Archive for March, 2015

Why We Should Invest in Employee Development

As I sit here this morning it is once again snowing outside, and—even though I live in New Hampshire—I’m surprised and just a little bit frustrated by it. It’s been such a hard, hard winter, and with everyone I know anticipating the coming season with a fervor I’ve rarely seen, it feels almost like a step backward, one that’s pushing spring even further away. Still, this latest snowfall rapidly melts, and I know that it’s just another slow step in the move toward the greens and yellows that mark the first forsythia buds, now only just around the corner.

It may not look like it, but change is coming.

Thinking about the slowness of nature’s seasonal shifts reminded me that we, our co-workers, our leaders, and our organizations also change slowly. We invest in them through training and development, through coaching, through workshops and team-building experiences, and yet the next day—when everyone returns to their “real work,” nothing seems all that different. People still seem to talk to each other the same way while they perform the same tasks in support of the same objectives that drive the same strategies.

So if that’s true, why invest at all?

Because change is slow, sometimes too slow even to see.

While the snow falls my placid dog Zoe lies nearby, curled on one of the several beds we’ve scattered around the house for her. (Yes, I know: she’s spoiled!) She’s a wonderful dog, and the day we rescued her was one of our happiest. I’m trying now to picture her as she was when we first got her (as an eight-week old pup, newly weaned), and I find that the image easily leaps to mind. What doesn’t leap to mind, though, is seeing her grow day by day. Oh, I remember what she looked like when she was about six or seven months old, and I certainly know her as an adult, but I can’t recall ever seeing her change.

Yet she did. She does.

The same is true of ourselves and those we work with. Each event, each investment, each opportunity for learning creates a situation in which the tiniest of changes can occur. And while each tiny change may be unnoticeable, over time those changes accrue until, just like with my dog, (or your child, or that oak tree that you never realized was quite so tall) something shifts, leaving a person stronger and bolder and more confident than before.

People change and improve. Cultures change and improve. Leaders change and improve.

So keep providing those opportunities, encouraging people to go through that training and development, that coaching, those workshops and team-building experiences.

The investment is worth it.

P.S. I’d like to offer a shout out to Robin Eichert at PeopleSense Consulting, whose blogs about her own wonderful Grace inspired today’s post.

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Trust: It’s NOT About Falling Backwards…

In an earlier lifetime I worked with children as an after-school aide at an urban day-care center in Los Angeles. Needless to say, filling every afternoon’s three-hour window with activities both entertaining and educational was quite a task, a task that would have been impossible had we not managed to build the kids’ trust both in us and in each other.

So we fell into each other’s arms.

The exercise, commonly referred to as a “Trust Fall,” has become something of a joke in the arena of organizational training and development. However, the reason for it still holds: people need to build a fundamental trust in each other if a group, team, or organization is to have any chance at all of working to its fullest potential. Teammates must get comfortable being vulnerable with one another.

Building trust happens in a variety of ways, here we share four basic principles:

1) TRUST SHOULD NOT MEAN “LEAVE ME ALONE”

We often act as if truly trusting someone means you leave them alone to do what they need to do. Trust, in this context, equates to unsupervised. Organizational researchers Chris Argyris and Donald A Schön confirmed that this sense of “leave me alone” is part of the definition of trust in the workplace.

While we fundamentally agree that trust implies giving (and receiving) certain levels of autonomy, the “leaving alone” of others with whom you share a deep dependency is ultimately counter-productive. We need each other as customers and suppliers; only by not leaving each other alone can we know that we are working to the organization’s benefit.

2) TRUST IS RARELY UNIFORM

Trust can mean different things in different contexts. The way we trust our peers varies from the way we trust our subordinates, for example, and the trust we have for a silo (“I’m not sure about what they’re doing over in Marketing.”) varies strongly from the way we might trust an individual (“That new web designer really knows her stuff.”).

The customer—supplier relationship requires a unique form of trust, one that says each person will work with candor, regardless of role or position, in ways that ensure each person gets what they need.

3) TRUST AND CREDIBILITY GO HAND IN HAND

It’s hard to imagine a situation in which you would find someone highly believable yet at the same time highly untrustworthy.

The need for credibility as a component of trust suggests that, as a foundational element underlying our customer—supplier relationships, we want (and need) to know that those on whom we rely are up to the task with respect to their skills and knowledge—and they need to know that the same is true of us.

4) TRUST COMES AND GOES, SOMETIMES LIKE LIGHTNING

Perhaps the definitive (or at least most widespread) comments on trust come from Stephen M. R. Covey’s The Speed of Trust. “Trust impacts us 24/7,” he writes, “365 days a year.”

The key point Covey makes is in the title. Trust, it’s true, moves at speed. But it is wrong to assume that the speeds are constant. It takes time to build trust—the building process moves at a slow speed, sometimes inordinately so. But the speed of trust can also be much, much faster when we’re talking about the other direction—the direction of loss. Losing trust can happen as quickly as lightning splinters a towering pine during a summer thunderstorm.

In whatever ways your organization chooses to build trust among and across your employees and teams, we also urge you to keep in mind the particular kind of trust required for Mutual Relationship Mapping.

Mutual Relationship Mapping requires a sense of trust that is based on individuals supplying what others need in a timely manner. It does not require an overriding trust in all of the various intentions, beliefs, values, or credos of others (as some other definitions of trust would argue). It is, quite simply and directly, a trust in the accountability of others to maintain and honor their commitments.

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3 Ways that Coaching Supports Strong Mutual Relationships

We firmly believe that the key to effective “mutual relationships” is to “map” your organization’s customer/supplier commitments. Once built, however, keeping those mutual relationships alive and thriving takes personal discipline, a willingness to remain open to the needs and concerns of others, and a true desire to remain aligned with the goals the organization.

This is where coaching comes in.

Leadership coaching vastly improves the success of transformational and impactful change—exactly the kind of change organizations undergo when beginning to center on relationships.  How, exactly, does this happen?

  1. Coaching encourages the development of deep listening, the ability to truly hear what others are saying without defensiveness and without judgment.
  2. Coaching provides the means to explore and unlock potential, and to deepen confidence and capability, exactly the kinds of skills needed to develop the kinds of trust inherently part of strong mutual relationships.
  3. Coaching deepens new ways to be curious, to open oneself up to the kinds of questions designed to explore rather than to make a point, to create rather than to block, and to relate rather than to defend.

Coaching supports stronger relationships with customers and colleagues (who are also “customers,” as we know) by renewing energy, increasing awareness both of self and others, and describing new ways of being in relationships. All of this offers a way to influence and to sustain over time the important mutual relationships developed with our approach.

Organizations are complex systems that are challenged with monumental and accelerated change.  Results can be achieved through leaders who value the natural diversity of leadership styles and the talents of the teams they lead.  All leaders can benefit from learning how their own styles impact those they lead and the results desired, and nowhere is this more of a vital component than within the emerging world of newly formed mutual relationships.

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Make Your Declaration of “In-dependence”!

Let’s face it: We all like to be independent. We like to know that we can take care of ourselves, that we can handle a crisis, that we can “rise above.”  And that’s a good thing. Nobody, after all, likes to be around people who can’t manage to take care of themselves.

But what about at work? Is this drive for autonomy really best for everybody?

Unless you work just for yourself, we argue that it’s NOT a great thing to be so completely self-sufficient. In fact, we think organizations are better off when people engage meaningfully with each other. That means we need to balance our urge to be independent with an acceptance that we are “in-dependence” with others. We need others and they need us.

How, exactly?

We exist in a network of “mutual relationships,” in which we others provide things that help us do our jobs, and we do the same for them. It could be as simple as providing data or a report, or as complex as completing job descriptions and capital expenditure budgets. But it’s always true. Always. No matter what the case, we do our work for a purpose, and that necessarily implies that someone else needs what we provide.  Even in the most basic organizational structure—something like an assembly line, for example—the person to your left gives something to you and the person to your right gets something from you. It’s a fundamental business axiom.

We believe that it’s time to think differently about how we value autonomy and independence as virtues for their own sake. It’s time to consider that what we should really value—and reward—is the ability to understand, respect, and balance our needs at work with the needs of others. Only when both are considered can an organization thrive.

Curious to learn more? We have a white paper on the topic which you can request here.

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