3 Steps to Better Relationships

After her meeting with Bob, Barbara felt like she was walking on air.  She couldn’t remember the last time her spirits were so high.
She felt like Bob really heard her and saw her. Cared for her. Like she really mattered and he saw her in a way that even she had forgotten.
There are some people who can make you feel like you’re on the only person in the room. They are enormously effective and have great impact.
What was it that Bob did?  Listen?  Sure, and it was more than that.  Bob had a well-developed outward mindset vs. an inward mindset and so that meant that he was focused on her — her needs, her objectives and her challenges.  He left his needs and his ego out of the conversation.
How does someone do that?
Start with mindset.
The Arbinger Institute‘s latest book The Outward Mindset – Seeing Beyond Ourselves proposes that what makes people like Bob so impactful is a mindset that is focused on others.
Arbinger makes a distinction about mindset:  it’s not so much about our self-beliefs; it is instead how we regard our connections and how we regard our world and the people and circumstances in it. An outward mindset is about being alive and interested in other people, and focused on their objectives and needs and not on our own.
It’s deeper than shifting behavior.  Mindset drives behavior and behavior drives results.
People with an outward mindset are engaging and can tap into other people’s enthusiasm and bring out their best selves.
Basically, it’s about shifting our focus from self to others, and can be immensely practical.
Some possible applications come to mind.
With a direct report:  shift from issuing a directive and how to get things done to helping that person see what is possible and how they can achieve an ideal outcome. Emphasize their professional growth and development.
With a boss:  how can we support them in their role to reach their objectives.  Make their success a priority.
With a significant other: how can we focus on attending to their wants and needs, with no keeping score and with no strings attached? Put their happiness ahead of our own.
Arbinger notes the cost of an inward mindset (when people focus on themselves and not their impact) is wasted effort, less collaboration, curtailed innovation and employee disengagement.  Not to mention less than satisfying relationships.
While it’s certainly easy to lapse into a default of focus on self, it’s about progress.  Efforts to take on an outward mindset will be rewarded.
Those who have an outward mindset take responsibility for their impact and hold themselves accountable.  Arbinger created a simple acronym to help remember that process – SAM.  These people:
  1. See the needs, objectives and challenges of others
  2. Adjust efforts to be more helpful to others
  3. Measure and hold themselves accountable for their impact 
Why doesn’t this happen more? Too often, we’re waiting for another person to make the first move. People are generally concerned about themselves and worry that if aren’t vigilant, they will lose out.
If we believe that what we send out, we get back (albeit not always right away), then initiating with an outward focus can be generative.  One challenge is to take the risk of making the first move and to do so somewhat boldly.  Arbinger warns that a tepid start will result in a tepid response.
So, the invitation is to embrace the challenge and just start.  You may trigger a reciprocal response in the near term and you may not. No matter, you will be sowing seeds for the future. The immediate opportunity is to be a catalyst and be useful in the process.
Think for a moment about some impact you would like to have. What are you willing to risk by shifting to an outward mindset to try to achieve it? A little ego? A little vulnerability?
It’s your move.
Ball’s in your court.
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From the Water Cooler . . .
If it is to be, it is up to me.
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Success now.  

The Promise of Possibilities

Dogs…chased…the…gorillas…because…they…smelled…like…tangerines…that…cats…forgot…and…left…behind…at…the…party……period!

So plays out an exercise of improvisation among business colleagues.  That the sentence doesn’t make sense is beside the point.

Participating in groups of three, each member added one word at a time.  It meant that each of them had to listen to the others, be present to the exercise, and let go of where they wanted to take the story.

And, underlying the whole process, they all had to practice a Yes, And perspective.

Yes, And is the most basic building block of improvisation and stands in contrast to No or Yes, But.

With a Yes, And perspective one accepts what another offers and builds on it and never dismisses or denies.

The Yes, And perspective makes space for an idea to breathe before being shot down, sometimes just the moment that is needed for a new idea to develop into something worth pursuing.

Yes, And promotes the creation of a safe and courageous space and in turn supports risk taking and encourages innovation and creativity.

I’ve been leading groups to perform improv exercises on a regular basis this past year  The participants quickly get over any shyness.  They pay attention, focus and have fun.  Their energy goes up and they leave a little more open to possibilities and willing to engage with others.

Improvisation is an activity that allows participants to experience new concepts and in a visceral and lasting way.

The intent is not to try to be funny or to deliver a performance in front of their peers.  Instead, participating in a structured series of improv exercises can be a form of emotional intelligence in action and offers a creative learning experience.

Though the exercises may feel like play, improv promotes better listening, more spontaneity, increased confidence as well as flexibility and agility.

The benefits are not limited to just the individual experience.  Because the exercises are done in pairs, triads and larger groups, they can also build team cohesion and collaboration.

Another key part of what makes practicing improv effective is supporting our partners and helping them look good.  When we respond in the moment and build on the ideas that come up in the exercises, we’re not competing for credit.  This approach de-emphasizes ego and contributes to better teamwork.

Living in today’s period of unprecedented and accelerating change, it will be the people and institutions that are willing to adapt and consider new ways of doing things that will survive and thrive.  There are too many examples of institutions that have faded because they didn’t.

Contempt before investigation is a sure way to block progress and maintain the illusion of safety of the status quo.

Yes, And is positive, versatile and invites participation.

As we can lead from any chair, the opportunity in hand is to start noticing the negative impact of No and Yes, Butand replace it with

YES, that’s an interesting idea. . .AND. . .

 

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From the Water Cooler . . .

What we send out, we get back. 

Success for you now today

Death By Meeting, Nevermore!

Harry looked at his watch under the table.

10:27

Only three minutes since he last looked.  Ugh.

Tom droned on.  Kathy interrupted, again.  Jim nodded agreement to. . .what?  We started late.  No one introduced Mary who joined the company only two days ago.

No agenda.  Finance wasn’t there even though the meeting was supposed to be about how finance wanted to change the budget process.  Unprepared, Sally had no new information and that meant no decisions could be made. This meeting was a giant waste of time!

With a flimsy process and little follow through, we would likely be covering the same ground two weeks from now.

Business meetings are notorious, and for many good reasons.

But, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Bain & Co estimates that 15% of an organization’s collective time is spent in meetings.  Other sources estimate time in meetings at 25% to 30%.  Bain’s research says that senior executives spend about two days a week (40%) of their time in meetings with three or more coworkers.  So, as executives rise in the ranks and their time becomes more valuable, they spend more time in meetings.

Meetings represent a sizable chunk of an office worker’s time, no matter what measurements are used.

The reality is that individuals are limited in how much they can cut back on meeting attendance given the very real risk of alienating their colleagues, and especially their boss.

So, how can we improve the meetings that we do have?

At a recent gathering for organizational development professionals, I had the good fortune to hear Dick and Emily Axelrod (luminaries in the OD field) present on a system they have developed to lead meetings that are productive and participants actually find useful and want to attend.

They outlined the merits of their Meeting Canoe, a six-step process that consistently creates good outcomes.

A look at the process and we see why it works:  it’s welcoming, inclusive and connecting, reality-based, rooted in the present with an aspirational eye on an ideal outcome, decisive, and has accountability built in.

As the Axelrods discussed that night and also in their book Let’s Stop Meeting Like This, they recommend the following process:

Welcome people to create an atmosphere conducive to doing the desired work.  We want to create a sense of safety and, with it, openness to sharing and receiving ideas.

Connect people to each other and the task.  This step has two levels.  Building relationships among the participants and, second, connecting the participants to the issue at hand.  Building on the safety, we want to engender trust, the most basic building block of effective teams.

Discover the way things are.  We create a shared view of our current reality. This requires being open to a broad spectrum of input, including divergent views and hearing from the quiet minority.  We want to enable the participants to share their own perspectives and create a common ground of understanding. Next, we help the group resist the temptation to jump to a fix.

Elicit people’s dreams.  Mining the group for ideal outcomes is the yin to the current reality’s yang.  This is a time to loosen our grasp on exacting practicality and have participants imagine possibilities.

Decide on next steps.  Participants make their choices clear, while taking into account the way things are and the articulated ideal outcomes.  Note that the process for how to arrive at decisions should be understood beforehand.  It is particularly toxic for participants who thought they had a vote to be disenfranchised because it emerges they are not aligned with what the meeting leader wants.

Attend to the end.  Bring the meeting to a close by reviewing decisions made, next steps, and who is going to do what by when.

I have adopted this process for meetings myself and recommended it to coaching clients. I am happy to report that it works extremely well for all types ranging from brief interactions to group meetings to longer planning sessions.

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From the Water Cooler . . .

You can’t complain about it if you’re not willing to do something about it.

Success is at hand 

Pause for Stress  

Imagine you’re tired . . .

hungry because you skipped lunch . . .

and under a tight deadline.

Now, a phone is ringing and your teenager just texted that they’ve been in an accident.

Stress happens.

Some version of it is inevitable.  Frequently.

Last month we looked at some sources of stress and how we can make matters worse by magnifying the impact with our self-generated fears.  The recommended coping strategy is to increase our self-awareness and maintain perspective.

While we can take some preventative steps around personal environmental factors such rest, diet, and exercise, generally we know what we should be doing but most of us don’t give ourselves the advantage of sustaining healthy balances.

So, if we accept that we are going to face stress, how do we want to handle it when it does happen?

At one end of the spectrum are unhealthy reactions. Some seek to take the edge off, quickly and easily.

In an effort to dull intense, tough feelings caused by stress, they seek distractions ranging from excessive shopping or TV watching or engage in other compulsive behaviors involving food, drugs and alcohol.

Stressful situations are doubly challenging–just when we are facing circumstances that demand we be extra resourceful and adept, our physiological fight/flight/freeze is triggered and draws blood (much needed to think clearly, quickly) to our arms and legs and away from our brain.  I’s not so surprising that we blurt the exact wrong thing in a highly stressful moment.

Plus, that sharp remark can add a brand new layer of stress:  remorse over what we said and now a need to patch things up.

We want to avoid knee-jerk reactions and instead demonstrate more measured, thoughtful responses.

P a u s e . . .

A pause can refresh.

Kevin, an avid golfer, talks about pausing in the backswing.  (Swinging very hard usually produces unwanted results landing in water or the woods.)

Jim says he is not responsible for his first thought but he is responsible for his second thought.  He makes a deliberate effort to rein in the first thought silently and create space for a higher version of himself to respond in a positive way.

Caveat Reactor: Because the urge to be heard can go beyond the triggering moment, there can be an extended need for self-management and to exercise restraint of pen and tongue, a familiar refrain.

How can we practice this?

P a u s e  . . . take a breath . . . wait a beat . . . create your own method of inserting a comma.

Let go and let it become a habit.

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From the Water Cooler . . .

It sounded so much better in my head.

Success and leadership.

A Win-Win for New Employees, and You  

Sam’s performance was disappointing and, honestly, he was teetering into trouble.   His boss was puzzled.  The recruiting process had been smooth and Sam seemed so promising in his interviews.

Now, three months into his new job, Sam’s boss felt Sam didn’t have a clear focus on his role or what was expected of him.  He hadn’t connected with many of the key people whose support he needed, and worst of all, this company had certain ways of doing things and Sam “just didn’t get it.”

How did this happen?

Sam got the same orientation that all employees got.

That was a big part of the problem.

Like so many people facing new situations, especially when the outcome really matters, Sam had difficulty navigating his new circumstances.  He would have benefitted from a structured process to help him integrate into the firm.

The company’s orientation process handled the mandatory paperwork, basic company policies and included a few introductions to random colleagues. This company’s orientation process was like that at many firms: very short in duration, available to all employees, with low engagement potential and low-to-no strategic value.

Of leaders who join companies from the outside, an alarming 40% fail in their first 18 months, according to Fortune magazine.  What’s more, a full third of external hires are no longer with an organization after two years, say Stein & Christiansen in their book, Successful Onboarding.  They say further that less than a third of executives are positive about their onboarding experience.  So, Sam’s experience was not so unusual.

So, what is onboarding?

It is a program a company designs to reduce the time it takes for a new employee to get up to speed and become productive and to align with the firm’s culture and objectives.

Plus, a well-thought-out program can help a new employee:

  • Assimilate into a firm’s culture
  • Create and develop relationships key to their effectiveness,
  • Offer clarity on roles and expectations
  • Provide guidance on how work gets done

Onboarding often starts early.  A 2011 SHRM study reported that 60% of companies said they began their onboarding efforts before the employee’s first day, some during the recruiting process.  Another 32% started on the first day.

While some companies have programs lasting up to a year or more, they are a tiny minority.  The SHRM research showed 66% completed at 60 days and 91% at 90 days.

   

A good program is strategic and intentional.  This kind of help translates into employees getting further faster and results in higher productivity, retention, profitability and employee engagement.

We believe that the development of the onboarding initiative is best as a multi-departmental effort representing the commitment of top management, the soft skills of HR and talent management, and the perspective of recent hires.

It is usually up to the employee’s manager to oversee the program for their direct report.  To encourage compliance, some companies include the manager’s onboarding supervision as part of the annual review.

Separate from the employee’s manager, mentors (or buddies) can answer the many normal questions that can feel embarrassing and vulnerable to ask. This is especially true with cultural assimilation, the most frequent cause of new employees’ derailment.  Mentors can demystify social norms that seem invisible until they are stepped on.

The mentoring relationship is most effective when it is somewhat informal.  Good candidates for mentoring are employees who are not too much more senior in rank (conducive for candid discussion), have good people skills, are actively engaged and who are willing to be available.

Other elements of a good onboarding program include lots of two-way communication, check points at designated intervals to ensure accountability, clear direction, clarity on expectations, coaching, peer group discussions and metrics to measure progress.

Ultimately, a good onboarding program can deliver a win-win.

First, there is the solid ROI as measured in productivity, retention and engagement.  Second, there is a notable competitive advantage to your firm as most companies do not expend an effort robust and sustained enough for real impact.

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Recent blog posts.

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From the Water Cooler . . . 

I can control only two things:  my attitude and my actions.  For everything else, I have to let go.

 Success for you