Leading Through Mistakes | Lead Change Group


Leading Through Mistakes | Lead Change Group.

I love articles like this.  I love that they speak to what we all inherently know and feel and understand to be true and right in the world.  And I love that in this case it provides insights from those in places that do this well, as it gives hope that we can all achieve the same.

I also struggle with them, as not only someone who studies and practices in this field but also as a worker who experiences the alternative.  We read articles and research and the myriad other pieces of information that confirm our core beliefs in the way we should treat others and be treated, but often when that bubble bursts we are standing or sitting in an environment that is exactly the opposite.  So what do we do?

I am a firm believer in demonstrating what we want to see in others.  Admit when you make mistakes, and mean it.  It definitely isn’t always easy and it certainly can make you more vulnerable,  but if all of can continually present our mistakes to others and own them, others may feel more willing to do the same.  This helps remove the stigma and hopefully help to influence the culture around you, no matter whether you are have positional authority or not.

We can also attempt to provide feedback and suggestions to those around us on using the many methods of using mistakes for good, not evil.  We can suggest articles, books, papers, and more that have information and would be “some interesting reading” in a friendly and caring attempt to help others to see some new ways they could do things.  But we cannot always get through, and need to know when to back off.

It can be easy to be positive when we talk about what we should do, or what we know is true, but the reality is that many workplaces out there do not have cultures that support this mentality.  Even worse, there are many organizations that do, but some of the managers do not support the same.  In these cases, if you have exhausted every avenue, there may be no other choice but to leave the team, group, department, or even the company.  Being in an environment that burns you down for mistakes, or having a manager that refuses to admit their own while ensuring that any of your own are glaring, pointed, and clearly spotlighted will suck the very life from you and all work you do.  I firmly believe that change can happen, and that the things we know about the interactions between engagement and motivation, leadership, communication, and behaviors is true and important.  The catch is that we have to know when the environment and/or people are open to that change.

For leaders,  think for a moment on not what your perspective is, but what is the perspective of those that you are in charge of?  Do they feel like you are supportive?  Do they feel like they can make a mistake?  How do you help them?  How would you view or treat your employees differently if they were your friends instead of employees?

What do you think?  Have you been in a situation like this, as an employee and/or as a leader, and what was it?  How did you handle it?  What would your recommend to others?

When you have time, lead your team.


In the not-so-distant past, I had the opportunity to experience a situation unfolding where a manager has taken on the role of “working manager” to a detrimental point, exacerbated by a number of facts.  First, they are in a first-time management position with direct reports, which started as one and grew to 6 in a very short period of about two-and-a-half to three years.  To make matters worse, their role has increasingly taken on more individual contributor responsibilities, while the responsibilities of the team members reporting to them have Man facing problems and stressbecome increasingly varied and complex.  This is a recipe for disaster.

Organizations today are increasingly attempting to “do more with less” which is not a new concept, but we see organizations taking it to frightening extremes at times.  While to some degree this is a fact of business, we need to ensure that we are also being mindful of the conflicting measurements and expectations we place on leaders in the organization.  How much time do you and/or your managers spend focusing on your own projects and tasks?  How much time do you or they dedicate to actually managing and leading?  Are your tasks and managing and leading your people considered different, and what is more critical?  These are important questions.

Too often we forget that the functions of leading and managing are complex, and require focus and time.  This is even more salient when leaders work with diverse workgroups across national and international boundaries, and across multiple areas of expertise.  The basics of learning to delegate are important, but there is certainly more.  Leaders in complex leadership situations need to the opportunity to say no, they cannot take on another task, another project, another product, another whatever without fear of reprisal.  It is senior leadership’s responsibility to create and encourage this environment, and everyone’s responsibility to help support it.  Further, it is the responsibility of leadership throughout the organization to make sure that the right people are not only in the right place, but also that they receive the right support at the right time.  This means for themselves and other leaders.

We need the time, the training, and the support to be the best that we can, and that means each and every one of us, consistently.  There is no silver bullet, but an important component is awareness.  The awareness of senior leaders and mid-level leaders to recognize when they or others are taking on too much, or trying to be the hero, or trying to continue getting the accolades of being the “doer” versus being the leader.  While there are many other areas for potential focus, this one thing makes a huge difference in engagement, creating a trusting environment, building relationships, and increasing potential and performance for everyone.

 

Too much of a good thing


We’ve all either heard or been told that we should “stick to what we know” or “do what you’re good at”, but is this always the best advice?  As discussed in the Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research from June of 2011, there is a movement in the field of positive psychology that says that we should focus on our strengths and ignore, or pay much less attention to, our weaknesses.  The concept is often referred to as “strengths-based development”.  This idea of focusing on what we are good at isn’t a new one, but there are some drawbacks that we need to be aware of.  By ignoring the areas that we are weakest we may put ourselves in the position to make serious mistakes in those areas, or to simply never improve, which is exactly opposite of what development is about.  It’s also possible to become so focused on the areas that you are strong in that you actually overdo the performance in those areas.  Take for example someone who is a great communicator.  Communication as a tool is an excellent component to work on and develop, but if you overuse that skill, no one will want to listen to you no matter how good the communication is.  Another excellent example is the person who has drive and work ethic.  These are traits that anyone would be happy to have strength in, but overdone these can come across as workaholic or overbearing, and worse can lead to things like burnout, or alienation from friends, family, and even co-workers.

So what is the answer?  It’s not really an either/or dichotomy, but instead it’s a combination of the two.  That means focusing on what we are good at and enjoy, and improving and strengthening those areas while challenging ourselves to grow and develop and experience things in the areas where we are weak.  It means finding projects and learning opportunities that constantly take us out of our comfort zone in what we like and what we don’t, and changing our paradigm to understand that we need to develop 360 degrees.  The most successful and respected people of the world have generally gained many different experiences and perspectives, and can see and speak with those perspectives which allow them to be insightful, innovative, creative, masterful, and global in the way that they act and interact.

What are you doing to strengthen what you like and are good at?  How are you challenging yourself to grow and develop in new ways or in areas that you are weak?  As a manager or supervisor, how are you doing the same for your people in both ways?

References

Kaiser, R.B. & Overfield, D.V. (2011). Strengths, Strengths Overused, and Lopsided Leadership. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 63(2), 89-109. doi: 10.1037/a0024470

Agility in efficiency makes the difference!


One of the easiest things to lose sight of in the business world is where we want our business, group, or team to be or what goals we want to achieve.  This concept may seem quite obvious, but whether your perspective is as a supervisor or as a direct report you should be asking the question, “What are we measuring against?”  As a direct report, you should know what you are being measured against to know what you should be doing every day to achieve, and to help your colleagues and supervisor achieve, those goals.  As a supervisor or manager you should certainly be asking yourself, and your leader, what you should be measuring your people against and understand how those things impact the overall organizational goals.  Having this information impacts much more than awareness.  It essentially feeds every other performance impacting systemic component in the macro-system of the organization.

Some other important components (although by no means all inclusive) in human performance improvement are things such as communications and feedback loops, coaching, learning events, information and resources, physical systems (hardware/software, technology, etc.), environment, and work processes.  Keeping in mind the concept of asking what we are measuring against, every single other component of human performance improvement is impacted directly by that.  Think of it as reverse engineering.  As the saying goes, if you don’t know where you are going, how are you going to get there?  Once you know what you are being measured against, and what you are measuring your team against you can adjust other performance management and performance improvement components to help reach that end goal.

When we look at what makes the concept of human performance improvement effective, an important focus is on making the small changes and correcting the small mistakes or finding solutions to even the smallest challenges.  Think about this: Employees find that a software program is cumbersome and slows them down in completing a particular function.  It is decided that the team can simply find ways to work around it and make it work, and that funds and time should be allocated to a different focus.  As the new focus begins to grow, more time is needed from the employees that currently work on the myriad things that they were before.  The software that was once a slight annoyance is still costing time, albeit potentially somewhat less, as it was before and makes it even more difficult for the team to provide the support for the shiny new product that has come out and is positioned to make the organization more revenue and to gain more market value.  Now because of the launch of the new product, it is decided that there is a change that needs to be made to the software to meet the demand and the software change becomes a priority.  However, now the team has become ingrained in the way they have adjusted their workflow to using the inefficient software which will require a serious behavioral change to the new way.  The workflow will potentially need to be redesigned, the software will need to be redesigned, the group will need to learn the change to the new software, and all of this while learning a new product and adjusting to the new responsibility of supporting the new revenue generating product that needs to be on the market and supported (and in most cases, that product and support was expected yesterday!).

What challenges do you see here?  How much more complicated is the process later down the line?  This is truly death by a thousand cuts.  To be a truly agile organization there needs to be a focus and attention to the small things that can be improved and the small problems that can be fixed before they become big things.  Awareness of issues in the present and focus on improving them as close to immediately when found creates an environment that drives to the future.  Throughout this process, focus needs to be maintained on the initially defined measurements which will create quantifiable evidence that all of the improvements being made are helping to move the organization toward the overall goals.

Not your average action plan


With the many challenges that face organizations and their leaders today, ensuring that learning events, seminars, and conferences provide a true value to the employee and overall organization is even more important than ever before.  The reason this is so important is the need to create an environment built for change and innovation, partnered with the need to attract and keep talent and the associated intellectual property.  People need more than the every day grind, and need to understand that the organization they work with believes they are important enough to invest in.  All of this together makes this a game with very high stakes.  So the question is how to accomplish this intricate intertwining?

In the past, the expectation was that if you were going to some type of learning or communication event, whether internal or external, you would gain whatever knowledge and information you could and hope to find ways to apply it in some way in your daily work once you returned.  That model is simply not effective and with the need for every dollar and minute spent to account for some type of return on investment, we need to find a better way.

Enter the action plan.  For most of us, the action plan may seem familiar.  In reality, most of us use it completely incorrectly and even fewer understand what it really is.  First, let’s talk about what it is not.  An action plan is not a directive from a manager or supervisor of what to do.  It is not a task list, nor is it a checklist.  An action plan is also not simply the “next steps”.  It is much more complex than these things, while encompassing many of the same components.

The best way that I have heard an action plan described is not just as the plan, but also as a living process.  It cannot be a static dumping ground, but must instead be a dynamic process leading up to an initial static document.  To accomplish this managers and supervisors need to schedule time with an employee before an event, and during this time discuss the program or event content, define the expected or desired takeaways are, and identify the expectations of the supervisor or manager after the event.  For the person attending the event, there needs to be a structured way of attending the event to obtain a solid comprehension of the learning.  Participants do this either with a printed form or through simply taking notes, but there are certain components needing identification throughout the program.  These include, for each lesson learned:

  • What did I learn? (This could be per day, week, month, module, book, speaker, etc.)
  • How can this help me do my job better?
  • What action steps, if any, can I take?
  • Start Date
  • Evaluation Date (Should be agreed upon either before the event, or in the post-conversation)
  • What resources will I need?
  • What barriers might I encounter?  Who can help me with these?

By using this process, the participant should have a clear picture of knowledge gains and the best use of those gains after the event.  Further, having this information available will be of great use when debriefing with the leadership afterwards, which is the next piece of the process.

Within the week immediately after the event, the participant and their leadership need to have time scheduled to discuss the event and the answers to the questions posed above.  At this point, the action plan in the sense of what we know it today begins to form, which will offer specific goals and timelines for check in and accomplishment as well as helping the leadership to find what learners need from them in terms of support and resources.  By following this method, the leader and employee share commitment to the action plan as both developed and designed it and both have stakes in it.  For the leadership, this is also an excellent addition to performance plans as a part of the performance management process.

References

Cowan, C.A., Goldman, E.F., & Hook, M. (2010). Flexible and inexpensive: Improving learning transfer and program evaluation through participant action plans. Performance Improvement, 49(5), 18-25. doi: 10.1002/pfi.20147

A “Complex and Adaptive” System


In any business, human capital is the underlying current of activity and success.  There are many challenges as organizations grow and shrink, and make decisions on the best way to proceed into the unknown as they change and develop.  An article that giving an interesting perspective on this was published in the professional journal Performance Improvement in March of 2010, titled “An Enlightened Look at a System View.”  The authors, Rosenzweig and Lochridge, look at how organizations must reassess what they are doing today and empower employees to make proper decisions and take the business into the future through an entrepreneurial spirit.

In the current turbulent environment, organizations are forced to find new ways of doing things, engage employees, offer better service, perform faster and more agile, and use the human capital that they have in multiple and diverse ways and roles.  With these thoughts in mind, the old way of doing things needs revisiting and reevaluation for effectiveness.  The old ways of thinking need challenging.  Does what worked even five years ago still stand true today, or is an entire re-vamp necessary?  For many on the “front-lines” of organizations, this is a no-brainer question.  As the saying goes, “what got us here will not (necessarily) get us there”.  In other words, some things are reusable, but many components can definitely benefit from change and evolution.

One such area involves viewing the business as a system, and understanding it as being complex with many moving parts.  This means understanding that, as Rosenzweig and Lochridge (2010) put it, “we need to acknowledge that some problems have a tipping point where the ability [to affect change] with a small team to affect change on a system becomes impossible.  There are too many moving parts, and too many emerging issues.  In these instance, the system must be viewed as being not just complex but as a complex adaptive system.”

So, what does a “complex adaptive” system mean?  It means there is a constant input of new data and changes to the system needing the ability to make decisions quickly and dynamically.  Further, these decisions are not necessarily by the leaders and senior leaders, but are by the human capital directly involved.  Although there is a structure of “plans, processes, and strategies” (Rosenzweig & Lochridge, 2010) agreed upon and slated as the guiding directives, the understanding is they are simply a guide on the path as changes constantly happen.  This agility and trust in the decision-making process creates engagement from those involved, and helps to create ownership of the business and decisions.  Everyone strives to do their best in contributing to the “larger purpose [of] what is needed to accomplish the tasks at hand, as well as the end goal.” (Rosenzweig & Lochridge)

The organization has a mission, vision, values, strategy, etc.  The ability and desire of the individuals in support of those components is what makes them truly work.  One way that many organizations today are working in support of this is to work “less [toward] managing the people and more [toward] engaging them.” (Rosenzweig & Lochridge, 2010)  This includes creating an environment where the individuals are more responsible for self, and find their own way to give 110% in support of the team, the organization, the business, and the customers every day.  It also includes running the business as a network, much in the way the Internet does, where everyone “[connects] to each other in an organic way.” (Rosenzweig & Lochridge, 2010) While this environment is often in small, entrepreneurial organizations, now a movement is gaining strength to keep this type of thinking and behavior alive and well within those organizations that have moved out of that category.  Instead of it being about a stage in an organizations life, it is a combination of mindset and actions, empowering and engaging each employee as an owner and creator of the business.

The face of business today is in many ways very different from how it was 50, 20, or even 5 years ago.  The expectations of customers are different and need a completely different approach in many cases.  Problems need more than a canned solution.  Working within regulations and standards is perhaps more strict now than in the last century, and our world is more technologically involved and complex in many ways than ever before, requiring a unique way of thinking and working.  Ensuring that the organization empowers and enables human capital in an organization  to meet the demands of today will differentiate any organization and place them in position to grow, change, and evolve to keep pace with what comes for tomorrow.

References

Rosenzweig, J., & Lochridge, S. (2010). An enlightened look at a system view. Performance Improvement, 49(3), 24-30. doi: 10.1002/pfi

Lessons Abound for Businesses in the Wake of Civil Unrest


With the number of major world events happening over the last 6 months, I have to believe that people are starting to take notice and ask why. In many cases perhaps there is no reason to ask why, such as the overturn of the Tunisian government, or the similar situation in Egypt. Even as we speak the unrest in Libya is building to a crescendo, with people around the globe starting to feel the impact at the gas pump and in the stock market. Not to mention there are plenty of people, myself included, that are waiting to see the outcome, and what it means for not only the Middle East and African countries, but for all peoples and countries around the world. Business should take lessons from these situations as well, not only of the impact to them, but for what it means in the country of “YourBusinessToday”.

We often look at situations in foreign countries and think that it could never happen to us, and what we certainly don’t think about are the similarities between a country and a business. Any time you have a population of people being governed by a body who has greater and greater power and control in the eyes of those people, you really walk a fine line. It is the responsibility of those in power to take a step back, listen to their people, and ensure that not only do they understand them but are working on their behalf to make things better for them. Without people to lead, and people who want to follow you, you have no authority and can and will lose much. Whether that much is a company or a country is based on your situation, but the result is generally still the same.

In tribes such as the Trobriander and others around the world they have this concept correct. There are even companies such as Gore that get it right. You have to keep groups small, allow the people to have a voice, base authority on merit, and truly have your people’s best interest at heart because your people are you and you are your people. When you create a hierarchical system, giving greater and greater authority while separating the leaders and people from each other, you often end up playing a huge game of telephone to understand what is really going on with the people. Authority and respect needs to be earned by leaders, and voluntarily given by followers. When you try to force it, or demand it, you degrade the entire structure of trust and communication. We see this when we look at world leaders who are killing their citizens to maintain control, or taking money out of their pockets in one form or another to fill their own, or even in the case of working over their people’s heads and behind their backs on “diplomatic policies” that are really about making the leaders power and money greater (sometimes at the expense of the people they serve).

Unfortunately we fail to notice, or do anything about, the actions of business leaders that are equally egregious. We as human beings tend to view it as a greater tragedy when bad things happen to a people of a country, but accept it more when it comes from a business. While business leaders may not be mowing down their employees (and who knows, perhaps some do!) there are certainly cases where they are making deals for their own benefit, and lining their own pockets because “they earned it”. I’m sure that many of the world leaders out there being overturned and ousted believed the same thing at one time or another.

The time may not have come yet, but I believe that if current events are any indication, the time will come when people around the world will begin to become infected with the pandemic virus of “we won’t take it any more”. As this day draws near businesses better take heed and make changes, because as the global economy changes, the global environment changes, and one only knows how many governments change there will certainly be the possibility of a target being painted on the front and back of every business leader. Again, we’re not there yet, but that day may not be too far in the future.