12 principles of inspiring leadership

This post is an excerpt from “Communicate to Inspire” (February 2014, Kogan Page) by Kevin Murray.

Communicate to Inspire Be yourself better

Authenticity as a leader is crucial. Followers will not commit if they do not trust you and believe that you have integrity. So, even if you are a highly introverted individual, you will have to learn to speak with more passion, talk to your values and stand up more often to speak to your beliefs. Followers must feel your passion and believe that you believe. When you are clear with yourself about the things you really care about, you cannot help but talk to them with passion.

Most leaders have not spent the time articulating those beliefs, yet the ability to draw on and display that passion and commitment, consistently and predictably, counts for more than skills at oratory and communicates more effectively than even the most perfectly crafted words. You have to be true to yourself, but you also have to learn to ‘perform’ yourself better.

Purpose and values

Too often, leaders use financial or numbers-based goals to motivate people. They are more comfortable being rational and objective. Too often, followers say they don’t get out of bed in the morning to achieve financial or other numbers-based objectives. They come to work and want to be inspired by a sense of doing something important, something that makes a difference.

A strong sense of mission can help shape decisions to be made throughout the organization, and is even more empowering when coupled with a set of values that your people know to be true. In this world of radical transparency, values have assumed far greater importance, for many reasons. Values define how people in the organization behave in pursuit of their objectives, and their actions define a business to the outside world. Those intangible values — often dismissed as “soft and fluffy” — translate into actions on the ground, which translate into hard numbers in the books. How the mission and values are expressed is crucial.

Future focus

Every leader I spoke to used the future to drive the present. They knew precisely where they wanted to be in a given timescale, even if they did not know exactly how to get there. They were never satisfied with the status quo, and their restlessness was a tangible force. Every question they asked had to do with how people were progressing to the goals, and they kept those goals under constant review.

They painted a vivid picture of success, often describing the future in both rational terms (the numbers) and emotive terms (how it would feel for all concerned). This bringing together of the rational and the emotional was key to inspiring people. Fusing the future vision (what success will look and feel like) to the purpose (what important thing we are here to do) and to the values (how we do it) was what stirred hearts and minds. This future, though, had to be expressed in benefit terms for all the people with a vested interest in the performance of the organization – customers, shareholders, local communities, suppliers and partners and, most importantly, employees.

Bring the outside in

Leaders have to live outside their organizations, constantly bringing stories of success and failure in external relationships into the organization to keep everyone fixed on what needs to improve. Successful leaders know that relationships are the engines of success; they keep a close eye on the state of all key relationships, and keep their enterprise focused on those relationships as well. You have to set up “quivering antennae,” as one leader described it — a radar system that keeps you in touch with the outside world.

Too often I heard about the “reputation gap” — the difference between the promises the business made and the experience customers or stakeholders actually received. Narrowing that gap, or even managing it away, is the goal if you want to be trusted. And you do want to be trusted. Trust is now the most valuable but most hidden asset on your balance sheet. Leaders are increasingly looking to make trust a strategic goal, measured and managed as preciously as any other key asset.

Engage through conversations

More and more leaders are now measuring levels of employee engagement, and using this measurement as a strategic tool to find the ways to keep people motivated and committed to the cause. Study after study has shown that companies with high levels of engagement among employees outperform their competitors by some margin.

Engagement is achieved through conversations — structured, potent conversations that allow employees to fully understand the big objective and work out with their leaders what they have to do to help achieve the goals. It is in these conversations that the rubber hits the road, where the plan gets traction. Too often, these conversations are neglected, and middle managers are neither trained for nor measured on their ability to hold these critical conversations. Worse, top management doesn’t check on the quality of those conversations, or seek to get feedback from them in a systematic way.

Audience-centricity

Let us be clear: you have not communicated well if people have not heard you, understood you and felt motivated to think differently and act differently as a result of your words. You may have stood up and talked at them, but communication has only taken place when your words have had an impact. In any enterprise, leadership communication is all about achieving big goals. It is about changing behaviours. People listen from behind their own filters — filters that may be cultural or emotional, or that may be in place because of their unique perceptions or even misunderstandings.

You have to talk to people about their concerns, their issues, before you can be understood on your own. Every leader interviewed for this book, without exception, spoke of the need to be audience-centric in communication, and to recognize that, when it comes to communication, it is all about them. You have to set out to achieve change in how they think, feel and act, but that requires you to know how they think, feel and act now.

Listening

Quite often, the people I interviewed treated the subject of listening as if it were somehow distinct from communicating. They rated it an essential skill of leadership, possibly the hardest to perfect. Sometimes the simple act of listening, they said, is an act of inspiration in itself. “You have to give people a damn good listening to.” There is something more fundamental at work here, though, and I call it The Listening Contract — first you have to listen, if you want to be heard.

When you listen and then respond with actions that remove barriers, or pick up on good ideas, you create enormous goodwill and demonstrate you are on their side, particularly when you encourage people to open up and create an environment where people can bring you bad news, express their frustrations and voice their concerns, without fear of repercussions. You have to listen beyond the words into the motives and agendas, into the context, into the performance KPIs and the financial numbers and the mood, and you have to show you understand, even if you don’t agree. You have to ask great questions and learn to unleash your curiosity and interest in people. It really shows.

Point of view

The best leaders have a potent point of view, and it is always the person with the strong point of view who influences the group, who wins the day. As a leader, you are going to have to stand up and give your point of view, time and time again. You will have to take a position on issues, be courageous and stand up for what you believe to be right. Too few leaders think about developing points of view, yet — when well-articulated — they can help you win friends and influence people, and gain a stronger voice in shaping the future.

In a world where people trust the motives, judgement and competence of business leaders less now than just five years ago, shouldn’t we be talking to those issues more often, with more transparency, more conviction and, yes, passion? The ideal point of view should therefore bring together your purpose and your values, highlight your behaviours and draw attention to the benefits of doing things your way. And it should call people to action. Powerful stuff.

Stories and metaphor

Getting people to listen to you is tough enough, but getting them to sit up and take notice, and then remember what you have to say, is a supreme challenge. Every leader uses stories, knowing that we are wired to listen, imaginatively, when we are told stories. Good stories get under the cynical radar and touch hearts. Backed up by facts to cover off the mind, stories have the power to move people.

The best stories tell us about customer experiences, good and bad, or make heroes out of employees delivering the values of the organization, or show up the frustrations of workers unable to do their best because of the system, or vividly portray the future, or reveal aspects of the leader to the audience. They deliberately avoid the tyranny of PowerPoint, and are the more memorable because of it. Some leaders I spoke with were uncomfortable with the word stories and preferred the word anecdotes, saying this was factual rather than fictional as some stories can be. But they all used them, loved hearing them and re-telling them, over and over.

Signals

Actions speak louder than words. A cliché, you might say, but nevertheless one of the hardest truths for a leader to grasp. Being a leader means looking, acting, walking and talking like a leader. Countless times, leaders forget that they are in a fishbowl and are being watched all the time. A look of frustration here, a preoccupied walk through an office without speaking to anyone, a frown of frustration when someone is talking — all of these send powerful signals that staff take away and dissect for meaning.

Great leaders communicate positivity and optimism, and they often do it through a smile, or by walking with energy, or by standing straight and tall. Equally, there is nothing more corrosive than the conflict between saying one thing and doing another: for example, saying that bullying is offensive, but then doing nothing about a high-earning bullying manager. That says one thing, and one thing only: money matters more than staff welfare. Leaders who clearly love what they are doing, who show it in everything they do, in every expression, are hugely infectious.

Prepare properly for public platforms

Many leaders have had their reputations dented or even shattered because they have not prepared properly for public speaking. Yet, the more senior leaders get, the more likely it is they will have to appear on highly public platforms. Done well, such appearances can do enormous good and drive up sales or the share price, calm nervous investors or unhappy customers, or persuade talented people to the cause. Proper training or coaching is highly recommended, but is not enough by itself. Practice makes perfect, and rehearsal is the best practice. Never get complacent — it is just not worth the risk.

Learn, rehearse, review, improve

If you strive to be an excellent communicator, you will become a better, more effective leader. This is why all the leaders I spoke with focused on continuous improvement, fuelled by full and frank feedback on each and every performance. Brilliant leadership can be the difference between outstanding performance and disappointing failure. Great leaders steer organizations to success, inspire and motivate followers, and provide a moral compass for employees to set direction. They spearhead change, drive innovation and communicate a compelling vision for the future. The ability to motivate and inspire others is the characteristic most commonly cited as important when recruiting senior leaders. Communication is the tool that enables inspiring leadership. The simple truth is that you have to get better at it.

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12 principles of inspiring leadership originally published by SmartBlogs

Leaders seeking to re-energize don’t need to go it alone

So what do you do when you hit the wall?

Sometimes it is not simply fatigue but symptom of something deeper. You feel that you are lacking in creativity and, as a result, you are not challenging yourself or your team to achieve their best. You need help!

So find a partner — someone you can trust to give you good advice. Here’s how you can make it work. Every leader owes it to him or herself to keep challenged, focused, and energized. A good partner can help.

Click here to view the embedded video.


7 actions that create more effective managers

Leadership, whether good or bad, has a trickle-down effect.

How leaders treat the managers they hire has a direct effect not only on the performance of those managers, but also on the results produced by the employees those managers are trying to nurture.

Handle your managers the right way and they’ll be more effective in their roles, and so will their employees. Neglect them or fail to support them properly, and their performance — and that of their subordinates — will slip.

Here are seven things leaders can do to make sure the managers they hire perform to the best of their abilities:

1. Show your passion

Passion has to flow from the top down. If you don’t display passion for the industry, the company or your job, you can’t expect those working for you to do so either.

Displays of passion can take many forms — e.g., always appearing attentive and energetic during even the most mundane meetings, leading PDAs (public displays of appreciation) for company or co-worker accomplishments, keeping managers in the loop about exciting company developments, etc.

Whatever you do, don’t check your emotions at the door. People need to feed off of your passion.

2. Believe in them

If you don’t believe in members of your management team, they’re in the wrong position. You need to be their No. 1 fan, and let them know it. That doesn’t mean you have to constantly make remarks that inflate their egos. Instead, bestow upon your managers responsibilities that show how much you believe in them.

3. Back up their decisions

Don’t make your managers run every decision by you for approval before revealing it to their teams. If you believe you’ve hired the right people, give them the freedom to make and implement their own decisions. And if you do disagree with something managers do, don’t fight them in front of their staffers. That tells employees their managers aren’t supported and maybe shouldn’t be in a position of power.

4. Have their backs with your boss

Your managers need to know that you’re willing to go to the mat for them. This may mean taking a hit from the CEO when one of them makes a mistake or pushing back on work requests from the top brass when you know they’re overworked.

5. Lighten the mood

Get to know your managers on a personal level. Engage them in the hallways or the lunchroom. Crack jokes and create a more collegial atmosphere.

Establishing a rapport with managers will make life easier for everyone. They’ll feel more comfortable approaching you with problems or concerns, and you’ll have a more effective problem-solving dynamic between yourself and them.

6. Give them a reward budget

You can’t expect your managers to push their staffers to do their best if they’re not empowered to reward top performers. The rewards don’t have to be cash. Let your managers decide what’s best for their employees. But give them something they can use to motivate their teams.

7. Give frequent attaboys/girls

Some leaders think, “The fact that they get to keep their jobs should be enough to let them know they’re doing a good job.”

That doesn’t fly anymore. Today, if managers aren’t told their work is appreciated, they’ll go to a company where they will be. Don’t let a year go by without providing at least some positive feedback to your managers. Shoot to give at least one positive comment per month.

Can’t think of anything positive? Maybe it’s time to re-evaluate their value to the company.

Bottom line: Management isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it environment — at least not if you want your managers to be effective. To drive your workforce to be its very best, the managers you bring on board need to see and feel support from their organizational leaders.

Christian Schappel is the editor-in-chief of HR Benefits Alert, which is published by Progressive Business Publications to help HR professionals improve the benefits and compensation functions in their organizations. Connect with Schappel on LinkedIn.

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7 actions that create more effective managers originally published by SmartBlogs

Build a culture of economics and inclusion

A Department of Labor report on the glass ceiling noted that “what’s important [in organizations] is comfort, chemistry, and collaboration.”

Chris Argyris, business theorist and professor, says there’s a universal human tendency to organize our lives around remaining in control and winning.

Might these hidden needs be the reason most companies have failed at incorporating diversity as a normal business practice despite all the research that demonstrates its positive impacts on the bottom line?

  • 49% of Fortune 1000 companies have one or no women in their C-suite
  • People of color comprise 36% of the workforce but hold only 4.5% of Fortune 500 CEO positions
  • 46% of people surveyed by Workplace Options believe that diversity makes a company better

Diverse voices and opinions introduce discomfort. Practicing inclusion challenges who is in control. Making diversity a business-as-usual practice requires moving beyond a culture based solely on numbers and economics to creating a workplace where both the bottom line and inclusion are equally valued, measured and rewarded.

Diversity is more than an exercise in numbers. Some companies are statistically diverse yet are not inclusive. Perhaps this is a contributing factor to the leaky pipeline for people of color and women not holding more senior level positions because their presence disrupts comfort, chemistry, and collaboration.

To foster a culture of economics and inclusion:

  • Aim for intentional discomfort. Learn to work with and appreciate the tension alternate points of view bring. Marshall Goldsmith, author and executive coach, advises, “Using tension of diversity as a positive, rather than viewing differences as negative, a well-rounded diverse team will be able to produce valuable brainstorming sessions, imaginative problem-solving and decision making, unique perspectives on strategic planning, and inventive product development ideas.”
  • Make inclusion a participative sport in which all employees play. Move beyond the mindset that diversity is fulfilled by headcount reports. Drop the we’re-all-in-this-together platitudes that aren’t backed up with practice. As Dean Debman, CEO of Workplace Options, points out, “Diversity is an idea that’s often discussed but rarely explained. Business success is dependent on new ideas and alternative ways of thinking. … This fact is precisely why diversity is so valuable, because it brings new perspectives into an organization.”
  • Challenge the organization’s existing culture at every turn, questioning what scientist and author Peter Senge describes as “deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, or even pictures or images that influence how we understand the world and how we take action.”

Effective leaders must toss aside cookie-cutter thinking and practices and be willing to accept tension and disruption as they create workplaces where there’s truly equal opportunity in pursuit of positive business results. “[Diversity} definitely leads to a stronger bottom line,” notes Robin Taub of Robin Taub Financial Consulting. “Return on equity, return on sales, return on capital, share performance, and stock price growth.”

Jane Perdue is a leadership futurist, speaker, writer and founder of Braithwaite Innovation Group. Jane is @thehrgoddess on Twitter and blogs at LeadBIG.

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Build a culture of economics and inclusion originally published by SmartBlogs

How to communicate after a train wreck

It’s unlikely that you’ll ever have to apologize for a debacle that’s anything like the Affordable Care Act’s glitch-glutted computer-system rollout. But looking at the way President Barack Obama has responded can provide valuable lessons for whenever you might fail to meet the expectations of your boss, your staff, a valued customer or any other party. Here’s how you can lessen the fallout from a fiasco.

  • Deliver the bad news quickly because unless you do resentment will grow and you’ll look like you’re unable to handle the situation. Describe the scope of the problem fully, concisely and without evasive Dilbert-speak. “There’s no sugar-coating it. The website has been too slow. People are getting stuck during the application process,” Obama said.
  • Take personal responsibility. The problem may have had many causes, but excessive attention to them might imply you’re ducking responsibility.
  • Explain your personal feelings about the issue. If you feel angry, say so. “Nobody is madder than me about the fact that the website is not working as well as it should,” Obama said. Don’t dwell on your feelings, though, because you might give the impression that you’re sorrier for yourself than for the others who were affected. Commenting on the Gulf Coast oil spill, BP CEO Tony Hayward properly said, “We’re sorry for the massive disruption it’s caused their lives. There is no one who wants this over more than I do.” But then he added an unnecessary and ultimately self-damaging, “I would like my life back.”
  • Describe what you’re doing about the problem, but be careful not to raise unrealistic expectations.
  • If you’re making a person-to-person apology, look the other person in the eye. If you’re apologizing to a group meet the eyes of every member of the group, one person at a time. You can’t make an effective apology when you’re angry. Let your anger subside before you attempt it. And, of course, you should never apologize with e-mail.
  • Listen fully to the complaint and let the other party make its case. Resist the temptation to defend yourself until the other party has finished. Show that you’re listening with nods and other facial expressions and by paraphrasing what you’re hearing. If you don’t understand completely, ask for clarification.
  • There’s a difference between “I’m sorry” and “I apologize.” The former describes your feelings about what happened, but it may not be enough if the other party was angry or deeply disappointed and expects a sincere apology. Saying “I’m sorry you feel that way” is even worse because it might imply that you feel the other person is offended without real cause. There’s also a difference between “mistakes were made,” which often is used by people trying to avoid responsibility, and “I made a mistake.”
    Don’t be afraid to apologize or admit a mistake. Don’t begin the discussion by saying something like “I understand from Joe that there’s an issue here.” This is a disservice to Joe, and the party you’re addressing might bristle at the word “issue.” If you caused a problem, acknowledge that it’s a problem.
  • Give the other party an opportunity to ask questions about your explanation. Your boss or a customer will feel free to ask questions but your staff might not; make it clear to them that you welcome questions. Don’t count on the power of your position to help you resolve the problem. You might get angry questions from those you offended, but be sure to maintain your composure. Anticipate the questions that might be asked and prepare concise, persuasive answers to them.

An effective apology can do more than make amends. It can strengthen a relationship because it gives the other person a sense of satisfaction and closure. In legal disputes, it results in faster settlements and lower demands for damages. Handling a disappointment adroitly can help show you take responsibility for your performance and you can handle problems.

How small-business owners can find and keep sustainable part-time employees

The Wall Street Journal recently reported the obvious: Small businesses are not adding full-time workers like they used to.

The article cited Goldman Sachs’ exploration of the Labor Department’s Business Employment Dynamics survey of small entities employing 49 people or fewer. Their lukewarm findings alluded to weak demand, credit constraints and global woes.

I would argue that this government data is tardy and lofty evidence to consider if trying to tackle the actual challenges facing small-business owners in real time.

One common challenge we face working with troubled business owners is a high employee-turnover rate. Something’s just not right between ownership, workplace and staff. What’s more, the legal, accounting, health care and training costs of full-time hiring, termination and re-hiring are becoming more expensive for everyday small businesses across America.

Bottom line: Small- and middle-market business owners must attract and sustain long-term part-time employees better.

What we are seeing are more small businesses hiring part-time help on a just-in-time “gig” basis, or reducing full-time positions to reoccurring part-time “roles,” based on flexible or fair-weather demand. The rise of part-time gigs or roles is what the U.S. government and even Goldman Sachs are not explaining well or perhaps missing altogether.

The news is that many exciting and fruitful part-time jobs exist inside small businesses, especially entrepreneurial workplaces. These jobs are typically a fair-weather mixture of customer service, business development and vendor management, combined with light operations or occasional event-labor gigs.

Ideally defined, sustainable part-time employees add enough value to you, themselves and your small business to remain employed as needed. You love hiring them for whatever gig or role your business requires. You trust they would never lie, cheat or steal. They consistently bring in new or take care of existing customers. They prove time and again that your company’s best interests are their priority.

What’s more, your mutual schedule allows for a desirable part-time arrangement you both enjoy. They stay on board for years, and their good work justifies your compensation and incentives package. To some extent, they envision a flexible future working for you.

Another common challenge is that some business owners are awkward to work for. The company may be financially chaotic, operationally stubborn or too focused on the owner’s lifestyle or personal schedule to sustain employees. The working conditions may be impractical, uncomfortable or incomplete.

For these types of small-business owners, the dynamics and expenses of hiring are like riding a roller coaster. There is little incentive for key part-timers to stay and plenty of motivation for them to move on.

So, what type of business owner are you?

In my 22 years of experience turning around and growing small businesses (most in the 49-employees-or-fewer space), there are four general types of business ownership dynamics:

  1. The brilliant technician, artisan, chef, or retailer without formal accounting, legal or business administration education: These “creative owners” usually rely on an internal or external expert (or two) to fiscally run their business on a monthly basis, while the owner and staff focus on design, operations, customers, etc.
  2. The brilliant accounting, legal, or business administrator with little or no technical, artistry or chef skills. These “management owners” usually rely on creative employees to physically serve customers while they manage the operation fiscally and perhaps perform supporting PR or business development.
  3. The brilliant technician, artisan, chef, or retailer who also possesses a formal accounting, legal, or business administration background. These “creative and management owners” rely on themselves considerably. They typically work longer and harder hours, run a tight ship, and typically net greater returns than the first two types of owners because they are able to wear so many critical hats. Working for these owners can be intense.
  4. The absentee owner/investors. These entrepreneurs are typically 98% hands-off and 98% off-site, relying on managers, staff, or internal/external counsel to fiscally operate the business entirely. Absentee owners may be involved at the start and may visit to review the financial dashboard from time to time, but they have no day-to-day job or role in the operation. They typically have multiple businesses or locations under ownership. Working for these owners may be equally intense yet more autonomous.

When it comes to hiring, each of these ownership scenarios presents many dynamics, especially in the mind of that elusive, excellent part-time employee or right-hand assistant. Learning what truly motivates, compensates and satiates each of your support staff gigs or roles is a critical HR initiative to maintain.

Some reasons why some rock star part-timers legitimately leave your employment are not ownership’s fault. They may decide to go back to graduate school full-time, their Fortune 500 spouse may be relocated or they may win “American Idol,” whatever.

But many part-timers are simply not in the right phase of their life to fit your particular business model’s needs, culture or strategic trajectory. For some reason, turnover is still rampant. This is where the ghost enters the machine.

What is your ideal employee life stage?

Although this general claim varies by industry and niche, part-time employees are typically in one of three general life stages:

  1. Upward and mobile
    These employees are going through school, interning, aspiring to be an expert at something or otherwise advancing their career and earnings. These folks are typically more youthful, have a high propensity to relocate, apply for new jobs or change life direction from year to year. Life first, job second is a common mindset. Is this type of candidate pool ideal for your part-time business model?
  2. Planting roots and staying put
    These employees are getting married, having children or earning an MBA at night. Their spouse or partner may be starting a second business or getting a medical or law degree. They have a higher propensity for staying put for three to five years, traveling leisurely. Life and job are typically equal priority. Is this candidate pool more ideal for your part-time business model?
  3. Descending and life change
    Some applicants may be slowing down or enduring a career challenge: A recently laid-off technician, a failed small-business owner (or their key employees), a downsized JD/MBA, a not-yet-employed fresh Ivy League graduate, a Bernie Madoff-style scam victim, a retiring pro athlete or coach, or the spouse or partner of any of these — I’ve seen it all. Is this candidate pool ideal for your part-time business model?

Life phases such as divorce, children off to college, early retirement or moving from military to civilian life can relate to any of these phases, so each candidate will always require custom consideration.

Assuming candidates have been qualified and vetted, potential employees experiencing career or life changes are usually highly motivated and compensation-concerned. They are typically job first, life second and looking for sustainable opportunity.

5 steps toward sustainable part-time employees’

When hiring for part-time positions sustainability, the critical first step is to understand the life stage of each candidate. Take the time to back up assumptions and first impressions with in-depth, thorough interactions.

The second step is to put yourself in the shoes of your ideal employee, as if you were a part-time worker in your business. Explain to yourself in detail why you would like and dislike your job. Consider why former employees have not worked out or why they really left you for greener pastures.

Another challenge is that many small-business owners have little or no HR manual or in-depth job description to present to candidates in writing — after your lawyer has approved it. That’s the third step.

The fourth step is to develop a more customized, motivating and satiating incentives-and-compensation plan for each ideal part-time role and candidate.

The fifth step is to align your part-time hiring strategy with your long-term, full-time hiring strategy. Whether the federal health care law stands or not (and all politics aside), hiring full-time employees from a trusted pool of well-known part-timers is still a more risk-averse practice going forward.

Reflection as a business owner can be sobering and at times uncomfortable. To attract and keep sustainable part-time candidates strategically, customize incentives that better fit X) your ideal pool of part-time candidates, and Y) your small-business ownership dynamic.

Baron Christopher Hanson is the principal and lead strategist at RedBaron Consulting in Charleston, S.C., and Palm Beach, Fla. A former rugby player, Harvard graduate, and expert on workplace and small-business turnarounds, Hanson has written for Harvard Business Review and SmartBrief considerably. He can be reached for advisory roles or speaking gigs via engage@redbaronUSA.com or over Twitter @RedBaronUSA.

5 reasons employees hate individual development plans

I once had a coaching client confide to me that professional development just “wasn’t his thing.” His point: some people don’t see the value in the extra effort required for formalized self-improvement activities at work. This individual was a highly educated, hard-working and effective professional; I wouldn’t characterize him as a slacker.

As you might imagine, he isn’t a big fan of individual development plans, or IDPs. Many companies have a formal process for professional development and use IDPs to facilitate that process. Fellow SmartBlog on Leadership contributor Dan McCarthy defines an IDP as such: “a tool that helps facilitate employee development. It’s a two-way commitment between an employee and their manager on what they are going to do to grow.”

The IDP process can be effective when implemented properly. And yet, every year when it comes time to fill one out, people struggle to do so. Some of the struggle can be attributed to blasé attitudes like my client’s. Beyond that, the reasons people hate IDPs are more likely due to correctable external factors than an innate indifference to personal growth.

From my years as a human resources professional tasked with administering IDPs and as a corporate manager in charge of overseeing my staff’s IDPs, here are five reasons that even the most growth-oriented employees tend to roll their eyes when it’s time to complete this important professional development activity.

  1. Cumbersome paperwork. Forms that are difficult to complete demotivate even the most enthusiastic employee. I once worked for a large multinational firm whose IDP forms were unintelligible. The goals I had in mind didn’t really “fit” into any of the pre-determined slots. My work team leader did what he could to accommodate my requests, but frankly, it took some of the wind out of my sails.
  2. No variety. One of the challenges for managers is finding new goals for seasoned employees. Seriously, how many conferences or 360-degree feedback assessments can one person complete? Creativity is key to finding fresh ways to encourage professional growth. One vice president I worked with agreed to add a unique goal to a long-time team member’s IDP: flex time to support the employee’s goals in becoming a master gardener. How did this tie to company goals? The company was starting a blog that had a tie-in to vendors whom the employee was meeting during her master-gardener class time.
  3. Wrong-sized goal. If the goal is too ambitious, people will feel defeated before they start. The same is true of the opposite: if the goal feels like a “gimme”, there’s no growth. “Stretch goals” should be like a rubber band — taut enough to provide the tension necessary to move employees out of their comfort zones, not so tight that the band snaps, or so slack that it just hangs there.
  4. No fit to stage-of-life. Employees’ stage of life can sometimes affect the types of goals that will be most appealing. For example, a fresh-out-of-college employee may be willing to take on more tasks as a career-building move than, say, an employee who has recently returned to work from a lengthy illness. Caveat: it is best to let the employee decide what is “too much” or “not enough” with regards to stage-of-life issues. People have varying degrees of tolerance for factors outside their work life that will affect their willingness to take on challenges.
  5. No managerial follow-up. If an IDP is a “one and done” conversation, it’s a waste of time. The best IDP process is one that has consistent check-ins throughout the year. Ideally, the conversation will happen on a monthly basis, but even a quarterly check-in will be useful.

Not all employees are “meh” about using the IDP process. By keeping development goals fresh and unique to each employee’s needs, managers can indeed foster that two-way development dialog that IDPs were designed to encourage.

Jennifer V. Miller, managing partner of SkillSource, helps midcareer professionals strategize their next big “leap.” She is the co-author of “The Character-Based Leader,” blogs at The People Equation and tweets via @JenniferVMiller.

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5 reasons employees hate individual development plans originally published by SmartBlogs

Create an inspiring workplace with an organizational constitution

How well does your team or organization operate today? Are performance targets met or exceeded regularly? And, at the same time, do leaders and staff treat each other and customers with honor and respect during every interaction?

Recently, a client asked me to help them with their corporate culture. This manufacturing facility is very successful (i.e., they’re making very good profits) from a dedicated core of long-time customers. The problem? Theirs is a painful organization to live in every day.

Their organic growth has stretched informal systems to the limit. 75% of their orders come in from couriers, not from clients, which requires detective work to establish exactly who ordered what. [Read More]

Being impeccable with your word

Some of you might recognize the title of this post as the first agreement from a thought-provoking little book called “The Four Agreements,” by Don Miguel Ruiz. I think about the power of words often, and really like the idea of endeavoring to be impeccable with your word. This is particularly important for leaders, as they are watched closely and often imitated in an organization. You have the ability to influence, and you do this primarily through the words that you speak.

Consider John F. Kennedy’s words that ended up putting human beings on the moon. President Kennedy had a powerful positive intent that was spoken to millions, and it became reality at least partially through his speech. In a darker way, Osama bin Laden’s words of hate have manifested in innocent lives being lost, of evil and suffering beyond imagination. That’s the power of the word, and it’s clear that being impeccable with it is important.

We swim in language as fish swim in the sea, not noticing the power that our words have to manifest, to create and to destroy. So often we walk through our days speaking whatever comes to mind without thinking through exactly what we want to convey. Those of us who tend to “think out loud” need to continually remind ourselves to pause and to express our words with intent and care.

To be impeccable with your word:

Intent: Before you speak, how can you assure that your words are aligned with your intent? When you consider how many misunderstandings occur daily in our workplaces, you might want to make the effort to ensure that you are saying exactly what you want to say. Clarity will be key to your ability to influence, so think before you speak. Reflect when you can before important conversations about the things you want to convey and how you will convey them.

Honor: Be honorable in your use of words. Use them for good and moral purposes. Don’t intentionally damage or destroy others with your words, and always speak with civility and respect. Be cognizant of using the power of language in only the best way to influence the individuals who will be the recipients of your words.

Silence: Some of the most powerful moments happen in silence. There is no need for you to fill the void between words. Someone else will, and their words may be exactly what needs to be said. Allow white space between words, become comfortable with it, and foster and demonstrate the power of conversations that happen within the silent moments.

Clarity: Use words that are simple and, when possible, without multiple meanings that can be misconstrued. Technical jargon and acronyms that are only known to a few can cause lack of clarity, misunderstandings and anxiety. When complex terms that aren’t familiar to anyone but you are used, check your motivation. You just might be using them to build yourself up in the eyes of others.

Tone: The tone of voice used with your words is often as important as the words themselves. Notice how simple sentences can have different meanings to those who are listening based on what words are emphasized and what emotions are conveyed through your tone. This can be a big source of misunderstanding.

Integrity: If you literally “give your word” as a commitment, or a way to engender trust, make sure you follow through on it. A promise should be a promise, and when broken, it can be difficult to rebuild trust.

Your word is so much more important when you are intentional about how you use it. When you consider the power of your word, what does “be impeccable with your word” mean to you?

Mary Jo Asmus is an executive coach and a recovering corporate executive who has spent the past 10 years as president of Aspire Collaborative Services, an executive-coaching firm that manages large-scale corporate-coaching initiatives and coaches leaders to prepare them for bigger and better things.

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Being impeccable with your word originally published by SmartBlogs

5 opportunities for boosting employee engagement

How engaged are people where you work? According to business owner Kevin Kruse, author of Employee Engagement for Everyone, the essence of employee engagement is “the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals.”

How does a leader foster “emotional commitment”? Sounds like a tall order, right? Of the myriad employee engagement opportunities presented each day to leaders, certain situations present maximum bang for a leader’s buck. I call these the pivot points for employee engagement — crucial situations that, when properly capitalized upon, can amplify employees’ commitment to the organizational cause.

On the surface, pivot points appear to be nothing more than the ordinary aspects of organizational life — interviewing job candidates or kicking off new projects. Look closer and you’ll see that these seemingly mundane circumstances have the power to open up or shut down development in employees’ emotional stake in company goals. Like a door hinge, employee engagement pivot points are the fulcrum upon which commitment swivels. [Read More]