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Category Archives: Leadership and Management

Four Ways Fairness Addresses Performance

It’s not fair!” You have a team that is working hard and delivering results…except for one team member. He’s not pulling his fair share and the workload has to be reallocated because of missed deadlines. The other team members’ effort and morale is being impacted. You sense the importance of fairness and it is essential to the team’s progress. Why is fairness key and how can you use it to motivate and manage the poor performer?

Brain scanning techniques like functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) allow neuroscientists to understand motivation and reward. Fair treatment is one of the behaviors that activate the reward network in the brain (including the striatum, orbital and medial prefrontal cortex and amygdala). For example:

  • Research shows that participants who are presented with fair monetary offers experienced higher happiness ratings and increased activity in reward centers compared to unfair proposals of equal monetary value.
  • Fairness is experienced directly when you are treated fairly or indirectly such as when an unfair partner is punished.
  • Team members like and experience empathy toward partners who treated them fairly.

All of these findings indicate that fairness is an important aspect of highly functioning teams. What can you do to foster fairness among team members?

Fair norms. Encourage the team to determine their expectations for attendance, timeliness, communications and deliverables. For those who violate team expectations, other team members should acknowledge the violation of team norms to clearly express disappointment. Repeated behaviors require additional action. As the manager, it is important that all team members recognize that those who don’t pull their load will not be tolerated. To do otherwise is unfair to high-performing team members and, if left unaddressed, will cause team morale to degrade.

Fair process. Many organizations have processes and procedures to address performance problems. It is important that the processes and procedures are followed so performance issues are addressed equitably and consistently. It sends an important message that all are treated impartially. At the same time, each person and situation is unique. Take advantage of flexibility in the processes to adapt your actions appropriately for the individual.

Fair hearing. “I’m being singled out!” The under-performing team member needs to feel heard and feel as though they have a fair hearing. The person may not like the process or outcome but they can be treated with fairness. Talk openly with them about work quality and quantity and that lack of performance is not fair to teammates who strive to achieve team goals.

Fair shake. Being fair to an underperforming employee includes providing a reasonable opportunity to improve. After a fair hearing, give clear guidance for performance targets and provide regular monitoring and feedback. Those who wish to perform well will appreciate the attention and opportunity to improve.

Fairness is a powerful motivator for the brain. The underperforming person may not be completely happy but his/her brain will recognize a fair process, hearing and fair shake. The other team members will respond positively to your actions as a leader due to the activated reward center in the brains. Moreover, they will know that you are willing to go the extra mile for good performance and fairness. Fair may not always be equal but it is always appropriate.

Sources: Tibibnia, Golnaz and Liberman, Matthew, Fairness and Cooperation are Rewarding: Evidence from Social Cognitive Neuroscience. The Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, University of California, Los Angeles.

This post was originally published at shelleyrow.com on 6/28/15

 

Shelley Row, P.E. is a high-energy, engaging speaker and coach working with top managers and leaders in data-driven fields who must make fast, insightful decisions using their infotuition®- the intersection of business pragmatics and gut feel. Find out more at shelleyrow.com

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Service, Trust, Leadership and a Journey

Avoid the Titanic effect … understanding the organisational iceberg!

Explicit in my last post on the subject of trust, Seven Principles for Building Trust in the Workplace, was the belief that leaders at all levels need to ensure positive relationships within the workplace! This is in order to provide much more productive and effective work, more fulfilling workplaces, and better outcomes for both staff and clients.

Unfortunately, my own experience tells me that managers usually prefer to deal with the ‘structural’ elements of change … and not its organisational underpinning that is relationships. So, they spend greater time looking at products and services, hierarchies, technologies, job descriptions, roles and responsibilities, procedures, policies – tangible things that are easily grasped and can be wrestled with to make improvements … however these might be described! Once implemented, it was regularly my experience that some weeks or months later, concern would be expressed as to the lack of impact the changes had brought about. So back to the drawing board senior managers would go and chart some tweaks and fine tuning … and try again! On and on this cycle would revolve … with what ultimate effect? In general, very little real change … and certainly not embedded change of the order sought in the first instance!

For me personally, and many colleagues around me, we largely experienced dismay, disillusionment and despair, especially as we were not often engaged in the design of the process. More subtly, however, it appeared that senior managers could not or chose not to see the need to harness the power of positive relationships.

It was some time into my career as a youth worker that I came across a perspective that helped me to understand this apparently ‘lemming-like’ behaviour. I found it in one of my favourite management books, entitled ‘Managing Change … and making it stick’!* It was here that Roger Plant introduced me to the concept of the ‘organisational iceberg’, which enabled me to begin to reflect seriously about the nature of change and the power of positive relationships.

His view, simply put, was that change scenarios too often focused on the bit of the iceberg that was visible – the structural stuff I mentioned earlier – as this was relatively easy to manage. Often ignored were the things that really make organisations work – sometimes known as the ‘soft stuff’. He included many organisational aspects within his view of the ‘soft stuff’ – cultural norms, habits, loyalties, personal relationships, motivation and commitments, moral stances, beliefs and values, hopes and fears, friendships, feelings and moods, amongst many other elements.

He argued, and I strongly support his view, that by failing to grasp this ‘hidden’ mass of the iceberg, any change process was almost inevitably doomed to failure. I have seen it at first hand on several occasions! Both local and central government have been guilty of this; more painfully so at a local level. Change impacts on people directly; it affects the human condition and the myriad feelings, attitudes, circumstances and opinions that this brings! I believe it is easier to understand the nature of betrayal, however minor, when set against Plant’s iceberg model.

So how do you move people out of betrayal and into trust … avoiding the iceberg’s negative potential? Reina and Reina seven principles offer a route and one which I would urge you to pursue!

If you would like to find out more about how I can support you in building positive change for yourself, your team or your organisation, please just ask! Ring 07958 765972 now for a free consultation and/or further details!

Seven Principles for Building Trust in the Workplace

In my last post on this subject relationships were seen as the key to moving people out of betrayal into trust.  In their book ‘Trust and Betrayal in the Workplace – building effective relationships in your organisation’, Reina and Reina suggest seven steps for achieving this. I explore them below and address how they might apply for you as an effective leader.

  1. Observe and acknowledge what’s so – change inevitably has an impact on employees – often on their morale and productivity. Fullan describes this as the ‘implementation gap’ – that period of transition between the original ways of doing things and the internalisation of the new ways required. You need to be alert to this and acknowledge what employees are experiencing. This demonstrates you are in touch with what is happening.
  2. Allow employees to surface feelings – In acknowledging what they are experiencing, you should provide employees with permission and space to vent their feelings in a constructive manner. I used a process called ‘Air and Share’ that gave a designated time period at the beginning of each staff meeting or event for any gripes, moans, and groans. Our agreement was that once ‘Air and Share’ was done, everyone was expected to focus positively for the remainder of the agenda. This didn’t preclude challenge or critique but did prohibit self-fixated ramblings.
  3. Give employees support – effective leaders support the change process. Staff will have transitional needs in any change process and if these are not supported they will feel betrayed. I focused on providing, as far as possible, individual support sessions for key managers, group sessions for full and part-time staff, and a lot of ‘walking the walk’ – being visible and available to support staff, whilst reinforcing the messages of change.
  4. Reframe the experience by putting it into a larger context – whilst often there is little choice over the changes we are exposed to, we do have a choice as to how we react to change. Change that brings a feeling of betrayal has an emotional consequence and will leave individuals feeling vulnerable … and their actions or choices might then become unhelpful or seen as inappropriate. Often staff need help to understand this and to see the change as part of a bigger context. Consistent communication is the key to helping staff understand the role that they play within the broader context of change and recognise that they have choices to make in terms of how they act and react.  The more they are able to understand this, the more they are likely to take responsibility for those actions.
  5. Leaders should take responsibility for their role in the process – change is often messy, lacking in pace and sometimes seemingly pointless! It is therefore not helpful to deny errors of judgement or mistakes in practice. A key basis for trust in the workplace is telling the truth … and a leader’s role is to reverse the spiral of distrust by being honest about what has happened and to attempt to remedy this wherever possible … or just plain apologise if it is not possible! I can think of a number of occasions when I’ve just put up my hand and accepted my mistake or error of judgement!
  6. Forgiveness – a persistent ‘blame culture’ in any organisation is toxic to the individuals concerned and to the organisation as a whole. It undermines trust and morale … and negatively impacts on productivity, creativity and innovation, as well as on people’s willingness to commit or ‘go the extra mile’. I found this culture in a number of the local authorities in which I worked. I believe it is better to have staff problem solving than blaming each other … and enabling all concerned to understand why a mistake [often seen as a betrayal] occurred. In that way we do not build on the historical blame burden but release people’s energy, focus and inclination to achieve on a bigger scale.
  7. Let go and move on – through listening, being open and transparent, owning mistakes [and learning from these] and promising only what can be delivered upon, leaders can assist the healing that is needed following betrayal and begin to rebuild trust.

In your leadership role, have you ever experienced the ‘implementation gap’? When was the last time you ‘walked the walk’? In what ways do you address the ‘bigger picture’ with your colleagues? Do you own your personal mistakes, seek forgiveness, learn and move on? I’d love to hear your stories.

Relationships are the key!

Explicit in my last post, betrayal and its impact on trust in the workplace, was the belief that leaders at all levels need to make sure positive relationships exist in the workplace! This is to give much more productive and effective work, more fulfilling workplaces, and better outcomes for both staff and clients.

Unfortunately, my experience tells me that managers usually prefer to deal with the ‘structural’ elements of change … and not the organisational underpinning that is relationships. So, they spend greater time looking at products and services, hierarchies, technologies, job descriptions, roles and responsibilities, rules, policies – tangible things that are easily grasped and wrestled with to make improvements … however these might be described! Once implemented, it was regularly my experience that some weeks or months later, concern was expressed about the lack of impact the changes had brought. So, back to the drawing board senior managers would go and chart some tweaks and fine tuning … and try again! On and on this cycle would revolve … with what ultimate effect? In general, very little real change … and certainly not embedded change of the order sought in the first instance!

For me personally, and many colleagues around me, we largely experienced dismay, disillusionment and despair, especially as we were not often engaged in the design of the process. More subtly, however, it appeared that senior managers could not or chose not to see the need to harness the power of positive relationships.

It was some time into my career as a youth worker that I came across a perspective that helped me to understand this apparently ‘lemming-like’ behaviour. I found it in one of my favourite management books, entitled ‘Managing Change … and making it stick’!* It was here that Roger Plant introduced me to the concept of the ‘organisational iceberg’, which enabled me to reflect seriously about the nature of change and the power of positive relationships.

His view, simply put, was that change scenarios too often focused on the bit of the iceberg that was visible – the structural stuff I mentioned earlier – as this was relatively easy to manage. Often ignored were the things that really make organisations work – sometimes known as the ‘soft stuff’. He included many organisational aspects within his view of the ‘soft stuff’ – cultural norms, habits, loyalties, personal relationships, motivation and commitments, moral stances, beliefs and values, hopes and fears, friendships, feelings and moods, among many other elements.

He argued, and I strongly support his view, that by failing to grasp this ‘hidden’ mass of the iceberg, any change process was almost inevitably doomed to failure. I have seen it at first hand many times! Both local and central government have been guilty of this, more painfully so at a local level. Change impacts on people directly; it affects the human condition and the myriad feelings, attitudes, circumstances and opinions that this brings! I believe it is easier to understand the nature of betrayal, however minor, when set against Plant’s iceberg model.

So how do you move people out of betrayal and into trust … avoiding the iceberg’s negative potential? Reina and Reina offer seven principles and I will discuss these related to a recent client’s change agenda in my next post.

If you would like to find out more about how I can support you in building positive change for yourself, your team or your organisation, please just ask! Ring 07958 765972 now for a free consultation and/or further details!

How clear is your vision?

I was reading a post in a much admired blog – Leadership Freak by Dan Rockwell – who, besides sharing his own wisdom, regularly interviews and relates compelling thoughts and comments from some of the current thought leaders in the world of leadership and management.

This week he touched on a subject very dear to my heart – that of VISION! Anyone who knows me well will know that this has been a passionate focus of mine for many years, alongside that of strategy, agility and resilience – more of which another time.

Dan was speaking to Ken Blanchard and Jesse Stoner, co-authors of a new book, entitled “Full Steam Ahead: Unleashing the Power of Vision in your Work and Your Life.” They offered five reasons why vision is vital, which I’d like to explore in relation to a recent assignment in support of a large voluntary sector organisation facing significant budget pressures.

Ken Blanchard and Jesse Stoner proposed the following five reasons vision is vital and I’d like to share why I fundamentally agree with them.

  1. Vision is the starting point of leadership.The starting point for my client was a wish to develop a sustainable base from which growth could develop, not just shrink to survive! Yes, adjustment needed to be made within the organisation but not to the detriment of future potential. This perspective, fuzzy at first, was nurtured into a strong driving vision that has underpinned the change process and this included the evolution of a new, more powerful headline vision for the organisation.
  2. Vision determines directionLeadership is about going somewhere. If you aren’t going somewhere, your leadership style doesn’t matter. Once the vision became clearer and more concrete, other things were able to flow from this – the change plan, a new strategic plan and a new annual operational plan, all with the vision clearly and strongly identified within them. These plans and associated processes were then shared across the workforce with my client reinforcing the vision contained therein at every opportunity.
  3. Vision is something to serveWithout vision, the only thing left to serve is yourself. Vision-less organisations will eventually be led by self-serving leaders. The strong vision gave staff something to focus on, to rally to and to underpin their value and contribution to the organisation, at a time of real turbulence in their lives. This maintained and, often enhanced their commitment to the organisation, despite monetary concerns; clarified and re-rooted their purpose; and gave them a positive future focus. Their creative response to potential future scenarios was impressive, to say the least, and their energy to do so at a full staff event facilitated in March made me feel very humble. Once grasped, the vision being portrayed to them by the CEO – a focus on some reorganisation and then sustainability and growth for the future, clearly focused on providing excellent quality services to young people – really captured their support.
  4. Vision overcomes the power of criticism. Without vision squeaky wheels control organisations. I particularly liked this part and have a strong visualisation in my mind what Ken and Jesse meant by ‘squeaky wheels’! I have worked with these types of people for many years of my adult life – the habitual moaners, critics, nay-sayers – for whom any change is a thing to be attacked, subverted or stopped. In my experience, they too often win the day, even if it is only by slowing change processes down to a slow drip effect, which ends up frustrating too many people and disaffecting the rest … and stops! I have seen over the past few weeks a strong vision galvanise an organisation, whilst providing ample opportunity for those who are less certain or committed to say their bit. What has been clear is that the vision, fully supported by those things that have emanated from it, have provided powerful responses to those who were or potentially were ‘squeaky wheels’!
  5. Vision creates unity. Without vision you can’t get on the same team. I noted above that I have been very impressed at the ways in which this vision has galvanised my client’s organisation. It has also brought a strongly unifying sense to the organisation. Sure there are still issues to resolve; some people have not achieved what they had hoped; and unfortunately, as happens when budgets drive an agenda, there are some casualties. Despite this, staff in the organisation demonstrates a greater sense of purpose, of drive, of direction … and a very real sense of excitement at the prospects that the future holds. Uncertainty exists and some trepidation as a result but the leadership demonstrated, first by the CEO and now a critical mass of leaders and managers across the organisation, built on a strong vision will create a strong forward momentum. No mean feat in times like these!

It is interesting to note that, in their book, Ken and Jesse say, “Less than 10% of the organizations we visited are led by managers who have a clear sense of where they are trying to lead people.”

I hope that, in relating this to a lived current experience, you might agree with my sources and myself that vision is vital! Hopefully, this might inspire you to re-visit your vision for your organisation and see if you are one of the lucky 10%?

One last thing … if you need help to check, refresh and re-energize your vision, you know how to reach me … just ask!

Betrayal – its impact on trust!

Musing on the impact of change in organisations and teams, I have noted, from my experience and observation, a significant spectrum of response – from anger, denial, and pain [often expressed highly emotively] to clear deliberation, understanding and acceptance. As recently as today, I have heard of a further two clear examples of that spectrum, which brought to mind the notion of trust and a quote from Moliere, which goes …

“Doubts are more cruel than the worst of truths!”

When we engage in change processes, especially those driven by budget necessity, which is the lived experience of many private, public and third sector organisations at this time, there is an overwhelming argument to actively develop and reinforce trust in the workplace. This, simply put, is because it is relationships that keep our organisations operating!

Betrayal – often seen as those small doubts, such as veracity of facts; the intentions and attitudes of leaders, the change process/approach being taken; the lack of staff engagement or involvement – has real impact. Whether minor or major, it erodes the fabric of those relationships either little by little or dramatically! Often too, once the full position or situation is disclosed, as Moliere suggests, staff can take a more pragmatic and less subjective view, as one of my recent examples has highlighted.

Betrayal, of course, is a potent word and yet it occurs in many guises in many workplaces. Two examples would be not keeping promises given to your staff or co-workers or misleading colleagues to further your own ends – things which I have seen regularly happen over my career! Add the tension of a change process; competition for posts; concerns about past performance or absence record; and so on … and the likelihood of betrayal will escalate.

It is also systemic in nature, as discovered by Dennis and Michelle Reina*, who found the most insidious betrayals are those everyday minor ones, as they eat away at the essential trust that human relationships need to flourish;  to build everyday confidence; and to deliver greater productivity. If they stay alive in people’s minds they can also, over the course of time, become ‘bigger’ than at first experienced.

It is also clear that there is a high cost to betrayal in the workplace. It diminishes people’s confidence; it dilutes creativity; it inhibits information-sharing and communication and it also decreases risk-taking … in short, it impacts on productivity and the delivery of real outcomes for those drawing on the services of the organisation.

Knowing how to find and manage betrayal and, more importantly, build or rebuild a climate of trust is, I believe, essential in the modern workplace, given the dilemmas that many organisations face. In my next post I will offer some thoughts on how to do this, drawing from Reina and Reina, and from my own direct experiences.

* “Trust and Betrayal in the Workplace – Building Effective Relationships in Your Organisation” – Reina and Reina, Berrett-Koehler, 1999.

Managing your resilience!

Following on from my recent article about resilience, I would like to offer some thinking, distilled from a range of experiences over recent years, that might provide some notions as to how you can ‘manage’ your resilience. These are things, from my own personal experience, have helped me to survive and then thrive in times of turbulent change.

Good managers will probably identify with many of these comments and are already likely to be doing them! However, in the exceptional circumstances that former colleagues currently face in the public sector for example, I would say that now there is an even stronger pressure to raise your game, even if you already think of yourself as a competent and/or effective practitioner/manager!

So … try:

  • Re-affirming your organisational vision – how do you align with the current vision and how does it relate to your sense of the ‘bigger picture’? How do you relay or replay this to your staff?
  • Translating the theory to practice – ‘live’ the vision in as authentic a way that you can muster! Developing and displaying trust is critical to your continued best practice, so ‘walking the talk’ is ever more needed.
  • Remaining flexible, adaptable and disciplined. The notions of ‘agile’ working and ‘remote working’ seem to become more prominent as different ways of working are pursued to respond to the pressures inherent in organisations.
  • Seeking better clarity about your role[s] and responsibilities, if this is required.
  • Being more reflective and learning from your own and others’ experiences.
  • Ensuring you are undertaking tasks and activities for which you have the right tools and resources, skills and knowledge … and, if not, seeking and acquiring them.
  • Keeping a focus on your own quality – in output, outcome and impact terms – focused on responding, within the constraints you inevitably experience, to the needs of those using the service[s] you provide.
  • Staying focused too on your contribution to the organisation as a whole, by being clear about the value that you add to the offer that is made to those service users.
  • Retaining the evidence that underpins both quality and contribution – it strengthens your own sense of worth and, when hard, often personal, choices are to be made, provides strength to your position. You also need to remember that you are still accountable for the things you do.
  • Continuing to be collaborative – with key partners [who may be feeling the same or similar pressures to you] by being inclusive and responsive, wherever possible. This is more than not likely to improve the outcomes and impact for your stakeholders.
  • Being solution focused, rather than problem-fixated; and being prepared to seek help from those who are willing and able to do so. In my experience help often arrives from unexpected quarters.
  • Listening actively; and being welcoming, transparent, and open.
  • Using humour to defuse overly tense situations and relationships.
  • Learning to say NO assertively and maybe even being prepared to delegate responsibly where possible.

Of course, if your morale is already low, motivation to do these things may clearly be difficult to build or sustain; especially if you are not being inspired by a clear and compelling vision; lack stretching but achievable goals; and perhaps feel a little ‘invisible’ or ‘less valued’! Difficult though that may be, my suggestion would be not to wait to see if someone else does this for you but to take the little steps you do have control over … and make a difference for you! You will be surprised, I believe, at how soon a critical mass is formed of like-minded individuals that provides you with greater support and motivation than you might have imagined possible!

Resilience … in Leadership and Management

The belief that leaders have the endless stamina, ideas, and skills it takes to deliver success year after year is a fallacy of the past … and more evidently so in these difficult modern times. Thus, resilience … the ability to bounce back, cope, renew, and revitalise … is becoming much more a focus for leaders in all walks of life.

In addition, to lead at any level in the organisational arena of the 21st century necessitates much more, including continuous development of potential [of yourself and others], highly effective utilisation of resources [which are becoming scarcer in a ‘more for less’ climate], and both mental and emotional clarity [about your own role and contribution and the part they play in the overall success of your organisation].

Therefore the requirement to lead well and to deliver results … real outcomes and real impact … whilst working within the public, private and voluntary sectors has never been more challenging. Thus, delivering and sustaining achievement now requires leadership that engenders a pervasive state of well-being, of which building and sustaining resilience is a key component.

Jerry Patterson, Ph.D.[1], an author and educational leadership professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham [http://www.newswise.com/articles/view/530570], has researched and written extensively on resilience, identifying four characteristic leadership styles. The one most suited to this modern environment would appear to be that he terms ‘the realistic optimist’. He identified six strengths of a leader who is a resilient, realistic optimist:

1) Resilient leaders work to understand what is happening because of the adversity, including how they may have contributed to the adversity.

2) They are positive, believing good things can happen, within the constraints posed by the reality, and that they can play a role in making them happen.

3) They are anchored in their core personal and organisational values, staying focused on what’s important rather than allowing adversity to knock them off course.

4) They are persistent in tough times. They recover quickly from setbacks and celebrate small victories along the way.

5) They invest their physical, mental emotional and spiritual energy wisely, knowing when and how to build in recovery time so their energy isn’t drained.

6) They act on the courage of their convictions. They take decisive action when adversity strikes and the stakes are high. Their courage largely comes from being clear about what matters most.

Based upon my observations of a range of front-line and middle managers over the past 20 or so months in particular, Patterson’s words ring true! Those that demonstrate greater resilience mirror many of his observations and, in addition, are often able to manage change at the micro-level well.

So, on reflection, if you think or feel that this is an arena that needs further consideration in your own life and work, maybe you need to think through:

  • How effective you are at decision-making, especially delegating and saying NO;
  • How well you adapt to and manage personal, team and organisational change;
  • What is the balance between your transformational and transactional leadership styles;
  • What is your predominant style of emotionally intelligent leadership;
  • How well-developed are your influencing and negotiating skills; and,
  • Despite the climate and pressures upon and around you, are you continuing to invest in your own personal and professional development?

A final key area of reflection, underpinning many of these other considerations, would be how well you learn and how well you use your most effective learning dimensions to build your own continuing professional development?

John Thurlbeck – 19th January 2011


[1] Patterson is co-author of the book “Resilient School Leaders: Strategies for Turning Adversity Into Achievement” (2005)

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