Safe Space

April 6, 2016

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Have you ever been part of a group that is exhausting?

What about a group that is exhilarating?

In an increasingly complex world, what we know about and how we process work in teams is critical. Over the past 20 years the time spent in collaborative activities has increased by 50 percent or more. It’s common for employees to spend more than 75 percent of their time each day communicating with colleagues.

Groups deliver important  benefits. They accelerate  innovation, catch errors quickly and identify better solutions for vexing challenges. People that work in teams regularly achieve better results and are happier with their jobs. Evidence also suggests that profitability increases when workers collaborate more often.

While “employee performance optimization” is a common concern for any organization, it’s not enough to look only at individual professional development. It’s now vital to thoughtfully construct how people work together.

Stagger or Soar

Tech giant Google considered its  51,000 employees a fertile testing ground for team effectiveness. Not long ago they took on the challenge of learning why some teams stagger and others soar. Research done by sociologists and psychologists pointed them toward group norms. These are the shared values, expected standards and implicit “rules” for functioning when people gather. They vary relative to team composition – even if all operate in the same organization.

Group leaders are important referees and coaches because the “right” norms can raise a group’s intelligence, while the “wrong” norms can disable a group. Two vital factors raise collective intelligence: equal distribution of air time and social sensitivity or empathy towards team mates. Clear goals, reliable interdependence and accountability matter, too.

Feeling Safe

The “big” finding? Whether or not people work together effectively in a team reflects psychological safety. Safety is what Amy Edmondson, a Harvard Business School professor, defines as “a confidence the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up.” Effective teams, organizations and communities are safe. Progress and results  depend on it.

Lisa Wyatt Knowlton , Ed.D. has served as chief strategy officer and managing partner Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. (www.pwkinc.com). She has cross-sector and international experience. Lisa is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. Contact her via:lwyattknowlton@gmail.com.

What Matters Most?

March 12, 2016

mopbucket  Imagine yourself in a business strategy course your senior year in college. Assume you had a “perfect” 4.0 average grade and were determined to keep it. With the final exam approaching, you’d likely spend many days and nights studying. You would probably memorize formulas or calculations, review notes, attend cram sessions and quiz study partners.

When the teacher hands out the final exam on a single piece of paper, you might be surprised. You might even be perplexed that it’s not far longer. And, what if both sides of that paper were entirely blank? Imagine once everyone has the paper, the professor says, “I’ve taught you everything I can teach you about business in the last few months, but the most important question is this: What’s the name of the person who cleans this building?”

Would you pass or fail the test?

Charles Schwab’s CEO Walt Bettinger tells this story and it packs a memorable punch. It was the only college exam he ever failed. He says he got the B he deserved in that class but learned a lot. Over his years as a student, he had seen the janitor (Dottie) hundreds of times. He’d never taken the time for conversation or to ask her name.

The professor’s assessment sent a powerful message. What matters most says Bettinger, is that you never lose sight of the people who do the real work. His story is a terrific reminder about the perils of thin air. Be sure your altitude doesn’t affect your attitude.

Lisa Wyatt Knowlton , Ed.D. has served as chief strategy officer and managing partner Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. (www.pwkinc.com). She has cross-sector and international experience. Lisa is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. Contact her at: lwyattknowlton@gmail.com

 

 

Rebounds

February 17, 2016

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An admired mentor recently shared what she called “career stumbles.” Over four decades two notable incidents stood out. Once she took a job that meant a terror-filled overnight experience hiding in a closet with a throat-slashed domestic violence victim. She left that new job fast. Another, when the CEO post she accepted came with a hostile predecessor that had an active interest in her failure and a different candidate. Although it wasn’t immediately evident, in both cases, she moved to a far better opportunity.

Daily, we all make mistakes. It’s likely you can quickly think of errors in your work or life. Perhaps, a misjudgment or misrepresentation that created an awkward sidestep? A misunderstanding that plagued a relationship? A transition that wasn’t smooth? A misspoken word? And, sometimes unfair or regrettable experiences happen to us. What action follows is critical: the rebound.

Consistent Action

NBA greats Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell had more than 20,000 rebounds during their playing careers. These were awesome defensive basketball players with powerful combinations of height, strength and effort. It meant, after a missed field goal or free throw, they consistently retrieved the ball. They had “hustle” on the court and were willing to do what some call “grunt work.” These players made huge contributions to their teams and were individual stars, too.

Willpower, discipline, positioning, timing, effort all matter a lot in making a rebound. Seventy percent of the time, the ball comes off the board or rim opposite the launched shot. Anticipation is vital.

A Bad Bounce

Just like off-the-court events, the toughest challenge can be when the ball makes an unpredictable bounce. Sometimes it is a surgery intended to “fix” that generates new problems, a decline from the graduate school you desperately wanted, a failed marriage, near bankruptcy, an unexpected death or unfair job loss. Regardless, each of us controls two things: our effort and attitude. Rebounds are essential to recovery and participation.

When a stumble, slip or error occurs (and it will), consider important encouragement from the influential Irish writer Samuel Beckett: “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”

Lisa Wyatt Knowlton , Ed.D. has served as chief strategy officer and managing partner Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. (www.pwkinc.com). She has cross-sector and international experience. Lisa is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. Contact her via:lwyattknowlton@gmail.com.

Seek Inspiration!

November 19, 2015

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People inspire and sometimes, disappoint. I’ve been especially touched by these examples*:

  • A seasoned foundation executive who eschews misuse of power, develops new talent and prefers evidence to gossip. She shows me quiet confidence.
  • A couple who saw my need and quickly offered to share their home. They show me generosity.
  • A vibrant corporate retiree deeply informed by the chaos of war he experienced at a too-young age. This man  consistently offers kindness, insight, tolerance, wisdom and vision that transcends the urgent now. He encourages me to consider multiple perspectives.
  • A capable professional and fierce mother who fought relentlessly to develop a unique treatment that saved her child’s life. She shows me endurance.
  • An experienced civic leader with terrific inter-personal skills and great respect for others closes his notes with “peace.” He offers me calm in choppy waters.
  • A gracious lady recalls a deep misunderstanding that decades ago broke a vibrant relationship and sent her regrets. She demonstrates integrity.
  • A random victim of a merciless beating who was left for dead and endured years of difficult rehabilitation to simply walk and talk again. This man has  forgiven those who hurt him and altered his life. Now, he provides savvy advice, kind encouragement and important leadership to his family, church and community. He shows me resilience.
  • A  principled lawyer challenges corruption. She demonstrates resolve by speaking truth to power.

Costly Disappointments

With sadness, I could share a long rift of situations where people have deeply disappointed. People with ignorant, rigid, inflexible perspectives that play “keep away,” discard others and are self-absorbed. Those who provide examples of insecure and fearful actions that exclude talented, ethical resources. Those who manipulate, deceive and support unjust practices that assure the status quo and perpetuate politics. People who assure their friends get big favors. On any given workday, we each see and live these disappointments. These attitudes and actions represent enormous opportunity cost.

Internal Compass

We know authentic leaders make choices that inspire. They are learners, not knowers. They assure that power serves: others and those most vulnerable. They rebound. These characteristics are what endure and what engenders credibility. These features attract others. These are the people who support progress. It’s this conduct that supports high functioning partnerships, teams, coalitions and networks.

The attitudes and behaviors we can most influence are our own. Authentic leaders are driven by an internal compass that reflects key values. Although I make mistakes, I know my intentions: competence, candor, courage and compassion.

Who inspires you?

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com *This post recognizes, with gratitude, MS, Ks, TSK, KA, TP, TC, PJW, TM.

 

Relatively Better

September 30, 2015

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The conversation I had with a board member of a deeply influential organization some months ago was troubling.

In that exchange, he described behavior of senior management as incompetent. Later, he said “But all these organizations are a mess.”

No Worse Than Jones

Relativism is a common discard. You can set the bar anywhere you want. It’s possible to rationalize almost anything by noting those who are also behaving badly or worse. Read this list and add to it the relative comments you have heard:

  • Nope, the Catholic Church has not done right by women. But, look at the Muslims.
  • Yes, teen pregnancy rates are terrible in Michigan. But, look at New Mexico and Mississippi.
  • While cronyism is common, it’s nothing like financial fraud.
  • Football and basketball coach salaries may be excessive, but look at Wall Street.
  • Air pollution is awful in California, but it’s nowhere near as bad as Pakistan.

Insecure people and brittle organizations rush to defend. Regardless of goodwill and constructive capacity, when a critical remark is made, one can expect a counter punch. Unskilled  managers wear an over-sized winner’s ribbon with an inscription proclaiming: “Not the Worst!”

Context Warp

Compensation is a typical yardstick to underscore relativism. Almost everybody looks “up,” rarely down or sideways at money. A bonanza for one man becomes the standard for another’s excess. So when the former president of Yale received an “additional retirement benefit” of $8.5 million in 2013, Columbia’s annual presidential compensation of $3.4 million looked nearly paltry. Does anyone ever mention the context is warped?

Now and then, we hear some contrast. Noting the “best in class” can be inspiring and motivating. It can encourage a different attitude, e.g., why can’t we? If New Hampshire has the lowest teen pregnancy rate, then what’s going on there we might need to learn?

While defending territory can be a common reaction to critical comments, a far more useful response are great questions. A learning attitude and listening ears are important assets. They both have the potential to support improvement which delivers, in turn, results. In serving a planned vision, leaders set standards by word and actions. Everything is not relative. It’s vital to have expectations for what’s right and what’s wrong, not simply what’s better or worse.

 Less Evil

Certainly, acting less evil isn’t the same as being virtuous. Regardless of whether others make the effort, leaders offer a principled example. Recognizing this and pressing for accountability requires important perspective: some people call it leadership.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

 

Rules and Games

September 24, 2015

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Creating change that matters often involves public arguments.

Important social practices we consider routine (like seatbelts, Kindergarten, recycling, minimum wages) would have never happened if change leaders hadn’t persuaded powerful interests what was necessary for the common good.

Rules and Games

Robert Reich, former Labor Secretary and a public policy professor at UC Berkley, writes thoughtfully about how American markets are shaped through the rules government creates. In a recent essay about how Big Tech influences business, he wrote, “Legislators, agency heads and judges decide the rules of the game. And, over time, they change the rules. The important question, too rarely discussed, is who has the most influence over these decisions and in that way wins the game.”

Highly-effective, veteran lobbyist George Franklin, author of Cereal Wars, concurs with Reich. Franklin’s engaging text offers many sage tips and examples of navigating the corridors of Congress. The lessons he offers about relationships and strategy apply equally to state capitols and local councils.

Technically, advocacy is about organized efforts and actions that establish laws and policies that will create a just society. Practically,  advocacy is the capacity to understand and affect power towards a negotiated outcome. Advocacy may require participation in elections, mass mobilization, civil action, lobbying, bargaining and court actions. Influencing public (and administrative) policy can create important and sustainable shifts in resources and practices.

 Advocacy Strategy

Advocacy is nearly always part of change-making. It asks something of others, frames demands and intentionally (and unintentionally) provokes conflicts of interests. As you seek what’s more fair, create your advocacy strategy with an external and internal review. The Advocacy Institute suggests these focusing questions:

External Assessment         Internal Assessment
What do you want?        What have we got (allies, funds, other)?
Who can give it to you?        What resources do we need to develop?
What do they need to hear?        How do we begin?
Who do they need to hear it from?        How do we know if it’s working?
How can you get them to hear it?

Issues like AIDS prevention, deforestation, child welfare, fishing rights, water quality, food safety, equal pay and countless others are vital concerns for you, your organization and community. Big and little changes require timely advocacy. Capable advocates are “in the game” and players who help others make smart rules. Simply put, skilled leaders welcome public engagement; it’s a vital part of creating change.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

Got Bullies?

August 31, 2015

MeanPeople

Are there secrets about mean behavior in your workplace?

The Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) receives calls about nurses and educators more than any others…In a recent book focused on the culture nurses commonly experience, hundreds were interviewed with surprising results. The norm was a culture of bullying, hazing and sabotage. The author profiles tragic behavior patterns: withholding information or help, spreading rumors, name-calling, playing favorites, and intimidating or berating peers until they quit.

Wherever people interact, bad actors appear. The  social and private sectors have plenty of  “anything goes.” Some organizations (and communities)  foster this rough and tumble context by feeding politics.

Abuse of Power

Although it impedes stellar performance, this destructive “underground” behavior happens too often in many organizations. This type of culture makes it very difficult to retain capable people. How individuals use power is key. Workplace bullying is defined as repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators. It is abusive conduct driven by a perpetrator’s need to “assassinate” the targeted individual(s). These behaviors often escalate or spread to involve others who “side” with the bully. It’s similar to domestic violence but  it occurs in a specific workplace or industry. Bullies are insecure and use interpersonal aggression to cope.

Talent are Targets

Research indicates the targets of bullying are:

  • Independent…they refuse to be subservient,
  • More technically skilled than their bullies,
  • Go-to veteran workers,
  • Socially graceful, display greater emotional intelligence and are better liked, as well as
  • Ethical and honest.

Sadly, those most easily exploited targets are people with a prosocial orientation, meaning  those with a desire to help, heal, teach, develop and nurture others. If you’re a target, what actions do you take? The WBI recommends a 3-step action plan: (1) Recognize and name what’s happening (2) Get some supportive care for healing, and (3) Expose the bullies. Most human resource experts say you should also plan to exit.

Witnesses should document actions and speak up. Manager-leaders should always seriously consider their intuition, hints or explicit reports as legitimate. Capable people welcome “whistleblowers.” It takes huge courage to report misbehavior because it puts the target in a place of considerable vulnerability. Consider attributes of those reporting. How do they rate on the characteristics cited here? Are they typically reliable and competent professionals?

It is very deep trouble when bullies are in a supervisory capacity role without accountability. Sometimes those in charge of complaints and ethics are complicit. They rationalize by “protecting the organization.” This allows the bullies to continue to run roughshod over others.  In effect, it means they can’t or won’t clean up their personnel woes. It also ensures a perpetually hostile and dysfunctional environment. Inept management promotes and mimics bullies, those who are caring and competent purge bullies.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

Looking Good and Cooperation

August 25, 2015

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Getting people to “pitch in” or engage can be a challenge.

Long ago, the “Pigouvian” approach to encouraging social cooperation was articulated by Arthur Pigou, a British economist. His idea was cooperation gets incented with  changes in price. For example, if we make water or energy more expensive or pay people to vaccinate their children. Costs are way to affect actions. Many times, though, people resist change even with higher prices. What we know now is that changing the material costs and benefits of cooperation appears to have limits.

What Promotes Cooperation?

Current research gives us some new ways to promote cooperation: they both build on social consciousness and the desire for a “good image.” They can be mutually reinforcing, too. One way is to raise visibility of people’s choices. An application of this? Donors are often cited in lists that recognize them at special events or in a public ad. Or, a pledge list is posted at a website.

Another option is to provide information about how others are behaving. This plays on a “keeping up with the Joneses” perspective. An example application? A California public utility sends homeowners comparable information about neighbors’ water use. People are eager to know if they are below, average or above. With no fondness, my husband recalls from his childhood a particular priest who published giving records of parishioner families. That example combines both visibility and comparability. Information can alter behavior, especially if toward a common goal.

Not all, but many people cooperate because they are concerned about appearances. Humans are social beings and deeply influenced by each other. People know that when they are observed doing good by others, then it benefits their reputation. This is why “true character” is best determined by what people do when unobserved.  And, it’s also why “herd behavior” can head in a constructive or destructive direction.

Leaders Offer Clear Right Actions

Norms (or the “right actions”) are a powerful influence and act as both an incentive and deterrent. Knowing why social interventions are effective can help guide policies and practices, regardless of sector. Setting defaults for noncooperation is becoming more common. For example, a suggested fee or donation pressures a participant to contribute or they must actively opt out (often, in a publicly observed setting). This same phenomenon occurs at church when the offering bowl is passed down the pew. Or, when a company automatically withholds a designated portion of salary for a benefit matching program and requires intentional action by non-participants. Because norms set clear guidance regarding standards for performance of individuals, disciplined attention to them is a vital lever in your organization (as well as home and community).

Influentials  First, Then Perceptions

Remember this as you seek highly engaged peers, team members, donors and volunteers. Making people feel more accountable supports cooperation. Being observed, making participation visible, and a clear display of “example” has substantial effect. What matters hugely are the “right actions” displayed by influentials. They shout what’s appropriate and what will get applause. It is the foundation for what matters to most people – the opinions of others.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

Courage

August 18, 2015

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Her official title is public protector.

Her work is a hybrid: “governmental watchdog and public prosecutor.” She has a tough job that relies on vast technical knowledge and vital personal attributes like integrity, transparency, candor. The challenge is tackling corruption at the highest levels of power.

Thulisile Madonsela fills  a role created to help safeguard democracy by the post-apartheid 1996 South African Constitution. To date, the protector’s office has addressed low-level government corruption, but last year a deep investigory report was prepared on activities of  President Zuma.

Prior to the report release, Madonsela (who was appointed by Zuma in 2009) was threatened with arrest. She was accused of being a covert CIA agent, having political motivations, racism and other charges. Regardless, she published the report that identifies both misappropriated funds and ethics violations.

Madonsela said, “The work here has exposed fault lines in our democracy. It has people talking about what kind of democracy we have – and what of democracy we deserve.” Described as being “exceedingly self-possessed” and “deliberative,” she is the first woman in South African history to hold this post. Prior to her appointment the office handled 19,000 cases annually, five years later the volume is nearly 40,000. The president has been repeatedly been the  subject of  investigations, eluding rape, racketeering, money-laundering and fraud charges. For now, the Zuma case is unresolved.

Madonsela’s mother was a maid and father an electrician. She defied her father’s direction to become a nurse. Known as a rigorous student, she secured scholarships for her education. As a young lawyer she helped draft South Africa’s Bill of Rights. Although deeply concerned about her country’s external image, she has said “Somebody had to raise the accountability question.”

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

 

Six Features of Terrific Teams

July 16, 2015

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Why do we so often fail to work together effectively?  

It is clear our capability to respond to problems lags far behind our ability to detect and describe them. It’s a sad paradox when abundant resources exist. We know that solo ventures don’t have the capacity to deliver what collective work can yield. Necessarily, the big and challenging work of change requires attention to teams.

Formal teams occur in our organizations and communities when two or more people are gathered to deliver a performance objective and shared activities are required to achieve it. Regardless of purpose, well-designed teams must include: roles & accountabilities; effective communications; individual performance & feedback; and evidence-based decisions.

A checklist of team essentials is a good start to building an effective team. Research indicates these six features are necessary:

A Clear, Elevating Goal. A high performing team has a shared, clear and specific understanding of what is to be achieved and passionately believes it is worthwhile. When goals are ambiguous, diluted, politicized or individual ambitions take priority then performance lags and dysfunction prevails.

Results-driven. Teams must be structured around their intended goal with explicit accountability. Typically, teams are established to tackle problems, innovate and/or support tactics. Problem-solving teams are often an executive or leadership group where trust is essential. Autonomy is a very significant for  innovation and tactical teams must have task clarity to assure execution. Sometimes teams handle all three purposes.

Competent Members. The right people matter hugely. The “right” people have appropriate technical skills, knowledge, training and experience as well as personal attributes which contribute to the collective. Successful NBA coach Phil Jackson said, “The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.” One adds, removes individuals to develop a team. Careful thought about the optimal mix of people on a team is time well spent.

Unified Commitment & Collaboration. Loss of self, enthusiasm, loyalty, dedication and identification with a group of people are all features of unified commitment that reflect a physical and mental energy. Collaboration reflects both a safe climate and structure that encourages interdependence.

Standards of Excellence. Urgent pressures to perform with specific behaviors set expectations for team members. Performing to specified standards requires discipline and explicit process improvement. To achieve shared goals, both learning and accountability are present in an effective team.

Principled Leadership. Any effective team includes a capable captain. Team leaders motivate, educate, facilitate and construct a fair environment that engages contributions. When talented people are in charge morale goes up. Principled leaders offer a moral imperative for change. They intensely seek the shared goal. Principled leaders steer past the compromises of politics. They are receptive, accessible and demonstrate a dependable set of internal and public values. They assure team function through: good design, clear goals, a results-focus, member engagement, unity, collaboration and standards.

Team Threats & Multiple Entities

Two common reasons frequently account for weak or dysfunctional teams: politics and individual agendas. They are developmental misfires that torpedo progress and leave the promise of joint efforts unfulfilled. Politics kills both trust and substance. A focus on power precludes collective effort. Individual agendas sabotage shared intentions, interdependence and generate a toxic culture. Sometimes organizational leaders can limit these challenges through their talent selection. Regardless, principled team leaders must respond promptly to politics and selfishness because they cause teams (and organizations) to unravel.

Be aware that complexity gets magnified when coordination is not only inside your organization, but across organizations. The inputs for and implications of creating collective impact are substantial. It means we must understand how to integrate perspectives, engage multiple motives and align energies and skills in effective teams, task forces, networks, coalitions and other structures. Getting our own shop in shape is crucial so that we can constructively reach out to others and generate powerful synergy.

We know what makes great teams. If we have the will, we can do work together far better.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and managing partner at Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

 

 

 

 

 


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