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How to Keep Your Team Agile and Aligned Under Pressure

StrategyDriven Management and Leadership Article | How to Keep Your Team Agile and Aligned Under Pressure
 
As a leader, you are constantly trying to maximize the magical effort to effectiveness equation (a.k.a. efficiency). You can see this play out in your daily operations and ultimately in the P&L. However, there is an intangible asset that is very difficult to quantify — but without it you cannot ultimately succeed. This asset is, of course, alignment.

Alignment matters because it is an amalgamation of understanding, agreement, buy-in, engagement, empowerment, and accountability.

It amazes me how few leaders understand how to harness, measure, leverage, and ultimately achieve true alignment behind their strategies and objectives. Too many leaders assume that just because they have spoken, their teams are all on the same page with them — and everything will proceed from there. Achieving true alignment takes a significant allocation of effort. But there is a direct correlation between the extent of alignment and the results achieved.

Therefore, it is in your best interest as a leader to focus more on achieving, gauging, and calibrating alignment than almost any other executional activity. The good news is that achieving alignment is more science than art — meaning that there are tools that work nearly every time in getting people behind an idea, strategy, or mission. Below, allow me to present three of my favorites:

1. Define and Drive organizational culture. Culture is the glue that holds an organization together. It’s often the reason behind why people choose to stay with your company over jumping ship to a competitor. As a leader, it is your role to create, foster, and harness culture against organizational objectives. Conduct focus groups, one on one’s, and surveys to get a strong grip on the current state of your business culture. Then define a desired state for the values and behavior you expect to see on display daily, and embody them in everything you do.

Once you are well on your way towards your desired cultural state, you need to then define your business’s hedgehog concept. This is time very well spent because it takes your underlying culture and applies it to specific business problems. By deriving the intersection of three key questions: what are we wildly passionate about, what can we do better than anyone else, and what drives our economic engine, you set a direction for people that is easy to align with. Ask the three questions at all levels of the organization, calibrate the responses, and then package the inputs into an easily digestible reason for organizational being that relates to the majority of your enterprise. Then you can focus organizational attention on how you are doing, not on what you are doing — or even worse, why you are doing it.

2. Don’t just communicate, connect. When you give a presentation on your business strategy, key priorities, and other initiatives, how often do you check (either via polls, surveys, show of hands) what people understood from your communication, what they are taking away, and whether or not they agree? Many leaders are scared to ask these types of questions because they don’t like being second-guessed. Still, it’s better to be second-guessed than to be zero-followed! Taking the time to gauge the degree to which key messages are landing, as well as whether the audience is aligned, is probably the most important investment you can make as a leader.

Once you know where your participants are on a given issue, the next step is to connect the dots for them. Do the hard work of helping them see what you see and understand why you are making these choices. Allow them to question, build on, and enhance your ideas. And finally, move forward, together.

3. Keep it very simple. It is relatively easy to stick to one road, drive the speed limit, buckle up for safety, and arrive at your destination both on time and with all passengers on board. Once you start introducing shortcuts, detours, scenic routes, and bypasses into the mix, you are almost destined to lose some people along the way. No one (besides Forrest Gump maybe) meanders their way to success. You pick a destination based on the best available information (expected weather, road conditions, permitted speed), calculate the mileage, gas expense, and time to arrival, and then start driving in as straight a line as possible until you reach your desired location, or in this case desired mission, goal, or objective.

Leaders who jump from highway to highway, seemingly without rationale, are leaders who lose the power of an organization primed and focused on achieving results. You have to know when to forge ahead, when to change course, and when to abandon ship — but at each inflection point, the more important concept to remember is that you need to reengage the enterprise when change is afoot, and never assume that people know the key why’s and what’s and how’s behind the new direction.


About the Author

Omar L. Harris is Associate Vice-President and Country Manager for Allergan PLC in Brazil. He is the author of Leader Board: The DNA of High-Performance Teams available for purchase in ebook or print on Amazon.com. Please follow him on instagramtwitterLinkedIn, and/or his website for more information and engagement.

Culture Change – Slow Down to Go Fast

StrategyDriven Article |Workplace Culture|Culture Change – Slow Down to Go FastWhen my children were taking violin lessons and were given a new piece to learn, they would start from the beginning and race through the song at breakneck speed. One day, their teacher offered an insight that radically altered how they were able to progress. He told them that if they wanted to play fast, they would first have to practice slow. Similarly, taking the time to slow down and plan improvements to workplace culture also produces more effective results down the line.

Workplace culture isn’t something you can instantly fix, swap out, or quickly reboot. It’s not like a used car you can trade in when it no longer runs smoothly. Culture change requires culture work – and success necessitates effort and attention. Rather than being daunted by this task, we need to take a breath, slow down, and intentionally chart our course forward.

We recently worked with an organization who took the advice to slow down and take the time to invest in their long-term workplace culture to heart. Their decision was precipitated by a harassment complaint that revealed many layers of dysfunction – they could no longer ignore the impact their unhealthy culture was having.

Management was distant and unaware of the tension between employees, staff turnover was high, valued customers were leaving, and the human resources department admitted they were overwhelmed with the flood of complaints. The task of improving their workplace seemed enormous, but they decided to roll up their sleeves and get to work.

Senior management started by doing a cultural assessment and mapping out a plan. They began with a number of simple fixes to jumpstart the process. They revamped their respectful workplace policy, as well as held a training day for all staff to inform them of the current cultural assessment. Supervisors and management began joining employees in the common area during breaks.

To begin the long-term work of culture change, the organization initiated dialogue with staff and instituted weekly check-ins. They also revamped their performance management process to include a quarterly focus on employees’ goals, and provided all supervisors with training on conflict resolution and how to give effective feedback. These, along with a number of other changes, started to slowly shift their workplace culture in the right direction.

Now several months into the process, they are beginning to see the positive results! Staff are happier and more engaged, which has led to better productivity and an improvement in the quality of work being done. Their human resources department feels supported by management, and complaints have dropped as supervisors gain confidence in their ability to coach and support employees.
This organization realized that it would take time to replace the unhealthy culture with a healthy one, and that it couldn’t happen all at once. As a result of their patient and intentional work, they have seen a slow but marked improvement in their culture.

Culture is often so ingrained that people take it for granted. When we recognize that there are long-standing issues that we need to address, the work ahead can feel overwhelming, but culture won’t be improved with one-off initiatives like taco Tuesday or yearly surveys. Culture develops over time, and therefore takes time to change. Taking small steps to create a culture that will become the new standard may feel like slow work, but the rewards of a healthier culture are more than worth the wait.


About the Author

StrategyDriven Expert Contributor | Wendy LoewenWendy Loewen is a mediator, facilitator, and the Training Development Specialist at ACHIEVE Centre for Leadership & Workplace Performance. She is co-author of the book, The Culture Question, and is the author of many ACHIEVE workshops including Respectful Workplace, Assertive Communication, and Performance Management. In her work as a mediator, speaker, and facilitator, she is committed to helping organizations create dynamic and engaging places of work where people care about each other, are productive, and deliver quality services and products. Wendy believes that learning is a dynamic and life-long endeavor, and with commitment, guidance, and individualized support, this process should be enjoyable and motivating.

Why Ethics are Essential for a Strong Team Culture

StrategyDriven Corporate Culture Article | Ethics | Why Ethics are Essential for a Strong Team CultureBuilding a team culture that is magnetic or lasts means better productivity, positive engagement, and higher retention. However, what has been largely overlooked by many business leaders is the essential foundation for a culture that sustains and thrives: Ethics. An understanding and common ethical language is missing for many organizations. This makes it impossible to establish a strong, cohesive culture where the interests of the individuals and the collective move forward together. In order for both the individuals and the collective whole to move forward together, a common language and appreciation for ethics is essential.

The Culture Fad

Culture is a company’s collective personality. To fit into a company’s culture, your personal attributes as a team member should be compatible with the personality of the workplace. Culture entails work environment, vibe of the people, values, and mission. Examples of cultural attributes are values like collaboration, creativity, learning, and professionalism. Culture also entails environmental preferences like a casual workplace with a dog-friendly environment. Culture entails policies and rules, like a work-from-home policy or a vacation policy. A strong collective culture fuels the individuals and therefore fuels the mission, since when the individuals are supported and motivated, they contribute toward the collective mission with energy and dedication. With a strong cohesive culture, the individuals are aligned and united around the mission, as well as around how the mission is achieved day-to-day in practice. A strong culture is one where individual peace and progress thrive, and therefore the company’s progress thrives.

Ethics as the Essential Foundation

Why are ethics essential for a strong culture to work and sustain? Ethics are principles that guide our behavior toward what is most good or guide as to what is the right thing to do in a given situation. Ethics guide how we conduct our work and how we interact with and respond to others. Aren’t these the most basic, universal actions of any organization? Surprisingly, these basic requirements can be very tough to align around without a common understanding and appreciation for what is ethical. Though the individuals in an organization may all value the work-from-home policy and free lunch, without a common understanding for how to communicate with each other, build relationships, and foster development for each person, the work environment and perks become obsolete. Though a company or team’s culture may change with time – the policies, the environment, the people, a common language for ethics are timeless. A common language, understanding, and practice of ethics is the basic foundation for any strong culture.

Modern Obstacles to an Ethical Culture

An ethical language is challenging to design and align around. Many companies define their culture as built around Integrity as a value. Most organizations describe integrity as “do the right thing” and stop there. However, this leaves many individuals asking: What is the right thing in a given situation? There are a few reasons that this isn’t so straightforward anymore. Firstly, we have become so accustomed to hearing “do the right thing” that it has almost lost its meaning. Secondly, organizations have diverse teams of individuals that have different perspectives on what “the right thing” is. Finally (and most relevant for our need for ethics now), with the fast-paced, dynamic society we live in, new products and situations arise everyday that require a newly interpreted understanding of what “the right thing”, or the ethical thing, to do really is. In many organizations, people on the same team are speaking a different ethical language and this causes misunderstandings and does not serve the mission. Many organizations believe that is human-centered action is prioritized, business progress and impact will be jeopardized. However, actually the opposite is true. If human-centered action is not prioritized, business progress and impact will be jeopardized.

Ethics in Practice

In a business environment, the culture is often professional and mission-driven, however, it so often lacks an ethical backbone. This is to say that it lacks a common understanding for what is acceptable and conducive behavior toward work and toward each other. In interpersonal situations like meetings, team projects, or when giving feedback, people do not know how to treat each other in a way that both serves individual peace and progress, as well as collective peace and progress. The result? Lack of ownership, lack of productivity, high stress, low morale, and ultimately poor retention. Teams become environments of animosity that are not aligned or focused on the mission. Without this foundation of ethics, productivity and retention are impossible. Therefore, without ethics, a strong culture is not possible. Building a culture without building it upon a common language and appreciation of ethics is like building a skyscraper on a foundation of sand. In harsh weather, when misunderstandings and debates arise, the shiny skyscraper you have built will waiver and come tumbling down.

The Solution

Ah, the good news, finally. A culture built upon a foundation of ethics is a culture that will sustain and continuously thrive. How can you build a culture that that is build upon a foundation of ethics?

To build a strong culture, you must build a common language, understanding, and appreciation of ethics into your own cultural DNA. A common language of ethics can be found in Awake Ethics. This language of ten principles is a timeless system with clear, universal appeal. The interpretation and stories from the field are from recent business experience. Next, schedule regular ethics trainings for your team every quarter. With an understanding of ethics and time to share recent experiences as a team, you will feel more confident in your own decision-making. You will have a shared team understanding about what positive, constructive collaboration and interacts look like. Finally, encourage ethics. Incorporate ethics into performance reviews and acknowledge outstanding ethical behavior. Incorporate ethics into your cultural values, as the foundational value.

A common language, understanding, and appreciation for ethics is the foundation of a strong culture. Once you have the ethical foundation in place, then feel free to add your perks, policies, and decorations. A shared practice of ethics enables individual peace and progress, which fuels collective success. Ethics align and accommodate the desires of the individuals and the whole.

Get started in building your culture upon a solid foundation of ethics.


About the Author

StrategyDriven Expert Contributor | Hilary Jane GrosskopfHilary Jane Grosskopf is the author of Awake Leadership: A System for Leading with Clarity and Creativity (2018) and Awake Ethic: A System for Aligning Your Action with Your Core Intentions (2018). She is a leadership guide, strategist, writer and Founder of Awake Leadership Solutions.

3 steps to creating a culture that retains your best employees

StrategyDriven Customer Relationship Management Article | Corporate Culture | 3 steps to creating a culture that retains your best employeesEmployees can do the minimum, or go the extra mile, and the difference between these two levels of performance, multiplied by the number of employees, can make or break a company. And when your employees are going the extra mile, it means they are engaged, and engaged employees don’t leave.

Losing employees is costly, especially if they are your best ones. Not only do they take specialist know-how and client relationships with them, but often straight to one of your competitors. And if you are operating in a context of skills shortages, which many companies are, you simply can’t afford to lose those skills you know are going to be impossible to replace.

The key to overcoming all of the above issues is culture, because as Peter Drucker famously said: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. Making sure your company culture is one that engages and retains your best employees is an ongoing endeavour, and there are three proactive steps you can take to build it:

1.Turn your company into a cause

Make sure you have a vision that is ambitious enough and inspirational enough to become a cause that employees rally around and makes them want to go the extra mile. Engagement for engagement sake will only ever bring short-term results; engagement around a cause, however, will keep your employees motivated for years.

Most companies have a vision, but with confusion rife around what a vision actually is, rarely do we find one with that essential emotional ingredient that makes employees put aside personal agendas for a collective one that appears much more attractive.

2. Set a minimum standard for people management

“People don’t quit companies, they quit their bosses”. How often have you heard this said? And how often on exit interviews do we find it to be true! This simple fact, disheartening as it might seem, is exactly the information we need to change our company culture.

By focusing on our people managers, and equipping them with the skills to better manage their relationships with their subordinates, we can minimise the loss of good employees because of bad management.

Giving feedback, for example, in a way that motivates rather than demotivates employees, is a skill in short supply among today’s line managers, but is something that can be easily taught and quickly put into practice.

3. Make Confidence a daily discussion

Confidence is discussed regularly in sports, because the sporting world knows that it is critical – that difference that makes a difference when athletes and sports people need to find that elusive next level of performance.

Confidence is multi-faceted and often misunderstood, but when discussed and worked on regularly, will make a huge difference not only to your employees’ performance but also their motivation. When employees are engaged, they will stay with your company, but you don’t just want them to stay, you want them to offer you their best performance possible. Confidence is the thing that moves them from commitment to action and gets them through turbulent times.

Creating a culture takes time, but results in a workplace where employees can give their best, making them feel good, and benefiting the company bottom line.

When you focus purely on Engagement, the tendency is to look to extrinsic and largely superficial motivations, such as gym memberships, extra holiday and shopping discounts, which only drive short-term results.

Investing in culture, however, addresses the more long-term and intrinsic drivers of human motivation – the need to grow as a person and make a difference – and sustainable Engagement, and employee retention, is the return that investment brings!


About the Author

StrategyDriven Corporate Cultures Article | 3 steps to creating a culture that retains your best employeesKaren J. Hewitt, author of Employee Confidence: The New Rules of Engagement, is an Engagement and Culture Change specialist who is fluent in five languages. Her book is a finalist in the Leadership category of the Business Book Awards 2019.

For information, please visit this link

Do Your Employees Tell You the Truth? How to Foster an Environment Where They Do

StrategyDriven Corporate Culture Article | Corporate Culture | Do Your Employees Tell You the Truth? How to Foster an Environment Where They DoAre the people in your organization telling you the truth? As a manager, if you ask someone working for you, “What should we be doing better?” or “Where can we improve?” how honest do you think he or she will be?

Will your staff give you a laundry list of opportunities for improvement, an overview of key issues that hold your company back, or nothing of substance? Do your employees feel emotionally safe enough to have these authentic conversations? And if not, why?

These questions are at the heart of building a brilliant culture, an organizational culture that is driven by authenticity, adaptability, and a willingness to listen. In several decades of organizational business consulting, I’ve found that culture often distinguishes truly successful and healthy organizations from their dysfunctional counterparts. And one of the biggest indicators of a brilliant culture is a willingness—of everyone in the organization—to both tell the truth and listen. Truth-telling is essential to building a brilliant culture, but it doesn’t happen without leaders and managers who are willing to listen to what they hear and meet people where they are.

As a manager, the impetus falls on you to set that tone. Ask yourself: When I do annual reviews, sit down to discuss key issues, or collaborate on problem-solving, do people speak honestly with me, without fear of repercussion? If they don’t, what’s keeping them from doing so?

How to Foster a Safe Environment

One of the best ways to foster an environment in which it’s emotionally safe to tell the truth is to listen to what you hear instead of only acknowledging what you wanted or hoped to hear. Consciously work on enhancing your ability to meet people where they are and focus on developing your follow-up questions. Try staying in the present more often. Rather than thinking about the next item on your agenda during a discussion, offer your full and undivided attention. You may learn that you’ve been missing essential information in previous conversations.

The truth sets organizational cultures free. Only when we understand what’s actually happening in a company culture can we choose to realign behaviors, beliefs, and strategies. Careful listening, validating other perspectives, and follow-through build trust, signal respect, and show people they are valued—all bedrocks of emotional safety. Learn to listen to what you hear and you just may be surprised at the truths that find their way into the light.


About the Author

StrategyDriven Corporate Culture Article | Corporate Culture | Do Your Employees Tell You the Truth? How to Foster an Environment Where They DoClaudette Rowley is the CEO of Cultural Brilliance, a cultural design and change management consultancy. Over the past twenty years, she has consulted, trained, and coached executive leaders and teams at Fortune 1000 companies, small businesses, academic institutions, and start-ups, helping them create proactive and innovative workplace cultures that deliver outstanding results. She lays out a road map for organizational success in her new book, Cultural Brilliance: The DNA of Organizational Excellence. Learn more at culturalbrilliance.com.