Tag Archives: asking questions

Painting the closet

My grandfather was a master painter and wallpaper hanger and I had the amazing fortune to work for him for over 20 years. One of the many lessons I learned from him was that you have to deliver the basics to get the opportunity to become a true master at your craft. The first years that I worked for him I spent much of my time painting the insides of closets or the priming coat of paint. Strategic leadership also has a foundation in delivering the basics before moving to the strategic.

Rosabeth Moss Canter, in a November Harvard Business Review article, highlights that successful strategic leaders are those that have mastered execution and implementation by following these four imperatives.

Question everything. Force yourself to challenge your assumptions and tackle “sacred cows” that exist in your organization or industry.

Inform everyone, then empower champions. Focus on both breadth of awareness and ideas and depth of committed support. Share information broadly and ask for all ideas to ensure that you are considering all options. Then take action to support your early and enthusiastic adopters to demonstrate early results.

Keep relationships tight and rules loose. Build a large network of people who are comfortable sharing good and bad news with you. Focus on creating a shared vision and trust and then giving people the freedom to take action and make decisions based on their expertise.

Modify quickly. Recognize and be willing to acknowledge bad news or challenges. Learn from what isn’t working and modify as soon as possible.

Developing a strategy and announcing it isn’t enough, you have to dive in and get the closet painted.

Todd Thorsgaard

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You mean I have to talk (and listen) to people!

As a confirmed and proud introvert it is hard for me to reach out and ask for help. Others of you may be confident extroverts and struggle to truly listen to others. Either way, when you transition into a new leadership role it is crucial to take the time to initiate conversations and to spend time listening to what others have to say.

Peter Daly and Michael Watson, authors of The First 90 Days in Government: Critical Success Strategies for New Public Managers at all Levels,   describe five crucial subjects or themes that  new leaders need to understand as they move into a new role or take on a new project. This requires having the following “the five conversations” with your leader or colleagues.

  1. The Situation Conversation – discover how your boss and others perceive the current standing or status of the overall organization and your unit. Your goal is to ensure a shared understanding of the challenges and opportunities you face.
  2. The Expectations Conversation – define, clarify, and perhaps, negotiate what success looks like for you in your new job.
  3. The Style Conversation – discuss and determine how the relationship with your new boss and colleagues or stakeholders will work. How do you each prefer to communicate, what boundaries exist, how are decisions made, and how frequent do you need to interact to ensure trust and success.
  4. The Resources Conversation – determine what resources are available, what you believe you need, confirm how resources are allocated and begin negotiating to ensure access to critical resources.
  5. The Personal Development Conversation – mutually identify opportunities and expectations for continual development to ensure success in your current and future roles in the organization.

In reality these will not be distinct one-time conversations but they are a framework to help leaders strategically approach the transition to a new role.

Todd Thorsgaard

Should leaders set the vision?

Last week I had a chance to hear a presentation by Gervase Bushe, an internationally known author and scholar in my field of organization development. One of the first things he said was that, basically, he thinks leaders with a clear vision can be dangerous to organizations.

That was unexpected. Aren’t leaders supposed to create a clear vision, get others on board, and then lead the organization to success?  Well, not always.

We’ve written before about adaptive challenges. Unlike technical business problems, they don’t have clear solutions, a right answer, or a single clear end goal. Leaders who treat adaptive challenges as technical problems are doing what Bushe called the “pretend it isn’t really complicated” method of leadership. They can cause great harm.

Instead, Bushe said that what we need is “generative leadership” in which leaders promote dialogue among the stakeholders who actually do the work. The role of generative leaders isn’t to drive change, it’s to support the change process and promote collaborative decision-making.

This article from the Higher Learning Commission talks about the benefits of generative leadership in community colleges. I appreciated this observation:

Sometimes community colleges try to do so many things that they have difficulty doing any one thing well. Often, especially at small colleges, employees wear so many hats that it is difficult for them to find the time to communicate with each other, as well as to reflect on their practices and the theories inherent in them, and to exercise their creative energy to think through challenges and to innovate instead of simply adapt.

We’re all been there, and it can be easy to create coping strategies rather than systemic change. In addition, there are challenges in moving higher education from a culture of isolation and stability to one of collaboration and nimble change.

The article says that anyone in an organization can show generative leadership. What examples have you seen?  Who on your team has been a generative leader, and how can you support them?

Dee Anne Bonebright

 

 

Who is accountable?

yellow-brick-roadIn the end, Dorothy, the lion, the scarecrow and the tin man each had what they needed within themselves to get to the end of the yellow brick road.  To build organizational capacity, leaders and team members must also travel down an unknown road into the future. This type of action in the face of uncertainty requires personal accountability by leaders and the development and support of personal accountability for team members.

Roger Conners and Tom Smith, in their book The Wisdom of Oz, share ideas on how to assume accountability for our own actions, how not be defined by our circumstances and how to take action to reach our goals.

Their Four Steps to Accountability are:

  1. See It – acknowledge your own blind spots to reality and seek out additional information to truly “see” the whole picture. This often involves asking others for their point of view – and listening to it.
  2. Own It – acknowledge your own role in the current situation and take responsibility for finding a solution or taking action to move forward.
  3. Solve It – do the work required to find a solution, or make a change. This can involve doing research, seeking input, working with others, trying options, or other techniques. But you must take ownership of finding what you need to do.
  4. Do It – take concrete action to do what you need to do when you need to do it!

We don’t always know what the future will bring but if we accept our personal accountability we can shape our own future and not be controlled by a wizard behind the curtain.

Todd Thorsgaard

 

Foolish or appropriate?

teeter-totterI rode my first teeter-totter last week on my mountain bike. To me it felt like a well thought out and reasonable action to take. I have been practicing my “skinny” skills and my bike handling has improved over the past year. I have watched my brother ride teeter-totters and he has shared with me information on technique so I felt well prepared. Was I afraid? Yes! Was it scary? Yes! Was it a risk? Yes! (Did I make it? Yes!)

We all assess and take different types of risk. Leaders are asked to take “appropriate” risks and then make decisions. Your success depends on your ability to accurately understand, assess, judge and take risks.

Dylan Evans, a researcher on risk and author of Risk Intelligence, believes that we can develop our skills in this area and actually build our “risk quotient.” The starting point for increasing our risk intelligence is the ability to accurately understand and accept what we do know and what we don’t know. Research has shown that most of us are bad at estimating probabilities based on what is actually know or not known. We end up either overconfident or excessively uncertain, both of which lead to poor risk assessment and decisions.

Leaders can use the following checklist that Evans developed to better understand and improve their risk intelligence.

  1. Do you consciously review what you know before making a decision?
  2. How does what you know actually relate to the decision?
  3. How likely is each piece of information to be true and how does that likelihood influence your decision?
  4. What else do you know that might actually relate to the decision?

Purposely and consciously asking these questions and using the results will increase your ability to assess risks and then make better decisions about an uncertain future.

Good luck on your next teeter-tooter of leadership!

Todd Thorsgaard

 

The dreaded review!

h-WOMAN-TALKING-OFFICE-628x314A leader at one of our schools remarked that when done right, performance reviews can be energizing and uplifting but when done wrong they are demoralizing. It appears that the latter is what is happening in most organizations. David Ulrich, the Rensis Likert Professor of Business at the University of Michigan and the “Godfather of HR” just published an article in the  latest issue of Talent Quarterly titled “Resolving the Performance Management Paradox.” He cites that 90% of HR professionals are unhappy with their review system, only 14% of CEOs believe that the review system is working and only 8% of HR executives believe that performance management makes a contribution to the success of the organization. Yet, he also cites a long history of studies that clearly indicate that accountability makes a difference. In fact one study identified that just the presence of a performance review system is the greatest predictor of success for hospitals. What can a leader do?

Ulrich recommends that regardless of the process or forms used, leaders embrace conversations:  conversations focused on what he calls “positive accountability,” conversations emphasizing learning and improvement opportunities rather than evaluating what went wrong, and conversations primarily focused on the future rather than the past. He suggests that leaders look for opportunities to engage in “real time” conversations that are ongoing and revolve around work events (projects, semester start or finish, work cycle periods, annual milestones, etc.) Leaders should focus on asking questions to discover how employees can sustain success and prepare for the future and help their people look forward to apply what they have learned and address new opportunities or challenges that arise.

A simple conversational model for leaders to use with their performance review process includes the following three steps:

  • Know Yourself – ask about and discuss each person’s strengths, weaknesses, passions and interests.
  • Action for Growth – ideas and concrete action to leverage individual strengths and interests to support success and on-going development.
  • My Value – dialogue focused on the value that each employee provides to the work unit, institution, students, stakeholders or overall organization.

By focusing less on the process and more on the conversation we can make performance reviews a more uplifting experience.

Todd Thorsgaard

 

Let’s do this together!

FAFSA-Application-2016-2017Do you recognize this form? My daughter will be a freshman in college next year so the long and complicated FAFSA form is near and dear to my heart. It reminds me of a form that many leaders and HR Offices use – the IDP or Individual Development Plan. Ask yourself, who likes to fill out forms and sign “on the line?” Not me, I imagine not you, and certainly not the people on your team. Yet we continue to be surprised that a once-a-year form-based event does not engage our people or lead to robust conversations and actual professional development.

Authors and employee development experts Beverly Kaye and Julie Winkle Giulioni agree and wrote Redeveloping the Individual Development Plan  to address this concern. Instead filling out an Individual Development Plan once a year they recommend leaders initiate Iterative Dialogue around Possibilities (IDP) with their people. Working together, employees and leaders can embed continuous learning and development into their day-to-day work.

This new approach to IDPs relies on the following four key ideas that are easy to try out.

  1. Start a new conversation. Begin having regular dialogue focused on asking questions and exploring interests. Demonstrate sincere curiosity in your people’s interests and be open to their questions. Clearly demonstrate that you expect and are confident that everyone can learn and develop.
  2. Move away from complicated forms and plans and try development “Post-Its.” Simplify the process and make it an iterative and flexible approach that can be easily modified, re-sequenced, and updated.
  3. Promote possibility thinking. Encourage your people to be creative and unbound when they think about development. Ask to to build long and diverse lists of ideas and options for development to discuss and share. Facilitate team members working together to explore development strategies and experiences.
  4. Distribute development. Move development conversations and actions into the day-to-day work and communication of your team. Include updates and debriefing conversations into staff meetings, one-on-one meetings, prep time, and other regular work activities.

Together, you and your people can energize both the conversation and the action that is needed to continuously develop everyone in your workforce.

Todd Thorsgaard