In today’s fast-paced business world, effective prioritisation and time management skills are crucial for success. One area where these skills play a significant role is email management. With the sheer volume of emails we receive daily, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and lose precious time. The good news is that there are many things you can do to write effective emails.
Starting a new job can be an exciting and nerve-wracking experience.
You want to make a good impression and set yourself up for success in your new role.
There are many unknowns and even fears leading up to your first day. Your success and satisfaction depends on numerous factors, many of which you can influence and control.
Does onboarding and early support really matter?
Let’s delve into a few key points proving that it does and find out what you can do to minimise the risks and maximise the opportunities.
It is critical to understand the importance of an effective onboarding and induction process. This is often misunderstood and poorly implemented, with significant risks for employee retention, engagement and business success as a result.
Let’s firstly look at the environment and culture you are about to step into, including the induction process. According to a study by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), effective onboarding can increase employee retention by 25% and improve productivity by up to 50%. The study also states that Research and conventional wisdom both suggest that employees get about 90 days to prove themselves in a new job. The faster new hires feel welcome and prepared for their jobs, the faster they will be able to successfully contribute to the firm’s mission.
In addition, a Glassdoor survey found that a positive onboarding experience can lead to employees being 69% more likely to stay with a company for three years or more. BambooHR found that the most important factors for successful onboarding include:
- Setting clear expectations (96% of respondents rated this as important)
- Providing access to necessary tools and information (93%)
- Providing access to mentors, buddies, or coaches (87%)
- Making introductions to colleagues (87%)
- Having a formal onboarding program (85%)
In terms of the length of onboarding programs, the same BambooHR research found that employees who participated in onboarding programs that lasted longer than one month were more than twice as likely to stay with the company for three years or more, compared to employees who had a shorter onboarding program.
On the other hand, 62% of HR managers said that a successful onboarding process can improve the employee experience, and 54% said it can improve employee retention.
What about the individual? There is plenty you can do to own your role and provide greater likelihood of successful integration. To help you navigate this transition, we’ve put together a list of things you should do and look for when starting a new job.
- Research the company: Before your first day, take some time to research the company. Review their website, social media accounts, and any news articles or press releases about the company. This will give you a better understanding of the company’s culture, values and goals. You should also learn about the industry the company operates in and the competitors they face.
- Understand your job responsibilities: Make sure you fully understand your job responsibilities before you start. This includes the tasks you will be responsible for, any goals or targets you are expected to meet, and who you report to. If you are unsure about anything, don’t be afraid to ask your manager or HR representative for clarification.
- Be prepared for your first day: Make sure you are prepared for your first day on the job. This includes knowing what time you need to arrive, where you need to go, and what to wear. You should also bring a notebook and pen to take notes, as well as any other materials you were instructed to bring.
- Build relationships with your colleagues: Getting to know your colleagues is an important part of starting a new job. Make an effort to introduce yourself to your co-workers and ask them about their roles and responsibilities. Take part in team-building activities or social events to help build relationships and learn more about your colleagues.
- Understand the company culture: Understanding the company culture is important for fitting in and feeling comfortable in your new role. Observe how your colleagues interact with each other and the company’s values and behaviors. If you are unsure about anything, ask your manager or HR representative for guidance.
- Learn the company’s technology and systems: Many companies use specialised software or systems to manage their operations. Make sure you learn how to use any technology or systems that are essential to your role. If you are having trouble, ask your colleagues or IT department for assistance.
- Seek feedback: Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback from your manager or colleagues. This will help you identify areas where you are doing well and areas where you need to improve. Feedback can also help you adjust to the company’s expectations and culture.
- Set goals for yourself: Setting goals for yourself can help you stay motivated and focused in your new role. Talk to your manager about what goals you should be working towards, both short-term and long-term. Make sure your goals are specific, measurable, and achievable.
- Find a mentor or coach: Having a mentor or coach can be a great way to learn more about the company and industry, as well as get guidance and support in your role. Ask your manager or HR representative if there is a formal support and development program, or seek out a coach or mentor on your own.
- Take care of yourself: Starting a new job can be stressful, so it is important to take care of yourself both physically and mentally. Make sure you are getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, and taking breaks throughout the day. Don’t be afraid to talk to your manager or HR representative if you are feeling overwhelmed or need additional support.
The opportunities presented when changing jobs can be both challenging and exciting. It is this excitement and the unknowns that should form part of the reason for the change in the first place.
Don’t leave your success to ‘fate’ or luck. Own your role and seek assistance to make the most of the opportunity. Through genuine thought and reflection and having a plan to follow during your first few month, you can set yourself up for success and greater enjoyment in your new role.
Many people at all levels of seniority and across industries find that external support and coaching is of benefit, particularly during the challenging time of starting a new job.
If you, one of your team or someone else you know are currently changing jobs, it is worthwhile investigating our CoachStation Role Integration Coaching (RIC) Program.
We have created a very useful and effective coaching and support resource to assist people at all levels as they transition into a new job. It is as effective for internal movements as external. Many of the points listed in this blog are explored and expanded on to ensure the best opportunity for a successful integration.
The RIC program provides many benefits. Primarily, there is the opportunity to transition and onboard into the new role with additional support from an external resource and coach. This is designed to work in conjunction with the recruiting organisation and their induction process, enhancing the opportunity for both the employee and new employer.
Coachees participate in two online coaching and mentoring sessions across an 8-week period. The first session is scheduled 1 – 2 weeks prior to starting your role, whilst the second session is scheduled to occur around 4 weeks after. Commonly, this might involve identifying a 30-60-90 day plan; specific skill development; developing greater self-awareness and Emotional Intelligence; leadership capability; or similar themes.
The 1:1 coaching is reinforced through access to our custom eLearning platform and its resources, tools and content. Specifically your RIC Program includes:
- Two Coaching and Mentoring sessions, facilitated online by experienced and effective CoachStation coaches.
- Opportunity to ask questions via email-based Q&A coaching throughout the program.
- Access to learning videos providing insight into how best to integrate into your new role; tactics to maximise your first few months; observations and strategies to apply during this phase.
- Supporting tools and resources to be applied during the program and designed to be of benefit for many months and years after.
- Candidates will be provided with an Ebook providing insights, tools and material consolidating the learning.
Resources and References:
Engagement at work matters. Employee discretionary effort and focus are being challenged for many reasons, including the labour market and working from home.
People are finding it easy to find jobs and unemployment is at a record low. It won’t always be like this, however.
Developing the skills to engage team members is important. Maybe, no more so than right now. In years to come, when equilibrium between employers and employees normalises, the investment in these skills now will be returned in spades.
The Reserve Bank of Australia believes that the unemployment rate is heading to 3.25% by the end of this year. They then speculate unemployment will rise to 4% by 2024 in the wake of the economic slowdown influenced by rate hikes. The risk of not getting leadership and culture ‘right’ are significant.
Where we work has rarely provided more options. What we do at work and how we do it is changing. We spend 81,396 hours of our lives working, on average.
The question begs to be asked and answered then: If we spend so much of life at work, how is life at work going?
According to the world’s workers, not well. Gallup finds 60% of people are emotionally detached at work and 19% are miserable. (1) The levels of engagement continue to be alarming for Executive Leaders…or at least, they should be. Yet, these results have barely shifted in many years. Why are people not engaged and can something be done about it?
As a leader you are obligated to develop your skills to influence and support each and every team member. Your goal must be to ensure your team members are regularly performing work that they are good at and care about.
Every employee has to own their development and situation too. Choice and effort influence engagement. This blog addresses 4 key skills and areas to focus on that contribute to employee engagement. One of the most exciting aspects of developing these skills further, is that you the leader, will also see a significant uplift in your own engagement as a result of being more effective in your role.
It’s about understanding how important leadership and engagement are.
None of these points are theories. Yet, too often managers see them as negotiable. It is firstly important to recognise that we all have choices. We can choose to work somewhere or not. The feeling of being ‘stuck’ is one of the most crippling feelings. You have options. We all do.
Gallup estimates that managers account for at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement across business units. When Gallup asked managers why they thought their company hired them for their current role, managers commonly said the organisation promoted them because of their success in a previous non-managerial role, or cited their tenure in their company or field. Unfortunately, these criteria miss a crucial element: the right talent to succeed as a manager and leader.
Gallup research shows that only about one in 10 people naturally possess high talent to manage, and organisations name the wrong person as manager about 80% of the time.
We’ve also learned that one in two employees have left a job to get away from a manager and improve their overall life at some point in their career. At CoachStation, we believe this figure to be much higher, in fact, more like 2 in 3 employees. Given the troubling state of employee engagement in companies worldwide, it follows that most managers aren’t creating environments in which employees feel engaged — or involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace.
We have seen little evidence that the situation is any different or better in Australia, until very recently. In fact, the focus on themes such as strengths, personal values and coaching have been occurring in the U.S for a longer period. This has provided a solid platform for personal and professional development that is still relatively new in Australia. Thankfully, this attitude and openness to leadership and personal growth is improving. The fact that you are taking the time to read this blog is a positive example.
What’s more, companies that fail to engage their employees are missing out on the powerful results that come from engagement. Gallup’s latest employee engagement meta-analysis shows that business units in the top quartile are 17% more productive, experience 70% fewer safety incidents, experience 41% less absenteeism, have 10% better customer ratings and are 21% more profitable compared with business units in the bottom quartile. (5)
Business units with engaged workers have 23% higher profit compared with business units with miserable workers.
Additionally, teams with thriving workers also see higher customer loyalty. The point is: Wellbeing at work isn’t at odds with anyone’s agenda. Executives everywhere should want the world’s workers to thrive. And helping the world’s workers thrive starts with listening to them.
Before we go any further it’s worth making sure we all understand the definitions of employee engagement. The Gallup organisation provides an excellent summary: Employee engagement reflects the involvement and enthusiasm of employees in their work and workplace. Gallup categorises an organisation’s employees as engaged, not engaged or actively disengaged.
Employees become engaged when their basic needs are met and when they have a chance to contribute, a sense of belonging, and opportunities to learn and grow.
Engaged employees are highly involved in and enthusiastic about their work and workplace. They are psychological “owners,” drive performance and innovation, and move the organisation forward.
Not engaged employees are psychologically unattached to their work and company. Because their engagement needs are not being fully met, they’re putting time — but not energy or passion — into their work.
Actively disengaged employees aren’t just unhappy at work — they are resentful that their needs aren’t being met and are acting out their unhappiness.
Every day, these workers potentially undermine what their engaged co-workers accomplish.
In one of the largest studies of burnout, Gallup found the biggest source was “unfair treatment at work.” That was followed by an unmanageable workload, unclear communication from managers, lack of manager support and unreasonable time pressure. Those five causes have one thing in common: your boss. Get a bad one and you are almost guaranteed to hate your job. A bad boss will ignore you, disrespect you and never support you. Environments like that can make anyone miserable.
A manager’s effect on a workplace is so significant that Gallup can predict 70% of the variance in team engagement just by getting to know the boss. (1)
The McKinsey group recently published an excellent resource regarding attrition and the reasons why people leave organisations. This data is current and it is real, being consistent with what many of my clients are telling me. To navigate this new playing field successfully, hiring managers can look beyond the current imbalance in labor supply and demand and consider what different segments of workers want and how best to engage them. To do this, employers should understand the common themes that reveal what people most value, or most dislike, about a job.
For instance, it cannot be overstated just how influential a bad boss can be in causing people to leave.
And while in the past an attractive salary could keep people in a job despite a bad boss, that is much less true now than it was before the pandemic. Our survey shows that uncaring and uninspiring leaders are a big part of why people left their jobs, along with a lack of career development. Flexibility, on the other hand, is a top motivator and reason for staying. (2)
Exiting workers told us that relationships in their workplace were sources of tension and that they didn’t feel that their organisations and managers cared about them.
In this latest round, respondents again cited uncaring leaders (35 percent listed it as one of their top three reasons for leaving), but they added a new range of top motivators, including inadequate compensation, a lack of career advancement, and the absence of meaningful work.
In other words, plenty of employees say that they see no room for professional or personal growth, believe that there is better money to be made elsewhere, and think that leaders don’t care enough about them. Tried-and-true reasons for disgruntlement, to be sure, but ones that are now being acted upon broadly. (2) The data provided in the graphic below is compelling.
There is no room for complacency. In the recently published State of the Global Workplace report, 45% of employees said now is a good time to find a job.
This is up slightly from last year, but less than the record 55% in 2019. The regional outlier for this item is the United States and Canada, which leads the world at 71%, up 44 percentage points from the previous year. The next closest regions are Australia and New Zealand at 59% and South Asia at 50%. (1) Reading the language and results in the McKinsey graphic highlights a few key themes.
Namely, that the top reasons for quitting closely align to fulffilling work; engagement; and relationships.
Engagement and wellbeing interact with each other in powerful ways. We often think of engagement as something that happens at work and wellbeing as something that happens outside of work, but Gallup’s analysis suggests that’s a false dichotomy.
- How people experience work influences their lives outside of work. Employees who consistently experience high levels of burnout at work say their job makes it difficult to fulfill their family responsibilities. They are also 23% more likely to visit the emergency room.
- Overall wellbeing influences life at work. Employees who are engaged at work but not thriving have a 61% higher likelihood of ongoing burnout than those who are engaged and thriving.
When leaders take responsibility for the wellbeing of their workers, the result is not only productive organisations, but thriving individuals, families and communities. (1)
The majority of the coaching and mentoring themes that I employ relate to communication to some degree.
It is a common gap in skills and capability for many and has a direct influence on engagement levels. Organisations often assume that these skills exist in their managers, yet rarely meaningfully focus on developing newer leaders to build on this capability.
Let’s be honest, it’s not like all senior managers regularly role model these behaviours and provide effective communication either.
I recognise this is a generalised statement. Yet, I am confident that many people reading this blog, no matter what level they work at, would genuinely question how effectively their immediate manager communicates with them and their team mates.
It appears that communication at all levels could be improved. The great news; these are skills that can be developed by most people – if they put in the effort! A study of managers by Interact Studio and Harris Poll revealed that communicating is not only an employee issue.
This study showed that 69% of managers are just as afraid of communication as their team members.
If both sides are afraid to have tough conversations, these conversations will be avoided. Managers must have the courage and confidence to communicate with their team, no matter what the message is. Comfort and skills can be improved if there is a focus on communication.
In recent years I have developed a tool regarding communication effectiveness. It highlights the need for depth in conversation. To verbally communicate well provides meaning and purpose. It allows for understanding and often, clarity and context. Purpose influences action and improvement.
Unfortunately, many managers do not develop this skill to the level required.
Essentially, we can communicate at various levels of depth. However, most business communication (and that at home too!) often occurs at a moderate and superficial level, at best. I would describe this as a level 1 or 2 type of communication.
The goal is to develop your communication skills to at least Level 3. The diagram above extends this concept. The 5 levels of effective communication highlighted are described in further detail in the following blog: Communicate Effectively to Influence and Lead
Outside of company all-hands meetings and occasional corporate-wide memos, a manager is an employee’s strongest connection to company leadership day in and day out. Their communication (or lack thereof) is what keeps an employee feeling connected to the purpose of their work, and in the loop on what they need to know.
When communication breaks down somewhere in the leadership hierarchy, everyone suffers. This is when people feel out of the loop. It’s also when they get frustrated by putting their efforts into work that doesn’t matter.
It’s the job of every manager to help with the flow of information up and down the organisation. When people express frustration with leadership, it’s usually due to a failure in that flow.
Developing trusted relationships; establishing clear expectations; and, making accountability a cultural norm in the team all influence engagement levels.
One of the biggest challenges for managers who are learning to lead is developing the ability to set expectations and standards. Accountability is the outcome of holding your employees to these standards and expectations. It is also about the employees accountability to themselves.
Understanding the benefits and why to apply a model such as our REOWM model can make a real difference. However, application, consistency and follow-through can be a challenge for many. The 5 stages of the model create a structured process for leading and coaching your team members, focused mostly on clarity, context and accountability. I have found that resources such as these can help leaders to understand not only what needs to be developed, but importantly, also how to do so.
Often leaders are wary of providing their own view as it is seen as subjective. Don’t be frightened to seek and provide this detail as (particularly when respect and trust exist) a simple acknowledgement or recognition of progress can be the difference between an engaged and disengaged employee.
The opportunity to provide greater context and clarity for people is one that I regularly see could be improved in most organisations. Depth and substance in coaching and 1:1 sessions is critical and a tool such as this can make a real and sustained difference when applied. Each step is important and has its own need. Practice the art and science of effective leadership by using tools such as this.
The REOWM model is described in further detail in the following page of the CoachStation website: Accountability and Expectations – REOWM Model
Leaders are under pressure. Behaviours and integrity can be challenged in these environments. I am aware of various situations at the moment where managers are avoiding managing a toxic employee through fear of them leaving the organisation. In a few cases I am hearing the message, “I can’t afford to manage them and risk attrition. We are a team of 9 and I am already 2 staff down. We have been looking to replace them for 10 months, with no success and I can’t afford to lose anyone else”.
I would argue, it depends on how you measure success! I understand the concern, the final statement about losing team members and managing workloads.
But, here’s the thing. The damage this toxic employee is bringing to the table is almost certainly greater than the impact of them leaving.
And, it is almost certainly negatively impacting engagement levels within the whole team. A recent Lighthouse blog highlighted a report from Harvard Business School, where Michael Housman and Dylan Minor broke down the real cost of toxic employees.
“In comparing the two costs, even if a firm could replace an average worker with one who performs in the top 1%; it would still be better off by replacing a toxic worker with an average worker by more than two-to-one.”
Toxic employees don’t just underperform compared to a great employee in the long run, they bring the entire team down with them. A good employee sees this and feels it first-hand. After a while, they can’t take it anymore. Seeing that you apparently don’t mind having an asshole around, they may decide to leave. Get rid of those toxic team members – don’t try to make these ones work.
Even if the employee is high-performing, they have to go, because of the negative impact they have on the rest of the team.
Unfortunately, even if their numbers seem great, they’re still a net negative in terms of the impact they have on the rest of your team. They have to either reform their ways, or leave. When they leave, the performance of everyone on the team will improve by their absence, so there’s really only one thing to do: let them go and reap the benefits. Don’t let a toxic team member be why good employees quit your team. (3)
As highlighted extensively in this blog, one of the key contributors to engagement is the employee’s immediate manager. This can either be a negative or positive influence. Both the manager and employee have a responsibility to own engagement. The skills and capability can be learned.
The real challenge is whether the time and effort to focus on developing these skills is a priority. If not, the results are inevitable. What environment and culture would you prefer to spend over a quarter of your life in?
References and Resources:
(1) State of the Global Workplace – 2022 Report: Gallup
(4) Why People Leave Managers not Companies (and 5 things you can do about it): Get Lighthouse
(5) Strengths-Based Employee Development: The Business Results, Bruno Zadeh, LinkedIn.
Listening effectively is a key cog in effective leadership and building trusted relationships. We have all been exposed to those people and managers who do not listen well. In each case this distracted, disrespectful moment of poor communication is frustrating and does little to develop trust, respect and a willingness to open up and share your real thoughts.
However, many of us believe we are better at communicating well than we are. It is worth checking yourself and reviewing how others may see you and your communication capability in reality.
The ability to ask questions to discover and engage, when combined with effective listening skills are two of the most integral facets of effective communication. In a blog I wrote previously along similar themes, titled Communicate Effectively to Influence and Lead, I introduced the concept of different levels of communication. Both blogs highlight the opportunities and risks of good communication, explaining key stages and actions you can take to become an improved communicator. Interestingly, a Harvard Business Review (1) article I read recently highlights the various levels in a different context, relating to listening in particular.
Chances are you think you’re a good listener. People’s appraisal of their listening ability is much like their assessment of their driving skills, in that the great bulk of adults think they’re above average. In our experience, most people think good listening comes down to doing three things:
- Not talking when others are speaking
- Letting others know you’re listening through facial expressions and verbal sounds (“Mmm-hmm”)
- Being able to repeat what others have said, practically word-for-word
In fact, much management advice on listening suggests doing these very things – encouraging listeners to remain quiet, nod and “mm-hmm” encouragingly, and then repeat back to the talker something like, “So, let me make sure I understand. What you’re saying is…” However, recent research that we conducted suggests that these behaviors fall far short of describing good listening skills.
We analyzed data describing the behavior of 3,492 participants in a development program designed to help managers become better coaches. As part of this program, their coaching skills were assessed by others in 360-degree assessments. We identified those who were perceived as being the most effective listeners (the top 5%). We then compared the best listeners to the average of all other people in the data set and identified the 20 items showing the largest significant difference. With those results in hand we identified the differences between great and average listeners and analyzed the data to determine what characteristics their colleagues identified as the behaviors that made them outstanding listeners.
We found some surprising conclusions, along with some qualities we expected to hear. We grouped them into four main findings:
- Good listening is much more than being silent while the other person talks. To the contrary, people perceive the best listeners to be those who periodically ask questions that promote discovery and insight. These questions gently challenge old assumptions, but do so in a constructive way. Sitting there silently nodding does not provide sure evidence that a person is listening, but asking a good question tells the speaker the listener has not only heard what was said, but that they comprehended it well enough to want additional information. Good listening was consistently seen as a two-way dialog, rather than a one-way “speaker versus hearer” interaction. The best conversations were active.
- Good listening included interactions that build a person’s self-esteem. The best listeners made the conversation a positive experience for the other party, which doesn’t happen when the listener is passive (or, for that matter, critical!). Good listeners made the other person feel supported and conveyed confidence in them. Good listening was characterized by the creation of a safe environment in which issues and differences could be discussed openly.
- Good listening was seen as a cooperative conversation. In these interactions, feedback flowed smoothly in both directions with neither party becoming defensive about comments the other made. By contrast, poor listeners were seen as competitive — as listening only to identify errors in reasoning or logic, using their silence as a chance to prepare their next response. That might make you an excellent debater, but it doesn’t make you a good listener. Good listeners may challenge assumptions and disagree, but the person being listened to feels the listener is trying to help, not wanting to win an argument.
- Good listeners tended to make suggestions. Good listening invariably included some feedback provided in a way others would accept and that opened up alternative paths to consider. This finding somewhat surprised us, since it’s not uncommon to hear complaints that “So-and-so didn’t listen, he just jumped in and tried to solve the problem.” Perhaps what the data is telling us is that making suggestions is not itself the problem; it may be the skill with which those suggestions are made. Another possibility is that we’re more likely to accept suggestions from people we already think are good listeners. (Someone who is silent for the whole conversation and then jumps in with a suggestion may not be seen as credible. Someone who seems combative or critical and then tries to give advice may not be seen as trustworthy.)
While many of us have thought of being a good listener being like a sponge that accurately absorbs what the other person is saying, instead, what these findings show is that good listeners are like trampolines. They are someone you can bounce ideas off of — and rather than absorbing your ideas and energy, they amplify, energize, and clarify your thinking. They make you feel better not merely passively absorbing, but by actively supporting. This lets you gain energy and height, just like someone jumping on a trampoline.
Of course, there are different levels of listening. Not every conversation requires the highest levels of listening, but many conversations would benefit from greater focus and listening skill. Consider which level of listening you’d like to aim for:
Level 1: The listener creates a safe environment in which difficult, complex, or emotional issues can be discussed.
Level 2: The listener clears away distractions like phones and laptops, focusing attention on the other person and making appropriate eye-contact. (This behavior not only affects how you are perceived as the listener; it immediately influences the listener’s own attitudes and inner feelings. Acting the part changes how you feel inside. This in turn makes you a better listener.)
Level 3: The listener seeks to understand the substance of what the other person is saying. They capture ideas, ask questions, and restate issues to confirm that their understanding is correct.
Level 4: The listener observes nonbverbal cues, such as facial expressions, perspiration, respiration rates, gestures, posture, and numerous other subtle body language signals. It is estimated that 80% of what we communicate comes from these signals. It sounds strange to some, but you listen with your eyes as well as your ears.
Level 5: The listener increasingly understands the other person’s emotions and feelings about the topic at hand, and identifies and acknowledges them. The listener empathizes with and validates those feelings in a supportive, nonjudgmental way.
Level 6: The listener asks questions that clarify assumptions the other person holds and helps the other person to see the issue in a new light. This could include the listener injecting some thoughts and ideas about the topic that could be useful to the other person. However, good listeners never highjack the conversation so that they or their issues become the subject of the discussion.
Each of the levels builds on the others; thus, if you’ve been criticized (for example) for offering solutions rather than listening, it may mean you need to attend to some of the other levels (such as clearing away distractions or empathizing) before your proffered suggestions can be appreciated.
We suspect that in being a good listener, most of us are more likely to stop short rather than go too far. Our hope is that this research will help by providing a new perspective on listening. We hope those who labor under an illusion of superiority about their listening skills will see where they really stand. We also hope the common perception that good listening is mainly about acting like an absorbent sponge will wane. Finally, we hope all will see that the highest and best form of listening comes in playing the same role for the other person that a trampoline plays for a child. It gives energy, acceleration, height and amplification. These are the hallmarks of great listening.
To communicate well, is to be understood and to understand. Communication is key to effective leadership. In fact, it is integral in much of our lives. Anecdotally, experience has consistently demonstrated that most issues in business are, at least in part, caused by poor communication.
Are there different levels of communication effectiveness?
In recent years whilst coaching, I have developed a concept regarding the effectiveness of communication. It highlights the need for depth in conversation. To verbally communicate well provides meaning and purpose. It allows for understanding and often, clarity and context. Purpose influences action and improvement. Unfortunately, many managers do not develop this skill to the level required.
Ultimately, our relationships are better for the higher levels of trust and the investment this provides for future communication opportunities.
Essentially, we can communicate at various levels of depth. However, most business communication (and that at home too!) often occurs at a moderate and superficial level, at best. I would describe this as a level 1 or 2 type of communication. Our goal is to develop the skill and capability to flex to level 3 and 4, where relevant. To communicate at level 5 takes quite a bit of practice, but is worth the effort and investment.
To communicate effectively we need to move beyond the superficial, to greater depths.
This is particularly important when leading people. The goal is to be heard and understood. Critically, this is as important for your team member or colleague in return. This is achieved when both parties invest in gaining a mutual understanding.
As I have highlighted in previous blogs, the skills of asking the right question at the right time and effective listening are two of the most important leadership attributes to develop.
There are certain situations in our life that call for us to dig deep and talk about what is really important to us. When the stakes are high it is important that we communicate effectively, if we are misunderstood in these important moments it can cause much pain and confusion. When we wish to build trust in a relationship, or when we want to be sure we are really heard, things go much better if we can communicate what we want to say fully and authentically. In reality this is no small thing to achieve and it requires both courage and vulnerability.
We often communicate only half of what is really going on for us.
If we are to truly communicate then we need to share all of who we are, not just selected parts of ourselves. The parts that tend to get left out in communication are the things that may make us vulnerable to the other, or cause us some shame or discomfort. Yet these are the very parts of ourselves that we need to share…it is necessary to express these things if we want true communication to flow. (1)
The diagram below extends this concept. The 5 levels of effective communication mentioned already are described in further detail. The goal is to develop your communication skills to at least Level 3.
Why does it matter to communicate effectively?
The benefits of developing your communicating skills are many. Through practice, when we communicate well, there is feeling of power and influence.
It’s easy to get stuck in poor communication habits, speaking or reacting impulsively rather than supportively. But any uncomfortable feelings raised in a difficult conversation can be a short-term inconvenience for a long-term gain if you talk in an honest, open manner.
Supportive communication improves your relationships by focusing on empathy and mindfulness, and it can also help increase positive emotions such as joy, hope, peace, gratitude and love. The body responds to these emotions by reducing stress hormones and increasing endorphins, also known as “feel good” chemicals. Over time, these effects can cause positive changes in mindset and creativity, as well as increase immune function and longevity. (2)
A significant amount of my time when coaching people focuses on their ability to communicate effectively. Effective communication is a skill, attribute and outcome.
The opportunity to invest in your communication skills is one that you must grab with both hands if you want to be a more effective influencer, manager, leader and human. It is difficult to think of a more relevant time in recent history where effective communication has been more important.
Consider the information and model detailed in this blog and assess your own skills and importantly, your actions. All of us have the opportunity to improve our communication. The benefits are clear. Making the choice to do so…well, that is up to you.
References and Resources
Related Blogs By Steve @CoachStation
Few managers and leaders are conducting useful one-on-ones and when they do, often miss the mark in making them effective and productive. There is value in learning how to facilitate a one-on-one that provides value for all involved.
Two of the most important, yet under-rated skills for managers and leaders are listening and questioning. To be present and focused and know what key question to ask at the right time add value to any relationship and discussion. They are particularly important during one-on-ones with your employees and offer a couple of great examples of development opportunities. Yet, there are many more growth areas that can be learned and practiced as a leader through focused, individual time spent with each team member.
One-on-ones are a tool and a process. When conducted well they are an incredibly useful and effective part of leadership and developing effective relationships. The opposite is just as true. When avoided, gaps and misunderstandings often exist as a direct result. Your willingness to learn how to conduct one-on-ones effectively will have a direct impact on your team and your results. Outcomes and benefits include; each team member will be more engaged; trust is increased; the leader an employee earn the right to be heard; influence improves; and you both earn the right to discuss relevant, meaningful topics.
The most effective one-on-ones are action-oriented and holistic in their approach. This means that all aspects of the employee’s performance and mindset are discussed.
If you aren’t having one on ones with your team, you’re missing out on an incredible motivating, problem solving, pressure relieving opportunity to help and grow your team. But even if you’re totally bought into starting them, it can be intimidating to actually get started. Like the first time for many things, when you start, it’s easy to feel unsure what to do. When you start, there can be many questions like:
- What do I talk about?
- What do I say to my team?
- How often should I have them?
- What if my team doesn’t want to talk to me?
- When should I schedule them?
- …and many more. (3)
All good questions that are addressed in this blog. But, first things first.
It is of great interest to me how few managers bother with meeting formally in any capacity on a regular basis with their team members. Taking this one step further, it is a shame how many managers avoid this key part of their role. It is too easy to get caught up in the operational and tactical aspects of management. Being a leader compels contact and connection with your direct reports. Although many fail to make the time for this, it is in fact an obligation of being a leader. To feel the many benefits and rewards requires a conscious plan to engage and persist whilst practicing the skill-sets that make it work.
To see time dedicated to each team member as somehow negotiable misses the point regarding being a leader.
Worldwide, the percentage of adults who work full-time for an employer and are engaged at work — they are highly involved in and enthusiastic about their work and workplace — is just 15%. That low percentage of engaged employees is a barrier to creating high-performing cultures. It implies a stunning amount of wasted potential, given that business units in the top quartile of our global employee engagement database are 17% more productive and 21% more profitable than those in the bottom quartile.
Businesses that orient performance management systems around basic human needs for psychological engagement — such as positive workplace relationships, frequent recognition, ongoing performance conversations and opportunities for personal development — get the most out of their employees. (1) If spending time with your team members is not your key priority you are missing one of the most valuable aspects of your role as a leader.
Communication, clarity, context, expectation setting, checking for understanding and similar key requirements form part of this discussion.
Consolidation and reinforcement occurs in between formal sessions, during ad-hoc catch-ups. They are extremely valuable and important. However, there needs to be a formal, established rhythm where real and honest discussion can take place. This should be done in a private setting where both the leader and employee can feel comfortable to raise any relevant points. These discussions form the basis for most performance reviews and development opportunities. The chance to reduce or remove assumptions is also of great benefit.
An effective one-on-one is a discussion with purpose. It has two-way communication and feedback; invites self-assessment; invests in the relationship; and has actions and outcomes.
There is something to be said, however, about occasionally changing the setting. Some of the best one on one discussions I have had occurred during a walk around the block or at a cafe’.
As with all relationships, it is important to know your team members well enough to know what their preferences are.
Clearly, going for a walk with an employee with health issues might be challenging and potentially do more harm than good, for example.
I often hear statements from managers like, “my door is always open”. The assumption that this style creates opportunity for meaningful discussion is flawed.
Not all of your team members will approach you proactively to raise all of their issues and successes. Quite often the key few will ‘pop into your office’ to vent or raise concerns.
Regularly the same employees will chat about the same challenges and points, visit after visit. Reactive conversations based on specific issues become the norm.
Of course, not all of your team will approach you just because you ‘offered’, One-on-ones provide the alternative options. Personal and professional points are discussed.
You need to give these meetings a fair amount of time to make sure you really dig into issues that are bothering them, fully explore ideas with them, and have a good opportunity to coach them when needed.
You’ll also build their confidence and trust in you that when they come to you with a problem you will not only listen, but help them do something about it. (3)
One-on-ones are proactive in nature, identifying and addressing things before they escalate.
The ‘door is open approach’ is reactive and covers the select few issues that your team members choose to raise – it assumes too much and is quite a lazy approach. It is often an approach based on the manager – their fears, self-doubts and lack of confidence to manage the conversations. The one-on-one should be mostly about the employee. Conversely, relationship-based one-on-ones are proactive as they delve and discover opportunities that may not have been identified without facilitating and questioning.
The discussion is meaningful in that it maintains flow and momentum in actions, progress and meeting goals.
The ironic part of this mindset is that a focus away from your team rarely ends well. The most relevant and impactful way to be able to influence outcomes and results is via the effectiveness, capability, competence and confidence of each team member. This takes focus and development. To assume that this growth will occur without your guidance and assistance as their immediate manager/leader reflects inexperience or avoidance. Related to this, emphasis on results and outcomes without understanding the inputs and contributors drives managers towards the wrong focus. This could appear as an unsupported challenge or even worse, a threat or coercion.
I have already touched on a few key benefits of one-on-ones. However, the most important element references the risks if you don’t formalise these discussions.
What causes some people to fully commit to the team and give their max effort while others don’t? It’s trust. In research conducted by The Ken Blanchard Companies and Training Magazine, over 60% of respondents say the most important factor influencing the effort they give to a team is how much they trust their fellow teammates.
Having high trust in your teammates frees you up to focus on your own contributions without worrying about others following through on their commitments. Trusting your team gives you freedom to take risks, knowing your teammates have your back and will support you. Team trust allows you to have open and honest dialogue and healthy debate that leads to better decision-making, and conflict gets resolved productively instead of people sandbagging issues or sabotaging the efforts of others. But developing trust in your teammates doesn’t happen by accident; it takes an intentional effort to proactively build trust. (2) It is a very similar factor when considering the relationship between a leader and direct report…but, more impactful in most cases.
Trust cannot be built from afar or in spite of the effort to develop effective relationships. Regular one-on-ones provide that opportunity.
When you have scheduled the sessions, commit to them. Cancelling or constantly moving the one-on-ones sends a very clear message about your priorities. Remember, most leaders have around 160+ hours / month to accomplish their work. Focusing on the single greatest impact on the success of that work (hint: your team members) for 10-20 hours / month seems like a pretty solid investment! Let your team know you want to have one on ones to help them. If they’ve never had them before, they may not know what to expect, so it helps to give them a little background before the first one. (3) Over time, you can shift the accountability of scheduling and agenda-setting to your employee.
Regular conversations that contain actions and outcomes create a baseline for development. The CoachStation REOWM Leadership Accountability model provides a solid framework to assist in your one-on-ones. Access a copy of the REOWM model and explanations for each of the 5 steps here.
It is important to spend a few minutes preparing for each one-on-one.
Leadership expert, Kevin Eikenberry correctly states that: the best meetings have agendas, and while your one-on-one meetings likely won’t have a formal agenda (although they could), for them to be most effective and productive, both parties need to be clear on the expectations, goals, and outcomes for these meetings. Since you are likely having these meetings already without this clarity, make this a topic of conversation the next time you meet.
As a leader, don’t just assume others know what you want from these meetings – talk to them and share your needs and goals for your one-on-ones.
As a team member ask for what you need. If you are hoping for/need something from these meetings (like more direction, for example), ask for it. (4)
I have found that a consistent agenda containing 3 key elements works well in establishing a standard, expectations and agreed outcomes:
What’s on your mind?
What would you like to discuss?
How have you gone since we last met?
Did your actions work?
What did you learn as a result?
How do you know they worked?
What do you need to do to reinforce and consolidate recent learning and actions?
What have you taken away from today’s one-on-one?
Are there any new potential actions?
There is value if your team member takes control of the meeting. It may take a couple of one-on-ones for them to get comfortable and understand your expectations and how best to apply them, but it is their time, so your employee should own it. Support them into this though, being fair and clear about how this looks and what they should do.
Too often the one-on-one meeting becomes tactical and just about day to day issues and tasks.
Access additional great examples of coaching questions you can use in any discussion – 50 Power Questions
Self-assessment and reflection is generally more useful than solely providing feedback. You will find that through asking the right questions and listening well, there is much to learn about each person. You can then provide your own thoughts and feedback throughout the discussion, in response to your employee. It may seem subtle but is actually a significant shift in accountability and ownership. It also makes the session easier for the leader as they quickly learn that they don’t have to have all the answers. These details are important, but if you want to have more effective and valuable one-on-one meetings, think bigger picture.
As a leader, be observant, and make coaching and feedback a part of the list of things you routinely talk about in these meetings. Consider asking for feedback on your performance too.
As a team member, if you want more feedback in general, or specific guidance on a situation, ask for it. The one-on-one meeting is a time you will have your leader’s attention, so use it to get the feedback you need. (4) Regular follow-up and development of accountability provides momentum and progression.
Monthly meetings are ok, however fortnightly is best in my experience. It is generally better to conduct fortnightly one-on-ones of 45 minutes in length compared to monthly sessions of an hour or longer.
This does depend on the number of direct reports, employee tenure and competence, amongst other judgements you must make. Finally, a good rule-of -thumb to follow is to make sure that each one-on-one covers 3 key categories. Assuming a 60 minute session is scheduled, break the session into thirds or 20-minute segments:
- 20 minutes: Tasks = Focus on results, tasks and operational work i.e. the things that your employee does.
- 20 minutes: Self = Self-reflection and discussion regarding the employee themselves – how do they feel? What is going well? What isn’t?
- 20 minutes: Others = Feedback and self-assessment regarding their relationships – with you as their leader; with their peers; with their direct reports; other relationships e.g stakeholders.
The timing of 20 minutes for each segment is indicative and obviously can be altered, depending on the conversation and flow. The critical aspect is that all 3 elements are covered during each session.
Without a doubt the biggest challenge for most managers is to conduct a one-on-one at all.
Feedback I receive is that most managers don’t conduct one-on-ones and if they do, they are not that useful because they focus solely on segment 1 – results, KPI’s and tasks. Greater improvement and objectivity is gained when the leader focuses on how the results are achieved. You cannot influence a number or historical result. This information is important to identify insights and trends, leading to potential actions. But, in itself, it offers little direction or future action. Identifying why the results are what they are has purpose and potential for goal establishment.
One-on-ones are a critical aspect of leadership. This time together provides opportunities that do not present themselves to the same depth through casual, ad-hoc discussions. If you are a leader and have read this far, I encourage you to reflect on the progress and effectiveness of your one-on-ones and your team.
It’s a problem to be unaware of this aspect of your role. However, it is negligent to gain awareness and continue to miss the opportunity. As always, it is your call, but your team members will ultimately thank you for meeting your responsibilities and assisting them via facilitating useful, engaging and purposeful one-on-ones.
(1) State of the Global Workplace 2017: Gallup Global Report
There is little doubt that being a leader offers many challenges and rewards. Being close to those you lead via proximity and emotionally provides the opportunity to meet the challenges and feel the benefits and rewards.
Leaders who are present and accessible concentrate on more than simply having an ‘open-door policy’. They build relationships and understand their employees as individual people.
As we begin another year, I have found myself reflecting on the past 12 months. There are often trends and themes that emerge when thinking about my clients and the coaching environments I have been exposed to over this period. One of the over-arching themes for last year was the challenge between available time (perception and reality…but that is a different topic for another time) and the willingness/ability to develop effective relationships in the workplace.
Initially, too many of my clients view the connections between themselves and their team members as negotiable or secondary to their ‘real work’. Relationships and connecting with your employees is a cornerstone of leadership. They are actually non-negotiable if you truly want to lead.
Being caught up in the ‘doing’ is a major part of the reason why so many of you feel time poor. You must invest to get a return. The decisions and investment made in your employees now has a greater pay off than continuing to do what you have always done…and being frustrated or disappointed in the results.
Relationships matter to all of us, both in and out of work. Being a leader is much more than just possessing the skills and attributes. It is also about being present and personable. Connecting with people is a major strength if you wish to influence and much of leadership is based on being influential. Developing a relationship is not the same as a friendship. It is more relevant to be trusted and trusting; honest and vulnerable; self-aware; respected and respectful; and other related attributes.
This does confuse some people. In fact, I have had discussions with a couple of senior leaders over the years who categorically state that it is impossible to maintain close relationships with those you lead. Maybe, but not always. Oversimplifying or generalising misses the points about relationships needing to be individual and personalised.
Amongst many important skills, to lead is to influence and inspire. To do so, you need to know more about your team members than you think. You must connect and understand people to make relationships impactful.
To influence and inspire requires a mindset that other’s ideas, opinions and thoughts are at least as important as your own. Understanding people matters. To do this well, you need to know your team member’s as individual people.
The many, many challenges that can occur in the workplace and within relationships can be best met and overcome through solid relationships. When you trust the message deliverer you are more likely to actively listen and buy into the point being made. This includes those times when the message is a positive one; a challenging conversation; or of mutual benefit. Of course, the need to develop trust works both ways. Essentially, you need to earn the right to have whatever conversation is required. Without a trusted relationship most conversations feel challenging. They can also be stressful and do more harm than good, exaggerating the lack of trust that exists in the first place.
It is difficult to influence from afar. How can you lead and influence people if you are rarely available? If you don’t know each team member personally and are unaware of their motivators, values and similar traits you will miss the mark.
Maintaining effective relationships also helps with decision-making, particularly when considering employees for promotion; assessing performance; or, thinking about filling secondment vacancies. Identification of core employees, their strengths and potential is more accurate and effective when you know your people. The benefits of getting this right are many, for all involved.
Nothing here is intended to replace the foundational work of leadership development. Higher levels of engagement, greater entrepreneurialism, and a more inclusive culture are less quantifiable but no less valuable benefits. (2)
Having the foresight to tackle any leadership needs in a proactive way is the first and best step you can take. A recent survey conducted via SmartBrief shows that leadership challenges are the biggest concern for business people when they think about 2018. Spending an appropriate amount of time focusing on developing the next generation of leaders, before they are promoted is a rare strategy. Yet, it remains amongst the top challenges and concerns for business leaders and owners.
Searching for the next generation of business leaders represents one of the biggest headaches for any organisation.
Most, in our experience, rely on development programs that rotate visible high fliers, emphasising the importance of leadership attributes such as integrity, collaboration, a results-driven orientation and customer-oriented behaviour.
Many, understandably, also look outside the organisation to fill key roles despite the costs and potential risks of hiring cultural misfits.
Far fewer, though, scan systematically for the hidden talent that often lurks unnoticed within their own corporate ranks. Sometimes those overlooked leaders remain invisible because of gender, racial, or other biases. Others may have unconventional backgrounds, be reluctant to put themselves forward, or have fallen off (or steered clear of) the standard development path. Regardless of the cause, it’s a wasted opportunity when good leaders are overlooked and it can leave individuals feeling alienated and demotivated. (2)
The relationships that you form with each of your direct reports are central to your ability to fulfil your three core responsibilities as a manager: Create a culture of feedback, build a cohesive team, and achieve results collaboratively. But these relationships do not follow the rules of other relationships in our lives; they require a careful balancing act.
You need to care personally, without getting creepily personal or trying to be a “popular leader.”
You need to challenge people directly and tell them when their work isn’t good enough, without being a jerk or creating a vicious cycle of discouragement and failure. That’s a hard thing to do.
When you can care personally at the same time that you challenge directly, you’re on the way to successful leadership. The term I use to describe a good manager–direct report relationship, and this ability to care and challenge simultaneously, is radical candor. So what can you do to build radically candid relationships with each of your direct reports? And what are the pitfalls to avoid? (3)
- More productivity, less place
More leaders have teams who are remote some or all of the time. If you have worries about what people are doing when they aren’t nearby, it is time to let that go.
In most cases, people are more productive when they have fewer of the distractions that naturally occur at work.
Focus on your productivity and supporting the productivity of your team, wherever they may be working.
- More influence, less power
For far too long too many leaders have tried to play the power card as if it was the only card in their hand. There is an inherent power imbalance between you and those you lead, but there is far more to leadership than just using your power.
Focus your development on being more influential; working on skills and relationships with individuals to create an environment where people choose to follow.
This is related to the last item on this list, and it is too important to overlook!
- More trust, less micromanagement
You don’t want to be led by a micromanager, and neither does your team. While a lack of trust is far from the only reason leaders micromanage, it is often the biggest perception your team has of this tendency. Work to build your trust in your team members – you will be rewarded in many ways, and likely you will feel less need to micromanage too.
- More coaching, less “annual performance review”
I have far more to say about the annual performance review than can be shared here, but the fact is that you need to coach more frequently. If your organization requires an annual performance review, it will be far easier and far more effective if you are coaching regularly. When you do that, most of the stress goes out of the performance review; and performance will improve and improve sooner.
- More intention, less routine
Routine helps us navigate our world, but doesn’t allow us to change. Routine is the worker bee of the status quo.
As a leader, you must expect more of yourself and your team than the simple status quo. This means you must be more intentional about what you want to accomplish and about your behaviors and choices.
Don’t rely solely on routine; re-examine them to make sure they are serving your best interests.
- More “us”, less “them”
I challenge you to change this in your thinking, and one way to test it is in your words. Read your emails, read your memos. Listen to what you are saying. Speak more inclusively and with more personal pronouns. This shows your ownership and shows your team where they stand in your mind.
- More listening, less talking
You know this is important and it is pretty simple. Talk less. Engage with your team by listening, not by talking. Ask questions, then be quiet. When you listen, you can learn. When you really listen, you show people you care about their message and them.
- More commitment, less compliance
You want commitment from your team, right? If so, you need to lead differently, be more intentional and focus on influence. (4)
The question remains: how can you genuinely identify the next group of leaders for your business if you don’t have relationships with them, or those they report to?
Personality based decision-making and biased judgment continues to be a major point of failure for many organisations. Additionally, promoting team members based on the fact that they excel in their existing role is often fraught with risk also. But, organisation’s make this same mistake every day.
The importance of relationships cannot be overstated. In our personal and professional lives most of us want to feel connected to people we care about and the things that we do. Our observations working with many organisations and coaching hundreds of people in recent years has highlighted the importance of trusted relationships. So, consider in your team and organisation, how well do you meet this need?
Trust is the key to meaningful leadership, relationships and influence.
Most of us know this, but how do we develop trust in the workplace and at home?
It is fascinating to see people grow and develop. Like many in my industry, I do what I do because of a deep need to contribute and make a difference when coaching and mentoring. This continues to hold me in good stead as a coach, mentor and consultant. However, developing trusted relationships was also a core belief when I was leading people directly. Now, my goal is to help others learn why and how to apply these skills and attributes to influence and lead their team members.
One of my favourite and most effective tools relates to helping my clients understand their personal values. The process of prioritising an extensive set of value statements and words down to 20 primary and ultimately, 7 core values is always interesting.
A continuing trend is that trust forms a part of the vast majority of people’s primary values.
Based on many other personal and professional conversations, I am confident this is a consistent need for most people. Elements of trust that are identified throughout these discussions show that most people can feel whether trust exists. Fewer can explain specifically how it is built or established. At the end of my Personal Values workshops or coaching process, I ask participants to reflect and act upon several questions. One of the most important is:
How well do you establish and maintain a culture where most people get to fulfil this need most of the time? This is important if trust is so inherently important to so many people, including members of your own team.
I also ask that they reflect on all core values in a similar way. How regularly and effectively are your core values being met at work and at home? The answers to these questions can provide great insight into why things ‘feel’ as they do…both good and bad, positive and negative. Critically, it is what you do with this new learning that matters. However, trust is strengthened or weakened readily depending on your behaviours and demonstrated actions. What you do, what you say and how you say it has a bearing on how well you connect with people.
Connections with purpose and meaning build trust.
- Do What You Say You Will Do: This is the ultimate way to gain people’s trust. It means following through with what you say you will do.
- Trust & Nurture To Develop: To gain trust we need to trust others. It is a two-way street. We need to be patient and give them the time to grow and develop instead of forcing the issue.
- Do The Right Thing: Regardless of whether or not anyone is watching you, integrity cannot be compromised. It takes many years to establish your credibility, but it only takes a few minutes to ruin it.
- Care For Your People: Before we ask our people to do something for us, we must appeal to them and touch their heart.
- Serve Your People: When we serve our people, we ensure that their interest is taken into consideration. By doing so, we don’t focus on who gets the credit. Our focus shifts to getting the job done. (1)
When employees are not having their core needs and values met, they may look elsewhere.
A powerful way to establish trust is to employ one of the mind’s most basic mechanisms for determining loyalty: the perception of similarity. If you can make someone feel a link with you, his empathy for and willingness to cooperate with you will increase. (3) It is much easier to do this when you have a natural affiliation with someone. It may be a shared history; aligned values; similar belief systems, or other form of alignment. This link is key, but don’t think it can be easily faked.
People can see and feel any superficiality a mile off. Even if they can’t explain it.
Sometimes this is described as ‘just not feeling right’. When their is alignment is it often stated that it ‘simply feels like a strong connection’. This cannot always be easily explained or articulated. Yet, the feelings we have about others is powerful and drives many of our decisions, particularly surrounding our relationships.
First, leaders that place people ahead of profit (which leads to more profit, imagine that!) will work hard to promote trust. That means that they create an environment where risks are taken, where employees feel safe and motivated to exercise their creativity, communicate ideas openly, and provide input to major decisions without reprimand. Because there is trust there. But trust is a two-way street. So leaders trust and believe in the people that they lead as well. And when you value people by trusting them, you treat others with dignity and respect.
But trust in this social economy remains a baffling stigma. In 2014, the American Psychological Association published the findings on their Work and Well-Being Survey.
Nearly 1 in 4 workers say they don’t trust their employer and only about half believe their employer is open and upfront with them.
While almost two-thirds (64 percent) of employed adults feel their organization treats them fairly, 1 in 3 reported that their employer is not always honest and truthful with them. But the great news is that workers who feel valued by their employer are more likely to be engaged in their work. In the survey results, employees were significantly more likely to report having high levels of energy, being strongly involved in their work, and just plain happy about what they do. Ninety-one percent were likely to say they are motivated to do their best (versus 37 percent who do not feel valued) and 85 percent were likely to recommend their employer to others (versus 15 percent of those who do not feel valued). (4)
It’s clear that a culture that feels valued, that promotes openness, honesty, transparency and trust are key to high-performance.
When considered as a sum of its parts, the Trust Equation (highlighted below) has much merit. I like the idea that the model highlights the four elements of who we are: words; actions; emotions; and, caring. Once understood there is greater potential to apply these elements and establish greater levels of trust in practice. Check yourself against the four criteria and see where you might be able to strengthen your trust-building skills.
Research conducted by The Ken Blanchard Companies using its Employee Work Passion Assessment has found significant correlation between positive work intentions and a leader’s ability to build trust, use coaching behaviors, and create an engaging work environment. This environment includes high levels of Meaningful Work, Autonomy, Growth, Fairness, Collaboration, and Feedback, along with six other factors. (2)
I see trust being taken for granted in many workplaces. As with any relational aspect, it takes effort to develop trust.
I regularly state to my clients, “whether you like someone you lead is not the point”. As a leader you have little choice in making it all about who you like or dislike. In your leadership role you are obligated to influence, develop and assist your team members. In fact, one of the most rewarding aspects of leadership is seeing improvement and growth in those who initially you may not have affiliated naturally with. Trust is built on many things. Moving beyond likeability to deeper traits such as respect and honesty influence trust more than simply being liked.
The Inc article highlighted in this blog makes several great points about engagement and trust. It is worth reading in full. I particularly appreciate the final paragraph which summarises the essence of valuing employees and building trust, described as the ‘most counter-intuitive part’.
More studies are coming out saying that if you trust and believe in your people first, and in return they reciprocate by believing in you as a leader, they will give their best work.
In other words, although conventional thinking says that people have to earn trust first, in healthy organizations, leaders who put high emphasis on meeting employees’ needs are willing to give trust to them first, and they give it as a gift even before it’s earned. Now that’s valuing people. (4)
As highlighted earlier, the question really is a simple one. Does the environment and culture you are building as a leader foster and develop trust in others and to be trusted yourself?
Take on the challenge of reviewing where trust sits for you. Reflecting on this is one great way to understand yourself and your team members better. It will also be a meaningful way to develop a deeper sense of trust and relationships in practice.
The ability and desire to focus on those areas of our lives that provide the greatest return can often be confusing. Change and growth comes first through understanding and acknowledgement.
When there is understanding, there is the potential for action.
Without understanding and action, it is too easy to continue to do what you have always done. That may of course be justified in your mind, but it rarely leads to progression, growth and development.
In almost every coaching and mentoring engagement I have taken on in recent years, my clients have struggled to understand the difference between inputs and outputs. In nearly every case, managers and leaders focus on the output, result or outcome and ignore the inputs. So, here’s the big tip:
You cannot change, influence or develop through focusing on a result only – understand the inputs and things that influence the result!
Don’t misunderstand my point. Results and outcomes matter enormously. Measuring our outputs and contributions is key to business. KPI’s, profits, budgets etc are critical to business…they just can’t be changed through themselves. Why? Well for three main reasons:
- They are historical, representing what has occurred in the past, hence cannot be changed.
- The inputs and things influencing and contributing to the result are what should be actioned and focused on because they can be changed.
- Very few people can directly translate the outcomes or result back into how they do what they do every day.
Let me provide more context. Most people, given the opportunity, can develop awareness for what they need to do and why it matters. The ‘how’ on the other hand is more difficult to determine on your own. Training will provide the background and broad knowledge. However, expecting the training participant to take this information and apply sustained change as a result, is difficult if not impossible minus follow-up and targeted support. Without reinforcement and personalisation, training has limited sustainable impact. By the way, I am a trainer and facilitator, so I am certainly not criticising training as a method of development in itself.
On its own and without reinforcement and personalisation, training rarely leads to meaningful action and change.
I am confident that many of you can think of times when you, your team or colleagues have attended training and not done anything different as a result. Crazily, I have even seen some managers send members of their team to the same training programs, year after year, expecting a different result. It rarely makes a difference. That is in fact, a very necessary focus of coaching and mentoring and a major part of the reason I now dedicate most of my time in this area.
My wife, Julie, and I have 3 daughters. Our middle daughter, Charli, plays netball. This year she has been selected in a representative team and will be playing in a State carnival in a few weeks. Based on recent conversations with the team coach, Hilary, I had the privilege in being invited to address the team and parents during one of the team training sessions recently. The key messages were delivered to 13 year old girls. I wanted to maintain their focus and take the opportunity to get them thinking differently. To challenge not only how they think, but where they focus time and energy. The link between netball and life was also highlighted. So, I related the core message to the theme of this blog.
The key is to understand and focus on the inputs, not the outputs.
Influence the many, many things that contribute to the result, not on the result itself.
Ultimately, I broke down the content to a key seven points. Of course, there are more topics that could be listed. However, I feel that the 7 themes highlighted are the baseline for development and growth. These topics and potential actions are as relevant to the young ladies who are in the rep netball team, as to people outside of sport. In fact, they are key to all of our lives in order to thrive (not just survive) in our modern world.
1. Self-Awareness: understanding who you are and how others see you is critical to your success. Too often we live in denial or fear about our performance, capabilities and how we are perceived. Perfection is not the goal. Improvement, increased self-esteem and continued growth are.
2. Communication: the ability to influence others; genuinely listen and understand; succinctly put across your views and thoughts; and, consistently ensure people believe what you say is important.
It is not only verbal skills, but also takes into account your ability to communicate through written means. Less obvious is your body language, pitch, tone, emotional levels and other contributors, but no less important.
3. Relationships: are one of the key inputs and cornerstones to satisfaction in life. In a work and sport context, this is not necessarily about developing friendships. It can be, but is more about building trust and respect, so that an honest and real conversation can be held and heard. Understanding what you value most and seeking insight into other’s values is one good way to develop depth in relationships.
4. Teamwork: has become even more relevant than in the past. Much of our learning, work environments; study and learning options are positioned within teams. The emphasis on individuals has reduced in recent years in the workplace, universities and other institutions. The focus on people collaborating and achieving more as a team, rather than individually, has become one of the big changes to how we operate. Your willingness and ability to meet that need will be one of the measurements of success.
Your ability to relate to others, influence, communicate and work collaboratively will define much of your success.
A very relevant point is to understand that diversity between people is good, when we take the time to understand the differences that exist. Understanding provides acceptance and acknowledgment. A lack of understanding often leads to assumption and negative judgment. It is the difference between thinking: “I wouldn’t do or say that, so you are wrong” to “I wouldn’t necessarily say or do that, however I know you well enough to understand your perspective”. It may feel like a subtle point, but in reality is a powerful difference in how people work together.
5. Capability and Competence: clearly a relevant input into your performance and perception relates to your ability to perform. Contribution to your team is reliant on continually developing competence, skills and capability in what you do.
6. Focus on Strengths: there is much greater opportunity for success when working from those areas that you are most interested, passionate and talented in. These are your strengths. We don’t have the opportunity to ignore our weaknesses or lesser talents. However, when you develop the areas that you care most deeply about and have natural ability in, your exponential growth is assured. Too often we are asked to focus solely on our weaknesses. These are the wrong inputs. Performance appraisals and other organisational tools are often designed this way. It is our role as leaders and people who care to make sure we talk about what is working well, not just the gaps and weaknesses. Strikingly, this type of emphasis assists us to build stronger relationships; trust; self-awareness and other elements detailed in this blog.
A shift in focus and mindset to develop talents into strengths can provide significantly greater returns.
7. Accountability and Action: the absolute key to improvement, growth and influencing the inputs. Willingness to be accountable for yourself and maintain a level of honesty in your own self-perception provides a platform for action. It is not enough to know more. It is always about what you do with this information. Practice does not make perfect. Practising the right thing, the right way leads to improvement and that is enough to enable growth. However, you must make a conscious choice and persist with your goals and actions for this to become more than good intention.
After the mini-workshop with the netball team I was talking with the coaching staff. It is fascinating how relevant these themes are for 13-year old girls and within the workplaces in our adult world. Interestingly, this points to the view that what works best for people, works best for people. Whether that is within families, workplaces, sporting teams or other situations where people congregate, the elements that provide comfort and growth remain similar.
The earlier that you develop and focus on the inputs that develop your self-awareness, relationships, confidence and self-esteem the more likely success will come your way…no matter how you measure success.
We may well be over-complicating the language of leadership and business. Poor communication leads to confusion, mixed-messages and a lack of buy-in from our employees.
After attending the Future of Leadership – Workplace Culture conference in Brisbane last week I have been reflecting on the content from some of the speakers. Gabrielle Dolan, in particular, caught my imagination. Not only because she is a very compelling and funny speaker but also because her key points seem so intuitively right. Reduce complex language and jargon. Communicate messages that people understand – tailor to you audience. Be comfortable and confident in your own style. Use stories to embed the key messages. They are all very useful tips that can make a sustained difference to how your teams perform.
One of the ways we can step into real leadership is to move away from corporate jargon and be prepared to share personal stories. Every time we use corporate jargon we disconnect and isolate people as opposed to personal stories that connect and engage people. (1)
Many of us are guilty of over-using words, especially in business. I have done it. Many people I work with and for make the same mistake.
The opportunity to provide clarity, context and appropriate levels of transparency is key to us getting what we want as leaders. Yet, it seems we go out of our way on occasion to confuse the message. Gabrielle is a passionate and effective speaker who focuses on communication and story-telling.
For over 27,000 years, since the first cave paintings were discovered, telling stories has been one of our most fundamental communication methods. (2)
The connections and depth that can be achieved through effective story-telling is a compelling reason to focus on message delivery in a way that people understand and remember. These points are reinforced in a recent article written by Gabrielle published in The Age newspaper:
TWO CEOs went walking in the woods and came across an attacking grizzly bear. One stops to put on a pair of runners. The other asks: “Why are you doing that, we can’t outrun a grizzly!” The reply: “I only need to outrun you, not the bear.”
This story explains competitive advantage in a nutshell. Would you remember this tomorrow? Could you repeat it in a month’s time? Most importantly, does it help you understand competitive advantage?
Compare Michael Porter’s competitive advantage definition: “Competitive advantage, sustainable or not, exists when a company makes economic rents, that is, their earnings exceed their costs (including cost of capital).” Is change communication in your organisation more like the first example or the second? Unfortunately, most organisations are closer to the second example.
This explains why research indicates that a large number of organisational change attempts either fail outright or fail to reap significant return on their investment. Last year, Human Synergistics International analysed 41 Australian and New Zealand companies that attempted organisational transformation.
While most of the companies surveyed showed some improvement, only six of the 41 achieved change so significant it could be termed transformation.
Common features of these organisations included:
■ The critical leadership role in ensuring the organisation’s mission, purpose and values were understood.
■ The importance of effective internal communication.
■ The organisation’s willingness and ability to learn, grow and proactively manage change.
The HSI research highlights organisational storytelling as an effective tool in the success of these critical factors. Organisational storytelling is storytelling with a business purpose. (3)
The opportunity to embed core messages that are remembered and embraced with greater clarity and depth is a lesson in communication that leaders should heed. Issues with ineffective or poor communication continue to be put forward as one of the main reasons employees are frustrated with leaders.
In my experience, most people want to feel a deeper connection to what they do, why it matters and an understanding of the contribution they make.
We all enjoy a good story, whether it’s a novel, a movie or simply something one of our friends is explaining to us that they’ve experienced. But why do we feel so much more engaged when we hear a narrative about events? It’s quite simple. If we listen to a Powerpoint presentation with boring bullet points, certain parts in the brain get activated. Scientists call these Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area. Overall, it hits our language processing parts in the brain, where we decode words into meaning. And that’s it, nothing else happens.
When we are being told a story, though, things change dramatically…not only are the language processing parts in our brain activated, but any other area in our brain that we would use when experiencing the events of the story are too. If someone tells us about how delicious certain foods were, our sensory cortex lights up. If it’s about motion, our motor cortex gets active. A story can put your whole brain to work.
And yet, it gets better: When we tell stories to others that have helped us shape our thinking and way of life, we can have the same effect on them too. The brains of the person telling a story and listening to it, can synchronize. A story, if broken down into the simplest form is a connection of cause and effect. And that is exactly how we think.
We think in narratives all day long, no matter if it is about buying groceries, whether we think about work or our spouse at home. We make up (short) stories in our heads for every action and conversation. (2)
Storytelling is one component of effective communication for leaders. But, there are other relevant themes to hone also. I wrote previously that one of the challenges of leadership and communication in general, is understanding the level of detail required relative to each situation. Depending on the need, it can be necessary to discuss in-depth the content for a piece of work; what role someone else is to play in the task; seek input into potential solutions and other relevant details.
Knowing how much detail is going to add value; using language that is easily understood, contextual and not detract from the message or subsequent actions can be the difference between a successful outcome or not. Effective communication is not simply telling an employee. The message must not only be delivered but also understood. How often do leaders become frustrated with a team member who “just doesn’t get it, no matter how many times they have been told?” It may well be worth looking in the mirror to see if the what, how and why are clear and what else can be done to get the message across.
Appropriate context and content based on what is required in each situation is important when influencing and leading. One of the risks is that you as the leader, either do not seek enough input from others and/or confuse the situation as a result of giving too much information. Make your communication clear and memorable.
Using personal stories takes courage because real leadership takes courage.
My advice is to feel the fear and do it anyway…it will be worth the trip. (1)
Too much or too little detail or a lack of clarity and understanding for each role, position and person within your team is unlikely to add value to meeting goals and objectives. The risk of employee dissatisfaction, turnover and a lack of engagement is often the result. Enabling your team to provide input into their roles and that of their broader team is critical.
As a leader, ensure that clarity exists to the most appropriate degree possible. Develop skills in story-telling and influence differently. This does not remove all risk or solve all issues however effective communication that is understood by your team members is a key piece of the leadership puzzle.
(1 ) Do You Have The Courage To Step Into Real Leadership? – Gabrielle Dolan
(2) The Science of Storytelling: What Listening to a Story Does to Our Brains – Leo Wildrich
(3) Getting The Story Right Is Compelling For Change Success – Gabrielle Dolan, The Age