Tag Archives: Leadership

What do my customers need?

The church where I worship runs a neighborhood-based nonprofit. We recently hired a consultant to help with some strategic planning.  The first thing she asked us to do is spend the summer talking to community members. We’re asking business owners, local residents, other service agencies, and the guys who spend time in the vacant lot down the street what they actually need.

The consultant said that very often, agencies assume they know what their clients need. When they actually talk to people and get them involved in decision-making, very different results can happen. For example, one organization wanted to set up a food shelf. After talking to potential clients, it turned out that there were already enough pantries in the neighborhood. What was missing was a source for perishable items, especially milk. Turning the project from creating another food pantry into a reliable source where families could get milk made a huge difference.

We in higher education are prone to the same mistake. We can assume we know what our “customers” need – whether it’s students, coworkers, peer institutions, or the whole system. By taking time to talk to each other and build real relationships we’re in a better position to create strategies and processes that address the real needs.

Dee Anne Bonebright

 

Dance with your customers

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?

Todd Thorsgaard

Trust and change

Last week the Harvard Business Review blog included a case study that is a good summary to our discussion on building trust. It focused on the tech company Nokia and how it dealt with major industry changes and the resulting need to completely overhaul their business strategy.

The article described three important practices the company’s newly-appointed board followed to address the emotional side of strategic change. In order to move ahead, they focused on building trusting relationships among the leadership team and across the company.

#1 Increase trust by defining new conversational norms. The previous leadership made it uncomfortable for people to express their opinions and voice concerns. In contrast, the new board identified “Golden Rules” for board discussions that included showing respect to each other and assuming that people are speaking with good intentions. Following these rules created a culture where people felt free to express alternative viewpoints and generate more options.

#2 Reduce emotional attachment to the prevailing strategy by generating many new options, not just one alternative.  People are more willing to express concerns and identify weaknesses in organizational strategy when alternatives are available. As the board created a culture in which multiple options are considered, they were able to make more thoughtful decisions.

#3 Nudge top managers to pay attention to data that conflicts with their gut feelings. It’s easy to get caught up in wishful thinking. Paying attention to data helped the leadership to make better decisions and deal with their current reality.

Similar to the tech industry, higher education is in the midst of disruptive changes. I found these actions applicable to the work I do as a leader. What do you think?

Dee Anne Bonebright

Of course I’m trustworthy, right?

I have to admit, as a leader it is natural to look outward and try to help other people succeed, or change, or improve, or tackle a sensitive issue. Yet, looking inward is the first step to take when building trust.

I was reminded of that when I took an “Am I Trustworthy”online quiz. I wasn’t sure I wanted to take the quiz but I wanted to share some trust-building ideas I had discovered in this article.  The last tip was to “be courageous,” acknowledge you have blind spots, and uncover them. So I had to! But first, I will share all 7 tips from Michelle Reina, co-founder of Reina, A Trust Building Consultancy, on how to earn trust.

Ask what you can give. Authentically support your people and ask them how you can help them succeed.

Facilitate breakthrough conversations. Pay attention and help identify miscommunication, misunderstandings and missing information. Help people stay on track and make a difference with their time and energy.

Let people know what they can count on. As we have talked about previously it is important to share information and context. Help people understand decisions and build clarity.

Provide whole person feedback. Let people know how they have made a contribution–and let people know what is getting in their way to further success. Everyone needs both.

Draw the line against gossip. Establish, reinforce and role-model a “no gossip” policy. Ensure that your work culture is a safe one where people don’t have to worry what is being said behind their backs or when they are not in the room.

Admit your own mistakes. Acknowledging and sharing your own fallibility demonstrates your authenticity and helps others feel safe and willing to share.

Know thyself. Good intentions don’t earn trust, actual behavior does. We have to examine our own behavior and assess how trustworthy we are. It is important to know what you do well–and keep doing it. Honestly recognize where you need to make changes to be more trustworthy. Here is a link to the short assessment in the article – How trustworthy am I?

I learned I need to do a better job in giving people authentic feedback. I didn’t like seeing my lower score but now I know what I need to do differently.

Todd Thorsgaard

Trust and failure at work

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.

  1. An employee makes some kind of mistake at work.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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

 

 

 

How deep is your well of trust?

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.

Advocating Trust

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:

  • Integrity
  • Competence
  • Consistency
  • Loyalty
  • Openness

How deep is your well of trust? Do you need to do some digging?

Todd Thorsgaard

 

Joining, judging and trust

I recently had achart about joining behaviors 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:

  1. Lean into discomfort: speak up and be willing to challenge yourself and others.
  2. Listen as an ally.
  3. State your intent and how strongly you feel about the issue.
  4. 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 knew you were going to do that!”

Predictability is a core foundation of trust. In fact it is a requirement if you want people to trust you. And in the world of work it is often where you, as a leader, have the best opportunity to earn the trust of the people you work with.

The Oxford Dictionary defines trust as “the firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone.” Or in my words, can you count on someone! Certainly being honest and having skills is important but what people are watching is your behavior. Do they have confidence in what you will do or say next – based on what you have done and said in the past.

Roger Fisher and Scott Brown in their book, Getting Together, highlight that personal predictability is the one constant that can maintain trust, even in complex and uncertain work environments. So how do leaders demonstrate predictability? You certainly can’t make guarantees and you can’t predict the future with 100% certainty but you can take the following actions:

  1. Don’t over commit. Carefully examine what what you are committing to do. Following through on a commitment is more important than making a large number of commitments.
  2. Document or note your commitments. In the chaos of leadership it is easy to lose track of statements you have made to people.
  3. Take time to review your commitments. It is easy to get distracted or to move on to your next task. Taking the time to review commitments and purposely finishing them makes you trustworthy to others.
  4. Provide updates. Let others know the behind the scenes progress you are making or share the reasons that priorities have changed. Don’t be a black hole.

There are few guarantees in the world but demonstrating that you can be counted on helps your people say, “Yes, I trust you!”

Todd Thorsgaard

Trust and culture

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:

  1. Asking. What are the behaviors that show competence, integrity, and caring for you?  It can lead to a rich discussion about culture.
  2. Writing it down.  Keep the information somewhere where everyone can see it. When issues of trust arise, go back and review the list.
  3. 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

 

Why trust matters

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