Category Archives: Culture building

Feedback Formula

performance management

As noted in our previous post, an effective performance management regimen is a necessity for any organization hoping to build and sustain a high-performance culture of continuous improvement.

That post also noted that an effective process for giving feedback is a critically-important part of performance management. However, the post went on to share the results of research by Gallup indicating that only 26% of U.S. workers surveyed strongly agreed that the feedback they receive as part of their organizations’ performance management effort actually helps them to improve their work or behavior.

Fortunately, a simple four-step formula for effectively giving feedback or for sharing difficult messages in a “brain-friendly” way (so the receiver recognizes important feedback is about to be shared) was recently shared during a TED talk by Cognitive Psychologist LeeAnn Renniger.

These steps are:

Micro yes. Begin the interaction by asking a short, but important, closed-ended question to gain initial acceptance or buy-in and to give the other person a sense of autonomy (they can, after all, answer either yes or no). The objective is to get them to say, “yes.”

For example, you might ask, “Do you have five minutes to talk about yesterday’s meeting?”

Data point. To help others avoid confusion and to make sure your message is clear, make a concise and specific statement about the action or behavior you want to address. By avoiding ambiguous or “blur” words, you will enable the other person to more clearly understand the issue at hand.

For example, “During yesterday’s meeting you agreed to send a follow-up email with instructions by 11am this morning. It’s now after 3pm and I still don’t have it.”

The data point need not only refer to a negative situation. For example, “During yesterday’s meeting you shared a great example of how the order processing works best!”

Impact statement. Explain how the action or behavior impacted you.

For example, “The story really made it easier for me to understand how the process should work, and will make it easier for me to do my part going forward.”

Question. Wrap-up with another question (open-ended this time) that is geared toward confirming understanding and gaining commitment.

For example, “How do you see it?” Or “What do you think?”

While simple in structure, Renniger explained this approach is a scientifically proven method for gaining the attention of others and for giving feedback in a meaningful way.

Possibly most important, having a set of guidelines can make it easier for the feedback giver to approach potentially awkward interactions with greater levels of confidence, and to execute more effectively.

How to Improve EQ

EQ

Our previous post focused on Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and the role it plays in leadership, Continuous Improvement, and developing a high-performance culture.

Most of us are able to identify people who posses a high EQ, and some of the prevalent traits were listed in our previous post. But what about those who don’t exhibit a very high EQ?

Fortunately, according to data compiled by Richard E. Boyatzis, a pioneering researcher into leadership and emotional intelligence, Emotional Intelligence can be taught and improved.

Drawing on Intentional Change Theory (ICT), he describes five steps to the type of personal change required in order to increase emotional intelligence, which are listed below. However, it is important to recognize that the pursuit of improving EQ, like the pursuit of any sustainable change, must be intentional. The requirement is a desire for change; without that, no sustainable improvement is possible. People with no interest in developing EQ will not do so, but if they are motivated to change, the following steps will help them:

  1. Identify the ideal self. In a way, this is analogous to imagining the future state of an organization — what it would look like if everything were right — but the ideal self is much more personal. One person’s ideal self, building on his or her core identity and aspirations, will be different from another’s ideal self. Personal change starts with envisioning the ideal self — the way one would like to be, to work, and to be perceived. This has three elements: awareness of one’s strengths, an image of the desired future, and a sense of hope that the desired future is attainable.
  2. Identify the real self. Where is one, relative to one’s goals today. This step is not as easy as it sounds. The greatest challenge is to see oneself as others do. Using multiple sources of feedback, such as 360-degree evaluations can be useful.
  3. Develop a learning agenda. In contrast to a list of to-dos and complying with agendas of others, the learning agenda is development focused. It provides structure for exploration and learning.
  4. Experimentation and Practice. Practice, look for feedback, and practice again.
  5. Form helping relationships. Coaches, mentors, or guides are very helpful to someone aiming to transition to the ideal self through practicing greater EQ.

Emotional Intelligence & Culture Building

culture building

As explained in our previous post, Emotional Intelligence (E.Q.) is the phrase used to describe the ability to identify, use, understand, and manage emotions in positive ways.

It is also a capability that leaders can leverage to drive a high-performance culture of Continuous Improvement. Consider that creating a high-performing culture requires a resonant leader who can:

  • Communicate a vision
  • Inspire action
  • Drive out fear
  • Motivate truth-telling
  • Resolve conflicts
  • Create a safe place for people to exercise a passion for high quality, highly efficient work

Equipped with a heightened awareness of the most common traits associated with higher-levels of E.Q., senior leaders can enhance their ability to create a high-performance culture of continuous improvement by seeking-out and engaging those within the organization who exhibit those traits.

By exercising their ability to align and motivate people around a common vision and plan, emotionally intelligent managers and team members are very valuable in organizations desiring to create a high-performance culture and achieve ongoing improvement.

In addition, there are ways for helping people to develop stronger emotional intelligence, which we’ll share in our next post.

Leadership: Another Prerequisite to Developing a High Performance Culture

leadership

Continuing with the theme of developing a high performance culture, another prerequisite to doing so is effective leadership.

This need has clearly been recognized in the marketplace as, according to data shared by Northeastern University, 58% of U.S. companies say their number one strategic priority is closing their current leadership skill gaps. The study also indicated that many more plan to increase their total spending on leadership development initiatives in the next few years— “now treating professional development as an important component of their business strategy.”

Leadership provides the energy for change and the commitment to sustain it. Today’s leaders must continually work to hone and refine a range of skills if they are to engage and lead a cultural shift.

These skills include:

  • Communication and active listening
  • Method of sharing optimism, energy and enthusiasm
  • Empathy
  • Consistency
  • Dependability
  • Motivation
  • Risk assessment
  • Delegation
  • Empowerment

In addition, creating and working with a select work group is an ideal way to exercise, analyze and improve these leadership skills.

Finally, it’s important to note that, contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to be in a C-level role to be considered a leader. Strong leaders exist—and are highly valued—at every level of business to inspire, engage, and influence their colleagues and stakeholders.

Continuous Improvement Impediments

People most often agree that the “hard” part of Continuous Improvement (CI) isn’t making improvements, but rather making it “continuous!”

In a past newsletter we entitled this reality as “Discontinuous Improvement,” noting that two things common to a high percentage of CI efforts are:

  1. They produce some improvements
  2. Then they peter out

For an organization to go through a cultural change so that “continuous” improvement becomes the new way of working and not just a one-time program, we need to pay close attention to the softer part of the improvement model. This will enable us to smooth the path, remove the obstacles, and continue to lead, communicate, and motivate both emotionally and intellectually.

Following are six common causes of discontinuous improvement, which hopefully your organization can avoid:

  • Neglecting aligning individual or team goals with those of the organization
  • Insufficient communication between management, the workforce, project teams and CI leaders
  • Delegating leadership, which is a responsibility that should stay with senior management
  • Manager’s or Sponsor’s failure to remove obstacles
  • Lack of quick success
  • Letting-up on the “gas” when initial results are made

The Pathway to Engagement

The path leading to a culture of engagement is linked with productivity, performance and job satisfaction. It follows a clear objective of engaging people around the one thing they all have in common—and the one thing that can bring about increased profitability and a sustainable competitive edge—the work.

As we all know, traditional employee engagement efforts have primarily failed to yield tangible results. They have also failed the sustainability test. As is the case with any improvement or change initiative, an ad-hoc approach involving little or no planning or structure, and lacking defined, measurable objectives, is prone to failure. This approach might be called “engagement for engagement’s sake.”

In contrast, a more focused approach of improving both the work and the workplace in a measurable way can result in high-levels of productivity, profitability and engagement!

As explained by Robin Gee, Coca-Cola’s Director of Employee Engagement, “We engage employees in aggressive efforts to eliminate waste and reinvest those savings in ways that are visible and meaningful to the employees.”

This perspective differs from traditional attempts at employee engagement in two critically-important ways:

  • A strong focus on productivity and continuous improvement as catalysts to engagement
  • A strong focus on measurement and return on investment

Of course this perspective is not necessarily new. For example, in 2012 ISO 10018 was introduced, which provides guidance on engaging people in an organization’s quality management system, and on enhancing their involvement and competence within it. The standard is applicable to any organization, regardless of size, type, or activity.

You might also note that ISO 10018 standards provide considerable leeway on how an organization specifically goes about its attainment. The emphasis placed on each requirement depends on an organization’s specific brand, culture, people, situation and goals. If you’d like to determine how close your organization is to achieving ISO 10018 certification, Engagement Strategies Media has created a chart that outlines the pathway. You can access the chart here.

An Often Overlooked Tool for Driving Continuous Improvement

A vitally-important tool for bringing about a culture of continuous improvement and engagement within a workforce is communication, which many people agree is the most frequently-used skill in today’s workplace.

Aside from standard team or project meetings, there are a number of ways leaders might go about accomplishing this. For example, employee forums are an ideal way to engage people around their work and contribute to the building of a high performance culture of continuous improvement.

Consider that one of the most obvious yet often overlooked requirements for high performance is a setting for employees to share and discuss problems and ideas for improvement.

But too often, managers and leaders tend to believe that if someone has a really great idea for improvement, they will raise it.  Yet when we talk to people close to the work, we more often hear ideas they have carried around for months or even years but never found the right time or place to share; or felt their idea would not be welcomed.

Even worse, when no forum for sharing improvement ideas is provided, people adapt to the way things are and stop noticing the waste—the elephant in the room—and stop trying to think of better ways.

A number of other examples of effective discussion forums that were shared during one of our Partners in Improvement sessions included:

  • Monthly safety talks at the end of which the company president discusses pertinent issues with team members and provides input as well as support
  • Weekly one-on-one session between management and team members during which leaders not only offer ideas and support, but also gather feedback on successes and challenges
  • Regular “town hall” meetings where he shares information about what is going on and what to expect, and also provides an opportunity for people to raise questions or concerns

It is also important to recognize that some “forums” are better than others, which will be the subject of our next post.

Engagement, Motivation & Work

Enterprise engagement has been a frequently-addressed topic in this blog, and a recent post shared some of our Partners in Improvement group’s thoughts on an important element of an engagement strategy — rewards and recognition.

In that post, several points were made about being careful with the use of extrinsic, or monetary rewards as motivators.

To add some additional perspective,  the Enterprise Engagement Alliance shared information from a past New York Times column “The Secret of Effective Motivation,” in which authors Amy Wrzesniewski, Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Yale School of Management, and Barry Schwartz, Professor of Psychology at Swarthmore College, suggest that the most effective type of motivation in terms of actual long-term results is action based on an internal motive — that is, “the pleasure derived from the activity and results themselves rather than from an instrumental motive such as the desire for fame or money.”

“Helping people focus on the meaning and impact of their work, rather than on, say, the financial returns it will bring, may be the best way to improve not only the quality of their work but also… their financial success,” the article states.

This viewpoint is well-aligned with our “Engagement Around the Work” approach, which involves specific steps for achieving a
culture of engagement that is linked with team productivity, performance, and job satisfaction.

This approach incorporates a clear objective of engaging people around the one thing they all have in common—and the one thing that can bring about increased profitability and a sustainable competitive edge—the work.

As Bill Conway often said, “It’s all about the work!”

Read “Engagement Around the Work” white paper.

Leadership Pitfalls

Several past posts have referenced the fact that strong, effective leadership is a “must” if we hope to build and sustain a culture of continuous improvement… a culture rife with innovation and high-levels of engagement.

Innovation, change, continuous improvement, and engagement only take place when leaders empower people at all levels to unleash their creative skills, seek new and better ways of improving their work, and share their passion about what can be accomplished.
Strong leaders provide the initial and ongoing energy for change, and people will only follow leaders if they trust them, if they see the need for change, if they believe change will benefit “all” parties, and if they are involved in creating the change.

While two of last year’s posts identified specific steps managers can take to develop and sustain a creative culture and also a culture of continuous improvement, there are also behaviors that organizational leaders must avoid.

In a recent SmartBrief article, John Stoker, Author and CEO of DialogueWORKS, Inc., shares several pitfalls that can result leaders undermining their credibility and effectiveness.

These “behaviors to avoid” include:

  • “You can tell me anything, but…!” This statement is made (without the “but”) to solicit input or feedback on a particular idea or course of action.  But, sometimes leaders will completely discount the idea or opinion offered, especially if it’s something with which they don’t immediately agree.
  • Coercing support. Sometimes in an attempt to win approval for an idea or decision, leaders will say something like, “I need you to support my position today in the meeting. You have to back me up!” Often there’s an implied, “Or else.” Such behavior destroys candor, honesty and team morale.
  • Solicitation without action. Simply stated, solicitation implies action. When a leader asks for ideas or solutions, it is implied that the leader will do something with the ideas or solutions that are provided. This doesn’t mean that a leader has to implement or take action on every idea that is offered, but it does require that the leader share what they might do and why. This reinforces the importance of contribution and collaboration. To solicit ideas or solutions and then do nothing signals to individuals that their ideas are not important. Do this, and it won’t be long before people quit speaking up or offering ideas.
  • Manipulation. Sometimes a leader will ask people for ideas and then use them as evidence that the leader’s original idea was the best idea. This ends up feeling like manipulation. If leaders ask for ideas, then they should be open to exploring those ideas.
  • Giving feedback at the wrong time and in the wrong place. The proper place to give any kind of negative feedback is in private! Some leaders feel it is appropriate to give negative or critical feedback to a person on the spot and in front of others.  Some of these managers have said that they like giving feedback in this way because it is motivating to others. But in reality, such behavior strikes fear into the heart of any conscious team member who learns to dread interactions with these managers or leaders. Sharing negative or critical feedback in front of others is highly disrespectful and does not inspire candor or openness. In fact, it will likely cause people to keep bad news to themselves and hide their mistakes.

Read the full article… 

5 Steps for Developing a Creative Culture of Continuous Improvement

In a previous post we shared some thoughts on how creativity can be a desirable trait of a good CI Leader, and how it can also be a tool for helping people to accept and adapt to change.

Although not often associated with a leadership goal, establishing a creative culture of continuous improvement can help managers at all levels to achieve higher-levels of performance.

Here are 5 specific steps managers can take to develop and sustain a creative culture, based on findings published by New Horizons Learning Centers:

    1. Encourage new ideas. Management must make it clear that they will embrace new ways of doing things. Managers whose default is to turn against new ideas will quickly stop creative ideas. This simple habit alone is a critical first step toward developing a culture of creativity and change.
    2. Allow more interaction. A creative climate thrives when team members are allowed to interact with their own team mates as well as team members from other departments. Useful information is exchanged, new ideas flow both ways and new views on old challenges are heard for the first time.
    3. Tolerate failure. We have often noted that a culture of CI is one in which people must be given amnesty… a culture in which people are not afraid to fail. This holds true in a culture of creativity as well. While new ideas can sometimes prove too costly or might simply turn out to not be feasible, management needs to accept that time and resources will be provided knowing that the idea(s) might or might not come to fruition.
    4. Provide clear objectives and freedom to achieve them. People or teams who are provided with clear goals will be motivated to meet them. The goals provide a purpose for their creativity. Set guidelines with minimal constraints gives managers a degree of control with regards to the cost and time invested the creative behavior.
    5. Offer recognition. Create individuals prefer to work on tasks that actual motivate them. This also means they, like all other staff, like to be rewarded for a task well done. Management must offer tangible rewards that send a clear message that creative behavior is encouraged, supported and recognized in their organisation.