Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Try a Little Tenderness

When will the economy improve? How long can senior staff members maintain their relevance? Is this new generation of workers willing to put the work in? Is our strategy consistently adapting with the market? Do our customers value our partnership? Is our technology up to snuff?

There is so much to ponder in this day and age. It keeps us up at night and throws us out of our slumber every morning. With so much on our minds our organizational cultures are at risk.

Projection is human nature. When our boss yells at us, we go find someone to yell at. Does the hot potato blame game help anyone perform any better?

I sat with a CEO of a prominent company a few weeks back. I made an effort to diagnose his organizational weaknesses  for the sake of devising a solution for his pain. No chance...his guard was up, his position was prominent, and he didn't get to his power seat by admitting fault. After talking at me for a few minutes he looked up from with I-phone and said "anything else" - as if I had gotten a word in edgewise.

Here are a few reasons why organizational cultures are broken:
1. Leaders assume that they are the only reason for organizational success
2. Silos are created to hide mistakes
3. Practices do not improve because vulnerability is viewed as a sign of weakness

The Truth Hurts
A manager once told me, "what got you here isn't going to keep you here". The statement was poorly worded but that doesn't mean it is untrue. Regardless of our title, finding holes in our ability is never pleasant. Sometimes we dismiss our accuser, other times we nod in approval and then go punch our steering wheel in frustration. Neither works.

We get upset when our weaknesses are exposed but it doesn't have to be that way. Strengths can be built out of presumed weakness with 2 simple tactics:
1. Focus on strengths
2. Encourage performance empowerment

There are people who are simply not fast runners. No matter how much they run, they do not get any faster. Better to know this on the front end, and concentrate on what you are good at, as opposed to setting your sights on becoming an Olympic sprinter.

Performance assessment is a personal attack. No one enjoys hearing what they are doing wrong. The process of picking apart weaknesses only makes contributors weaker. If there are holes in someones skill set they need to hear how they can improve through their stronger characteristics. You cannot point out a problem without proposing a solution.

While You Were Doing Other Things
Our goals are set and we are laser focused in achieving them. As such, we march through every day with great intent. How often do we look up and re-assess?

If we live by the ethos that "no news is good news" our communication channels are off-line.

Too often organizational leaders assume things are going well because no one is telling them differently. This could be because employees are afraid to admit their faults or to ask for additional resources. Success by the numbers eliminates the human element. When we stop interacting to gain insight from all corners of the organization, people remain in their corners.

Transparency is a vital component to success. Teams need to be willing to share their strengths and weakness and to allow for collaborative guidance. We cannot pretend everything is perfect and perform imperfectly.

Things to Keep to Yourself
A team member once came to me with a list of things he was not doing well. This act of vulnerability was driven by an intent to improve. Admittedly, my reaction was that this person was in big trouble!

Self-Assessment is the most important assessment. No one knows your strengths and weaknesses better than you do. You are relieved when people see the good in you and pissed off when the weakness you know you possess are pointed out by others.

You cannot pretend the bad things will go away. You cannot ignore areas that need improvement but you do not have to be a sprinter to be on the team....the world needs shot putters too!

We know that which we do well and where we need help. No one needs to remind us of such. Action trumps reaction. Take control before your control is taken from you!

In Summation:
a. Assess Your Own Performance (Daily)
b. Let Your Strengths Lead
c. Find Ways to Improve (without being a slave to your weaknesses)

Don't Forget to Remember!


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