Succeeding with New Year’s Resolutions and Goals

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Right before the new year, a friend of mine posted a note on Facebook that New Year’s resolutions actually start the first Tuesday after the first Monday of the new year. It occurred to me that taking this approach might actually extend some resolutions into the year longer than they might last otherwise!

In fact, an Inc. article by Peter Economy from Jan 1 of this year indicates that research on resolutions shows that about 60% of us admit that we make New Year’s resolutions, but only about 8% of us are successful in achieving them. Only 8%!

How do you buck this discouraging trend? How do you make a resolution stick? Or, how do you set yourself up for the success of achieving goals in the new year and becoming part of that 8%? From our experience, there are three essential elements to setting and sticking to resolutions or goals:

  1. Your "Why"
    Why are you doing it? Why does it matter? Why is it important to you? Quite frankly, having a truly meaningful goal or resolution serves as a catalyst to draw out your intrinsic motivation and create the right mindset for achievement. If the change you are trying to make is significant and important enough to you, you will be more motivated to follow it through and you will manage your efforts more intentionally. When you are clear about why you are pursuing something and the outcome you’re trying to achieve, you will have a sturdier foundation upon which to build your success. Start by choosing things that you value enough to create focus, make the right effort and keep working toward.

  2. Your Strengths
    How will you tap into your natural talents and strengths to help you achieve the goal? When we work with professionals in strengths-based development, this is a question we discuss frequently. What’s interesting is that a lot of people don’t always think about their strengths when it comes to resolutions or goals. When you are setting goals, you are more likely to succeed if you can bring an innate talent to bear – the way you already naturally think, feel, or behave.  

    For example, if you have a CliftonStrengths® theme of Strategic, Futuristic, Maximizer, or Woo, etc., how can you “aim” that strength toward your goal? If you haven’t done CliftonStrengths®, think about areas in your life where you have experienced successful performance and what personal strengths contributed to that success. Then, consider how those could be applied to your current resolutions or goals. Wharton professor Stuart Friedman calls this concept “Talent Transfer”. The bottom line is, be sure you purposefully reflect on, incorporate, and apply your talents and strengths toward achieving your goals.

  3. Your Positive Performance Experiences
    How will you keep going? How do you maintain momentum? As professionals, we are motivated by positive performance experiences. Thus, when we set resolutions or goals, we need to think not only about the plan (e.g., the action steps, timing, resources, accountability, positive reinforcement partner, etc.) but also about how we will measure our progress and assess our own personal success. How can you “chunk down” the steps of the goal to feel a regular sense of achievement?

    For example, if you want to start meditating, perhaps your measures include increasing the length of the sessions (10 mins, then 15 mins, etc.), the frequency of the sessions (daily, 3x a week, 5x a week, etc.), your consistency (completing one week, then one month, then three months, etc.). Regardless of what you choose, be sure you set interim milestones to be able to experience small wins along the way, not just at the end.  These positive performance experiences promote momentum and help you build toward success.

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As we embark on a new year, opportunities for continuous improvement and growth abound. Think about what you want to change (i.e., doing something new, dropping a habit, achieving a specific milestone, etc.) and be intentional in defining what it is you want to achieve. Be sure it is something that matters to you, that you apply your talents and strengths, and that you set yourself up for positive performance experiences. If you do these three things, you will be much more likely to join the 8%!

Understanding the Personal Impact of The Ladder of Inference

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In our last blog post, we explored the Ladder of Inference and its impact at the organizational level. What we didn’t explore was how it impacts all of us in one-on-one situations. Consider this:

In a recent workshop exercise, we asked participants to interview one another in pairs. In this case, the interviewers were only allowed to ask questions and could not elaborate or add commentary of any kind. In the debrief, participants commented about how tough it was to not talk or jump in with their own points of view or examples.

Why was this difficult? The ladder of inference kicks in as soon as the conversation begins. It is a natural human response. We start thinking about a time when we did something similar, and we want to immediately share. We think of when we saw the other person doing what it is they are talking about, and we want to reinforce what we notice. We are puzzled by the information they are sharing, or maybe we even disagree with it, so we start to prepare our rebuttal. Regardless of what we are thinking, one thing is clear – we have stopped listening.

We may not do it intentionally, but if we have stopped listening, we have limited our effectiveness regardless of the situation or role we are in. To achieve the best results for the individual and for us, we need to listen with intent. To do that, we must be able to harness our own tendencies and use the Ladder of Inference as a tool for more intentional communication. But how?   

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  1. Become more aware of your own thinking and reasoning (i.e., personal biases that might creep in, areas where you are most vulnerable to making assumptions, etc.)

  2. Be more open and suspend judgment. Take in as much data as possible before forming assumptions or drawing conclusions. This may require you to intentionally pause and not offer insights or elaborate until you know you’ve heard or solicited all the facts.

  3. Lean into questions. Inquire about the thinking and reasoning of others to ensure you are inviting in additional information and fully understanding their perspective.

  4. Be transparent. Make your thinking and reasoning more visible to others. Help them know how you are formulating your point of view.

Regardless of role or title, personal leadership is all about how we show up every day and interact with others. It’s how we communicate with them, what we share with them, how we treat them, how we honor them, how we help them, how we support them, and yes, how effectively we LISTEN to them.

Thus, understanding and knowing how we draw inferences and being more attentive to our listening and communication is critical to becoming a more effective leader day to day.


Understanding the Organizational Impact of The Ladder of Inference

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The Ladder of Inference is a mental model for communication – ours and others – and whether we are conscious of it or not, it impacts the way we interact every day. 

The concept of the Ladder of Inference was originally developed by Chris Argyris and is explored in The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook by Peter Senge. The basic premise is that we create our own “truth” by quickly assimilating data, evaluating the situation, and acting. Sometimes we do this based on mere assumptions that we don’t even realize we created as a part of the process. 

The ladder elements in their simplest form include the following:

  1. Make observations

  2. Select data that resonates

  3. Add meanings to this data

  4. Make assumptions based on these meanings

  5. Draw conclusions about what is happening

  6. Adopt beliefs about what is happening

  7. Take action based on these  beliefs

While there are many rungs on the ladder, it can take just seconds to climb them or make leaps in our mind.  In addition, it is a dynamic model, meaning the beliefs we form and actions we take can lead to us being selective about future data or observations.  Thus, it can create positive and negative self-fulfilling prophecies in very short periods of time. 

In the work environment, employees’ Ladders of Inference can promote or inhibit beliefs about what is really happening.  Consider this organizational example:

You have a manager meeting in which it is mentioned that a new flexible work program has been approved for one department in the organization and, if successful, will be rolled out to others. One or two questions are asked but given the limited time frame, it is noted that more information will be shared later. Now imagine the possible post-meeting discussions…

  • “Why didn’t they pilot it in our department? We’ve been asking for this for months. That team is clearly the favorite. They always get special treatment, and they always get everything first.”

  • “This is just not fair. Why didn’t they just roll the whole thing out all at once? It isn’t that hard to figure out something like this, but now that team is going to be able to provide input and none of the rest of us get any input. They don’t even do the same type of work we do, so the pilot isn’t even going to be relevant for anyone else.”

  • “Isn’t it exciting that they are finally open to a flexible work program? Maybe things will change around here after all! We are finally going to be able to work remotely whenever we want.”

This is just one example that demonstrates how people can take just a few data points or observations and very quickly make “leaps of abstraction”, they then report as their own “truth”.  Each has his or her point of view that was informed by some personal “leaps” on the Ladder of Inference.  The most effective way for an organization to combat these leaps of abstraction is to do as much as possible to “make your thinking and reasoning more visible”.  In other words, the antidote to these rapid assumptions is transparency. 

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Transparency in this context means communicating frequently and thoroughly about culture, goals, principles, vision, and change in a positive manner. As an organization, you want to create an environment where the authentic, observable data (e.g., actions, behaviors, language, etc.) helps create inferences that are more in alignment with the vision you have for the company.  Without attentiveness to communication or transparency, any type of existing or emerging cultural concerns or divide can be widened unintentionally by employees making quick assumptions or judgments with little data. 

If you are in a role that contributes to organizational transparency, consider how the Ladder of Inference might be at play in your work environment. What can you do that would fill the void of information? How can you share data or observations that contribute to positive inferences as opposed to negative ones? And how can you make thinking and reasoning more visible? Your attention to communication around all of these issues can make a big difference in the actions and beliefs of your employees, and ultimately to the success of your organization.

What is Your "Job 1"?

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In early 2016 one of my favorite clients asked me to watch A Faster Horse to pull out some key thoughts for a meeting. A Faster Horse is a documentary about the making of the 2015 Ford Mustang. The film shares the entire journey from design to production.  

I am not a car person so, honestly, I wasn’t really expecting to enjoy it much. But I have since watched the documentary no less than five times. Embedded in the story are lessons about innovation, leadership, mission orientation, teamwork, collaboration, quality, efficiency, determination, communication, and customer experience.  One specific point that jumped out at me both the first time I watched and again recently was the focus on “Job 1”.

So what is Job 1? For Ford, Job 1 is a simple, clearly defined, straightforward expectation: the ship date for a specific vehicle. It is the finish line for the whole team for the launch of a new model. Here are a couple of descriptions from leaders within Ford.

“Job 1 is mass production. It is the culmination of when everything comes together.”
- Frank Davis, Executive Director.

“Job 1 is when the car ships out on trains and on car carriers. They will go to real people and be in people’s driveways. When the first set of customers get in the car, that is Job 1.”
- Dave Pericak, Chief Program Engineer, 2015 Mustang

Some people might read those and say, so what? Everyone has deadlines. What is so special about Job 1? What becomes clear when you watch this documentary is that Job 1 isn’t just a date on the calendar – it’s more than that. It’s delivering a product on time that meets the brand expectations and experience for the model, and the entire team is responsible for reaching this goal. For the team, Job 1 is a foundational expectation that drives and sustains team focus and performance, even long-term. From the initial announcement to the unveiling of the 2015 Mustang, Job 1 took five years to reach.

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According to Gallup’s employee engagement research, about 50% of workers in the U.S. do not know what is expected of them at work. In other words, they don’t know what success looks like or what they might need to do to achieve it. To close that gap, leaders must be clear with their expectations. They must help employees know what Job 1 is and how to deliver on it. This includes not just the individual’s “technical job” but also how to work with others to get it done.

Working toward Job 1 includes establishing strategies and expectations on how to navigate priorities and handle challenges that arise. In addition, leaders must ensure that employees understand how their role fits within the big picture and aligns with the company’s strategic goals.

A foundation of clear expectations can provide a consistent mission orientation, regardless of reporting relationship. Consider this commentary from A Faster Horse:

“From the design team to marketing...there are literally thousands of people in the company working on Mustang. At the end of the day, maybe only about 30 of those people work for the Chief Program Engineer. The nature of the job is that you are accountable for everything but you don’t directly control any of the resources. It really comes down to getting people who don’t report to you to do what you need them to do. It’s the ultimate definition of being a leader.”
- Marcy Fisher, Team Mustang 2015 and Jay Thai-Tang, Team Mustang 2005

Clear expectations provide a roadmap for direction and are the foundation for employee engagement. While we may not all have a “mass production ship date”, it is likely we know and can define Job 1. It might be Job 1 within a specific role or team or Job 1 for the whole company. Regardless, these team-oriented goals must be communicated and discussed to have the greatest possible impact. What is your Job 1?

A Leader’s Role in Change

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Leadership makes a difference. In fact, the data shows that leadership makes the biggest difference when it comes to change. Prosci, a global research firm and team of change fanatics with the largest body of change management data, has found that:

The #1 contributor to successful change is active and visible sponsorship from leaders.*

In fact, in each of the firm’s ten benchmarking studies conducted since 1998, leadership has topped the list of what drives positive change results. The breakdown on the correlation to success from the 2018 best practices survey shows this:

Percentage of projects that met or exceeded project objectives based on sponsor effectiveness:

  • 29% Very ineffective sponsors

  • 42% Ineffective sponsors

  • 54% Moderately effective sponsors

  • 72% Extremely effective sponsors

In our work with organizations where we strive to get maximum adoption and usage for strategic initiated change, we have found the same to be true. When leaders provide direction and guidance, and more importantly, are committed, the desired outcomes are much more likely to be achieved.

To be clear, this commitment sets a high bar, and part of it is embracing the role of executive sponsor of the change. To sponsor something usually requires taking action. Most often these actions include introducing, providing resources and/or supporting the thing you are sponsoring. The leader’s role in being an executive sponsor for change is no different. A leader must do three things to be an “effective sponsor” for a change:

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  1. Be active and visible throughout the change period. From the time a change is conceptualized, to when it is introduced, and through all the phases of the project, a leader must be present. Effective leadership is not saying “We need to make this change. Go make it happen” only to have others take over. Rather, leadership must continually provide direction, support, and resources, and ensure obstacles and barriers are removed. This requires active ongoing dialogue and a continuous visible presence.

  2. Build sponsorship with key stakeholders. Effective change doesn’t just happen because one leader decides it must take place. Change that involves people, processes, and systems happens most effectively when the executive leader and sponsor identifies others who will be crucial for support and execution and gets them on board. This role of influencer is critical to ensuring the success of desired business outcomes as a result of change.

  3. Communicate, communicate, communicate.  One of the most essential elements a leader must master during change is communication. At the business level, leadership must answer the question of “why” a change is important to the business. They must also be prepared to share the risks of remaining unchanged and explain the desired outcomes. These messages need to be regular and consistent throughout the life of the project. In our experience with coaching change, we have found that it’s difficult for leaders to communicate too much, especially surrounding changes that are complex. It is not uncommon for employees to start to question, refresh, or backtrack on a change midstream. It’s up to the leadership messaging to help them stay the course.

If you are initiating strategic change in your organization, take one simple step to set yourself up for success: be intentional in identifying an “executive sponsor” or leader for the change. It doesn’t have to be the CEO, but it does have to be someone with influence, respect, and a strong voice in the organization. Be sure that individual understands change management and the three key actions they must take.

Finally, set an expectation that this person sponsors the change from inception to implementation and holds everyone accountable. By taking actionable steps toward clear and present leadership for change, you can make a significant difference in your company with incredible results!

The Forces Impacting the Future of Work

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At the heart of the future of work is one thing that cannot be ignored: people. Regardless of technological advances, globalization, or economic shifts, companies will still need people in order to succeed. As leaders, part of the key to positioning your organization to capitalize on talent and embrace the shape of work to come is to understand two things: the future workforce itself, and the nature of how technology will change the way people work.

First let’s talk about the future workforce. In recent years the primary focus has been incorporating Millennial and Gen Z workers into more dominant and influential roles within organizations. These generations have grown up fully immersed in a digital world. They bring expectations and ways of relating, both to one another and to the work itself, that are different and challenge most traditional workplaces. However, the generation blend that makes up the workforce is not the only shift that requires our attention. 

In their recent article “Forces of Change”, Jeff Schwartz, Heather Stockton, and Kelly Monahan of Deloitte share that, in addition to the changing demographics, one of the biggest trends shaping our workforce is the rise in “off-campus” and “off-balance sheet" workers (e.g., contractors or transactional remote workers). The way we fulfill our talent gaps and needs may look radically different now as new and evolving staffing strategies and alternative work arrangements are likely to become more prevalent and strategically valuable.

Alongside the workforce and the talent that composes it, technology is re-writing the rules of work as well.  Most studies indicate technologies like AI and machine learning will change how problems are or can be solved, thus ushering us into an era where work is truly augmented by technology. Rather than wholly replacing jobs, we will experience more collaborative work between talent and technology, or rather, true human-machine partnerships. Technology will not just provide efficiencies, it will extend human capabilities for solving problems, evaluating data, and acting on information.

These changes in the basic nature of work have many implications for organizations and require leaders to contemplate what the future could entail, including but not limited to:

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  • Challenging assumptions – reimagining work structure, organizational roles, staffing models, and advancement paths

  • Sourcing or growing diverse talents and skill sets – tapping into higher levels of critical thinking, cognitive, social, and soft skills

  • Elevating the change competency – creating greater organization agility and helping employees be more resilient and adaptable

  • Building great managers – coaching, growing, and supporting employees to celebrate strengths, promote engagement, and create affiliation

  • Promoting creativity and innovation – reengineering workflows and processes, cultivating opportunity identification, and allowing for experimentation

While different companies will collide with these changes in work at different times in the future, now is the time to assess your success in these areas and build capabilities to succeed in an era of augmented work. It is the time to contemplate the art of the possible - what we need and how we work. By doing so you will position your organization to capitalize on the most significant lever in the future of work – the people.

Why Leadership Teams Need Healthy Disagreement

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Much has been written about team building and the importance of being a cohesive team in creating and maintaining a successful organization. The research team at RHR International has even confirmed the value of teamwork in relation to specific team performance.

Often, when people hear “cohesive” and “strong teamwork”, they presume that manifests as consensus in approach or high harmony. At the enterprise level, though, we see something different. In fact, the RHR research shows that at the highest levels, a leadership team’s ability to have healthy disagreement and manage conflicting tensions is most predictive of top team performance.

In our work with teams, we have also anecdotally found this to be true. Leadership teams function much more effectively, make better decisions, and spark innovation when they can entertain various perspectives with healthy debate. It doesn’t mean that all team members must finally agree, but rather at the end of the day, viewpoints have been heard and vetted. To that end, these teams are highly effective at “mining for conflict” if they feel that a contrary view or opinion is held but not being put forth.

In order to have a healthy vs. debilitating disagreement, make an effort to see the customer’s point of view and keep it central in the conversation to ensure that what is best for the company vs. what is best for a specific team member is guiding the discussion. Be sure to also hold team members accountable for innovation and new ideas.

To increase the level of effectiveness in your teams, reflect on the actions, along with the interactions, within your meetings and projects. Are you always hearing affirmation of your ideas, or are dissenting viewpoints being offered? Are all viewpoints being heard, or are there some that need to be drawn out? Are you hearing enough input to truly sharpen ideas or simply to execute them?

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Your answers will provide insight into whether or not you are tapping into all possibilities. To improve, the best place to start is to set the tone and expectation that all views are not only welcome, but also vital. Then take steps to ensure all perspectives and opportunities are being offered. For it is through the views and actions of your team that you will create the strongest results.

Stopping the Epidemic of Poor Managers

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Archos Advisors’ David Graham asked an audience of nearly 200 people, “Have you ever left a job because of a bad manager?” It seemed like a simple enough, non-controversial question, yet the response was shocking. At least 80% of the people raised their hands.

Later in the session, I asked the same group what percentage of their current managers they would consider to be “high performance managers”. One person in the room responded 80%! I got excited – momentarily thinking this crowd might be different. Unfortunately, she was alone in such a positive response. As I continued to poll the room, the majority of the participants reported 50% or below.

Unfortunately, our anecdotal statistics are reinforced by national research that shows similar results. In a study of 2.5 million manager-led teams, Gallup Inc. found that one in two people have left a job because of a poor manager. Gallup also discovered that managers account for 70% of the variance in employee engagement across teams. Additionally, the same research shows that, through their impact, managers who are not engaged or who are actively disengaged cost the U.S. economy $319 billion to $398 billion annually*.

Based on these statistics alone, it is safe to say we have an epidemic of poor management that must be cured in order for us to achieve the greatest potential in our organizations. Not only does poor management have a significant impact on employees, it also has a very real influence on business results.

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The good news is that companies can take concrete steps to shift from having poor managers who cause people to leave to having great managers who are the number one reason people stay. These steps include:

  1. Defining and communicating expectations for. This may seem simple, but too often these expectations are weak. Does your organization expect project or workflow management or development and growth of people? Perhaps both? There are different expectations and outcomes depending on the answer to those questions. Both roles are important and necessary, but they aren’t always owned by the same person.

    Organizations must consider what is most effective for the business and what meets the needs of employees. Clear expectations and ownership of these different areas can create specific roles that can then be appropriately filled.

  2. Selecting for managerial talent. Determining who to put in the role of manager is one of the most critical decisions an organization will make, especially the manager who will “own” the role of people development and growth. Research shows that only one in 10 people have natural managerial talent, and an additional two in that 10 have functional talent that can be developed into effective managers1. When placing individuals in a manager role, companies should screen rigorously for managerial talent to make the most informed decisions.

  3. Educating and training managers on what it means to be “high-performance” and supporting them within that role. Companies need to train their managers on the needs of the current workforce and help them build skills to meet those needs. As managers execute this training in their new role, supporting them with coaching and reinforcement for their own professional growth is critical. For managers to be highly effective in their role, they personally need to be engaged, particularly through ongoing employer support.

          Three fundamental areas that require focus include:

  • How to be strengths-based to leverage talents.

  • How to be engagement-focused to build employee commitment.

  • How to be performance-oriented by setting clear expectations, coaching continuously, and establishing accountability.

How do we know these strategies work? Remember the professional who said 80% of her managers would be considered "high performance managers"? I asked how they were able to accomplish this high percentage.  She shared two specific company actions:

  • The company treats every manager role as an external hire and applies the same rigorous selection process to candidates for the position (i.e., assessments, behavior-based interviewing, etc.).

  • Once a manager is onboarded and clear on expectations, the company enrolls them in a specific, multi-level, mandatory training program that is executed over a significant length of time.

This company gets it.

What percent of your managers would you say are high-performing managers? What is the impact of that current percentage, and what if you improved it by 25%? Do you think that could impact your employee metrics or improve your bottom line? What is the impact long-term if you do nothing?

Be proactive to stop the epidemic that could be occurring within your own organization. Apply a critical eye to the steps described and identify one or two immediate actions that can help you improve your percentage. Remember, great managers make a difference not only in their influence on other employees but also on the bottom line, so it is worth the investment!

* Source: State of the American Manager Report, Gallup, Inc. Copyright 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Are You Empowering “Builders” to Unlock Economic Energy?

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What is a “Builder”? A Builder, as defined by Gallup, is one who creates economic energy where none previously existed. Builders start new ventures or create something within an existing organization: a business line, product or service, strategic initiative, or a new team. These creations all come with the goal of driving the new or existing organization forward and creating a fresh economic reality.

We have Builders all around us, but are we supporting them and empowering them effectively to harness their talents? Furthermore, do we all truly engage in the role of “Builder” to develop, grow, and sustain organizations?

As our world changes, having a more entrepreneurial culture and being able to create organic growth and seize opportunities are critical competitive advantages in business.This edge helps start-ups beat the odds to survive and succeed. It helps small and medium sized businesses retain their independence and sustain profitability, and it helps large businesses continue to be relevant. We need Builders to embrace building, create positive change, and not just work "in" the business, but “on” the business as well!

To identify what characteristics and traits are most important for building, Gallup studied 4,000 successful entrepreneurs over five years. Their research discovered 10 specific talents required for building (also known as the Builder Profile 10™):

  1. Confidence
  2. Knowledge
  3. Delegator
  4. Profitability
  5. Determination
  6. Relationship
  7. Disruptor
  8. Risk
  9. Independence
  10. Selling

Interestingly, we all have these talents that are distinctly measurable and correlate to economic outcomes. In the book Born to Build by Jim Clifton and Sangeeta Badal, some of these correlations are shared. Here are a few examples of dominant traits of entrepreneurs and the findings:

  • Those with "Risk" talent are 5x more likely to have a business with $1 million in revenue.
  • Those with "Profitability" talent are 4x more likely to plan to grow their business significantly.
  • Those with "Determination" talent are 3.5x more likely to plan to increase their employee base by more than 5%.
  • Those with "Disruptor" talent are 3x more likely to file for or receive a patent.
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The research also shows that each of us approaches building through lenses with varying intensities in each talent, and, when building, we all lead with a different role: Rainmaker, Conductor, or Expert.

Discovering our specific building talents and the unique way we tend to lead not only helps us know how to develop and direct others toward what we are building, it also helps us ensure we are building the right team around us to succeed. Thus, if you are investing in someone to build, knowing and helping them understand how to maximize their Builder talents is a powerful way to set them up for greater success.

Beyond raw talent, Builders who are equipped with a thoughtful process can channel their talents in a highly productive way. Assessment and enhancing self-awareness of Builder talents are the first steps of the process, but applying those talents to the other steps (recognizing opportunities, generating customers or users, activating the ideas/services/products, and building the team) is where the true value is created.

Every company has Builders. They might be the founder or founding partners, or anyone that has been asked to build something or lead a division/practice in an existing organization. If we aren’t harnessing and developing the natural talents they bring to building, we are leaving a critical aspect of economic energy to chance.

Help yourself and your Builders. Start to assess Builder talents by using the BP10™, and work with your team to discover, develop, and direct those talents to build your organization for the future.  

The Importance of Practicing Compassion

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It is not uncommon for leaders who have held positions of power for a long time to start to feel more distant from employees.  This does not mean that they don’t care about employees or understand the importance of people to their business.  

Rather, it means that due to the function of their role, they start to emotionally disconnect, causing the ability to be empathetic to begin to erode. Leaders can simply become desensitized to employee issues due to the scope and criticality of the responsibilities and decisions they face in their own leadership role. 

To be an effective leader, you do not have to always be empathetic (i.e., feel the emotions that others feel in the way they might be feeling them), but you should show compassion.  As defined in an article from the Harvard Business Review, compassion is the intent to contribute to the happiness and wellbeing of others.  It is a leadership quality that is noticeable and can be cultivated. 

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Compassion is also a leadership attribute that makes a significant difference for your employees and their engagement, which makes a significant difference to the success of the business.

Is Cognitive Dissonance Hurting Your Team Development?

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Cognitive dissonance: The state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change.

This describes the current state of American management.  It’s become universally accepted among leaders across the planet that people are an organization's greatest asset.  In the course of our practice, we have the opportunity to talk with all types of business leaders and can attest that they universally agree with this modern-day mantra - so do we!  

This begs the obvious question, if people are truly our greatest asset, how are we doing in terms of our stewardship?  The most recent numbers aren’t encouraging. According to Gallup’s research, only 33% of the US workforce are engaged. What this also tells us is that a staggering 67% of US workers are not engaged, which means they are simply putting in their time for a paycheck, or worse, they are actively undermining their organizations from within. 

Imagine growing a business and competing in your industry with a team operating at 1/3 capacity. With an estimated 2017 US payroll of approximately $10 trillion dollars, it’s not hard to extrapolate the cost resulting from this engagement deficit and its ultimate impact on our economy and standard of living. It’s also not hard to see the absolute potential in investing heavily and thoughtfully in your people. 

Our work experiences lead us to the conclusion that while most leaders profess people to be their greatest asset, far too often they treat them as their biggest expense. Organizations invest heavily in recruiting and onboarding talented people, providing them with competitive pay and benefits. They build modern workplaces, and then when it matters most they saddle them with a manager who doesn’t have the talent and skills to effectively engage and develop them to perform at their best.  It’s not that leaders don’t care about their people, we know for a fact they do. It’s that the needs of the workforce have outpaced the practice of management, and organizations are struggling to catch up.

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The dilemma is that you can’t build an engaged workforce without great managers. However, you won’t have great managers unless you are diligent about selecting those with the right talent for the role and investing in them to develop the right skills to cultivate an environment of engagement, accountability and high-performance.  Of course, it’s much easier said than done.

How can you avoid the cycle of cognitive dissonance? Here are a few ways to start:

  • Measure your organization’s overall level of engagement annually.
  • Be intentional about curating your culture daily.
  • Develop a rigorous process for selecting and developing your managers to be effective coaches, NOT bosses.
  • Coach your people continuously and empower them to do what they do best as often as possible.

In short, treat all your people like you’d actually treat your greatest asset and performance will follow.  It’s easy to say, it’s much harder to do!

-David Graham

Cultivating and Using Curiosity

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When I started consulting seventeen years ago, I asked one of my mentors who was a very successful businessman to share with me what characteristics he felt made a successful consultant.  One of the qualities on the list was "intellectual curiosity: the ability to abstract".  While this is a critical aspect of being an effective consultant, we find it to be just as important to apply to being an impactful leader in any industry today.   
 
Signals of change are occurring all around us – sometimes in our industry and sometimes not.  Part of cultivating intellectual curiosity is preparing your mind to be observant.  It’s about being interested in what you are seeing in how clients/customers, employees, vendors, students, or people in general are interacting with or trying to interact with their environment in life or at work. To gain the most, it’s important not to limit your observations to your own bubble. Some of the key ways we can see beyond are: 

  • Look outside your industry and your situation. 
  • Pay attention to innovations, regardless of type or source, to explore new possibilities. 
  • Study work habits and communication of students or future generations of workers or customers. 
  • Explore emerging products or services in other markets or geographics. 

Evolving in how we work, serve, sell, or grow starts with cultivating intellectual curiosity personally and within our teams. But it doesn’t stop there. 

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What I find most interesting about my mentor’s note is that it’s not just about being curious (new ideas or interesting things you see, read, or experience) it’s also about what you do with it.  How do you take the next step to draw abstract value from the learning?  Once something draws your attention, take the next step to ask yourself  how it might impact your organization, industry, customers, and people. Better yet, challenge yourself to discover how positive change can be brought to your organization and beyond. It’s invigorating to explore the art of possibilities, even if it feels a little “out there”.  Some of the best ideas emerge when you collaboratively explore the space between what exists and imagining what’s possible.
 
Beyond leading by example by being intellectually curious and abstracting, great leaders also cultivate curiosity by creating a culture in which it can thrive.  They hire people who are curious. They inquire about the observations of others, regardless of level or role. They encourage and are open to thoughtful questions. They challenge assumptions and welcome others doing the same, and they recognize and reward curiosity.
 
To capitalize on opportunities to evolve, consider how you are leading by example to cultivate, use, and promote curiosity both within and outside your world.

The Importance of a Purpose-Driven Organization

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A significant change over the past few decades is the shift of employees looking for work that offers a solid pay check and stability to employees seeking meaningful work and purpose. While purpose and meaning has always been part of the equation, it is a much higher priority for team members now.  Beyond the importance of the organization’s purpose, employees also want to be able to see that their role in the organization is contributing to that purpose.  When employees can make a connection or have that line of sight, they find true meaning in their work. 

According to research conducted by Gallup, Inc., providing that line of sight makes a difference for the organization as well.  “When a company's mission or purpose makes employees feel their job is important, they are more likely to be engaged and, ultimately, to perform at higher levels. Business units in the top quartile of Gallup's engagement database on this element average from 5% to 15% higher profitability than bottom-quartile units.”

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As leaders and managers, regardless of our level or role in the organization, we have two obligations:

  • To know the organizational purpose – not just what we do, but why we do what we do.  What is our purpose? What difference do we make in the world?
  • To be able to help others around us, no matter what their role is, understand and connect to that purpose. What is the difference they make? How do they contribute?

If we are successful executing these obligations, there are multiple benefits. First and foremost, employees will be more engaged, which leads to greater energy, higher productivity and lower turnover. Second, the more employees find meaning in work, the stronger the organizational culture becomes and the ability to be resilient in times of change is greater.  Finally, both of the first two benefits can help raise the organization’s brand as a great place to work and attract talent. 

Be diligent in identifying and sharing your organizational purpose.  It can truly make a difference for everyone!

Cultivate Elastic Thinking to be "Future Relevant"

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In the business environment, change is constant and future readiness is essential. To compete and be ready, we must develop new knowledge and skills to stay current with globalization, new applications of technologies, and the rapid pace of innovation in business models and products/services.  However, to maintain relevance, we must also promote and engage in elastic thinking.

There are two types of thinking: analytic and elastic.  When we are faced with everyday obstacles – business or other challenges with which we have familiarity or even facts to which we can relate, our brains naturally resort to analytical thinking. Processing data points and drawing upon regular and pre-existing frameworks we have previously relied on to make decisions are the foundation of analytical thinking. Using your analytical or logical mind to solve the “normal stuff” is easy and feels natural.

The most effective way of thinking to deal with the complex, unexpected, or new challenges is elastic thinking. Elastic thinking emerges from the subconscious when the brain is in a relaxed and often unfocused state, or when it is out of its element.  It’s the level of thinking that unleashes innovation, creates new products or approaches, or identifies unique paths or niche markets. It is a powerful ally in the war for survival and sustainability that companies face.

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Elastic thinking can be cultivated through:

  1. Space and time: Creating space and stepping away from an issue can break focus and allow the subconscious mind to intervene.  This can be as simple as walking away for a short amount of time or scheduling “blue sky time” to free think or create. It can also occur by slowing the pace of a decision process and allowing for more contemplation or reflection.

  2. Reframing: Often reframing an issue by looking at it through a different lens or asking questions in a different way can create new possibilities. If the issue is internal, try looking at it through a customer’s point of view. If it is a customer complaint, flip it to see what a positive opportunity might lie within.

  3. OpennessIn certain cultures, new or different ideas or even hard questions are frowned upon, made light of, or met with rigidity of thought. All of these reactions can inhibit creativity and ultimately send a message to team members that it’s not worth exploring new ideas or innovation.  For elastic thinking to flourish, leaders have to have a willingness to hear it and stamp out cultural elements that are limiting.

To be competitive, to thrive, to be a disrupter and not the disrupted, are you changing how you think? Are you moving from analytical thinking to elastic thinking when needed and necessary?  

Elastic thinking is essential for any organization to be future ready and "future relevant".  Make sure you are both by setting an example for promoting and engaging in elastic thinking today.

The Best Leaders Know It's Not About Them

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One of the best pieces of feedback I ever received was, “It’s not about you, it’s about them.” It came when I was rehearsing for a workshop.  During my preparation, I was laser-focused on my performance – what I was doing and how it would be perceived. Was I making my points clearly enough? Was my body language right to emphasize key points? Was I coming across as an expert on the topic?

Unfortunately, my mindset and focus were all wrong.  In the practice run debrief, my coach reminded me that I could give the perfect presentation but completely miss the critical outcome: helping the participants learn and succeed!  I needed to put myself in their shoes, and if I did, my success as a presenter would naturally follow. She said simply, “Remember, it’s not about you. it’s about them.”
 
Over the years we at Archos Advisors have seen leaders fall into the same trap.  When it happens, leaders start to focus on their own attributes and how people view them in their role.  How do I come across? What do people think of me? What do I need to do next? How can I make sure people respect me?  While these things can be important, shifting the mindset and looking at leadership from a different point of view can enhance how leaders personally improve – in these areas and many more.  Remember, it’s not about you. It’s about your people.

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 In his book The Score Takes Care of Itself, Bill Walsh, former coach for the San Francisco 49ers, shares how wins come from daily steps and processes.  He also reinforces that leadership actions are an essential.  Walsh states, “Others follow you based on the quality of your actions rather than the magnitude of your declarations.”  To be the best leader, the focus should be on the quality of actions related to employees. Some of those include:

  • Ensuring employees have a line of sight and connection to the purpose and mission of the organization.
  • Helping employees understand expectations and navigate priorities.
  • Making sure employees know you care about them as individuals and recognize the unique value they bring.
  • Ensuring employees feel connected and part of the team.
  • Meeting employee needs for growth and development.
  • Removing barriers and knowing that if the team succeeds, you succeed!

What’s your mindset?  Is it people first? As leaders, each of us can be short-sided in our own growth if we don’t first value our people.  Putting a focus and priority on meeting their needs will naturally lead to being a better leader and success!