Successful Supervisor Part 7 – Using Peer Pressure

January 2, 2017

Everyone knows there is such a thing as “peer pressure.” It is kind of intangible at times and often hard to control, but the group mentality has a lot to do with how people behave. It is also pivotal for morale and engagement in the workplace.

For a supervisor, trying to harness and use peer pressure is often a minefield. From the outside, it may look and feel manipulative, yet to ignore its existence would be a significant missed opportunity.

In this article, we will examine the phenomenon of peer pressure from several different angles and examine some of the ways to use it with integrity and also some ways it can be abused, leading to the opposite impact than the supervisor intended.

The first principle is that not every situation and group is the same in terms of how peer pressure is manifest in the organization. The wise supervisor realizes that there is such a force but holds back from trying to use it until she has a firm grasp of the social structure and what is actually going on.

Why is peer pressure so powerful?

In any group, from inmates in a prison yard to cabinet members of an administration (can you tell the difference?), a set of interpersonal behaviors emerges that tells the members who they are and how they act in certain situations.

These preferred behaviors are rarely written down, and they are most heavily influenced by the informal leader of the group. Note: the informal leader is the person to whom people listen the most, and it is often not the actual leader of the group, unless that person is an especially talented leader.

For ease of communication in this article, I will call the expected set of behaviors the group’s Code of Conduct, or COC.

In any set of circumstances, the COC determines how the group members are supposed to act and react to the daily challenges that come up. The attitude of the members, in most circumstances, will be consistent with what the COC prescribes.

The COC can shift a bit based on local conditions or periods of uncertainty, but in general it is a stable set of group norms that everyone in the group understands, albeit sometimes unconsciously.

A supervisor who understands the COC is able to predict with reasonable accuracy how the group will respond to a stimulus or challenge. This knowledge can be a blessing or a curse for the supervisor.

If the supervisor uses the knowledge to manipulate people, they often resent it and push back hard, because they have a feeling of being maneuvered into doing something. The Supervisor’s logic would feel like this, “I’m going to lay this out so that you have no option but to do what I want because of your own rules of behavior.”

If instead, she uses the knowledge to demonstrate her affection and understanding of the group, it can endear her to people in a helpful way. In this case, the logic would feel like this, “I know your group prefers to hear things that affect you quickly, whether the news is good or bad. I always provide timely communication, so you know where things are headed. I inform you as soon as I know something out of a sense of respect.”

Follow the Leader

Humans, just like animals, establish a kind of informal pecking order in terms of leadership. In any group there will be an inner council of the most influential people, and typically, one leader of that pack. This person sets the tone of the group with regard to its attitude toward the supervisor and management in general.

Often the supervisor was a former leader of the informal pack who was elevated because of her obvious influence. In this case, another individual will backfill for the, now-promoted, former leader to become the new leader of the pack.

For the supervisor, the good news is that it is not hard at all to figure out who the informal leader is. The territory is staked out and defended by all forms of body language and tonal qualities when the person is speaking. The informal leader does not need to be the most vociferous person in the group, although sometimes that happens. The overarching characteristic is one of greater influence than anybody else in the group.

Once the person has been identified, it provides an opportunity for the supervisor to tap into that person as a resource. I like to think of the process as just becoming a lot closer to the person. When I employed this method, I actually felt like I was “adopting” the person in order to understand him or her at a deeper level.

Whether the informal leader is generally negative toward management or positive, it helps the supervisor to have a wide open channel of communication with that individual. Of course, the supervisor is smart to create a bond of trust with every person in her group, but that mandate is amplified when it comes to the informal leader.

The enhanced communication channel is always a two-way street. The individual benefits from understanding the point of view of the supervisor better, and the supervisor gains the understanding of what makes the person tick.

The supervisor can test possible ideas with the person, in confidence, and get some feedback on whether they might be embraced by the group. If the channel is wide open, then the informal leader will tell the supervisor immediately when she is pushing the group too hard or is about to blunder into an unwise policy for the group.

I like to think of this relationship with the informal leader as having a bottle of “Anti-Stupid Pills” that can be doled out to the supervisor whenever a remedy is needed most. If the supervisor reacts in ways that makes the informal leader glad to have shared the information, it will deepen the relationship of trust, and the leader will be more inclined to share sensitive thoughts in the future.

All of these dynamics usually happen in private, but the information, and the supervisor’s reaction, are quickly communicated to the group through informal channels. In this way, the group becomes well informed and the supervisor is protected from making bonehead decisions inadvertently.

The danger of this method is that the supervisor is singling out a person for more attention. People can easily pick up on this dynamic and become negative about the relationship. The smart supervisor works to maintain constant communication with everyone on a daily basis and fosters a cordial relationship with each person.

Try Better Teamwork

Another common method of appealing to peer pressure without being manipulative is to foster a true sense of teamwork within the group. Supervisors who invest time and energy into helping their teams work very well together gain in numerous ways.

In my division, I encouraged each manager and supervisor to take his or her team off site for at least a half day every month. I found over the years that these team building and strategy sessions paid for themselves ten times over in terms of productivity for the remainder of the time. Reason: when people know and respect each other as mates, then the backbiting and dysfunctional behaviors usually melt away.

The precaution here is to test every time if the off-site work is still helping the team to grow. Sometimes, and with some groups, the teambuilding efforts can become a burden or an unwanted disruption. It is important to test the vitality of the interfaces periodically.

One important ingredient was to have a good facilitator who was not on the team guide the discussions and activities. Paying for these facilitators was an investment I was happy to make because the benefits outweighed the costs by orders of magnitude. When people feel great about being on a winning team, they gladly put forth extra effort daily, and any would-be slackers are brought around through peer pressure.

What to avoid

Basically anything that might be interpreted as manipulation has a bigger chance of backfiring than succeeding. A common mistake supervisors make is to pit some people on the team against others in a form of intimidation. It is a ploy that is easily detected through body language, and it lowers trust instantly. If there is a discipline problem with one or two people, the supervisor needs to own the issue and work with the problem people directly rather than attempt to have the group do it through peer pressure.

Another thing for the supervisor to avoid is participating in any form of gossip or rumors. These hurtful practices lower trust and cause a lot of damage. I once had a supervisor who had “loose lips.” She would go around telling people information “on the QT” and people learned quickly not to trust her.

Basically the logic is simple; while the supervisor was whispering some juicy information about someone else, the recipient is thinking, “I wonder what she tells other people about me.”

A part of integrity is keeping confidential information from leaking out. Further, it is the supervisor’s responsibility to coach any individuals who spread rumors that leaking confidential or questionable information about other people, regardless of their position, will not be tolerated.

These are a few of the tips on how and how not to utilize peer pressure if you are a supervisor. They come from my own experiences along the way. There are countless other techniques that may prove helpful to you. My advice is to monitor what tools you find most effective and practice them consciously and with care. Peer pressure is powerful and can be a significant positive force in any group, if it is properly managed.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Successful Supervisor Part 6 – Pulling Rank

December 26, 2016

Think back to when you were a child and you wanted to bend the rules. For example, maybe you wanted to eat a big ice cream cone an hour before dinner. You probably remember a parent saying “No, you can’t eat one now, you’ll spoil your appetite.”

Then, being a child who knew what he wanted, you would persist and start to whine. “Why is it important that I have a good appetite?” Back and forth you would go with your parent trying every kind of logic you could think of until finally the parent said some form of “You cannot do it because I said so. I am the parent and you are the child, so forget about it.”

Now think about how you felt about that logic. If you were like me, you probably went off muttering something like, “It’s not fair. Someday I’ll be the parent; then I can do what I want.”

Supervisors who pull rank in order to get people to do something are playing the parent-child game, and the employees can be heard muttering to their friends about it in the break rooms. The tactic can work to force a specific behavior or result, but the supervisor will pay dearly in the end.

Pulling rank on people almost always results in lower morale and lower performance with people, so why do so many supervisors use it? Let’s peel back this issue and dissect several things that have a bearing on this conundrum.

You might believe that supervisors have forgotten how it feels to be outranked, but that is not a valid reason because every supervisor has a boss and several others above that person. It is likely that she has the same feelings about some of the things she is ordered to do.

Pulling rank is about obtaining power through position. It is certainly possible to do, but there are definite negative side effects. When people are forced by rank to do something, it demeans them and robs them of their dignity, so they are instinctively vengeful.

When you pull rank to get people to do what you want done, it “feeds the hog.” Let me explain what the “hog” is. In the lumber industry, after they fell a tree and cut into usable boards, there is some scrap wood with bark still on it.

There are various outlets for this byproduct. One method is to use a giant wood chipper and feed the unusable boards into this so-called “hog” to make them into small chips that can be compressed for pellet fuel or used as mulch or to make paper products.

One sawmill supervisor was using a lot of command and control tactics with his shift workers in order to get them to perform. Since the boss had the higher rank, they were forced to comply, which they begrudgingly did.

But the minute the boss left the immediate area, the workers started feeding the good boards into the “hog.” By “feeding the hog,” these workers were getting their revenge on the supervisor in ways he could not easily detect.

Motivation to do the right thing is not enhanced by a command and control approach to people. Oh sure, you can force them to do what you say, but you will regret it later.

The better way is to inspire motivation inside the workers to do things the right way because they are convinced it is to their benefit to do so. They become intrinsically motivated to do what the supervisor wants to have done. We will discuss motivation in more depth in a future segment. For this article let me just list several ideas to create intrinsic motivation so that the supervisor doesn’t need to resort to pulling rank.

Create a culture of trust

This technique was discussed in a prior article. It works because with the right culture, the supervisor is not operating in a hostile atmosphere. People are willing to listen and to extend themselves because they are treated well.

Share a compelling vision

If people clearly see that they are better off doing what the supervisor is suggesting, then they would be foolish to resist. People understand that work is work, but they will willingly extend the needed effort if they see they will benefit by it personally or achieve an inspiring goal.

Articulate a common and aggressive goal

Goals can be burdensome or inspiring depending on how they are presented to people. Stretch goals are often better than mediocre goals, simply because they bring out a desire to reach and stretch. People often rise to incredible levels of performance if they are challenged by a leader they truly respect.

Build a sense of team spirit

People work better collectively when there is a spirit of love and good feelings between the individuals. When the boss tries to demand performance, it creates an instantly hostile environment. If some team spirit does develop in that environment, it will be the workers banding together against the boss. That leads to all forms of sabotage in order to “get even” with the supervisor. Smart supervisors understand that they are on the same team as the workers and build rapport with themselves included in the team spirit.

Reinforce right behavior

Sincere reinforcement done “the right way” is the best way to perpetuate good performance. When the supervisor has an attitude of trying to catch people doing good things so she can praise them, the atmosphere becomes less of a sweat shop and more of a congenial or cheerful workplace.

Advocate for people and their needs

If the supervisor becomes known as a person who will “go to bat” for the desires of her workers with higher up management, it displays that she is a strong advocate for their well being. That does not mean she always needs to take the side of the workers in every conversation, but at least people know she will do her best to argue their case in higher management discussions. That behavior breeds respect, and respect is the fuel required for an engaged workforce.

Study Emotional Intelligence

The ability to work well with people at all levels and read them accurately is an essential ingredient of good leadership at all levels. It shows most starkly at the supervisor position. If she is able to read the emotions of people, even before they verbalize them, then she will manage the daily situations for better outcomes rather than constantly putting out emotional fires. That is a huge advantage.

There are dozens of other things that can be done to allow a supervisor to obtain sustained excellent performance without having to resort to rank. The above list is a good starter kit that will allow any supervisor to do a fine job as she hones her craft, through experience, to become a master leader.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Successful Supervisor Part 3 – New Sheriff in Town

December 4, 2016

Aside from the promotion from within the ranks, there is a second major way to obtain a new group supervisor. Bringing in a resource from outside the group has some advantages, but there are huge caveats for this method.

In this category, there are two common approaches that are used:

1) bringing in someone who has been a supervisor in another area, and

2) hiring a new college graduate as an entry level position.

In this article, I will describe some challenges and recommendations for each situation.

Transfer from another area

When bringing in a supervisor from another area of the company, or even a different company, at least she has the advantage of being a seasoned person who has experience leading front line employees.

A typical mistake made by the supervisor in this situation is to be too zealous with advice learned on the prior job.

Typical problem

Suppose a supervisor has been moved from the packaging area to the formulation group. She has been successful in the packaging assignment and wants to bring her enthusiasm and knowledge to the new challenge.

She begins by asking questions in meetings about how things are done in the formulation group she is now leading. She will make suggestions with various forms of “When I was with the Packaging Group, we used to have a daily update so we were all informed.”

People in the inherited group will listen politely as the supervisor makes logical suggestions based on her history. Unfortunately, after just a few suggestions, her new employees will start referring to “Miss Packaging” behind her back.

It will be a very long time before the new supervisor has the purchasing power she will need with people in the Formulation Group.

Solution

The antidote here is for the new supervisor to listen to how things are done in the new area without making continual references to her prior experience. The rule I tried to encourage with new managers is to allow them to refer to the old job one time for the first three months. That is a difficult challenge, but it is really important to not be overbearing with pre-existing theories at the start of a relationship.

New hire to the company

A second method of bringing in a new supervisor is to hire a high-potential person right out of school. Often the first line supervisor position is used as a way to “season” a bright new MBA in a large organization. This method is fraught with so many problems, it is a wonder that it ever works out.

Main problem

First of all, the supervisor has no practical experience leading people in the real world. She may have had a leadership course in her MBA curriculum, but her employees will be eager to show her where theory breaks down in the real world.

The cultural gap between a college educated supervisor and the people on the shop floor is huge. There is also a jealousy factor that results from the supervisor being viewed as a “silver spooner” who got a college degree simply because daddy had enough money and who never had to do “a real day’s work” in her life.

The new supervisor does not have the experiential background to handle the myriad of issues she will face in her first few weeks. As she is trying her best to learn, the employees in the area will be polite on the surface, but the breakroom discussions will center on how clueless she is.

It will take a very long time before she has the purchasing power to lead, yet she has been given a position that calls for great leadership from day one.

When you couple the lack of supervisory knowledge with the lack of content knowledge of the processes, the experience for the new supervisor is usually overwhelming, and failure is a typical result.

It is awful for the organization because performance will suffer; It is awful for the people because they are not being well led; It is worst for the new supervisor, because she is going to start out her career with a very bad performance.

Solutions

1. The antidote here is to use a mentoring process where a new person coming out of school has the chance to learn the processes and people before being put into a position of supervisory power. Staff assignments can allow time for this mentoring to occur. Another position that can work as a temporary learning spot is an assistant to an excellent incumbent supervisor.

2. There are many training courses offered on how to make a solid entry as a new supervisor directly out of school. The American Management Association, Fred Prior Seminars, Franklin Covey, and Dale Carnegie all offer excellent baseline courses that are short in duration and not very expensive.

I also have such a course that I run several times a year in my home town of Rochester NY.  They can really help bridge the gap between the sterile world of academia and the messy world a new supervisor will soon face.

3. There are a number of great books on this specific topic. One of my favorites is “Managing People is Like Herding Cats” by Warren Bennis.

4. I have put out a series of 30 videos entitled “Surviving the Corporate Jungle” that contain tips on how to manage people with less potential for conflict. You can view some sample videos free at the following address.

If you are facing a situation where a new sheriff is coming in to lead a group, make sure you avoid the traps outlined above. You want to set up the new supervisor for success and not let her flounder for months before gaining the credibility to lead.

This article is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Pills For Common Sense

October 9, 2016

An MBA student in one of my classes reacted to my lecture on how forecasts are almost always wrong by saying that you can have the most rigorous software to forecast peak loads and schedule people, but you need to temper the computer decisions with common sense. What a wonderful statement, and I could not agree more.

Having been in the corporate world for several decades and running my own business helping companies for the past 15 years, I have seen or made my share of boneheaded decisions and policies.

It would be helpful if each organization had a kind of medicine cabinet, and inside there was a bottle of sugar pills marked “Common Sense Pills.”

Workers could be allowed access to the cabinet so any time a manager proposed a new policy or decision that was counter to what the organization was really trying to accomplish, the workers could get the bottle of pills and put it on the desk of the executive.

Of course, in most cultures, that act of honesty would be followed by all kinds of retribution against the employee. You would also see a secret camera installed over the medicine cabinet so in the future there would be evidence in order to punish the correct person.

I picked up a neat phrase at a Vistage lecture several years ago (cannot remember who the speaker was). He said,

“…doing things this way is only common sense: too bad it is not common practice in most organizations.”

We really need a mechanism for making sure common sense solutions are also common practice. There is such a remedy if only leaders would invoke it.

The antidote to blundering into decisions that defy common sense is to build an environment of trust. If people know they will not be punished for voicing a concern, and if leaders have the foresight to consider and discuss the impact of possible decisions before blurting out stupid orders, then many of the errant decisions would be avoided, and the “Common Sense Pills” would grow old in the medicine cabinet.

What if you were a leader and wanted to increase trust so people would tell you when you were about to do something stupid? The answer is to reinforce people when they tell you something you really did not want to hear.

I call this leadership behavior “reinforcing candor,” and I believe it is the quickest route to building real trust in any organization. Once you start making people feel glad when they point out a potential gaff, they will do more of it, which allows more protection in the future.

The ability to reinforce candor also reduces the risk of ethical problems in the organization. Ethical dilemmas often start with innocent and legal decisions that become accepted behavior.

Then, if we can shade the numbers this way today, we can add a little more coloring tomorrow, and soon we are on the slippery slope that leads to obvious illegal or bone-headed activities.

Leaders often miss the slide of behavior into questionable areas as if they are wearing dark glasses. If you are a leader who makes people feel glad when they point out a potential problem, you will get the message soon enough that you are about to cross the ethical line. That can not only keep you out of trouble; it might even keep you out of jail!

Another way to reduce common sense errors is to have a well documented process. The organization’s procedures need to be well designed and include a review or audit process with benchmarks and check points that will expose problems. With that level of rigor, a proposed deviation from the procedures would stick out like a sore thumb.

It also helps if there are specific measures in place that everybody knows. If we get off the beam, the measures, if they are well constructed, will give us leading indicators of trouble to come. If you are an employee and see something wrong, you can use these measures or audits to approach leaders in an objective and non-threatening way.

Most leaders punish people who challenge an action, and that behavior lowers trust. That is when employees need to start reaching for the Common Sense Pills again. Instead, foster an open environment where your employees are allies who help you run an excellent organization.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Dealing With Risk

August 15, 2016

I saw something in the social media a while ago, that said “Give chances: don’t take them.”

I propose a different slant on the topic: “Give chances and take them.”

Since I am rather risk averse, the notion of not taking chances has a comforting ring to it. On the flip side, none of us can make progress in life without taking some kind of chances. Finding the right balance between taking calculated and strategic risks versus foolhardy ones is worthy of some analysis.

The trick is to determine the difference between smart risks and dumb ones. We need a system that helps us sort them out.

Focus on a personal risk that you have taken in the past year. Think about the process you used to sort through the risk/reward ratio and how you ultimately decided to make the plunge or not. In retrospect, would you do it again?

Do you thank yourself for taking intelligent risks, even if sometimes they do not pan out?

My system is to have a good strategic plan for my life. It covers my professional as well personal life. Every year I renew the plan and refresh what I intend to do for the next year. Having a written plan allows me to turn down some tempting things without feeling guilty for missing something.

For example, this year I made a strategic decision to back off on some teaching to allow more time for product development. That meant sacrificing current income in order to have the potential for a better future.

The result was not guaranteed, but the risk vs. reward tradeoff was a good one for me this year.

I have also made some heavy investments in my speaking career that are already starting to pay off and are bringing me more speaking engagements on my topics of trust and leadership.

Having a plan helps me know which calculated risks might be the best moves to make. The plan is never perfect, nor do I adhere to it with shackled rigidity. I believe we need to be flexible and alert to possibilities we may not have considered.

Still, operating with a backdrop of a well-considered plan has been quite useful in my life. I recommend the practice to you, and here is a link to the system I use, called “Renewal.”

Giving chances, allowing ourselves and others to try things, is a formula for enabling growth. We need to feel empowered to take a chance when it is prudent and encourage others to take responsible risks as well.

Sometimes we also need to give second chances in order to reap the true payoff. If we are too quick to pull the plug when an attempt at something goes sour, then we limit the learning experiences that come from overcoming failures.

I believe we learn more from our failures than we do from our successes. We need to fail more intelligently and make corrections to maximize the life lessons. It is all about learning.

For example, walking and talking are easy for most people. Recall what it is like for a child to learn to walk or talk. It is simply a series of numerous failures followed by support and more chances that allow the eventual learning to take place.

But what if you had a stroke and had to learn these skills all over again? Thankfully, most of us never have to endure that agony. One person who did, and wrote insightfully about it, was Jill Bolte Taylor.

Jill wrote a wonderful book entitled, My Stroke of Insight. Here is a link to a TED Talk she gave on her experience. As a practicing brain surgeon, she suffered a massive stroke that destroyed the left side of her brain.

In her book, she described the painful process to regain full control of her functions, with the dedicated help of her amazing mother. She literally had to relearn how to walk and talk while using only the right side of her brain.

In the process, she discovered a kind of inner peace that is available to us all if we simply train ourselves to access it. I recommend this book to anyone who struggles with depression. It is not only about getting a second chance, but about the amazing personal skill of modifying our own thought patterns.

Giving second chances to ourselves and others is also an empowering activity. We allow the person to take ownership of the situation and figure out how to do better in the future. With this approach, people can take a creative and uplifting road to improvement rather than dwell in defeat.

The Connection of Risk and Trust

There is a direct link between risk and trust. If you trust someone, it is axiomatic that the person could disappoint you. You take that risk when you trust him or her.

Trust without risk is like a meal without food.

If you find one, the other has to be there. For example, it is impossible to drink a glass of water without trust.

If each of us would concentrate on taking intelligent chances with the right strategy and then extend chances if things go wrong, we would find the world to be happier and more productive, because we would be learning more all the time.

Key Points

1. Risk is present in most actions. We often overlook the risks involved in daily life.
2. Risk and trust are joined at the hip.
3. Taking calculated risks is good for us.
4. If there is no risk, there can be no progress.

Exercises for You

1. Name five risks you took before breakfast today.
2. Count the times a coworker or superior makes a risky decision in a single meeting. You will be amazed. It will open your eyes.
3. What system do you use to sort out the risks and get them lined up so you know which ones need the most attention?
4. If you took a risk that did not work out, how can you more quickly recognize the mistake?

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change, The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763

New Book in 2014 – Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change For more information go to http://www.astd.org/transition


Playing Carnival Games at Work

August 1, 2016

Do you know leaders who solve problems daily? Of course; all leaders do this. Isn’t that the major function of leaders? When leaders solve problems, the organization performs better and employees get along better together.

Solving problems is critical to business success. Unfortunately, in many situations leaders spend all of their time solving problems and reacting to crises, so it becomes like the carnival game of “Whack-a-Mole”.

I believe the ideal day for a high caliber leader consists of making sure the entire organization is grounded with a set of values and behaviors that everyone agrees to follow.

The entire population knows their mission and has internalized the vision as to where they are going in the future.

They recognize there are a number of change cycles from where they are in order to achieve the vision, so they have developed a great strategy with tactics and measures to help them chart the path to success.

All of these things are part of the strategic process that is a prime responsibility for all leaders. Leaders should be spending the bulk of their time creating and reinforcing the strategic plan and creating the culture.

Unfortunately, there is a paradox in most organizations where the leader is served up a never-ending supply of problems to resolve. Let’s picture a leader named Alice.

She comes to work on a typical day with 2-3 problems left over from the previous night. Her calendar is jammed with meetings to report on the status of problems or work on emergency situations.

She “inherits” several new problems or crises every day. Sometimes the problems are waiting for her outside her door when she arrives in the morning. There are certain to be several new ones when she looks at her inbox.

She instinctively knows the organization could run a lot better, but there is simply no time to even work on a good strategic plan. So, poor Alice runs herself ragged and just keeps her head out of the water on most days.

She goes home exhausted, kicks the dog, and tries to clear out a few more issues online before going to bed.

I call this condition the “Executive Whack-A-Mole” syndrome, after the famous carnival game. Every time a mole comes out of one of the holes you whack it down, but there are others emerging all the time. You can never get them all down at the same time, and they keep coming up faster and faster.

This problem is not universal, but it is far too common in most organizations. There is a way out of the game, but it requires courage and vision. The way out is to invest time creating an improved culture and workflow within the organization.

Leaders need to see their prime role as creators of culture and systems, not just problem solvers. Developing an environment of higher trust is an investment that pays off many times over the cost. This shift in mindset has numerous advantages.

First, carving out time where the entire team can work on trust issues will result in less friction between people in the future. Since many of the “problems” have to do with people being unable to work together efficiently, this investment pays off in two ways.

1) Employees work better together with fewer problems, and

2) employee satisfaction improves, resulting in greater productivity.

Second, by focusing on teamwork, the leader emphasizes that all employees are capable of solving the inevitable business problems. The leader has many willing hands to lighten the load of problem solving in the future.

The employees feel good about having greater responsibility as well. They become empowered and trusted to handle many situations previously delegated upward to the leader.

Third, the tendency toward executive burnout is greatly reduced when there is time set aside to work on the culture. Getting out of the “rat race” every few weeks to think about what is happening is cathartic. People have the opportunity to vent and rebuild relationships in a “safe” atmosphere.

In some situations this is best handled with the help of an outside expert schooled in conflict resolution.

Having a facilitator is especially important if the leader is part of the problem. Working on the culture is usually expanded to include better strategic planning and vision definition. Now employees have a stronger stake in the future of the organization because they helped define it. This ownership means they will put forth more effort to make it a reality.

When working with executives, I nudge them to consider devoting 15-20% of their calendar time each quarter working to develop an improved culture of trust. That means scheduling their time and that of their team to get away from the office and do some systems and capability building looking at the bigger picture.

When I suggest this, most executives look at me as if I am from another planet. They will say something like, “You must be insane. We could not possibly carve out that much time to be away from the office. You obviously do not have a clue how busy I am.” I simply tell them to enjoy their “Whack-a-mole” game because, with their perspective, there is no way out of it.

In the time crunch on every executive, many believe it is impossible to invest as much as a full day every three or four weeks. They are too busy solving problems and crises.

However, those leaders who do carve out that much time, find the payoff is far greater than the investment. It leads to a stronger, more productive, and less problem-filled organization. It also leads to fewer health problems due to burnout.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change, 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. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763

 


End Manager and Worker Misalignment

May 21, 2016

Between my own consulting and online teaching of MBA students all over the world, I have been fortunate to study the cultures of literally thousands of organizations: large and small, profit and not for profit, government, and NGOs.

Once I get past the window dressing of how these organizations wish to appear to the outside world, I find some hurtful things that are common. One of the most frequent problems is a kind of “we versus they” thinking between the management levels and the workers. This article examines why this symptom is so common and suggests eight ways to mitigate the problem.

The fundamental cause of what I call the “two sides mentality” is a lack of true alignment. Most organizations have invested big bucks into developing a “strategy,” which includes things like Values, Vision, Mission, Purpose, Key Result Areas, Tactics, and Measures. These essential elements are usually developed by small teams of managers who cloister themselves away in a hotel or something for a few days to bang out the strategy.

Then, as the ink is drying on the pages, the discussion turns to how this brilliant plan is going to be communicated to the mass of workers in order to get “buy in” from the people “in the trenches.” Eventually there is a “roll out” of the information which inevitably is communicated BY the managers TO the workers. Notice the hackneyed expressions I used above are the actual words that are used, even today in the real world – amazing! If you listen, you will hear them.

The presentation is given to half-asleep people who are sitting in neat rows trying not to yawn. The data dump is followed by a few polite questions, and then everybody files out of the conference room and goes to lunch. The managers meet in their own dining space and congratulate themselves on clarifying the strategy and getting buy-in from the workers.

In reality, what happened is that the managers illustrated, once again, that they are clueless about how the culture is created by their actions, not their words. Their attempt to get everybody “on the same page” only served to drive the wedge between the management team and the people doing the work deeper. How is it possible for managers to miss the reality that they are doing the same thing hoping for a different result?

The fact that some organizations actually do achieve true alignment of purpose throughout the organization (my personal estimate is less than 20% do) gives me hope that not only is it possible, but with excellent leadership it is easier and faster than the conventional route. Organizations that achieve true alignment always blow away groups that have fractured perspectives.

In their book “Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations,” Bob and Gregg Vanourek have a whole chapter on alignment. It is an excellent model. One key point they make is that the elements of the strategy need to be developed collaboratively. Great leaders know that for people to truly embrace a concept, they must put their fingerprints on it while it is being developed. The authors write about how the alignment is a kind of cascade rather than a lay on. The principles and information are generated organically and developed carefully by the whole team over time.

The collaborative process allows all people in the organization to feel true ownership of the plan, which becomes the foundation for alignment. It is alignment that erases the feeling of one side versus the other, because we all understand what we are trying to do and are pulling in the same direction. So how can leaders create this kind of culture? Here are eight ideas that can help any organization reduce the “we versus they” thinking and thereby obtain the full energy that is latent in the entire team.

1. Leaders need to listen more

In the urgency to survive and the reality of a flat world, it is a real challenge to make the effort and take the time to engage people at all levels about the future direction. Of primary importance, it is necessary to agree upon a set of values that the entire team not only adopts but pledges 100% to live by, even when it is difficult. It is not enough to simply state the values. For true alignment, all of the values must be demonstrated by all people all the time.

Clarifying a compelling vision of the future is equally vital. If every person in the organization feels that he or she is going to be much better off once the vision is achieved, you have a powerful force multiplier for alignment.

2. Involve everyone in identifying the direction

As ideas are put forth, look for common themes and keep working the information into a model where each person feels ownership. Once people realize they are actually part of the generation process, they will be much more inclined to embrace the final product. When one part of the strategy seems impossible, don’t discard it. Rather, examine the blockage and get creative with a way to accomplish it anyway in an ethical, values-based way.

3. Don’t say things you cannot do

So often I see a values plaque in the lobby of a company indicating “People are our most important asset,” only to find the managers in the back conference room trying to figure out details of the impending downsizing. Once a stated value reveals managerial hypocrisy, it does more harm than good to put it on the plaque. It fosters a “They say it, but they don’t mean it” mentality that enables “us versus them” and works against the alignment.

4. Don’t “Roll Out” the “Program”

I have found that having a big roll out program is often the kiss of death. Employees smell a lay-on coming a mile away, and they will go to the meeting with earplugs firmly inserted. A roll out meeting may allow managers to check the box called “communicate” but it does little to build alignment. Instead of the big fanfare, share the information at small family groups with good opportunity for dialog, and indicate this was derived by all of us. Stress that the information on the strategy is how we intend to conduct ourselves from now on. Repeat that information at every possible point and illustrate it when decisions are based on it. For example, a manager might say, “We have recommended this vendor as the supplier for our parts because their demonstrated integrity matches our own value of integrity.”

5. Be willing to admit mistakes

In changing a culture, there will be small, or sometimes big, mistakes made along the way. The world is a messy place, and it is impossible to reach perfection. But, as Vince Lombardi once said, “If we chase perfection we can catch excellence.” When managers are willing to admit they made a mistake along the way, it demonstrates to people they are sincere about the culture change. Also when managers admit their vulnerability and do not punish people for pointing out apparent inconsistencies, it builds higher trust because it reduces fear in the workplace. Lower fear means less opportunity for “we versus they” thinking.

6. Build and value trust

Trust becomes the glue that holds the whole organization together in good times and in difficult times. The culture of any organization is a reflection of the behaviors of the senior leaders more than any other single factor. If the culture is split so the workers do not trust management, then every initiative, strategy, and outcome will be compromised. Leaders need to understand and step up to this incredible challenge. True alignment requires the attention and effort of everyone on the team, but the leaders set the tone and model the way.

7. Don’t get derailed by short term thinking

The daily and monthly pressures of any business will test the resolve of the team. In his program “Life is a Journey,” Brian Tracy points out that “obstacles are not put there to obstruct but to instruct.” The whole team needs to learn from the challenges and focus on the long term vision to navigate the speed bumps with grace. The very reason for having a strategy in the first place is to focus energy on the big picture when the vicissitudes of the real world try to blow us off course.

8. Celebrate the small wins as well as the big ones

The atmosphere can be moved from surviving an oppressive string of burdensome crosses to bear to one of hitting the tops of the waves as we water ski to victory. The trick is to recognize and appreciate all of the good things that are going on. Teach people that the reinforcement should come from all levels, not just the managers. Once the workers start practicing reinforcement of others, magic things begin to happen.

There are numerous other ideas and helpful tips that can add to the success of the team. The main point of this article is that it is possible to create real alignment where everyone in the organization is truly excited about what is being accomplished, and that culture eliminates the “we versus they” mentality between workers and managers. I wish more organizations could experience the fantastic boost to performance and the true joy of working in such an environment. It all rests on the quality of leaders to create that kind of culture.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow, Inc. an organization dedicated to growing leaders. He can be reached at bwhipple@leadergrow.com 585-392-7763. Website http://www.leadergrow.com BLOG http://www.thetrustambassador.com He is author of the following books: 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.