Project Oxygen: Possessing key technical skills to help advise your team

“If you are the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.”

The quote above has been attributed to many famous thinkers and successful leaders, including Confucius and Marissa Mayer, the former CEO of Yahoo. No matter who said it first, this memorable line resonates in many ways in the world of business.

It’s especially relevant as we consider the eighth attribute identified by Google’s Project Oxygen initiative about what makes a great manager: Possesses key technical skills to help advise the team.

You might wonder, how much technical know-how is enough? Do I possess enough knowledge to lead others who are also experts in their field?

First, let’s start by asking different questions. After all, at any given moment in time, you only know what you know. So, the real questions to ask yourself are: do I also know what I don’t know, and do I know how to close the gap between where I am and where I want to be? Who else may know even more? Here are some things to keep in mind as you reflect on these questions:

  1. Be Self-Aware and Work on Your Knowledge Gaps. First, identify your gaps in knowledge; the best leaders prize self-awareness. Then figure out how to fill those gaps. In addition to your own research and reading, consider an online course, a class at a local college, or weekly coffee chats with a mentor. Even your suppliers, the ones you’ve built a good rapport with, may have some ideas for who could help you improve your knowledge base.

Consider networking groups too. For every niche business, there is a related professional organization. Are you a member of such a group? If not, join today! Beyond that, strive to create valuable relationships in your industry, in your network, in your community.

At Institute Success, our three favorite words are: Engage, engage, engage. Get out of your office, out of your own head and into the world. Realize that while you may own a certain amount of knowledge, others in your field may own a whole different set. And the flow of knowledge goes both ways, so always be willing to give before you get. When asking for someone’s time so they can share their knowledge with you, offer a resource of yours in exchange. Building networks in this way in invaluable. Consider the very title of the well-known book on business networking by Harvey McKay: “Build Your Well Before You’re Thirsty.” Start building your knowledge network today.

  1. Know Your Team and Develop Leaders From Within. In addition to knowing our own strengths and weaknesses, good leaders have to know what each employee’s strengths and challenges are. As the common saying goes, train employees well enough so they can leave and treat them well enough that they don’t want to. Great leaders must communicate with their employees (another attribute of a great leader, as identified by Project Oxygen) and continually challenge them to grow and develop.

Leading employees in this way starts with the Golden Question: What do I need to do to help you become more successful? It always starts with me, the leader. My job as the leader is to give my staff the opportunity to learn from their own gaps in knowledge. And it’s my job to know that when I cannot be the one to teach them that information, I need to point them to people who can. So, don’t be afraid to offer resources to your employees who are trying to improve their knowledge base. You could refer them to people within your own firm, or from your wider network.

Whether they are learning directly from you, or from someone you recommended, you are still the one guiding them. And that’s important. Because one of the main jobs of a leader is create other leaders. The easiest way to do that is to share knowledge back and forth. Just as your employees should not be afraid to come to you for help, you should never hesitate to tap into their expertise. Ask them: What do you see that I’m not seeing?

  1. It Starts With Yourself. To be the best leader of others, you must be the best leader of yourself. One way to do that is to value continual learning. Even professional athletes or expert singers never stop learning. They hire a coach, many times more than one type of coach, to keep them sharp or help them develop in a particular area. At Institute Success, we see every day as a new opportunity to learn. We can help you open up new avenues of strength and development as a leader, helping you fine tune who you want to be.

Often when coaching clients, we will draw one box on a board or paper, entitled “Learning.” On top of that will be a box labeled “Doing.” We draw arrows back and forth between the two because you can’t have one without the other. It’s not enough to be just learning, you have to be doing and immerse yourself in your work. This experience gives you the feedback you need to keep improving. The goal of all this learning and doing is the box we draw at the very top: “Becoming.” We want all our leaders to “become” the best versions of themselves they can be.

This won’t happen magically, or overnight. In fact, as many of us know from the writings of Malcolm Gladwell, it takes about 10,000 hours to become expert at something. Even the Beatles had to put in their time. According to Gladwell’s book “Outliers: The Story of Success,” the Beatles traveled to Hamburg, Germany, multiple times over a year and a half to rack up live performances. All told, they performed for 270 nights in that short time span and that set them on their path to fame. So, don’t rush it, and never stop learning.

Institute Success Tip: When asking for help, come from a place of strength and vulnerability. Ask: “This is what I know, maybe there is something I don’t know. Can we talk?”

Project Oxygen: How to Be a Strong Decision Maker

“As leaders, we are ridiculously in charge. Are you building the environment you want or just allowing things to happen?”

Dr. Henry Cloud, author of “Boundaries for Leaders”

As the leader, everyone is coming to you to make a decision or validate one. What you say or do determines whether your organization will continue down a path or change focus. At times, it can feel overwhelming to be the one ultimately responsible for the success or failure of your company. As demonstrated in the quote above by the leadership expert Henry Cloud, sometimes the magnitude of our control takes us by surprise as we realize there are no excuses, only us.

This ability to be “the decider” is vital to the effectiveness of any leader. We know from the findings of Google’s Project Oxygen that the tenth quality of an excellent manager is to be a strong decision maker. Some of us might feel that we are naturally good at making decisions, while others struggle with uncertainty and second-guessing. So, what is the best way to make a decision and how do we know it’s a solid one?

At Institute Success, we understand that it takes a structured course of action to make the best decisions, and we share with our clients a ten-step process for problem-solving and decision-making. Through our workshops, we can help you find your own system for making the best decisions for long-term success at your company. Give us a call to see how we can help. In the meantime, here are a few tips:

The Art of Delegation

Many people are familiar with the advice from renowned coach and management consultant David Allen for getting things done. His “Four D’s” method of approaching any To-Do list, whether personal or professional, include putting every task into one of four categories (Do It, Delegate It, Defer It or Delete It). When it comes to making decisions, most business leaders need help with either “Doing” or “Delegating,” and especially with delegating.

We have some tips to help you with delegating, and before you can put them to work, you must have the right team in place. We already know that when making a decision, leaders must have the self-awareness necessary to begin with the end in mind and have clarity about the destination. An essential step is making sure they have a team with the skills, habits and values that will help them achieve their unique organizational goals.

Ideally as a leader, you have surrounded yourself with others who have different expertise than you. It is not necessary for you to have all the answers, instead you must operate with a shared purpose and incorporate the best of what you’ve seen and heard from the experts around you when making a decision. You must understand how your decisions will impact everyone in the organization. 

Only then can you engage in the art of delegation to execute your plan or problem-solving strategy. You can start this way:

  1. Make a Request: First, check the skills and knowledge of those you are delegating to and give authority commensurate with the responsibility. If you choose someone under you to share your latest decision with the rest of the firm and that person has poor communication skills, then your message will not come through. (This creates ambiguity rather than clarity, which leads to dissatisfaction and disagreement.) Lastly, give a time commitment to hold everyone accountable.
  2. Get Agreement: Ask questions to get clarity from all parties. Come to agreements where everyone feels valued and is using their natural strengths. This leads to higher productivity and engagement. Create a framework for ongoing support. 
  3. Check In: Measure results and modify if needed. Share feedback of what’s working and what isn’t. This is one of the most important things a leader can do, to go back. It’s critical to the decision-making process. Talk about results and conclusions and remember to acknowledge success!

When you are authentic with yourself about your vision, choose the right team, set goals that incorporate the best of what you have seen and heard, and involve all stakeholders in the decision-making process, you are well on your way to making a decision that works for you. Remember to communicate clearly to everyone on the team how they are responsible for meeting those goals and make sure you know your responsibility for meeting them. 

Institute Success Tip: Leaders are often quick to hire and slow to fire. We need a better hiring process and we need to better understand how to best train and develop our employees.  We also need to learn the art of having “critical conversations” when things are not in alignment. Ask us how we can help you have better critical conversations with your staff.

Project Oxygen: How to be cross-collaborative in your organization

You can’t be successful by building silos; everyone needs to have shared values and a shared vision for success because we need each other to be successful. – Harvard Business Review 

The ninth quality of a successful leader, as defined by Google’s Project Oxygen, is the willingness and ability to collaborate across the organization.  As the quote above illustrates, Google believes that isolating ourselves or our teams from other members of our organization will never lead to success. After all, we are interdependent: my success depends on your success, and this is true for every member of our team and our company.

Here are some things to keep in mind as you work toward becoming cross-collaborative in your organization:

  1. We all have diverse communication styles and preferences.

Though much has been said about diversity in terms of racial makeup, ethnicity, gender expression, religion or national origin, little attention has been focused on diversity of communication styles. At Institute Success, we know that everyone wants to be spoken to in a the way they prefer. When this doesn’t happen, especially in the workplace, it can lead to problems that often go unresolved unresolved.

In order to fruitfully collaborate across our organization, we must first acknowledge that we might be called upon to work with someone whose approach to their job is quite different from ours. If we are the vice president of sales, we might be surprised when the accounting manager doesn’t seem to “hear” our request to process expenses. Likewise, if we’re a technical supervisor, we might not realize that the gregarious marketing manager who calls out of the blue to explain his latest idea is not trying to distract us but to get our valued opinion.

The good news is, we can work on this. As leaders, it is imperative for us to do so. Consider the Golden Rule we learned as children: treat others the way you want to be treated. But when it comes to truly communicating with others, this mantra doesn’t always work. We at Institute Success prefer instead to teach Golden Questions: 

-Who is this person?

-And what do I need to do to communicate successfully with them? 

I may need to go outside of what is natural for me in order to effectively communicate with some of my employees. And that’s okay – we all have natural and adaptive styles of communication. Most of the time – studies show about 70% to 85% of the time – we use our natural style. But that still leaves up to 30% of our time for communicating in our adaptive style. 

Whenever we are preparing to meet with someone, especially someone new, we need to think about the best way to reach them. At Institute Success, we can help you do that. Because every person in our organization has value and makes an impact on our lives. They deserve our intentional focus so that we all can be more productive.

  1. People do things for people they know, like and trust. Be that person!

    The number one rule of relating to someone is that you have to create trust. Without trust, employees in another department or a location across the country  will be less open to share information with you. They’ll hold it tight so they can possess the knowledge that they’ve worked hard to collect. Why should they share it with you if they don’t trust you? 

As leaders, we need to get our employees out of this space of scarcity and into a place of abundance. We need to move them from “I” to “we.”

How do you build trust or encourage your employees to do so? Conversation and relationships. Take the time to stop by an employee’s or coworker’s desk and ask them about their projects, their children, the photo next to their computer. If you are a leader who is cross collaborating, start by finding out how your counterparts like to work. What makes them tick?  This isn’t being disingenuous; it’s adapting to your company’s most valuable asset – employees – so you can move forward together. 

We like to tell our clients that when you put your attention around your intention, you get a good result.  We advise them to have a “meeting before the meeting” with themselves before they engage with someone and ask themselves the Golden Questions.  

  1. Remember the value of the team.

    What does success look like? When it comes to an organization, whether large or small, success is a team effort. I might be a superior performer, but I can’t get to fully realized success by myself. When we come from a place of abundance, recognizing that what you do is as valuable as what I do, we can move forward together. 

Remember the “why” of your organization. What is your company’s mission? Why are you doing what you do? 

The bestselling author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek, who wrote “Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action,” reminds us that the most successful companies understand that clients don’t buy what you are selling. They buy why you are selling it. And the same goes for your internal clients, your staff. They will be much more devoted to your pursuit of cross-collaboration if you can remind them how it ties into your overall mission.  

Institute Success Tip: Take a page from Google’s playbook for creating a collaborative workplace:  

1) Embrace differences

2) Encourage “casual collisions” of employees and their ideas

3) Promote employee engagement

4) Keep the door open and be approachable to your staff

Exceptional Leaders Engage and Communicate

“Communication is the real work of leadership.”

– Nitin Nohria

Poor communication is likely costing your organization more than you think. Miscommunication is estimated to cost smaller companies of 100 employees an average $420,000 per year. And for larger companies of more than 100,000 employees, that inadequate communication to and between employees, costs an organization a whopping $62.4 million dollars per year.

And, that’s only in lost productivity. Imagine how it’s impacting culture, job satisfaction and employee engagement.

The largest line item on your profit and loss statement is likely payroll. As a leader you have an opportunity, and a responsibility, to make an impact by focusing on that most important priority  your people.

It all begins with how you focus your time. Everything shifts when you make your people your top priority. You have a finite number of hours you can work in a day, so success can only come through your team.

It’s easy to think that increasing salary levels is the key to a more engaged team, but research proves time and time again that simply by listening to them, finding out what help they need and letting them know they are valuable has much more impact. After all, we are all human and the need to feel a part of something greater than ourselves is universal.

While we help people and organizations communicate at a deep level, here are some quick fixes:

4 Communication ‘Hacks’ to Better Connect With Those You Lead

John Eades shares some great ideas on how to engage your team in his Inc. Magazine article “Use These 4 Communication ‘Hacks’ to Better Connect with Those You Lead.” [read full article]

Have a Clear Vision of Success and Articulate it to Your Staff

“To get to the next level of greatness depends on the quality of the culture, which depends on the quality of the relationships, which depends on the quality of the conversations. Everything happens through conversations.”

                    – Judith E. Glaser, author of  “Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results” 

Success begins with clarity. Do you have a clear vision for your company’s success? Great. Now for the big question: Have you shared that vision with your employees and do each of them know the role they can play in achieving that success? If you aren’t sure, read on.

Research from Google’s Project Oxygen, an initiative that identified the top 10 qualities of a great leader, listed the seventh quality as having a clear vision and strategy for the team. When the purpose and strategy is articulated to each team member, they can begin to see for themselves where they have an opportunity to contribute. Nothing is more powerful than a team with a shared vision of success. 

How do you get there?
1. Start with Clarity of Vision.

First, understand YOUR vision of success as a leader. Oftentimes we have so many things coming at us that we have multiple definitions of what success means on any given day. It’s important for us as leaders to move from ambiguity to clarity by understanding exactly how we  are defining success. We also need to acknowledge this definition is fluid and could change in six months or a year, we need to be willing to reexamine our vision.

Next, talk to your staff about what success looks like to them. Your employees are your most important assets. It is essential for you to be aware of how they define success so you can understand their motivation and drive and their role within your business.  

Once you have that clarity around how each person defines success, then you have the opportunity to create a shared vision. This allows you to connect with your employees and come to an agreement about what success means for your organization. In a positive relationship between leader and teammate, we can play to each other’s strengths and ensure  we aren’t duplicating our efforts, instead aligning them. Our job as leaders is to communicate and also enroll our staff in our shared vision.

2. Know Your Employees’ Strengths.

If you wait until you need to delegate a job to an employee to figure out that person’s strengths, you’ve waited too long. It’s your job as a leader to know your team. Know their strengths; be aware of their blind spots. What do they excel in? What comes naturally versus what is outside their comfort zone? You can ask your workers to stretch in order to promote growth, which is a different conversation.

You will thrive when you know them like the  back of your hand, what drives each employee and how to best engage them. As certified leadership coaches, we at Institute Success can help you do this. The more time employees spend working on what they are good at, the easier it is for you as a team to make agreements and create action plans that are in alignment with the shared vision of success. Everyone is more productive and the work feels less like work and more like something that brings, dare we say it, pleasure!

3. Listen to and Communicate With Your Internal Clients:

In addition to  satisfying our clients’ needs by listening to what is important to them, we have an opportunity when we  actively listen to our internal clients too — our employees. Spending time in this way is not wasting it, not by any measure. By listening to what our employees see as their truth, we are instead making an investment in our shared future.

Everyone wants three things:       

To be heard; To feel valued; To make a connection

If we fail to truly “hear” what our staff members are telling us, we won’t know how to make them feel valued because we won’t know what’s important to them. Some people are highly motivated by objective markers of achievement, like commissions or promotions. Others focus more on internal factors like the knowledge of a job expertly done or alignment with a moral or ethical value.

If you don’t find out, your employees may not feel a connection, and without connection there is loss of trust and engagement. 

Picture connection as the intersection of circles: you (the leader), your employee, and the organization itself. If you are working with a team, you can recreate this intersection with each team member. What do you want from each other? What are you going to give to the organization and what do you want to get from it?

Have your employees get together and ask each one what they want, both from the business and from each other. They may say things like: I want respect, I want to use my talents and work as partners. Now you are getting somewhere. 

Collaborating as a team is like dancing: you need to figure out how to do it. If I have a vision of the cha-cha and you’d rather do the merengue, we’ll be stepping on each other’s toes and won’t make very good partners.

At the end of the day, we need to walk away in agreement and Institute Success can help you do this for your team

Institute Success Tip: Always make time for an employee who comes to you with a problem. As Colin Powell has said of his soldiers, “The day the soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you stopped leading them.”

Project Oxygen: Be a good communicator and listen to your team

“To truly be an active listener, stop thinking about what you’re going to say next and focus on what they’re saying right now.”

– Robin Dreeke

Did you know that neuroscience research has found that it takes as little as 0.7 seconds to make a first impression? In that bare fragment of time, people are deciding whether you are trustworthy and whether they feel safe with you. This impression can be so lasting that it forms the pathway for our entire business relationship. It’s not something we can control, as humans are simply wired this way. But what we can do is learn to make a better first impression and build a stronger foundation for transformative, rather than perfunctory communication, especially as it relates to the people we lead and the customers we interact with.

It is crucial to have good rapport with our staff, co-workers and clients if we wish to be strong leaders. If you feel that you (or anyone on your team) could be doing a better job of truly listening and being heard, it’s never too late to improve. Keep reading!

We know from the findings of Google’s Project Oxygen that the 5th quality of the most effective managers is the ability to communicate well and listen to our teams.

But did you also know that communication resides in the listener, not the speaker? It’s so important to remember that words have meaning to each person individually. Words are not neutral — a listener is going to interpret what is said based on their own upbringing and communication preferences. Keep this in mind when you are speaking with your team or your customers and be sure to check in with them often and seek feedback about how your message was received.

When you are the listener, be fully present, ask clarifying questions and don’t feel you have to say everything that you think. There’s a reason we have two ears and only one mouth. (LISTEN can become the word SILENT with a little rearrangement.) Be present with the other. Stop thinking about what you are going to say next, be open to listening. You are wise enough. You will know what to say.

This is called active listening, and leaders who master it will not only be remembered for the long term, they will lead their employees (a company’s most valuable asset) and ultimately their business, to new heights of productivity and success.

In upcoming newsletters, we’ll tell you more about the importance of effective communication as we explore another workplace initiative from Google, Project Aristotle. The company decided in 2012 to study hundreds of their teams and figure out why some outperformed while others faltered. What Google learned from this exploration has resonated across thousands of businesses; we’ll show you how to apply those lessons to achieve your goals.

In the meantime, keep these tips in mind for becoming an active listener:

  1. Be Attentive. Face your speaking partner squarely, adopt an open posture and maintain eye contact. Don’t look at your phone or be thinking about how to respond to that latest email! People can tell when you are just pretending to listen. Often, we are so preoccupied with our own “busyness” that we fail to truly absorb what someone is saying. Give speakers the respect that they and their ideas deserve.
  2. Speak Less and Listen More. Many of us have an “addiction to being right,” a phenomenon identified by the executive and organizational anthropologist Judith E. Glaser as a need to fight for dominance and “win” by proving that our point of view is correct.

At the neurochemical level, these victories, however hallow, flood our brain with adrenaline and dopamine, which make us feel invincible and want to repeat the experience. But our need to dominate can crush honest dialogue and the willingness of others to participate fully, as their brains flood with the stress hormone cortisol. When we instead take time to allow everyone to feel heard and to listen to others’ ideas without judgement, our bodies release the “happy hormone” oxytocin, which is activated by human connection and promotes co-creation.

Glaser suggests forging an addiction to this hormone instead by planning ahead so that everyone knows the rules for engaging at meetings and what the objectives are; giving everyone a chance to speak and listening with empathy and an open mind rather than listening to judge or reject another’s idea.

  1. Ask Clarifying Questions. Paraphrase back what you think you heard. Ask questions to fill in the gaps of what you didn’t understand. What piece of the conversation sparked your curiosity? Ask more about it. This maintains the interest of both parties, and you’d be surprised how much you might learn. Periodically summarize what the other person said.

You are now on the road to becoming an exceptional communicator!

Institute Success Tip: Change your words and you can change your world. When teams learn the keys to positive communication that allows everyone to feel heard and valued, great things happen for your company.  Part of what we do at Institute Success is teach teams how to listen to each other. Ask us about our master sessions in team-building and get your company on the right path today.

Leadership Checklist: Critical Questions to Ask

“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.”

– Ken Blanchard

Why can it be so hard to motivate others to improve?

Knowing the right way to give and receive feedback is one of the hottest topics facing leaders today. With only 33% of the American workforce considered to be engaged at work—there’s definitely much room for growth.

In a recent Harvard Business Review (HBR) article, Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall, share their conclusion on what works and doesn’t work when giving feedback to others, “We humans do not do well when someone whose intentions are unclear tells us where we stand, how good we ‘really’ are, and what we must do to fix ourselves. We excel only when people know us and care about us tell us what they experience and what they feel, and in particular when they see something within us that really works.”

Here are 7 questions to ask yourself when you give feedback.

1. What’s my level of trust with this person? Without trust individuals are afraid to communicate honestly and openly. And, people are not open to hearing what someone thinks of their performance when there’s no confidence in the intent of the feedback. It is likely to hurt the relationship and hinder their learning. Trust happens when others feel heard, understood, valued, safe and connected.

2. What’s the individual’s expectation around this feedback? Is the individual anticipating appreciation, coaching or evaluation? Without a clear agreement of what success means to an individual, the conversation can go wrong very quickly. Setting clear agreements and expectations, set the stage for a rich conversation that will help an individual to thrive and excel.

3. How does this person like to communicate? We love the Golden Rule; “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. However, at Institute Success, we believe that 80% of conversations fail when using the Golden Rule. Instead, we believe 100% of conversations can succeed by asking the Golden Questions: “Who are you communicating with?” and “How can YOU adapt to be successful with them?” By understanding someone’s communication preferences, you can match their pace, tone, body language and even use specific words that resonate with them. Want to understand someone’s communication style before going into a meeting? Have them take the DISC Discovery Assessment.

4. How should I start the conversation? Choose your words carefully. Don’t begin conversations with phrases like, “I have some bad news,” “I need to give you some feedback,” and “We have a problem”. They immediately trigger negative responses and activate the amygdala, the primitive part of our brain that causes us to “freeze, flee or appease.” Instead, use neutral statements like, “Here’s my reaction”, “This is how it came across to me”, “This is how I felt”, and “I appreciate it when you.”

5. What have I noticed them doing right? Buckingham and Goodall share an example in their recent HBR article. “There’s a story about how legendary Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry turned around his struggling team. While the other teams were reviewing missed tackles and dropped balls, Landry instead combed thorough footage of previous games and created for each player a highlight reel of when he had done something right; when that player had done something easily, naturally, and effectively. Landry reasoned that while the number of wrong ways to do something was infinite, the number of right ways, for any particular player, was not. It was knowable, and the best way to discover it was to look at plays where that person had done it excellently.”

6. What’s my “why” in giving this feedback? In their book, Thanks for the Feedback by Douglas Stone & Sheila Heen, they explain, “Cross-transactions happen when the giver and the receiver are misaligned. Discuss the purpose of the feedback explicitly. It seems obvious, but even competent, well-meaning people can go their whole lives without ever having this part of the conversation.” They recommend asking yourself these three questions:

• “What’s my purpose in giving this feedback?”

• “Is it the right purpose from my point of view?”

• “Is it the right purpose from the other person’s point of view?”

7. How will we walk away with the same understanding? How many times have you left a meeting and thought you were on the same page with others—only to realize later that each person walked away with their own idea of what happened? Asking important questions like these below can help to clearly define takeaways, next steps and expectations about who is doing what.

• “What are you taking away?”

• “What can we do to make you more successful?”

• What agreements should we be making together?”

By preparing and asking yourself these powerful questions before your next feedback meeting, you can change what could have been a challenging encounter into a meaningful conversation that helps to build trust, improve learning and excel someone forward.

Useful Links

 

Leaders are Readers

Want to talk more in-depth about helpful and essential books? We are exploring launching a monthly virtual book club, delivered via Zoom, for leaders and coaches. Let us know if you are interested. I’m interested

Project Oxygen: How to Support and Develop Your Most Valuable Asset: Employees

Companies often say that their most valuable asset is their staff, but do they really live this mantra? Google’s Project Oxygen found that employees rated managers more highly who helped them grow skills and nurture career goals. (Number 6 on the list of 10 Oxygen behaviors of Google’s best managers).

Companies have to be the best they can be internally before they can be the best for their clients. Good is no longer good enough. We must strive to be exceptional.

By really taking the time to develop relationships with employees and create a shared vision for success, managers can not only retain top talent, but can turn an underperformer into one of their best workers.

Researchers at Gallup were surprised when they reviewed data from 550 organizations and found that only about half of employees indicated a strong understanding of what was expected of them at work.

Don’t let that happen at your company. At Institute Success, we help leaders and business owners invest in their employees’ career development and discuss performance in a variety of ways. Here is a taste of what we recommend:

1) Focus not just on skills and knowledge, but habits and attitudes. A performance-coaching tool known as the K.A.S.H. box illustrates that employers must not look just for a prospective hire’s raw ability to do the job, but also at the mindset and habits they apply to it. There is a saying in business that we hire for aptitude and fire for attitude. Employees may know how to do something, but they may not know it in the way we want.

This is a people issue, not a technical one. Don’t make assumptions about your employees. Take the time to train them how to develop not just the skills but the habits and attitudes that you need to see in order for the job to be done right.

2) Make time for assessments, and then reassess continually. If a job could talk, what would it say? A recent study from an industrial and organizational psychologist working at RAND Corp. found that the average person will spend about 90,000 hours at work over a lifetime. If you are an executive, that number is likely even higher. That’s a lot of coffee!

So we as leaders want to make sure we are hiring people with the right aptitude for the work. Hire the person who fits what the job could look like as you envision it, not just the person who fits the job in its current form. We encourage employers to use assessments up front to see strengths and blind spots when considering someone for an open position or new role within the company. And then to be very clear about what success in that particular job would look like. The job candidate does not have to be perfect, but ideally would show a predominance of connection to the skills and attitudes needed to shine in that position. Along the way, employers must regularly check in and reassess not just how the employee is performing, but re-evaluate the definition of progress in that role.

3) Create a shared vision for success and nurture connection to work. Did you know that some of your employees may have “quit” long ago, but continued to show up? A comprehensive report from Gallup on the state of the global workplace found that a startling 67% of employees are not engaged with their work. They may be giving you their time, but not their best effort or best ideas.

Why is this? We’ve found that one reason is the way employees are being spoken to, or not spoken to, by their bosses. Positive communication is essential to employee engagement, and therefore the success of your business as a whole. The new workforce is composed of people seeking purpose and meaning from their career, along with opportunities to develop and a manager that acts more like a coach than a boss.

So if we say that employees are our most important assets, we need to ensure they have what they need and that we are playing to their strengths.

There is no “I” in team; our responsibility as leaders is to create a shared vision of success with our employees based on what competencies our clients need. And let’s talk to our employees about what kind of professional development would be in their interest. Show them that you are invested in their success and want them to grow.

When you know better, do better.

Pro Tip: We ask our team four questions every day to keep our success on track. Sign up for one of our coaching sessions and we’ll share them with you. Talk with a Coach

Overcoming Team Dysfunctions

“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”

                                         – STEPHEN R. COVEY

If only we never had to worry about conflict with other people in our jobs. Unfortunately, as anyone in the workplace knows, dysfunction follows us into work and breeds in a team environment. Some of our co-workers, superiors, or employees we trust implicitly; others we attempt to stay away from or experience friction with. Regardless, our book of the week delves into the important topic of tough team conversations.

Book of the Week: Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni.

Patrick Lencioni takes an unconventional approach to writing a business book about conflict: rather than take the subject head-on (what you might expect from someone courageous enough to write about conflict in the workplace), he weaves his insight into a story.

This approach to unpacking what he identifies are the major five dysfunctions of team dynamics has the clever result of being both disarming and engaging. If the reader had thoughts of being skeptical or defensive, it is difficult to stay that way when watching the dynamics in play behind a common situation.

Lencioni makes the bold claim that if you can get everyone on your team to “row in the same direction” so to speak, you can be unstoppable. Plowing through the five dysfunctions are a critical part of this:

The Five Dysfunctions:

  1. Absence of Trust

As obvious as it sounds, the routine erosion of trust in the workplace between team members is a recipe for failure. There should be far more confidence in each other, specifically in each person’s intentions. Without trust, Lencioni believes people hide their weaknesses, fail to help, fail to ask for help, assume the worst, and don’t recognize the underlying gifts that could help the team. Lencioni’s solution here is to set up time to learn each other’s personal histories: he believes it is extremely difficult to write another person off when you know their story and the experiences that shaped the conclusions they’ve drawn. He also points this out as a great opportunity to delve into a behavioral assessment like DiSC to fill in the picture. To know each other better is to open the door to trust.

  1. Fear of Conflict

In the fable, Lencioni portrays the fear of conflict as one of the deepest motives for dysfunction. Importantly, he draws the distinction between two types of conflict: conflict over ideas and opinions (good and productive) and infighting and political jockeying (bad and counterproductive). He points out throughout the book that good conflict, the testing of ideas, leads to better, more interactive meetings, bigger ideas, more problem solving, heightened creativity, fewer politics as more voices are being heard, and a true addressing of important topics.

  1. Lack of Commitment

For a truly successful team, Lencioni points out two things that a strong team needs, a) clarity, and b) buy-in. When there is increased clarity and lines are not blurred (or there are no defining lines at all!), a team will inevitably have more direction about what to do and greater vision about what the priorities are. This leads to a growing consensus about the division of labor and the true goals, and you begin to learn from tactical errors together. This more agile team grows in commitment and is clear in its communication of what future decisions need to be made—together.

  1. Avoidance of Accountability

As the team opens up, the fourth dysfunction comes under fire, the avoidance of accountability. Positive peer pressure heats up, and it is a great way to maintain high standards. When team members are divided by the few who carry the team in their conscientiousness and those who ride on the work of others and make excuses, resentment becomes entrenched and hard to shake. Lencioni believes that a team with greater clarity and trust will be willing to experience more discomfort and are more likely to be held willingly to mutual goals.

  1. Inattention to Results

Given what the other dysfunctions are, it may surprise you that Lencioni views this as the ultimate dysfunction, the one that, if it sticks around, will undo your hard-earned wins in the others. When team members and leaders are too self-motivated to see the bigger picture or are simply confining themselves to their cube, this precludes failure. On the other hand, if you announce publicly what your desired state is and what result that produces, the end produce is more likely to be there. He suggests a public scoreboard as a valuable way to keep everyone out of their own heads and focused on the bigger objective.

Engaging, easy to read, and thought-provoking, we encourage you to dive deeper into Lencioni’s five dysfunctions as a way to examine what even a good team can improve upon.

Productive Is Not Just Busy: A Different Way of Thinking about Results

4 Habits to Cultivate Productivity

How managers can cultivate a culture of true productivity with four habits

Onward and upward into our extended of review of Google’s famous Project Oxygen: we’ve landed this week on Trait 4 of exceptional managers: 

As a leader, you are responsible for delivering results through your people.  Being productive and results-oriented is the fourth trait of effective managers as defined by Google’s Project Oxygen.  

This week’s theme is tricky because most people think of themselves as productive because they measure their perception against their level of busyness (it’s easy to do). We’ll show why this can be misleading and why Google understands the importance of tying together productivity and results.

What does true productivity look like? We can think of a few things it’s not (and we bet you can, too). It’s not:
  • Racing from one meeting to the next
  • Working late (in and of itself)
  • Having the hours competition with colleagues
  • Listening to your phone ring off the hook
  • Checking your email more than a few times a day
  • Having a scarcity mindset (trying to get a task done with as few resources as possible)

Productivity is especially difficult to manage when you are in leadership: there is always a fire to put out, someone who needs your attention, or asks from the executive suite. So how do you cope, and how do you set the tone for your team? We suggest four places to start:

1.  Share the Burden 

Of the things on your plate, what can you delegate or collaborate on with your direct reports? Wise employees know that easing and sharing the burden can speed the path to results and improve the quality of projects. The current business climate’s obsession with efficiency is partially right here: many hands make light work, and as highlighted previously in our article about micromanagement, the trust built between you and your team by delegating is valuable.

2.  Delay Resurfacing 

We live in a culture of constant interruptions from our smart phones to our email to meeting invites. If at all possible, steer away from these distractions and interruptions to remain focused on your task. This will allow your brain a better chance of getting into a “flow” state, where you lose track of time in concentration on the task and are more effectively able to access the creative functions of the brain. The ideal timeline for this type of focused work is fifty minutes uninterrupted at a time. After spending a chunk like this, you’ll feel good resurfacing to check email or examine meeting requests. Sound impossible? It’s tough, but this sort of woodshedding will massively increase your productivity, even if you can only do it a few times a week.

3.  Avoid Reactive Initiatives 

Taking on the next shiny object is something you and your team can keep each other honest on. A tempting pattern some leaders get into is spearheading new and sexy initiatives. They give it a name, they get the team amped up, and they expect focus on  it for a period of time. Unfortunately, it may distract from core operations and other priorities.This can make for a stressful work environment. Get honest feedback from your team about if and how they see your vision contributing to the core functions of the team. Press them for ideas on execution, knowing they’ll be carrying a significant amount of the burden. Their feedback may be the making of the project.

4.  Stay in a Lane   

One of the toughest things to do under pressure is to resist the urge to reassess how the team is handling its work or aspects of its work. One of the stamps of good leadership is the ability to pivot based on what you see as work unfolds. But equally difficult is committing to a swim lane for work and sticking to it. Results can take weeks, sometimes months to show, and pivoting too soon can actually reduce productivity. Popular psychology has also verified that it takes a minimum of thirty days to form a new habit, sometimes longer. So waiting to see the results is a valuable exercise and will make any pivots you choose later more meaningful. 

How can you help your team be more focused on being productive and less on being busy?

The Top 5 Traits of a Manager Who Genuinely Cares about Employee’s Success

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more,
do more and become more, you are a leader.”

― John Quincy Adams

Showing you care for your team members, both personally and professionally, is foundational to effective leadership, according to Google’s manager research study, Project Oxygen. This third trait, “Express an interest in an employee’s success and well-being,” can be the key to motivating, engaging and retaining employees.

By expressing a genuine interest in the accomplishments and health of your team members, through your words and deeds, you are showing them you value them as important members of your team and organization. In fact, the research from Project Oxygen is clear, leaders who create an inclusive team environment and show concern
for the success and well-being of their team members are 71% more likely to have an energized and engaged team.

Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, said, “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”

What does it mean to be a caring manager?

Here are five qualities we believe are essential characteristics of a manager who cares
about their employees’ success and well-being.

1.     They communicate their feelings.
People are not mind readers. Employees need to hear you say, “I care!” It’s as simple as that. A surprising number of leaders who do care about the success of their people—never tell them. Deadlines, projects, and meetings can demand the time and attention of a leader and get in the way. Telling and showing you care can make a positive difference in your team members’ attitudes, engagement, and productivity.

2.     They ask questions about the future.
Most leaders are insightful enough to know their team members want to grow in their career. By asking questions to understand where and how they want to progress, you can prepare them for the next level of growth in the organization. Offering feedback, identifying opportunities for growth and encouraging them to develop new skills through training and on-the-job learning, illustrates your commitment to their success. The bonus for you as a leader is, better trained and motivated employees with a positive vision for the future.

3.     They ask meaningful questions.
If you are paying attention, you know how your team members are doing. You know their priorities and what engages and motivates them. For some team members, it may be their golf game. For others, it may be their children, parents or a loved pet. For still others, it may be cheering on their alma mater.  Most people have interests attached to the “How are you?” question that will get them talking in a deeper and more connected relationship. Listening, being present and remembering what’s important to them, leaves employees with a profound sense that you care. Additionally, by encouraging their outside interests, it’s a reminder that you value them as a whole person, not just an asset or tool of the organization.

4.     They ask about roadblocks.
Asking about roadblocks opens the door to frank discussions. Even though some employees know exactly what their blind spots and limitations are, they don’t have the resources to do something about them. Acting as a coach, which is the first trait of Google’s Project Oxygen, you can empower them to think creatively about how to tackle roadblocks and turn them into opportunities.

5.    Keep presenting them with challenges and opportunities.
There are those rock star employees who seem to get everything done without breaking a sweat. Their reports are early, their presentations are polished and knowledgeable, and they attract positive attention from upper level leadership.

However, as much as it seems they’re doing, could they be doing even more? Are they being challenged? For some hyper-productive, talented employees, what looks like success may be only temporary until they grow bored or overconfident. Presenting them with challenges that ask them to stretch may be the answer. Acknowledge their skills and express confidence in their ability to keep growing.  Help them grow by challenging and motivating them.

How Micromanagement is not Management

“In general, looking forward is great management; looking backward is micromanagement.”

– Verne Harnish

Nothing can hinder an employee’s engagement and productivity more than a manager who tries to control their team members with excessive focus and attention to the minor details.

Here is the difficult thing about micromanagement, though: we can see it in others, but it is far more difficult to recognize (and admit) in ourselves. Project Oxygen suggests taking a positive approach can help you empower your employees and avoid micromanaging them.

How do you empower your employees?

1.  Engage in regular coaching

When you focus on building trust and rapport with your team members by engaging in ongoing coaching, the focus becomes less about managing their work and tasks and more about empowering them to create their own strategies and actions. You are able to provide insight and feedback, while they own their outcomes. The interactions become more collaborative and less of a boss to employee relationship. 

A 2016 Society for Human Resources Management Study found that only 37 percent of employees participating said they were very satisfied with the respect and consideration their managers gave their ideas.

2.  Let your employees make decisions

There are likely only a handful of things on your plate that require you, and only you, to make a decision. What if you passed those decisions off to your employees to make the call? You might be surprised by the insights they offer. They are likely to take your gesture as a sign of confidence in them, which will boost their productivity.

3.  Smile more

We’re not even joking. It’s almost impossible for someone to exert the kind of tense energy that micromanagement does when they’re genuinely smiling. If you don’t think you have something to smile about, find it. We think you wouldn’t be in your current job if there wasn’t something about it that you liked, even if only initially. 

So how do you know if you’re dealing with a micromanager? Look for these three things:

1.  They can’t accept help

This may seem like a surprising first clue, but micromanagers become the way they are in part because they are fatally incapable of accepting help. There may be a few more deeply psychologically rooted reasons for this, but the two most likely are either:  a) they are perfectionists who can’t stand having things done any other way than theirs, or b) they have an overactive sense of responsibility and diligence which drives them to make sure things are done right.  Accepting help risks (at least to them, seems to risk) one or both of those things. They lose control of the situation, so that even when they truly need help, they have no intent of accepting it.

2.  They come off as a little (or a lot) suspicious

At least in this moment, these aren’t “glass is half full” kinds of people. They tend to look for mistakes or trouble when, to the outward eye, there’s little reason to think it might be there. When you’re sure there must be things that are amiss, it’s hard to prevent that vibe from rubbing off on your employees. Have you ever received (or given as an employee) an almost reflexive look that communicates subtle surprise or confusion? Fair or not, people who are suspicious look suspicious to other people. We are more apt to trust where we are trusted, and when it seems like the overriding assumption is that something is wrong, trust erodes.

3.  They don’t recognize creativity when they see it

Micromanagers aren’t interested in creative problem solving.   Even if you achieve the sought after results, if you didn’t do it in the way they thought it should be done, it’s a loss. They have a hard time wrapping themselves around the fact that a good thing, done a different way, is innovation.  Innovation keeps teams alive and thriving. It’s true that, for many tasks, there’s an established way of doing things for a reason. With as competitive as today’s marketplace is, if you as a manager are afraid of tolerating, even cultivating, this kind of experimentation, others will most likely give their team those freedoms and outshine you eventually.

If you’re a recovering micromanager (at least, you’d like to be), and you’re wondering what steps you can take to move in the direction of true empowerment. It’s not as easy as it sounds: if you’ve been a historical micromanager, it won’t happen overnight, but it’s possible, and achievable if you recognize your own potential micromanaging tendencies and are willing to take action.