Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A Resolution – WHY?

I recently wrote an article about the importance of asking“Why?”  It put focus on the importance of developing our knowledge, communication and our relationships by asking for more information than might initially be offered to us.   However, asking “Why?” is at best only half the battle.  The other, and perhaps more important half comes from the value of offering “Why”.  Telling someone “Why” is equally if not more important as it offers clarity and understanding, rather than putting it upon the other person to be bold, or sophisticated, enough to ask for it.

In our day to day communications we have found more and more ways to abbreviate ourselves.  Brevity however, has at times trumped clarity.  Offering “Why” gives the other person the information to do differently, or better.  It provides information and opens up communication and understanding.  Say for example you need to have a direct report re-do part of a project.  Offering “Why” eliminates the possibility that s/he will guess as to what is wrong, and possibly make the same or other problematic errors.  Telling a friend or loved one “Why” you don’t want to go to a
particular restaurant for example will allow him/her to better understand you and your preferences, know more about
you, and perhaps enable him or her to make choices that are more to your liking in the future.

Some people fear it is presumptuous to offer the “Why”.  They believe that it assumes the other person cares or should care about our reasons.  They are right.  It does have that presumption, and it should.  We should all surround ourselves by those who care about us, want us to succeed, and want to know us better.  Just as we should distance ourselves from those who do not.  Likewise, we should demonstrate our caring of others by asking for "Why" when it is not offered so that we can learn about and understand them. 

In this New Year, perhaps this is a resolution you can embrace.  To ask why, to offer why, and to only surround yourself with people who care about you. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

If You Have to Use Metrics…

Earlier this year I wrote an article “Are Metrics Killing Morale?” in which I challenged the benefits of (often blind) information gathering and took to task the greater importance of communicating openly and having reciprocal trust with employees.  While I remain firm in that opinion, I also recognize that there are reasons to collect data.  When that is the case, the human element must still be considered.  So the focus needs to turn toward strategies which produce the most value, with the fewest drawbacks.

Metrics are utilized for the purpose of improving business operations or output.  They may be intended to enhance customer service, manage productivity, or boost profitability.  While the purpose is clear, the challenge remains:  The act of collecting metrics can affect morale, and undermine an otherwise functional work environment.

Following are suggestions for engaging in the collection of metrics in a thoughtful and collaborative manner – one in which employee input and buy-in occur at the onset. 

1.    State your core goal – Do you want to improve profitability?  Increase customer satisfaction?  Reduce theft?  Make your purpose clear to all those who will be affected by any changes.  Telling them your purpose allows you to begin building buy-in before you begin implementing ideas.

2.    Share ideas - Most likely your Executive team has already considered several ideas for progressing toward the core goal.   Before making/or furthering an investment in technology or software, share these ideas with the employees who will be affected.  Their intimate knowledge of the company, clients, and processes may yield invaluable information or ideas.  

3.    Involve staff - Ask the employees who will be utilizing or implementing tracking activities to critique the ideas brought forth.  Will the goal be attained?  What won’t work?  What problems have been missed?  Is there anything inherently wrong with the methodology?  Have staff suggest alternate solutions.  Encourage them to brainstorm ideas or propose changes that will attain the desired goal.

4.    Build consensus – Once ideas have been heard, and a plan is in place, it’s time to sell the idea to your staff.  This is an internal marketing moment, because change is hard and you need commitment and buy-in from a majority of your staff if you want the project to be successful.   Be sure to openly communicate details including: Who will be involved?  What will be required? Where will the information go?  How will it be used?  How long will the metrics/tracking last? And be ready to defend the “Why?” for all of those questions.  Be prepared to answer their questions and to “sell” the projected plan.

5.    Begin slowly – Executing a project that transforms your business in terms of large goals like customer satisfaction or productivity takes time to succeed.  Rather than moving at full force from day 1, consider having a pilot group that begins the process.  Depending on your circumstances, you may want this group to be from one department, or you may prefer a diverse group test it out.  

6.    Be Nimble - As you begin to undertake a plan for change, problems are likely to surface or unforeseen issues arise.  Be ready to make changes to the plan as needs suggest, and communicate any change, and the reasons behind them, to your staff.  

7.    Share results – At pre-determined intervals, (ie. 90 days, 6 mos., 1 year) let staff know how the project is going.  Has the data collected been valuable for illuminating the needs/problems?  Is it assisting us in reaching our goal?  What changes will be made as a result of the information we have acquired?

By engaging with staff before, during, and after the process has begun, you establish both a collaborative partnership built on trust and communication, as well as a shared commitment to the success of the organization. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Are You Asking the Right Question?

The other night I received a call from a research group asking me questions about the likelihood of my voting in the up-coming and future elections.   As I answered the questions I eagerly awaited the opportunity to explain myself – but it never came.  Doesn’t the DNC want to know “why” I won’t be voting in an election?  What value does my answer have without the knowledge of what could change it?

As I thought about it, I realized that “Why?” is missing from many of our conversations.  “Why” is an essential part of our knowledge base in learning how to get along with one another.  It teaches us how to meet each other’s needs.  It provides us with an explanation and a deeper ability to understand each other.  Without it, we are guessing our way through our lives and our relationships. 

Imagine you asked your boss for his opinion on your work.  If he says it’s unsatisfactory, don’t you need to know “Why?” so that you can fix it?  What if your spouse doesn’t want to talk about her day.  Do you ask her “Why not?”  If not how do you know if she’s upset with you or something else that occurred in her day?  Some people view these basic questions as intrusive or even inappropriate.  But Asking “why” is essential to our development. 

In asking people about their reluctance to ask “Why?” I get a handful of similar responses:

“I don’t want to offend them.”
“If they wanted me to know, they would have told me.”
“I don’t really want to know why.  (The answer may hurt me)”
“I don’t want an argument.”

The problem for many, may be in the delivery.

“Why?” – Can be asked in more than one way.  It can be asked as a challenge to the other person or it can be asked with genuine curiosity.  Those reluctant to ask the question tend to think of it as the former – as taking a position of debate or demonstrating discord.  For them, avoiding the question seems to be the most appropriate response.  It avoids an argument or conflict.  However, when “Why?” is asked with curiosity, it invites a discussion in a positive way.  It shows your respect for the answer you were given and your interest to understand the reasons behind it.  This basic question allows you to learn the other person’s needs, thereby making it possible for you to meet them.

Consider asking “Why?” in this thoughtful and curious way.  See what you learn, and see how your relationships develop.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Giving Great (and REAL) Feedback

Wouldn’t it be great if giving feedback could promote better workplace relations, improve rapport, and also garner desired change?  It’s possible – and not all that hard.

Delivering feedback is a challenge not only facing managers and supervisors, but facing anyone who wants to tell another person that s/he needs to change.  The challenge for most people is that they don’t want to hurt, disappoint, shock, or anger the person they are informing.  Out of their own fear, most people tend 
to stumble through such an effort.  They are unclear, rambling, incomplete or even abrupt in their delivery.  The result being that both parties find the interaction painful or unsettling.  No wonder it’s something so many of us avoid.

I have found the following to be a truly functional way of delivering feedback:

BEFORE Giving the Feedback
1.    Do your homework – Giving useful feedback requires an understanding of the big picture.  So before giving criticism on someone’s time management for example, find out what is on their plate and from whom.  Find out what they believe to be the priorities and why. 
2.    Find the Good (for them) – You may be about to deliver them a blow, but what could be (or is) the upside for them?  For example, a manager is seen by peers as under-performing.  The upside is that others believe in his/her potential. 
3.    Set up a meeting – Sharing feedback is a conversation, not a quick or one-sided announcement.  Schedule time for you and the other person to speak.  Tell them (generally) what the conversation will be about.  For example, “…To discuss your work with our team.”  Make sure to schedule the meeting to last at least 30 minutes.  This signifies the importance of the meeting, and promotes the conversational element of it.

DURING – Make it a Conversation
4.    Begin with the Facts and Big Picture – When the meeting begins, don’t delay.  Explain why you are meeting with them, what the concerns/problems are, and give them the positive (“up-side”) to the feedback.  Describe it as such.  Keep this succinct.
5.    Allow Them to Respond – It’s natural for them to be defensive - let them speak their peace.  Then remind them of the initial statements of fact and the “up-side” to it. 
6.    Work Toward Solutions – After the concerns are clear, ask them for their ideas/thoughts on improving the situation.  Be encouraging!  If they are stuck, or (once they have finished) if you have ideas that you’d like to share, ask permission to share your own thoughts/ideas for improving the situation.  When possible, weave these ideas with the “up-side” you’ve uncovered.
     CLOSING - Wrapping Things Up
7.    Demonstrate Your Support – Once a plan for (their) change has been decided, demonstrate your support by describing what you will be doing to help. 
8.    Show Gratitude - Thank them for meeting with you and working on this together.

Remember, change is hard.  The feedback meeting is only the first step in promoting and fostering change.  Be sure to check in on the situation regularly.  Follow-up both with the recipient of the feedback, and with those who may be more aware of any changes that are occurring.