLOYEE RETENTION

Big initiative: Employee Engagement

Great focus, but did anyone ever ask Why are we refocusing on this? Layoffs?  Maybe.  But let me offer you another perspective.

Have any of these HABITS left your organization in the last few years?

  1. Performance evaluations (if we can’t give raises why do them?)
  2. One on ones with staff (too busy?)
  3. Monthly check-ins with your most valuable people – how are they doing? what do they need? what do they want to be doing next year? (they know they are valuable – they still have a job don’t they?)
  4. Development plans for people – investing time in their areas of interest and preparing them for the future. (we cannot afford development right now

One more conversation that has stuck with me.  A CEO shared that they cannot afford leadership development right now, but it is in the list for next year.  Sounds like a great initiative.  

Of course there are some free habits laying around . .

A few more blogs around this:

Level 5 Followership – #TED style

TED Followership Video

I just watched a video from TED that made me think of what I have called a Level 5 Follower, which is an Influencer.  My definition of an Influencer is someone who works to alter strategies or activities that will have a big impact on the organization.  Measures their contribution by the things started and the opportunities to do more.

This video makes me think of the Influencer.  They don’t necessarily always think of the big ideas, but know a good idea when they see it and jump on board with their heart and soul as if it was their own.  Watch the video – – – think a little – – – and probably laugh a lot. 🙂

5 Levels of Followership

Great Followership is a choice – Why it matters

Stay Interviews

Two clear messages from people I respect yesterday.

  1. From a person making sure they keep their best people – They have instituted a process called Stay Interviews where leaders interview people to ask them the simple questions How is your job going? and What are the things that would make you stay here for 5 years?  Leaders talk with people from areas that are not underneath them and their goal is to listen.  The next step is to put all of the information together and decide What is next? based on what they hear. 
  2. From someone needing to recruit to fuel growth of his company – Made the statement that All of the best people are now back working – People can now move if they want to.  Retention of talent has to be at the top of the list.  This is from a high achiever who looks for high achievers. 

Myth – Developing great leaders, engaged workforces, and keeping your best people costs money.

Truth – Talking with people, listening to what is on their mind, sharing what you are thinking/feeling, and following up on action plans is essentially free.  What costs money is hiring the Director of Talent Management to act as a policeman for you/your organization.

Make Stay Interviews a habit (ie.  always ask people How they are doing?/What they need?) and retention will happen.

Friday Fun on Monday – Any other ideas?

I have a friend who is very skilled at creative play.  I always like to see how he translates that skill into the workplace without getting into trouble.  He is successful at that most of the time.

His team likes to laugh so they came up with a game that allowed words or phrases to be banned by the team and then use of those words/phrases cost the individual a one dollar fine.  The process is pretty simple – individuals present the word/phrase  and the team votes.  New words are added an others are taken off the list.  As he told me the stories the joy was overflowing.  I was laughing uncontrollably. 

So far, here are a sample of the words that have been banned: brutal, very nice, baby, and whatever.

Any other simple ways to create a little laughter in the workplace?

Engagement – The One Question to Ask

I have been around the development of people for over a decade, and one thing still surprises me – the reaction of people when asked “What do you NEED?”

In leadership transitions – it is the key question after defining the immediate goals for the role and how success over the first 6 months will be measured.

The Birkman Method assessment measures it, and people are often surprised to see their NEEDs named in the results and how accurate the stress behaviors are defined when those NEEDs are not being met.  Minimizing stress opens up a whole new world of performance and engagement.

Leaders seem relieved when they have the opportunity to tell their teams what they NEED from them to be successful – after hearing the NEEDs of their team.

It is a cornerstone of great Followership.  When we know the needs of our leaders we can help them be successful. 

What is leadership?  is a big question and many resources are poured into helping people be successful at this difficult role.  Remember that it is in the conversations where leadership happens, not in the powerpoint slides or emails. 

Ask the NEED question and agree on one thing that you can make happen.  Are you surprised at what you hear and see in their reaction?  I still like good surprises . . . . . .

Leadership Assistance Program

One day an employee showed up at my office and spent 5 minutes sharing some very personal medical problems.  I listened, and her greatest fear was not about the procedure, but how to tell her actual direct boss because the solution would require her to miss work.  She was worried about losing her job.  I calmed her fears, and she was then able to go have a discussion that she should have had several weeks before, but couldn’t.

This ever happen to you?  While health issues are serious things, it felt good to be a trusted.  It also took me back to some coaching training I had years before that taught me to listen well, and to know where there might be boundaries to be drawn.  Some conversations stay within boundaries, but there are things as leaders that we need to direct people to get help.  Sometimes Leaders need an Assistance Program.

When I was a leading HR in an organization we implemented an employee assistance program.  EAP’s require organizations pay a monthly or yearly fee per employee and the employees and their families have access to basic personal counseling services, referral help for substance abuse issues, career counseling, and other forms of assistance.  It is confidential for the employee, and the employer only gets a report on the number of people who have used it and basic service information.  I remember getting the first usage report and our usage was a couple percentage points above their norm.  In people terms it equated to two individuals receiving help.

I was grateful that those 11 individuals had received the help, and that the leaders of those people had also benefited from this safety net.

Leadership is about being there for your people, and it is also about knowing when you need to get assistance.  Celebrate being asked to be part of a tough conversation, but know the limits of your burdens/responsibilities. 

Gallup research shows people are happier/more engaged if they have 1 to 3 best friends at work. 

Friendships is another form of Leadership Assistance Program – and it is a free.