Emerging leaders from six wastewater utilities in the Midwest gathered on February 8 in Chicago to kick off a five-month program designed to grow utility leaders of the future.
The Core Growth leadership program will take the participants through four learning modules including self-discovery, crafting a vision, building alignment and championing execution, while also building regional cohorts and collaborative partnerships. This shared learning experience will enable participants to move forward leadership skills and ideas that improve the utility industry.
“As a professional who spent over seven years in the wastewater and stormwater industry, I noticed a lack of learning opportunities targeted at emerging utility leaders,” said Maggie Frye, Founder and Principal Consultant of Core. “Core Growth was designed to help enhance the potential of utility leaders whose span of influence and impact is growing in a meaningful way.”
Since learning happens from real experiences, the class will build upon the four learning modules by completing an industry-specific capstone project. The project is based on exploring real challenges that leaders are facing in the wastewater utility industry. They will use their collective expertise to develop real solutions to a selected challenge and present the results at graduation in July.
The National Association for Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), known as the nation’s leader in legislative, regulatory and legal clean water advocacy, has taken an interest in the utility leadership program and has formed a soft partnership with Core Consulting. NACWA has opened up this initial pilot to utilities who expressed interest in this one region as a starting point. If the pilot proves to be valuable on a broader scale to its members, additional regions will have access moving forward.
“I believe utilities can shape the course of environmental protection into the next century by working together,” said Adam Krantz, Chief Executive Officer of NACWA. “Core Growth offers utilities a unique learning opportunity while also inspiring collaboration that betters the industry. I hope to see utilities in other regions take advantage of this program.”
The class is comprised of a diverse group, ranging in areas of expertise, years of service and utility size. Participants come from Green Bay Metropolitan Sewerage District, Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District, Metropolitan Council Environmental Services, Metro Water Reclamation District of Chicago, Racine Wastewater Utility and Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District.
For more than four decades, the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), based in Washington D.C., has been the nation’s recognized leader in legislative, regulatory and legal advocacy on the full spectrum of clean water issues, as well as a top technical resource for water management, sustainability and ecosystem protection interests. Helping to build a strong and sustainable clean water future, NACWA represents public wastewater and stormwater agencies of all sizes nationwide. Learn more by visiting Www.Nacwa.Org.
We all get caught up in today’s pace. It’s a constant hustle and bustle. In many ways, this pace has brought about advantages for our companies. We’re pushing boundaries, innovating new and better ways of doing things, producing to higher standards. However, there are also clearly some drawbacks. Unfortunately many of these drawbacks are people-oriented: burn out and inattention to personal wellness, toxic relationships, and decisions often made without regard to the employees who execute your strategy.
I’m writing this post as a reminder to myself and others to stop and smell the roses. We had a client last week do just that. After a multi-month project to digitize files, this rockstar team completed the final one. Was this the “sexiest,” most meaningful, or greatest thrill of a project? No, but it had to get done for the efficiency of their operations and the ultimate value they provide their clients.
It would have been so easy for them to check it off the list and move on (our lists are long, and there are always more deadlines looming!). Lucky for them, their CEO knew the importance of pausing for recognition and celebration. He surprised them with flowers and chocolates, and they recognized the achievement as a team during their morning huddle. Spirits were full and positive that day in the office (and I don’t think you have to be an I/O Psychologist to understand what that does to engagement and performance).
Moral of the story: I err on the side of idealism and tend to believe that we have the best of intentions, but unfortunately those intentions are often negated with the pace of our day. So let’s slow down when needed. Take a pause. Our workplaces are full of human beings – human beings with the need for connectedness, for appreciation, and for fulfillment with the hours they put in at work. And in fact, our business results are nothing (NOTHING!) without the hard work of the human beings who achieve them for us. So let’s not forget this.
I like my V8 V-Fusion® + Energy pomegranate drink around 2:00 p.m. in my Bengals tumbler with ice (crushed, not cubed), with some Smart Pop on the side. It’s just what I need to plow through what would otherwise be drowsy afternoon hours and get some serious work done.
It makes me feel creative.
It makes me feel confident about the work I’m producing.
It makes me feel happy (…and sometimes feeling “happy” goes a long way).
At initial glance, it appears to just be some liquid, a cup, and a few kernels. But no – it’s so much more. It’s an EXPERIENCE, and an experience that actually alters my behaviors, attitude and output.
I’m sure everyone can think of a similar experience that makes you feel a certain way – maybe it’s that first sip of coffee in the morning, that brand new “A Game” outfit you put on to knock your sales presentation out of the park, or maybe it’s the tranquility of your favorite cocktail glass in front of the fire at the end of a long day.
We invest a lot into the experience consumers have with our products and services. There are entire marketing strategies designed around it, product and brand managers focused on it every single day (and whose bonus depends on it!), and researchers continuously testing to measure effectiveness and resulting consumer behavior.
Why? Because the way something makes us feel alters our behaviors, attitude and output. This includes decisions we make about the products and services we choose to engage with.
Let’s switch gears now and think about the employee experience inside your organization’s four walls (or multitude of continents, or virtual platforms, or in whatever form your organization exists). What have you invested internally to support a positive employee experience? Have you developed a strategy (what kind of experience do you want them to have in the first place)? Do you have a team and budget to execute on the strategy? Who are your “researchers” and what continuous metrics do you have in place?
Being intentional about proactively creating the experience your employees have while working for you will result in the behaviors, attitudes and output you desire from your team. After all, our employees – just like our consumers – are human. The way they feel at any moment in time affects their behavior.
So how can you make sure they’re feeling the way you want them to? Follow these five steps:
1. Identify how you want your employees to feel at work. Every organization is different, so define what’s right for you based on the needs of your business strategy.
2. Audit current versus desired feelings to identify where there are gaps (this can be done a number of ways – via survey, focus groups, observations, interviews, etc.).
3. Develop a plan to create an employee experience that yields the desired feelings you’ve identified in Step 1, now being informed of the gaps via Step 2. Consider elements such as:
- Physical office environment (colors, work spaces, lighting, wall hangings, furniture, etc.)
- Management and leadership – what “type” of leaders are you acquiring and building in order to support this experience? (Watch this video to learn more about the vital role organizational leaders play in creating the “smell of the place.”)
- Opportunities to connect/collaborate (both professionally and socially)
- Levels of autonomy and empowerment to make decisions
- Core values and how they’re brought to life during your daily operations
- Flexibility in how work gets done
- Continuous learning and professional development
4. Identify the resources (material, people, and financial) needed to support the plan.
5. Execute the plan, measure regularly, and tweak as needed.
Don’t just let the experience “happen.” Just like you do with your customers, be intentional about creating the type of employee experience that is going to foster high levels of engagement, collaboration, innovation, loyalty, and ultimately performance and results. Otherwise, you can throw your best consumer experience strategy out the window! It starts at home.
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!
What can business leaders learn from this 5 minute high school spirit video? A Lot!!!
- Team spirit leads to school spirit (i.e., engage at the functional/team level and advocacy for the broader organization will naturally follow). Students proudly displayed their unique Senate, Soccer, Tennis, Bridge, and Drama swag, but in unison for the greater good of the entire school and community.
- Encourage affinity groups to convene. People like to connect with other people who have similar values, experiences, and interests. What are you doing to enable these connections at your organization? One of Maslow’s needs is Social/Belonging – it’s a human need that must be met before esteem and self-actualization can be reached. And HUMANS work for you, not ROBOTS.
- Your employees have a life outside of work (crazy, I know!). Did you notice a few parents and younger children in the video? Do you host open houses or other family-friendly events at your workplace? Your employees will likely be proud to share some of their 9-5 with the other half of their life. It will allow them to be more authentic in the workplace if they’ve shared the personal side of their lives with their teammates. Plus, you’ll only be gaining more ambassadors for your company!
- Engagement doesn’t happen without leadership. Someone had to “let” this happen. Students likely came to the “powers that be” with an idea, and luckily they listened, sought to understand, were open to trying new things, and were okay with taking a risk.
- It’s okay to let loose, have a little fun, and let your unique personality shine through. Be authentic and don’t be afraid of what other people will think (you might just be a male swimmer with a closet desire to shake your booty in your speedo on camera!). On a more serious note, let your guard down every now and then around your team and just be yourself.
And yes, these are the types of things that run through my head while watching clips like this – just trying to keep it real! Anything to add? Please share!
This past weekend I ran 13.1 miles through the beautiful Fort Harrison State Park in the Indianapolis Marathon & Half Marathon. I was able to complete my third half-marathon, watch a good friend accomplish her first full marathon, and cheer my husband on in the last .2 of his sixth 26.2 journey. It was an amazing weekend full of friends, family, wellness, and inspiration.
One of the things that stood out to me the most from the weekend was not the beautiful fall-colored trees, or the runner dressed as Superman, or that laboring hill at mile 11. Nope, it was a woman who I encountered near the portalets. Yep, you read that right – my most memorable moment of the entire weekend happened near the porta potties! But this wasn’t just any woman, she was a
What is servant leadership?
I was lucky to be introduced to the philosophy of servant leadership relatively early in my career by one of my valued mentors. Since then, I’ve spent quite a bit of time studying, and trying my best to practice, this approach to leadership.
As described on the Robert K. Greenleaf’s Center for Servant Leadership website, “Servant leadership is a philosophy and set of practices that enriches the lives of individuals, builds better organizations and ultimately creates a more just and caring world.” This phrase was first officially coined by Greenleaf in The Servant as Leader, published in 1970. In this book, Greenleaf describes this philosophy as follows:
The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.
Okay…Back to the Woman at the Portalets
The morning of the race was cold and rainy. As always, there were loooong lines at the 30 or so portalets set up right by the start line. Hundreds of runners lined up in the pouring rain, with each breath looking like little puffs of smoke in the foggy, gray early morning hours.
About 25 people-deep, there I stood. All of a sudden I felt the rain stop. I looked up, and I had an umbrella over my head. I heard a voice say, “You looked like you could use this.” There behind me was a woman in her 40s or 50s with a huge smile on her face and an over-sized golf umbrella in her hand. She was there with her daughter, who was running the marathon that morning. After covering me for a few minutes, she then jumped over to the line next to me where a runner in her 60s or 70s stood, in shorts, shivering in the cold waiting in line. She stood and covered her.
I finally made it through the line and was in a rush to get to the start, as the horn had already blown and the runners were off. But wait – I only had one glove. What happened to my other glove??? I can’t run in this weather without gloves – I will freeze! I hear another voice behind me, “I have it…I have it!” I turned around and saw that woman again. She had my glove in her hand. She saw me drop it in the grass as I was running towards the race. “Here you go honey – good luck!”
Key Principles of Servant Leadership
There are 10 key principles of servant leadership. I am not going to touch on each one, but I wanted to share three of them that this woman exuded on that cold, rainy race morning.
1. Awareness: Servant leaders are very self-aware, but also keenly aware of the surrounding environment and the needs of those around them. As many of the runners stood in that rainy portalet line, heads down, or looking straight forward visualizing their upcoming individual performances that day, this woman was focused on the people around her and their needs. Servant leaders are observant and positively act on those outwardly-focused observations.
2. Commitment to the Growth of People: Servant leaders are committed to helping the people around them grow – personally, professionally, spiritually. One way they can do this is by providing the resources and/or tools needed for success – like the umbrella…and the glove. I would have never finished that race without that glove. I might not have even ever started.
3. Building Community: Servant leaders build a sense of community amongst teams, organizations, or any group they’re a part of. That woman helped bring the running community together that morning by being a positively contagious energy during somewhat intimidating race day conditions. It was because of her that complete strangers in my line began interacting, laughing, and connecting.
I’m not sure who that woman was or if she’ll maybe stumble upon this post, but I want to say THANK YOU for your servant leadership that morning. I will do my best to model your behavior in my everyday life. These characteristics are directly applicable in any setting, so let’s all commit to serving others FIRST and leading SECOND – at home, at work, and in our communities.
How has the role of a manager changed?
The role of a manger in today’s world is far different than what it used to be even just a decade ago. It’s no longer about assigning tasks, tracking attendance, and delivering a top-down authoritative style to get your team to produce results. This transformation is largely due to the type of workforce we have seen emerge in the second decade of the 21st century. Today’s workforce
- seeks meaning in their work – it’s about more than a paycheck.
- wants to be involved in decision making. They don’t like hierarchical layers, so come on out of that stuffy board room.
- interacts more and more naturally every day in a social and collaborative online environment.
- will “follow” you not because of a title, but rather because you are trusted, respected, and communicate a compelling vision.
- is fairly capable of “managing” themselves, in the traditional sense of the word (and prefers that autonomy).
- is smart and driven.
So, where does that leave managers? Well, in a very critical role actually. Just as the workforce has evolved, the competencies of organizational managers and leaders have evolved as well. Take the following list for example…a decade ago, we didn’t hear much about the following terms in a business context:
- Emotional intelligence
- Employee engagement
- Virtual teams
- Talent management
- Results-oriented work environments (ROWE)
- Social enterprise
In today’s world, we need to focus more on the function of management versus the role of a manager. The new(er) primary function of management is to create an environment in which employees thrive, accomplish personal and professional growth objectives, and therefore inherently contribute positive results to an organization’s bottom line. In short, the function of management is to drive individual and team performance, which drives organizational performance. You do this by putting on your coach, counselor (and sometime psychologist!) hats.
Focus on the 3 R’s
Time to put your coach hat on! Any runners out there? I’m an avid runner; it’s my Zen and just about the only thing in my life that keeps me sane. It has recently become very clear to me that the 3 R’s I adhere to in my running world translate directly into 3 R’s of effective management for today’s workforce. So, here they are…
Take time to REFLECT.
As I prepared for my long run this past weekend, I reflected on the following: How did last week’s run go – Mileage? Elevation? Time of day? Traffic? Ankle brace? Pre/Post nutrition?
You will similarly want to reflect with your team on past performance, and for two main reasons:
1. To learn from the past – Identify what went well so you can repeat it and what didn’t go so well so you don’t make the same mistake twice. Don’t just look at individual roles and departments, but look more broadly across the entire organization to learn from other teams as well.
2. To build team spirit – Why does it feel so good to gather with friends and family over the holidays and share old stories, or REFLECT on times gone by? Because you’re creating shared meaning through storytelling, building camaraderie, and inadvertently solidifying the strength in your relationships with one another.
Make sure your team REFUELs.
When I run long distances, I strap a water bottle around my waist and take a sip every mile or so. In addition, I’ll eat a GU pack every 5 or 6 miles.
Keep your eyes and ears open, and be aware of when your employees need “refueling”…whether it be something quick in short intervals (the water sips each mile) or something a bit more substantial (the GU pack). Encourage them to refuel by creating an environment that makes this possible. Below are a few things they might need:
- A day at home after travel
- A walk outside during that rough 3:00 hour
- An early Friday Happy Hour and some social time with colleagues
- A new environment – maybe they’d like to take their laptop to a coffee shop for the rest of the day. Sometimes all we need to refuel is a change of scenery.
- A quick trip to the gym
- A vacation completely unplugged – don’t bother them and work with them in advance to put a plan in place to cover everything while they’re gone
- Sleep! A late start in the morning is very valuable every now and then.
- Sabbatical – sometimes a longer-term refueling is needed.
It’s important to Model the Way and demonstrate that their leader refuels too. This makes it acceptable. One of the first things you can do to help promote an environment that allows people to refuel is to visibly show your team when YOU refuel. Try some of the things above yourself, and your team will naturally follow.
REWARD your team for their achievements.
For those of you who know me well, you know about my obsession with ice cream. I absolutely eat a Dairy Queen blizzard, Sonic Blast, or UDF hot fudge sundae the night of every long run. Why? Because I earned it, and I love it. I look forward to it, and it feels so good when I get it. I even think about it during my long runs (no judging!), and it provides me with motivation to keep going.
Rewards in the workplace should work the same way. Whether it’s through something as small as a handwritten thank-you note, or something as complex and formal as compensation (and everything in between), make sure you are providing rewards and recognition in a timely manner when you observe behaviors that you would like to see continue.
Check out another Core Chat post for an easy-read on 3 Ways to Make Recognition Meaningful.
It’s not easy, but there’s a starting point for everything
All of this talk about the three R’s is a little more complicated than assigning tasks and tracking attendance. Your role as a manager in the 21st century is no easy feat. You’re dealing with human psychology and trying to motivate certain behaviors so that your organization will see repeat performances week after week, month after month, and year after year.
One place to start as you further develop yourself as a manger is to Reflect with your team on the past, Refuel your team for the work that lies ahead, and Reward positive behaviors all along the way.
I’d love to hear the strategies you use to accomplish the 3 R’s, so please share by commenting below!