3 Good Things L&D Professionals Can Learn from Presidential Candidates

Training Magazine March -April 2016 CoverIn the cover story for this month’s Training magazine, author Gail Dutton takes a look at the ongoing presidential primary races from a unique perspective: what learning and development professionals can learn from each candidate’s approach.

Just like a presidential candidate, Dutton says, L&D professionals have to remain relevant, stay in the race, and advance their agendas.

By taking a closer look at presidential campaign positioning and maneuverings, Dutton believes that executives charged with leading the learning and development of others can “identify tactics that work, determine why others failed, and apply those insights to ensure their message is heard above the chatter.”

Here are a few of her key points:

Be Aspirational—Express a Great Purpose

Whether it is Donald Trump’s “Let’s Make America Great Again” slogan or Bernie Sanders ’ anti-corporate, anti-establishment, anti-money stance, it’s important that L&D leaders achieve that same clarity by refining their message down to its key elements, says Dutton.

Dutton quotes Lawrence Polsky, cofounder of teambuilding and coaching firm Teams of Distinction.  In politics, Polsky says, “Sanders talks in terms of revolution, appealing to his followers to act. Trump outlines his specific steps to make America great.”

Sanders’s and Trump’s statements in their respective debates have catalyzed discussions. That happens in business, too, writes Dutton. “When L&D leaders can articulate an aspirational goal and connect it to specific steps employees can take to reach it, they inspire action.”

Tailor Your Message—Cautiously

Leaders must understand their audience but they also must consider the consequences. Dutton writes, “During primary elections, candidates appeal to their bases. But statements that appeal to core supporters may backfire during the general election. As a case in point, when Hillary Clinton was asked of which enemy she was most proud, she said, ‘The Republicans.’”

Dutton points out that William Senft, coauthor of the book Being Rational, writes, “That pitch appealed to the self-interests of one group but alienated much of the electorate.”

Dutton says the message for L&D leaders is to consider the big picture. Focusing strictly on one element of a program may resonate with leaders from that discipline—but when pitching to the C-suite, concerns such as expenses, returns, capital usage, and opportunity costs must be considered.

Be Authentic and Show Your Human Side

Dutton shares that a Bell Leadership Institute survey of 2,700 employees found that a sense of humor was one of the two most mentioned attributes of good leaders. In the first Republican debate, Carly Fiorina apparently forgot that fact and appeared painfully severe. Soon afterward, she released an old family photo of herself and her young daughters posing in a bubble bath to highlight her whimsical side. Business leaders needn’t go that far, but the ability to laugh does make them more approachable.

Dutton quotes author William Senft again: “Hillary, on the other hand, has issues with authenticity. She’s tried over the years to present herself as easygoing and likeable. In reality, she’s intense and ambitious. People sense that and have a difficult time accepting her [when she tries to be something she isn’t].”

“That’s true for organizations, too,” writes Dutton. “Be who and what you are.”

To see more comparisons (and 9 quick tips for L&D professionals), check out Dutton’s complete article What Can L&D Learn from the Presidential Race? in the March/April issue of Training magazine.

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What Is The Biggest Mistake Leaders Make When Working with Others?

Blanchard Biggest Mistakes Leaders Make Infographic

When The Ken Blanchard Companies asked 1,400 people the question “What is the biggest mistake leaders make when working with others?” 41 percent of respondents identified inappropriate communication or poor listening.

When these same respondents were asked to look at a list of common mistakes and choose the five biggest missteps by leaders, two responses stood out.

Not providing appropriate feedback was chosen by 82 percent of respondents. Failing to listen or involve others came in a close second, cited by 81 percent. (Failing to use an appropriate leadership style, failing to set clear goals and objectives, and failing to develop their people rounded out the respondents’ top five of things leaders most often fail to do when working with others.)

A 700-person follow-up study conducted by Blanchard in 2013 with readers of Training magazine found similar results. In that survey:

  • 28 percent of respondents said they rarely or never discussed future goals and tasks with their boss—even though 70 percent wished they did.
  • 36 percent said they never or rarely received performance feedback—even though 67 percent wished they did.

Why are communication and feedback such a challenge in today’s workplaces? The fast pace of work and increased workloads are certainly part of the equation—but another possibility is that new managers are not trained in either of these essential skills. Research conducted by the Institute for Corporate Productivity found that 47 percent of organizations do not have a formal training program in place for new managers. Research by leadership development consultancy Zenger Folkman has found that most managers don’t receive training until they are ten years into their managerial careers.

That’s too late. Harvard Business School professor Linda Hill has found that most managers who survive their first year develop habits—good or bad—that they carry with them for the rest of their careers.

The Ken Blanchard Companies believes it is essential for new managers to develop good communication skills as they step into their first leadership roles. In a new first-time manager curriculum, Blanchard identifies four communication skills new managers need to develop as well as four conversations new managers need to master.

Four Essential Communication Skills

  • Listen to Learn—a deeper type of listening where the goal for the manager is to hear something that might change their mind, not just prompt a response.
  • Inquire for Insight—when the manager uses questions to draw people out and probe for understanding that might not be shared at first.
  • Tell Your Truth—being direct in communication in a way that promotes honest observation without assigning blame.
  • Express Confidence—conveying a positive attitude toward the other person and toward future conversations, regardless of the subject.

Four Performance Management Conversations to Master

  • The Goal Setting Conversation—setting clear objectives: all good performance begins with clear goals.
  • The Praising Conversation—noticing and recognizing progress and good performance: catch people doing things right.
  • The Redirecting Conversation—providing feedback and direction when performance is off-track: seize the opportunity before the problem escalates.
  • The Wrapping Up Conversation—conducting a short, informal review after a task or goal is finished: savor accomplishments and acknowledge learnings

Becoming skilled in each of these areas not only helps new managers get off to a great start but also can help them succeed for years to come. How are your managers doing in these critical areas? You can read more about the Blanchard approach to first-time manager development in the white paper Essential Skills Every First-Time Manager Should Master.

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Take Time to Pause and Reflect: Introducing the “Wrapping Up” Conversation

First-Time Manager A Great Start GraphicIn the just-launched First-time Manager program from The Ken Blanchard Companies, co-creators Scott Blanchard, Ken Blanchard, and coaching expert Linda Miller focus on one aspect of good performance management often overlooked by first-time managers.

“We call it the wrapping up conversation,” explains Scott Blanchard. “It’s not complicated or formal; it’s simply to acknowledge the completion of a project, task, or goal and honorably conclude it before moving on to the next thing.

“The late Warren Bennis often said managers need to balance action with reflection. Typically, managers and teams race toward a goal. But as soon as they attain it, before anyone has the time to honor, celebrate, or even take a deep breath, they jump in to the next one.

“The wrapping up conversation gives managers and direct reports a chance to look back and savor success as well as learn from mistakes. It’s a way to reflect, process the experience, and gain knowledge before starting another project.”

One area that Blanchard believes can be improved through more frequent wrapping up conversations is the annual performance review process—a hot topic in management circles these days.

“Offering feedback only once a year makes it hard to provide people with meaningful or actionable information. But having regular wrapping up conversations creates space for both manager and direct report to discuss what they’ve just learned. It allows them to take action and make changes in real time instead of waiting until the end of the year when it might be too late.

“Feedback needs to happen a lot more than once a year. Our research shows that there is a 30-point gap between how often people want to receive feedback and how often they are currently receiving it.”

Blanchard believes the wrapping up conversation can help both new and experienced managers see the performance review as more of a side-by-side discussion than a top-down evaluation.

“Traditionally, a performance review is a review of the employee’s performance, not a review of the quality of the relationship between the manager and the direct report. The wrapping up conversation creates a more thoughtful situation where both people can reflect on their individual roles and contributions toward the success—or lack of success—of a project or task. It’s a good time to discuss what the manager did or didn’t do to help the person achieve the goal. We believe the job of a manager is to help people get an A, not to mark their paper—a concept made popular in the 2009 book Helping People Win at Work, co-written by my father and Garry Ridge, CEO of WD-40 Company.”

For managers interested in exploring the use of wrapping up conversations with their direct reports, Blanchard suggests three ways to get started.

Begin by endorsing the person and celebrating the achievement. Ask how the person feels about the goal or project.  For example, you might ask what the direct report thinks went well and what they learned from doing the project.

Discuss the results and the impact collaboratively. Focus on the benefit that was derived or the learnings that occurred as a result of the project.

Ask about possible areas for improvement. If something could have been handled differently, be willing to tell your truth. Be sure to listen for wisdom gained and to inquire about personal development. Remember to finish by expressing confidence in the direct report.

Done right, wrapping up conversations create space for managers and team members to celebrate results, acknowledge learning, keep people energized, and promote development by honoring work that’s been done.  Are you taking time to pause and reflect?  A wrapping up conversation can help.

PS: Interested in learning more about how wrapping up conversations help with improving your performance review process?  Join Blanchard for a free webinar on March 23.

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Most First-Time Managers Are Not Ready to Lead (infographic)

Blanchard First-time-Manager Infographic ImageA new infographic from The Ken Blanchard Companies looks at the challenges individual contributors face when they step into their first leadership assignments.

With over two million people being promoted into their first leadership roles each year—and over 50% struggling or failing—the care and feeding of first-time managers needs to be front and center on every leadership development curriculum.

Unfortunately, research shows that new managers are usually promoted without the skills needed to be a good manager and that 47% of companies do not have a new supervisor training program in place.

As a result, 60% of new managers underperform in their first two years according to a study by CEB resulting in increased performance gaps and employee turnover.

More importantly, research by Harvard Business School professor Linda Hill has found that negative patterns and habits established in a manager’s first year continue to “haunt and hobble them” for the rest of their managerial careers.

It’s critically important that learning and development professionals help new managers get off to a fast start—both for their immediate and long-term future.  What type of support are new managers experiencing in your organization?  If it’s not what it should be, the new Blanchard infographic can help open up a conversation and encourage some steps in a better direction.

You can download the first-time manager infographic here—and be sure to check out a new Blanchard first-time manager white paper that explores the issue more completely—including suggestions for a first-time manager curriculum.

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Why You Don’t Feel Motivated—and 6 Ways to Move in a New Direction

Two new articles by motivation expert Susan Fowler point to some of the challenges leaders face in trying to create an engaging and motivating work environment for team members. The two big challenges?  Weaning yourself and others off suboptimal motivators—which Fowler labels as “junk food” motivation—and focusing instead on six best practices that support autonomy, relatedness and competence.

In The Science Behind Why You Don’t Feel Motivated, Fowler shares that people bring different motivational outlooks to the projects they face at work.  Three of these outlooks are suboptimal—disinterested, imposed, and external.  Fowler asks readers to consider a couple of questions to identify if they might be exhibiting signs of one of these three outlooks.  Ask yourself, Am I…

  • Unable to find value or meaning in the project?
  • Feeling imposed? Is there someone pressuring me to get this done? Am I pressuring myself?
  • Feeling resentful?
  • Fearful of what might happen if I don’t do it? Am I concerned about disappointing someone else—or myself?
  • Doing the work in an effort to avoid guilt or shame?
  • Doing the work for the money?
  • Doing the work with hopes of gaining favor, power or status in the eyes of others?
  • Am I taking this on to impress someone else?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, your motivation is suboptimal explains Fowler.

“Suboptimal motivation is like junk food. Think about what happens when you are low on energy and go for the quick fix—a candy bar, an order of fries, a caffeinated drink. Your blood sugar spikes and then you crash. That doughnut tasted really good going down, but it didn’t do your body any good—especially in the long term. When your motivation is based on disinterest, external rewards (tangible and intangible), or feeling imposed, you will simply not have the energy, vitality or sense of well-being required to achieve your goals.”

To move in a better direction Fowler suggests a different approach.  In an article on What to Do When Rewards and Incentives Don’t Work Fowler recommends looking at three basic human needs and three ways to rediscover your own personal motivation.

As she explains, “The best motivation comes from three basic psychological needs: autonomy, relatedness and competence, or ARC. When psychological needs are satisfied, people flourish. When these needs are undermined, people languish.”

You can wean yourself—and others—off carrots and sticks by adopting six motivation best practices that support autonomy, relatedness and competence.  Here are Fowler’s recommendations:

Encourage autonomy. Frame deadlines as useful information critical for achieving important goals rather than sticks for applying pressure.

Deepen relatedness. Reframe metrics that have no emotional meaning. Conduct motivational outlook conversations with employees to help them attribute their own sense of meaning to critical organizational goals and outcomes. You cannot impose your values or feelings on others, but you can guide their exploration of values and sense of purpose they find compelling.

Develop people’s competence. Focus on setting learning goals, not just output goals. Shift your focus from accomplishment to building competence. Instead of just asking, “What did you get done today?” try asking, “What did you learn today?”

Promote mindfulness. Prompt awareness of options a person may not have considered. Ask questions such as “Why is this important to you (or not)?” and “Why are you finding this goal so challenging (or rewarding)?” These simple yet powerful, open-ended questions help individuals rise above patterns of behavior that often sabotage their best intentions.

Align with values. Conduct a values conversation with individuals you lead. They may have succumbed to suboptimal motivation based on money, rewards, incentives, power, status, fear, pressure, guilt or shame because they have not consciously or deliberately aligned their work to meaningful values that generate sustained positive energy, vitality and sense of well-being.

Connect to purpose. Your organization has probably spent enormous resources crafting and socializing its vision, purpose and mission. Now help individuals do the same. Encourage the people you lead to develop their own workplace purpose statements. There are few things in life more powerful than acting from a noble purpose.

As Fowler encourages, “The more mindful you are, the more opportunity you have to shift to an optimal motivational outlook. Motivation is a skill. You can learn to experience high-quality motivation any time and any place you choose.”

You can read more on Susan Fowler’s approach to motivation at SUCCESS online.

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Measure these Five Areas to Focus Your Engagement Efforts

Strategy business concept with magnifying glassOrganizations and agencies of all sizes hope to create a work environment where people perform at a high level, go above and beyond when needed, stay with and endorse the organization as a good place to work, and act as good organizational citizens. But are leaders in these organizations actively measuring employee perceptions and dealing with low scores as they are discovered?

In a new article for Chief Learning Officer researchers at The Ken Blanchard Companies recommend leaders measure employee work intentions in five key areas to focus their efforts: Discretionary Effort, Intent to Perform, Intent to Endorse, Intent to Remain, and Organizational Citizenship

Discretionary Effort: The Blanchard research shows that people are more apt to go the extra mile when they have autonomy and variety in their role. Peer relationships also influence discretionary effort. The more connected an individual is to his or her colleagues, the more likely he or she is to expend extra energy on behalf of the organization. People feel good about working extra hard when they believe the organization they are working for treats them fairly.

Intent to Perform: Blanchard data shows the more that people feel their jobs contain variety and include more than routine tasks, the greater their intention is to perform at a high level. Autonomy also plays a large role in performance intentions because people feel the need to have the freedom to decide how their tasks are performed and the authority to do their jobs.

Intent to Endorse: Blanchard research also identified that fairness in the work environment influences an individual’s willingness to endorse the organization as a good place to work and to recommend it to their family, friends, and potential customers. Most people also have a need to feel support for both their job and career growth. Autonomy also has influence on the intent to perform.

Intent to Remain: The Blanchard data indicated that the intent to stay with an organization is a statement of confidence in leadership as well as the organization. Lack of growth opportunities, fair benefits, and adequate pay cause intent to stay to diminish over time.

Organizational Citizenship: The Blanchard research also found that individuals who feel more highly connected to their colleagues and see their workplace as collaborative tend to focus more on the welfare of the organization. This connection is due to the concepts of sportsmanship, fair play, and taking care of others.

6 Recommendations for Leaders

Are you creating the type of environment that encourages your best people to stay and perform at high levels? The Blanchard researchers share six ways to get started drawing from their studies into 12 Employee Work Passion Factors.

Increase Task Variety. Scores on all five key intentions improve when employees have a variety in type and complexity of tasks

Provide Meaningful Work. Communicating vision, the value of an employee’s contribution to the organization, and the organization’s contribution to the community are important to people, and can influence intentions to Remain, Perform at a High Level, Endorse, and Engage in Organizational Citizenship Behaviors

Promote Procedural Fairness. Apply policies and procedures fairly to all employees to improve intentions to Perform, Remain, and Apply Discretionary Effort

Increase Autonomy. Allow people flexibility in how they accomplish their work and approach their jobs to improve intentions to Apply Discretionary Effort, Perform at a High Level, and Engage in Organizational Citizenship Behaviors

Encourage Employee Connections. Foster the development of personal and professional relationships among employees to influence the intention to Apply Discretionary Effort and Engage in Organizational Citizenship Behaviors

Offer Job and Career Growth Opportunities and Exhibit Distributive Fairness. Make sure compensation and distribution of resources are fair to improve employees’ Intention to Remain

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5 Leadership Skills for Succeeding in a Matrix Structure

Matrix managementIn a matrix organization structure, individuals are allocated to projects based on need, availability, region, and other factors. While this fluid structure has definite merits, it also presents leaders with the challenge of dealing with ambiguous budgets, authority, accountability, and performance evaluation.

Leading in a matrix structure, therefore, requires an implementation strategy unlike that of traditional management. Five core skills are necessary for leaders to be successful operating in a more fluid matrix environment.

  1. Building Trust. In a traditional organization design, individuals know who their direct manager is and rely on that person for their workplace needs. However, in a matrix structure, employees can be allocated to numerous managers. Building trust quickly with multiple people is crucial to getting work done efficiently across department lines.
  2. Influencing Others. Given that decision making is distributed in a matrix organization, it is important for leaders to develop their negotiation skills. Because resources will be flexed and shared, leaders need to know how to make a case for the resources they need—and how to accomplish agency goals through influence rather than command and control tactics.
  3. Understanding and Appreciating Differences. Leaders in a matrix organization have frequent interactions with people with whom they do not have a daily relationship. Therefore, it is critical for them to understand subtle variations in the way others process information, evaluate ideas, and make decisions.
  4. Managing Conflict. Conflict is not uncommon in a matrix environment. Resources are seldom aligned to budgets controlled by one person, which creates a need for negotiating win-win outcomes. In this regard, leaders need to know how to clearly communicate their desired results, understand the needs of others, and develop solutions that address multiple stakeholder interests.
  5. Having Constructive Conversations. Engaging in tactful and effective dialogue when there are differences of opinion and emotions are running high. In particular, leaders need to be more planful to exercise patience and discipline in their communication style.

The matrix organization holds great promise for those that are able to operate within it successfully.  With practice, the matrix environment allows organizations to operate more effectively and cross functionally to better serve customers—or, in the case of government, citizens. Leaders who evaluate themselves and others in their organization in each of these areas will give their organization a head start toward more effectively meeting the needs of the people they serve.

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