What To Manage…?


thinking gears“We created our vision, mission, and values! We are so proud of how we have implemented the culture, aligned with it all year, and of those that have championed it! We cannot wait to deliver the results of our survey.”

This was reported by a non-profit that had chosen to implement a values-driven culture. Truly they had done an incredible job promoting their vision, mission, and values.

At the one year mark it was time to measure themselves as leaders and to evaluate the impact of the initiative.

An organizational survey had been crafted, promoted, and delivered to customers. Questions within the survey had been specifically designed to draw out feedback on behaviors, decision-making, and the overall customer experience. Questions were framed and/or directly related to the vision, mission, and values.

The results had been compiled, sorted by department, and finished off with aesthetically pleasing formatting and graphics! Leadership was ready to deliver the results to their department heads, who then would be passing along the results to their teams.

“Would you please review the survey results and provide some guidance and ideas on our delivery of the feedback found in the survey?”

Initially this was my sole task. Review the feedback in the survey and provide ideas on how to present the feedback in a way that would elicit positive responses and influence a change in behavior.

When I read the format I found the typical process: 1) Summary: You are so great! 2) Here are all the ways in which you are great! 3) oh, and by the way, here is one way in which you are not doing so great…, and 4) Thanks for being great!

Heaven help me, I just cannot help myself. I am an OD practitioner. Yes, there was a task before me, but try as I might, up from the 30K foot view right up to the 100K foot view I went.

I pulled an example out of the pile. The feedback section provided feedback that the intake nurses would get a little tense when the line was long; and that when this happened it would take a long time to for customers to get checked in.

I asked, “is this the kind of feedback you are wanting help on?”

“Yes!” he replied. “How do we help the person receiving that feedback see that in a positive way and make changes?”

“I have a couple of questions…”

“Other than when it is busy, are the intake nurses providing a high level of service?”

“Oh absolutely!”

“Excellent! Therefore, it is not an issue of ability or desire to provide excellent service. Are the intake nurses aware of the fact that when the lines are long it takes more time and tensions rise?”

“Yes, this is certainly a known problem.”

“Oh! So we would be providing information and feedback that is already a known fact. They know lines get long, they know people get tired of waiting, and they know their own patience can wear thin when this happens. What would we be telling them that they do not already know?”

{no answer}

“A core value of yours relates to ‘believing in the importance of collaboration, learning from one another, and in change’. What would happen if, instead of providing feedback that there is one area in which they are not performing well, you ASK them how you might support them in improving in this area? For example, instead of, ‘here is one area for your improvement,’ the report stated, ‘feedback suggests we have an opportunity for a process to be improved. We welcome your ideas and suggestions to improve the process to support your  success in this area, and to increase your ability to serve your customer’.”

GREAT discussion ensued from here regarding how we could influence and empower each department.

This is a reminder of the old adage: manage your processes; lead your people! They have the potential to do great things for you when you remove barriers such as ineffective processes and policies! This requires hearing what the challenges are; and what needs to be adjusted by the leader!thinking gears

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The Benefits of Being a Loser


“How could you do this to your daughter? You let her fail. Now she has to feel shame as well as guilt for letting the rest of the club down. How could you allow this to happen?”

Interesting, isn’t it, how leaders often believe they are responsible for others success? I wonder where that message comes from.

As a young equestrian I was involved in 4-H. My father had the distinct good fortune to be chastised by a passel of leaders for “my” failure to do well in pre-fair. Yes, I earned the horrifyingly embarrassing indicator that I was a loser; the white ribbon. In 4-H participants are judged against outlined criteria and awarded points based on individual performance. Points earn either a white, red, or blue ribbon, consecutively.

I had been allowed to fail; and watching these “leaders” tear into my father, I knew it was all a part of the plan. I knew, when we got home, we were not going to be talking about the horse, the class, my performance, or the 4-H club. Knowing my father as I did, I now knew what I had set myself up for. I knew a “learning moment” enroute when I saw it. We would be having a conversation about my father’s broken record topics; cause and effect behavior, accountability, self-respect, and choices.

Yes, there were those perfectly poised to hold my father accountable for my failure. Just as there are many leaders MORE than willing to accept responsibility for the failure-and success- of those that report to them.

The reality of this particular situation was simple. My father and I had had more than one conversation regarding the upcoming pre-fair. I had attended the 4-H meetings in which it was discussed what I was to be practicing for the upcoming event. My father checked in to determine if I knew what I was to be practicing. This 12-year old consistently responded, “Yep! I know what I am supposed to be practicing.” He even asked a couple of times if I had been practicing. “Ummm, yeah. Kinda. I have time.”

Instead, I rode the trails. I herded farmer Jones’ cows. I played horse tag and Indian rider with the other kids in the valley. What I did not do was practice showmanship, western pleasure, or my bareback equitation seat.

Therefore, the day of the show, I failed to score enough points for even a red ribbon. I…was a white ribbon performer.

To this day I remember my father’s response to the accusations of his failure to live up to his parental duties and see to my success-his out and out abuse of his child. He, in that way that he had, calmly asked a question, more to himself I think than to anybody else, “Let me think, I am trying to remember, what is the overall purpose of the 4-H organization? I am struggling with it, does anyone else recall? It seems to me it has something to do with the development of young people to become contributing adults?”

This, by the way, was my key indicator of the “learning moment” in store for me.

“The cost to my daughter of developing her life skills may be to not win that blue ribbon, and that is her price to pay.” He went on, “What I accept is your judgment of me and my desire to teach my daughter how to accept the outcome of her choices and to be accountable for her own behavior.  My daughter’s adult future is far more important to me than today’s show results, regardless of how you may feel about me in this moment. My purpose as a parent is not to seek your approval, but to ensure she has the skills she needs to be successful in life-similar to the overall 4-H program.”

Even at twelve years old I knew this was not going to be an easy concept for the leaders of the 4-H clubs to accept, yet, I knew I was going to be held to this unwaveringly.

The idea that those in “charge” are responsible for the success of those they lead remains a trouble area for many leaders. What is more important; short term wins, or long term success? Enabling produces one, developing produces the later.

One of the key flaws in leadership is the missing element of self-leadership. Wouldn’t leaders be far more effective if they themselves and those they led were able to self-direct and self-manage? Then leadership is less about taking responsibility for others-their successes and failures-and more about developing skills and knowledge to be self-directed and self-managed.

When County Fair rolled around that summer, you can bet your bottom dollar I was far more prepared, and performed at a much higher level! Did my father have to tell me to practice? Of course not, I learned my lesson. As an adult do I fully understand the concept of cause and effect? You can bet the whole budget on that one!

The Power of Weakness


Many years ago I was in class learning about the fascinating topic of team dynamics. The class was divided into teams and assigned to create a project to present to the whole class.  Each team presented their projects with creativity and enthusiasm except one.  Apparently this team had significant struggles with their dynamics and were unable to complete the assignment; therefore they chose to simply present on why they were unable to produce an outcome. After all, they thought, the class was on team dynamics and it would be great learning for everyone!

The non-productive team proceeded to share how their struggles started with the first task of determining what their project topic would be.  Four of the five members quickly agreed what the topic might be; the fifth disagreed. The four team members wanted her to feel included, so they asked what her ideas were. She did not really have any, she just wasn’t comfortable with the one they generated and did not feel they had spent enough time exploring options. She hoped they could talk more about different ideas. They agreed.

After extensive conversation all five agreed on the original idea, although the group made concessions to adapt the idea to meet the needs of the fifth person. This conversation took a good part of the allotted time. The next step was to assign tasks to team members and get to work! Apparently this proved to be quite the challenge! The member whom had stepped into a leadership role, given the limited amount of time, began to delegate tasks. Three members readily agreed to the assignment allocation. Again, the same fifth person resisted. She felt there should be discussion about who got what tasks. She also explained that she overall was not feeling heard or understood on the team and that the team did not value her as a team member. She was feeling a little run over by the others.

Well, this is a class on team dynamics! So the team stepped back and decided to listen to her feelings and thoughts, ask her what she would like to do and what would help her feel valued.

Needless to say the team was not very productive, as by the end of the discussion, time was nearly up.

In the discussion with the whole class the team discussed the leadership and power dynamics. The team discussed how one of the men in the group had stepped up and taken a leadership role from the beginning and he had done a great job in his role. They felt there was great collaboration and equal power as each person was heard and valued. The greatest challenge on this team, obviously, was just low productivity. Had there been more time, however, this team believed they would have been successful. Their conclusion was that some teams take longer to build relationships (forming) than others. What they were proud of is that they did not rush through this very important stage.

The instructor asked the class who they thought held all the power in the group.  As outside observers of this interesting scenario, unanimously the class responded with the belief that team member number five held the majority of the power on the team!

This is when the discussion got really interesting! The person who had stepped into the leadership role quickly disagreed. He went on to explain that he held a leadership position in his job and therefore it was natural to take on the leadership role on this team. Everyone knows the leader has the power. He felt the team allowed her to feel a part of the process, even when she was not on board with the rest of them; but she certainly was not the powerful one in the group. In fact, she was at risk for being run over, as she stated, and it was his leadership, as discussed, that ensured she was not left behind. One of the fellow team members now offered, “she even broke down in tears at one point.”

The instructor asked some simple questions; “who did the team allow to impede progress? Who was able to change the dynamics in the moment? Who continued to change the team’s mind?” Unequivocally the answers came back –from the whole class, not the presenting team-team member number five. Confirming for the class that the power rested with the perceived weakest member!

How often does this happen on teams, in families, within social groups and in classrooms? So often the belief is the power rests with the aggressive/strong person in the group and/or with the person holding the formal power. In reality, subtle psychological power plays can be delivered through all kinds of interesting ways. Power plays can include the use of tears, silence, sulking, sarcastic humor, gossip, acts of vulnerability and other passive means.

Healthy personal power is most potent when it includes empowerment of others, respecting their choices and considering their needs; while still knowing, articulating and promoting one’s own personal purpose.

Recognizing power plays and not getting caught in the trap of low power behavior is a crucial skill for navigating the waters of social interactions; particularly for those seeking to develop political savvy in the waters they swim in!

How might the team have handled this differently to achieve both productivity and a healthy team dynamic?

A Barrel of Monkeys Create A Power Struggle


I played with my barrel of monkeys to the extent that I decided I wanted to and being a four-year old bent on testing the boundaries, got up and walked away from them. Yes, in case you are wondering, the walk away included leaving the monkeys spread all over the floor; not put away as the rules called for.

This scenario sets the stage for dynamics that play out in living rooms, board rooms, team meetings and many supervisor to worker interactions daily.

As the script so predictably would call for, mother enters stage left. “CORA CELESTE, GET IN HERE.”

I wandered in, plastering on my best Alfred E. Newman, “What? Me?” face. Standing over the monkeys spread out all over the floor, is my mother. She has “that” look, complete with hands on hips and tapping toe. Is this a universal pose for mothers? She strikes a new pose as one hand comes off the hip and aims at the monkeys with accusation. “Why are these not picked up young lady?” As any self-respecting red-headed Irish girl would answer, “I don’t WAAAANT TO,” delivered with my own look of defiance. “Do it NOWWW,” is the reply.

Battle lines were now drawn. Sound vaguely familiar?

Engaging in this battle resulted only in tears and shrieks of frustration; yet not one single monkey had moved from the floor to the barrel.  So mother called in the heavy artillery. The battle cry echoed through the house. “Ronald, your daughter is not doing what she is told.”

In the business world the script typically calls for this role to be played by the next level in the hierarchy, or the compliance police in human resources.

In this particular story, the script takes an interesting turn. My father was not one to engage in power struggles; he found empowerment to be a far more effective strategy.

“Cora, before you took out your barrel of monkeys, did you not remember the toy rules? That you are to put away what you take out when you are done with them?” “But I DON”T WANT TO PUT THEM AWAY RIGHT NOW!!”

“Ok. Well, you have a few choices. You can choose to pick them up now and join the family in watching Gunsmoke. Or, you can choose not to pick up the monkeys now, in which case you will need to go to your room by yourself until you decide to pick up the monkeys.  Finally, if you decide not to pick up the monkeys by the time I go to bed and I have to pick them up, you will no longer have a barrel of monkeys. Your choice. You decide.

One of the most common fought over commodities is power; and the best strategy for gaining power in a conflict is to give power. By giving power one gains power.

Whether a four-year old or a forty-year old in the midst of a power struggle, the behavior may look a little different, but the dynamics will remain consistent; and although this four-year old continued to throw a temper tantrum, my father calmly continued to resist my invitation into a power struggle by placing the choice in my hands. “Cora, make your choice; I will give you a few minutes to decide to pick up your monkeys and put them away, go to your room and pick them up later, or not pick them up and no longer have a barrel of monkeys.” Then he calmly walked away.

Obviously I was a bit of a challenger and felt the need to exert my independence; therefore I could not simply pick up my monkeys. So I chose option B. I went to my bedroom (loudly stomping my feet mind you) just long enough to show I was in “control.” A short time later (after all, I was missing Gunsmoke) I came down quietly and put all the monkeys back in their barrel and put them away. I then went into the living room, crawled onto the couch next to my father, and proceeded to watch Gunsmoke with my family.

How had my father gained power?  By empowering me to have control of my choices, he ended the power struggle and achieved the outcome.

What is the bigger picture in this scenario? Of course we all know demanding compliance through formal power exists as an option. So what is gained with empowerment? Compliance may complete the task short-term. Long term, empowerment teaches cause and effect, imposes accountability and aligns decision-making (if I take a toy out, I will be accountable to putting it away, causing me to think before dumping all the monkeys out on the floor next time). Simply put, compliance focuses on the person, empowerment focuses on the decision.

When I am “told” what to do, who might I hold accountable to the outcome? When I experience cause and effect and am empowered to make a decision, whom might I hold accountable to both the action and the decision? How might either approach influence future actions and decisions?

As You Speak… Can You Listen?


The sender-receiver model suggests we are sending and receiving messages simultaneously. I wonder sometimes if we are better at sending than receiving.
What is the role of listening in the delivery of an effective and on target message?
I have had many wise, patient and insightful mentors be kind enough to provide me feedback on my listening attentiveness and how it relates to my message delivery. Among the best is of the equine kind. Horses are highly skilled at providing feedback as to how well I am delivering my message, and how well I am listening to them while doing so.
One such lesson and feedback was provided over a line of lime. Lime is often used in riding arenas to outline courses or identify a start or finish line. For reasons beyond me, someone had laid a line of lime in the middle of the arena I happened to be riding in. Crystal, my mount, apparently had just as much lack of understanding of the purpose of this line of lime as I. Although we had mutual lack of understanding, we chose to respond quite differently. I chose to ignore it. She chose to refuse to cross over said blinding white, stinky, line of lime.
Here is where I began delivering my message. I asked for forward movement (ignore line). She began delivering her message by refusing (No way, I do not know what that is!). Being fully prepared to place the blame on Crystal’s plummeting listening skills, I continued to send my message. As did she. She snorted, she danced, she tossed her head; in fact she did just about everything but hear my message requesting she move forward. The more I asked, the less she listened.
Fortunately I came to my senses and my training kicked in. The realization that “I” was not listening hit me. Until I listened, there was no way Crystal would hear me. And the longer I chose not to listen, the more the situation would escalate. Horses, like people, have clear behavioral strategies to demonstrate their emotional state in a transaction. What is different in equine transactions is that escalation can result in this aging body ending up taking as much of a bruising as my emotions.
What was I hearing? Crystal had confusion regarding the line of lime in front of her. This confusion was creating fear. My insistence-and ignoring her fear-not only escalated her feelings, it validated there was a reason to feel what she felt. Since horses are herd animals, they take their lead from the leader. And if the leader was acting in an agitated manner (insistence and escalated requests), there certainly was a reason to feel fear. The issue then becomes less about the white line on the ground, and more about the feelings being generated between leader and follower. Crystal is experiencing fear in relation to the line, and behaves accordingly. My lack of acknowledgment of this feeling is eroding her trust in my leadership; much like people in a communication transaction.
When I change my behavior and how I respond to her, I influence how she is experiencing the situation; therefore how she is relating to the topic-the line of lime.
As I change my communication to focus more on addressing her fear and what she perceives, instead of delivering my agenda- which she cannot hear at this time anyway- her behavior de-escalates.
She demonstrates she has calmed by the typical “blowing out of the butterflies,” an equine version of a big sigh. Now I know I have her attention and she is able to hear me and I can introduce her to the line of lime in a different way, a way that will allow for future transactions to be positive and less fear-driven. By being calm, I translate to her it is “okay” and the line is not a danger. My previous state of agitation was not sending this message.
Upon realizing, through my behavior, there is no danger, Crystal is able to hear my request. This time when I ask her to move forward – over the line of lime- she responds and calmly walks over the line.

Communication transactions can come to a standstill over battle lines, versus moving forward through hearing the concerns and needs of both parties in the interaction. Are you able to hear why the other does not want to cross the white line? Or do you continue to push to cross over the line because you see no reason not to?
As my equine and human mentors have taught me on so many occasions, when I feel as if others are not listening, is it really them? Or is it me?

The Power of Questions; The Value of Purpose. Lessons From A Stop Sign


“What in the world?  What have you got there, Cora?”  “Hi, Dad! Look! I have a stop sign for my room!”

At sixteen, for some reason, having a traffic sign in one’s room was deemed “cool.” Trying to explain to a parent why was an effort in futility. However, for this sixteen year-old, the parent chose to capitalize on the act as yet another profound learning event. As I continued on my way back to my bedroom to find a place for my new found treasure, my father stayed in place as he gathered his thoughts and found the perfect treasures in his mind; the questions that would align with his purpose as a parent, and provide his child yet another step toward competent decision-making skills that involved the consideration of cause and effect, compassion for others when considering choices and accountability to one’s actions.

“Cora, I am curious, where did you find that stop sign?” “Oh, it was hanging at the intersection of Dupey Valley Rd and Gopey Turnoff; it was loose so I was actually able to get it down!”

Having arrived in the bedroom to witness the transformation of an average room to a cool room by rules understood only by the group that adheres to them, my father participated in a conversation regarding the excitement of this little adventure of his child. As he prepared to leave he asked his final few questions. On the heels of the question regarding the original location of the treasure, the next question was like a punch to the gut.

“Have you thought about what might happen if someone were to go through that intersection and not stop, since there is no stop sign, while someone else is going through and also does not stop, since they expect other traffic to stop?” After a long pause and watching me process the impact of my actions, he goes on.  “I only ask this because I worry about you and how you might feel if next week you read in the paper there has been an awful accident at that intersection and people were hurt.”

As my father leaves my room, I gather not only my treasured stop sign, but also the hammer and nails I had intended to use on the wall, but for which I would now use to ensure that stop sign would hang far more secure than ever on its post at its home intersection.

As I raced back to the intersection, I was white-knuckled. So concerned something would happen between the time I had taken the sign and the time I could put it back.

As parents, leaders, educators and influencers, we have the opportunity to either tell or teach.  How would the outcome have been different had my father simply “told” me to put the sign back? In aligning with his one of his purpose as a parent-to develop a young person with solid decision-making skills- how does compliance accomplish this?

In communication, being clear on purpose and utilizing the power of effective questions can take the focus off what “we” want others to do, and places the focus on empowering and developing others. At the end of the day, which has more impact?

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