Category: Communication

 

Core Growth Participants Learn from Leaders in the Start-Up Community

 

Core Growth, Core Consulting’s emerging leaders program, often features guest speakers from various walks of life who share experiences and lessons learned that participants can then reflect on and take back to their own industries. Current class members are in month 6 of the program’s third installment and recently gathered at Bad Girl Ventures to hear from Nancy Aichholz, the accelerator’s Executive Director, and UpTech’s Managing Director JB Woodruff. Participants, who have all been selected by their respective companies to be in this leadership program, focused during this particular session on the importance of alignment in propelling an organization forward. Below are some bits of advice provided by Nancy and JB about the role of alignment in their professional and personal lives.

Nancy Aichholz

Nancy’s professional journey spans from the Director of Marketing at Chiquita to the ownership and operation of her own start-up, NanBrands (whose carrot cakes were featured in Nordstrom). This past experience led to her role at Bad Girl Ventures, supporting female entrepreneurs like herself. Having taken time off to raise her children and focus on political fundraising in between careers and starting her own business, Nancy is familiar with the importance of alignment. She recently hired her 7th employee at BGV.

Her advice?

-Engage the old and embrace the new

-Focus on recruitment and on-boarding to secure the right talent for your team and integrate them into the culture of your organization

-Clearly define and communicate roles at every level to avoid confusion

-Share the highest level of information appropriate to everyone involved; though this may be intuitive, it can also be mapped out

-Stay on the same page by engaging team members (with staff retreats, for example)

JB Woodruff

Now in a leadership position at UpTech, an accelerator for data-driven start-ups, JB graduated from Penn State with a degree in Information Science and Technology. After quitting as a tech consultant in 2012, he went to Kenya for 3 months to work at a startup accelerator, then spent another 3 months in Cape Town, ZA working with the same program. After this experience, he was hooked on the start-up scene and worked on his own projects before landing his current position in 2015. JB has had to juggle aligning his corporate, personal, and non-profit endeavors.

His advice?

-Set your expectations and make sure they are known and understood; eliminate ambiguity

-Understand and appreciate the context of interactions; personally, culturally, etc.

-Respect the necessity of employees to feel valued

-Build trust through actions and over-delivery on promises

-Seek feedback

-Find advocates through dialogue and clarity

-Combat groupthink; bounce ideas off those outside your organization and industry

-Never make assumptions

-Stay vigilant in reporting and checkpoints so initial alignment becomes continued alignment

-Find mentors

 
Core Growth participants, in hearing success stories from these two prominent leaders in the start-up community, are able to apply the concept of alignment to their own leadership roles. Learn more about Core’s emerging leaders program here. Next cohort kicks off in September! 

 

Leading a Virtual Team: Part 3 of 4

Note: This is the third post in a 4-part series on Leading a Virtual Team. I’ve listed links below to the other three posts:

Part 3: Perfect Team Communications

Virtual CommsAhhh…communication (sigh). Why is it that nearly every conversation I have about something gone wrong includes the word “communication” as a key focal point? We’ve been practicing human communication since our Neanderthal days and studying it as an academic field as early on as Ancient Greece (to my knowledge, possibly prior), but we just can’t seem to get it right.

Termed by many as a “soft skill” (argh!), communication is hard – very hard. Add on the growing existence of virtual teams in today’s workforce, and you probably feel like just hanging up your hat when it comes to perfecting communications.

BUT (here’s where this somber story takes a turn in the protagonist’s favor), you CAN enhance communications amongst your virtual team. How, you ask? I’ve rounded up a few tips in this third installment of Core’s Leading a Virtual Team series.

Create a Game Plan

Communicate about your communications. Don’t just assume that everyone has the same practices when it comes to text vs. email vs. conference calls vs. IM vs. [insert any number of virtual comms platforms here]. Because there are so many channels out there at your disposal, it’s important that you create a game plan and make sure everyone is on the same page.

What channels do we use to communicate what?

For example, you might determine as a group to use:

  • Group chat for brief back-and-forth throughout the day (preventing a mess in your inbox)
  • Email for lengthier messages; communication with clients; communicating across time zones that prohibit real-time chat; etc.
  • Phone when something is more efficient to discuss during a quick 5-10 minute call versus lots of back and forth on chat or email
  • Google Drive for file sharing and collaboration
  • Shared calendar for out-of-office schedules
  • Weekly digital newsletter for sales success stories and industry trends/thought leadership
  • Private team Facebook page for leisure and social content
  • Weekly webcam calls for team touch points /updates

What’s appropriate and what’s not?

Once you’ve determined what each channel should be used for, you might want to consider crafting general behavioral guidelines. Have your team develop these “rules of thumb” themselves. For example:

Email Do’s And Don’ts

DO DON’T
Acknowledge via a reply within a 24-hr period Include people who don’t need to know or take action
Be as brief as possible and use bullets/lists whenever possible Use ALL CAPS
Use the red flag sparingly – only in true cases of urgency Reply All unless everyone needs to see your response
Avoid after-hours and weekend emails to respect personal time and wellness Use email to address a sensitive topic that deserves a more personal delivery

 

Virtual Meeting Do’s and Don’ts

DO DON’T
Have a clear purpose and agenda Schedule on Monday mornings or Friday afternoons (team members need this time to adequately prepare for their week ahead and tie up any loose ends)
Start and end on time if you are the host and arrive a few minutes early as a participant Send call-in details right before it starts (include them in original appt.)
Turn your webcam on (often helps avoid people talking over each other and keeps everyone more engaged in the discussion) Invite unnecessary participants who are not needed to advance the topic forward
Open the virtual meeting space up 10 minutes prior to start time if you are the host Fail to address the details of who is responsible for what (be specific!)
Mute your phone when not speaking to minimize background noise (and unmute before you speak!) Interrupt/announce yourself if you log in late; the Host will be able to see that you have joined
Be aware of all time zones when scheduling your meeting Turn beeping notifications on for attendees entering and leaving the meeting space
Conclude by recapping discussion and summarizing next steps Have your email notifications on when sharing your screen

 

As an aside, check out this funny YouTube clip. I’m sure many of you have already seen it, but just had to share:

With a plan like this in place, your team now knows what communication channels to use for what purpose and how to appropriately use each one. You will really start rocking and rolling now!

Three implementation tips for your virtual team’s communications strategy:

  1. Turn it into something visual. A quick reference page for your team to keep visible at their home office would be helpful.
  2. Make sure you onboard every new team member with your communications strategy from Day 1.
  3. Revisit every 6-12 months and tweak as needed. With the number of digital communication tools entering the market each day, you never know what might work better. However, also don’t feel a need to change just because the latest trendy product or service has launched. If it’s working – stick with it.

Become Tech Savvy & Provide Access to Tools

As the leader of a virtual team, it’s imperative that you are very aware of digital workplace tools and that you provide your team members with the tools they need to be successful as a virtual worker. Don’t skimp in this area. It will make your team feel inadequately equipped, and thus less valued.

Ask yourself – Does my team have the right digital infrastructure in place to most efficiently and effectively support each other and our clients?

Consider needs such as:

  • IM/Chat (I’ve had colleagues recommend HipChat and Slack during this series)
  • Shared calendaring
  • Files sharing and collaboration – Check out Google Drive, Evernote, Basecamp and Dropbox just to name a few
  • Screen sharing & web conferencing – Check out join.me, Google Hangouts, or any number of web conferencing solutions
  • Social networks – You can use public sites like Twitter, Facebook or Instagram (that have the capability to set up private collaboration), or you can consider internal enterprise solutions such as Jive, Share Point and Yammer
  • Hardware – Don’t forget about critical physical devices such as smart phones, laptops, tablets, hot spots, etc. Make sure your team members are equipped with reliable devices; otherwise it can really hinder productivity.

As always, please share your own thoughts and resources below. There are so many useful tools to help virtual teams these days, and I’ve only skimmed the surface here with some of what I’ve shared. I’d love to hear what is working well for your virtual team.

Stay tuned for our last piece on this series, which will be “Acquire & Develop the Right Talent.”

Till next time…

It’s Time to Start Having Honest Conversations

This post strays a little bit from my normal blogging, but it’s been something on my mind lately that I need to hash out on my keyboard.

We have a problem with trust in organizations today. Nothing earth shattering about that statement.  I personally believe it’s closely connected (unfortunately) to a much larger issue of trust in today’s world. I can’t blame anyone for feeling this widespread lack of trust. Our trust has been broken…too many times in recent years…often by tragic events…leaving us feeling vulnerable, yet also determined to look out for ourselves and those we love the most.  This sometimes comes at the expense of not developing relationships with those we don’t know.

The larger issue of lack of trust in today’s world deserves its own series of blog posts (and more!) that I cannot provide, nor am I qualified to provide. What I can do though is reflect on how I’ve seen this lack of trust play out in organizational life and offer at least one suggestion for how we can start making it better.

I’ve been working in some facet of organizational development for more than 10 years, most recently running an OD consulting practice. I’ve had the distinct pleasure of working with organizations of all different sizes, industries and global footprints, and I can say that all of them (and they would agree) could benefit from making one thing a priority:

Developing the ability within their employees to have honest conversations with each other.

honesty

Honest conversations. They’re not easy. If they were, we wouldn’t have so many performance issues, miscommunication, ambiguous expectations and unclear definitions of success. As a consultant, I’ve seen this play out in a different light than when I was working inside organizations. I’m now hearing the honest conversations as an unbiased third party, but I’m the wrong person for them to be directed to.

One of many things we can do to increase levels of trust within our organizations is to start being honest with each other. We have to start somewhere, and I believe one place we can all make a difference is by making a personal commitment to have honest conversations with our colleagues, managers, and team members.

Try it this week. I venture to bet you’ll feel a sense of relief and will also realize more constructive outcomes than you’ve possibly had in years. What’s holding you back? Let’s work together to reframe our discussions in the workplace. Back to the basics with this one. #honesty

5 Ways to Ensure Employees Deliver your Brand Promise

20140627_085414 20140627_085432

A few weeks ago I facilitated a team offsite for a client I’m working with on an engagement project. The location was this really cool art studio in a trendy part of town. As I pulled into the lot, I quickly noticed that the owners must value “green.” There were some vegetated swales and designated parking spots for fuel efficient and “HOV” vehicle parking.  I was instantly lured in and appreciated the respect shown toward the business’ environmental impact…before even stepping foot in the door.

I wasn’t sure what HOV stood for, so it was the first question I asked the young man working in the reception area. His response – “I really don’t know. People ask me that all the time.”

Brand disconnect.

Hmmm….I thought. Was this all for show? Was it the trendy thing to do? Are they just trying to keep up with competition?

About a week later I did some research on their website. It ends up it’s a LEED Silver Certified green building. The rooftop has a solar panel system, and their property features a monarch butterfly conservation waystation, a bioswale rain garden, and a garden of native plants and prairie grasses. Being married to an environmental scientist and having worked in an environmental industry, I know that this level of commitment to green takes an investment, not to mention motivation and passion.

So this was clearly an internal brand alignment issue, which resulted in my brand experience being compromised. I cared enough to do further research on my own, but I’m part of probably 1% who would. Most customers would have stopped with thinking, “This place is just trying to be trendy but has no idea what being green even means” and potentially take their business elsewhere due to a feeling of fakeness during their experience.

Even if it was a false perception of the brand due to this one comment made by the receptionist, we all know very well that perception is reality.

Two important takeaways from this story:

  1. Your employees ARE your brand.
  2. Your employees can make or break your customers’ brand experience.

How many employees are aligned with their organization’s brand?

When asked how much they agree with the following statement, “I know what my company stands for and what makes our brand(s) different from our competitors,” 2012 research conducted by Gallup found that only:

  • 60% of executives strongly agreed
  • 46% of managers strongly agreed
  • 37% of all other employees strongly agreed

Maybe even more concerning is that 9% of other employees (non-executive, non-manager) strongly disagreed that they understand their company’s brand promise and brand differentiation.

Why is this more concerning? Because it’s typically your frontline that has the most touchpoints with your customers. It’s the receptionist greeting customers as they walk in, the customer service rep answering your customers’ calls, the entry-level sales associate running a Lunch & Learn webinar about your products and services.

What can I do to align my employees with my brand?

1. Answer: What is it?

First thing first – develop a brand strategy if you haven’t already. Be intentional about what you want your brand to feel like, look like, be differentiated by, etc. Include the following in your brand strategy:

  • Brand platform/positioning
  • Brand personality
  • Brand naming and architecture
  • Brand experience
  • Brand imagery
  • Brand alignment plan (!!!)

2. Embed it consistently into your internal communications.

Plot out your internal channels, create messaging around the brand, and insert it frequently and indefinitely into every employee touchpoint.

3. Reward and recognize brand-aligned behaviors.

Create recognition schemes that positively promote brand-boosting behavior.  This could range anywhere from public “shout outs” to performance-driven compensation plans. Are your employees living your brand? Reward them for it!

4. Onboard every single new employee around the brand.

Even seasonals and temps if they are going to be interacting with your customers. It is highly likely that the young man at the art studio who didn’t know what HOV stood for was a summer temp. Have employees “drink the Kool-Aid” from Day 1 by not focusing solely on policies, forms, and medical benefits, but also on your brand promise. Have them “feel” it first-hand through experiential learning embedded into your onobaridng program.

5. Regularly solicit input from employees about the brand.

Where are they feeling a disconnect? What aspects of it do they feel the closest connections to and why? What are their clients saying? Make it an ongoing discussion, and address needs and/or make changes as warranted.

Oh, and just in case this has been eating at you since you started reading – HOV stands for High Occupancy Vehicle. 🙂

The Single Most Important Question Your Team Should Answer

teamworkI am currently sponsoring a project with 10 team members in 6 global office locations, 5 divisions, and 4 time zones. Enough to make your head spin, right? I also just recently joined a newly formed Advisory Council for a non-profit. We held our first meeting last week, and it is an exciting time as we define our vision and goals for the group.

Both of these current projects have reminded me of a valuable lesson I learned from Duke University’s Coach Krzyzewski (“Coach K”) at this year’s Leadercast event. Whether you’re working with a team of 3, 10, 20, or more, all local or dispersed around the globe, it’s important for the team to answer this vital question in order to be successful:

How are we going to live?

It’s kind of like the rules of the road – pass in the left lane, stop at red, don’t text, so on and so forth. The same rules of thumb need to be identified by any team working collectively to achieve a common goal (project team, product team, department, committee, etc.).

Below are a few questions your team should ask itself early on to define your own “rules of the road”.

rulesofroadPurpose

Why does your team exist and what specific objectives do you need to accomplish?

Communication

How will you communicate with each other? What tools will you use? Consider things such as frequency, times, and locations of meetings; online collaboration tools such as Google Docs and/or social platforms; email distributions, etc.

Roles and Responsibilities

What is each individual team member expected to contribute to the achievement of your objectives? Is there a team lead, project manager, facilitator, note taker, etc.? Do you have sub-teams charged to drive specific initiatives? Most importantly – who brings the coffee and bagels and who organizes the celebratory happy hours?

Boundaries and Levels of Authority

What decision making powers does each member of the team have? Who can approve expenses, and up to what amounts?  What actions are team members empowered to take?

Relationships Outside of the Immediate Team

How will you work with other teams? Create Service Level Agreements where appropriate.

Standards/Code of Conduct

What behaviors does each team member expect from one another? Consider the following:

  • Participation/attendance (maybe you even define required attendance levels)
  • Sharing of duties – how flexible are your job roles? What is your overall philosophy toward helping each other out?
  • Challenge one another, but in a respectful way
  • Keep a positive attitude

One Final Note

When Coach K asked his U.S. Men’s Basketball Olympic Team how they wanted to live, they responded by saying, “always be on time to practice and always give it your all during practice.” In his past seven years as a Team U.S.A. coach, he’s never had anyone show up late and has never had a bad practice. Why? Because this rule was theirs. They owned it. They defined it. Therefore, they live it.

I encourage you to answer these questions with your fellow team members and document a charter for how you’re going to live.

Case Study in Employee Communications: Not-so-average announcement yields not-so-average results

Hoscars2Background

We hold an annual employee event each year called the H’Oscars where we celebrate our successes, provide a forum for learning and collaboration, and recognize the contributions of top talent. This event brings together the entire US organization and some of our international employees in one offsite location for 2-3 days.

It’s one of the most talked about topics amongst employees (and even non-employees who catch wind!), and everyone is always anxious to find out where it is going to take place each year.

An Idea

About two months ago, I received a random email from two employees who had an idea for a video about this event. I could tell they were excited about the concept and had put some thought and creativity into their suggestion. I was grateful they reached out and appreciated the level of engagement and drive behind the request. There was nothing I could do with it at the time, but I tucked it away in my inbox to revisit when planning was underway.

The Announcement

About a month and a half later, we were ready to announce the date and location of our 2013 event. That email I received back in April immediately came to mind.

Our typical approach would have been to share a “Save the Date” at a company meeting, in the newsletter, maybe in an executive blog, possibly a company-wide email, maybe even a video of our CEO announcing the location in our global enterprise online community.

OR…we could hand the responsibility off to two employees with a BIG idea and have them run with it!

We chose the latter.

We met with the employees one time, briefed them on the event, and told them we have two objectives for this announcement:

  1. Share the location and date.
  2. Build excitement.

They took it from there. Below is the result. It speaks for itself.

Regulate

The Results

GA_2Increased adoption and engagement in our enterprise community.

The video was posted to a Corporate News group in our online employee community and also featured in a teaser on the global home page. We saw an immediate spike in visits.

  • Unique logins increased that day by approximately 30% compared to a typical Monday.
  • We continued to see increased logins over the course of three days by approximately 10%.
  • Views on that post were 4x greater than what we typically see on other posts in that group.
  • We received more comments and “likes” on that post than we typically get. Below are a few examples of the comments.

“World changerrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrs…… I was rolling… this is awesome.”

“I. Died. This was great!”

“This was hilarious, I literally chocked on my drink, was not expecting that at all! Great job!”

“Too funny.  Just sad I’ll have to miss H’Oscars, esp. if this is any indication of what it will be like this year!”

Redistribution of responsibilities.

Aside from the high numbers of employees who voluntarily “chose” to consume the message; active engagement in our employee community; and the buzz this had generated; we also gained the added benefit of reallocating work typically done by the H’Oscars planning team. No CEO scripts to write, slides to design, or emails to draft.

By bringing “fresh blood” into the task of making this announcement, we also inherently rejuvenated the creativity and enthusiasm that went into it.

Why was this hugely successful?

1. Because employees are smart, talented, and want to contribute.

Do not take their ideas for granted. If you did your hiring right, you have talented team members bursting at the seams to contribute positively toward your business.

Listen to your employees. Outwardly demonstrate your confidence in their abilities. Empower them to take action.

2. Because employees pay attention to their colleagues.

Your general employee population is too far removed from the C-suite and possibly from the corporate communications team (depending on the size of your organization) to feel closely connected to the messages they send. This is an ongoing challenge for corporate communicators and executive leadership. However, they are very connected to the team members sitting to the left and right of them. Tap into these spheres of influence and informal internal networks as part of your communication strategy.

The two employees in this video were “real”, front-line team members with no direct ties to corporate communications, HR, or executive leadership. Get different faces and voices out there every now and then. People like to hear from those they can relate to.

3. Because it struck a personal cord with its audience.

For those of you who don’t know, the background music to the lyrics in the video is from a song called Regulate by Warren G and Nate Dogg that was released in the summer of 1994 and featured on the Above the Rim soundtrack. The average age of our workforce is approximately 32. That would mean that the majority of our workforce was around 13 years old when this song was released. I don’t care what “clique” you were part of in the mid-90’s…if you were a teenager in 1994, this song resonates with you.

Know your audience.

4. Because it was easy and enjoyable to consume.

The average person’s attention span in 2012 was 8 seconds, down from 12 seconds in 2000. This presents quite a challenge to anyone with a message to share. If we wanted to generate some buzz and excitement for this year’s H’Oscars, we needed to grab people’s attention and keep it short and sweet. Brief videos are a great channel to use to accomplish this objective.

What new communication strategies and channels have you used recently to engage your employees in your messaging? Please share!

 

Leadercast Take 2: The Trust Formula

TrustIn line with the Simply Lead theme to this year’s Leadercast event, let me continue this series by starting this post with a simple formula:

2 is better than 1 because 2 does it better than 1. Without trust, you only have 1.

One of the speakers at Leadercast was Mike Krzyzewsk – better known as “Coach K” – who has been the head coach of Duke University’s men’s basketball program since 1980. Coach K shared the above statement when talking about his experience coaching Team USA’s Olympic Basketball team, whom he led to gold medal victories in both the Beijing and London summer games.

London Olympics Basketball Men[Memes] LeBron James Memes Team USA Basketball Olympics2008 USA Men's Olympic Basketball

As you can imagine, Coach K had some “big” personalities to lead – Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Carmelo Anthony to name a few. The best-of-the-best from all across the United States, with each potentially having their own personal agenda.

Trust was a critical factor to their success – trust in Coach K to lead well and trust in each other to give their best on the court so that the entire team, and country, would claim the Gold. Without trust, they would not have been able to benefit from their collective strengths and contributions, as demonstrated by the simple Trust Formula infographic below.

How Can You Build Trust?

As a leader, what can you do to gain the trust of your team? Here are a few simple actions you can take to get started:

1.  Make eye contact and actively listen to your team members. Just these two things alone with go a long way.

2.  Always tell the truth, expect the truth, and stay true to your word. The trust lost after just one broken promise or little white lie could take months or even years to rebuild.

3.  Be transparent. Share information consistently, openly and in a timely manner, even if you can’t expose every last detail.

4.  Spend time in the trenches. Think Undercover Boss for this one. Frontline employees sometimes feel disconnected from the bigger picture, yet they are usually your subject matter experts and have incredibly valuable insights into your customers and solutions. Acknowledge and involve them as trusted partners to the organization’s success.

5.  Empower your team members. Demonstrate the trust you have in them to take an idea and run with it, and they will likely reciprocate that same level of trust back to you. No one likes being micro-managed.

6.  Give the credit to the team. Never take sole credit for something that went well – it’s never the result of just one person. Give credit where credit is due. Read the Core Chat post on 3 Ways to Make Recognition Meaningful.

How do you build trust amongst your team? Please share your thoughts and ideas below. Because after all,

We’re not a team because we work together. We’re a team because we trust each other ~ via @ValaAfshar #tchat

Be sure to subscribe to Core Chat and continue to follow the Leadercast series as I recap some of the key take-aways from this inspirational event!