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’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.
-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)
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.
-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
-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
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!
Performance management. Evaluations. Ratings. Individual development plans. Career paths. Total rewards. These are more than just buzzwords in the lives of HR professionals. They are an integral part of our day and of the value we create for the business units we serve.
We often discuss the key role managers play in the current evolution of performance management practices we’re seeing in today’s workplaces. However, this one aspect of performance management too often gets overlooked as we move quickly toward execution mode. The role of a manager deserves a pause before we continue to move forward with the performance management conversation. Such a critical pause, in fact, that it is the sole focus of this blog post.
Let’s say I’m a competitive swimmer. I’ve always excelled at backstroke, but now my coach needs me to compete in butterfly. It’s not completely out of my wheelhouse (I am a swimmer after all), but it’s a learning curve for sure. It’s also a new expectation for my role on the team, and one that I’d want to learn more about and consider if I want to pursue or not. I might rather find another team where I can continue to swim backstroke.
The recent lives of managers in today’s workplaces have been no different. Although always embedded in the role of a leader, the evolution of performance management is intensifying the responsibilities of managers to:
- Give continuous (and valuable) feedback
- Motivate and engage
- Develop individualized learning plans and career paths
- Communicate more with their ears and less with their mouths (easier said than done)
- Personalize their approach for each team member
And let’s not forget about documentation and managing risk for the organization. Oh yeah, and knocking their day-to-day operational duties out of the park on top of all that!
The list above has become common language for HR practitioners – we’re staying on top of trends, educating ourselves and building competency in these areas, etc. We “live” in this field. But what about our managers? They come in every day thinking about the deadline for product launch, quarter-end financial processing, client demands, sales quotas, and hopefully (if we’re lucky) how to recruit, develop, engage and retain nothing but the best.
Hence, the pause. We can’t just keep skimming over the importance the role a manager plays in the evolution of performance management. We can’t continue to further this conversation until we get this part of it right. In our experience working with clients on performance management re-designs over the past year, it’s at this point in the game where you’ll either sail successfully through a new strategy or hit a major roadblock.
So what can you do to make sure you thrive and not dive?
- Clearly define and communicate expectations.
Whose role will it be to execute the people-centric responsibilities listed above? Most likely, it’s your managers. However, maybe you decide to parse it out to lighten the load. For example, maybe everyday feedback is expected from managers, but more structured coaching comes from another source…possibly a mentoring program. You could even consider offering in-house Career Planning services housed within the HR team (similar to those on a College Campus). Defining who will be responsible for what is your starting point.
You now have to communicate to managers what their role is going to look like under a new performance management strategy. As Simon Sinek says, “start with the why.” What value will this bring to their lives and to the performance outcomes of their teams? How will they be held accountable and what is the incentive? Also make sure you’re sharing that this is only a shift from backstroke to butterfly – not from swimming to soccer. Build their confidence to excel in the newly defined role. They should already have a really good foundation.
- Ask if they want it.
This is a step we often leave out. After expectations are set, ask if they’re on board. Share how you will support their development and a realistic timeline for professional growth. Be prepared if someone opts out. How will the organization respond to that? What are their options? I had an acquaintance complain to me the other day that his company is making him “communicate better with his Millennial employees and motivate them to succeed.” He said it in such a snarky way that it was evident he wasn’t up for the job. Are these the folks we want our performance management strategy resting on?
- Provide support.
Back to the swimming analogy – I can go from backstroke to butterfly, but it’s going to take some work. Design a learning plan that extends over time and that has the flexibility to be personalized based on the development needs of each individual. Consider using pre-assessments to identify gaps, and then build development plans from there. Be patient. Learning new behaviors and developing new habits take time. Break up your learning strategy into quarters and don’t have them focusing on too much all at once.
Begin with the end in mind. Create your measurement framework up front. What will you need to know in the end to determine if those in these newly defined roles are performing successfully? Design pre, mid and post assessments and touch points to get you there. Include a blend of qualitative and quantitative data collection – both extensive and pulse.
- Adjust as needed.
Look at your metrics and be open to continuous improvements and modifications. This could be adjustments to the expectations/role, the learning plan, or even to the people themselves. Be prepared to “clip” what’s not working.
Put the time and investment into this part of your refreshed performance management strategy, and you’ll already be 75% of the way there!
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.
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
Let me set the scene. 90 degrees. Loads of humidity. Not an ounce of shade on 100 yards of turf, encircled by a dark black track. Only four players on the Bears show up for a game against the #2 team, the Bengals. Oh…and they’re all 4 and 5-year-olds.
This was my view at McNich’s athletic field in Cincinnati on Sunday as my oldest son attended his final flag football game of the season. Little did I know that I was about to witness a classic case of DISENGAGEMENT and the effects it has on TEAM PERFORMANCE.
My son loves football…lives it, breathes it, says the words Who Dey more than any other term between September and January every year. He looks forward to his flag football game each week and always gives it his all.
This Sunday was different. A few of the players on his team were just not feelin’ it…for whatever reason (remember – they’re only 4 and 5-years-old). Ben’s smiles and excitement quickly turned to a pretty grim looking face. He was starting to let the heat of the day and the morale of the team get to him, and it was changing the type of player he decided to be on the field that day.
Your disengaged employees will bring down your team far easier and quicker than your greatest cheerleader can ever build them up.
It’s just human nature. It’s easier for us to gravitate toward negativity. We get sucked in. That disengaged mindset can even creep over into the minds, and ultimately behaviors, of some of your most engaged employees. And it doesn’t take long. Eventually, collective team performance suffers.
The Bears lost the game against the Bengals Sunday. But it doesn’t have to end that way.
I’ve written previously about how individuals can take ownership of their own engagement, and I’ve also written about what an organization can do to build an engaged workforce. There’s a third player in this mix though, and that’s the manager, or whoever is in that “team lead” role. It’s a shared responsibility amongst all three parties to build a culture of engagement in your workplace.
These tips are for that third party. What could you have done to turn that game around on Sunday and ensure a strong team performance in the end?
1. Identify the disengagement. Keep your eyes and ears open and know when someone on your team is disengaged. Acknowledgement is a critical first step.
2. Uncover the root cause. Identifying the disengagement only goes so far. It’s your job to understand what is causing it. You can do this through something as formal as an engagement survey or as informal as an open and transparent conversation. During this stage, make sure you seek to understand. Actively listen. Resist the temptation to jump to your own conclusions. The reason for the disengagement could span a large host of underlying causes, such as:
- Poor job/role fit
- A wavering trust in leadership
- The perception of having no growth at the company
- Not feeling recognized for their work
- Lack of understanding of how what they do every day aligns with what the organization is trying to achieve
3. Address the root cause. Now it’s time to act. Once you identify the root cause, collaboratively build action plans around it that everyone has bought into and can own. One cause of disengagement on the football field that day was the heat. In response, we poured ice cold water over the players’ heads. Please don’t pour ice cold water on your employees, but hopefully you get my point.
4. Measure and re-assess. As with anything, monitor progress. Have check points along the way, and initiate more of that open and transparent communication about the results you’re seeing, whether positive or negative. Alter the course of action if it’s not working.
Bottom line – when you see disengagement amongst your team, tackle it head on (no pun intended!). Don’t let it fester. Your team will thank you.
Need help working through the four steps listed above? Reach out, and I’d love to help you and your team through the process.
That’s right…I said no bosses. Zero. Zilch. Nada. But, oh the chaos that would ensue from all of those unsupervised children running rampant throughout your organization! (electronic tone clarification: sarcasm)
Okay, so I’m being a bit facetious with that last statement, but maybe I got your attention? I’ve been wanting to blog about this topic ever since attending the 2014 Association for Talent Development (ATD) International Conference & Expo in Washington, D.C. last month. I had the pleasure of attending a learning session titled, “Skills for Driving Innovation in Flat Organizations” given by Dr. Debra France (@fstinno) with W.L. Gore & Associates. Since its founding in 1958, W.L. Gore has operated using what they call a “lattice” structure, a model where relationships are everything and hierarchies and even titles are minimal, nearly non-existent. They have been featured in many innovation and management-related business articles and research studies over the years, as I’m sure many of you are aware.
There are three main roles at W.L. Gore:
- Sponsors: Every single employee has one. Their purpose is to create micro-environments for innovators by coaching, mentoring, guaranteeing continued development, and supporting ideas. These are volunteer roles, and everyone chooses their own Sponsor by just simply asking. You can “break up” the relationship at any time, for any number of reasons. Some people might be Sponsors to 2-10 at a time, depending on how many they are willing to take on. Some, on the other hand, might not be a Sponsor to anyone at all (which is usually not a good sign).
- Team Leaders: The people in these roles are identified/elected by the team. Specific responsibilities are provided in detail in the Support section below.
- Associates: This comprises the large majority of the organization, as it is every other role that is not a Team Leader.
Note: You can be both a Sponsor and a Leader, or you could also be a Sponsor and an Associate.
As stated on their website, the lattice structure creates a culture described as “a team-based environment that encourages personal initiative and person-to-person communication among all associates.” Employees are expected to grow and continuously nurture their lattice from Day 1.
At the core of this structure are several small and agile teams, which form naturally around business needs and opportunities. Everyone on the team holds each another accountable, to the point of stack ranking their teammates on both the Impact and Effectiveness of their contributions to the larger enterprise. Employees develop their own “commitments” (equivalent to performance objectives); and projects, tasks and ideas advance through influence and consensus, not authority.
Centrally-supported employee development efforts are heavily focused on communication and how to facilitate and grow strong relationships. I’ve already mentioned the support Associates get from their Sponsors, so let’s take a look at what the role of Leaders is at W.L. Gore and how they support the team.
Note: An overarching belief at W.L. Gore is that there is the need for a “Leader” role with specific and differentiated responsibilities, but yet the act of “Leadership” is expected of all.
The Role of a Leader in a Bossless Organization
Direction (strategies, priorities, decisions) – Make sure decisions are made and made well…but by the team.
Expectations – Is the environment healthy and productive? Is the team aligned with the broader enterprise? What metrics are being used to measure success?
People – Provide motivation, development and resources for the team (in conjunction with Sponsors)
Interfaces – Foster interdependencies across, beyond, and between the entire enterprise to create value. Ensure the team is interfacing with other teams.
No Easy Feat – Start Small
Dr. France readily admitted that this has been an easier road for them than maybe others because they’ve known no other road. Life at W.L. Gore has been like this since the very beginning. For companies interested in exploring this structure further that are already larger than 10 employees, she advised that you start with something small in a functional area or with a project in which you think it could work well, and then monitor and measure success.
Is There Something To This?
I have to believe that W.L. Gore is doing something right – they have been included on all Fortune 100 “Best Companies to Work For” lists since 1998 and have thrived as a business over the course of time. Although not new to them, this structure is becoming an increasingly popular practice in today’s business world, with Zappos being one of the most recent companies to gain media attention around their decision to go bossless.
So even if you don’t make the leap to strip away all management titles at your company, what can we learn and apply from organizations like W.L. Gore? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Special thanks to Dr. Debra France for sharing W.L. Gore’s story with us and sparking conversation and ideation around this concept!
A consistent theme amongst many managers I’ve been working with lately is uneasiness with and uncertainty around providing “professional development and growth opportunities” for their team members. Many are overwhelmed and some, let’s be honest, even resentful of this more and more consistent request from their employees.
If you’re in this boat – you’re not alone! Below are three strategies to help managers respond.
#1 – It Takes Two To Tango.
First thing first – the pressure should not solely fall on the manager. In today’s business landscape, managers need to serve in the roles of coach and connector…not lone soldier decision maker and approver. Get your employees engaged with their own request and have them take ownership of it.
Ask them to spend time thinking about what they want their growth at your company to look like and come back with three options to discuss with you. You might need to coach them through those options and also connect them to resources to help make it possible, but continue to have them take ownership of the actual implementation and offer quarterly check points (that they schedule) to touch base on how their action plan is coming along.
You’ll often have a greater understanding of the long-term goals of the organization, so one thing you’ll want to keep in mind as you coach them through their options is how the development plan can add value to key strategic business priorities.
#2 – There are MANY forms of development and MANY career paths to pursue.
Managers and individual contributors are both guilty of thinking that the only possible solution to this “professional growth” plea is a promotion into a management position. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Start thinking of management as a career field – just like any other field such as product development, marketing, sales, training, accounting, etc.
Management is only one career track of many that employees could pursue at your organization, but you may need to help open their eyes to that. At the end of the day, employees just don’t want to feel stagnant. They want to be challenged; they want to grow and learn new things; they want to feel like what they’re doing is adding value to something greater than them. This is a good thing – a positive shift we’ve seen in the workforce over the past several years. We just need to learn how to tap into this energy and drive in a positive and constructive way.
Below are a few examples of other paths and development opportunities outside of management that your employees might be interested in pursuing without even realizing it.
- Specialized program and/or project management responsibilities
- Increased client responsibility (larger accounts, new territories, etc.)
- Subject matter expert team training specialists
- Research and strategy-related responsibilities
- Onboarding mentors/buddy roles for new hires
- Departmental communication and/or marketing “champions”
- Cross-functional team liaisons
- Tactical team planners
#3 – Exploring alone is growth.
Once the manager and employee understand that this is a shared responsibility, and once eyes are opened to the various possibilities, then individual exploration needs to occur to determine the most appropriate path. Good news is that this exploration itself is growth! Encourage your employees to become more self-aware and answer questions such as:
- What are my natural strengths? Am I currently leveraging them? How could I be leveraging them to a greater extent?
- What are my professional interests and passions? What am I doing when I feel the most fulfilled at work?
- Am I interested in job shadowing other roles as I explore future possibilities?
- Do I have a mentor, outside of my direct supervisor, who can help me through this process of self-exploration?
Again, this plea for growth and development is a GOOD thing, so let’s reframe the way we’re approaching it.
What other strategies have you used to address this need? Please share!
Do you know how long it took Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel? Just over four years. Four years. On one project. Wow. Good thing Michelangelo doesn’t live in an era where our average attention span is 8 seconds.
But look at what resulted. One of the most globally recognized paintings in history.
Michelangelo’s work on the Sistine Chapel randomly came to mind this weekend as I was reflecting on a project I’ve been working on for about six months now. I needed to remind myself that achieving goals requires PERSISTENCE.
You can’t expect overnight success and immediate results, particularly when you’re aiming for sustainability. Think about campaigns, new programs, or change efforts for example. Right about the time you start to get sick of it, others are just starting to tune in and get curious about it.
So how can we be persistent about the goals we’ve set out to achieve? And, how can we cultivate persistence amongst others when we’re working as part of a larger team?
Keep your eye on the prize. If it’s an extensive project, you’re bound to get lost in the weeds. Pull yourself out from time to time and remind yourself of the larger end goal. Make sure your actions are always strategically directed at that end goal.
Assess the project rationally. Don’t let emotions like frustration and possibly even rejection take over. When we throw in the towel and stomp away, no one wins. Think about what changes you might need to make to your original approach and be willing to make them.
Put yourself in others’ shoes. Think about those less involved in the day-to-day details of the project; maybe even the target audience you’re trying to impact. Meet them where they are and make sure you’re addressing the needs they need fulfilled. You will likely already be three steps ahead, which isn’t always a good thing.
Keep the project team engaged and motivated. You can do this in several ways, such as:
- Break the larger project into smaller chunks so that a “newness” comes with each phase.
- Recognize and celebrate milestones at various points along the way.
- Take time off to focus on something else…even if just very temporarily. You’ll come back refreshed.
Mentally prepare yourself to deal with unforeseen roadblocks. Michelangelo didn’t want the Sistine Chapel project to take four years, and in fact, several of the reasons it took so long were beyond his control – damp weather and illness to name a few. But these things came up, and he dealt with them, and his original game plan changed. There will be detours and roadblocks that effect your project. Period. Persistence will help you get through them.
But (There’s Always A “But”)
Never let your persistence and passion turn into stubbornness and ignorance. ~ Anthony J. D’Angelo
Sometimes we give it our all and it just wasn’t the right path, for whatever reason. Trust good mentors and colleagues and be receptive to feedback to know when to let your persistence go.