Thursday, December 7, 2017

Month in a Minute

Happy holidays!

We had a busy November with travel and events throughout the month. I had one interesting experience while speaking at the AICPA Women’s Global Conference in Chicago. In the middle of my talk, the side doors to the ballroom directly next to the stage suddenly swung open. A hotel employee began to wheel in a large cart filled with high stools. Apparently, the session after mine was going to be a panel discussion and this employee decided to come in early to set up. He seemed oblivious to the fact that a session was still in progress and a full ballroom of people were watching him. I tried to maintain my focus and keep talking, hoping he would just quickly and quietly take care of his set up. Within a minute, I hear a shout from the hallway (which startled both him and me) so we turned to look and a small group of hotel employees were gesturing him to get out of the room and come back into the hallway. He paused, and proceeded to load back up the three chairs he set on the stage and slowly wheeled his cart right back out of the room. It was hard not to have a little chuckle with the audience, as my topic was on situational awareness and employee engagement. Someone had told him to set up for the panel, and by golly, that is what he was going to do.

Clockwise from top left:  An interview by the lovely Kimberly Ellison-Taylor, AICPA Chairman; the "ballroom" mentioned above in Chicago; Women's Harbor Forum, Portsmouth, NH; Steve Friedlein and me at SNHU; Speaking at Fidelity Investments; Can't go to Chicago and not have deep dish!
In one of the fancy hotels I visited this month, I was in the ladies room at the sink, ready to wash my hands. I waved my hand under the faucet to start the water and the sensor wasn’t working. So I moved to the next sink and the same thing happened. Annoyed, I moved to the next one and still no water. I started wondering if there was something wrong with the water in the hotel when a housekeeper came in. I mentioned that the water wasn’t working and she walked over to my sink and turned the knob.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

You Learn

After a while you learn the subtle difference between holding a hand and chaining a soul;
and you learn that love doesn't mean leaning and company doesn't mean security.

And you begin to learn that kisses aren't contracts and presents aren't promises.

And you begin to accept your defeats with your head up and your eyes open, with the grace of an adult, not the grief of a child.

And you learn to build all your roads on today because tomorrow's ground is too uncertain for plans.

After a while you learn that even sunshine burns if you get too much.

So plant your own garden and decorate your own soul, instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.

And learn that you really can endure...that you really are strong, and you really do have worth.

Jorge Luis Borges

Thursday, November 16, 2017

5 Ways to Say Thank You

With the holidays coming and November being the month of gratitude, I thought I would share the best ways to say thanks. It’s a common platitude and often shared verbally, but we know that people want to feel appreciated in a variety of ways, so why not mix it up and try something new? It could lead to greater employee loyalty and coworker effort.

We all like to hear “thank you” after we have put in some effort or helped someone else out, but somehow it doesn’t really leave us with a true sense of appreciation. In fact, many people have their auto signature on emails say “Thank you” or “Thanks” just above their name. If I notice that you are sending that to everyone, how special do you think I feel? People value different things and what one person takes as a gesture of gratitude is different than someone else, even if you extend the exact same gesture to both. One might be over the moon. The other? Meh. To engage all different types of employees, we have to be creative in our approach.

1. Reciprocate. Instead of just saying thanks, do a favor in return. It’s always nice to hear, “Thanks for the ride to work today. As a thank you, I filed that stack of folders for you.” This exchanges an act of service with an act of service, instead of lip service.

2. Put it in writing. Some people really respond to written comments of appreciation. This doesn’t need to be a long letter or even a Hallmark card; sometimes a properly placed Post-It note with an earned compliment is worth gold to someone else.

3. Include recognition. Many employees would appreciate a public acknowledgment of something they did, perhaps in an internal memo or at a staff meeting. Others would be thrilled to see a LinkedIn review about them or a Tweet acknowledging them.

4. Specify the difference they made. Instead of a generic “Thanks” or “Great job” include some tangible outcomes that resulted from their effort. “Doing that extra research saved the department so much time, and helped us make the tight deadline!”

5. Give a tangible gift. It can be as small as a mug or a gift card or as big as personalized stationary or a round of golf, what matters is it shows you know them well and what they value most. You want them to feel the gift is perfect for them.    
If you aren’t sure which one of these would have the greatest impact on someone else, experiment. Try a few of them and watch the reaction you get. Once they feel truly appreciated, you will know it. Then keep it up beyond Thanksgiving so people feel valued all year long.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Most Common Reasons Training Programs Fail

We have all been the victim of a bad training event - and for some impossible to understand reason, it is often tolerated. Participants have come to expect that they will have to sit for too long, hear content that is too generic, and listen to speakers who are content experts but not trainers. Organizations tolerate bad training too, spending oodles of money on meetings and events with low expectations and little formal mechanism to measure any change in behavior.  The difference between bad training and good training can come down to some simple (but very critical) factors. Here are some of the most common reasons training initiatives fail, and what you can do to avoid them. 

Poor needs assessment.
It is critically important for an organization to take the time to identify the real development needs of the workforce instead of turning to one-size-fits all learning events. Consider offering learning tracks based on participant job specialties, years of experience, or open enrollment so participants can choose the session they know would benefit them the most.

Content that is too theoretical.
It is impossible to design an effective learning event from the comfort of your office. Program design is best done from the perspective of real field research, being in the field or office that the participants live in is the only way to truly understand the challenges they face on a daily basis.  

Trainers that want to check the box.
When training is seen as a singular event instead of one facet in an overall organizational development strategy, the learning is often disjointed, random and rarely leads to a direct improvement in performance. Every training event should build on a previous one; should add depth and layers to a developing competency; and should continuously increase in complexity.

No post-training reinforcement.
Training only creates awareness.  For true improvement to occur, participants need additional reinforcement in a real-life setting.  Consider providing participants with follow up options such as enrichment clinics 6 to 9 months after the completion of a program, job shadowing where coaches work onsite to provide participants with coaching and feedback on their application of the principles taught in the course and support in overcoming obstacles that impede performance, weekly or monthly email tips sent on practical ways to apply the learning content in day-to-day interactions.

No measurement of the behavior before the learning event.
It is impossible to know how much a participant is learning, growing or changing without a baseline measurement. Add knowledge surveys, skill evaluations, and self-assessments to your training process so you can better pre- and post-test to measure the results of your learning event. 

Lack of professional trainers.
When budgets are tight, it is a common practice for organizations to use subject matter experts as trainers. Learning specialists must have advanced speaking and facilitation skills that requires specific training. A learning event can become a complete disaster with untrained trainers leading the program. In this case, the delivery of the learning is paramount to the content - hands down.  

No adult learning theory.
Too many programs are based on a classroom model of training - the trainer speaks and the participants listen: Death by PowerPoint. Instead, it is critically important for content designers to understand the principals of how adults learn (which is very different than children) and ways to integrate various training methodology into the learning experience. Most adults don't sit in a chair for 8 straight hours with little opportunity for movement or discussion but in most training sessions, that is exactly what is expected. 

Vacationer / Prisoner / Learner participants.
Every audience contains three types of participants: the Vacationer who is thrilled to get out of the office or the field for any reason and see a day of training as an escape from reality; the Prisoner who absolutely does not want to be there and sees training as an unwanted interruption from their priorities and resents the trainer for making them be there; and the third type is the Learner who is actively looking for ways to improve him or herself and will seek out takeaways to get value from any learning program.  Trainers must prepare for these three types of participants and build in engagement levers for each.  

These common mistakes are the main reasons why training initiatives fail in most organizations. They make proving any return-on-investment in a learning event impossible to document and give training events a bad reputation. Most employees dread the idea of being shut into a conference room or hotel ballroom for days and days with little attention being paid to their unique learning needs and preferences. A focused investment in time and effort by the learning and development team can make a very worthwhile impact on any event, not to mention the overall competence of your workforce. 

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Months in a Minute

Walker Customer Experience Conference, San Antonio, TX; Nationwide Columbus, OH; Utah SHRM Crossroads Conference, Provo, Utah
We have to cover two months in this blog entry – I have been a little behind! September and October took us to clients and events in Manchester NH, Boston MA, Provo UT, San Antonio TX, Toronto CA, Pittsburgh PA, Salt Lake City UT, Gilbert AZ, and Columbus OH. Whenever I am at the conferences I speak at, I will usually attend another breakout or keynote session to keep myself abreast of current topics and trends in leadership. The themes of this Fall have included business acumen (knowing your business not just your job), identifying true customer engagement, successfully managing constant change, building resiliency, and self-leadership. Are these trends affecting you too?

A few years ago I did some work for one of our client’s in the hotel industry. We worked out a barter for a couple of nights at one of their resort properties in Bermuda. With my credits about to expire, David and I decided to go for a long weekend in October and I am so glad we did because it was gorgeous. The island is small and gasoline is $9 a gallon so the best way to get around is on a motor scooter. It’s relatively safe since the speed limit is no more than 35 MPH and there is only one lane going in each direction on almost all roads. However, if you are on a motorbike and traffic gets backed up, it is customary to pass cars to their right. Keep in mind that Bermuda is a British colony so they drive on the left side of the road. That means passing on the right puts you straddling the double yellow line and oncoming traffic. It was terrifying and thrilling at once. I have never ridden a motorcycle and not one for risking my ability to work so I almost chickened out of the whole thing. I am so glad I got out of my comfort zone because riding on the curving roads alongside the ocean in the warm breeze was heavenly. It also helps that David is a very good driver and was a good sport about the death grip I had on his waist!

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Feedback After Failure

Obviously, no one wants to make a bad decision or make a mistake. Yet if we consider the things in life that have shaped us the most, there are likely more than a few failures and tough lessons on the list.  However, we rarely allow employees the benefit of this "fail forward" environment; the freedom to feel fully empowered to experiment and take risks.

Most leaders have difficulty letting go because of trust issues, image management motives, and/or a need to protect people from the deflating failure experience. However, to be a fully effective leader we are required to delegate and trust employees to take responsibility and accountability for their own decisions.  This is a significant distinguisher between management and leadership.  Are you directing or developing?

Rest assured that if you have an engaged employee who fails, no one will feel worse about it than they will, so your feedback through it will be vital. A borderline employee will need the post-mortem to collaboratively sift through the experience to find the valuable lessons they can leverage to improve their performance.  A poor performer will tire of the consistent communication, expectations, and accountability, and will likely pick up their anchor and move on. 

After all the recovery plans have been created and implemented, it is time to schedule the meeting to do a debrief. Here are some ideas:
  • Let them talk.  Think coaching, not instructing.  Ask questions that allow them to process what happened and self-discover any warning signs they may have missed.  A lesson learned personally has far greater power to change than accepting someone else's truth.
  • Don't play the blame game - and stop them from playing it too. If it really was their decision that led to failure they must own it, but you also need to ease up on your urge to lecture or say I told you so. If others truly were involved in the mistake or poor decision, allow this fact to be acknowledged on one condition. They must also acknowledge what they personally could have done to influence other's behavior to have achieved better results. How can they be more successful working with and through others going forward? 
  • What lessons have been learned - what can you both take away from the experience? 
  • Moving forward - how can you help them re-establish credibility or trust? Identify what resources may be missing to assist them. 
  • Remind them of past success - you don't want to make them fearful of risking again. Build their confidence. Remember that they will beat themselves up worse than you ever will. You can verbally communicate a safe environment, but if your actions at any point contradict this message, there will be no growth in performance or personal ownership. 
  • Check-in intermittently with your staff to ask how effective you are being in delivering a consistent message of safety in risk-taking.
The only way to delegate more is to trust more. The only way to build trust is to give people room to prove themselves, including the risk of failing.

Keep the conversation objective, make it safe for them to try new things and grow, and if things don't go as planned, ask what contingency plans he/she would have put in place knowing what they know now. How can you both use that information for the next time? Don't stop providing autonomy because of failure; be there to give them what they need, just when they need it. Someone somewhere gave you an important chance to learn and grow. Be that someone for your team.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Man Up

I don't know how it has happened exactly, but there seems to be an epidemic of employees who are lacking in personal accountability. I have observed it myself, and hear a lot of excuses when I ask someone why they didn't take control of their own actions. When talking with leaders, they say that finding employees who take responsibility for their behaviors or those of their team is getting harder and harder to find. So, where did accountability go and how do we increase it? First, as leaders, we must role model it, and second, we must hold people to their word. It takes some courage and persistence but remains a worthwhile focus area. Here are a few tips to assist you in your efforts.

Man Up

There is a dynamic going on in the workplace today: a shortage of people willing to step up and own their behaviors. The way it plays out is in employee's who blame others for their failures, get defensive, deflect responsibility or claim ignorance. There is a link between Self-Awareness and being accountable for our behavior. It requires self-reflection, and it requires seeing ourselves from another point of view. It requires manning up to apologize, even if not for the content of your message but for how you botched its delivery. Self-awareness helps you sense when your behavior is being disruptive and making efforts to remove yourself or use your self-control to minimize the negative impact on others.

To Increase Accountability:

  • Be a leader, role model for your team how to say, "I had no intention of misleading you, I don't think I was clear with my expectations and I am sorry it created confusion for you."
  • Stop telling people how to accomplish tasks: if they are simply carrying out your directives, it makes it impossible for them to take any ownership of its outcome or for you to hold them accountable to it.
  • Be self-deprecating.  Don't take yourself so seriously that you get defensive when given feedback. Be able to laugh at your own mistakes, especially in front of your team.
  • Any time you end up in a conflict or a difficult confrontation, really consider the part you played in it. Almost always, people's bad behavior is the reaction to something you have done (usually unintentionally). So reflect on what you did to get such a reaction from them, and own up to it with them and apologize.
  • Watch the blame game. No one wants to work with someone who is always pointing fingers at others as an explanation for their own failure. Do people let us down? Yes. Does workload sometimes feel unfair? Yes. Deal with it.

Should you apply some of these suggestions, you hold the power to change the behavior in your entire team by doing so.