International Communications

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InternationalSo many more organizations today have to deal with, not alone work colleagues at other locations throughout the United States, but also throughout the world. This is obviously not a new phenomenon but is becoming more prevalent and many would try to argue it is easier because of advances in technology. However if would be a mistake to think that technological advances can somehow circumvent many of the communication challenges that often exist between different locations. If fact they can add to the angst.

When one considers the fundamentals of human nature, the realities of how human are supposed to communicate becomes apparent. First and foremost there has to be a relationship that is somehow grounded on familiarity. Unquestionably advances in video conferencing are far more effective than telephone or e-mail, but it still does not create a human connection. Site visits remain critical because the face to face social interaction is what establishes relationships.

The other component of this international divide is obviously culture. No matter what way you cut it, or despite best efforts, there are always going to be differences. One way to minimize this as an obstacle is to recognize the one common denominator in all cultures; respect. Many would argue that this is something you earn but how about looking at it from the perspective of it being something that you can lose? Start off by building respectful relationships by meeting people half way or, if taking the initiative, work hard at a relationship even if it does not appear as reciprocating.

The final piece is the dog and tail syndrome. Who are calling the shots and what level of autonomy truly exists? This is driven primarily as a function of senior leadership and whether the influential strength lies locally or at corporate. This can be a perilous situation which is great during good times, but extremely delicate when things are not going according to plan. Corporate cannot be ignored, so often the best policy is to maintain a respectful disposition that is based on open communication and appropriate involvement.

Building Community is Key

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As human beings we have a basic need for being part of a system. In the context of Maslow’s hierarchy, given that the physiological and safety needs are being met, love and belonging provides the basis of the next level need. From the moment of our birth we are part of a family and then this evolves into neighborhoods, friends, school mates, church affiliations, sports teams, etc. All of these directly or indirectly provide a feeling that others care and that we are part of something bigger than just ourselves. It’s called community.51004157 - wow place to work

Some of the characteristics that emanate from this sense of community are commitment, trust, motivation, teamwork, being valued and the list goes on. This sounds very familiar with the aspirations of many workplace organizations but to describe them as communities and refer to it as love and belonging might seem a strange vernacular.

One of the fundamental differences between the types of communities mentioned initially and the workplace is that in the latter people are financially “compensated”. The word compensation is described in the Webster Dictionary as “something given or received as an equivalent for services, debt, loss, injury”. So implicit in this is that you are sacrificing something, perhaps your time, skills, talent, etc in exchange for money or some tangible reward. But this doesn’t build community in the workplace; it’s just the price of entry.

So here comes the rub. Going back to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, compensation is part of the basic fundamental physiological need; it’s what allows us to survive: it helps to provide shelter as well as feed and cloth our families. However, much more can be achieved by also addressing the next level need – creating a highly engaged environment aka, a community. That’s what Zappos and Google do; they have transformed their organizations into their own unique communities where employees feel a sense of love and belonging, even though these words are perhaps not used. As a result turnover is low, productivity is high, innovation is outstanding, customer service is king and profits continue to soar.

Turning “Weaknesses” into “Strengths”

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strengthWhile reading the latest Malcolm Gladwell book, David & Goliath, I couldn’t help but think about how many of the concepts presented also applied to business. The most interesting lesson that emerged for me was that strengths and weakness are all relative. In other words, when viewing through the same lenses, most will agree as to what are the strengths and what are the weaknesses. However, when assessing from differing perspectives a variety of outcomes can emerge. This is why having a diversity of opinion in problem solving and planning is so important.

This was most profoundly demonstrated in the book when Gladwell recounted his understanding of the famous David & Goliath story from biblical times. Goliath was supposedly this larger than life warrior, with a massive sword and shield while David was a mere shepherd boy with a sling shot. When looking at it relative to typical warfare for those times, David didn’t stand a chance. However as Gladwell describes, it was really Goliath who didn’t stand the chance. David was nimble and fast, remaining at a distance, while Goliath could hardly move; weighed down by the heavy protective armor he was wearing. As for weapons of choice, supposedly the slight shot in the hands of an expert could dispense a rock with a similar velocity as a modern day gun. So who really had the advantage?

Similarly within our organizations, it’s also critically important that we assess the needs relative to the people you have and whether their skills and abilities are being truly optimized. In a previous blog I spoke about how people have a tendency of viewing their own training needs in terms of technical skills but, for somebody else, it’s often thought of in terms of so called “soft” skills.

And so when we look at our teams and assess what might be their strengths and weaknesses, be careful of what you are comparing to. More importantly, be mindful of popular business “myths” and don’t be afraid to challenge them; just because it was a weakness in the past could make it the strength for the future, when viewed through different lenses.

Help Yourself by Helping Others

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teamwork 2In a recent Harvard Business Review article by Cassie Mogilner of UPenn’s Wharton School, the hypothesis presented suggested that the more you spend time helping others, the more productive you actually become. This of course is counter intuitive, as surely time consumed helping other people is time taken away from what you should be doing yourself. However human behavior very often defies logic. The case that is being made suggests that by helping others in small ways you feel more fulfilled and time actually appears to become more expansive to complete what you need to do.

This is quite similar to an earlier piece of research whereby people who spent money helping others were much happier than those who spent it on themselves. If you feel good and energized you are more likely to be engaged and therefore committed to whatever you have to do. It feeds the old mantra that those who help others are also helping themselves.

So how does this translate into the world of work? Imagine an environment where everybody is extremely cooperative and helpful to each other; that sounds reasonable. Working as part of a team is one instant way that organizations can flourish; it forces these types of helping exchanges, even for the doubters. Or what about the leaders who claim they are too busy? This theory also supports them by encouraging more time spent helping and coaching their people. When they do, inevitably they feel much better.

People are by nature communal; they function best and at their optimal when interacting with others. By ensuring they function as part of a group and are afforded opportunities to continuously help others can only serve to improve overall levels of productivity and engagement within your organization.

Keys to “Non Profits” Success

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success 2With so many non profit organizations vying for limited financial resources, what separates all of these very worthy causes into those who flourish and those who flounder? In addition, with so many volunteers being involved, what are the fundamental requirements to ensuring these organizations sustain and succeed? There are four.

1. Leadership

Within a volunteer body, if there is not a strong leadership presence the whole thing falls apart rapidly. However the style and approach is critically important. The best analogy is a conductor of an orchestra. Alone, there is no music but with appropriate direction towards the musicians, amazing things can happen. And one of the primary responsibilities of any good leader is to clearly provide a sense of ….

2. Purpose

This is so often overlooked and speaks to the question of WHY. Why are we here, why do we help this organization, why do we work so hard? With purpose, intrinsic motivators such as fulfillment, satisfaction and other positive feelings prevail. Without it, people will offer a minimum in terms of their unique talents and may give rise to the possible minimization of the critical element of….

3. Engagement

People at a very basic level need to feel a sense of belonging; that their voices are heard and that their ideas are considered. When they do, they are enthusiastic about their experience, they feel it’s time being well spent and because of this engaging environment, they are far more likely to spring into…..

4. Action

Yes this is where the rubber meets the road. With action, “stuff” gets done, money is raised, donations are forthcoming, the needy are helped and most important the purpose gets fulfilled.

Although this is presented in the context of a non profit “volunteer” organization, quite frankly all of the above is very relevant in a “for profit” environment as well.

The Keys to Effective Employee Engagement

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internal coachingEmployee engagement is the collective level of intellectual and emotional commitment employees have toward their work and organization. More and more organizations are embracing this as a means to understanding how they measure up from an engagement perspective. Consequently many different types of tools and surveys are now being accessed to help create some objectivity as to how people feel about their work.

Once these surveys are undertaken and organizations wish to elevate their engagement score, three areas where significant developmental opportunities exist are:

Emotionally Intelligent Leaders
Do qualities such as being responsive, empowering, resilient, expansive, empathetic, authentic and present best describe people worth following? Emotionally intelligent leaders clearly understand that their approach is less about them and more about, through these qualities, supporting and coaching the people who make it happen. This very much compares to what Jim Collins in “Good to Great” described as Level 5 Leaders; those having Personal Humility and Professional Resolve.

Highly Motivated Employees
Employee motivation is influenced by a number of factors namely your job role, your boss, the team you associate with and the organization (and culture) you are part of. Based on these criteria, it is important to ensure that the motivational need of the individual compares favorably to what is available to them; there is a fit. By focusing on developing these areas, employees are provided with a greater sense of belonging and desire to make a more meaningful contribution.

Adopting a Coaching Approach
The very essence of coaching involves supporting other people’s success. The skills are rooted in connecting through listening, questioning, acknowledging and validating and genuinely supporting the other person. However there is also a clear focus on action but one that can be agreed upon, acted on and recognized when complete. Coaching is used to provide people with the resources, knowledge and skills to make positive decisions/actions that can advance the individual and their organization.


Success and Happiness – which comes first?

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Harvard researcher Shaun Achor has demonstrated through his various studies that happiness does not necessarily come from success. In fact, he goes as far to suggest that it’s the other way around. He contends it is only by being happy that you can achieve true success. So if this is the case, how does one become happy in the first place?

super heroAn interesting study conducted by Michael Norton from Harvard Business School proposed one possible solution. His hypothesis was that money can in fact buy happiness. However the caveat to this very much surrounds what you actually do with the money. Over the course of his research, they gave $50 to a variety of different people and one group were told to buy something for themselves and the other had to be spend it on somebody else. Post this activity through a variety of questions used to assess a relative degree of happiness, an interesting finding emerged. On a consistent basis those who spent money helping people they knew or even total strangers derived a far greater sense of happiness from this versus spending it on themselves.

This has also been validated in research on lottery winners who very often, through their self indulgence with their winnings, lose all their friends and family and very often end up extremely unhappy.

So what can we extrapolate from this that might be pertinent to the world of work and business? Money is one way we can give of ourselves but there are also many other ways such as supporting colleagues, praising others, helping out with challenging situations or volunteering your time. It is the actual process of giving that is so gratifying from which comes a sense of happiness.

In fact there is also a positive knock on or reciprocal effect to all of this; one that builds positive relationships, teamwork, alignment and the pursuit of a common goal. So rather than think how you might achieve success, how about unconditionally giving first, realizing the happiness it gives you and then seeing where it leads you?

Behavioral Expectations

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“Constructive Disagreement, Then Loyalty”. I still remember this vividly as a behavioral expectation for a company I worked with over 25 years ago. There were 9 others which I don’t recall but with this one it encouraged debate, point of view, even disagreement; but then there was an expectation that once a decision was made, everybody would be committed and loyal. I liked that!

dogAs part of any planning process, most progressive companies labor over how they want the management and staff in order to execute upon the strategic intent. Much of what they come up with is truly admirable and there is a consensus that if everybody was to follow along, it would be a magnificent place to work and success would be eminent. Unfortunately most of it goes no further than the paper it is written on. Why is this?

In truth, like may similar endeavors, it is high on intent and poor on execution. For many, conforming to these expectations requires them to behave different to what they normally do. If constructive disagreement, then loyalty doesn’t sit well with you outside of work, you can’t just hit a switch and expect that you will when inside.

The other obvious reason is that in order to ensure a certain expectation of behaviors, those leading must model them. However many of these “leaders” think in terms of how others should show up rather than taking a hard look in the mirror themselves. Jim Collins, in the book Good to Great, put it so eloquently when he described Level 5 leaders as possessing this unique blend of personal humility and professional resolve. Associated with these traits are some unique behaviors that were modeled by these successful leaders but then subsequently expected of their employees.

In the end, these are only expectations and, in reality, sometimes they are present and often not. However there is an honorable intent in creating them in the first place and with perseverance, they can be slowly woven into the fabric of an organization. Behaviors are a function of one’s Emotional Intelligence and when combined with Intellectual Capacity form the bridge to organization success and sustainability. What do you think?

Setting Meaningful Goals

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goalsWith three months already gone in the year, now might be a good time to re-evaluate some of the goals you made on Jan 1st. Goals are filled with great intention but inevitably become forgotten about all too quickly. The reason for this is that with most goals we have limited control. These are generally referred to as “outcome goals”, which are in the future. In many instances they can take away from the true task at hand, which is the now and present. It’s akin to being focused on what you might shoot in a round of golf rather than on executing the next shot to the best of your ability. Then when we are disappointed at the end of a round, we convince ourselves that goal setting doesn’t work.

Similarly in business we often tend to overly focus on outcome goals whether it’s achieving a certain amount of clients, a level or revenue or ultimately a profitability target. These are good to have but more attention is required for the processes you need to execute upon in order to give yourself a chance; consequently we need process goals. In business, these fall under the following categories:

People – what are you doing relative to hiring the right people and ultimately optimizing their full potential? Examples of “People Process” goals might be:

  • Hire 2 additional sales people
  • Provide customer service training to all staff

Products – how can you optimize your products relative to utility and value to your customer? Examples of “Product Process” goals might be:

  • Conduct independent customer service survey
  • Enhance website to provide more product knowledge

Systems – what improvement opportunities exist relative to optimizing your internal operations? Examples of “System Process” goals might be:

  • Identify and procure new Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system
  • Conduct study to determine cycle time from order receipt to product / service delivery

The key to all of the above examples are that they are all based on whether done or not; there is no ambiguity. To measure, it begs the simple question, was it done or not? Whatever the outcome, it cannot take away from the fact that an effort was put into it in the first place. So as you think of goals, yes be mindful of the desired outcome but put maximum effort into the enabling processes.

True Strategy

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Much has been written about the pros and cons of business planning and when you throw in the word strategic, it supposedly adds a degree of credibility to the process.  But, as we all well know, this can be more often about the exercise and, sadly, less about the execution.

21999187_blogThe reality is we cannot predict the future nor can we drive a car looking through the rear view mirror.  So why do planning at all?  Roger L Martin in his HBR article “The Lie about Strategic Planning” contends that most businesses are stuck in what he terms a “Comfort Zone”; this is simply the process where it’s easy to talk and put it to paper.  However “True Strategy” is about execution; where discomfort and apprehension prevails; placing bets and making hard choices. Here the objective is not to eliminate risk but to increase the odds of success.

Many view strategy as being only for large corporations and perhaps this is so because these are the large bastions of bureaucracy where the so called “Comfort Zone” can operate undetected.  However when it comes to lean organizations and entrepreneurial endeavors, “True Strategy” is the only option.  Martin goes further to emphasize the three elements of this type of strategic thinking:

1. Keep it simple
2. Don’t look for perfection
3. Be very clear on what needs to change

These are simple yet valuable insights for small business owners, whether your own coaching practice or some other venture.  By being clear on these, the execution becomes less daunting, flexibility and adaptability is part of the natural order and, most importantly, change is seen as the ally to success.

So rather than get consumed by the text book process of strategic planning, simply answer the following and keep on reviewing / revising.

  • What is your business?
  • Who are your clients?
  • How will you satisfy your client needs?
  • What do you need to do to achieve this?
  • What do you need to change to achieve this?
  • What is your timeline for implementation?