Over the last few weeks I’ve been conducting annual performance reviews with my staff. In preparation for our conversations, I ask my staff to not only document their accomplishments and performance goals, but to think about their professional development goals as well. Helping my staff grow and learn is highly satisfying. And according to career development expert and author Beverley Kaye, it is essential to retaining high performing individuals.
In her book, Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go, Kaye offers up simple strategies that leaders can use help their staff grow in their careers, including:
- Have short, frequent conversations with your staff about their career development
- Listen attentively. Let your employees do 90% of the talking in your personal sessions.
- Be curious and encourage curiosity. You do not need to have all the answers.
- Provide constructive feedback regularly.
- Discuss career development as a “rock-climbing wall” where employees can move up, down or sideways – or hang on and stay put
Kaye also recommends employing hindsight, foresight, and insight conversations:
- During hindsight conversations, encourage people to look within themselves and examine where they’ve been in the past
- During foresight conversations, ask staff to look outside of themselves and consider their future paths
- Use insight conversations to combine hindsight and foresight
While professional development conversations between supervisors and their direct reports shouldn’t be limited to once a year, I find annual performance reviews a helpful time to focus on professional development conversations. It gives my staff an opportunity to discuss how they are wanting to grow their careers and it gives me a chance to encourage them and provide additional ideas for development that might include stretch assignments, new work projects, professional certifications, continuing education, and service opportunities.
How do you help your employees grow?
I love that I know what to expect on the 4th of July. Fireworks on Sand Island (photo from 2007); sparklers; food that is red, white and blue; mosquitoes; family fun, and ooohs and ahhhs! Yup, I can count on it!
Research shows that we also need clear expectations at work. The authors of a recent study by Gallup stated, “Even if employees feel energized and motivated, those who lack clear expectations and spend too much time working on the wrong things can’t advance key initiatives to create value for an organization.”
Based on Gallup’s decades of research and information from over 31 million employees they recommend the following four best practices for leaders to set effective expectations:
- Develop them collaboratively. Effective expectations need to include both the leader’s strategic perspective and the employee’s awareness of the day-to-day realities of the work.
- Articulate them clearly. Minimize confusion and uncertainty and maximize focus with clear and understandable language.
- Focus on excellence. Work together to identify “best-in-class” opportunities and expectations that inspire.
- Individualize to strengths. Identify and leverage the unique talents, interests and skills of each person related to their specific role and expectations.
Help build your people and your talent by setting clear expectations.
A critical step in customer service is to actually invite the customer to the table and include them in your problem-solving work. While this makes theoretical sense it can be challenging to do and takes leadership to ensure its success. Seth Godin, one of my favorite authors and bloggers, describes it as “dancing with customers in the act of co-creation” in a blog on customer service. It involves:
- clearly inviting customers to work with you
- focusing on engagement – not perfection
- over communicating
- speaking and listening to customers with respect
- not making assumptions
Most leaders and employees are not used to working together with their customers. When I was working in the health care industry we decided to include patients in our work meetings as we designed the electronic visit follow-up document and communication process. At first that was very threatening to the doctors, physician assistants, nurses and intake staff. They were worried about “unreasonable” demands that patients would make. Surprisingly, everyone discovered that they enjoyed working together, both sides learned more about each other and the ideas shared ended up being practical and doable.
If you choose to include customers it is important to make the invitation clear and describe the work you will be doing together. Customers are also not used to being asked to work with you! The project team for the design of our new Enterprise Resource Planning data system at Minnesota State has done that well (NextGen). They have invited all students, faculty and staff have to participate in envisioning the future NextGen experience. Through emails, in-person presentations and an intranet site they have clearly described the work to date and what opportunities we have, as customers, to work with the vendor to help design and build the system. In addition, given the geographic spread of our system and the variation in availability, they provided three different options to work together; an online review process, virtual Q & A sessions or onsite regional review sessions.
What opportunities can you find for you and your team to dance with your customers?
When I was growing up, my dad and grandpa dug the well at our cabin by hand. I still remember how deep they were, how they had to reinforce the dirt to make sure it didn’t collapse and and how scary it was. They had to keep digging deeper and deeper before they hit water. They had to have a deep trust in each other and in what they were doing to stay safe. After about 32 feet they struck water and 53 years later we still get our water from that well.
Leadership may not be quite so dangerous, but it does require trust. Diane Gray, owner of Grayheart Consulting, describes three levels or depth of trust that leaders need to build to be successful. As you get deeper, it gets harder, but the payoff is worth it.
One Strike and You Are Out Trust
This is the most shallow level of trust. It is transactional and exists when there is a punishment as a consequence for behaviors that break trust. Fear of reprisal and positional power are the basis for trust at this level. Trust is fragile and broken easily. While it is a tenuous trust, it can be successful when leaders act with integrity.
Knowledge and Understanding Trust
This is the mid-level of trust. It exists when people know and understand what they need to do and when others know and understand what to do. Interactions and behaviors are predictable and “make sense” so people trust each other. This level of trust takes time to develop since it requires multiple interactions and repeated behavior. It isn’t based on immediate transactions, includes forgiveness and a more complete understanding of behaviors, and thus is a deeper level of trust. Trust at this level creates loyalty and more engagement.
The deepest level of trust. Leaders develop this level of trust by demonstrating “they have their people’s backs.” When leaders are open, transparent, and willing to listen to their people they can build deeper relationships and deeper trust. Taking the time explore options, argue, share concerns and how decisions are made helps people feel valued and safe. They trust that their leader will advocate for them and are willing to fully engage in their work and the success of their organization. Gray suggests that this depth of trust includes:
How deep is your well of trust? Do you need to do some digging?
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
Want to build trusting relationships fast? Start with assuming good intent! According to Stephen M.R. Covey and Greg Link, when people in one part of an organization are asked to interface with another part, they often start with assumptions of negative intent such as:
- “Is there a hidden agenda?”
- “What is her real motive?”
- “Is he trying to position himself or his team to get more, so we’ll get less?”
Sound familiar? At times, I’m sure we’ve all had those assumptions of others that we need to work with. However, in their book Smart Trust, Link and Covey say, “…the best leaders, the best teams, the best companies start from that promise [of assuming good intent] and doing so creates the very behavior they’re seeking.”
Doing otherwise and assuming negative intent can be a self-fulfilling prophecy and create the very behavior that is feared. Think about it. Our assumptions are pretty powerful and influence how we behave AND the behaviors we elicit from others.
I had a recent experience where a partnering organization made an accounting error that negatively impacted the budget of a professional board that I serve. While leaders in the organization did acknowledge the error, they did not offer to remedy it immediately. In fact, they indicated that it would be a hardship to do so. Assuming negative intent could have easily devolved into a very combative situation that could threaten both the partnership and the sustainability of the professional board. I’m glad to say that the board members and I worked hard to assume good intent and offered up several options for resolving the issue. That good will perpetuated a much better response. I have now heard from the leaders that they are working on the issue and want to pursue a mutually satisfying resolution.
Thinking about your own experience, here are some questions from Covey and Link for you to consider:
- Have you ever assumed negative motives on the part of someone else?
- Have you ever been surprised to discover that your assumptions might have been wrong?
- What has been your experience in working with others when people assumed good intent on the part of others? What was your experience when they didn’t?
While it is important to accurately assess situations or relationships where it may be smart not to assume good intent, Covey and Link argue that in most cases, assuming good intent with coworkers, teams, organizations, partners, suppliers, spouses, children and others is a more productive, positive, and prosperous place to start.
“There are no trust neutral interactions… you either build trust or lose trust.” I can’t remember the name of the person who said this at a conference I attended almost 20 years ago, but I can tell you the saying has stuck with me.
I’ve found that I can walk away from each meeting or conversation I have with others and use the simple measuring stick: Did I build trust? Or did I lose trust?
Still, building trust is not always simple. For example, it can be challenging to focus on building trust when confronting an individual or group about a difficult issue. Add to that an emotionally charged discussion and your amygdala can be hijacked, sending out warning signals to protect yourself and shutting down the ability of your pre-frontal cortex to think constructively.
In those situations, it begs the questions: how do you have healthy conversations when you feel pushed to the edge? And more importantly, how do we deal with others to build relationships rather than erode them?
In her book, Conversational Intelligence, Judith Glaser shares how she has coached leaders to build trust by moving from an I-centric to WE-centric focus in her TRUST model below. Her approach integrates how each step impacts our brains in creating safety and allowing the pre-frontal cortex to engage in greater candor, cooperation, and collaboration.
T – Transparency – create transparency which signals “safety” to the amygdala
- I-centric: secrecy, threats, lack of clarity, lack of alignment
- WE-centric: openness, sharing of threats, intentions, aspirations, and objectives; movement toward establishing common, aligned objectives
R- Relationships – focus on connecting with others first, which signals “friend” not “foe”
- I-centric: rejection, resistance, retribution, adversarial relationships, suspicion
- WE-centric: respect, rapport, caring, candor, nonjudgmental listening to deeply connect and build partnership
U – Understanding – see the world from another’s eyes, enhancing bonding and a feeling that “we’re all in this together”
- I-centric: uncertainty, focus on tasks, unrealistic expectations, disappointment, judgment
- WE-centric: understanding, ability to stand in each other’s shoes, empathy for others’ context, seeing another perspective of reality, partnership; support
S – Shared Success – create a shared view of mutual success. Put words and pictures to what success looks like and signaling to the pre-frontal cortex that it’s safe to open up
- I-centric: promotion of self-interest; focus on “I” and “me”; seeking of personal recognition and reward
- WE-centric: bonding with others to create a vision of shared success; building a shared vision that holds space for mutual success; pursuit of shared interests and celebration of shared successes
T- Truth telling and testing assumptions – use candor and caring to build and expand trust
- I-centric: reactions of anger, anxiety, withdrawal, resignation
- WE-centric: regular, open, and nonjudgmental discussion of assumptions and disappointments as part of collaborative problem solving; identification of “reality gaps” and effort to close the gaps for mutual success; willingness to start over again if distrust emerges
Here’s my leadership challenge to you for today: Think about an upcoming difficult meeting or conversation that you are anticipating. How can you apply some of the WE-centric ideas above to your approach?