Wise organizations put at least as much emphasis on the quality of onboarding as they do the quality of new talent selection. How new hires are socialized is vital to engaging their strengths and passions. Helping them form new habits is at least as important as the histories they bring to the table.
No matter what we say about what business we’re in, the clearest and perhaps most reliable picture comes from our customers and clients. What they think is what ultimately matters. Understanding how they define value from us is the secret to our success.
It is an incredibly naive perspective to believe that people should and will work at their best however they happen to feel at work. The corollary delusion is that I think it’s possible because I’ve done my best when I’ve been struggling or miserable. This belief has apparent credibility if we define success as not getting negative attention for our performance. Reality is that we probably we not at our best. Unhappiness shuts down our best and most creative thinking. Investing in everyone’s happiness is a more realistic strategy.
There are leaders in every culture who care about the whole life, not just the work, of people on their teams. They care about whole lives because no part of anyone’s life is separate from the others. If people struggle in any part, the whole suffers. If people flourish in any part, the whole benefits. When people feel like their leaders care about them as people, they show up with more engagement and loyalty.
Asking people in coaching to get clear on their development questions often presents a challenge to them. It’s new learning for many. We have to teach them how, one question at a time.
We ask about their dreams and passions, challenges and struggles, what they want to get better at and start learning to do. These provide material to build their questions. Working from their questions makes them optimally focused and engaged.
This is in direct contrast to traditional approaches that base coaching on deficiency assessments. These are tools to find someone’s weaknesses and work in coaching to correct these gaps. A question based approach becomes more naturally a strength based approach. People grow faster because this approach creates a growth mindset, unlike the deficiency approach that reinforces a fixed mindset. It’s a subtle yet profoundly significant distinction.
New ideas grow or die based on how we react and respond to them. Ideas are living things. If we judge, dismiss or ignore them, they die. These are toxins. If we identify what we like about them, build on them and connect them in new ways, they grow. Ideas are not intrinsically destined for thriving or extinction. It all depends on what we do with and to them, as with any living organisms and systems.
There are two myths when it comes to designing refresh times into our days and lives: Refresh is optional in a busy life and all methods are equal. Reality is, the quality of our consciousness has a significant impact on how productive we are and how we show up in our world and not all methods are equal. It takes experimenting and improvisation to discover what are optimal refresh strategies for ourselves. No one approach works the same for everyone. Knowing ourselves is key.
Having facilitated countless strategic plans across industries, it’s always striking when people are surprised that we’re surfacing their questions in the process. I’m surprised by their surprise.
Of course, this is new for most organizations and leaders. At most, they might do market research in a planning effort. Reality is, there are many other unknowns in all other aspects of the organization. Unless assumptions are surfaced and researched, the plan will fail because untested assumptions and unidentified unknowns make even the most elaborate plans unrealistic and therefore unsupported.
Not only does a question-based approach make planning more realistic, it makes visioning richer, priorities more agile and engagement stronger. Vision as questions are 3-5 times more powerful than goal and objective statements. Questions deepen and extend the learning and innovation capacities of the organization.
It’s amazing how many meetings still use “parking lots” to defer conversations that someone with power decides violates the scope of the agenda. The alternative is on the spot assignments. When something comes up that needs attention, we invite whoever wants to start work on it outside the meeting. We ask if anyone wants to help the initiators and make sure they have a plan to follow through. This is an especially important and respectful practice when meeting participants are not invited to contribute to meeting agendas, or when meetings simply don’t have the bandwidth to accommodate everything that needs attention by the group.
Using note cards for everyone to capture each of their ideas, the group describes every kind of wish, unknown and concern related to the decision on the table. Where unknowns require some kind of clarification or research, this is done as quickly as possible, usually resulting in at least two conversations for the decision. The synergy of these elements make possible organic movement from uncertainty to action and feedback. It’s always good practice to revisit the decision for lessons learned.
Organizations that still favor a high disengagement, parent-child, command and control culture talk about holding people accountable. This is code for blame and the basis of management by fear.
Management by fear destroys trust. Lack of trust destroys leadership. People don’t trust what they fear. When we as leaders lose the trust of others, we have no power to influence them. If they choose compliance as a survival strategy, it will only occur when they think we’re looking, and for as little as they can get away with. The opposite is creating the conditions for realistic courage. This inspires people. Inspired people trust us and become trustworthy.
Organizations that manage instead by passions and strengths hold space for accountability, which they define as showing up with courage. In this lens, integrity is perhaps a more apt frame than accountability. To create the conditions for courage is to create the conditions for integrity.
Here are some core principles, from which we build learning environments and cultures.
The key to managing performance is managing learning; performance capacity grows when learning capacity grows
Learning is core to happiness at work. People leave jobs when they find they are no longer learning in their work
People are most motivated to learn when they learn to have a growth mindset
Most real learning at work happens informally rather than formally
New learning always becomes possible when people engage their existing strengths
Skills are optional, habits are automatic
People lose at least 80% of passive learning and retain over 80% of learning that engages them and is based on their questions
For everything you want people to do, it’s likely there are people in the organization already doing them well
People with best practices can and will share this learning with peers if they have the tools to do so
The most sustainable and least costly learning is learning how to learn, especially how to direct your own learning
Feedback works when it creates personal credibility, when it gets people to realize that we have valid, useful observations about them. Observations are not judgements, assessments of good and bad. We simply describe what we see others do and the consequences of their choices.
It works when we give people feedback they agree to receive in the way and when it is most useful for them.
It works when we exercise the humility to ask for as much feedback as we offer.
It works when it strengthens rather than weakens their confidence in their goodness.
In a consumer identity culture, gratitude is not a given. Feeling chronically deficient is. The gratitude we feel is the gratitude we create. Gratitude is the real-time realization of all that supports our life. We are grateful for our bodies and the planet that supports our bodies. We are grateful for everyone who makes our world the kind of place we can do well in.
The more grateful we are, the less effort it takes to ask for and offer help. This sustains connections of mutual trust that supports everyone’s well being and doing. Without gratitude, we feel more disconnected, unsupported and a struggle. Gratitude is power.
Higher performers tend to be intrinsically motivated. They work from their own high standards, their own why. They don’t depend on their bosses’ standards or imposed consequences to perform well. They don’t need to be held accountable by others. They show up as adults.
We can help any performers progress toward higher performance by helping them learn how to work from their own why. It involves teaching them how to dream and learn. The more instrinsically motivated people are, the less they need to be managed. Everyone wins, including them.
When we say we need to “get people’s buy-in” it’s code for getting their compliance on what we intend to impose. Buy-in is what we need when we exclude people from decision making, when we make them victims to rather than participants in the process of shaping what matters. Leaders who practice an exclusionary approach to their role typically have not been trained in what inclusion takes. The learning isn’t that tricky, and well worth the effort and rewards to authentic engagement and loyalty.
It is still common in especially larger organizations to hear leaders give lip service to inclusion, which is often the new spin on diversity. The deficiency view frames the conversation as being non-offensive to people of other colors, genders and ages. A step up from that is the frame best described as “giving people unlike you a fair chance.”
At a deeper level, inclusion is including each other in our thinking. This engages the ability to dialogue in the inclusive and collaborative language of both-and instead of the exclusive and divisive language either-or. In both-and, we work together to optimize the upsides of all ideas that emerge and minimize the downsides of them. We also work together on any concerns and questions that emerge. It’s a dialogue of mutual respect that builds mutual trust, which accelerates creativity and belonging.
The vast majority of industrial era style top-down change efforts fail. They violate all the science and research we have now about how people and teams actually make meaningful and sustainable change possible, from the inside out rather than colonistic change by imposition.
The old model was based in a very costly and unproductive set of questions:
- What’s wrong and where are the performance deficiencies?
- How do we want to change people?
- How can we muster leadership sponsorship to overpower expected resistance?
- How can we motivate change with rewards and punishments?
- How can we measure results so we know where to assign responsibility?
- How can we get leaders to hold people more accountable who are not buying into the change effort?
Only new questions have the power to make change possible.
It’s always curious to hear the call for organizational change from C suites. They want everyone else to change. Of course, everyone else wants them to change. When the top and bottom of the power pyramids become pessimistic, they agree the middle (managers) is the problem and the middle equally calls for change at the top and bottom.
Authentic change happens when everyone becomes more clear on how change can be shared rather than denied or delegated. An agenda to change others is denial of our own personal and shared potentials.
As intriguing or important this question seems, it is perhaps better explored after the question of what the future of democracy should look like. There are enough disparities and disconnects between the original intentions and current practices of any democracies to question the usefulness of any current descriptions and definitions.
Questions of power hoarding, disowning and sharing will always be relevant to the understanding and growth of workplace cultures.