Vision: It’s a verb!

For decades, leaders have been advised to generate missions and visions as a way to focus and drive organizations into the future. Countless workshops and books outline the "how-tos" associated with arriving at those just-right words that will galvanize teams and deliver results.

Increasingly, however, many leaders are wondering if this vision writing exercise is still a valuable use of limited time and effort or a vestige of a more stable and predictable past. To them, I would recommend a quick review of fifth-grade English and the parts of speech. And, I would ask, ”Is vision a noun or a verb to you?”

Noun or verb

What often gets in the way of vision being a tool for guiding others toward the future is its treatment as a noun — a thing. Frequently, leaders create a vision, crossing it off their lists like too many other "one-and-done" activities. The words are printed on posters or mugs and that’s the end of the discussion, except perhaps for a little lip service. And, as a result, the vision offers little value to individuals or the organization.

But leaders who use vision as a verb see very different results. Verbs are action words, and when vision becomes a vibrant, living activity, tremendous benefits are possible. Visioning can:

  • Facilitate greater alignment throughout levels of the organization
  • Focus attention on what’s most important given the plethora of competing priorities facing most employees
  • Guide independent decision making (which becomes increasingly important as typical spans of control increase)
  • Create an emotional connection with the organization that supports enhanced engagement and retention.

Vision

Neuroscience of Vision

Advances in neuroscience shed new light on how and why vision (the verb) can be an important tool for organizations and for individuals. Evolving research offers insights for leaders who want to leverage the value of vision.

The visual nature of the brain responds to images. Painting a vivid picture of the future – and painting individuals into that picture – creates a powerful target in people’s minds.

According to Dustin Wax in "The Science of Setting Goals," setting that vision or goal “invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it” because “a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are — setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.”

Simply engaging others in visioning creates a subtle internal dynamic that prompts them unconsciously to bridge the gap between what is and what can be.

Vision quest

Visioning in its verb form is a team sport, an activity that involves the active participation and engagement of everyone involved. Commitment to an inclusive vision ensures the level of buy-in and ownership required to sustain the necessary attention and effort. Co-creating a picture of the future also deepens connections (to both the vision itself and co-workers), which enables groups to more effectively address the obstacles and setbacks that will inevitably arise.

Verb-ful (versus verbal) visions also share several other characteristics. They tap into something emotional — going beyond the head to speak to the heart. They’re inspirational while at the same time specific enough to offer a clear and compelling picture of the future.

Finally, consistent with the verb-based nature of the word, the most effective visions are actionable; they invite steps forward and facilitate momentum in a prescribed direction.

But co-creating the vision is just the beginning. For visions to be useful tools, they can’t be relegated to posters and badge cards. They must become a living and breathing part of day-to-day work and interactions. Leaders can make this happen in a variety of ways:

  • Storytelling. Keep people connected to what matters most with stories from customers, colleagues and beyond. Reinforce or expand employees’ thinking with anecdotes that inspire and inform their sense of vision.
  • Acknowledge progress. Take a look at "Your Brain on Dopamine: The Science of Motivation."
  • Walk the talk. Demonstrate your own commitment to the vision by working each day in service of it. Let others know how your priorities and choices reinforce the future you’ve jointly outlined.
  • Talk the talk. Ongoing conversation about the vision is in large part what keeps it relevant and evolving. Rather than treating it like something sacred and cast in concrete, let others know that the vision is an iterative work in progress. Revisit it frequently, allowing it to morph as conditions change.

Organizations today need vision as much as they ever did — maybe more. But it’s an active, responsive, collaborative vision — something leaders and employees do rather than something they have. And when we view it as a verb, we’ll begin to see the vast value the vision can deliver.

 

Julie Winkle Giulioni is the author of “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Employees Want,” with Bev Kaye. Giulioni has spent the past 25 years improving performance through learning. She consults with organizations to develop and deploy innovative instructional designs and training worldwide. You can learn more about her consulting, speaking and blog atJulieWinkleGiulioni.com.

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9 New Year’s work resolutions to start now

Before you drag out that dusty old treadmill, how about some resolutions that you can live with, ones that will DRAMATICALLY improve your life over the next 12 months? Here are some New Year’s resolutions for work that you might consider implementing:

  1. Schedule 20 minutes of solitude every day. And if that feels too aggressive, then start with 10 minutes. Put it on your calendar and abide by it. Use the time to sit quietly at your desk if circumstances permit; otherwise, find a quiet conference room or park bench. Do nothing during this time but breathe deeply and observe your thoughts as they drift by.
  2. Take the stairs. At first you may arrive at meetings out of breath, but before you know it, you’ll be gliding up and down and your calves will be more toned calves and your cardiovascular health will thank you for it.
  3. Bring your lunch, at least sometimes. Studies have shown that the lunch you make at home will generally be healthier and more satisfying than what you grab at that place on the corner. Eat it slowly, preferably away from your desk. Find a friend to chat with, or use that time to reconnect with yourself and prepare for the afternoon ahead.
  4. Be kind. Let someone else present their idea first. Offer a compliment. Be gracious and generous. Or fake it – no one will know the difference at first, and soon, it’ll be on purpose. Be kind to yourself, as well – forgive yourself for little mistakes you’ve made and speak to yourself the way you would to a good friend.
  5. Take a seat at the table. (Women, especially, but guys, too.) Step up and be part of the discussion. If you see someone else sitting off to the side, encourage them to join you at the main event. You wouldn’t be there if you didn’t have something to contribute. Be thoughtful in your approach, but do occupy the space and add something of value to the dialogue.
  6. Be an advocate. Speak up on behalf of someone who is over-delivering — on your team or elsewhere. Send a quick email to their boss, briefly describing what they contribute and how much you appreciate it. There is no downside to doing this, if it is sincere. You’ll build allies — managers will appreciate hearing from you and knowing that others are noticing the success of their team.
  7. Be your OWN advocate. Fight for the project that you want to own. Ask for the raise that you feel you have earned. No one will ever advocate as strongly on your behalf as you can. Be armed with the facts, be calm and professional, and then give it all you’ve got. If you get a “no” — take a minute to lick your wounds and then consider what to do differently the next time.
  8. Stop apologizing. Unless you stepped on someone’s foot, sorry should never be the first word out of your mouth. If you have a question, ask it. If you have an opinion, voice it. You do not need to apologize for your presence or your point of view.
  9. Say something positive. Avoid the office gossip mill. Yes, it’s fun in the moment, but research has proven over time that indulging in catty chatter makes things worse, not better. Try to be the person who takes the high road and step away from the mud getting slung.

2018 is your opportunity to become a better version of your professional self. It won’t happen overnight. Studies have shown that adopting a new habit takes at least 30 days, and sometimes even longer. Cut yourself some slack and try again tomorrow. Focus on the effort, not the result, and know that every step you take gets you one step closer to being the professional you were meant to become.

Laura Small is VP / Associate Human Resources Director at advertising agency RPA.

 

Gratitude is a choice

Exciting new research touts the benefits of experiencing gratitude -- includng a greater sense of well-being, mental health, better learning and decision making.

After reading some of the initial research on the power of gratitude over a decade ago, I began incorporating little triggers into my everyday life to stimulate my experience of gratitude. For example, I upgraded my signature to “With gratitude, Susan Fowler.” I discovered that writing an email containing negative, controversial or critical comments rang hollow and inauthentic as I typed my “With gratitude” signature. That realization still motivates me to completely rewrite the email to express myself using more constructive language. Writing “With gratitude” dozens of times a day adds up to a day of gratitude.

A little trick I’ve used for almost 20 years comes from Alexandra Stoddard’s book "Living a Beautiful Life." When paying bills, I write: “It is a pleasure to” above the “Pay to” line on the check (yes, I still pay some bills using checks). I also add the “With gratitude” above my signature.

These simple additions shift my mind set -- I’m grateful that I can pay my bill or that I’m grateful to the person or organization that provided me with a valuable service or product. If I don’t get that feeling of gratitude, it is a red flag that the expense was unnecessary and needs to be reconsidered in the future or is unfair and needs to be dealt with or accepted with grace.

I am thrilled that recent research validates my personal experience. But, I’m also concerned that as solid science becomes popular knowledge, misperceptions or misleading interpretations about gratitude get perpetuated through articles and blogs. You can develop the skill of gratitude, so, accurately representing the practice of gratitude is important.

Not all gratitude is created equal

If you feel grateful, ask yourself why. What is the source of your gratitude? If you are grateful for receiving a gift, is it because the gift satisfied a material need for acquisition or because being on the gift-giver’s list gives you a sense of status or power?

These reasons for being grateful reflect an external form of motivation considered suboptimal. The reasons you are grateful reflect your values; for example, values related to materialism and ego-gratification. This type of gratitude tends not to be deeply satisfying, doesn’t nurture the psychological needs required for you to flourish, and quickly dissipates.

However, if you receive a gift and are grateful for the gift giver’s thoughtfulness, your gratitude reflects a form of motivation based on higher-quality values such as friendship, loyalty, compassion, understanding or demonstrating kindness. Your appreciation generates feelings of gratitude that are deeply satisfying, nurture your psychological needs -- especially for relatedness, and are long-lasting.

Gratitude is best when you are grateful for someone rather than for something.

Expressing gratitude is different than praising

Praising someone means they did something that pleased you and your hope they keep on doing it. Public recognition is often meant to send a message to others that they’ll get recognized if they do the same thing.

Praising and recognition are contingent. They depend on your opinion or evaluation of someone’s actions. “I’m proud of you.” “Great job on this project.” These statements of praise need to be used sparingly because they are more likely to be internalized by the receiver as external forms of motivation (suboptimal).

Gratitude, on the other hand, is a pure and authentic expression of appreciation. “I appreciate you and the effort you put into this project. Thank you.” This expression of gratitude is always appropriate if it expresses an authentic connection to the individual (based on optimal motivation).

Praising is contingent, based on what someone has done. Gratitude is pure, based on the connection between you and the person for whom you are grateful.

Learning to accept gratitude unblocks positive energy

Gratitude in the workplace was the topic on Maria Pressentin’s podcast, "The Purposeful Leadership Talk Show," on Radio W.O.R.K.S World. As her guest, I made the point that managers need to be careful to distinguish between praising people and expressing gratitude because the former can be internalized as manipulative, insincere or unnecessary.

Pressentin’s second guest, Dr. Marina Nani, built on my comment by sharing that, as the recipient of both praising and gratitude, she’d never made that distinction. As a result, she had tended to discount or even reject people’s comments so she wouldn’t get emotionally spun into what she was hearing. But, she said she now realized that noticing the difference would enable her to acknowledge other people’s expression of gratitude. Then, she could experience the interconnection so essential to human thriving and would be more likely to transfer her gratitude to others. Wow.

When we learn to accept the generosity of gratitude from someone, we unblock positive energy we can share with others.

Gratitude is a choice

Gratitude is a healthy choice that is not only good for you, but for others, too. When you experience gratitude and express appreciation, you are taking the opportunity to relate with others, practice empathy, and demonstrate kindness to yourself and others. You are creating a ripple effect of positive energy that the world desperately needs now.

 

Susan Fowler is the co-author of the newly revised "Self Leadership and The One Minute Manager" with Ken Blanchard and Laurence Hawkins, and lead developer of The Ken Blanchard Companies’ Self Leadership product line. She is also the author of the bestseller "Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work… and What Does." Fowler is a senior consulting partner at The Ken Blanchard Cos. and a professor in the Master of Science in Executive Leadership Program at the University of San Diego.

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The luxury of leadership

Lead Human
SmartBrief illustration

This is the latest in a series called Lead Human, which features interviews and profiles conducted by Elliot Begoun in search of answers to the question "What is it like to be a leader?"

I was fascinated by the artistry of the bottle. It was handcrafted, made of ceramic and beautifully hand-painted. I knew this bottle of tequila would be an experience best reserved for a special occasion. After seeing the bottle, I decided to do some research on the company, Clase Azul, and what I learned was equally interesting.

The company’s stated purpose is to initiate a shift from our current reality to encourage individual transformation. Not your typical mission statement. I further learned that its founder, Arturo Lomeli, made a commitment to prioritizing his people’s values and development before revenue.

The company works with local ceramic artists in Santa María Canchesda, Mexico, to make its bottles and points to the human benefit of doing so, as it has brought jobs, education and opportunity to the village.

Lomeli once wrote, “If asked if I'd do it again. I'd say yes without hesitation, mainly because of what the brand and the company have done for me. However, like many entrepreneurial journeys, I probably would have done things differently. I would have followed the advice from the hundreds of business, entrepreneurism books, and magazines I read. I would have implemented the principles learned while studying for my masters in Marketing, and I would have applied the recommendations given by all of the successful businessmen and experts. I may have even brought down my own stubbornness. On second thought, I probably would have failed if I did so.”

When the opportunity presented to interview with Lomeli, I was excited to do so. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

What keeps you up at night?

"How we keep scaling the company without losing the core values. We are trying to stay away from the temptation of growing and putting all our efforts into volume, cases, revenue and profit.”

He is also concerned with “how we balance growth and keep providing to our people internally and the customers externally the essence of who we are. The energy that we can spread.”

“Obviously there are no books or tactics that tell us how to do that, it's about leadership. It's about sharing. It's about not complaining and moving forward.”

I asked him how they maintain that essence. “We have a clear purpose, values, mission and ambition.”

What have you learned about leadership?

“What makes companies succeed or fail is people. I believe people are much more important than a company’s service or products. If you have the right people, that energy will spread. We are following a luxury strategy. Luxury is a social phenomenon. A luxury strategy has to be tied to the people who buy, the people who create, the people who manufacture, and the people who sell. It’s always about people.”

Lomeli went to share a core philosophy, "No one in this company is going to be fired for making mistakes. In fact, everybody here makes mistakes. We commit ourselves to not doing it again. We’ll fire someone immediately if they go against our values. If they aren’t honest. If they don’t know how to work as a team player. If they don’t take the responsibility or understand what we are doing. It's a big chain of factors and if the core fails, we cannot sell an $1,800 bottle of tequila.”

What have you learned about connecting with and motivating people?

“You can work with everybody. You can smile at everybody, you can shake hands with everybody, but you can't give direct orders to all the organization. We have now 220 direct employees. So, what I do first is be totally institutional in terms of not getting in the middle of the line of power with bosses and employees. So that means if some employee approaches me with some concern, I turn and say, 'It sounds that you have to talk with your boss.'”

What’s been a key to your success?

“Being different, it's fuel for me. Being unique. Why do something other companies are already doing? Let's try to do something where we can be the only ones. Our goal is to create that kingdom. We don't need a big kingdom, we just need a place where people enjoy our brand, our essence, our values, and are satisfied with the way that we think, with the way that we create, with the way that we produce, and more importantly the way that we give back.”

What’s been the biggest challenge in building this company?

“Forgiving myself.”

I asked Lomeli about the need for forgiveness.

“When I started the company, I was traveling and I was following the route of alcohol. I was married but I didn't put a lot of time into my marriage and it ended in a divorce. We have a fantastic relationship and my kids are growing and healthy. But, I think I could do better if I could go back. I didn’t have the balance in the beginning to manage both. I'm doing it now. I have a new wife, I take care of my ex-wife and my kids are great. I've found the balance now.”

What’s a luxury strategy?

“A luxury strategy is not about creating something unique. It's about behaving in a luxury way. You don't react to provocation of the competitors. You don't talk badly about other brands. You don't position yourself with the competitors. A luxury strategy is about being unique. A luxury strategy is about being proud of what you do and keep doing it. It's saying, I'm this and I'm really proud of being this and I'm always going to be it."

Passionately, he continued, “Luxury is not about having, it's about being and we have to change that mentality. You can be rich with one tenth of what other people have if you find the context of living with joy. That's where we are moving and I think that's the biggest part of our essence or DNA.”

What advice would you give aspiring entrepreneurs?

“Follow your intuition. Always.”

 

Elliot Begoun is the principal of The Intertwine Group, a practice focused on helping emerging food and beverage brands grow. He works with clients to design and execute customized route-to-market and go-to-market strategies that build velocity, gain distribution, and win share of stomach. His articles appear in publications such as the Huffington Post, SmartBrief, and FoodDive.

Want to become a growing brand that is sustainable and investable? Learn more.

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Holidays aren’t the only time for leadership GIFTs

The holidays are a time when many leaders find themselves scrambling simultaneously to meet year-end business goals and punctuate the season with their staffs. Too frequently, the stress overtakes the joy, and gifts become another obligatory to-do on a never-ending list.

What employees really want doesn’t come in a box or require a bow. And it’s certainly not restricted to December. What employees wish for are the special GIFTs that leaders can offer all year long.

Gratitude

Over the past 20-plus years in the leadership-development arena, I’ve never met a person who said they received too much recognition. But I’ve met many who report getting woefully too little. Positive feedback is one of the most cost-effective actions a leader can take to elevate morale, engagement and performance. Catching others doing something well grows that behavior. It also shines a spotlight for the rest of the team on what you value, thus magnifying the message.

Expressing appreciation costs literally nothing except some genuine attention to those around you. And, like any other skill, the more you practice it, the more natural it becomes. So, get a start this holiday season. By this time next year, it will be a habit that you don’t even notice, but your team definitely will!

Inspiration

Today’s employees crave leaders they can look up to. They always have. However, given the current rash of reports of tremendously inappropriate behavior in the workplace, people are more desperate than ever to surround themselves with those whom they can trust and admire.

A young professional who attended a workshop not long ago shared that he had recently changed jobs -- not for more money, but a bit less, and not for a better commute, but for a few additional minutes on the road. His decision turned exclusively on his supervisor. He shared stories of erratic and unethical behavior on the part of his previous boss. And he contrasted that with his experience of his new leader, whom he described as smart, strategic, trustworthy and transparent.

Leaders who inspire others through their actions are high performers themselves, and they attract highly driven high performers to them and their teams, creating a "gift" that just keeps giving.

Flexibility

EY’s research confirms what you likely already know from experience: Employees across the generational spectrum want greater flexibility.

“After competitive pay and benefits, the top things employees say are very important in a potential job are: ‘being able to work flexibly and still be on track for promotion’ which was tied at 74% with ‘working with colleagues, including my boss, who support my efforts to work flexibly.’ Other flex perks full-time employees seek are: the ability to work flexibly informally when needed, receiving paid parental leave and not working excessive overtime,” the EY study says.

Dual-income households, family commitments (children and parental responsibilities) and increasingly untenable commute times place greater pressure on employees. Work-life balance is a goal that eludes too many workers. Flexibility is one strategy for bringing a balance closer to reality. And while flexibility might be particularly necessary during the holiday season, it’s a "gift" that’s appreciated anytime.

Time

Despite the ability to be in constant 24/7 contact with others, we as a society are starving for the authentic human connection that only time and attention can deliver. Time feels like it’s in such short supply for many of us. So, when a leader is willing to invest this precious commodity, it sends a signal. It communicates, “I value you. You’re significant.” And in today’s increasingly depersonalized world, this forges powerful relationships, builds confidence, and offers the gift of human connection.

So, this holiday season, make a commitment to giving the gifts of gratitude, inspiration, flexibility and time, and you’ll have plenty to celebrate all year long.

 

Julie Winkle Giulioni is the author of “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Employees Want,” with Bev Kaye. Giulioni has spent the past 25 years improving performance through learning. She consults with organizations to develop and deploy innovative instructional designs and training worldwide. You can learn more about her consulting, speaking and blog atJulieWinkleGiulioni.com.

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Let’s teach our children to become leaders

You don’t have to try very hard these days to worry about the need for leadership. Just turn on the news. There seems to be no end to the political upheaval, violent extremism, threats of nuclear proliferation, dangerous environmental disasters, corporate misbehavior and poverty around the world.

As for me, I watch my 2-year-old grandson playing while trying not to obsess about it. Where are our leaders?

An objective definition of leadership is “the art of motivating a group of people to act towards achieving a common goal.” Viewed through that lens, perhaps the problem isn’t so much a lack of leaders, but that we’re seeing charismatic individuals leading us in directions that have terrible implications for humanity. In other words, we’re letting some bad apples get the better of the apple cart.

When most of us think of great leaders, who comes to mind? Abraham Lincoln? Martin Luther King, Jr.? Maybe Mahatma Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, or Jane Addams?

The historical figures we cherish as great leaders were not perfect people. They didn’t possess superhuman talents, and they didn’t know everything. But each of them was so sure of something that it propelled them forward against many odds and at great personal risk. Each was willing to put themselves on the line for what they believed would benefit humanity.

It would be a mistake to think that being a great leader requires headline-grabbing actions. Consider Dorothy Vaughn, NASA’s first black supervisor and a leader in the (then) new field of computer programming. It took more than 50 years for her story to come to light in the movie "Hidden Figures." She and her colleagues were not perfect, and they didn’t know everything. They worked hard to develop their unique talents, and believed in the country’s nascent space program so passionately that they pushed against significant social and legal barriers to participate.

In fact, most “great leaders” probably didn’t think of themselves as such. They were more concerned with the change they wanted to see, and the change they wanted to be.

So how can we cultivate a new generation of leaders to match the achievements of those from the past? Whether you are thinking of your role as a parent, mentor, teacher, supervisor, or CEO, my advice is the same: Be the leader you want those around you to become.

Stand for something. Think about your values. Be open about them. And then invite those who look up to you to think about and share theirs. Be respectful when their values do not align perfectly with yours. Even better, ask them why they feel the way they do. You might learn a thing or two, which brings me to ...

Be open to new ideas. Know-it-all types get us into trouble, every time. Good leaders know when to balance unshakeable faith with new ideas and information. They are driven by what is right, rather than with being right. 

Serve. If you are of a certain age, you remember when John F. Kennedy (another imperfect individual who is remembered for his leadership) said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” How do you serve your community? Whether you are a trustee of a major philanthropy or you volunteer at the local soup kitchen, let those who look up to you know how it makes you feel. Better yet, invite them to work side by side with you to see for themselves.

Try. Fail. Try again. Given the current conversations about anxiety and fear of failure, I think we may have lost sight of this concept. Demonstrate for others your willingness to go outside your comfort zone, without knowing how things will turn out. Thankfully, there are many ways of doing this without jumping out of an airplane or swimming with sharks. Find an experience you can share. Go to a cooking workshop or public speaking class together, or try a kickboxing workout or guitar class. Cultivating the ability to try new things on a small scale builds the ability to take risks on bigger, more important things.

Ask for and accept help. The very definition of leadership is being inclusive of others. Every leader in every age has had teachers, colleagues, supporters and assistants. Demonstrate your willingness to share the burden and the glory.

Own up. Take responsibility. Show others that you take responsibility, even when it is embarrassing. When you apologize, do so with humility. When you accept the consequences, do so with grace. On the flip side, give credit where credit is due.

Simple, yes, but not always easy. It is tempting to hide in our corners, believing that we are paralyzed by rhetoric designed to divide us into idealogical camps, as if were impossible to find a common human thread. But that wouldn’t be very leader-like, would it?

Instead, turn off the TV and close the newsfeeds on your phone. Engage in life and take your kids with you. Expect to fail, expect to apologize, and expect to be frustrated. You won’t be disappointed. Then expect to see your children (or employees or mentees) outpace you at every turn, becoming passionate, values-driven leaders willing to take risks you never would have considered. You won’t be disappointed on that count either.

I will leave you with good news. There are amazing young leaders around us, right now, working hard for humanity. Malala Yousafzei, now in college, continues to travel the world advocating for girls’ rights to education. Aja Brown, who in 2013 was the youngest mayor ever elected in Compton, Calif., just started her second term.

Naisula Lesuuda is the youngest woman in Kenya’s parliament and a leading advocate for women’s rights. Qin Yuefei and his fellow Yale graduates founded Serve for China, a nonprofit that helps villagers build roads, connect to clean water and the internet, and improve local schools. I could go on, but you get the idea.

And lest you think these are the outliers, consider this: Crowdpac, a nonpartisan crowdfunding platform that supports broad and inclusive political candidacy, reports that twice as many candidates signed up in the first 40 days of 2017 as in all of 2016, and that more than 60 percent of those running for office on their platform are millennials. Now that’s good news about the future of leadership.

 

Dennis C. Miller is a nationally recognized strategic leadership coach, executive search consultant, author and keynote speaker. He is the managing director of The Nonprofit Search Group, with more than 35 years of experience working with nonprofit board leadership and chief executives across the country. Dennis is also an expert in board governance, leadership development, philanthropy and succession planning. In addition, he is a sought-after motivational speaker, retreat facilitator and leadership performance coach. Dennis can be reached at dennis@thenonprofitsearch.com

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Communication is about people, not technology

The context of US political and policy communications has undergone a seismic shift with President Donald Trump’s frequent use of Twitter. Can business leaders rely on electronic and social media as a primary mechanism for seeding the ideas that build effective teams and cultures?

Laura was recently appointed to a high-profile role with international responsibility and a diverse group of employees geographically dispersed around the globe. It’s a dream job, one in which Laura can apply her considerable experience to make a huge impact on her company’s success by serving customers and generating repeat business. But the stakes for Laura and her team are high. They need to reverse a three-quarters-long downward trend in sales and address growing customer attrition.

After taking the new position, Laura realized that she’d inherited a group that had rarely met in person and had not gelled as a team. Some of the leaders working for her had never even been in the same room together, relying instead solely on electronic communications. Therefore, Laura’s first leadership decision was to conduct an in-person strategy and team building session, which would bring all of her team’s key decision makers together for the first time.

Unfortunately, just weeks after her appointment, Laura’s company instituted travel restrictions in an effort to cut costs. When we met to plan the team session, the meeting appeared to be in jeopardy.

“I’ve gotten 8 calls today alone from employees asking me if the meeting is still on,” she told me. “I know I’m taking a risk, but this session is critical to our success, so I’m moving forward with it. With the tough goals we have ahead this quarter and next, I need these folks to look each other in the eye and commit to achieve them.”

“I can’t lead by tweet.”

Like most good leaders I know, Laura understands the difference between communication and conversation. Today’s social media and electronic technology offers leaders a great way to share information or give directives, but rarely are they an adequate replacement for the activities that build real relationships and establish the foundation required for a strong team culture. For that, you need conversation, and a forum for the intimacy of idea exploration and exchange.

Research shows that most human communication occurs in the non-verbal form, which cannot be gleaned through text or tweet. And, despite our access to sophisticated technology, emojis are not replacements for visually reading facial expressions, anymore than 140 characters constitutes a robust conversation.

With the extreme reliance that most organizations place on electronic forms of communication, it’s important for leaders to be aware of its limitations and take extra precautions to assure that they are communicating directly and unambiguously as much as possible. Here are some important communication considerations:

You’re not working with every available tool

The use of email, texting, intranets and other forms of electronic communication offers access to only some of the available forms of human communication. The risk of others misinterpreting your message or gaining an incomplete understanding of it is huge, so careful crafting of verbal and written communications is essential. It’s important to know what you want the ‘take home’ message to be and what impressions you want to avoid.

Therefore, the ability to critically think, write and verbally communicate now has equal value to the technical competencies that are required for success in your functional area.

Sleep on it

It’s tempting to quickly dash off an email or post something on your company website, but taking time to carefully review it and having a few other people examine important communications before they’re sent is essential. I once had an editor who insisted on reading important articles that she planned to post after thinking about them overnight. She often made corrections that improved the final product after having a chance to sleep on it.

As a general rule, the more you feel a communication is urgent, the more important it is to carefully review it. If you don’t have time to "sleep on it," at least employ the 15-minute rule: Wait 15 minutes after composing any communication and re-read it before posting or sending. Think about the message from the receiver’s perspective, which will give you a sense of the impact of the message. That may be very different from your intent.

Know the color of their eyes

Many leaders rely on technology to reduce the cost of doing business, which allows for the creation of global teams. However, it’s important to budget for periodic in-person meetings to maintain a strong team culture. At the very least, well-designed video collaboration activities is a must if you truly want to foster healthy communications across your team and cement peer-to-peer working relationships.

Find ways to develop personal connections

One of the most frequent complaints that I hear from clients whose teams are virtual is how hard it is to establish the kind of personal connection that you might otherwise experience with someone who is working in the same office. With team calls, for example, individuals will log or dial in at the appointed time, and business will be discussed. But once that’s completed, everyone goes back to his or her own job in regions around the world. There’s no easy way to drop by a co-worker’s cubicle for a chat if they’re in London and you’re in Los Angeles.

One leader I know devised an interesting approach to the problem of geography when working to build his team. Each Friday, he holds a "social hour" conference call, during which 15 minutes are devoted to resolving any lingering business issues from the week, and 45 minutes are dedicated to discussing a pre-assigned topic. One week, for example, the team discussed their favorite films and the personal insights they gained from them. Another week, team members discussed a book they’d read, and what they’d learned from it.

The leader feels that the process has resulted in better team collaboration around work related issues, a greater understanding of the diverse backgrounds represented on the team and deeper personal relationships among co-workers.

Generational differences can and do affect communications

With five generations in today’s workforce, it should come as no surprise that the generations differ in their communication styles and preferences. However, particular attention should be given to millennials, who represent the largest share of the American labor force, according to the Pew Research Center.  Because they are often tech-savvy and drawn to electronic forms of communication, leaders may actually need to encourage millennials to devote more time to in-person communication. For this cohort, texting is more socially acceptable than conversing in person.

While millennials may be an easier generation for leaders to reach via technology because of their reliance on it, they may also be the group most likely to overlook the importance of nonverbal communication. As a result, they’re more susceptible to missing important cues and insights that could be gained by walking down the hall to a colleague’s office to chat rather than sending them a message through email.

Technology offers an abundance of valuable new tools for collaboration, but they should not be mistaken as a substitute for the in-depth interactions necessary for effective leadership.

 

Alaina Love is chief operating officer and president of Purpose Linked Consulting and co-author of “The Purpose Linked Organization: How Passionate Leaders Inspire Winning Teams and Great Results” (McGraw-Hill). She is a recovering HR executive, a global speaker and leadership expert, and passionate about everything having to do with, well … passion. Her passion archetypes are Builder, Transformer and Healer. You can learn more about how to grow leaders, build passionate teams and leverage passion to create great customer outcomes here.

When she’s not working with her Fortune 500 client base, Love is busy writing her next book, “Passionality, The Art and Science of Finding Your Passion and Living Your Bliss,” which explores the alignment of personality, purpose and passion, and the science of how it contributes to our well being. Follow Love on TwitterFacebookYouTube or her blog.

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3 factors that make Costco America’s best employer

Costco Wholesale moved in front of Google to earn the title of America’s best large employer this year. To determine America’s best employer each year, Statista and Forbes survey 30,000 workers at US organizations, asking them questions about their work experience. Costco has consistently appeared in the top three. Clearly, Costco is doing something right.

When Costco opened a location in our area, my wife and I became members. Invariably, we stop in for a few items and come out with a loaded cart. Our customer experience has always been positive.

Recently, I’ve been learning about the corporate side of Costco, pouring through articles and analyst reports. I’ve spoken with Jim Sinegal, Costco’s co-founder and CEO from 1983 to 2011, and interacted with Ryan Watkins, a young Costco warehouse manager across the country in Oregon.  In early August I traveled to Seattle to attend a portion of Costco’s Annual Managers Meeting, where I gave a keynote speech based on my book "Connection Culture: The Competitive Advantage of Shared Identity, Empathy and Understanding at Work." (In the spirit of full disclosure, Costco purchased 1,100 copies of Connection Culture for its leaders.)

At a time when the percentage of engaged employees in America is stuck at around one-third and American-style capitalism has fallen out of favor in the eyes of many, Costco represents what’s possible, the very best of America. It provides a model corporate culture that other organizations should strive to emulate.

What is culture? What types of culture exist? Is there a best culture?  

Culture is a vague concept to most leaders.  When my colleagues and I set out to make culture clear so leaders could become more intentional about developing and maintaining a healthy culture, we came up with the following simple definition:

  • Culture is the predominant attitudes, language and behavior of the organization. 
  • Attitudes are the ways people think and feel that affect behavior. 
  • Language is the words people use to describe their thoughts and feelings. 
  • Behavior is the ways people act

Our research discovered that there are three types of cultures that leaders and workers need to be aware of. The first is the “culture of control.” In this culture, most people feel controlled by one of more of the following: autocratic leaders, micro-management, too many rules and/or bureaucracy. The second is a “culture of indifference” in which most people feel that the people they work with don’t care about them and see them merely as means to an end.

Both cultures of control and cultures of indifference make many people feel unsupported, left out and lonely. With the prevalence of these organizational cultures in the U.S., it’s not surprising that two-thirds of American workers are disengaged.

The best culture we discovered is a “Connection Culture.” In this culture, most people describe feeling connected to their supervisor, colleagues, their work, the organization’s leaders and the people the organization serves. When people feel these connections, they thrive, individually and collectively. Connection Culture is created when leaders communicate an inspiring vision, value people and give them a voice (i.e. Vision + Value + Voice = Connection).

A Connection Culture provides five benefits to organizational performance that I’ve written about, which, taken together, add up to a powerful source of competitive advantage.

 America's Best Large Employers 2017
Statista

Costco’s Connection Culture

Costco has one of the highest degrees of connection I’ve personally witnessed in my 15 years of focusing on issues of organizational culture. I believe it helps explain why Costco is America’s best employer. Let’s look at the three elements of Vision, Value and Voice and how they provide the foundation of Costco’s Connection Culture.

1. Communicate an inspiring Vision

In the context of a Connection Culture, my colleagues and I define vision as having three parts: mission, values and reputation. The vision of Costco is that the organization helps people make ends meet, helps businesses be more efficient and serve customers better, and is a positive force in the communities where its warehouses reside. 

Costco’s values are summed up in a phrase “always do the right thing, even when it hurts.”  Costco lives this out in the way it faithfully serves its members, the way it treats employees like family and the positive things it does for communities. Because Costco deliberately lives out these aspirations, its reputation is stellar. As a result, Costco’s members trust the company will provide quality goods and services at an attractive price, and will be safe for its members and the people they love.  The level of customer loyalty Costco has developed with its members is the envy of every retailer. 

2. Value people

Value exists in a culture when people are valued as human beings rather than being thought of and treated as means to an end. Costco values people. Compared to competitors, it provides generous compensation and benefits to its employees. Costco provides career opportunities for its employees. The fact that Costco’s senior executives started out working on the front lines in warehouses is a testament to upward career mobility. The job security Costco has provided also shows that it values employees as human beings. 

Valuing people has been stress-tested at Costco, too.  The times Wall Street criticized Costco for its generous compensation and benefits, Costco’s leaders didn’t cave in. Instead, it continued to do what was best for the long-term by giving raises to its people.

During difficult economic seasons, Costco tightened its belt, rolled up its sleeves, and worked harder and smarter so that its employees would continue getting raises. No jobs were cut when Costco merged with Price Club. At the warehouses, the local leaders hold programs to help employees move up in responsibility and they teach managers to “greet before delegating.”

A word you will hear frequently at Costco is “family.” The intentional attitudes, language and behavior at Costco make its people feel like valued members of the Costco family.  

When I spoke with former CEO Jim Sinegal, he emphasized that valuing people is the right thing to do and it’s a good business practice. Costco’s low employee turnover is a case in point.  Furthermore, longtime Costco employees develop friendships with each other — a factor which has been shown to boost employee engagement and performance.  

3. Give people a Voice

Giving people a voice to express their ideas and opinions then considering them is a third way Costco strengthens its Connection Culture. Sinegal told me a story about the time in Costco’s early days, when it was opening a warehouse in downtown Seattle, and the local liquor license inspector questioned everything. As the inspector’s inquiry stretched out, Sinegal blew up at him in frustration. A colleague of Sinegal’s had to be sent to convince the inspector that he had gone temporarily insane.

Looking back, Sinegal wishes he could thank the inspector. His thorough questioning helped Costco become better prepared for what it would face ahead during its decades-long expansion. The bottom line is that difficult conversations and questions can be gifts in disguise. Costco embraces this attitude of humility and honesty and that posture makes the company smarter and stronger.

While attending Costco’s Annual Managers Meeting, I saw another manifestation of the Connection Culture element of Voice. Costco continuously taps into the ideas and opinions of its employees around the world to identify ways to improve its delivery of goods and services to members and improve efficiencies that reduce costs. Video after video was shown of employee ideas that have been implemented, along with estimates of the economic benefits associated with each. The creativity and ingenuity of Costco employees was a sight to behold.

In highlighting these stories, Costco leaders celebrated these improvements while at the same time disseminating practices that could be replicated across the company.

Surviving and thriving

The company’s Connection Culture provides a competitive advantage that will help it sustain its impressive track record of superior performance and weather the difficult seasons that all companies face from time-to-time. Some of its competitors have been reported in the press to have toxic cultures that harm employees. These organizations may continue to perform well for a while, but eventually their lack of connection will lead to managerial failure that sabotages performance. It’s only a question of when.

Meanwhile, the Costco leaders of today are preparing future generations of Costco leaders in the ways of connection and that will help ensure the Costco family, and its service to its members, not only survives but also thrives. 

 

Michael Lee Stallard speaks, trains, and consults for business, government, healthcare and education organizations. He is president of Connection Culture Group and author, most recently, of "Connection Culture: The Competitive Advantage of Shared Identity, Empathy and Understanding at Work." 

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How to make incentives work

The VP of sales whispered to me, “I’m about to be embarrassed.” I looked at him quizzically. He continued, “I’m about to announce the incentive plans for selling our new product. I didn’t realize you’d be here. I know how you feel about incentives.”

I nodded in agreement. I am an outspoken, and published, advocate for the body of evidence proving how detrimental external rewards are on performance. Whispering back, I asked, “Why are you offering incentives?” I could read the consternation as he searched for an answer. “I don’t know. It’s what we always do when we release a new product.” My one-word follow-up question deepened the burrows on his forehead, “Why?”

After that meeting, the VP and I had a fruitful discussion about the role of incentives. I hope you might benefit from these ideas—especially if you are about to incentivize someone’s behavior, or you are the one being incentivized!

Ask why incentives are needed

Engineers ask “Why?” at least five times to find the root source of a mechanical or electrical issue. Ask “Why?” to understand the underlying reason for relying on incentives to motivate behavior. For example, before offering a $2000 bonus to sales reps with the highest sales on a new product…

  • Ask: Why are we offering this incentive?
  • Answer: To increase sales.
  • Ask: Why assume sales reps won’t sell the product without an incentive? Is the product flawed? Do your customers not really need it?
  • Answer: No, the product is good and our customers want it. But, our sales reps get in the habit of selling what they have, not the new stuff, so we need to incentivize them to sell something new. (If the answer is, Yes, the product is flawed and our customers don’t want it, then there’s a good chance the incentives are a disguise for bribing people into immoral and unethical behavior.)
  • Ask: Why would sales reps not take advantage of a new product? Have they had enough exposure to the product to advocate for it? Are they lazy? Are they bored? Are they content and not needing to generate more sales? Are they so conditioned with incentives that they don’t care about customer needs? Are they not aware of the benefits the new product offers clients?
  • Answer: We haven’t done a good enough job of providing the rationale for the product, the problems it solves for our clients, or the opportunities this product presents for building meaningful relationships.

The “why” in this case led to a deficiency in the way the product was introduced to the sales team and an alternative solution to incentivized selling.

Frame incentives differently

When compared to sales teams with higher-quality motivation to sell, sales teams motivated by contingent rewards consistently underperform. If you are still afraid to eliminate incentives, or don’t control the use of them, you need to learn to reframe them. You need to frame incentives so reps are less likely to internalize them as their reason for selling.

Frame incentives as the organization’s way to shine a light on how important the product is. For example, provide rationale for why the product was developed in response to customer requests and needs. Describe why the product is essential to your organization’s success and helps satisfy its values and purpose. Explain that incentives are merely the company’s way of highlighting the importance of the new product—not to be confused with the reason to sell it. Allow sales reps to find their own values-based reason for selling the product from the information you provide.

Conduct meaningful conversations

Use incentives as a good excuse to have a meaningful conversation with your reps to assess their motivation for selling the product. Ask how they feel about the incentive. You might be surprised. This particular VP of sales was shocked to discover that many reps are insulted by incentives. Good reps often pride themselves in selling the right thing to the right customer -- not for a reward, but to demonstrate their expertise, skill, and service approach to their work. Acknowledge their high-quality motivation and make that their focus, not the incentive.

One rep admitted that incentives created a ton of pressure. She explained that $2,000 was enticing to her as a single mother with limited resources. She felt she should strive to win the bonus; experiencing guilt if she didn’t go for it. But, those feelings gave away to more guilt as she found herself “pushing” the product for the wrong reasons and risking her clients’ trust. Her excitement at having a new product in her quiver of client solutions was replaced with pressure, which affected her overall performance.

Incentives are like fool’s gold -- shiny objects that take away a sales rep’s focus from more meaningful reasons for selling the product. They also take away a sales leader’s focus from the true role of a leader. Defaulting to incentives is a lazy way to lead. Paying people off may seem a simple and fast way to generate sales, but you pay the price in lost energy, creativity, and sustainable performance.

But if you leverage incentives to generate deeper thinking about the value of your products and services, to highlight your organization’s purpose, and to have meaningful motivation conversations, the fool’s gold might be transformed into something truly valuable.

 

Susan Fowler implores leaders to stop trying to motivate people. In her latest bestselling book, she explains "Why Motivating People Doesn't Work ... And What Does: The New Science of Leading, Engaging, and Energizing. She is the author of by-lined articles, peer-reviewed research, and six books, including the bestselling "Self Leadership" and the "One Minute Manager" with Ken Blanchard. Tens of thousands of people worldwide have learned from her ideas through training programs, such as the Situational Self Leadership and Optimal Motivation product lines. For more information, visit SusanFowler.com

If you enjoyed this article, join SmartBrief’s e-mail list for our daily newsletter on being a better, smarter leader.

How to make incentives work

The VP of sales whispered to me, “I’m about to be embarrassed.” I looked at him quizzically. He continued, “I’m about to announce the incentive plans for selling our new product. I didn’t realize you’d be here. I know how you feel about incentives.”

I nodded in agreement. I am an outspoken, and published, advocate for the body of evidence proving how detrimental external rewards are on performance. Whispering back, I asked, “Why are you offering incentives?” I could read the consternation as he searched for an answer. “I don’t know. It’s what we always do when we release a new product.” My one-word follow-up question deepened the burrows on his forehead, “Why?”

After that meeting, the VP and I had a fruitful discussion about the role of incentives. I hope you might benefit from these ideas—especially if you are about to incentivize someone’s behavior, or you are the one being incentivized!

Ask why incentives are needed

Engineers ask “Why?” at least five times to find the root source of a mechanical or electrical issue. Ask “Why?” to understand the underlying reason for relying on incentives to motivate behavior. For example, before offering a $2000 bonus to sales reps with the highest sales on a new product…

  • Ask: Why are we offering this incentive?
  • Answer: To increase sales.
  • Ask: Why assume sales reps won’t sell the product without an incentive? Is the product flawed? Do your customers not really need it?
  • Answer: No, the product is good and our customers want it. But, our sales reps get in the habit of selling what they have, not the new stuff, so we need to incentivize them to sell something new. (If the answer is, Yes, the product is flawed and our customers don’t want it, then there’s a good chance the incentives are a disguise for bribing people into immoral and unethical behavior.)
  • Ask: Why would sales reps not take advantage of a new product? Have they had enough exposure to the product to advocate for it? Are they lazy? Are they bored? Are they content and not needing to generate more sales? Are they so conditioned with incentives that they don’t care about customer needs? Are they not aware of the benefits the new product offers clients?
  • Answer: We haven’t done a good enough job of providing the rationale for the product, the problems it solves for our clients, or the opportunities this product presents for building meaningful relationships.

The “why” in this case led to a deficiency in the way the product was introduced to the sales team and an alternative solution to incentivized selling.

Frame incentives differently

When compared to sales teams with higher-quality motivation to sell, sales teams motivated by contingent rewards consistently underperform. If you are still afraid to eliminate incentives, or don’t control the use of them, you need to learn to reframe them. You need to frame incentives so reps are less likely to internalize them as their reason for selling.

Frame incentives as the organization’s way to shine a light on how important the product is. For example, provide rationale for why the product was developed in response to customer requests and needs. Describe why the product is essential to your organization’s success and helps satisfy its values and purpose. Explain that incentives are merely the company’s way of highlighting the importance of the new product—not to be confused with the reason to sell it. Allow sales reps to find their own values-based reason for selling the product from the information you provide.

Conduct meaningful conversations

Use incentives as a good excuse to have a meaningful conversation with your reps to assess their motivation for selling the product. Ask how they feel about the incentive. You might be surprised. This particular VP of sales was shocked to discover that many reps are insulted by incentives. Good reps often pride themselves in selling the right thing to the right customer -- not for a reward, but to demonstrate their expertise, skill, and service approach to their work. Acknowledge their high-quality motivation and make that their focus, not the incentive.

One rep admitted that incentives created a ton of pressure. She explained that $2,000 was enticing to her as a single mother with limited resources. She felt she should strive to win the bonus; experiencing guilt if she didn’t go for it. But, those feelings gave away to more guilt as she found herself “pushing” the product for the wrong reasons and risking her clients’ trust. Her excitement at having a new product in her quiver of client solutions was replaced with pressure, which affected her overall performance.

Incentives are like fool’s gold -- shiny objects that take away a sales rep’s focus from more meaningful reasons for selling the product. They also take away a sales leader’s focus from the true role of a leader. Defaulting to incentives is a lazy way to lead. Paying people off may seem a simple and fast way to generate sales, but you pay the price in lost energy, creativity, and sustainable performance.

But if you leverage incentives to generate deeper thinking about the value of your products and services, to highlight your organization’s purpose, and to have meaningful motivation conversations, the fool’s gold might be transformed into something truly valuable.

 

Susan Fowler implores leaders to stop trying to motivate people. In her latest bestselling book, she explains "Why Motivating People Doesn't Work ... And What Does: The New Science of Leading, Engaging, and Energizing. She is the author of by-lined articles, peer-reviewed research, and six books, including the bestselling "Self Leadership" and the "One Minute Manager" with Ken Blanchard. Tens of thousands of people worldwide have learned from her ideas through training programs, such as the Situational Self Leadership and Optimal Motivation product lines. For more information, visit SusanFowler.com

If you enjoyed this article, join SmartBrief’s e-mail list for our daily newsletter on being a better, smarter leader.