Talent Development 42 Identify Constraints

June 14, 2021

Section 3.4 in the CPTD Certification program for ATD is Talent Strategy & Management. Section D states, “Skill in identifying anticipated constraints or problems affecting talent development initiatives, for example resource deficiencies or lack of support.”

These two items are common problems with training initiatives, and I will discuss each of these in this article. Equally important are unanticipated constraints that can become stumbling blocks. I will give some examples of these.


Resource Deficiencies
Every training effort must be staffed properly to be effective. The number of people to be trained needs to be clear as well as the cohort size and pattern of classes. In addition, the resources of available rooms and supplies, like projectors and chart paper, must match the anticipated load.


If the training is going to be virtual or partially virtual, all participants must have the proper hardware, software, and bandwidth to support the load. The participants must also be trained on how to use the equipment that is provided.

In addition to the resources just mentioned, administration resources need to be considered so that people can register for the course and attend the sessions. For simple programs, the administration load should be light, but for highly complex programs the administration load can be very significant.

The most important resources will be the facilitators of the training. These people need to be in sufficient quantity to get the job done, and they must be located where the work will be done. They also must have excellent facilitation skills.

Lack of Support

One category of constraints is the lack of full support by the organization. Often the training program is approved at the top without knowing the details of how the program might disrupt business as usual. When push comes to shove, managers will cancel training classes in an effort to keep production rolling.

Sometimes managers give lip service to the required financial support. When the operation gets behind on targeted earnings, often leaders will pull the plug on talent development efforts. The training is frequently considered a discretionary program.

If one plant is behind on performance goals, the training may get delayed until that group can catch up on production.

Unanticipated Problems

The things mentioned thus far in this article are typical constraints that come up frequently. The existence of surprise problems can be just as deadly, and they hit hard because there was no way to plan how to mitigate the disruption. There could be hundreds of different situations. I will mention just a few possibilities here, for the sake of brevity.

Unexpected Travel

A person who is scheduled for vital training may find him or herself on the road with a client issue. Also, a person may choose to take vacation to handle a family emergency and have to miss class.

Sometimes there is a way to have the absent person join a different cohort to make up the training, but that is not always possible.

Instructor Missing

The scheduled instructor may have an unavoidable conflict for any number of reasons. In this case, the training is usually postponed, but sometimes it just gets cancelled.

If the operation is well staffed, then there may be a way to flex other instructors to bridge the void. Usually such a luxury is not available.

Major Weather-Related Incident

There could be a flood or snow-related emergency that makes it impossible for people to attend the training. There may or may not be a provision to make up the lost training time.

There could be an electrical outage due to a heavy storm. A hurricane or tornado would likely disrupt the training as well as operations in general.

As we learned in 2020, there may be some kind of pandemic or other health issue that creates the need to flex to a different model for training.

The best advice is to anticipate that there will be some problems and have various ways to flex in order to accomplish the training.


Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.


Talent Development 41 Communicate Benefits

June 7, 2021

Section 3.4 in the CPTD Certification program for ATD is Talent Strategy & Management. Section G reads “Skill in communicating how talent development strategies and solutions support the achievement of targeted business/organizational results.”

In this article, I will describe the importance of tying developmental strategies to the goals of the organization.

At the start of any course, it is a good idea to state the specific skills that will be taught. Lay out the objectives clearly so that all participants know what they are about to learn. Share the actual course outline so that people understand the topics to be covered and the order.

Any developmental activity will benefit both the employees involved and the organization as a whole. In framing up the benefits, make sure to identify the specific new skills that the employees will have as a result of the training.

It is imperative that the skills be demonstrated during the training and not be just good intentions on the part of the trainer. Most talent development activities have skill tests to verify that the training has translated into the desired behaviors.

In many courses, role play exercises are used to allow employees to demonstrate newly-acquired skills. These activities are popular with participants because they break up the content acquisition process and are often enjoyable.

If the course is a long one, it is a good idea to summarize the information in groups so that the people being trained know the sequence and can measure their own progress.

Every course should have a feedback survey at the end so that the trainer knows what parts of the course went well and what areas need improvement for the future.

I like to hold a debrief meeting with management after a major training series. This gives me the opportunity to review the objectives of the training and show that the objectives were met. I can also stress at this time how the training contributed to achievement of the organization’s goals.

It is also a good idea to have a follow-on activity a few weeks after a major training event so that people have a refresher of the key concepts covered. I use a series of brief videos to help participants remember key concepts from the training.


Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.


Talent Development 40 Monitor Progress

May 30, 2021

Section 1.5 in the CPTD Certification program for ATD is Project Management. Section B reads “Skill in establishing, monitoring, and communicating progress toward the achievement of goals, objectives, and milestones.”

In this article, I will describe some simple and effective methods of keeping track and communicating progress.

The first rule of thumb is to use the familiar “SMART” Goals, as described by George T. Doran in Management Review. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, and Time Bound. Having project goals that meet these criteria allows a simple tracking system to show progress toward the goals.

Another common technique is to break up the project into several steps with each one having a milestone achievement that leads to the next phase of the project.

Having finite steps of a large project allows the team to celebrate the accomplishment of each step, which leads to higher engagement and encouragement as you embark on the next step.

It is a good idea to have visible ways to show project against the goals. A simple “thermometer” chart is an effective way to demonstrate status against the goal.

The charts should be visible to the entire team, so that people all have the needed information. It is important to keep the published charts current, and when updating the chart, make sure all posted copies are suitably updated.

It is also a good idea to review progress against stated goals at periodic management review meetings. This practice gives leaders a chance to reinforce the good work going on and also gives the project managers some air time to highlight any specific points of pride or precautions that would be important to know.

One practice that often is omitted is to have a closure ceremony at the completion of a major project. People appreciate the formality of a closure meeting and celebration. The practice also makes sure everyone in the organization is aware that the milestones were met and the project is now closed.

Monitoring the progress of a talent development project is not rocket science at all. However, if the steps outlined above are done poorly or skipped, the effectiveness of the project will be significantly impacted.


Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.


Talent Development 39 Framework for Data Analysis

May 24, 2021

Section 3.7 in the CPTD Certification program for ATD is Data and Analysis. Section B reads “Skill in identifying stakeholder’s needs, goals, requirements, questions, and objectives to develop a framework and/or plan for data analysis.”

In this article, I will focus on how you can use the Strategic Planning process to create a template to measure progress against the goals of the organization.

There are many variants of the strategic planning process. In this article I will outline the process I use with organizations to create a framework for data analysis. The process usually starts out with a SWOT Analysis.


SWOT Analysis

I normally split the group into four sub groups. One group will brainstorm the Strengths, and the other three will focus on Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats respectively. The idea is to quickly identify the key elements in each area.

Strengths and Weaknesses are like looking at the organization through a microscope. Opportunities and Threats are like looking at the rest of the world through a telescope.

One technique I use to deepen the analysis is to give all four groups five to ten minutes to come up with their list. Then we reassemble the groups and share the lists. I then ask all four groups to go back and double the size of their list.

This technique forces participants to not just list the obvious items that are top-of-mind; they need to dig deeper to come up with some creative ways to view their world.

Purpose

Identifying the purpose of an organization is important. The purpose statement documents why we do what we do. The purpose is often confused with the mission. They are two different concepts. An example may help clarify the difference between the two concepts.

If you are working in a quarry, your mission would be to cut rock into large slabs. Your purpose would be to build a cathedral.

Vision

The vision is a statement of the ideal future state. Vision is most critical because it provides the driving force to move the organization forward. The vision tells us where we are going. It should be worded in the future tense.

Mission

The mission is a statement of what we are trying to accomplish today. The mission is worded in the present tense.

Values

The values document the foundational principles upon which we base all of our actions. The values allow us to test the rightness of any proposed action.

Behaviors

A documented set of behaviors gives the organization an agreement on how people treat each other. This is the basis for holding each other accountable.
Based upon the six key statements outlined above, we can now identify the few key strategies that will take our organization from the current state toward the vision.

Strategies

The strategies should be broad statements that are expressed succinctly. I recommend a set of five strategies for most organizations. Sometimes I will allow six, but the idea is to have a “handful” of key strategies that people can remember.

Strategies are short, specific statements aimed at moving an organization from where they are toward their vision.

Tactics

The list of tactics for each strategy is a collection of actions for how we are going to accomplish that strategy. Tactics should be action oriented, specific, and timebound.

Goals and Measures

This section identifies the specific goals that will identify a successful execution of the strategy. Measures are the tangible ways to measure progress against the goals.

Scorecard

You are now in a position to create a “scorecard” for the organization that will measure progress toward the organization’s vision.

That data is the basis for analysis of performance because it ties back to a thorough analysis of business principles and objectives.


Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.


Talent Development 38 Situational Leadership

May 17, 2021

Section 1.3 in the CPTD Certification program for ATD is Collaboration and Leadership. Section C reads “Knowledge of theories of leadership, for example, transformational, inclusive, and situational.”

In this article, I will focus the discussion on Situational Leadership. The concept of Situational Leadership was coined back in the 1970s by Ken Blanchard and Paul Hersey.

The concept is quite simple, but the model gets complicated because of all the permutations of possible conditions. Basically, Blanchard and Hersey were trying to answer the question of what leadership style will be most effective in any given situation. Their simple answer is,”it depends.”

The basis of situational leadership is that there is no one best style of leadership. The best way to lead depends on the situation currently being faced by people in the organization. Let’s start with the different types of style.

Blanchard and Hersey characterized leadership style in terms of the amount of task behavior and relationship behavior that leaders provide to their followers.

There have been many modifications to the original Situational Learning Model. The current version is called SLII as developed by Ken Blanchard after he split off from Paul Hersey.

Styles


Telling (S1)

This is a “command and control” type of style that can be demoralizing if practiced too much. This style was later called the “Directing” style by Ken Blanchard in SLII.

Selling (S2)

This style is using one’s influence and personal appeal to woo people to perform in a certain way. This style is also called the “Coaching” style in SLII.

Participating (S3)

In this style, the leader works in a collaborative role with others to get things done. Great teamwork is required for this style to be most effective. This style is also called the “Supporting” style in SLII. Most of the decisions will be made by the team members rather than the leader.

Delegating (S4)

Here, the leader simply states the goal and allows people to figure out the best way to accomplish the task. It is a “hands off” style of leadership in SLII. The leader is more concerned with the vision than the day-to-day execution decisions.

The best leadership style will depend on the person or group being led as well as the task itself. The Hersey–Blanchard Situational Leadership Theory identified four levels of maturity.

Maturity Levels

Maturity or readiness level 1 (M1)

At level 1, the worker may be new to the task and not familiar enough to know what to do. Workers at this level may require encouragement in order to fulfill their role.

Maturity or readiness level 2 (M2)

At this level, workers are eager and willing to perform their role, but they may require some supervision to do it correctly.

Maturity or readiness level 3 (M3)

Workers in this category have high competence to do the job, but the decision-making remains with the leader.

Maturity or readiness level 4 (M4)

In this level workers are capable of performing the tasks and do not require any help from the leader.

As an example, let’s examine the progression of a person who was just hired to be a punch press operator. On day one, the leader needs to use a telling style so the operator knows how to do the job safely.

As the operator gains understanding, the leader can back off and use the selling style.

Once proficiency is achieved, the leader can use the participative style where there is only casual oversight.

Finally, when the operator is a full expert at the job, the leader can use the delegating style and know that the operator will be successful at the task.

In Blanchard’s later work, he refined the concept of maturity into four levels he called Development levels. For more information on the developmental states call up this link.

Note development levels will change over time and with particular tasks and so it is necessary to modify your leadership style to match the current developmental needs of the individual as well as the type of task to do.

With a new team unfamiliar with the work, it may be best to use a directing style, but later after the work is no longer new, it may be better to switch to a supporting style.

While the various categories of style, maturity, and development may cause the model to seem a bit confusing, the basic concept is quite simple. To be an effective leader, one must match the style used to the current situation in order to obtain optimal results.

I would like to acknowledge the assistance of Jody Dietz with assistance on this article.


Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.


Talent Development 37 Evaluating Impact

May 10, 2021

Section 2.8 in the CPTD Certification program for ATD is Evaluating Impact. Section A reads “Knowledge of models and methods to evaluate the impact of learning and talent development solutions.”

There are numerous ways to measure the impact of training. The purpose of this article is to share some effective ways to measure impact and some caveats on their use.

As examples, I will use my leadership development work and give specific ideas that show how they work.

ROI Calculations

Depending on the type of training and the level of people being trained, it may be possible to measure the ROI directly by getting pre’ and post-training data from existing sources. These elements might include direct productivity of the unit, turnover rates, grievances, Quality of Worklife surveys, and other extant data that generally reside with Human Resources.

The obvious caveat here is to make sure the shift in performance was a direct result of the training and not some other influence that was going on at the same time.

Course Evaluations

One universally used tool is the end of course evaluation. Simply carve out time at the last session of the course for people to fill out a brief survey. The following is a list of the few questions asked on most end-of-course evaluations:

1. The impact of this course on your leadership skill
2. The skill of the facilitator
3. The pace of the course and use of time
4. Rate the effectiveness of the experiential learning components
5. Degree to which you would recommend this course to others

There are two caveats I can think of with evaluations. First, people may feel tired or rushed if they are put on the spot at the end of an exhausting course. If you elect to send an electronic version of the evaluation, your net return of the surveys will be a significantly lower percentage of the population, and the data will be skewed.

People who had a good experience will take the time to fill out the survey, but people who did not like the course (those with the most significantly helpful data) will often not bother to submit.

Second, the anonymity of the feedback is always in question. If there is a hard copy form, then people might believe there is a secret mark somewhere so that their input is not really anonymous.

Stories

Sometimes you will hear stories about the impact of training. Keep track of these and get as much input as you can. The following story happened to me as a result of some leadership training I did in a city about 200 miles from my home town.

I was called in to meet with the CEO and HR Manager of a metal working firm in another city. When I drove into the parking lot, I noticed that it was only about one third full.

The CEO and HR Manager told me that their business was faltering due to internal squabbles between the various groups and lack of customer focus. They had furloughed many workers and were working partial shifts to get by. I determined that there was a lot of conflict due to low trust, and they lacked focus and alignment with a solid strategic plan.

I worked with the leadership team for a couple days giving them information on how to build a better culture of Trust and developing a strong strategic plan.

Six months later, the CEO called me back down there because they had “a different problem.” When I rounded the corner to the parking lot, I immediately saw that there were no slots available in the entire lot. The CEO wanted to know how they could ramp up faster with staff because they were buried in too many orders for the current team.

Testimonials

Many times, people will volunteer to write a short paragraph on their reaction to the training. These reviews are like gold, because they capture the enthusiasm in the actual words selected by the writer.

I have been collecting testimonials for years, and they are useful. If you use too many of them in your promotions it can have a negative impact.

I will share two testimonials that reflect actual student reactions to my teaching.

“Bob Whipple has been a force of nature in our community when it comes to trust-building and leadership development. He volunteers locally on business ethics boards and committees, writes books and articles, produces videos, and tirelessly trains our local up-and-coming leaders through the local Chamber of Commerce. His thinking is original and powerful. His lifetime of achievements have shown his deep competence in the leadership and strategy domains coupled with his authentic caring for his community and the people he trains.”

“You have an incredible way of teaching others and motivating them to excel. I have learned more from your insight and examples than any book, course, or seminar I have taken thus far. It is so refreshing to meet a leader who not only has the didactic knowledge and requisite experience but also is an expert at its practical application! Thank you for helping me see my potential and for an experience I will never forget.”

Keep in mind that testimonials also can include suggestions for how you can improve your product, so read them carefully and let the writers be your coaches.

Repeat Business

One way to measure the worth of a talent development effort is whether there is a continuum of repeat business. If individuals and groups are seeing real value and progress from your training, they will encourage others to take the course. If a course dies out after one or two cohorts, you need to think about what you are doing wrong.

These examples are just a few ways to measure the impact of a talent development solution. Get creative and see what other methods you find helpful.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.


Talent Development 36 Technology Application

May 3, 2021

Section 2.4 in the CPTD Certification program for ATD is Technology Application. Section A reads “Skill in identifying, selecting, and/or implementing learning technologies, for example, using evaluative criteria and identifying appropriate applications in an instructional environment.”

We saw the most extreme need for this skill in 2020, when the entire world of training and development was forced to shift focus from predominately live training to becoming effective in a virtual environment.

I don’t know about you, but I definitely felt the pain of having to shift gears on the fly last year. For decades, I have been doing training in person with an occasional need to work with remote technology. In the past, I used Webex, Go to Meeting, and Skype to do my remote work.

Within a couple weeks, I was required to retool to a primarily Zoom platform with some live Facebook and StreamYard technology. I have also done some of my work in Microsoft Teams. Each technology has advantages and disadvantages, and there is a learning curve associated with each technology.

The good news is that when you have no choice, you can get an amazing amount accomplished in a short period of time.

I found some helpful resources who were willing to help me along among the various networking groups to which I belong. Most people were gracious with their help, and I returned the favor by mentoring others once I had mastered the technology.

Also, each platform has numerous instructional self-teach videos on YouTube for free. It just takes time to watch the videos and practice the techniques.

It turned out that practice was the only way for me to master these technologies fully. I found myself going through an impending class six or seven times in order to make sure things would work out.

What I found most challenging was shifting from one type of technology to another seamlessly during a presentation. For example, if I am giving a program using PowerPoint as the basis for content, then need to switch to a video in the middle, a lot can go wrong.

On the surface, it seems like a simple matter to just “screen share” a video that has already been cued up. In practice, there are many ways to get it wrong and only one set of actions that will get the desired results.

In many cases, the host’s view is different from what the participants see. I found it helpful to use multiple screens, where I could be the host on my main screen and a “blind participant”on another screen. That way I could see exactly what the participants were seeing at all times.

Another challenge was to modify delivery of the content so that people operating in a remote setting can get equivalent transfer of knowledge to the live presentations. Some areas are a bit tricky.

For example, I use magic illusions when doing live training to add variety to the presentation and give participants a mental break. These illusions always relate to the content I am teaching, and they are very popular with participants. Unfortunately, many of the illusions require another person from the audience to physically interface with me. That is impossible, so many of my standard illusions will not work.

Fortunately, I have enough illusions that I can use those that work virtually to break up the sessions. In addition, I use a number of other techniques to liven up the presentation and engage the participants fully. Some examples of the methods I use in my leadership courses are given below:

1. Role play situations, where I put the leaders in tricky situations
2. Small group brainstorms on questions of how to handle certain problems
3. Polls to test which approaches would be most productive
4. Scavenger hunts to identify ways to connect with people
5. Identification of optical illusions
6. Music based interludes
7. Stretch breaks and body movement to loosen up
8. Exercises where I ask participants to annotate an existing slide
9. Feedback emojis to provide emotional reactions to certain content

The transition to a different way to do training and development is challenging, but with some creative thinking it is possible to have remote training be just as effective as in-person training events.


Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.


Talent Development 35 Collaboration

April 26, 2021

Section 1.3 in the CPTD Certification program for ATD is Collaboration and Leadership. Section A reads “A knowledge of theories, methods, and techniques to build and manage professional relationships, for example group dynamics, teamwork, shared experience, and negotiation.”

This article will highlight some techniques that can enhance collaboration. Recognize that collaboration is significantly different in the post COVID-19 world, so new challenges and opportunities will unfold for some time.

The Foundation of Collaboration

Good teamwork and collaboration require a culture of mutual respect. This does not mean that everyone on the team will always agree on everything going on. The acid test of a team is how people react when there is an inevitable disagreement.

The way to generate this kind of excellent culture is to start the team off correctly by creating a charter that identifies how individuals intend to act when there are problems. Individuals on teams without a firm charter often regress to child-like behaviors when facing disagreements.

If everyone on the team agrees to a set of expected behaviors and also the consequences that will befall anyone who violates the charter and does so while the team is still in the forming stage, then there is a much lower potential for acting out later on.

Watch the Pronouns

This element is key, especially when several people on the team are working remotely. If you see a lot of language that contains the words “we” and “they” check to see if some silos are emerging within the team. For example, you might read, “We wanted to go with the original wording, but they thought it was too harsh.” That kind of wording is indicative of problems in teamwork ahead, particularly if people are interfacing virtually.

Watch how People Address Each Other

The words selected as well as the body language and tone of voice will let you know if the mutual respect is deep and strong or shallow and fragile. Look for how the team members support each other and are inclusive with all team members.

Do not Allow Jokes at the Expense of a Team Member

Often teams make the mistake of allowing little snide jokes about the appearance or mannerisms of some team members. Even though everybody knows these side comments are made in jest, some damage to relationships occurs. If the habit persists, then long term damage to self esteem is going to follow.

An old pastor I once knew told me, “Never say anything hurtful about your mate, even if it is said in jest.” I have always tried to follow that advice, but I confess that I have been less than perfect in this. When working with teams of professionals, I insist on a strict adherence to the no jokes at the expense of others rule.

Help the Team Celebrate

Great teams enjoy celebrating milestones with the group. That is more difficult in a virtual world, but it is possible. You might have a kind of virtual cocktail party where each person serves a favorite beverage. You could play some simple games for small prizes to be mailed out, if the team agrees. Let your creativity figure out how to keep the atmosphere from becoming too somber.

These are just a few tips from my experience. In a virtual or hybrid world, the challenge is greater, but it is really worth investing in these kinds of activities for the benefit of better teamwork.





Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.


Talent Development 34 Encourage Dialog

April 19, 2021

Section 3.3 in the CPTD Certification program for ATD is Organization and Culture. Skill Statement D has “Skill in creating a culture which encourages and/or creates opportunities for dialog and feedback between individuals and groups, for example designing collaborative work practices and/or spaces, and role modeling effective feedback techniques.”

This article will highlight some techniques that can lead to excellent dialog in organizations and allow the free flow of information. Recognize that communication methods and patterns are significantly different in the post COVID-19 world, so new challenges and opportunities will unfold for some time.

Clarify Your Intentions

The first order of business is to ensure all groups are aligned behind a solid Strategy with Common Values and Expected Behaviors. It is vital for there to be a common understanding of how people will interact and be respectful of each other. Leaders need to create a culture of support in which all people feel included.

When these critical components are missing or weak, it allows silos of power to emerge. These silos work against open communication and create inter-organizational stress and loss of trust.

Look at the Physical Plant

Often organizations with conventional cubicle or office structures suffer from poor communication that is encouraged by the layout. Consider open architecture where people can see each other and interface easily. Many organizations are moving toward these open environments, but there are downsides. It is harder to focus in an open environment, and some people experience a lack of privacy.

In a hybrid world, where some people are working remotely, it is necessary to increase communication so that people do not become disconnected from the flow of information.

It is particularly important that everyone receives the same information so that you do not foster an environment of “haves” and “have-nots.” People working from home have the additional burden of being required to focus on work issues while there may be chaos even within the same room.

Trying to focus on the flood of emails is equally daunting. Get creative with ways to keep things going without having distractions at home. Sometimes additional help is useful.

Build a Culture of Trust

The concept of trust is extremely powerful in terms of having people work well together. I believe the most important aspect of building trust between people and groups is to ensure psychological safety, where people know they will not be punished for voicing their opinions.

In some cultures, people feel stifled and not able to share their opinions without negative consequences. The thrust to improve Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in most organizations is one way to help all people feel invited to share their thoughts, yet in these same cultures people can still feel stifled.

Work to build respect and a fondness between people that will enhance the trust and move quickly to repair any damaged trust regardless of the source.

Try for a Variety of Work Experiences

When people feel locked into a single working configuration over extended periods of time, they become calcified and rigid. Work to liven up the culture where the work flow has some spice and fluidity. This practice not only lowers the tendency for boredom, it also lowers the potential for cliques or silos to emerge.

Take the time to have some fun along the way; it really helps the culture blossom.

Recognize People and Teams doing Good Work

Recognition goes a long way toward creating an open culture. The only caveat here is to be sure the reinforcement is proportional to the effort and results. If one group feels slighted by lack of recognition, it can do a lot of damage quickly.

Rotate People

One organization I have read about has people work in pairs, and they rotate the pairs often to keep people from becoming overly associated with a specific other person. I think the practice is smart, but you would need to experiment with the group size and rotation pattern to ensure it is working as expected.

One caveat is to ensure people have the skill set for the work they currently are asked to do. There also could be a downside, as some people would be forced to work with some others who they dislike or who have annoying habits.

These are just a few of the methods you can try to keep things fresh and lively at work. The most important aspect is to always move toward higher trust within the group.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.


Talent Development 33 Identify Relationships

April 12, 2021
Organization Chart

Section 3.3 in the CPTD Certification program for ATD is Organization and Culture. Skill Statement C has “Skill in identifying formal and informal relationships and hierarchies and power dynamics in an organization.”  

The Formal Structure

The formal power structure in most organizations is easy to identify. Simply start with the organization chart, and pay attention to any dotted line relationships that are identified.  A dotted line indicates an influence but not a direct reporting relationship.

It is important to recognize that any organization chart represents a point in time.  The actual organization is always in a state of flux, whereby some people are in the process of moving up the organization while others may be leaving or even moving down.  The issue of succession planning needs to be handled with great care, because it not only defines the future state of the organization but impacts the morale of people currently working in it.

It is common to have the issue of impending succession be the root cause of all kinds of political infighting within an organization. Most people perform today’s tasks with one eye on their future potential and the other eye on what other people might be planning.

The power will be distributed in a way that reflects the solid line relationships between managers and subordinates, but there is a caveat.

The chart will tell you who reports to whom and what the basic structure looks like. Some organizations have very loose or vague organization charts, and there are some groups that prefer to have no chart at all.  For these situations, you need to identify the informal relationships and power dynamics. You need to stay alert for the signals of people operating in ways that are not consistent with the formal organization.

Modifications for a Virtual or Hybrid Situation

When some or all of the people are working remotely, the formal structure is still in place, but the inter-office dynamics can be very different from the conventional patterns. In a virtual world, interfaces are usually planned in advance without the opportunity for chance encounters that are so important for interpersonal dialog. Meetings usually involve groups of people, so individual coaching is less prevalent than in a conventional office environment. Supervisors should be encouraged to have frequent one-on-one time with each of their direct reports.

Informal Power Structures

In parallel to the official formal structure is a kind of web of influence that permeates every organization.  These paths of authority often go around the official or intended layout and frequently operate in a clandestine manner.

The best way to describe the informal paths of influence is to give some examples. This is not a complete list, but is a series of things that might come up in a typical arrangement.

Outside influence

You might find a situation where Mary is reporting to Alice directly, yet she is being given “advice” from another manager who is at Alice’s level or above.  Alice may or may not be aware of this parallel path, and it may lead to significant friction at times when Mary does not do the bidding of her official supervisor.

Friendships

Often, people who are fond of each other will seek to influence decisions about placements or decisions based on history rather than potential. The basis of politics is that people do things for people they like.  You need to keep alert to this type of potential disruption.

Nepotism

Family ties can be the basis for power struggles in any organization. An employee may have a relative who is in a position to influence him or her outside the normal chain of command.  This pattern often becomes a stumbling block when succession planning is happening.  Sometimes the illogical advance of a relative usurps the normal progression of functions and upsets people or causes loss of motivation.

Favoritism

Favoritism is similar to nepotism. It occurs when one person singles out a specific person for special attention.  The perception of favoritism usually leads to a loss of trust within an organization.  When trust is lost, people do all kinds of crazy things to hang onto power. It can get very messy.

Diversity

The stated goals of an organization may include Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.  Unfortunately, in many organizations, managers prefer to advance people who look and think like they do. The perception is that people who think and act differently will upset the normal chain of command and cause decision making to be more cumbersome. 

This habit is a dangerous one because it works against diversity, which is a highly effective means to keep “groupthink” in check.  Having people with differing points of view is a significant advantage in any organization because it leads to more robust solutions.  It is sad that many organizations find themselves operating with a “monoculture” when it comes to specific functions.

There is a delicate balance here.  You want to achieve a state where diverse opinions are heard and respected, but you also want to avoid having disruptive conversations that cause people to become polarized. The key defense here is to keep working on a culture of high trust where all voices are included and mutual respect is the expectation.

The Antidote

When assessing the relationships and power structure of a group, it is important to be highly vigilant and constantly look for potential abuses.  Try to build a culture of high trust where diversity is valued and succession is an open discussion. Shut down the back channels of influence and be as transparent as possible with all decisions regarding the placement of people.

Be willing to confront abuses directly and expose people who abuse power for their own advancement. Check your own choices and make sure you are doing succession decisions with the highest level of integrity and always with an eye toward Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.