One of your employees made a major mistake. It cost time, money, and stakeholder goodwill. You made a major effort and repaired the damage. So what happens next?
Many of us like to think that we would expect the person to learn from the mistake and continue to be a high-performing part of the team. But it can be hard to trust that person with similar projects in the future.
Several years ago I read a book called The Set Up to Fail Syndrome. The authors made the argument that an employee’s poor performance is often directly related to the behavior of his or her boss.
As they explained in this blog post, the pattern is the opposite of the Pygmalion effect. Rather than helping an individual live up to great expectations, the set-up-to-fail syndrome encourages people to live down to low expectations.
- An employee makes some kind of mistake at work.
- The manager decides to take a more hands-on approach in managing performance by providing extra feedback, adding approval steps, and watching the employee more closely.
- Even though the manager is well meaning, the employee interprets this behavior as lack of confidence and trust. This leads to second-guessing themselves, withdrawing, and making fewer autonomous decisions.
- The boss perceives this behavior as further demonstration that the person is not a strong contributor, and the cycle continues.
This can become a self-reinforcing cycle in which even high-performing employees are no longer able to bring their best to the work. And it’s not unusual. What stuck with me about the book was this quote:
Up to 90% of all bosses treat some subordinates as though they were part of an in-group, while they consign others to an out-group.
Some years ago I worked with a colleague that had very different personality preferences than our manager. She made several choices that were different from what the manager would have done. The manager interpreted her work style as problematic and quit including her in planning meetings or seeking her feedback about programs she worked on. The employee began to feel like she couldn’t do anything right. She quit trying, thereby making the manager believe that he was correct to doubt her abilities.
Eventually the employee transferred to a different department and immediately began to thrive. She was put in charge of increasingly complex tasks and earned at least one promotion. Her basic work performance and style didn’t change. What did change was her relationship with her manager and her resulting self-confidence.
Re-building trust after a mistake, or even a difference of opinion, can be hard. Not doing it means that some employees are given assignments and flexibility while others are not. The consequences can be costly for the employee, the work unit, and the organization.
What do you do after someone makes a mistake to ensure you are re-building trust instead of setting them up to fail?
Dee Anne Bonebright
Photo: Untitled photograph (Broken red vase) by Sarah Charlesworth
I recently had a chance to attend a Talent Development conference and came away with lots of good ideas. It reminded me that professional development helps people stay engaged and excited about their work.
One session highlighted the importance of trust in the workplace. Judith Katz and Fredrick Miller talked about the difference between a “judging” mindset and a “joining” mindset.
A judging culture includes win/lose and problem-finding behaviors. People hold onto the past, act defensive, and withhold trust. They tend to think small and contribute less. A joining culture is accepting, exploring, and focuses on problem-solving. People can let go of the past and extend trust. They are able to think big and contribute more.
The presenters said that judging is our individual and organizational default, especially in times of stress, fear, and conflict. When we feel uncertain, our cognitive biases are more likely to kick in, which can lead to making judgments about others.
Here are four strategies we can use to generate a joining culture:
- Lean into discomfort: speak up and be willing to challenge yourself and others.
- Listen as an ally.
- State your intent and how strongly you feel about the issue.
- Accept that others’ thoughts and experiences are true for them.
Years ago when I was a new supervisor I learned a good lesson about joining. One of my employees had performance issues, and looking back I think my coaching style made her feel judged. It was going down a bad path until life circumstances caused us to listen to each other as allies around a shared experience we were both going through. Making that personal connection helped the work conversations go more smoothly, and I think it was about building trust.
You can view the presentation slide deck here. What ideas strike you about creating a culture of joining instead of judging?
Dee Anne Bonebright
I recently listened to a TED talk by international consultant Jacqueline Oliveira. She had some very interesting observations about building trust in cross-cultural institutions. As our higher ed workplaces become more diverse, it was a great reminder that trust is shaped and colored by culture.
Oliveira said that trust is a belief in the virtue, ethics, and honesty of another person. But she also pointed out that we don’t see beliefs, we see behaviors. Trust is related to our actions that show:
- Competence – doing our jobs right
- Integrity – sticking to a code of behavior
- Caring – demonstrating that we care for our colleagues
“There are so many behaviors – some different, some similar, some contrary – all driven by these three attributes,” she says. “Imagine your multi-cultural colleagues behaving in ways that they were taught from childhood, and then being marginalized or even disciplined for behaving in this way.”
We rarely think about what we mean when we say someone is behaving in a trustworthy manner. It’s just the way things ought to be. When working with colleagues from different backgrounds we can increase trust by:
- Asking. What are the behaviors that show competence, integrity, and caring for you? It can lead to a rich discussion about culture.
- Writing it down. Keep the information somewhere where everyone can see it. When issues of trust arise, go back and review the list.
- Being flexible and willing to change.
Building trust can be complicated. Building trust across cultures is even more so. But the result is a stronger workplace where everyone feels included.
Dee Anne Bonebright
Trust at work can be defined as the willingness to accept personal risk based on another person’s actions, according to an article on the Business-2-Community website.
That could mean that I’m willing to guarantee a deadline because I’m confident my team members will do their part on time. It could mean making decisions based on someone else’s data, because I’m sure the data is accurate. Or it could mean accepting a stretch assignment because I’m sure my supervisor will help me succeed and back me up when I make mistakes.
Developing that kind of trust between employees and leadership can be difficult. In fact, studies show that fewer than half of employees say they have a high trust in their leaders. But it’s important because:
- It leads to greater productivity and employee retention. Forbes has measured 15-20% difference in profit and productivity when organizations put a priority on trust.
- It leads to better outcomes on the job. One study found that 82% of employees said trust in their supervisors was critical to their performance.
- It enhances engagement. Among highly engaged employees, 90% say they trust their leaders.
How can we build this kind of trust? The article and a related infographic gave the following advice.
- Gather employee input when making organizational decisions.
- Increase transparency by helping employees understand how decisions are made.
- Tell employees what is going on, even when things aren’t going well.
- Ensure consistency between leadership words and actions.
As employees, we want to work in environments where there is high trust. As leaders, trust will help us be more effective in meeting organizational goals. How have you been able to build trust with your work teams?
Dee Anne Bonebright
As leaders, much of our communication isn’t one-on-one. It’s in groups. Often, it’s in a meeting. When we’re leading meetings, how can we make the best use of our time and our team members’ time?
When I was searching for tips, I came across a list from CBS News of Nine Hardcore Steps to Leading Incredibly Effective Meetings. Some of the steps seemed useful. Others made me think “that would never work in higher ed.” I’m sharing it with you because it can be good to challenge set ideas. See what you think:
- Never set a regular schedule. The Monday morning meeting can become boring and predictable. Alternate days of the week, times of day, and schedules to maintain team members’ interest.
- The agenda should only list action items. A meeting should be used to decide something or do something.
- Never use meetings to share information. Share the information in advance so people can make decisions. Sharing it during the meeting is a waste of people’s time.
- A meeting should never be primarily about “team cohesion.” Spending time together doesn’t automatically generate good working relationships.
- Allow digression. Assuming they are related to the subject, tangents can produce surprisingly useful results.
- Clearly identify decisions, take-aways, and action steps.
- Create accountability.
- Publish a meeting recap, but only include action items.
- Conduct initial follow up individually. Don’t have a meeting just to share progress updates that could be shared electronically.
Maybe you had the same reaction I did to some of the items. I liked #5, because I love a good tangent. On the other hand, I do a lot of team building activities so #4 struck a sore spot. That one made me consider how the team building activities are supporting the team’s goals.
Which tips stood out for you? Why?
Dee Anne Bonebright
A few years ago I was shopping at Ikea and decided to get some lunch. In the cafeteria line in front of me were a mom and her young daughter. They selected their food, sat at a table not far from me, and enjoyed their meal together.
But here’s the thing – during that entire time the mom never got off her phone. She got the food, sat down, cut up her daughter’s meatballs, and ate her lunch one-handed all while conducting a long conversation with whoever was on the other end of the line. The memory of that young girl trying unsuccessfully to get her mother’s attention still makes me want to cry. They were potentially making a memory together and mom missed it.
That experience solidified my resolve to try to be present with whatever conversation I’m in. It’s still very much a work in progress, but I try to use good listening skills whether I’m at home or at work.
In our Art of Supervision course we talk about three basic elements of listening.
- Stay focused. Minimize internal and external distractions, pay attention to the speaker, and use nonverbal signals to show you are listening.
- Capture the message. Paraphrase and restate the speaker’s key points to be sure you understand them. In work situations you may want to take notes to help with future conversations.
- Help the speaker communicate. Ask clarifying questions. Try to understand the feelings and perceptions behind the person’s words. Don’t worry about whether you agree with the message at this point, just try to understand it.
When I can follow these three steps, it helps me stay present. Focusing my energy on listening helps me avoid distractions such as multitasking and, I hope, prevents me from missing important conversations – even when I’m right there in the same room.
Dee Anne Bonebright
For many people, having to speak in public is worse than going to the dentist, touching a spider, or seeing a snake in the back yard – maybe even all three combined! When the person is not a native speaker of English it can be even more nerve-wracking.
I recently ran across an author that may be helpful to you or some of your team members. Deborah Grayson Riegel and her colleague Ellen Dowling wrote a book called Tips of the Tongue: The Nonnative English Speaker’s Guide to Mastering Public Speaking.
She posted a video on YouTube that summarizes three key points to keep in mind, whether or not English is your native language.
First, prepare thoroughly. This includes practicing what you plan to say. Out loud. More than once. I’m prone to fall into the trap Grayson Riegel warns about: spending all my time polishing the slide deck and none of it practicing what I’m going to say. As Anita mentioned in Monday’s post, that is an important part of preparation.
During the speech, Grayson Riegel recommends that nonnative speakers should not worry about having an accent, but they should slow down the speaking pace. Even native speakers of English have accents, reflecting which region they are from. Slowing down and articulating clearly, especially at the beginning, helps listeners understand each of our unique speech patterns.
Finally, she recommends pausing often during the presentation. It gives the listeners a chance to absorb and understand, and it gives speakers a chance to gather their thoughts.
These tips can help all of us be better public speakers, and they are especially helpful for nonnative English speakers. What other tips have worked for you?
Dee Anne Bonebright
I wanted to start this post with the quote “I’m sorry this is so long. I didn’t have time to make it shorter.” Turns out that has been attributed to a lot of people, starting with Blaise Pascal in 1657 and including Benjamin Franklin in 1750.
That means that for at least 350 years people have known that it’s harder to write a short and concise letter or document than a long one. Twitter aside, that is still true.
Here are some tips from writing consultant Mary Cullen at 87 advanced tips for business writing:
- Purpose: Before you start, ask “who is my reader” and “what do I want them to know or do?” If you don’t have an answer, there’s no purpose for continuing.
- Plan: For a standard business document or email, spend about half of the time planning and half of the time writing.
- Everyday language. Avoid jargon. Never use a big word when a small word will do.
- Clear language. Use strong verbs (“We need to decide”… is better than “we need to make a decision”…) Any time a word is not truly needed, cut it.
Cullen says that online readers can only handle about 7 lines of text before readability goes down and they are more likely to skip it. Adding headers, lists, and white space can help – as in the paragraph above.
As leaders, we can feel too busy to edit. But taking the time to remove extra words and present a clear message can save time in the long run. People will actually read what we send and are more likely to get the point!
Dee Anne Bonebright
By 2020, 45 percent of U.S. high school graduates will be non-white. Citing that fact, the American Council on Education says that it’s more important than ever to ensure diversity among admissions representatives. A 2017 blog post highlights the importance of admissions counselors in representing their institutions and in shaping the student body.
The articles says that, similar to other administrative roles, we have work to do to achieve that goal. The authors identified three issues that are limiting diversity in college administration.
Leaky pipelines – Students who graduate with four-year degrees are still predominantly white. This results in lower numbers of qualified minority individuals to fill administrative positions.
Insufficient recruiting – Search committees may not be skilled in recruiting and selecting diverse candidates. Members may not be aware of unconscious biases and strategies for mitigating them.
Lower retention – Even after hiring administrators who bring diversity to the campus, institutions may have difficulty retaining them. This can be especially true in high-turnover positions such as entry-level admissions counselors.
The article proposed some strategies that can help retain all administrators, including administrators of color.
- Offer diversity and/or cultural competency training for all staff
- Emphasize diversity in the recruitment process
- Establishing orientation and mentoring programs for new administrators
- Foster open communication
- Invite administrators to be part of decision-making
- Support administrators’ professional development goals
Building a faculty and administrative staff that reflects our student body is an ongoing challenge for Minnesota State. What effective strategies have you seen?
Dee Anne Bonebright
When you see wire-rimmed glasses, do you think of John Lennon or Harry Potter? Or maybe John Denver? It might depend on your age.
The Mindset List is an intriguing way to think about the diversity of our student body. Each year Beloit College puts out a list of facts about the incoming freshman class. For 2018, it included:
- During their initial weeks of kindergarten, they were upset by endlessly repeated images of planes blasting into the World Trade Center.
- In their lifetime, a dozen different actors have portrayed Nelson Mandela on the big and small screen.
- FOX News and MSNBC have always been duking it out for the hearts and minds of American viewers.
- Female referees have always officiated NBA games.
- Bill Gates has always been the richest man in the U.S.
- One route to pregnancy has always been through frozen eggs.
- Their collection of U.S. quarters has always celebrated the individual states.
- When they see wire-rimmed glasses, they think of Harry Potter.
As interesting as it is, the list makes some assumptions about our freshman students that may nor may not be the case. For example, that they have always lived in the U.S., or that they have always had access to mainstream U.S. media.
As our higher education workforce ages, it can be harder to understand the mindset of the students we are serving. Activities that worked well may not work anymore, or new options might exist. For example, Beloit suggested that students who are used to binge-watching TV programs might also want to binge-watch video portions of their coursework. Whether or not that’s desirable, what might it mean for course development?
What can you do to include a reality check in your planning?
Dee Anne Bonebright