How to Help Your HR Team Be More Strategic

When I started my first HR job at 26, my boss handed me a stack of books and two pieces of advice. (1) Always read what the client is reading and (2) learn to “talk trucks” (meaning, “learn the business, kid.”) Straight out of grad school and fired up about all I thought I knew, the reading part was perfect for me. I think she was worried I’d be telling the guys three levels up what to read (and think), and far better to meet them where they were with a little humility.

And the second piece of advice, “talking trucks,” learning the business so well that I could add real value and perspective to the conversation, was PRICELESS.

I spent as much time learning the business as I did doing HR. Back then I thought when someone said,  “You’re the least HR-y HR person I know” that was a compliment. My approach didn’t always sit well with some of the old-school HR execs, who would remind me to “Remember who’s side I was on.” My team and I stayed the course, and always strove to be business people first, who happen to have expertise in HR.

A decade later when I pivoted from HR exec to a variety of field executive assignments in customer service and sales, I was shocked at how few HR managers supporting my team truly understood the business. They’d come in talking about constraints and rules and time to hire stats that all sounded like a big “why we can’t” do the things that, with a bit of HR creativity, we surely could.

Four Ways to Help Your HR Team Be More Strategic

Today we work with a wide range of clients from fast-growing start-ups to those with large corporations with employees scattered around the globe. A clear common denominator of those executing well, growing deliberately in size and margin, and building engaging cultures,  is they have a strong, STRATEGIC HR team, who get it, and because they do, they have a seat at the table. They influence from the inside.

If your HR team isn’t there quite yet, here are a few good places to start

  1. Align HR process measures to business outcomes.
    When I took over in my first executive HR role, one of the first things we did was change our scorecard to align with business outcomes. Of course, we kept some vital HR favorites (e.g  attrition in the first 90 days; time to fill positions; diversity distribution) but we added in revenue and customer experience targets as well. My team went nuts at first. “We can’t control NPS, why should our bonus depend on it?” Welcome to every manager you’re supporting’s world. They can’t control it all either. Great teams share common goals, and as HR professionals we need to be part of the team, not outside. How you train new hires impacts the customer experience and sales. The employee engagement support does too. If our programs, policies, and procedures don’t ultimately have a business impact, we’re focused on the wrong things.
  2. Share sensitive information.
    If you can’t trust your HR team with sensitive information, why in the world would you entrust them to manage your companies’ most important asset– your people? If you don’t have an HR team you can trust, fix that. If you do, err on the side of letting them in. The number one reason people can’t think strategically is that they lack information and context. Share what you can. Have them sign internal NDAs if that helps. But the longer you wait on sharing your (fill in the blank here) merger intentions, location closings, reductions in force, new product launches, etc. the less time they have to be proactive and help you plan a solid execution strategy. HR practitioners all over the world complain of being brought in too late in the game to make a difference. They’re left punting–doing the best they can with the situation they’ve been handed and frustrated with what they know they could have done if they only had a few more months to plan and execute.
  3. Rotate them through a field assignment.
    Do you have a high-potential HR manager you’re grooming for a larger role? I know it feels like cutting off your right arm now, but an 18-month assignment in a field role could make all the difference. If they come back to HR, great, they’ll understand the business pressures so much more. If they chose to stay in the field, they’ll be applying all their HR knowledge to building great cultures and leading effective teams. Either way, you win.

    A pivotal point in my career was when a senior leader I had been supporting as an HR business partner, looked at me and said, “Karin, you’re young in your career (I was then) and if you don’t go get some field experience soon, the very best you can be here is a VP of HR. I think you can do more. If you want to go back into HR after the field assignment, cool, you’ll be that much stronger.” Three months later I found myself leading a bunch of B2B call centers for which I had no experience. Now I was not telling people how to lead, I was leading from the deep end and learning the business through a fire hose. Then I rotated back into HR for a turnaround effort of the training organization, and then back to the field to lead a 2200 person retail sales team (a role for which every ounce of HR training came in helpful.) If you want your HR team to truly understand the business, let them lead it.
  4. Foster a “how can we” attitude
    I still run into companies that view their HR teams as police or a hurdle to get through. Work with your HR team to listen carefully to new ideas and strategies and start with a “How can we?” attitude to identify creative ideas to be part of the solution. 

Your turn. How do you help your HR team to be more strategic?

This week I’m speaking at the SHRM Volunteer Leaders Summit in Washington, DC. If you’re headed there, please drop me a note at karin.hurt@letsgrowleaders.com, I’d love to meet you.

 

what to why

Why To Explain Why, Again.

Last week, we were wrapping up our final session of a six-month strategic management intensive with a group of engineering managers by helping them to synthesize what they’d learned. In addition to a number of more mainstream techniques, we asked them to craft strategic stories to pass along their key messages to the next generation of managers coming behind them.

They picked a leadership priority or approach they wanted to reinforce, and then found a real story from their personal or work life to make the message more impactful and sticky.

As you can imagine, this is not the sort of exercise that is necessarily embraced with a gung-ho attitude by engineering types. Even with a formula, this process was a stretch (that’s why we saved it to the last session so we couldn’t get fired 😉

They nailed it.

“Steve” picked the Winning Well principle of connecting “What to Why” to ground his story.

“When I was 17, I worked at Ace Hardware. It was my job to keep track of the inventory in the back and sometimes I ran the register. My boss had made it perfectly clear of what you would call a “MIT (most important thing).” If a customer asked for something they couldn’t find, our only response should be “I’ll be happy to go in the back and check for you.”

But on this particular day, I KNEW the tool the customer had asked for was not in the back because I had just noticed the issue when I was working in the back. When the customer asked me to go in the back and double check, I informed him that I was absolutely sure we were out and there was no reason to check.

My boss overheard me and when the customer left, he let me have it, and told me in no uncertain terms that if I ever told a customer we were out of something without going into the back to check, I would be fired.

I thought this was ridiculous, but I complied, AND thought my boss was a jerk. I didn’t understand why we would have such a stupid policy—what a waste of time.

Fast forward a decade to a few months ago. I was neck deep in renovating my house and I ran out of something I really needed to get the job done. My fiancé and I were really tired of all the mess and I just needed to get this done.  I ran over to Ace and asked the kid at the counter for some help finding what I needed. “Oh no man, we’re out,” the kid shrugged, and moved on.

And then, I found myself looking at this kid in disbelief and saying “Come-on, can’t you at least go look in the back?”

And then it hit me.

That’s WHY my boss had that “stupid” policy. To make frustrated customers like me feel just a little bit better—that someone cares enough to go one more step.

It’s tricky. We always make sense to us, and the “why” behind our intentions always seems so obvious–to us. If your  “why” really matters, why leave the understanding to chance?

Reinforce your “why” every chance you get.

Tips For Sharing Why

  1. Check Your Gut. Be sure you know why what you’re asking them to do what you’re asking them to do, and that it still matters.
  2. Reinforce. Share stories, dig for data, illuminate examples.
  3. Check For Understanding. Ask strategic questions to help your team see what you see, or just ask them what they heard.
  4. Repeat anything that’s important is worth communicating five times, five different ways.

Your turn. What are your favorite ways to connect what to why?

strategic ambiguity

7 Ways to Lead Well During Times of Uncertainty and Change

Sometimes when you go to build your strategic plan, it can seem like there are more questions than answers. We’ve seen changing regulatory environments, disruptive technology, and natural disasters lead to a paralyzing cycle of “what ifs” that lead to inaction. One of the best skills you can develop as a leader is learning to help your team strategically manage through ambiguity and change.

Ways to Help Your Team Deal With Ambiguity

“Accepting that the world is full of uncertainty and ambiguity does not and should not stop people from being pretty sure about a lot of things.” – Julian Baggini

1. Ground Yourself In Confident Humility

Know your strengths and consider what behaviors have served you well during other times of stress and change. If times of uncertainty don’t lead to your shining moments of leadership brilliance, acknowledge that. Seek out team members who find change and ambiguity exhilarating to help you with your plan. Do your freaking-out in private. In uncertain times, nothing will calm and inspire your team more than your “game on” attitude.

2. Draw Strength from Your Mission

It’s easy to feel like everything is uncertain in times of uncertainty. That’s never true.  Reinforce your mission and core values–and communicate what’s not going to change, no matter what. Help your team draw strength from your bigger “why.”

Own the Ugly3. Know What You Collectively Know and What You Don’t

Chances are that you and your team know more than you think. Resist the urge to focus only on what everyone already knows. Write that down, but then add to the list of what each person knows or suspects based on their area of expertise. Then write down what you don’t know, and brainstorm ways to gather more information in that arena. A very useful exercise we use to help leaders navigate strategic ambiguity is our Own the U.G.L.Y. conversation. 

4. Don’t Waffle

When you make decisions, stop second-guessing them out loud. If you need to change course, do it boldly with strong communication and explanation. Otherwise, keep your boat sailing swiftly in the announced direction.

5. Encourage Risk Taking

Even if you’ve reacted poorly to mistakes before, admit that, and promise support in taking calculated risks. Put in place whatever parameters and checkpoints you need to feel comfortable in your world, but allow space for creativity and brilliant thinking. You need every single brain cell operating on full-cylinder at times like these, not censored with fear of making mistakes.

6. Envision Alternative Scenarios

When the future is uncertain, it’s easy to think that “anything could happen.” That’s seldom true. More often the most probable scenarios can be boiled down to two or three. Brainstorm those possibilities and develop contingency plans. This exercise goes a long way in calming minds and spirits while generating creative possibilities that could actually work across scenarios.

7. Engage Other People and Perspectives

The more people you engage in the solution, the less frightening the problem becomes. Enlist unusual suspects to weigh-in.  Engage some cross-functional collaboration. Benchmark externally. Ask your children (hey, you never know).

Most importantly keep your cool and focus on the possible.

Your turn. How do you lead well during times of strategic ambiguity?

Four Powerful Ways to Get Helpful Feedback From Your Peers

I’m sure you ask your boss for feedback. And, I imagine you’re checking in with your direct reports regularly on how you’re doing. If you’re like many managers we work with, you may be less inclined to ask your peers for their perspective.

Why? Let’s face it, your peers are not always the friendliest source. In some companies, peers can feel more like “competitors” for resources, a position in the stack rank, or bonus funding. And it’s just possible peers in other departments are the folks most ticking you off: the finance guy who doesn’t see the value in funding your project; or the woman in IT who always has 10 reasons why what you want can’t be done.

Four Ways to Get Helpful Feedback From Your Peers

Your peers see how you act under stress and behind closed doors in ways you might not show your boss or your team. Like the time I regretfully let the F-bomb fly at a peer (#NotRecommendedWinningWellBehavior).

Are you seen as a team player? Do you share resources or just look out for your own team and objectives? How do you act when things don’t go your way? Chances are your peers have a pretty good sense of how you act when “no one is looking.” See also Eight Reasons Your Peers Rate You Low on Your 360 Assessment  

Here are four ways to get more helpful feedback from your peers.

  1. Make It About More Than You

    Like it or not, sometimes your peers may also see YOU as a competitor and question your motives for seeking out feedback. Your request for insight is more compelling when you ground it in a desire to improve the business or the customer experience.  “What do you think I could do differently to create an even better experience for our customers?” “I really care about our team effectiveness, what specifically do you think I could do to help our team collaborate better?” “This project is on such a tight deadline, what specifically can I do to make our work processes more efficient?”

  2. Model it

    Want great feedback from your peers? Start by being a great feedback giver. Be the guy who your peers can count on to tell them the real deal. Be generous with your specific and timely praise, and develop trust so that they are interested in what else you have to say. It will be that much easier when you turn around and ask, “And how do you think I could be more impactful?”

  3. Get Specific

    “Do you have any feedback for me?” Is likely to be met with a generic “No, man, you’re doing great,” response. This might feel good, but is not all that useful. Instead try, “What is one behavior I could change that would make me more impactful on this project?” Or, “I’m really working on improving my communication skills, can you give me one suggestion to help me improve my communication with you?”

    Once they give you one idea, then you can always say, “Great! Thank you. What else?”  Or you can take it one step further and conduct a  DIY 360.

  4. Respond

    If they’re right, act on it. And if you think it’s B.S., ask a few more folks for their perspective. The best way to get more feedback is to accept it graciously. Even if you don’t agree, always say thank you.

    See also: How Do I get my peers to trust me?  

Your turn. What are your best tips for soliciting feedback from peers?

Frontline Festival: Leaders Share About Employee Engagement and Customer Service

Welcome back to the Let’s Grow Leaders Frontline Festival. This month’s festival is about employee engagement in relation to customer service. Thanks to Joy and Tom Guthrie of Vizwerx Group for the great pic and to all our contributors! Next month’s Frontline Festival is about gratitude.  Submit your relevant blog posts here!

Creating Great Customer Experiences

Nate Regier of Next Element Consulting shares that openness is critical to excellent customer service because customers want to know you care before they can engage in problem-solving. When employees engage emotionally with customers, they recognize that emotional problems are at the route of customer service complaints. I love his 3 part model for connecting with empathy. Follow Nate

According to Chip Bell of Chip Bell Group Attitude is the foundation of innovative service and that takes leaders who stay on the hunt for spirit leeches and “burn” them out with the heat of their passionate commitment to the customer! Real leeches suck blood; spirit leeches suck spirit. Remember: customers abhor indifferent service more than bad service! Bad service could be the result of a faulty system, a process with a glitch, or a leadership vacuum. But, indifferent service always signals a complete lack of caring!  He also provides a post to encourage remarkable serviceFollow Chip.

According to Chris Edmonds of Driving Results through Culture, great customer service is delivered only by trusted, talented, engaged employees. In this short post and three-minute video, Chris’ insights from a remarkable family vacation leads to three keys to building incredible customer loyalty.  Follow Chris.

Paula Kiger of Big Green Pen shares a personal story related to Disney’s commitment to customer service. When she had a family member helping to make the magic, her appreciation changed and grew deeper.  Follow Paula.

Shelley Row of Shelley Row Associates shares some customer service lessons from helicopter pilotsFollow Shelley

Beth Beutler of H.O.P.E. Unlimited reminds us that sometimes, attention to just being responsive is a key way for your employees to serve customers and clients well. Follow Beth.

Building Service into the Fabric of Your Culture

John Hunter of Curious Cat Management Improvement advises that it is very difficult to create a system with customer focus by all staff without several basic supports in place. Respect for people needs to be practiced, not just mentioned. Staff have to be given authority to act in the interest of customers.  Follow John.

Jesse Stoner of Seapoint Center for Collaborative Leadership reminds us that customers can always tell whether a company is values-driven. You don’t need an expert to tell you. She provides five ways to look to your own customer service experience to tell what’s really going on. Follow Jesse.

David Grossman of The Grossman Group  advises leaders to communicate their company brand on the inside to engage employees, which in turn creates happy customers and a more successful business. Follow David.

Employee Engagement and Customer Service

Amanda Cameron of Patriot Software, LLC  shares that how your employees feel about your company has a huge impact on customer service. Business leaders who promote employee engagement should see both work culture and customer satisfaction improve.  Follow Amanda.

Wally Bock of Three Star Leadership provides a post showing that when engagement grows, so does retention, productivity, and customer service.  Follow Wally.

According to Chery Gegelman of Simply Understanding uncommon employee engagement and superior customer service doesn’t just happen. It begins with us, learning to create environments that support and direct the behavior of our co-workers, and yes, even our bosses.  Follow Chery.

How about you? How do you work to enhance the customer experience where you work?

How to Nail Your Next Interview–Honing Your Story

Even if you’re the right candidate for the right job, if you don’t have your story together, the job’s going to the other guy.

In fact, I’ve sat through too many panel interviews over the years with my heart breaking because I knew the RIGHT guy was telling the WRONG story…or the RIGHT story in the wrong way.

And the “committee” chose the bozo instead.

It’s not just what you’ve done, but how you tell it that matters in a behavior-based interview. With a little preparation, you can avoid the common mistakes that prevent you from bringing all your Winning Well wisdom to the scene.

Common Mistakes in a Behavior Based Interview

In a Behavioral Based Interview, candidates are asked to describe a situation, share what happened, and communicate the results. In other words, to share a story.

Behavior-based questions work well because they require candidates to draw on real experiences and communicate stories in an articulate way.

They can also backfire when great candidates bomb the interview because of lack of preparation.

Avoid These Interviewing Mistakes

  • Picking the wrong story. (Usually, the first one that comes to mind.)
  • Selecting a story with a bad ending (backing yourself into a corner, and wishing you told another story.)
  • Getting carried away in your story-telling, sharing too many details and going in circles.
  • Leaving out the detail, leaving too much to the imagination.
  • Forgetting to share the point of your story.
  • Sharing a story in which you did not have a central role (or in other words, sharing someone else’s success.)
  • Over-using the word “I” when you are describing an effort you led (remember to include the team.)
  • Continuing to use the same story with a different twist, leaving your interviewer to conclude you’ve only got one example of success.

How to Prepare for Success

  • Make a list of the competencies or skills most required for the job.
  • Go back through your work experiences, and find the best examples (stories) that showcase your skills in these areas. If you’re a spreadsheet guy or gal, go for it.
  • Develop a plan for which stories you plan to share.
  • Build out your stories to include brief context, specific actions, and results.
  • Practice telling them to a mentor or friend.

But wait–don’t wait until you need a job. Start now.

Some of the best interviewers (and leaders I know) keep journals of their best stories along the way to use when they need them–in interviews, mentoring, heck, who knows, maybe even a keynote someday. Capture the details while the story is fresh so it will be easier to recall when the time is right.

Five Ways Managers Screw Up MBWA

No matter what level leader you are, if you want to really make an impact on your team, get out of your office. Walk around. Connect with the human beings you’re supporting, and their customers. Listen to them. Act on what you hear. Explain the “why” behind “what” you’re asking them to do. Ask deeper questions and listen even harder. Thank them for their input. Recognize their efforts.

Do even half of this every single week and your influence and results are bound to improve.

And yet, if you get out of your office, and stir things up, without a sincere “How can I best help?” and “What must I learn?” approach, you’re likely to make things worse for your employees, your business, and your customers.

If you overreact, under-support, or act like you’re above the day-to-day BS that’s driving them crazy, you’ll jeopardize your credibility and influence, not to mention the results you’re looking to achieve.

Five Ways Managers Screw Up MBWA (Management By Walking Around)

Be careful that MBWA doesn’t become OCHTC (Oh Crap, Here They Come)

1. Over-reacting to a Single Incident

One employee in one office is screwing up your new program, or can’t explain your new product, and you conclude that “no one gets it,” and frantically start gathering all your National leaders together to fix this “Big Problem,” which might actually be just one dude with his head in the sand.  And you know what everyone else is thinking, including your National leaders who are scrambling to fix the “Big Problem?”

“Seriously, if s/he wants to work on something BIG, let’s me show him the real fish we have to fry.” But of course, they don’t say that.

That would be defensive, and they’re not stupid. So they diaper drama  the conversation and do exactly what they’re told. And save the real conversation for another time.

If you’re lucky.

2. The “Gotcha” Game

With the wrong tone and an imbalanced lens, all those “helpful pointers” feel more like “gotcha.” It’s great to point out what can be done better, along with stories and sharing of best practices, but be sure you’re also looking for the good news. I’ve seen many execs come through sweating all the small stuff that was “wrong” and completely overlooking the huge accomplishments of the team. Sure, they MAY remember to throw away the pizza box in the break room next time, but they’ll certainly remember that you didn’t even mention their significant sales wins. In some cultures the word on the street is that you “Can’t ever have a good executive visit, the best you can do is not have a bad visit.” Trust me, if that’s the case, you’ll get better long-term results by staying in your office.

3. The Drive-By

You come in long enough to make an appearance, but don’t spend time making any real connection. Such drive-bys feel like you’re checking off a to-do. Equally destructive is showing up, and heading to a nearby office to close the door and take calls. Wandering around takes time.

4. The High-Maintenance Prep

In anticipation, the team runs around making everything just right. Even if you think you’re low maintenance, watch what your local team is doing to prepare. It sends a terrible message to the frontline when local management starts scurrying to “clean up the place” or order special food in advance of your visit. A clean work environment is important for the employees every day, not for the execs. I once had a Director apologize to me that he had not “had the rugs replaced in advance of my visit.” They were filthy and needed replacing, but not for me.

5. The Talking Tour

MBWA is about listening and learning. Sure it’s great to reinforce priorities, but be sure you’re really taking the time to listen to ideas and concerns and to ask what you can do to be most helpful. Listen well, take great notes, follow-up with the person who shared their idea.

A MBWA  (Management By Walking Around) Secret Weapon

When I was a call center Director, I worked for a Senior VP who was strong, tough and introverted. Wandering around did not come naturally for her. But, she was a good leader who deeply understood the value and made it a point to spend quality time in the centers. So the morning before her visit, we went to each rep’s desk and color coded their cubes with helium balloons all representing something they had accomplished:  yellow was perfect attendance, red meant they had attained a degree or certification that year, white symbolized they were exceeding goals, etc. We even threw in a few personal ones, like having a baby. That way as she wandered around she had instant conversation starters. Her congratulatory remarks flowed easily into how they were accomplishing their work and where they needed the most help. Plus, the visit felt like an uplifting celebration of the team, not of making things just right for her.

MBWA is powerful and important. Done well, it makes all the difference in the world. Take the time to do it right.

improve customer service

Three Ways to Stop Your NPS Program From Destroying Your Customer Experience

I love NPS programs (Net Promoter Score)--when they’re designed and executed well. When I was at Verizon,  The Ultimate Question was required reading for every manager on my team.

And today, most of my clients use NPS in one way or another and we work to ensure that their internal metrics are helpful indicators of the view from the outside.

But when implemented poorly, I’ve seen NPS programs tick off valued customers who otherwise were having a reasonable customer experience.

If you haven’t kicked the tires on your NPS program for a while, be sure you’re focused on the three vital areas.

Three Ways to Stop Your NPS Program From Destroying Your Culture

  1. Incent your employees to play the game, not game the score. Last week I was eating at a diner at BWI airport. I couldn’t help but overhear as the overly cheesy waiter with the bad jokes and the mixed up drink orders serving the couple at the table next to me offered to “Take 5 bucks off their bill right now” if they would take the online survey  and “Rate me a 5 out of 5 for the exceptional experience I have provided you. Oh, and be sure to mention my name.”  When employees are incented by the score, they’ll care more about the rating than the experience. Even if those customers took the five bucks, their score is clearly not an indicator of their experience that day. No one walks away a promoter after being bribed.
  2. If they tell you it’s broken, do what you can to fix it. A few hours after the diner incident, my client called with an emergency change in plans and asked to put push our meetings back a day. I called the hotel chain where I have stayed close to 400 nights and asked if I could modify my reservation. I was informed that they would be happy to move the reservation up (still staying two days) but that I would still be responsible for paying for the night I had to cancel. I was frustrated, but the policy was on their side. I wasn’t going to make a fuss. Until… I went to the hotel (which was practically empty) and one thing after another went wrong… only decaf coffee in the room, shampoo not refilled, dirty everywhere, unfriendly staff. So when I logged in to their Wifi that night and they asked me to take a survey. I did and rated them a 3 with all the reasons. Within 10 seconds another window came up asking me for my room number so they could make it right. Then the next window that popped up was inviting me to leave a Trip Advisor review!  (Which I didn’t, out of long term loyalty to this company). It’s a week later and no one has contacted me to “make it right” as promised.They would have been better off not setting that expectation, and certainly not inviting detractors to leave a Trip Advisor review!

    And…
  3. Take the long view on detractors. Of course “making it right” is a good start, but doesn’t do much good if you don’t fix the root cause of the issues. I’ll never forget my first week on the job as a call center director. My team leaders were all stressed out, with more work to do than they could possibly get done. When I did an analysis of how they were spending their time, I found they were spending hours a day calling back customer detractors (people who had rated us less than 5 on the NPS). Most of these detractors had issues that could be categorized in one of three categories. There were NO plans in place to identify and discuss themes at a center level and to address the root cause. Yes, yes, call your detractors and do what you can to make it right. But don’t forget to use the data strategically to fix the process and policy issues driving your customers crazy.

Customers don’t care about your internal customer scorecard. Be sure every employee on your team knows what matters most. Focus on the game, don’t game the score.

How to Ensure Your Team Gets It

It had been a long night…and morning…and afternoon at the airport.

The kind where cancellations and delays compound into a complex verb of frustration that includes four letters. The kind where you start to notice the characters around you and make up their stories.

I had pegged the guy next to me for a Baptist preacher. Among other signs, it was HOW he earnestly offered to watch my stuff as I went to the bathroom, “Ma’am I’ve been watching ladies purses for decades. I watch my wife’s purse. I watch my girl’s purses. I watch my wife’s friend’s friends purses. So whatever you need. I’m your purse watching man.”

And I trusted him.

He was on the phone when I came back from the bathroom. He silently nodded and grinned toward my big red purse which also serves as a computer bag, dongle carrier, journal holder, with nooks and crannies for light snacks and kombucha.

Nope, definitely not Baptist preacher–bankruptcy lawyer. Now I’m intrigued and can’t help but overhear his conversation occurring in such a beautiful Southern drawl it would have been fun to hear, even if I couldn’t understand the words.

Now my wife says I hear okay, but I doooon’t listen tooooo gooood. Let me repeat back what I’m hearing you say you want to do.”  

Silence as the caller responds. Then…

“You see sir, my wife is right. That is just NOT one of the options. Let me be clear. You CAAAAN’T do THAAAT. How about this? Let me share with you your three options again.”

Gives three options. Then…

“You sleep on it.  Call your Momma or talk to your wife…and then we’ll talk again tomorrow.”

I’m beside myself. This is the most remarkable Winning Well check for understanding I’ve ever heard. Full-on confident humility.

“Sir, Thank so much for watching my bag, and indeed you are a remarkable purse watcher. AND I couldn’t help but to overhear…What you did there was brilliant.

You see I wrote this book… and my co-author (now fiance, but that’s another story) and I had this remarkable disagreement about whether the ‘check for understanding’ should be included. I thought it was too simple. He swore it was a vital concept. As we’ve been doing workshops, guess what’s one of the top 10 take-aways?

The funny part is, the higher the managers  are in the organization, the more they love it.

It’s so easy.  

‘Do a simple check to understand…are they picking up what you’re putting down?’

Instead of  ‘Any questions?’ or ‘Are you with me?’ You ask… ‘Okay, so I just want to check to ensure we’re all on the same page…’ and then get them to repeat back. ‘What are we going to do first? And then? By when?’ “

He shared, “Karin, I’ve been doing this for years. When people are going through bankruptcy they hear what they want to–not necessary what’s true. I give them a way to hear it again.”

Amen.

There’s real power in hearing what your team hears.

resiliancy

Frontline Festival: Leaders Share about Overcoming Setbacks, Resiliency, and Lessons Learned (with video)

Welcome back to the Let’s Grow Leaders Frontline Festival. This month’s festival is about overcoming setbacks, resiliancy, and lessons learned. Thanks to Joy and Tom Guthrie of Vizwerx Group for the great pic and to all our contributors! Next month’s Frontline Festival is all about employee engagement in relation to customer service.  Submit your relevant blog posts here!

Resiliency and Overcoming Setbacks

According to Chip Bell of Chip Bell Group, customers love service providers with a “never say die” attitude. When that resilience is part of their manner, customers feel they have an advocates working on their behalf. He shares a guest post he wrote for Eileen McDargh with more on the topic of “Service Resiliance.”  Follow Chip

Susan Mazza of Random Acts of Leadership  reminds us that if we want to set ourselves up to be resilient enough to pursue dreams through to realization, it is critical that we get clear about more than just goals–but also why those goals truly matter.  Follow Susan.

great books on resilienceOn the best books I’ve read on resiliency is Option B by Sheryl Sanburg and Adam Grant. What concept I found particularly useful was the 3 traps that sabotage resliency: Permanance, pervasiveness, and personalization. You can read more about the 3 Ps In Eileen McDargh’s post as well.

Given the horrific parade of disasters in recent times, this post from Eileen McDargh of The Energizer looks at what survivors can do AND what those who wish to help others can do. Follow Eileen.

In this 20 minute podcast interview, Jesse Stoner of Seapoint Center for Collaborative Leadership interviews Eileen McDargh, who explains how resiliency is a life skill that supports you not only during challenges and times of adversity, but also during times of opportunity and growth. Resiliency is not about bouncing back, it’s about bouncing forward.   Follow Jesse.

Julie Winkle Giulioni of DesignArounds advises that the ability to learn, develop and grow is today’s only sustainable competitive advantage. As a result, effective leaders appreciate the need for learning agility.  Follow Julie

Sean Glaze of Great Results Teambuilding advises that we apply and repeat three amazingly simple ways to help our team, so they will be far more likely to thrive through change and overcome common pitfalls often encountered on the path to progress. He also provides a second post about invisible fences that limit your team.  Follow Sean.

John Hunter of Curious Cat Management Improvement thinks the key is to actively seek to learn and create robust systems.  The best way to be resilient and overcome setbacks is to actively seek knowledge and improve.  Don’t try to explain why failures were unavoidable or blame others (which are both common) or ignore them.  Instead seek out the reasons why the causes of the result (systems in the organization, your thought process, the actions you took…) led to the problem and seek to change so the future will have better results.   Follow John.

Lisa Kohn from Thoughtful Leaders Blog presents leadership lessons of yellow birds, where she shares that there are always simple ways available to us to find meaning and motivation to be the best leader — and person — we can be. We just have to be open and look for them.  Follow Lisa.

Paula Kiger of Big Green Pen shares an anecdote about how she and her daughter tackled replacing a doorknob together,  rather than hiring a locksmith. It gave them renewed confidence, mother-daughter bonding, and lessons that applied to more than home repair. Follow Paula.

Alli Polin of Break the Frame advises that we can never predict when life will feel like it’s crashing down. She offers encouragement to open the window to what’s next with these three lessons on resilience and change.  Follow Alli.building resiliency

Jon Mertz of Thin Difference gives a charge: Leaders, take note. There is enough chaos in the world. We do not need to create more. Good leaders know how to find the center in chaos and focus on what matters most. That’s how we can make positive change. Follow Jon.

Lessons and Learning

On her recent trip to Scotland, Shelley Row of Shelley Row Associates applied some important concepts to scaling difficult tasksFollow Shelley

Mike Kappel of Patriot Software shares his hard-learned lessons on working with a team and how small business leaders can improve their team building skills.  Follow Mike

Thomas Mangum of ThomasMangum.com shares about how power doesn’t make you a leader, caring does.  Follow Thomas.

Beth Beutler of H.O.P.E. Unlimited offers some ponderings about the time when the mistake–was hers.  Follow Beth.

Wally Bock of Three Star Leadership shares what he learned–and didn’t learn–from his worst boss ever.  Follow Wally.

David Grossman of The Grossman Group shares a leadership lesson he learned about inspiration and aspiration from Disney’s Moana.

 

 

 

Eight Techniques to Help Your Middle Managers Cultivate Their “Sweet Spot” in Your Organization

On paper, your middle managers are in your organization’s sweet spot. They’re the conduits between your strategic vision and the teams who implement that vision. In reality, however, your middle managers are in a tough place. They’re under increasing pressure–from above to improve results and from below to cultivate deeper relationships with their teams.

Results and relationships can be complementary; in developing relationships, managers can improve their teams’ results. But in practice, too many managers fall into an either/or mindset. They either drive hard for results and railroad their people, or they focus on team building and miss the numbers. Either way, they wind up feeling isolated, frustrated and overwhelmed. They find themselves working longer hours, caught in a vicious cycle between “being nice” to their teams to prop up morale and running everyone into the ground to win at all costs.

The final outcome is inevitable. After years of trying to win while sandwiched between the employees who do the heavy lifting and the leaders above them piling on more, managers in the middle give up. They succumb to the feeling that, little by little, they’ve lost their souls. After the prolonged stress and declining performance, they disengage and leave, or get fired.

Whether managers quit and leave or quit and stay, morale and productivity go down across your organization, at all levels of responsibility.  Disengagement is that contagious.

There are steps you can take to help your middle managers learn to thrive again. You can help them shift from feeling like middle management is a rigged game to leveraging their sweet spot in your organization. The most effective managers in the world focus on both results and relation­ships. The key to Winning Well – to sustaining excellent results over time – is to combine a focus on achieving results with building healthy professional relationships.

Here are eight techniques you can support your middle managers to practice. When they practice these techniques, your managers will begin to deepen relationships and results at the same time, win well, and serve your organization effectively.

1. Mind the MIT

The number one cause of poor morale, performance problems, and subpar results is a lack of clarity. You can boost morale and productivity by helping your managers learn to communicate clear, shared expectations. Teach them what it looks like to be sure everyone is on the same page. Guide them to ask: “Does everyone on this team know exactly what ‘winning’ looks like? Do we all know the key behavior that will help us to succeed?”

 

2. Ditch the Diaper Drama

People need direct feedback that will help them know what to continue and what to change. However, most managers struggle to give direct feedback. Like stinky diapers in the modern-day diaper pail, they wrap their feedback in layers of self-protection so it doesn’t offend anyone.

It’s time to ditch the “Diaper Genie®” feedback. Effective managers speak the truth. They solve the stink – they don’t try to cover it up or sandwich it between half-hearted compliments. Support your managers to improve their team’s morale and productivity by having the tough conversations and speaking the truth with compassion.

3. Channel Challengers 

“No one listens around here, they don’t know what I do, and they don’t care what I think.” These are the hallmark words of poor morale and lackluster performance. In contrast, effective managers recognize the value every person on their team contributes. They deliberately surround themselves with people who will challenge their thinking.

It’s not enough for your managers to have an “open door.” They must actively seek out feedback. They must ask their employees, “What is working to help you be productive?” And then ask, “As your manager, what is one thing I could do that would help you be more productive at your work?” Coach your managers to listen, respond, and celebrate the changes that enable their team’s morale and performance to soar.

4. Own the Ugly 

Many managers avoid taking responsibility for their mistakes. They fear that apologizing will make them look weak or that they’ll lose credibility. In fact, the opposite is true.

When managers make a mistake, hurt someone, or break their word – it’s not a secret. Their teams know and they’re watching to see what the managers do. Can they trust their managers to own the mistake? Will they see a leader who is strong enough to recognize their own vulnerabilities? Help your managers learn the critical importance of owning a mistake, apologizing for it, making it right, and moving on. When you do this, you will support them to build trust with their teams.

5. Play the Game, Don’t Game the Score

For managers to maximize their team’s morale and productivity, they must keep them focused on what matters most. Your customer doesn’t care what you get on your internal scorecard. They care about the value you deliver.

Support managers to isolate the key behaviors that drive the value they contribute to your clients and customers. Help them play the game, fair and square. Teach them that if they reinforce these critical actions every day, the score will take care of itself. Above all else, don’t let your managers “game the score.” That is, don’t let them waste time trying to artificially adjust measurements that aren’t meaningful to the people consuming what you create.

6. Put People Before Projects 

When managers prioritize people before projects, it prevents them from falling into the trap of seeing people as machines. Highly productive teams enjoy high levels of trust, connection, and collaboration. Col­laboration is more than simply working together. It’s an attitude that communicates managers are in it with their people, not apart from them.

Forge a pathway for your managers to connect with their people as human beings. Encourage them to treat everyone with respect and dignity, instead of as a number, object, or problem. Work with your managers to help them recognize the unique strengths and perspectives each person brings to the team. Teach them to take the time to look at a person’s potential to perform beyond her current role. What holistic wisdom and experience do people bring?

7. Trust the Trenches 
Your managers have a tremendous source of wisdom living in your front line–product knowledge, insights into customers, and latent opportunities to improve performance. Unfortunately, most managers never get the benefit of these insights because they don’t ask.

Coach your managers to know the people closest to your customers and products and listen to what they have to say. Sometimes these may not know how valuable their observations can be. Help managers learn to draw out the opportunities. Encourage the celebration of success and giving credit where credit is due when these front line ideas work.

8. Rock Your Role, One Skill at a Time

Can people look at your middle managers and see the excellence you’re expecting of them? It’s hard for people to bring their “A games” 100% of the time, but the most effective managers show up to play every day. They model the aggressive skill development they need from their people. Morale goes up when people feel empowered to position themselves for success.

To help your managers model honing their professional crafts, zero in. Read what the experts are saying about the future in your field. Assess how your managers’ skill sets stack up against the trends driving your industry, and address the gaps. Find a mentor or two who has skills your managers need, or invest in a specialized leadership development program. Rocking your role is about progress, not perfection. Support your managers to engage that process – to model that step-by-step development. You’ll liberate and energize them to take ownership of their roles and results.

Your middle managers are your number one competitive advantage. When you consistently cultivate their practice of these techniques, you’ll see organization’s morale improve and productivity increase. You’ll build a founda­tion to sustain breakthrough results long into the future. That’s not just winning – that’s Winning Well.

One Easy Way to Encourage Your Team

I took my bike to the cycling shop for a quick repair before heading out for a beautiful Saturday afternoon ride in Breckenridge. Recognizing me from the last time, the manager asked where I’d been riding so far this summer. I shared, “Oh you know Swan Mountain Road toward Keystone? It’s gorgeous, but yikes, that’s quite a hill.”

He laughed. “Karin, it’s okay to call a mountain a mountain. And that ride is definitely a mountain. If you can do that, you can ride just about anything around here.”

I thanked him for the encouragement and headed out on my ride. About 10 minutes in I had a choice…to head straight up the steep incline or take an easier route. “Hmmm…” I thought. “This is a mountain. But I do mountains.” And up I went.

It’s Okay to Call a Mountain a Mountain

When we do keynotes for companies, we always like to talk to a few of the Senior leaders as part of the preparation. Consistently one of the insights they share is, “Our team’s job is so hard! We’re asking them to do a great deal with limited resources, in a rapidly changing environment.” Or, “They’re working so hard, this is one of the toughest times our industry has ever seen.” Or “I’m so proud of this team. What we’ve asked them to do is nearly impossible, and somehow they’re making it happen.”

So then we’ll ask, “Have you told them you know how hard it is?”

Most frequent answer, “Oh, no! I don’t want to discourage them.” Or, “If I admit it’s hard, then they may think it’s okay to not accomplish it.”

And then we’ll inquire: “Is it okay if I let them know you know? Here’s why _______.”

And then from the stage we share, “We talked with ‘John’ in preparing for our time together. And here’s what we learned. Your job is hard! You have to do ___ and ____ without ___ and ___ in the context of _____.”

And a sense of relief falls over the room. There are always big smiles and sometimes applause. Not for us, but because “John” gets it.

Don’t be afraid to call a mountain a mountain.

If your team is facing a steep climb, recognize it. And then remind them of the mountains they’ve scaled before and why you know they’ll be successful.