Posts Tagged communication

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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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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Does Your Team Value Feedback? 4 Areas to Evaluate

Multiethnic Group of People with Feedback ConceptBecause front-line people deliver on the agency mission every day, they inevitably encounter opportunities for improvement. However, if your leadership style does not promote the free exchange of candid feedback, you’re probably doing your agency and the public a disservice by not receiving and acting on potentially valuable information.

Setting the tone for feedback is a leadership skill that deserves attention and practice to ensure you do not miss opportunities for individual, team, and agency improvement. So what gets in the way of a free flow of information? Here are some common pitfalls.

  1. Lack of candor. When a leader establishes a work environment where candor is not valued, people have a tendency to tell the leader what they believe the leader wants to hear.  This creates a “yes boss” mentality where the leader’s perspective and ideas are valued and reinforced above alternative points of view. As a result, there is a loss of diversity of thinking and input.
  2. Fear of retribution. “Why would I risk angering my manager with a potentially controversial observation?” If people feel they will be chastised, bullied, or ridiculed for speaking their mind, they will keep potentially useful ideas to themselves.
  3. Talking instead of listening. Does your team practice good listening habits? Or do people listen just long enough to reinforce their own opinions? If teams are not attentive and don’t explicitly convey a desire to receive feedback, information flow is restricted.
  4. Lack of action. Does your team make changes based on new input and suggestions? Or do team members take more of a “my way or the highway” approach that leads to disagreement?  If you really value honest, candid feedback, you have to demonstrate that it is desired, valued, and acted on.

Open communication is a key to the successful fulfillment of the agency mission. What changes do you need to make in your leadership style and behavior to allow more candid feedback to come your way? These four starting points can serve as a road map as you begin to examine your own agency’s culture.

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Leadership Development: 5 Ways to Fill the Soft Skills Gaps

Soft SkillsRecent Harvard research indicates that skills such as cooperation, empathy, and flexibility have become increasingly vital in the workplace. The findings also suggest that college curricula need to change to better prepare students to learn, understand, and apply these and related leadership skills.

In a corroborating study, researchers at Google recently completed an internal assessment that disproved the hypothesis that the best managers are those with technical expertise. Google’s study pointed to the following leadership activities that are characteristics of the best managers:

  • Making time for one-on-one meetings,
  • Helping employees work through problems,
  • Taking an interest in employees’ lives

In the absence of formal college or other education to teach managers the skills necessary to be effective leaders, organizations must sponsor some form of leadership education. This education is particularly important for those who make the critical transition from individual contributor to managing others. For federal government agencies this leadership development can take various forms.

  1. Leadership Academy. An overarching curriculum can be designed for deployment across the agency. While this could be a costly approach, the benefits are far reaching because of the systematic and deliberate way in which coursework is role based and exposes all current and future leaders to skills that are required to successfully lead others.
  1. Online Learning. Provides the convenience of on-demand learning that fits with student schedules. Enables the learner to bookmark content when time is a constraint or when there is a need for a deeper dive into certain topics. Content can also be individualized and assigned based on agency role or level.
  1. Outsourcing. When an agency wants to reduce infrastructure required to design, deliver, and track leadership training, an external partner is a great benefit. Outside partners provide tested and proven curriculum that is available off the shelf. Such a partnership moves the agency from a higher level of fixed costs to more variable budgeting costs based upon utilization.
  1. Shadowing. A practical, hands-on way to prepare others for leadership assignments is to selectively expose high potential future leaders to agency procedures by having them shadow other leaders. For instance, a future leader can see how non-routine decisions are made, how metrics are used to evaluate the delivery of service, how workforce engagement is assessed, or how budgets are evaluated, just to cite a few common examples.
  1. Action Learning. Assign a topic of interest or consequence to a team of seven to ten high potentials. Have a senior leader coach the team and provide a framing statement for the team to use as navigation. After a two- to three-month period of time, the team presents a set of rationalized recommendations to senior agency leadership for evaluation and implementation. This is an excellent way to develop team collaboration and executive problem solving and presentation skills while helping senior leadership gain a fresh perspective on a challenge or opportunity.

The key in all cases is to provide high potential leaders with an opportunity to develop and refine their people leadership skills.  By actively engaging in projects that rely on collaborating successfully with others, agencies can ensure that their leaders practice, identify weak spots, and take action to improve areas that will serve them and the organization throughout their career.

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A Common Language for a Common Mission

Language Word Signs Diverse Groups People CultureA common language is an essential ingredient for communication.  Consider the challenge people in any group face if they are trying to get ideas across without a shared reference point.

Let’s say there is a group assigned to providing support and aid to the victims of a natural disaster. This support will come from various agencies and require the coordination of human resources and material.

Without a common reference point and language, several elements of the relief effort could be inadequate—for example: determining the quantity of material, how the material will be delivered, personnel assignments, and logistics to support the movement of people to a necessary location. The success of this coordination is predicated upon the presence, understanding, and utilization of a common understanding.

The same is true within an agency.  A shared language works just as well to help people from different functions work together effectively. Consider the following factors as you put together a common language dictionary.  How many of these would you say have a shared understanding for your agency?

  1. Investments—A Common Vision. Agencies must set appropriate parameters and boundaries for what is in scope and how to define those elements. Where are we going as an agency?  How do our individual roles contribute to that mission?  Creating a common vision is the first place to begin.
  2. Execution—Fundamental Leadership. When an employee makes the transition from individual contributor to first time supervisor, skills need to be addressed such as how to address common challenges like conflict management, communication, delegation, and motivation. Have you created a well defined set of behaviors so that first time supervisors understand expectations?
  3. Empowerment—Defining Authority. Empowerment is central to the fulfillment of mission and employee engagement. But without a common definition of what empowerment entails, leaders will initiate empowerment in ways that can cause alignment and execution issues.  Have you identified how procedures are to be performed by specific parties and what the limits to authority are?  People perform best when the playing field is clearly marked.  What have you done to identify what is in bounds and what is out of bounds?
  4. Beliefs—Shared Values. The common leadership language should reflect agency values that drive and support necessary outcomes. Further, leadership has the responsibility to periodically reinforce these shared values and remind the organization that converting values from common sense to common practice will deliver sound public service. Have you clearly defined agency values in a way that leaders can use to reinforce values and ensure adherence?
  5. Integration—Working Collaboratively. A final goal of a common leadership language is the elimination of silos that prevent two-way communication, feedback, and the sharing of resources. Have you identified and shared best practices on how to connect and leverage ideas and resources and provide continuous improvement feedback?

Speaking a Common Language

A common language provides an agency with a chance for incremental improvements in engagement and retention while it maintains the ability to deliver against mission. A common leadership language will improve the pace at which new leaders will learn and appropriately apply desired leadership practices. Mentoring and feedback across the agency will be aided because all leaders will have a common understanding and vision, allowing for more objective, timely, and accurate improvement of leadership capacity.

If your agency has not established a common leadership language, consider what steps you can take to reap the benefits of a common framework.

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