Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Why listen

Here is Kevin Sharer, CEO of biotech giant Amgen, recounting the events that spurred him to become a better listener:
The best advice he ever got to listen better is to have only one objective when listening: understand what the other person is trying to convey to me.  His "bandwidth" for listening increased when he realized there will be time later to persuade or critique.

What about you? Can you let go of your own plans to argue convince, or object and use your listening time to focus on comprehension?

Monday, October 8, 2012

Do we have to "normalize discomfort" to create a feedback culture?

In her interview with the Washington Post, University of Houston Professor and author of Daring Greatly Dr. Brené Brown states, "the most common criticism (HR People) hear [from people leaving their jobs] is, 'I never got any feedback.'"

Most managers and leaders with whom I meet and who I coach or train have no idea how to give feedback, or they assume that feedback is only something one does when one must take corrective action.  As Dr. Brown says, when most managers gave feedback it "was corrective. It was fast and not meaningful, and it was blaming."

We must give feedback frequently -- and look for opportunities to appreciate what people do -- to be heard when we have to correct a performance shortfall. Dr. Brown describes a "feedback culture where discomfort is normalized." But most of us don't want to normalize discomfort; we want to avoid discomfort at all costs! What we fail to realize is that avoidance leads to future much more uncomfortable conversations when things are so bad we have to say something -- and we're emotional about it and therefore less likely to speak calmly (which leads the other person to respond with their own negative emotions, which block them from fully hearing us).

So how can we "normalize discomfort"? First, give feedback when things are going well -- let people know what's working and why you appreciate them.

Second, when giving corrective feedback test yourself with two questions:
  1. am I just venting, or, if I truly want to see a change, am I feeling strong emotions when I think about it?
  2. can I define the changed behavior I seek clearly and concretely?

If you're venting, feeling emotional, or unable to define the future state you seek, now is not the time to give feedback.

Third, ensure your corrective feedback is given "respectfully and wholeheartedly" and tied into the organization's mission and goals. Feedback is critical for your best employees, your good employees, and your adequate employees (those not adequate should be moved out) because it keeps everyone focused on the purpose of their work, provides inspiration, and facilitates self-motivation.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Stop talking!

Have you tried to persuade people to change behaviors? What methods are you using? If you're like most people, you've probably talked. And talked, and talked. I'm sure you've been very logical. I've no doubt you were quite sincere.  And maybe you persuaded your target to change a behavior -- eat less, walk more, collaborate with peers, speak up in meetings, avoid interrupting others. They followed your heartfelt good advice . . . for about a week. And now they are back to their previous behaviors.

Few people are persuaded by logic. Talking rarely works. So what does? How about changing the environment?
What is in your environment that encourages the behaviors you seek? What is in the environment that discourages the behaviors you seek?

Take a look around and let us know.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Help your manager handle conflict well

Today's Human Resource Executive Online presents a survey that shows that 41% of "employees think the person to whom they report does not deal well with workplace conflicts. In fact, of 20 managerial behaviors that the survey asked respondents to rate how much they trusted their immediate supervisor to master, handling workplace conflicts ranked last in the survey."

While managers should learn to both resolve conflicts and to coach their teams to resolve internal conflicts, employees can go a long way toward helping their managers do so by following these steps: 

  1. Before bringing a conflict to your manager, work to resolve it on your own. Have you looked at the issue from the side of the other party?  Have you fully listened to and understood his/her concerns?  Have you found ways to help the other party hear yours?
  2. When bringing a conflict to your manager, remember to bring the fullest story you can -- not just your own perspective but also what you understand the other party's perspective to be. There's no point in sending your manager off in a huff to confront the other party, then having him or her return to you with the other party's story. This would lead your manager to see you as manipulative. Your manager needs to see you as a partner, not a whiner.
  3. Approach your manager from the perspective of a collaborator, not a needy conflict-avoider: you want to resolve the conflict productively and you would like to ask for his help.  You respect your manager's time and have tried all you can think of to resolve the conflict on your own.
  4. Don't just drop the problem in your manager's lap but instead come prepared to suggest two or three solutions.
As much as possible, leave personal issues out of the message -- it doesn't matter if you think the other party is a jerk. What you need from your boss is help managing the problem, not the person.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Absence makes the team grow stronger, part 3

This screencast was created for a course titled, Leading Virtual and Global Teams and may refer to an assignment. Please be sure to view parts 1 and 2 of this series for full information. Source: Can Absence Make a Team Grow Stronger? By Ann Majchrzak, Arvind Malhotra, Jeffrey Stamps, and Jessica Lipnak © 2004 Harvard Business School Publishing Running time: 00:04:45

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Absence makes the team grow stronger, part 2

Part 2 of 3 This screencast was created for students in a course titled, Leading Virtual and Global Teams. Running time: 00:04:28 Please be sure to view parts 1 and 3 (soon to be released) of this series for full information. Source: Can Absence Make a Team Grow Stronger? By Ann Majchrzak, Arvind Malhotra, Jeffrey Stamps, and Jessica Lipnak © 2004 Harvard Business School Publishing

Thursday, May 17, 2012

How to be professional online

Many of us, particularly those of us over age 40, struggle with knowing what is "appropriate" to post online: everything we do is available to everyone.  Whether I post a tweet, to my facebook page, my LinkedIn page, or I comment on someone else's blog, that information is available to current colleagues, potential clients, my children, my neighbors, and anyone else who cares to notice.

I grew up in a generation that was taught to be careful what we discussed at work -- certain topics were clearly unprofessional (sex, religion, and politics were the big 3 no no's), while others we should gear toward our audience. I might discuss my garden with a colleague who also gardens, but I wouldn't discuss energy conservation with a colleague driving an SUV -- he'd view me as sanctimonious, which could hurt our future dealings.  Good old fashioned New England culture (like the Brits they came from) teaches that sometimes it's best to turn a blind eye to the differences between us.

So, do I write a rant about water use on my Facebook page, presumably a place only my friends would look, and keep my blog and twitter feeds focused on business?  That's been my practice, but I'm not sure it really matters given how whatever I write will show up in any search.

Allison Fine has some good advice for those of us who did not grow up believing it's best to share everything about ourselves with everyone in her article for the Harvard Business Review, "What Does 'Professional' Look Like Today?"

Here's a summary of her ideas:

Friday, April 20, 2012

Do the difficult right, rather than the easy wrong

You know how it seems harmless to tell your assistant to tell a caller you're avoiding that you're out to lunch?  Or, when your kid answers the phone and it's a telemarketer, have the kid say you're not home?  Are these little while lies really a problem?  Well, as Dave Anderson says in a recent Success Magazine article, “If you really are unavailable, there’s no need to have your assistant say you’ve stepped out,” he says. “Just say you’re not available.”

Why, when it's so much easier to tell a fib?  The caller will never know.

True, but what have you taught your assistant, or your child, about what to say to you when what they have to say is too hard?  What will your assistant tell you when he misses a deadline?  Will he blame a vendor, or admit that he'd underestimated the time needed? 

So many of my kids' friends had facebook pages before they were 13 (the minimum age).  If we parents allow our children to misrepresent themselves at 13, will we let them write on their college application that they were captain of the soccer team when they were a member of the team?  Will they write on a job application that they were a Navy Seal when they were in the Navy but not a Seal teammember?

It's hard to think about repurcussions sometimes.  What do you do to ensure you do the difficult right and keep yourself from doing the easy wrong?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

How do we measure business success?

How do we measure personal success? I've discussed in this blog that so many leaders assume that employees measure their success by their paycheck, when in fact, people focus on this metric only when it's raise time or when they hear other people are earning more than they. What about businesses? Isn't profit the obvious metric for the success of a business?

Not according to our youngest graduates: "92% of millennials say in a survey that a company's success should be measured by more than profit." What metric are they using?

They are looking at the business' influence and impact on society and the environment. They have higher standards than those currently running those businesses. What behavior will they force on their employers and in what ways can we expect a better world as they develop in their careers?

Monday, March 19, 2012

What is the purpose of a business?

One of my favorite HBS professors, Earl Sasser, asked that question of our class (in 1989) . A student replied that it was to provide a return to our shareholders commensurate with the risk they accepted.

Professor Sasser said, "Providing value to shareholders is one purpose of a business, but it is only one. And as a purpose it comes after these: to provide value to the communities within which it operates, to its employees, and to the larger world."

A hush fell over the classroom and I realized that no one had thought of that before. I figured it must be important so I wrote it down on a little piece of paper, put it in the briefcase I bought at graduation, and carried it for at least 10 years -- until the briefcase was destroyed in a flood.

Today's new graduates are less likely to be as shocked by Professor Sasser's assertion that businesses are not solely about investor returns. In a survey of more than 1,000 of its employees born after 1981, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu found that when respondents were asked to name three terms that encapsulate the purpose of business, 51% cited societal development and only 39% cited profit.

What are the implications for a society that sees the advancement of that society as the main purpose of daily life (which, really, is what business encapsulates for the vast majority of people -- it is our daily life to open our stores, teach students, raise crops, build cars, etc.)?

I can't wait to see.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

We are teachers all the time . . .

How powerful are models? Very powerful. The folks at Crucial Skills provide a great example: They sent a researcher to cut in a long line at the movie theater in front of another research associate who was pretending to wait in line. The research associate politely said, "I'm sorry, perhaps you're unaware. We've been standing in line for half an hour." The line cutter apologized and moved to the end of the line.

How did this modeling change others' behavior?

"We then waited a few minutes and cut in front of the person who was standing just behind our research associate who spoke up. Would the subjects take their cue from the person who said something? . . . 85 percent of the observers said the exact same thing when one of our colleagues cut in front of them.

Demonstrating a simple, polite, and apparently effective script provided observers with the motive to step up to a problem they normally would have avoided. Individuals who would normally have said nothing, once exposed to a positive example now spoke their minds."

When someone speaks over others in a meeting at work (the equivalent of cutting the line), speak up! Respectfully and calmly say, "I'd like to hear the rest of So 'n So's comments and then hear yours. Would you please let her finish?" You will find that most everyone in the room not only appreciates it, but are willing to step in the next time.

How about you? Have you ever seen people take important actions to help a group overcome an individual's misbehavior? Has that action led to others' actions that support the group's working together?

Friday, March 9, 2012

Pick up the phone!

When you must communicate something emotional, pick up the phone or, if possible, arrange a face-to-face meeting.

"In one study participants thought that their sarcasm would be communicated 80% of the time. Face-to-face this was accurate, but over email the actual figure was 56%.

This overconfidence was also seen when people tried to communicate anger, sadness, seriousness and humour in an email. Without body language cues, it's hard to communicate more than literal meanings."

While emoticons are fun and can be helpful, they do not convey the breadth of emotion we convey in our body and facial language. If you must criticize, complain, or negotiate, try to get a face to face meeting with the other party. If that's not possible, at least use the phone where tone of voice cues help convey emotion. As a last resort, try a visual email tool, such as eyejot.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Every email costs 1 minute of distraction (in addition to reading and response time)

In a report of several studies of email use, presents compelling reasons to limit email use:
1) every time we open an email, we need at least a minute to get our minds back to what we were working on previously
2) we open email far more frequently than we believe we do, with most people checking email every 5 minutes.

The report says we spend 23% of our work day checking email, or 110 minutes in an 8-hour work day. I'm not sure how many discreet emails this assumes, so I can't estimate how many minutes we spend getting our minds back into the task we were focused on before we opened email. However, I'm betting it's close to an hour.

Use email as a effectiveness and efficiency tool, not as a drain on your time and energy, by setting your email notification to 45 minutes rather than 5 (or immediate!) and disciplining yourself to check email only then.

Let me know how this works for you!

Monday, March 5, 2012

noncash motivators are more effective than financial incentives

"Three noncash motivators—praise from immediate managers, leadership attention and a chance to lead projects or task forces—are . . . even more effective motivators than the three highest-rated financial incentives: cash bonuses, increased base pay, and stock or stock options" according to the McKinsey Quarterly.

As managers we must use these motivators -- we are responsible for creating the context and exploiting opportunities that provide opportunities to employees to lead visible and valuable projects, and for noticing when employees do great work (and therefore praising and giving attention to those employees).

Managers and leaders establish the conditions that enable a person to access his internal motivation by demonstrating non-characterizing, direct, and specific appreciation and by coaching employees whenever possible.

1Dewhurst, M., Guthridge, M., & Mohr, E. (2009, November). Motivating people: Getting beyond money. Retrieved February 25, 2012, from McKinsey Quarterly :

Friday, March 2, 2012

Have a habit you want to break?

If you have a habit you want to break, the key is figuring out the cues that tell your brain to start engaging in whatever the behavior is. According to Charles Duhigg in a NY Times article, "experiments have shown that most cues fit into one of five categories: location, time, emotional state, other people or the immediately preceding action.

When the urge strikes to engage in whatever bad habit you are in, ask yourself:
  1. Where am I?
  2. What time is it?
  3. How do I feel?
  4. Who else is around or what just happened?
Once you have a few data points recorded, you may see patterns. Break the pattern(s), and you are more likely to succeed in breaking the habit. Always smoke after an argument? Try going for a walk. Always eat tortilla chips while watching a football game? Watch the game at a different location -- perhaps a room in which you never eat, or with friends who aren't into salty snacks.

Let me know if it works!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Clearly state desired outcome, then let people make it happen

Itay Talgam, in a Ted talk on leadership, shares short clips of various famous orchestral conductors. In one clip, he presents a very controlling conductor and he tells us that this conductor received a letter signed by all 700+ members of the orchestra that said, “you’re a great conductor. We don’t want to work with you. Please retire.”

Why? When we work under so much control, we can’t develop our own stories. And happiness at work (whether in an orchestra or in an office) "does not come from only (the leader's) own story. The joy comes from enabling other people’s stories to be heard at the same time."

Talgam tells of another conductor who says, "the worst damage I can do to my orchestra is give them clear instructions because that would prevent the ensemble, the listening to each other.”

How do leaders give clear instructions, but not so clear that they stifle their employees' development and commitment?

By ensuring the outcome he desires is clear, that his employees are trained and skilled enough to reach that outcome, and then by trusting and celebrating the way those employees choose to get there. At the very end of Talgam's talk, he presents a conductor who makes none of the typical conductor movements with his hands. He merely watches his orchestra play, his broad smile evidencing his pure enjoyment of their playing.

Talgam tells us, "do without doing."

Saturday, February 25, 2012

How much do retailers know about us?

In this case, Target knew a high school girl was pregant before her father knew:

"About a year after Pole created his pregnancy-prediction model, a man walked into a Target outside Minneapolis and demanded to see the manager. He was clutching coupons that had been sent to his daughter, and he was angry, according to an employee who participated in the conversation.

'My daughter got this in the mail!' he said. 'She’s still in high school, and you’re sending her coupons for baby clothes and cribs? Are you trying to encourage her to get pregnant?'

The manager didn’t have any idea what the man was talking about. He looked at the mailer. Sure enough, it was addressed to the man’s daughter and contained advertisements for maternity clothing, nursery furniture and pictures of smiling infants. The manager apologized and then called a few days later to apologize again.

On the phone, though, the father was somewhat abashed. 'I had a talk with my daughter,' he said. 'It turns out there’s been some activities in my house I haven’t been completely aware of. She’s due in August. I owe you an apology.'"

itemprop="articleBody">I'm not sure what's most concerning: that we're all so predictable, that we get into habits that are so ingrained that we are completely unaware of them, that new habits (and generally ones that aren't great for us) are very easy for us to form when we start them as a result of a marketing outreach, or that retailers -- and everyone else-- knows more about us than we seem to know about ourselves!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Turn on your email at specific times of the day; then turn off

Have you found lately that you might be working intently on something when you hear that little ding or see the number change on your email icon that lets you know there's a new message and suddenly you cannot concentrate?

According to Charles Duhigg in a NY Times article, as soon as we get a signal that we have a new message, "the brain starts anticipating the neurological “pleasure” (even if we don’t recognize it as such) that clicking on the e-mail and reading it provides. That expectation, if unsatisfied, can build until you find yourself moved to distraction by the thought of an e-mail sitting there unread — even if you know, rationally, it’s most likely not important."

You'll save yourself a great deal of time, used up in the mental distraction as well as the physical distraction of clicking away from your work and onto the email, by turning off your email when working on something important. In your day-to-day schedule planning, I strongly recommend turning on your email during specific times, turning it off for a specified length of time, then turning it back on. For example, turn on the email in the morning and deal with important items. Then turn it off for 45 minutes while you focus on other work. Take a break from that work for 15 minutes by walking around for 5 or 10 and checking your email for 5 or 10 minutes. Then repeat. You'll find yourself to be far more productive during those 45 minute stretches.

As Duhigg goes on to say, "once you remove the cue by disabling . . . the chiming of your (email), the craving is never triggered, and you’ll find, over time, that you’re able to work productively for long stretches without checking your in-box."

before you send that email . . .

Email Overload
Created by: Online IT Degree

Monday, February 20, 2012

"Formal hierarchy is a declining construct"

-- Rosabeth Moss Kanter

The new college graduates in managerial positions with whom I've met recently are interested in shared leadership, concensus-building, and cultures that support employee development. They use terms such as "human potential", "shared meaning", and "social good." And they're not smirking when they use them.

In my earliest experiences in management, I worked for companies that would have thought these terms laughable. We expected managers to stay overnight Saturday so that we could save money on their airfare -- even though these managers would have to fly out later Sunday to get to their destination in time for a Monday morning meeting -- leaving them only a few hours on Sunday with their families. We expected everyone to work a minimum of 10 hours each day; anything less would have been seen as weak and uncommitted. Anyone gutsy enough to make a decision that unfortunately went wrong would be roundly criticized in front of his peers.

These new graduates are creating a whole new world. I can't wait to work for them.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

the environment you create can influence your employees' IQ

I keep hearing people say that IQ is static and that EQ can change. I disagree: there is plenty of evidence that both can change. And, organizational leaders may influence their employees' IQs by the way they evaluate them:

"A group of participants suffered an average IQ drop of 17.4 points during an experiment in which they were ranked by their intelligence scores, suggesting that simply being ranked can profoundly diminish some people's ability to express their cognitive ability, says a team led by Read Montague of Virginia Tech." -- The Daily Stat, Harvard Business Review February 1, 2012

Do you rank your employees against each other? You might find being ranked motivating, but many people become stressed by these rankings -- and while some stress is good, this kind of stress limits the mind's ability to access information held in memory ( ) and make good decisions (

I know you didn't devise a ranking system so that you could lessen your employees' ability to do well; you did it thinking a little healthy competition will generate the good stress -- the kind that gets everyone hussling a bit more. Can you share some other tools you can use to facilitate/develop your employees' innate motivation without preventing them from utilizing their greatest potential?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Coach whenever you can; Direct when your employee needs direction

Last year I wrote two posts on "Tiger Management", a play on the book "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother". I've been reminded how important it is for some managers and leaders to give themselves permission to be Tigers when necessary by several leaders with whom I've met recently.

Each relayed a story of how they had tried to coach an employee toward learning a new skill. Yet, in each scenario, they were working with employees who were simply too green to figure anything out on their own. Coaching works when the coach has some basic skills upon which to build! Without those, the coach has to first direct the coachee, perhaps step by step, toward acquiring the skills.

Know where your employees are and meet them there. Be the manager they need rather than the manager you want to be.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Gain clarity on your goals

Are you trying to get greater clarity on your goals or your organization's strengths? Do you want to communicate those goals more clearly to your team or your strengths more clearly to your clients?

The Thiagi Group has developed a list of "Concept Analysis Questions" that my friend Gayle Carney, founder of, found useful. It helps the user see where he has enabled scope creep, such that he is no longer focused like a laser on his goal but instead his focus has spread to seemingly related, but not useful, activities. I recommend going through the questions with your team, or at least a partner, so that you have others with whom to brainstorm.

Give it a try and let us know how it goes.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

it's harder to be succinct

Several students were thrilled when they heard papers will be 600 words, rather than the 3-pages I used to assign.

I cautioned them to rethink their enthusiasm: it is much harder to be succinct than to be verbose. In a 3-page paper, a student has plenty of space to babble on. In 600 words, he has to get all the critical points articulated, delineate his action plan and persuade his reader of its utility and urgency.

Good luck!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Can you watch the Superbowl enthusiastically but not so much that something breaks?

I caught a commercial a couple of weeks ago where the dad gets frustrated with an intermittant cable signal and slams his coffee table. His toddler daughter imitates him. Then, the story follows the daughter as she grows up pushing everyone around, getting kicked out of school, taking up with a guy with too many facial rings and having a baby. The commercial closes with dad holding his leather-clad grandbaby and looking dismayed. The announcer tells us that if we don't want our grandsons wearing dog collars, we'd best switch from cable to whatever they're selling (sorry, missed that part!).

I thought that was humorously absurd in the way that most commercials are, until my kids came home from school that evening with reports on their friends' reactions to the Ravens' loss. One friend threw the remote control at the television, breaking the remote. Another friend pounded a hole in the wall with his fist, and a third friend threw, and broke, a glass.


I spend the majority of my time working with organizations to help their employees deal with conflict productively and self-regulate their emotions so that they can manage their employees respectfully and focus productively on their work. I can only assume that in 15 years I'll have lots of business: 14 year olds who cannot self-regulate become adults who scream at employees, say things they regret in the heat of the moment, and are unable to focus in meetings.

What will you teach your children by your reaction to the Superbowl this Sunday? They're watching us all the time . . .

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Cynical employees don't share quality ideas because they don't expect anyone to hear them

At the end of the first class of all the courses I teach, I ask students to write any questions they have regarding the course topic (management, leadership, business, etc.). Usually, students will write things like, "how do I motivate others?" or "how do I get senior leadership to buy into my ideas?"

Their questions help me remember students as individuals, understand what is important to them, and respond to their specific needs. I email an answer to all questions within 24 hours.

Yesterday I received 3 questions that were so broad and/or vague as to be unanswerable. I emailed the 3 students stating this, and discovered that while one person wasn't paying attention when he wrote his question, the other 2 never expected me to read their questions. In fact, one person wrote, "Im surprised that you actually took the time to read our questions. I was going to put gibberish on the sheet at first, since these things are usually left unanswered thus figuring it would never be read."

Gibberish! My first thought is, why would an instructor bothering asking students to write something down that he never intended to read? What would be the purpose of the use of class time and paper? My second thought was, this student assumes his instructors are not reading his work (whether they are or not, we'll never know) based on their inaction.

What's even more interesting is that I'd spent some of our class time discussing the criticality of management follow-up: when managers ask for employees' input on decisions, they must share the decision taken with the employees. They should thank them for their original input and, if it wasn't taken, explain why. Otherwise, the employees will assume the manager is giving lip-service to participative management.

Don't ask a question if you don't intend to listen to the answer.

For these two students, my words about follow-up could not be heard over their (louder) experience of not being listened to.

Do you take the time to listen to your employees? How do you find the time to respond to all their questions, and provide feedback on their ideas? How often do you communicate your organization's and/or work group's purpose and how does this communication influence how your employees commit to that purpose?

While it feels like a poor use of time, we must take into account employees'/students' cynicism and take the time to overcome it with each new person with whom we work. For, why would this manager, when at work or in class, bother to provide well thought-through, clearly articulated ideas to or ask specific questions of a manager who isn't going to listen anyway?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

to attend = to be present, to give attention

I attended a webinar today that focused on teaching ethics. I attend a lot of webinars (on teaching, business, management, and communication), as I believe that when one educates others, one must continually educate oneself.

Doesn't that sound good? A little highbrow, but still, sounds good. Right? Hmmm. . . .

Unfortunately, I noticed something today about the way I usually "attend" webminars: I listen in. I write something in the chat when asked a question. I look at the slides and maybe download them if they're good. I check my email. I check my phone messages. I check my twitter feed. And, oh yeah, I listen in.

This is not attending -- I am not fully present, even if my name is on the attendee list! When I read emails or facebook in a meeting, I'm not learning. Multitasking only works when the tasks don't require full brainpower. So much for high-brow!

I noticed this only because the webinar facilitator asked me a question by name while I was off on my email. "Oh gosh," I thought. "She expects me to be involved here!" In fact, the facilitator, unlike the vast majority of lecture-happy webinar facilitators, asked many open-ended questions. She stopped asking us by name after the first few minutes, but her open-ended questions kept me attending for the rest of the session -- for real this time.

What about you? Do you glance at the status of a recent ebay bid while your peer presents the latest financial data (particularly when in a remote meeting) or check out your facebook page while your child tells you about his day? If not, how do you maintain your attention, even when the subject loses your interest for a short while?

As meeting leaders, what tools or techniques do you use to engage all your meeting participants? Or do you let them attend in body (or computer connection) only?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

How should we use power to effect change (if at all)?

Yesterday I worked with an intact workgroup on understanding and using conflict styles and strategies. One strategy, power-dominance, was at first confusing and later the subject of concern.

The group responsible for reporting when to use and when not to use power in a conflict stated that a leader should use his power when he wants to get a team to change; then they stated that a leader should not use power if he wants to effect change. Hmmm. These ideas were far enough apart in their discussion that they didn't notice the contradiction. When they reported back to the full group, the inconsistency was obvious.

After much discussion, the group realized that many of us tend toward using our power (when we can get it!) when we feel we must push a team toward some change because that team is dragging its feet. "If they'll just make the change," we figure, "they'll see it was worth it."

Intellectually, the group knows that when we use our power to make a team effect a change, we'll get short term compliance but long term resentment. Even if the team later agrees the change was worth it, they may feel a lingering lack of trust in us for pushing them to that change.

Rick Brenner writes in his Chaco Canyon blog, "Using fear as a tool of debate begets compliance, not heartfelt support." So what do we do when we know the change is the right thing to do but our team is dragging its feet?

This group agreed the optimum choice is to pull out all the influence strategies the leader can get his hands on: demonstrate (rather than tell) how the change will benefit the team; get outside voices whom the team trusts to talk up the change; put the change in visual form and get it in front of the team at every chance; ask team members one on one to help you understand their resistance -- find those whose resistance is lowest and once they're persuaded ask them to persuade others; garner incentives that have meaning to team members that will accrue to those who implement the change; find out if there's anything painful about the change and do everything in your power to eliminate or at least reduce the pain; search for the pain in the current way of doing things and bring it up frequently; ensure the team has the ability to make the desired change and train them or otherwise enable them; etc.

These ideas take more time -- and are a use of power, albeit a less resentment-causing use -- but I'm betting less than you'd guess -- particularly if we use all of them rather than one or two. What do you think? When was the last time you had to persuade your team (or teen) to make a change? What was your response when they dragged their feet?

Friday, January 6, 2012

bring energy to your work

"It's not just the number of hours we sit at a desk that determines the value we generate. It's the energy we bring to the hours we work."
--Tony Schwartz

Monday, January 2, 2012

Communicating is challenging for the best of us

"Even if you’re the most articulate person who ever lived, you still fail oftener than you succeed.”

Actor Jonathan Epstein in an interview with
Harvard Magazine.