Posts Tagged Trust

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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Trust—Hard to Earn and Easy to Lose

Cracked cement symbolizing broken trust between people or partieRegardless of the lens through which each of us views the OPM data breach, we can all agree that its historical significance and impact on federal employee trust is rather extraordinary.

While an investigation into how the data breach occurred and what corrective action might be necessary to prevent future breaches is best left to the experts, the way in which this type of non-routine matter is handled by agency leaders has a real bearing on trust. Trust is so hard to gain and sustain—and it can evaporate quickly, depending on how leaders respond to and manage through the unexpected.

While it is inevitable that the unexpected will occur, and only so much can be controlled by leadership, here are four local action steps that can help.

  1. Create a strategic plan. Define important and common terms so that—regardless of time zone, role, tenure, or level of experience—information is processed and acted upon according to common practices and standards. Without a common framework, there is risk that an individual or team could misinterpret an action and inadvertently cause an undesired outcome. For instance, a decision could be made that is not consistent with the necessary actions to reduce or eliminate an undesired variance. It is critical for leadership to establish common frameworks and language to support coordinated, expeditious, and desired actions.
  1. Build alignment between role/function and outcomes. Often organization decision making is hampered by role or function ambiguity. Departments sometimes overstep their capacity because clear boundaries and charters have not been established. It is paramount for leaders to define “swim lanes” and levels of accountability by individual, teams, and departments so that there is never any doubt about who is required to act, when, and how.
  1. Ensure that measures are in place. Establishing operational performance metrics is crucial to knowing when an undesired gap has occurred. Of course, metrics are not necessary to recognize when a catastrophic event has taken place—but the criticality and importance of metrics lie in the ability to understand the magnitude of undesired variance. A performance scorecard or dashboard is an excellent way to keep employees engaged and aligned with mission because of a common understanding and appreciation for the state of agency performance.
  1. Communicate corrective action procedures effectively. When the unexpected strikes, it is vital for corrective action to be a reflex activity. There will not be much time for analysis. In fact, if certain anticipated corrective measures have not been anticipated, trained, and understood, the agency will be starting from a position where recovery will be inhibited. Leadership cannot orchestrate a potential solution to all scenarios, but an 80-20 rule should be applied where a majority of scenarios are forecast. This projection will prevent the erosion of trust by providing rapid response and unequivocal confidence in the continuity of agency operations.

Leadership must be prepared to provide continuity in times of crisis. This includes proactive agency planning before having to respond and manage a crisis. By following the four steps outlined above, leadership can improve the chances of mitigating risk and provide the desired response to the unforeseen.

When leaders prepare their agencies to respond to the unexpected, there is a much greater chance of preserving the public trust, continuing to deliver on expected services, and support for mission.

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Do You Trust Yourself Enough to Call it a Day?

ClockTrust is important in any relationship, particularly if you are a leader.  Without trust standard operations become difficult and slow. Simple tasks must be checked and rechecked. And small mistakes are big steps backward. As important as it is to earn and maintain the trust of your team and colleagues, it may be more important to trust yourself.

Some would call it self-confidence, but there is more to trusting yourself. You know when you’ve done everything possible to get a job done. You know when you’ve researched, prepared, or invested enough time. But do you know when it is okay to call it a day?

I recently dealt with a task that I could not complete on my own. I needed the input of a team member who was not able to respond in time to meet the deadline. In all of the hours of work and the time waiting, I was questioning and trying to think of a work around.

Ultimately, I had to give in, go home, and trust that I did everything I could to give our team a chance to meet the deadline.  I spent a restless night but in the morning, I woke up to a resolution, a deadline met, and the reassurance that comes with a good result.

Here are my rules for knowing when I’ve done all I can, even when there is no resolution:

  1. Everything has been checked and rechecked.
  2. Progress and roadblocks alike have been communicated to everyone who can help or needs to know.
  3. I have explored and suggested contingency plans.

I am not always good at trusting myself but I know it is an important skill to practice because if I can show that I trust myself, others will follow that example.

How do you know when it is okay to call it a day?

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Safety First

cautionHave you seen Simon Sinek’s 2014 TED talk, Why good leaders make you feel safe? He said, “In the military, they give medals to people who are willing to sacrifice themselves so that others may gain. In business, we give bonuses to people who are willing to sacrifice others so that we may gain.” He is pointing out the best and worst of these two work environments.  The culture in the military expects and rewards those who look out for others.  Yet, we seem to reward just the opposite in business.

I have seen this sacrifice of others in government workplaces first hand but the most visible example I can think of is the impact of delaying the annual budget each year. Congress and the President are responsible for the budget but in recent years they have put it off too long, or been unable to agree on what programs get funded. As a result the people are unexpectedly denied services and government employees are faced with unplanned, indefinite furloughs. Workers have to live without a paycheck. And though they will eventually get their job back, and are likely to get back pay, they are living on savings. Not a safe place to be. It is easy to understand workers feeling betrayed.

Every day people perform extraordinary acts of selflessness. Sinek tells the stories in his TED talk of a Medal of Honor winner and a manufacturing company with a furlough program that saved every employee’s job and improved moral during very hard times. The people we would choose to follow are those who inspire our loyalty by giving of themselves. They are leaders because they go to great lengths to do what is best for the safety and the lives of their people.

When people know they will be taken care of, they can focus on making great things happen. Just imagine if business and government leaders focused on creating environments that foster cooperation and make people feel safe. The possibilities are endless.

What do you do to make your people feel safe and cared for?

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5 Ways To Be A Motivating Leader

motivating leadershipAs we begin to wrap up 2013, many of us are starting to think about resolutions for the New Year and what we can do differently in 2014.  The common resolutions like going to the gym more often, losing 20 pounds, or the like tend to lose their luster before the end of January.  Why not take a different approach to your New Year’s resolutions and make it a goal to be a better leader? People follow and support leaders they believe in and create positive influences in their lives. A Gallup poll found that only 1 in 11 (9%) employees are engaged when led by a leader that neglects to focus on individual’s strengths. Yet when a leader acknowledges an individual’s strengths, that statistic jumps to 3 in 4 (73%) employees.

While we can’t necessarily control the budget cuts or whether there will be another round of furloughs next year, we can absolutely control the type of leader we choose to be and the reputation we build as we lead others to greatness.

Here are a few traits you can add to your resolution list in your quest to becoming a more well-rounded leader.

1. Allow for autonomy – Empowering your staff to make decisions is key to creating a motivated and productive staff. Employees need to be allowed to make mistakes as well as have the support and guidance from their manager when flubs do happen. A Situational Leader knows when to provide support and allow individuals to grow into great leaders, while a self-serving leader only has their best interest in mind. Coach your direct reports to come up with a winning strategy and work with them on defining that strategy rather than dictating their next move.

2. Build trust with everyone – This is a tough one as trust among many government employees has been tested with the recent sequester, shutdown, pay freezes, and furloughs mandated government wide. But all hope is not lost. The individual encounters you as a leader have, not just with your staff but with everyone you come across at the office, help to build, or in some cases rebuild, trust. Trust is the crux of everything we do and is the foundation of effective leadership. Without it dedication, loyalty, motivation, willingness to support the agency’s mission falters. The ABCD Trust Model that promotes a leader’s Ability, Believability, Connectedness, and Dependability is a good place to start to evaluate how trustworthy you are within your agency.

3. Create a culture that people want to be a part of – I recently watched a news segment about Zappos, the online shoe retailer, and was impressed with the culture they’ve created at the organization. The CEO of Zappos, Tony Hsieh, was proud to say that the first requirement they take into consideration when hiring for a position at the company is whether or not the candidate would be a good culture fit. In fact, they label the coveted culture they’ve built as their biggest asset. Take a look at this 30 second video the folks at Zappos created to give you an insight to their fun, yet productive, culture.

4. Acknowledge even the smallest successes – It’s an important motivator and morale booster when you catch people doing things right. People like their accomplishments to be acknowledged and to know they are truly appreciated for the hard they do day in and day out. The number one criteria, however, is to MAKE IT MEANINGFUL. There’s no point in praising someone for a task they’ve accomplished if there’s no substance behind it. Be authentic with your praisings.

5. Thank your employees – It’s amazing the impact a smile and a thank you can have.  Government workers are dedicated and work hard, despite the continuous ups-and-downs they’ve endured lately. Showing your employees some gratitude for that dedication, loyalty, and unrelenting productivity makes a difference. Follow your action from item #4 above with a thank you and watch your employee’s motivation and satisfaction soar.

What steps are you taking to become a more motivating government leader?

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Combating Erosion of Trust during Government Shutdown

Oak TreeWith the government shutdown now in its third week, I keep finding myself thinking about the conflict government employees must experience in their relationship with our government. Those who work for the government may not only be feeling the disappointment many Americans do with the shutdown, they may feel disillusionment with the government as their employer as well. Once they are back to work, they might also encounter a backlash of anger and frustration from the people they serve making a difficult situation even worse.

Disillusionment and loss of trust in an employer can impact work performance, drive, and dedication. As our nation struggles to come together, our federal workers must remember their reasons for choosing public service in the first place. In my experience, people who choose a career in public service often do so because they have a strong sense of national pride and a desire to serve the country in some way.

For many the government shutdown means being caught in the middle. Disappointment over the failures of our leaders, anger or frustration over lost hours at work, the financial worries associated with not working and challenges that will come with getting back up to speed once the shutdown ends. There are amazing people who work as federal employees who possess experience that is varied and valuable. They know how to solve problems but often find their hands tied with red tape. It is important to maintain motivation and to remember that the job each federal employee does is essential to someone.

The ABCD Trust Model, highlighted in the last weeks post, spells out the aspects of building trust. For trust to exist it is important to strive to be Able, Believable, Connected, and Dependable. Trust is also something that comes from faith in someone or something other than oneself. I’ve often heard people say “trust must be earned”, but I find it is something that comes much easier when we are willing to offer it on faith. The best leaders are those who trust us to do our best and offer the opportunity to prove our value. Every government employee has the power to offer their trust to the people they serve, to their leaders, and to coworkers.

Even though being furloughed is hard and the government has broken promises to the people and its employees, we need to remember that this situation is temporary and something that happens rarely. For most there is a job to go back to and people to serve that need help; people who rely on those “non-essential” programs every day. There will inevitably be situations where trust appears to be broken between those who staff our government agencies and the people they serve. It will be important to remember the ABCD Trust Model and work to live by it to rebuild that trust.

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