A Thanksgiving Challenge

I cried as I read his note.

I’ve been wrestling with how to share this with you ever since. I thought about writing about it generically but that fell flat. I couldn’t write it in a way that kept the impact. So here’s my pre-apology. This is not a “look what I did, follow my lead” post.

It’s a “Look what HE did, and OMG do we need more of that in this world!” post.

If even half of the LGL readers would just thank one person who didn’t expect it, we’d have a powerful force field of positive reinforcement for the behaviors that matter most.

A Thanksgiving Story

It had been 7 years since this store visit. I was his bosses’ boss driving seven hours to visit his store for a first meeting after he joined my team through a merger.

Neither of us work at Verizon now. There was no follow-up note asking for something. It was a genuine note of sincere gratitude.

I never got to tell you this or express my genuine thanks for something you did when I started my Store Manager journey when I was with Verizon. I got the store ready, changed every light bulb and dusted every fixture. You came in and had genuine enthusiasm, only to meet me at the time in a time of hurt. My grandfather was close to dying that day you visited. I remember standing in the showroom floor and Ryan informing you of what was going on personally with me and not only your look of sadness–actually you had tears in your eyes–and you looked at me and said “Why are you here?  Go home, go where you are supposed to be right now.” I never told anyone about that car ride home and how much I cried, not only tears of sadness but tears of thanks. So with that said, although the strongest most courageous man in my life passed away that day, you gave me happiness that day. Thank you is putting it lightly.

I had no idea.

My tears as I read his note where for the courage and effort he took, and for the lack of courage and effort I’ve made over the years to go back and say, “Thank you. What you did in that moment made an impact.”

So my Thanksgiving Challenge to each of us, is to pick one person in our career for whom we are truly grateful… perhaps for a simple moment of human kindness… or perhaps for just a bit more and TELL THEM.

If that feels too far out of the blue, blame me;-)

I’m going to write to Ray. I’m pretty sure that he has no idea of the impact he made on this growing leader.

7 Strategic Questions Your Team Should Be Able to Answer

I’ve never met an executive who said, “My team’s just too strategic. I just wish they would focus on the day-to-day work.” Nope. In fact it’s quite the opposite concern. “How do I get my team to think more strategically?” “Karin, I just don’t think anyone on this team is ready to take on my role…. and I can’t get promoted until I find a successor.” And the phone call of the week is, “These millennials just don’t seem to get it. There’s no long-term commitment. I don’t think they care. (PS: if this one sounds familiar, click here and scroll down to download my FREE e-book Mentoring in the Age of the Millennial.) I’m going to go out on a limb here and say, if your team is not thinking strategically don’t write them off, until you take a good look at what you’ve been sharing. It’s impossible to connect the dots if you only see a third of them. If you wait until everything’s fully baked to share it with the team, they’ll never learn to be bakers. Not sure where to start without going out-of-bounds? Start here with these 7 strategic questions, that won’t get you fired.

7 Strategic Questions Your Team Should Be Able to Answer

translator1. Why do we do what we do? Note: “to make money” is not the only answer. Dig deeper. I ask this question every time I go into a focus group. You would be surprised how few can articulate a compelling answer. Start here. Talk amongst yourselves. Challenge one another. I promise this is worth every minute of time spent not “doing work.”

2. How does our team’s work contribute to the company’s mission? This one’s more tricky. At the levels closest to the customer, it’s easy to feel like a bot, and that’s precisely where it’s most dangerous.

3. What do our customers really want? Your team knows. Write it down, and then be sure your policies and procedures align.

4. Who are our major competitors and what differentiates us in the market? My guess is that some of your team will be all over this and others won’t have a clue. Having the dialogue will offer great opportunities to explore perceptions and promote learning.

5. How does the way we do our work impact other departments? Some time spent here,  looking candidly from both directions, will save days (maybe weeks) of unproductive time.

6. How can we better articulate what we need to the departments we rely on? Make a short list and use it.

7. What’s the most important thing we’re working on and why? This one seems tricky, but it will open up a hornet’s nest… so why do we?  Resist the urge to blame others for stupidity. If something really feels stupid, have the managerial courage to lift up the concern. The best way to help your team to become more strategic is to teach them to talk strategy. Imagine the possibilities if you were “that guy.”

6 Simple Techniques to Help Your Employees See the Big Picture

If you’re like most managers, you know the importance of helping your team see the bigger picture. You would do more, if you only had the time. The occasional all-hands meetings help, but without interim reinforcement, those motivational meetings can feel like a fire hose of plans and numbers. If you want your team to truly “get it,” sprinkle little bits of big picture reinforcement into their week.

6 Ways to Get Your Employees to See the Big Picture

“The big picture doesn’t just come from distance; it also comes from time.”  -Simon Sinek

1.”Postcards”

It’s easy to forget that the main reason many employees don’t think more strategically is a lack of information. It’s hard to connect the dots when a third of them are invisible.  It’s also tough to translate all you heard three days later. What I’ve found works quite well is just to send soundbites out via text message throughout some of the more strategic meetings I attend.

I make them fun and relevant to their roles. It creates interest and sets the table for the more robust conversations that follow.  These have worked for years, long before 140 characters was the way of the world. “Oh boy, Competitor X just launched new plans that will change the way customers think about our pricing. Let’s talk more on Monday.”

2. Gamification

It’s easier than ever to turn learning into a game. In most of my keynotes I use kiwilive as a simple platform to poll or ask questions, poll everywhere is free for up to 25 responses (no, neither of these companies are paying me).  Participants can “compete” on who knows your big picture fun facts from the convenience of their phone.

3. Bring-a-Friend Staff Meetings

Sometimes the best way to understand how sausage is made, is to help make it. Giving people exposure to the conversation and thought process, not just the outcomes of strategic decisions, goes a long way in helping people connect the dots. Every time I’ve held a “bring-a-friend staff meeting” where my direct reports each bring one of their direct reports, you can almost see the light bulbs going on.

4. Field Trips

There’s a reason every elementary school takes a trip to the zoo. You can read about giraffes all you want, but until you have one bend down and lick your face, it’s hard to really understand what they’re all about. There’s real power in taking a “field trip” to another department and seeing how they really think and operate.

5. Mentoring Circles

I’ve shared this idea with you before. I’m repeating my self because mentoring circles work. Click here for more information.   If you want more information on mentoring you can download my FREE eBook, Mentoring in the Age of the Millennial from my new ecourse landing page.

6. Teaching Operations Reviews

Another one of my key go-tos. For step-by-step instructions click here.

Effective managers are translators. Help your team see the bigger picture. Before you motivate, translate.

BONUS TRACKS: FREE Webinars, Radio Interviews and HBR

Karin Hurt Promo

reorganizationIf you’re free on Wednesday October 28, I’ll be out in the online-world making a bit of a ruckus.

At 1pm, I’m joining Twan van de Kerkhof on a panel: Is the Future of Leadership More Personal (I bet you can guess my POV).

At 2pm EST I’Il be on Faces of Success Radio talking about David Dye’s and my upcoming book, Winning Well (click on the image to enlarge).

Also, I was recently interviewed in this article for HBR on about What To Do and Say After a Tough Reorganization. Such circumstances can hurt or help your career. If you’re faced with a reorganization, I hope this helps.

Do You Hear Them Now? 11 Signs You Have a Listening Culture

I once sat in an executive meeting where the SVP explained that Bob, a junior level executive who reported to her had “gotten away” with challenging her boss, the COO’s, ideas. She shared, “When Bob started to challenge him, I was really afraid for his career, but Joe (the COO) actually seemed okay with it.” She laughed as she said how lucky he was that he wasn’t fired, and how other people hadn’t faired so well in the past. Everyone else laughed along uncomfortably. Bob didn’t smile.

I’m still wondering exactly why she shared that story. I think it was an attempt to portray her boss as more reasonable than his reputation allowed. But quite frankly, this one-off story reinforced that an executive really listening to someone a few levels below was not the norm.

We all had a feeling that Bob had been sitting in the “ready now” box of the performance potential succession planning forever. He was a confident and humble rock star and we all knew it. His tenacity was highly valued with his immediate boss and amongst his peers, but something was holding him back.

Maybe his willingness to speak up was part of the issue. I’m pretty sure everyone in the room left being just a little more cautious of what they said.

If you’re keeping score, that’s not a sign of a listening culture.

11 Signs You Have a Listening Culture

My regular readers may have noticed I’m on a bit of a listening culture theme. In addition to how imporant listening is, there’s a pragmatic reason for the deep dive.

After a meeting planner read my post, What Happens When We Really Listen, she invited me to come work with 15 CEOs/CFOs of large manufacturing companies to talk about how to create a listening culture. I’m calling it, Do You Hear Them Now: How to Build a Listening Culture.  I’m headed out to conference this week, so I’m inviting you to continue to steep in, and weigh in on, what a listening culture looks and feels like. Ideas:

Sign #1: Imagination abounds: People at all levels are thinking about the business and sharing ideas.

Sign #2: Ideas trump titles: A great idea is a great idea, regardless of who thought of it.

Sign #3: Customer feedback is encouraged, not gamed: Employees at all levels are really listening to what customers are saying, not encouraging them to say what they to hear to improve their scorecard.

Sign #4: Feedback creates change: Feedback is taken seriously, and often acted upon.

Sign #5: Everyone is asking good questions: And getting real answers.

Sign #6: No one freaks out when an exec shows up unexpectedly: MBWA is just that (management by walking around), not OCHTC (oh crap here they come).

Sign #7: Meetings are conversations, not readouts: Meetings are used to make decisions and build relationships.

Sign #8: No one is shocked by the employee engagement survey results: Because they’ve been listening, they know what’s working and are already working on the trouble spots.

Sign #9: Hourly workers have regularly planned time to meet and share ideas about improving the business: Time “off-line” improves the business.

Sign #10: Employees feel an obligation to speak up when something feels stupid: Because they know they’ll be heard, they feel and obligation to share.

Sign #11: Personal issues are treated with compassion: Real listening happens when people open their hearts, set aside their biases, and care.

On a related note: 5 Secrets to Great Skip Level Meetings continues to be on of my most read posts. If you missed that one, and are working on creating a listening culture, you might find it useful.

5 Ways Listening Like an Anthropologist Will Make You a Better Leader

When I was in grad school, there were clearly two camps (and they didn’t respect each other all that much): The scientests out to prove their hypotheses through experimentation, control groups, and statistical analysis, and the qualitative researchers who showed up, listened, and let the theories emerge.

Being in business, and studying at night, I was initially drawn to the power of proof. But as I grew into executive roles, it became clear that the most important research skills I learned during that time were the ethnography skills of the anthropologists. See also The Power of a Road Trip.

As you move up the ranks, there will be others to crunch the numbers, and yes, you must be able to interpret them and make decisions. But most execs never fully master the art of showing up subtly, without pre-conceived conclusions and letting the data inform their hypotheses.

The good news is it’s not that hard (close your ears, ethnographers, I’m on your side.)

Karin Hurt’s Big Rules of Showing Up Like an Anthropologist

I label this as such to prevent losing my status as an adjunct professor in a prestigious MBA program, or to make anyone roll over in their graves. This is not based on a scientific review of the literature in the field as applied to business. Just my gut. Here it goes.

1. Truly believe you don’t already know

Quite frankly if you can’t pull this off, you’re better off staying in your office. Great Translators know they must listen first. If you’re out and about to “teach them a thing or two” know that you’re missing the most important point…and so will they. See when MBWA becomes OCHTC, you’re won’t learn beans. Like a good anthropologist observe what’s happening to you as you live in community with your employees.

2. Dress the part

Don’t show up in your power suit. Meet them where they are.

3. Shut up

Yes, you may think you have all the answers. In fact, it’s quite possible you really do. Save it for later. Sure it’s more efficient to turn the tables right there and then. What these folks need most right now is to be heard. Yes, yes, let it inform your communication plan. Yes, yes, explain your perspective. Yes, respond back in a personal message to them. But remember for this moment, don’t express your shock at the buried bodies. You are a listener. Concentrate on doing that well.

4. Collect unbiased themes

Honestly, I’ve attended skip level meetings with execs where they missed 90% of what they needed to hear, only to take away the stuff that proved everything was working just fine. And worse: that’s what showed up in their report! That works for a minute, but it’s no way to win well or achieve long-term success.

5. Engage

This is where I’m going to get into trouble with the scholars. But if you’re an exec, your intervention is, well, an intervention. Don’t argue or retort, but do show up with huge appreciation and an appetite for more. Explain why their perspective helps to improve the business. If there are immediate actions you’re taking away for goodness sakes say that.

Imagine the possibilities if you showed up like an anthropologist every now and then.

7 Ways to Create a Listening Culture

If you could wave a magic wand and suddenly make every employee in your organization proficient in one behavior what would that be? Critical thinking? Customer-orientation? Sales?

No matter which behavior I consider, I’m hard pressed to come up with one that would be more impactful with just a bit more listening.

Listening transforms relationships.

Listening makes customers feel valued.

Listening gets to root cause.

Listening attracts business.

Yet, in most organizations I work with, people talk a heck more than they listen. Most of us can’t claim that we consistently listen well.

So how do you set out to build a culture of effective listening? Start with these 7 steps.

1. Tell the Truth

Nothing will make people tune out faster than smelling BS. If you want people to truly listen, be sure they can believe what you say. A culture of real listening can only happen when people can count on one another for candor. Encourage transparency and truth telling, starting at the very top.

2. Be Interesting

Sounds basic, right? If you want people to listen, speak in an interesting way. Tell meaningful stories  Ditch the 35 page PowerPoint deck and explain why your project really matters.

3. Show Up Like an Anthropologist

Anthropologists don’t go to a scene with something to prove, they show up subtly and listen carefully. They ask great questions and make meaning from the responses. Imagine the possibilities if more executives approached their field visits with the attitude of an anthropologist. Or if more sales reps worked to truly listen to what customers were saying about their lifestyles and values.

4. Be Interested

To encourage deeper listening, be a great listener. Approach conversations with empathy and compassion. Let your words, body language and actions show that you’re very interested in who they are and what they’re saying.

5. Reward Transparency

If you freak out every time you get bad news, all you’ll get is Diaper Genie feedback, where the poop is disguised in so much packaging you can’t even smell it. Thank people for bringing you the truth. Surround yourself with those who will challenge your ideas. Promote those willing to speak up.

6. Encourage Field Trips

One of the best ways to build a listening culture is to have encourage cross-departmental visits. Give your teams permission to visit their counterparts upstream or downstream in the process. Let them share their challenges, pressures and successes.

7. Get Social

Social media provides amazing opportunities to listen to customers. A good social care strategy listen’s beyond the # and the @. Social platforms can be great for internal listening as well. One of my clients recently implemented Yammer and is delighted by the informal conversations forming and how they can trend what’s most important on people’s minds.

Why Job Descriptions are a Dying Art

A client called. “Karin, I’m going to send you the job description for the new role we designed, but ignore all the HR mumbo jumbo. Just concentrate on the competencies and see if they seem right to you based on the strategy we’ve been working on.”

Game on. We were going to have the conversation that was most worth having: How do we find the right person with the aptitude for this vital job? The 25% this, 37% that of traditional job descriptions was a crap shoot at best. We needed a thinker who would work with us to be as creative as possible and build this role into more than we ever imagined.

Planning out roles and functions is vital. Pricing jobs for fair market value makes sense. But when job descriptions serve to confine, or “swim lanes” become too narrow, you’re headed into dangerous waters.

I remembered the time the union fought so hard to prevent “service reps” from doing higher paid “customer rep” work, and kept a careful watch–telling both groups to be careful not to do too much outside their “role.” Once the lawyers got involved, the higher job was eliminated, and the career path disappeared, and really great people were disappointed, and stopped trying. I was devastated to see good people with hopes of moving up crushed by the instruction to do less, because some artificial boundaries said that would help. It didn’t. It never does.

It’s not just in union jobs. Recently, I failed to convince one of my MBA students in the power of thinking beyond her current low level ” job description.” She sings opera on the side and was asked if she would like to sing at her company gala (with external players). She said only if she were paid for the gig since this is “not in her job description.”

She had a big opportunity to get noticed and to differentiate herself. She didn’t sing as a matter of principle.

As a musician myself, I get it at some level. But, I’ll also never forget the time we were  in the middle of a touching measure of a huge rehearsal and the conductor put down the baton between beats, because it was time for a union break.

Most examples are not this dramatic, and often not articulated. But in almost every company I work in I see signs of the “it’s not my job virus” gaining momentum… and the “A Players” are shooting themselves in the foot while the mediocre get by just fine.

Why Job Descriptions are Old School

I can’t claim to fully understand every circumstance, and I know there are grave situations where good people are being exploited. I’m not talking about that. What I do know is the hundreds, at this point likely thousands, of people I’ve met over the years in reasonable paying jobs, whose fear of working outside their job description absolutely damaged their careers and sabotaged their long-term earnings.

And it’s even more critical now.

We’re in a knowledge and technology economy when even lower level jobs change faster than HR can keep up.

Your job description is the skeleton–the unimaginative view of minimal requirements. Many will stop there and stay put. And that’s a tragedy.

The game changers will understand this limited view, and know that the real work is to think past the basics and add value that changes the game. In most cases the money will follow. If not, know there are plenty of companies hungry to hire people willing to change the game.

The Call to HR

Of course you need job descriptions. It’s just time to get more creative. Imagine the possibilities if every job description had the 75% skeleton as it exists today, and then 25% encouraging innovation and additional contribution?

  • Continuously seeks new ways to enhance the customer experience and shares them with peers
  • Collaborates across departments for innovative solutions to improve quality and reduce costs
  • Builds a deep bench of talent through recruiting, mentoring and organic employee development

Let’s Discuss

The old Field of Dreams idea of “build it and they will come” sometimes fails as a short-term solution. But I’ve never seen a genuine effort of a competent person giving a little more than expected over time fail.

I’m wide-open to real dialogue here. Let’s talk about this important issue.

How To Get Their Attention

I’ve written 640 blog posts and never had a response like I received from last Monday’s post, What Happens When We Really Listen. Notice I didn’t say “reaction,” I’m not counting up social shares or page views, I’m talking about real human beings from around the world reaching out in deeply personal ways.

First was the executive who picked up the phone as soon as he read it. “I’ve never done this before, and I’m a bit surprised I’m doing this now. But I just called to say ‘thank you.’ You really made me think. I try to listen the way you describe here, and sometimes I do that quite well, but I know I fall short when other priorities get in the way. Thanks for the reminder to do this better. That is all, I guess, I really just called to say ‘thank you.’ ” Wow.

The next phone call was from a senior leader who began almost entirely the same way…”I’ve never done this before, but your story reminded me of my story.” (PS: that’s why stories work.)

“You see I was headed to an important appointment with my boss, the CEO of our company–he was driving. I received a phone call. I mostly listened. ‘Yes… I understand… okay.’ When I hung up the phone my boss asked what was wrong.

Without taking time to process, I just said, ‘That was my doctor. I have cancer.’

He pulled the car to the side of the road. Looked me right in the eye and said, ‘You’re going to be okay. You know we all love you.’

I was shocked. If you knew this guy, you would never imagine him to be someone who would say anything like that.

Can you imagine how lucky I am, of all the people I could work for in the universe, to be able to work for someone like that?

Five years later, the cancer has not returned and there is nothing that I wouldn’t do for that guy.”

The truth is the “universe” would be a heck of a lot better if a more people took the time to pull their car over.

It didn’t stop there, the next call came from a man wanting to explore some collaboration opportunities. The next, an invitation to present at an executive summit  for manufacturing C-levels– on (you guessed it– listening). And then the CEO from Lebanon whom I’ll be Skyping with tomorrow:

This might be a bit of a different email than what you usually receive, but when I read your blog on “What Happens when we Really Listen,” I felt a kind of connection between what you are saying and how I actually think about relations…

What really encouraged me to write to you is not only the fact that we share a common passion towards growing Leaders, and our sincere belief in the power of emotions in successful business communication, but actually what you mentioned about the fact that your mother will not be able to read your book.

You see, I lost my mother to cancer in 2000, and my Dad passed away last September. Amidst all this, I always get this burst of sad feelings that they both will not be around to see my kids growing, nor they will be around to enjoy what life we are making. Still, and in connection to intellectual content, I always feel a bit bitter that they will not be around to celebrate my achievements…

(and then a lot of his background and a request to help him think through his thought leadership strategy)

But the question remains, having the thought, the content, the ability remains insufficient if you do not have the Ears and Recognition of the World. Because we can only be influenced if we get the World to listen to us….

 How did you get the World to Listen to you?

Why do people listen? I’m not exactly sure. But I’m convinced it has to do with showing up human.

What Happens When We Really Listen

Have you ever noticed that sometimes life rhymes?

Something happens to you that fits together so well with what happens next that (as my editor would say of another one of my other rhyming days) “That story is so tight no one is going to believe it.” But the truth is, our lives are full of true rhyming stories ready to knock a message into our hearts if we can listen well enough to  hear them. This weekend that happened to me–again.

Saturday evening I was coaching a friend who wants to become a keynote speaker. I was drawn in by her powerful stories full of transformative potential. I connected to her raw conviction and was listening carefully for how I could help her hone her message. As she spoke her voice shook just a bit, not from fear but from her authentic emotion. She didn’t cry, and the truth is, the emotion made her message more powerful. It was raw, real and compelling.  She kept apologizing for getting “emotional” and saying how she just couldn’t understand it. “I never have this problem in front of an audience.”

As she was walking out the door, she stopped, turned around,  looked at me with concerned eyes and said,  “I figured out why I was getting so emotional. It’s because of how you were listening so intently. What if my audiences listen like that?”

“Then you will have made a powerful connection and will change lives.”

The next morning the tables were turned.

And the Tables Turned

As I entered the church lobby, my friend who had moved to New Mexico a few years ago came running across the room and gave me an enormous hug. A fellow leadership junkie, I excitedly shared all my new news, the book, the course, the keynotes…and he shared his. Our conversation was cut short by the chiming of the bell.

After service he came up and said, “Something’s not right with you. What is it?”

He had just asked me how I was an hour before and everything I had told him was sunny. What had he heard? I thought I was alright.

Tears started streaming down my face. Now, I was getting in touch with an emotion I didn’t even realize was so strong.

“My mom died a few months ago. And yesterday, we came up with such a powerful ending to the final chapter of our book, I know she would love it. But I can’t show it to her.”

Apparently that’s what he heard in the earlier exchange.

He started crying too, and said that his mother died 15 years ago, and he still feels that way anytime something good happens, and then shared, “She’s in you, and she’s in that book.”

And we just cried for a minute together, knowing that it’s better to know how you feel.

Real listening transforms us.

What would happen if we all listened just a bit more intently?

2 Reasons Employee Engagement is So Hard– And What to Do About It

If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of employee engagement results, you most likely know the, “How in the world could they feel THAT WAY after ALL I’ve done?” head-scratching frustration. I know I have. You’ve recognized, mentored, career-pathed, taken some bullets, helped them win… and yet, it somehow wasn’t enough for everyone. A few folks still feel frustration and are not afraid to make that perfectly clear on your “stupid survey that no one ever does anything with.”

The truth is, what makes employee engagement so hard is that it’s not just about what’s happening today. Your employees are impacted by all their yesterdays, and their view of how they will fit into the future of your organization tomorrow.

Winning Well managers are translators of the past and sherpas toward the future. Before they motivate, they translate.

Winning Well managers know they need to help employees recover from their memory of past experiences: a boss that took credit for their work; an organizational structure change that made their role less meaningful; a shift in strategy which made their project less of a priority… and at the same time help them see a bright future for themselves in the organization. If employees are skeptical that they’ll matter in the future, they’ll be less likely to go the extra mile today.

How to Help Employees Make Sense of the Past

1. Have a private conversation

I actually had one manager who had worked in my organization for three years tell me how intimidated she was around me for a very long time. I was shocked, as I’d never treated her with anything but kindness and respect, and was always working to connect with her at a human level.

She confided that she’d “been burned so many times before” by other female leaders that she just didn’t trust my motives.  Her opening up to me allowed me to share some of my personal stories of my career growth and why I believe and act like I do now–based on mistakes by myself and others in the past. I then explained that all leaders (whether they admit it or not) have similar insecurities and regrets–that instead of starting from a place of fear or skepticism of a new leader, it’s much more productive to get to know one another and give them a chance. Assuming mal-intent will color your perceptions and potentially lead to false interpretations.

After we had that conversation, she became much more secure in her role, took more risks, shared her opinions, and eventually was promoted. Her fear from her past had actually been holding her back from being her best self. Once she realized the past did not define the future, she was able to truly engage and build a better one for herself and the company.

2. Help them understand the context

Often when something negative happens, the employee doesn’t have all the context. Start with questions: Do you know WHY they made the decision to close that office? Do you know WHY the project lost funding? Often employees are so caught up in the impact, that they may not have truly sought to understand the bigger picture (or someone may not have explained it well). Translators take time to help employees understand the greater context of decisions so they seem less arbitrary.

And Get Excited About the Future

3. Help them understand what they can control

Nothing creates anxiety more than feeling out of control. Helping employees understand that although they may not have influence on some of the bigger strategic moves that could potentially impact their future, they have much they can do to prepare to be a utility player that adds value when circumstances change. Finishing their degree, learning new skills, networking with other departments, all go a long way in helping people feel better about themselves and their future in the company.

4. Help them see the road ahead

The main reason employees don’t think strategically is that they aren’t given enough information to connect the dots. Help employees see the strategic and competitive environment and where the organization is headed. Help them understand how the work they do contributes today and where it fits into the future. When holding career discussions, help them develop the skills that will be most important as the company grows and transforms.

To feel better about their jobs, employees need support making sense of the past and understanding what’s possible in the future.

Before you motivate, translate.

How To Move a Team from Forming to High Performing in < 48 Hours

Our MBA Orientation committee debated whether was this too much pressure.  The second week on campus, teams of first year MBA students would have 48 hours to research and make recommendations on a real business challenge for a large, high-profile company and package and communicate their recommendation to a high-profile audience.

Clearly, it’s more than a “game” when potential employers and university leadership are involved. I served as executive communications consultant, equipping them on presentation skills and packaging a compelling story, and then visited their case rooms up until the late night pancake “breakfast” critiquing their rehearsal and helping them fine-tune.

Every team was given the same challenge, information and resources. What was fascinating was how the teams varied in their approach to team dynamics and interaction. I got an insider’s view to most of the teams and watched the teams and their presentations transform (a few didn’t think they needed any help, but that’s another story.)

How to Move a Team from Forming to High Performing in < 48 Hours

I spoke with several of the teams that made it to the final round–mostly curious about how the most successful teams accomplished so much so quickly.

You guessed it–they had a balanced focus on results AND relationships, confidence AND humility. #winningwell

1. Quickly Identify Each Team Member’s Strengths (and Challenges)

The strongest teams didn’t waste time jockeying for position or covering up weaknesses. They weren’t afraid to say what they were good at, “Oh, when I worked for the World Bank, I used to work on this kind of stuff all the time, let me lead the analysis.” Or where they weren’t, “I don’t have much of a finance background, that’s why I’m here to round it out, BUT I’m GREAT at PowerPoint.”

2. Work Extremely Hard at Communication

Every team had International students studying in their non-native tongue. This often meant slowing down to repeat or find different words to explain a complex idea. The teams that won well understood the deep value their teammates were bringing to the table and took extra time to ensure they were heard and understood.

3. Invest in the Long View, Even in Short-Term Projects

Sure they all wanted to win the 48-hour challenge, but they also knew that the relationships they were building would last at least two years as they worked together throughout the program, and of course could become a powerful network down the road. They kept the big picture in mind as they managed their interactions.

4. Establish Formal Norms

Before they began they wrote down the big rules for team functioning AND they called each other on it when someone was out of bounds. This happened most during times of stress, “We agreed we do a little one-minute dance party when the stress got to much.”

5. Offer (and Receive) Candid Feedback

There was no time to sugarcoat. They cut through the B.S. and feedback was offered and received with the understanding that they all had the same big goal. When their second year coach, or someone gave them ideas to improve, they quickly said “Thank you,” took the advice, and made their presentation tighter.

Here’s a quick interview with one of my favorite winning well teams.

To learn more about these leaders you can click on their LinkedIn profiles.

Alison ScharmanMohamed BoraieShengnan WangSunghooh Huh,Will Boddy

Thanks to my nephew, Jared Herr for producing this video.

Need help accelerating your team’s development, or communicating more effectively? Please give me a call 443/750-149.

How to Tell a Great Story

Have you ever noticed how much easier is to remember someone’s point when they wrap a story around it? So why do so many leaders stick with dry PowerPoint presentations and yawner “motivational” pep talks when they could tell a story? How could you better use stories to galvanize your team toward stronger results?

This summer, I’ve trained hundreds of people on my STORIES model of impactful communication. You can watch an excerpt here.

The STORIES Approach

S- Setting

  • Where were you?
  • Who was there?
  • Who’s telling the story?

T- Trouble

  • What happened?
  • How can you describe the tension in a memorable way?

O- Other

  • Who is the sage that intervenes?

R- Response

  • What did our hero do?

I- Interest

  • What makes this interesting?

E- Evaluation

  • What did they learn?

S- So what

  • What does that mean for us?

This method works. I see HUGE improvement in the quality of participant’s stories after participating in a half day impactful communications workshop (we also work on simple delivery techniques). These workshops also have a significant teambuilding effect when teams go through this together– creating lasting bonds as teams reveal themselves in their stories.

If you would like me to custom-design a storytelling workshop for your team, please call me at 443-750-1249.