culture

Tips for Delivering Bad News

 

For many people, December was mostly filled with good news: holiday cheer, raises, promotions, etc. Life isn’t always like that, and there’s bad news. A contract is cancelled or the new budget requires eliminating jobs and you need to let people know they’re out of a job. Unfortunately, two colleagues presented such cases last month, and asked me for advice.

In November, Entrepreneur magazine featured an article on the topic, “How to Give Bad News”. Vanessa Van Edwards, founder of Science of People advises four guidelines.

  • Stay Positive: No one wants negative feedback which is viewed as a personal attack, rather than a constructive aid. One way to reduce the often automatic defensive reaction is to deliver the information is a positive tone and frame the information as an opportunity for growth.
  • Focus on the facts. Most negative feedback is backed by verifiable reasons for it; therefore use facts to deliver the bad news. By reducing the emotional aspect of the message, the listener’s defensive radar doesn’t rise as quickly. The conversation then shifts to what actions are now possible, rather than dwelling on personal loss
  • Show you care. Take time to think through what you want to say; don’t rush into it. In one case, the decision was made to not notify people about the contract loss the day before the Xmas holiday, but to wait till after the weekend; in the other case, the presenter spent time identifying new ways the recipient could move forward before having the meeting. Ask sincere questions about how the recipient is experiencing the bad news. Then focus on solutions to the problem that are viable.
  • Help them get better. After delivering the bad news, promote a growth mindset by encouraging the person’s belief in their own ability to move forward and help find support. If the news is really bad, the person may need time to recover from the shock, so help the person have reasonable time expectations so they can bounce back. Most people are resilient, when they realize they have the capability of moving forward.

What’s your experience being the barer or recipient of bad news?  Share tips with us!

Key Teamwork Traits

Does hiring the best candidates really produce the best teams?  So many times we find companies bring in superstars who don’t “gel” into a high performance teams, especially in sports.  So what should we be looking for to generate high performing teams?

Google recently conducted a study of its employees to discover the “secrets” to team effectiveness.  Many executives believed that building the best teams meant compiling people with Advanced degrees (e.g., PhD, MBA0 from the best colleges would generate the best teams.  As Julia Rozovsky, Google’s chief analytics manager noted, “we were dead wrong”.

Project Aristotle studied 180 Google teams, conducted 200+ interviews and analyzed over 250 team attributes, over a period of two years – and found no clear pattern of characteristics that could be plugged into a “dream-team” generating algorithm. However, when they switched to psychological and sociological perspective addressing how groups function, five characteristics of enhanced teams emerged, with the last being the most important:

  • Dependability – Team member understand the expectations and get things done on time and meet the performance standards
  • Structure and clarity – High performing teams have clear goals and well-defined roles with the group context.
  • Meaning – each member should be engaged in the group activity through personal and group-goal meaningfulness.
  • Impact – The group as a whole believes their work is purposeful and positively impacts on the greater good.
  • Psychological safety – When group members fear seeming incompetent in front of the group, they hold back questions or ideas. In a culture where there is psychological safety, and managers provide air cover and create safe zones, members are more likely to take risks, voice options and ask judgement-free questions. Google found that teams in “safe environments” were less likely to leave, more likely to harness the power of diversity and ultimately more successful.

As a psychologist with special training in personality, social, organizational, and leadership issues, the findings aren’t surprising.  A successful group is more than the sum of its parts. Employers need to hire people and organize them into existing or new teams and to create new teams. Further, as companies move from traditional hierarchical organizational models to the “network-team model” (which we’ve spoke about in prior blogs), finding people who can flourish in a team-of-teams approach will be essential.

What are your experiences in these areas?  Share insights and questions.

Is Your Company a CILO?

What is a CILO? A Continuously Improving Learning Organization. It creates a learning culture that enables each person to grow as they contribute strategically to the overall success of the company.

A little background.  Several years ago, I had the privilege of working with a new organization, now called ETW – Execute To Win, where I learned about a new management operating system. It was started by Lee Benson, a CEO who belongs to Vistage Worldwide in the Midwest. (I chair groups in New York City.) It’s based on the principle that if the work each person does is aligned with the corporate strategy and performed well, it’s a win-win for each employee and the company. At the time, he showed it to Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, who loved it so much that he became a partner in the project. Over the years, it’s evolved into a system used by large companies focused on launching new strategic efforts and helps everyone on the team focus on doing their part in concert with the whole. I

In the meanwhile, I adapting it (www.eval2win.com) to help CEOs of $5M – $1B companies with whom I work, to focus on achieving personal/corporate strategic goals and forging a culture of continuous improvement. The focus is on the employee-supervisor dyad, not just the employee. Each dyad collaborates to ensure that the employee can achieve the strategic objectives she/he has which lead to the achievement of the company’s strategic goals. (e.g., my actions, lead to sales, which are my contribution to the corporate revenue goal. The system requires that the dyad meet regularly to discuss how the employee is doing and can improve and create a document that:

  • Identifies the major responsibilities of a person with time allocations to each one to account for 100% of the person’s commitment. (E.g., a Controller may have specific financial functions, supervises people, provides Exec Team with advice and data, leads the budgeting section for new business proposals, etc.). Many have 5-8 major areas of responsibility.
  • Defines the key activities within each of these responsibilities. (e.g., collect, publish and analyze monthly financials; identify and guide career paths for each employee).
  • Creates KPI for measuring (e.g., close each month within 3 days and provide a report, highlighting key issues of concern).
  • Identifies areas of improvement for the employee within most of the areas of responsibility (e.g., investigate a few finance courses to take online), schedule the activities themselves and develop KPIs to measure progress (e.g., pick the course, take it, and achieve at least a B).
  • Schedules the next review.

As you can see, in a CILO, continuous improvement is a fundamental job responsibility for the employee and the system to achieve it is collaborative – not imposed on anyone. Moreover, the scheduling of reviews is triggered by the goal of continuous improvement – not just a calendar.

For a new employee with a stable set of job responsibilities, the dyad meets each month for the first three months to help the employee “onboard” and do the job correctly. If all is fine, the next review will be in three months; if there is a problem, monthly meetings continue as long as needed. Once things are fine, the intervals between reviews expand from monthly to quarterly to semi-annually to annually.

However, most people’s jobs change! Imagine you’re a graphic artist or sales person or marketing for retail and been promoted to take on new responsibilities, such as managing the graphic team, providing sales training, supervising social media e-commerce marketing. Since this is new, the cycle of reviews for these new jobs starts over; you get support immediately (e.g., training and direction) to perform the new job correctly. In this way, the Peter Principle is eliminated – people aren’t promoted to a new job where they lack the skills and the problem is only discovered later; problems are identified immediately.

As you can see, this system also encourages people to take on new responsibilities to advance their career by learning what they need to know and getting the support and feedback to do it well.

Is your company a CILO – encouraging continuous improvement through learning, feedback and support (by people and systems)?  If so, share your model. If not, let us know how we can help you become one!

The Complex Role of Leader-Manager

 

As I begin outlining the new Management MBA course I’ll be teaching this summer on Leadership, I realized that the reason there are so many different definitions is that there are many facets to this complex position, and each definition is focusing on a different perspective.

For instance, one approach is to distinguish leaders from managers.  “Leaders have people follow them while managers have people who work for them.” In other words, the leader is focused on vision (how the world changes because of us) and the relationships between people to achieve it. The manager is focused on executing the tasks involved in achieving the mission, the activities we actually achieve.  Each makes appropriate strategic decisions; the leader choosing between visionary options and the manager choosing between different ways of executing the plan. A successful business person needs to be both a strong leader and manager to get their team on board to follow them towards their vision of success and obtain the resources (people, capital, etc.) and engage in the business activities.

A successful leader therefore is someone who  “earns the enthusiastic loyalty and commitment of followers and molds them into a high performance team”. (Tom DeCotiis) He/she inspires people (through words and role-modelled actions) to align their own performance with the organization’s overall strategy (i.e., vision, mission and goals). This involves, painting a compelling vision of the team’s future, pointing the way to successful accomplishment of the vision.  Ultimately, it’s getting someone to do things they don’t want to do, to achieve what they want to achieve. (Tom Landy)

On the other hand, a successful manager, is focused on optimal execution: recruiting, developing and growing talented team members; obtaining and using resources to most efficiently and effectively achieve the work necessary to give the stakeholders (i.e., employees, customers and investors achievement of its mission.

The leader-manager has to balance the different realms in order to be successful. Where are we going? What’s the best way to get there? What are the implications of each strategic choice? (G. A. Lafley.) As a CEO coach, I know it’s important to address both realms in terms of time allocation, expertise, and training (of self and other team members) to advance their own abilities as leader-managers. My challenge, as a teacher is to enable students to see the differences, and cultivate the perspectives and skills needed to see how they will fulfill these roles as they grow professionally.

What are your biggest challenges?? Share with us.

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