How to Lead When Your Team Resists Change

How to Lead When Your Team Resists Change

When Your Team Resists Change, It’s an Opportunity for Ownership

You’ve noticed a problem, spent the last four days meeting with finance, strategizing, and building an action plan. You’re energized about what your team will achieve, your boss and peers are on board, and it’s time to meet with your team to roll out the new process. You share the details, all the benefits, and next steps. But it feels like your team resists change.

Your enthusiasm is met with quiet reluctance. Then your team brings up three different operational challenges and two reasons your customers won’t like it. Why can’t they understand the benefit and just move forward?

4 Things to Do When Your Team Resists Change

The resistance to change frustrates many leaders, but it doesn’t have to. In fact, the resistance you feel often means there’s an opportunity to create buy-in and ownership that will help you build a courageous culture (download your free courageous cultures white paper here). Here’s how to do it:

1) Avoid Labels

It’s easy to label people who raise objections. But they’re not necessarily lazy, stuck, negative, or even “resistant” (despite the title of this article).

Rather, they’re normal and human. Resisting change actually makes a lot of sense. After all, if what you did yesterday worked–it got you through the day, alive, fed, and healthy—why spend energy to do something differently? That’s a waste of time—unless there’s a good reason.

2) Start with the Problem

If you’re like most leaders, when you see a problem, you move to solutions as quickly as you can. Then you go to your team with a solution. It’s natural, but when you do this, you deprive your team of the understanding and connection that helped you arrive at the answer you’ve brought them.

Without that same connection, of course they won’t feel the same way you do. One way to solve this challenge is to start the conversation with your team by identifying the problem.

Eg: “I was looking at the numbers and we’re seeing a steady decline in re-enrollment.”

Then pause, let the issue sink in. If you have a team of introverts, give them time to think about the issue.

3) Ask for Their Thoughts

Once you’ve shared the problem and given them a moment to reflect. Ask for their thoughts. This helps anchor the problem in their thinking. They explore the consequences and how it interacts with other issues.

Change always starts with desire or dissatisfaction. By introducing the problem and letting it sink in, you’re creating the same emotional connection that helped you move to action.

When your why is bigger than your won’t, you will.

4) Ask for Their Solutions

As the team discusses the issue, they are likely to start asking about solutions.

When someone says, “What do you think we should do?” Resist the urge to answer. Instead, continue to ask for their ideas. They may come up with ideas you haven’t considered—or they may arrive at the same solution you’ve thought through.

But now there’s a crucial difference: they own it.

And if they can’t come up with any reasonable solutions, your ideas now have a hungry audience.

At this point you can move into decision-making mode: establish what a successful solution will achieve, determine who will make the decision, discuss, decide, and act.

Final Thoughts

It may feel like this process takes extra time—and it does. It’s 15 or 30 minutes of time that prevents days, weeks, and even months of procrastination and foot-dragging. The team owns the problem and the solution. They’ve connected to the why and are ready for action.

This small investment of time overcomes some common reasons people resist change. A few notes:

1) If you suspect an individual is resisting because they will lose something (status, money, comfort) you will need to address that separately. Maybe there is a bigger “why” available that makes the trade-off worth it. Or, it may be an unavoidable consequence of a changing world. Don’t overlook these personal losses – they are real and if left unaddressed, make you look inhuman.

2) Sometimes you need to move quickly. The more you connect with your team and connect them to the why behind the change, the more buy-in you’ll have for the times you need to say “trust me and we’ll discuss it later.”

Your Turn

We’d love to hear from you – what’s your best practice to help teams navigate change?

How to help all your people contribute great ideas

How to Help All Your People Contribute Great Ideas

Don’t Let Assumptions Limit People Who Can Contribute Great Ideas

“I’m looking at my people and I just don’t think they can get there from here.” Vivian was a gung-ho CEO exploring what it would take to build a more Courageous Culture (click to download your free white paper). She loved the idea of eliminating FOSU (fear of speaking up) and encouraging more micro-innovation and problem-solving, but as she mentally inventoried her team, she was concerned that not everyone could contribute great ideas and engage energetically.

Problem-solving and innovation certainly come easier for some than others, but it’s easy to make assumptions and miss people’s energy and potential. There are quieter voices you can amplify and embryonic ideas to nurture. The key is to give them the leadership they need to become effective team members.

How to Help Everyone Contribute Their Great Ideas

As you learn how different people are wired and what energizes them, you can meet them where they are to draw greatness from them. Let’s look at several types of people that present a challenge for leaders who want to build courageous cultures.

Silent Wounded

They don’t trust you—and with good reason. It’s not that you’ve done anything wrong. It’s the three managers who came before you who abused their trust, told them they weren’t hired to think, stole their idea, and then took credit for it. Now you have the same title and, fairly or not, all the negative baggage that comes with it.

Your job is to rebuild their trust. This will take time, but once you’ve built that trust, these team members are often very loyal. Start small. Ask a courageous question and receive the answers graciously and with gratitude. Build up to deeper questions and focus on responding well. Celebrate people, generously give credit, then ask for more problem solving and ideas to better serve your customers.

Silent Ponderous

To draw out the great value silent ponderous people can contribute, start by giving them time to think. For some meetings, this means giving them the main topic a day or two in advance and asking them to think about it. In some settings having everyone write their ideas first will give them time to process.

Another strategy is to clarify that you’re not asking for a 100% accurate answer. When you ask them for their best thinking at the moment or a range of ideas, it gives them permission to explore, rather than commit to something they haven’t thought through yet.

Just Do What I Sayers or Let Me Do My Thingers

You may have team members who are certain of their direction and methods. They’re often successful and just want people to line up behind them and do what they’re told.

When you talk with people in this group, it can help to frame the conversation in terms of their goals. If they want to have more responsibility or more influence, those are easy opportunities to talk about the people-skills they need to practice and demonstrate.

If they want to improve their outcomes, they’ll need people and their ideas. Two points you can emphasize in these conversations are: 1) What success looks like in this organization—is everyone thinking and contributing? 2) You care about their career and want them to succeed–and that’s why you’re having this conversation.

Just Tell Me What to Doers

There are a couple of types of people who consistently just want to be told what to do. The first group is the silent wounded described above. They have a “You won’t fool me again” mantra. As with other silent wounded, take time to rebuild trust with small steps that prove you mean what you say.

The second group of people who want you to “Just tell me what to do” are doing what they know has made them successful in the past. Through much of school and in many organizations, you can get along quite well by just following instructions. The challenge for these people is the same as for organizations everywhere: the world is changing and computers are far more efficient at being told what to do.

First, have a discussion about the changing nature of work and what it will take for your business to thrive. Next, reframe what success looks like for their role. In effect, you are still answering their need to “be told what to do” but in a way that asks them to consider the opportunities and problems facing the organization. Finally, equip them with the ability to contribute great ideas.

Idea Grenadiers

Some people are idea-machines–their brain works overtime to see the possibilities in every situation. Nearly every team is better off with someone who can creatively look at what’s happening and see opportunities to improve or transform. The challenge comes when the idea-person tosses all their ideas in your lap, wants you to do them, but won’t do the work. These are the idea-grenadiers—tossing their ideas like grenades and then running the other direction.

When you’re working with someone like this, it helps to have a direct conversation that calls them back to what matters most and asks them to engage. For example:

“I’ve noticed that in the past month you come to me with four different ideas about how we should improve security, revamp the training program, change our workforce management, and reorganize product management. There is merit in your ideas—and we can’t pursue all of them right now. Which of them do you think would help achieve our #1 strategic priority? Is that a project you’d be willing to help with?”

Schmoozers

Most organizations have a schmoozer—everyone likes them and they talk a great game, but when it comes time to get things done, somehow, they never implement that plan that sounded so amazing when they presented it.

The challenge is that they undermine trust. Ideas they share lack credibility and they’re less likely to be entrusted with good ideas because they won’t implement them.

The best strategy with schmoozers is to ignore the charm and focus on the results. Healthy accountability conversations that help them raise their game will help restore their credibility. When you talk with them, be ready for an elegantly worded explanation for why they didn’t get it done. If it happens again, you need to escalate the conversation.

For example: “This is the third time we’ve had this conversation. Your credibility is at stake. What you said sounded wonderful, but if you can’t implement it, your team can’t rely on you and neither can I. What can we do to get this on track and completed?”

Oxygen Suckers

The final challenging type is the person who sucks all the air out of the room. They often talk so much, so loud, or so vehemently that others don’t contribute. Oxygen suckers can spark drama that derails a healthy conversation and wastes time on tangents. Oxygen suckers often lack self-awareness and don’t recognize how their behavior affects others. It’s up to you to facilitate in a way that allows everyone to contribute great ideas.

To help your oxygen suckers, start with a direct conversation. Privately explain that you will run meetings differently and that your goal is to make sure everyone takes part equitably. Be specific about how you’ll do this. For example: “In some cases, I will time people’s comments to ensure everyone has time to speak. I may ask you to speak after I’ve asked some quieter team members for their perspective.”

With these challenging types, your approach and the conversations give them a chance to take part. Some people will choose not to—and that’s okay.

If someone tells you they can’t perform at the needed level or they don’t want to adjust their style, thank them for their honesty, honor their choice, and help them with their exit strategy. Either way, you’ve energized your team to contribute great ideas and are on your way to a courageous culture.

Your turn. What’s your best strategy for encouraging your team members to contribute their best ideas?

Don’t Let Limited Perspective Destroy Your Team

Don’t Let Limited Perspective Destroy Your Team

Limited perspective traps leaders and drives apart teams.

Recently, I’ve watched an organization of passionate and caring people disintegrate. The limited perspective of leaders and team members has frustrated communication and problem-solving. They’ve devolved into camps of us vs. them. It can happen to any team if you don’t pay attention to how you see the world.

When the World Changes

I grew up in southwest Denver.

Late in the day, as the sun settled toward the mountains west of the city, I loved to see downtown Denver highlighted in the evening light. My favorite version of this view happened after a summer thunderstorm. The crenelated gray, black, and white skyline glowed with hope against the dark purple clouds that had taken their wrath out to the plains.

When I was twelve years old, my friend’s mother invited us to volunteer with her at a shelter for mothers who had escaped abusive relationships. We had to make solemn promises not to reveal the shelter’s location. It was easy for me to promise, because I had no idea where it was.

We drove to the shelter on a cold December morning. We rode in the back of a pickup truck, laying down as flat as we could to stay out of the bitter wind.

When we arrived, I sat up. And the world shifted.

My skyline, the familiar arrangement of glass and steel, had been put into a cloth bag, shaken, and poured out. This was not my downtown.

We were northeast of the city center, directly opposite of where I’d grown up.

The world swayed, but then I was struck by another thought: there were children who grew up in this neighborhood. These alien buildings that disturbed me were their familiar anchor.

I’ve relived that moment hundreds of times as my known world expands. There is always another point of view beyond my limited perspective. And as strange, unsettling, and foreign as it may seem—it is all the normal another person has ever known.

Leading Through Limited Perspective

Have you ever had your perspective shift like that? Has new information, a new experience, or a new person made you look at the world differently?

I hope so. Being able to see the world differently is a vital leadership skill.

Whether it’s the empathy to see how a new system feels to your customers or employees or the ability to ask “What if?” and view your opportunities in a different way, moving beyond your limited perspective will help you have more influence and think more strategically.

The leaders in the organization I mentioned have struggled with a changing world. Both groups deeply believe in the organization’s purpose and values. The challenge is that over time, people have started to interpret those values through a narrowing set of experiences.

As concerned team members raised issues, they were told “There is no problem”—because, seen through leaders’ limited perspective, there truly wasn’t a problem. The organization’s environment changed, but their leaders didn’t change with it – and now they’re bleeding talent.

When you lose your ability to see the world through someone else’s eyes, you get stuck being “right,” but you’re not effective.

How to Not Let Limited Perspective Trap You

None of us are immune to this trap. Staying connected to the people you lead and maintaining a flexible and curious worldview takes work. Here are a few ways to keep yourself from getting stuck.

Listen for their truth—when a team member shares a concern, search for their truth. Not the Truth, but their truth. How are they feeling? What are they seeing? They’re not making it up. What is there for you to learn or keep in mind?

Get curious—when something doesn’t make sense, resist the urge to discount it. Instead, create some space to ask questions. If nothing else, you can say, “Tell me more …” and see what insights emerge.

Focus on what’s right, not who’s right—my friend Bob Tipton wrote a great book on this topic. When you change your perspective from defining who is right or wrong to figuring out what will be healthy and helpful for everyone, you’re on your way to a bigger perspective and greater influence.

Practice being uncomfortable—new perspectives are unsettling. It is strange and troubling to discover that the way you’ve seen things wasn’t entirely accurate. But since that’s where the breakthroughs happen, it’s worth getting used to it. You can practice in small and fun ways. Try something new every week. Ask someone to explain a hobby or passion you don’t understand. Travel – even if it’s just to the next city. Go as far as your resources allow and let it change your perspective.

Ask “What’s next?”—Strategic leaders don’t just focus on the change that happened yesterday. They’re looking ahead at the change that’s coming and intentionally shifting their approach. What has changed and will change in your environment? For your people? For your customers or clients?

Share information  – This one helps you and your team. When your team’s perspective is limited, share more information. Give them the data they need to make more informed decisions. When you do, they are better able to craft solutions that weren’t available to you.

Your Turn

It’s easy to get trapped by a limited perspective that alienates you from your team, but you don’t have to let it happen. Leave a comment and share your best strategy to stay nimble and maintain a flexible perspective.

What To Do When You’re Losing Your Soul

 

 

What do you do when you feel like you’re losing your leadership soul? You don’t like how you’re treating people. You’re not living up to your own values. Or you’re overwhelmed and not sure you can get the results you’re accountable to achieve.

Most leaders experience these feelings of isolation, bitterness, or burnout at some point in their career—but you don’t have to stay there. In this episode you’ll get practical ways to figure out why you feel like you’re losing your soul and what you can do to reclaim it. You can achieve breakthrough results—without sacrificing your humanity in the process.

Tools from this episode:

how to discuss expectations violations

5 Stages of Manager Soul Loss pdfFive stages of manager soul loss

How to Answer the Question You Can't Answer

How to Answer the Question You Can’t Answer

Does this happen to you? You diligently prepare for an important meeting. You cover all your bases.  And then here it comes, the question you can’t answer.

What you say next matters—a lot. It’s tragic to see smart, well-intentioned leaders flounder with a weak answer to a tough question.

Don’t lose credibility by guessing with confidence (e.g. making stuff up and acting like it’s true), talking in circles around the issue (without saying anything of substance), or answering the question they can’t answer with a question, hoping to deflect and distract.

The next time you get a question you can’t answer, try these credibility-enhancing techniques.

6 Simple Ways to Answer the Question You Can’t Answer

  1. Tell The Truth.  Never, ever make stuff up. Forget the spin. Say what you don’t know and offer to get back to them AFTER you’ve done your homework.  If you can’t disclose everything, explain why.
  2. Anticipate and Prepare. Want to get good at tough questions? Make them less tough. Anticipate questions you’ll be asked and put them into categories. Do your homework and get smarter. Dry run your presentation with a few friendlies and ask for their toughest questions. Pre-empt a few tough questions by saying, “Now, if I were you I would be wondering…” Instant credibility win.
  3. Pause. That awkward is likely your issue, not theirs. Better to have a moment of pause with a good answer, than a quick moment of stupidity.
  4. Repeat the Question. Sometimes questions feel tough because they’re long, convoluted or unclear. Summarize the question back in the simplest terms. It will show you are listening, you’ve got them, and give you a moment to prepare.
  5. Don’t Repeat Yourself. Every now and then, people use tough questions as traps. Just say, “I believe I answered that before” with a quick summary response.
  6. Keep Your Cool. Don’t get riled up. Take the high road and keep your cool. Your best answer will never be given from the Amygdala brain. Breathe.

When you role model a prepared, calm and honest approach to tough questions, your team learns it’s okay to not know. And gets better at working on answers together.

how to manage the most difficult stakeholders

How to Manage the Most Difficult Stakeholders

Difficult stakeholders are a chance to grow your influence.

You look at the phone and your heart sinks. It’s the night before you’re supposed to wrap up your assignment and brief the leadership team on what you’ve done. It’s Bruce, a charismatic VP –and one of your difficult stakeholders – calling.

You answer the phone and cringe as you hear, “Listen, I’ve had some thoughts about this project and it’s important that we get it right.”

You don’t disagree – you do need to get it right, but the time for this conversation was a week ago. Now you face telling a key stakeholder “no” or launching a major fire drill to incorporate all their suggestions, rewrite the presentation, and then deal with the fallout from other stakeholders who already shared their input.

The Reality of Difficult Stakeholders

Difficult stakeholders come in many flavors.

Where Bruce was difficult because he wasn’t involved soon enough, you’ve probably had stakeholders who were over-involved; who you informed, but they couldn’t process what you’d told them; who had a different agenda, but never revealed it; stakeholders who never understood what you were doing; others who were just – difficult.

Your success requires you to partner and collaborate with a wide range of people who have a stake in what you do. Navigate your difficult stakeholders well and you can build a career of influence and impact.

One Key Truth About Your Difficult Stakeholders

Nate was the President of a large urban school board. During a tumultuous time of change, David asked Nate for his thoughts on the controversies. Nate replied, “Well, schools are entrusted with people’s children and with people’s money. Those are two of the most important things to most folks. How could it not be controversial?”

This is an important perspective to keep in mind as you navigate your difficult stakeholders. Your work affects them and their success, so it’s natural that they will have concerns about what you do.

They’re not trying to be difficult. They’re trying to succeed.

How to Manage the Most Difficult Stakeholders

1. Choose Effective, Not Right

Leaders often get stuck because they can’t see past their own “rightness” and do the things that will help them be effective and get the results they want. You may have given Bruce a chance to have input earlier in the process, but clearly, it didn’t work.

If Donna’s feeling stressed and asks you for updates so often that it’s slowing down your work, then the way you’ve been communicating isn’t working. You may have been “right” in that you updated her, but you haven’t yet been effective.

Set aside right, and focus on how you can be effective with your difficult stakeholders.

2. Breathe

When you feel overlooked, slighted, ignored, devalued, or taken for granted it’s normal to be angry and ask “Why are they doing this to me?”

Take a moment to breathe and remind yourself that the other person’s actions aren’t about you. They’re trying to do the best they can with what they have. They didn’t wake up that morning thinking about how to make you angry.

If you need to take a few minutes to collect yourself, do it. You’re better off entering the conversation in a calm state of mind.

3. Find Empathy

Empathy is the most effective way to help you become more effective with your challenging stakeholders. Try to see the world from their perspective. When you can understand why they act the way they do, you are in a better position to come up with constructive solutions.

Perhaps Bruce is juggling three major strategic initiatives that consume his attention. He lives in the mental world of opportunity and “What could be” and doesn’t feel tied down by arbitrary due dates. He also cares – a lot.

Maybe Donna is a CEO looking at the bottom line and concerned about the volatility of your three biggest customers. Last summer you stuck with a supplier longer than you probably should have and quality suffered. She didn’t hear it from you but got a call from one of those big three customers asking what was going on.

If you’re not sure what the world looks like from their perspective, you can always ask. eg: “What is most important about this assignment? I want to make sure we nail it – can you help me understand how this fits into the big picture?”

4. Seek Self-Awareness

After empathy, this is another vital element of navigating your relationships with your difficult stakeholders. Moreover, they’re not the only “difficult” person in the mix. From their perspective, you might be the difficult one. As David is fond of saying, “We are all someone else’s knucklehead.”

We worked with a smart financial controller who was running into problems with key stakeholders because his answer to every question was an intricate, detailed, analytic exploration of twenty years’ history of the subject at hand. Naturally, his answers frustrated stakeholders who just wanted to know if the new policy would take a week or a month to implement.

The controller cared. He thought the background would be helpful to others the way it was helpful to him. When he realized how he was coming across, he could choose a different style.

5. Help Them Win

Once you know what your difficult stakeholders want, try to work with them in a way that helps them achieve their wins. Donna’s win is hanging onto those three customers. How does your work contribute to that outcome? How can you give her the confidence that you understand and are working to make that happen?

As Zig Ziglar famously said, “You will get all you want in life, if you help enough other people get what they want.”

6. Inform Intelligently

Different people need different information – differently. Remember, you want to be effective, not right. It does no good to send a monthly email when you know your key stakeholder receives information verbally and can give you a response quickly if you’ll just walk down the hall or pick up your phone.

Do they need the full backstory or a quick summary of what happened and what you need? Do they want hourly updates or a weekly summary? Give people the information they need in the way they need it and your relationship will improve.

This is where many leaders get caught in the trap of being “right” but not effective. Just because you sent an email doesn’t mean you’ve communicated. See how Karin learned this the hard way

7. Plan Engagement

When you know that a key stakeholder is likely to engage too late, too often, or not at all, you can plan an intentional way to get their attention and input.

For someone like Bruce, who you know will wait until the last minute to get involved, move the finish line. Specifically, seek him out eg “Bruce, can we talk for five minutes – you’ve got something valuable to offer here.” Tell him how much you value his perspective, and that you would love his input. If he doesn’t have thoughts now, give him a deadline that still allows you to get it done. This conversation is best in person or by phone/video conference.

Yes, it takes a little extra effort compared to the wiki where everyone else is contributing, but the alternative is that dreaded phone call the night before. Savvy leaders know their stakeholders and get them involved when it makes the most sense.

8. Ditch the Diaper Drama

If you’re new to this concept, we’re talking about getting real and speaking the truth.

Sometimes the best way to address a difficult stakeholder is to have a connected, real conversation. Some examples might include:

“I noticed that you withdrew your support for the decision we agreed to last week. I want to rely on our agreements with one another – I’m curious, what’s going on?”

“It seems like we might not be on the same page here. I want to make sure we both succeed here. I’m curious about what success looks like from your perspective?”

Your Turn

Navigating and managing difficult stakeholders takes empathy, awareness, and practice. This is where you can distinguish your leadership or descend into a whirlpool of frustration. Leave us a comment and share your best strategy for engaging with difficult stakeholders.

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Creative Commons photo by Russ

The Surprising Way to Focus Your Team on the Fundamentals

The Surprising Way to Focus Your Team on Fundamentals

Why focus on the fundamentals?

When I was defending my master’s thesis over 25 years ago, one particularly snotty professor (who had never actually worked in an organization outside of academia) leaned back in his chair and smirked, “It strikes me that research of this type is ‘either trivial or obvious.'”

At the time I was hurt, frustrated, and I thought my advisor (who had spent many late nights with me pouring over the data) was going to throw a chair at him.

I’ll spare you the defensive rant here, but I will share how those four words still haunt me every time I step on a keynote stage or pull the research together for our new book.

What if this approach is “trivial or obvious?” What if they’ve heard something similar before? What if this just confirms what they already know?

Is what I’m saying truly helpful?

The Surprising Value of Obvious Insights -Adam Grant

And today, I stumbled across Adam Grant’s article in the Sloan Management Review, The Surprising Value of Obvious Insights.

The article is definitely worth a read, but if you want a quick spoiler here’s what Adam said on LinkedIn.

When people are resistant to change, instead of pitching new ideas, lead with obvious ones. I’ve learned that once you validate some intuitions, you earn the legitimacy to challenge others. You don’t have to say something new if you say something true.

And my response.

@Adam Grant This is so true, and an important read. Your example of new hire onboarding is spot on. Most managers know the basics. If you asked, “Do you think it would be helpful to take your new hire to lunch on the first day?” I imagine most managers would say “yes.” But how many actually do that?  In our work with organizations, one of the concepts we share that seems totally obvious is what we call a “check for understanding” (essentially have the employee share back what they heard you say to ensure that they’re picking up what you are putting down). 

Not earthshattering. Not new. But when we go back and see which behaviors were most transformational and had the biggest impact on results, pretty much in every program we do, “check for understanding” is in the top 3 (even among very senior teams).

This concept was so basic to me that as we were writing our book, I argued with my co-author David Dye that it was just too simple to put in. I gave in. We kept it in. And as it turns out, that was helpful to folks.

When it comes to helping leaders grow, we’ve found that its so important to ensure the fundamentals are in place, and not to assume that because managers KNOW the basics, that they actually lead that way.

A Surprisingly Easy Way to Get Your Team to Focus on the Fundamentals

Which got me to thinking about you.

What if your team already knows what to do?  What if what you really need to take your performance to the next level is not new ideas, but executing well on what you already know?

Here’s an easy focus on the fundamentals exercise you can try with your team.

A check for understanding per se.

Pick a topic and ask for their best thinking on the topic. What do they already know how to do?

  • Ask a group of team leaders, “What are the fundamental management behaviors that if we did consistently every day would take our performance to the next level?”
  • Talk with a group of contact center agents, “What do our customers want most from us? What can we do on every call to ensure we provide that?”
  • Brainstorm with a group of service technicians, “What makes for a great service call?”

Give everyone sticky notes or index cards and ask them to come up with the most foundational truths they believe about the topic (and write down one idea per card).

Then have them work together to group the fundamental truths into themes.

Pick the fundamental truths that everyone agrees on, and then start a “How can we?” conversation.

If we know this is what works, how can we ensure we do this every day?

Your turn. What’s your favorite way to keep your team focused on the fundamentals?

how to respond when you can't use an idea

How to Respond When You Can’t Use an Idea

When You Can’t Use an Idea, Pivot to Get More Ideas

“I need people to think.” Mattias, the CEO of a mid-sized human service provider, leaned back in his chair and sighed. “They have all kinds of ideas that just don’t work. The market’s changing and it’s like no one gets it. I hear you, I should listen, but what do I do when I can’t use an idea?”

Have you ever been in Mattias’s shoes? Your team has all kinds of ideas, but they’re ill-informed, off-target, or are just bad (it’s okay–just between us, we know it may have been a bad idea.)

The problem when you can’t use an idea because it’s bad or won’t work is that it’s often the first idea someone has. If you respond poorly to the idea you can’t use, you won’t get the ideas you can use.

This was Mattias’s problem. When people brought him an imperfect idea, he would get frustrated, tell them why it wouldn’t work and shoo them out of his office. They never came back.

Six Ways to Respond When You Can’t Use An Idea

1. Say Thank You

You get more of what you encourage and celebrate, less of what you criticize or ignore. If you want people thinking more deeply, thank them for it (even if it’s not quite as deep as you would have liked.)

Eg: “Thank you for taking the time to think about what would create a better experience for our customer. I really appreciate you putting your thoughts together and thinking deeply about this.”

2. Explain What Happened

Share the process. If you were able to trial their idea, focus-group it, or do anything with it, let them know what happened. What problems did it run into? Were there competing priorities? Did the solution break down or prove impractical during testing? Take a few seconds to respond and close the loop. It will energize the person who shared their idea–even if you couldn’t use it.

3. Clarify Your Focus

When you consistently get ideas that are off target or don’t support strategic priorities, it’s a sure sign that you haven’t communicated those priorities clearly. Clarify the answers to these questions:

  • What matters most right now?
  • What ideas will help most?
  • What will good ideas achieve when you put them to work?

Eg: “Our priority for the next quarter is to achieve 100% on-time delivery. We need ideas about how we speed up our QA process without compromising quality along with suggestions to decrease order assignment times.”

Use 5×5 communication when it’s important – share key messages five times, five different ways.

4. Ask How It Works

If you’ve shared the focus, checked for understanding, and someone brings you an idea that seems way off target, resist the urge to chastise them. Instead, use it as an opportunity for a micro-coaching session. Ask them how their idea will help achieve the goal. Taking a moment to be curious can help uncover great ideas or help a team member understand what a great idea looks like.

Eg: “Thanks for thinking about this with us. Can you walk me through how your idea would help us achieve 100% on-time delivery?”

You’ll get different answers to this question. Some will say, “Oh, I hadn’t really thought it through.” In which case you can reply “I’d love to get your thoughts one you’ve had a chance to think it through.”

At other times, they might surprise you with a linkage or explanation that you didn’t see.

5. Share Information

When you can’t use an idea, the problem might be that the person doesn’t have enough information to make a good suggestion. What information can you add that will help them think more deeply about the issue?

Do they need budget data or to better understand how their work fits into the bigger picture? Maybe they need comparative data from other departments or process.

Give them the information they need to think more strategically.

6. Invite More Ideas

Once you’ve clarified the focus and given them more information, invite them to keep thinking and to share what they come up with.

Eg: “Thanks for thinking about this with us. We tried a similar idea last year and ran into a problem – the QA team wasn’t learning about projects with enough lead time. If you have thoughts about a way to implement your suggestion and solve the lead time issue, I’d love to hear what you come up with.”

Your Turn

When you get an idea you can’t use, it’s an opportunity to help people think more deeply and to get even better thoughts. Leave a comment and share your best suggestion for how to respond when you get an idea you can’t use.


Courageous Cultures survey

Do you treat team communication like pornography?

Are You Treating Team Communication Like Pornography?

Unclear expectations for team communication kill productivity.

When we work with leaders to help them build more effective organizations, we do a quick assessment of their team communication. Let’s check in on your team: How would you answer the following two questions?

  • Do we have clear, shared expectations regarding timely responses to emails, voice messages, and texts?
  • Do we respond to emails, calls, and texts in a timely manner?

If you’re like most leaders, your answers are “no” and “sort of” as in:

  • “No, we don’t really have shared expectations regarding timely responses.”
  • “We sort of respond in a timely manner – mostly to texts, but not as much with emails and calls.”

The problem is obvious: how can you get back to people in a timely manner if no one agrees what that means?

It’s like the famous definition of pornography US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart used: “I know it when I see it.”

Team Communication Frustrations

The problem with using an “I know it when I see it” standard for your timely team communication is that people have widely varying expectations for “timely.”

For example, Mary expects someone to return emails within four hours while Joe believes 24 hours is responsive. Now Mary is frustrated and feels disrespected, Joe missed an opportunity for a colleague to see and value his work, and the work languishes.

Another common example is instant messaging. Shantel closes the chat app to finish a project and meet a deadline. In the meantime, her colleagues discuss a project and choose a new solution without her input. When Shantel asks them why they didn’t consult her, they say, “It was all on the thread, we thought you’d chime in if you had anything.”

You can avoid this wasted emotional energy and lost productivity when you help your team or organization create shared expectations for team communication.

Ten Minutes of Clarity, Weeks of Productivity

There is no perfect set of communication expectations. What will make the most sense for your team and the work you do? It usually only takes ten minutes to discuss and establish shared communication expectations.

Here are a few examples of team communication expectations:

  • We will reply to texts at the next available opportunity, but not between 7:00 pm and 7:00 am.
  • If the phone rings after 8:00 pm it is an emergency and we need to take the call.
  • We will read and reply to emails within 24 hours.
  • If an email requires a response, note that and the timeframe in the subject line.
  • We will check and return voicemail once in the morning and once in the afternoon.
  • We exchange information with chat and project software. We will save decisions for voice conversations.
  • We do not respond to email or texts sent after 7:00 pm or before 7:00 am unless flagged as an emergency.

Your Turn

Clear shared communication expectations allow your team to focus, eliminate misunderstandings, and raise morale. Leave us a comment and share a best practice for communication at work.

3 problems with open door policy

3 Problems with Your Open Door Policy and What To Do Instead

An open door policy doesn’t get you what you need to lead.

The intent behind your open door policy is good: a door that is figuratively always open to encourage transparency, open lines of communication, a standing invitation for your employees to bring you issues that affect them or their work.

The intent is good, but the reality is more complicated. In fact, your open door policy may be causing your team more harm than good and limiting your leadership.

3 Problems With Your Open Door Policy 

1. Your Door is Literally Always Open.

An open door policy doesn’t mean you are constantly interruptible. Constant interruption prevents you from thinking deeply and serving your team in the ways only you can. If you allow a constant barrage of “Gotta minute?” to obliterate your day, you won’t be able to lead your team anywhere.

An open door policy doesn’t mean your door (if you have one) is literally open all the time. We helped one senior leader overcome this challenge by defining 90 minutes of deep-think time in the morning and again in the afternoon where everyone committed not to interrupt anyone else unless it was an emergency.

That may not work in your setting, but the principle is important. How can you give yourself and your team the space to focus?

2. You Don’t Get All the Information You Need.

Your people know things you need to know. They can spot problems before they spin out of control. They know what irritates your customers. They’ve already created micro-innovations to be more productive and better serve your customers. They’re your greatest asset – but only if you hear what they have to say.

Problem-solving innovation isn’t going to walk through your open door. [Tweet This]

Most of the information that will walk through your open door are complaints. There’s nothing wrong with this necessarily. You need to be aware of problems – especially those that create a hostile workplace.

An open door policy isn’t enough. Occasionally, you’ll have someone walk through your open door with a great idea. I’ve had it happen. But most of the great ideas will stay locked in your employees’ minds.

To get the information you need to make the best decisions, you’ve got to intentionally go ask for it. Most employees are busy doing their jobs. They may not even realize they have experience or wisdom worth sharing. If they do have insights, they may believe you’re not interested in hearing them, no matter how many times you talk about your open door policy.

Take the initiative and seek out the information you need. Regularly ask your team how things are going, how you can help them to do their job more effectively or serve the customer, or what’s getting in their way. Ask them to teach you how they do their work.

3. You’re Not Strategic.

The final leadership problem with an open door policy is that it puts you in a reactive mode. You’re not thinking strategically about what will move your team or the business forward. You’re waiting and responding to the issues that come to you.

I’m not suggesting that you don’t respond to problems that people bring to you. Rather, if you’re leading strategically and moving things forward, you are more likely to have surfaced and solved these issues long before they surface as complaints or distractions.

Most employees aren’t asked to think strategically in their normal work, so the problems they bring you won’t be strategic either. To help your team think strategically, give them the information they need to make strategic decisions. Help them understand how the business makes money and impact and how they’re work contributes to the bigger picture. Facilitate Own the UGLY discussions to help find the game-changing opportunities and challenges long before they would walk through your open door.

Your Turn

Your open door policy can be a foundation for trust, transparency, and communication, but there’s a danger if you let it make you passive and reactive. Leave us a comment and share How do you maintain a strategic focus for your team and solve problems before they become bigger problems?

one easy way to have more influence

One Easy Way to Have More Influence

More influence isn’t always about what you say.

I knew Gary wasn’t happy.

During my first time in a mid-level management role, one of my team leaders was clearly struggling. He looked frustrated, sounded frustrated, and it didn’t take a genius to know something was bothering Gary.

So I asked if I could get him coffee and hear what was on his mind.

He sipped a cappuccino and shared his troubles: he’d been disrespected and abused by a senior manager, his team wasn’t doing as well as he hoped, he wasn’t sure the company’s vision matched his own, and so on.

Gary appreciated my invitation to coffee and the opportunity to be heard. Then I tried to be helpful.

He was halfway through his first issue when I interrupted and offered solutions, tried to help him see the issue or person differently, or pointed out where he might be responsible.

Finally, he looked at me and said, “David! You asked me how I was feeling and what’s bothering me…quit arguing. I’m just trying to answer your question.”

He had a point.

A Common Influence Mistake

Gary might have needed help, or it could be that just talking through what was bothering him would do the trick. Your team may need help, but you won’t be able to help them if you make the same critical leadership mistake I did.

I didn’t keep my mouth shut long enough. I wasn’t truly present with Gary. I had jumped ahead to my own response.

Most leaders think of influence as talking – or maybe leading by example. We see rousing speeches in movies, we remember key pieces of advice we’ve heard from our mentors, and we know we have something worthwhile to share. However, when you think of influence only in terms of what you say, you leave out the most critical piece:

Listening.

A Columbia Business School study found that when it comes to influencing others, your listening skills outrank your verbal ability. It makes sense. Listening builds trust and helps you get the information you need to offer your conversation partner what they most need.

When it comes to helping someone, good intentions don’t make the difference. Effective action, what you do that works, means everything. I’d intended to help, but in my youthful rush to show what I knew and be valuable, I’d missed the most important thing I could have done.

5 Ways to Listen Influentially

Your team needs you to regularly ask, “How can I help?” When you ask, be sure to really listen. Here are a few tips to improve your listening skills and build your influence.

1. Put down the phone.

Seriously. Put it on silent, put it face down or stash it in a bag. Get rid of it.

You simply can’t give someone your full attention with the mental stimulation of email, voice messages, and texts. Put it away and focus on the person.

2. Maintain eye contact.

Don’t be creepy, but maintain eye contact. For that time, there is nothing else going on and no one else in the world, but the person you’re talking to.

3. Empathize

Empathy communicates that you understand how the other person feels. You’re not agreeing or sanctioning – just recognizing their emotions. For example:

  • “That must have been frustrating.”
  • “Sounds like you felt like no one else cared?”
  • “That would be upsetting.”
  • “Wow – you must have been excited.”

4. Summarize

Before going any farther, take a moment to check for understanding about what the other person said. Use your own words and ask if you’ve got it right. If not, ask questions or encourage them to help you get it. Fully connect with their emotions and thoughts. Until you’ve done that, you haven’t listened.

5. Ask permission.

Once you’ve fully connected to the emotion and the thought, if you feel you have something helpful to add to the conversation, ask permission to share it. This is a huge integrity move and demonstrates tremendous respect for the other person.

It doesn’t have to be complicated. Something like, “I appreciate you trusting me enough to share those things. Would you be interested in hearing ways you might address that or is it enough to get it off your chest?”

Your Turn

When you fully connect and have acknowledged the other person’s dignity, then you’re in a position to be truly helpful. Leave us a comment and share a time when you were influenced by a powerful listener, or your best practice to ensure others are heard.

7 Icebreaker Questions to Melt Frustration and Build Trust

7 Icebreaker Questions to Melt Frustration and Build Trust

Done well, an icebreaker can be valuable & strategic.

If the word “icebreaker” conjures up images of toothpicks and marshmallows and other fluffy activities that feel like a waste of time, you’re not alone.

We’re not huge fans of icebreaking without meaning.

But before you throw your ice out with the ice water, consider this. What if you began your team meeting with one strategic question to get your team talking about a topic that really mattered? After all, great meetings accomplish more than the task at hand, they make the team stronger.

Why not give it a try? Pick one question and send it out in advance with your meeting agenda so your introverts have a minute to think. And then open your next meeting with a bit of connected discussion on that topic. You’ll get the team talking about ways to make the team stronger, and as a bonus, you might be surprised how much more smoothly and efficiently the rest of the meeting goes.

Here are few to get you started.

7 Icebreaker Questions to Start Your Meeting

What one strength do you bring to the team that you wish others would truly see and appreciate?

Why it’s important: Whenever we ask this icebreaker question in one of our training programs, there’s always a lot of emotion behind the answer. People want to be seen for their gifts and the contributions they bring to the team. And almost everyone feels overlooked about something. By asking this question, you give people an opportunity to share something they are proud of. And of course, most of the time, the rest of the team will chime in with some affirmation, “Oh YOU ARE really good at that! Thank you.”

What is the most important thing you are working on this quarter? How can we support your success in this arena?

Why it’s important: Getting your team talking about their MITs is one of the best ways to build alignment and support. This question is particularly useful in teams where there are conflicting priorities. Often team members are reluctant to ask for help because they know “everyone is busy.” Try carving out a little space for teams to ask for the support they need, and watch how quickly people jump in with ideas of how they can help. Sometimes it’s the simplest ideas that can save a lot of time and get the team working better together.

Who went out of their way to help you this week? What did they do and why was it so helpful?

Why it’s important: There’s a 2-for-1 benefit on this icebreaker. Of course, it’s always good to give people an opportunity to say “thank you.” And, if you send this out in the agenda the week before, no one wants to be the guy at the meeting that’s not mentioned. Chances are the team will be a little extra focused on supporting one another that week. It will feel good to be recognized for it, AND you get more of what you recognize and celebrate, so the cycle continues.

How do you like to be recognized when you do something notable?

Why it’s important: The best recognition is specific, timely and most importantly, meaningful to the receiver. The best way to know how people like to be recognized is to ask. When you ask in front of the team, you give everyone a chance to hear and reinforce the point that celebrating success is everyone’s job and that different people receive encouragement in different ways.

What’s one aspect of your job that really frustrates you. What’s one idea you have for making that easier?

Why it’s important: This is a great way to get your team to eliminate FOSU and shift to a “How can we?” mindset. Everyone’s frustrated about something. Healthy teams talk about what’s not working and work together to find solutions.

What’s your very best idea (or best practice) for improving the customer experience (can also include internal customers)?

Why it’s important: In almost any team we ever work with, there are FANTASTIC best practices taking place and GREAT ideas, that people are just moving too fast to share. If you want your team to share best practices and share their ideas, ask.

BONUS: Click here for more ideas on uncovering your team’s best practices.

What’s one area where you would like more feedback from this team?

Why it’s important: It’s really hard to give your peers unsolicited feedback, and most people don’t. But if you invite people to ask, then the door is open, and team members are more likely to share.

Your Turn

Leave us a comment and share: What ideas do you have for great icebreaker questions to melt frustration and build trust?

 

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