A is for Amabile: HBS Professor Teresa Amabile believes that our greatest motivator on the job is the ability to make daily progress on important work, which she has labelled The Progress Principle. In her article, co-written with Steven Kramer, The Power of Small Wins, Professor Amabile discusses the role that managers play in providing the resources and environment for daily forward progress. As a manager, you can help by removing barriers to progress when possible as well as by providing goals, resources, and support to team members to catalyze their progress.
B is for your Best: Acknowledging performance strengths in formal reviews has one of the greatest impacts on employee performance (see HBR’s Reinventing Performance Management article for more on this). It is also critical to include the right type of development constructive feedback in formal performance reviews. So while emphasizing employee strengths, complement this with constructive feedback that employees can respond to and act on through targeted, specific guidance.
C is for Commitment: Your role as a manager in engagement is to support your employees’ efforts by doing all that you can to prepare employees to be successful. A useful metaphor that can guide your actions as a manager has to do with the desired outcome, stated in terms of head-heart-hands. In all of your interactions with your direct reports, seek to help them be fully engaged:
• HEAD — “I am mentally engaged in the work”
• HEART — “I am emotionally engaged in the work”
• HANDS — “I am engaged in doing the work”
D is for Development: Most employees want to make a difference in the workplace and to have a voice, a say in how the work is done. As a manager, you act as a coach to your employees to bring out their best while developing their skills. The GROW Model is a simple framework for structuring coaching conversations. You can help your employees to establish a goal, examine the current reality, explore options, and decide what they will do.
E is for Expectations: Compared to other performance management activities, your ability to set realistic performance expectations has the greatest impact on employee engagement. To effectively set realistic performance expectations, you can have goal setting discussions shortly after performance reviews and when your direct reports move from one project to the next.
F is for Feedback: As a manager, part of your role is to provide regular feedback to your employees. There are many opportunities to provide feedback to your direct reports without taking significant amounts of time away from your other activities. Remember to ask your employees for feedback as well.
Showing employees that you are fully committed to their performance and to helping them advance their careers requires a dedicated effort. When it comes to managing performance, remember your ABCs!
I recently facilitated a departmental retreat where I asked participants to select a chapter (Aim High, Team Up, Fail Well, or Learn Fast) from Amy Edmonson’s book Teaming to Innovate to read and come prepared to discuss. The agenda was built around four segments related to the chapters as we were discussing some difficulties that the team had been having and trying to orient towards the future, and the leaders were concerned that the culture of openness and connection they had built had been diminished in the team’s current state.
Once we were in the retreat, I was pleasantly surprised to see evidence that psychological safety was present as participants spoke to pain points in recent months, openly discussed things that were going well alongside things that weren’t, shared concerns about the possibility of toxic positivity, and spoke up with courage asking brave questions and clarifying their comments. I think that the structure of the conversation elevated these actions, but it was clear to me that they were speaking from a place of comfort and confidence that had been built over time within their departmental culture.
I think it is a great example of what Amy Edmondson means when she suggests that without safety, teams will be limited in their ability to adapt and learn. It was precisely because this team understood the importance of psychological safety and wanted to address a concern that the environment they had built might be diminishing that they were able to continually adapt and both maintain that holding environment as make gains on moving through challenging and taking on innovative work.
In her book, Teaming: How Organizations Learn, Innovate and Compete in the Knowledge Economy, HBS Professor Amy Edmondson suggest four specific behaviors to enable all voices and foster innovation and learning in organizations:
Professor Edmonson defines psychological safety as the “shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking”, where in “members demonstrate a high level of trust and mutual respect for one another and team members do not believe that the group will rebuke, marginalize, or penalize individuals for speaking up or challenging prevailing opinions” (Psychological Safety and Learning Behavior in Work Teams).
Leaders/Managers play a crucial role in modelling these behaviors as well. Specifically, they should:
• Be accessible and approachable: Leaders encourage team members to learn together by being accessible and personally involved.
• Acknowledge the limits of current knowledge: When leaders admit that they don’t know something, their genuine display of humility encourages other team members to follow suit.
• Be willing to display fallibility: To create psychological safety, team leaders must demonstrate a tolerance of failure by acknowledging their own fallibility.
• Invite participation: When people believe their leaders value their input, they’re more engaged and responsive.
• Highlight failures as learning opportunities: Instead of punishing people for well-intentioned risks that backfire, leaders encourage team members to embrace error and deal with failure in a productive manner.
• Use direct language: Using direct, actionable language instigates the type of straightforward, blunt discussion that enables learning.
• Set boundaries: When leaders are as clear as possible about what is acceptable, people feel more psychologically safe than when boundaries are vague and unpredictable.
• Hold people accountable for transgressions: When people cross boundaries set in advance and fail to perform up to set standards, leaders must hold them accountable in a fair and consistent way. (Teaming, pg.139)
As teams get more complex and matrix organizations making teaming more prevalent, what role(s) will you play in modelling behaviors that spark learning and innovation?
Last year, I joined thousands of others across the globe on a MOOC learning journey – if you aren’t familiar with the term, it stands for Massive Open Online Course, and one of the biggest of these platforms is EdX. The particular MOOC on EdX that joined, entitled Ulab: Leading from the Emerging Future, was led by Professor Otto Scharmer of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
I was drawn to the concept of Emergent Learning after reading the first chapter of Scharmer’s book entitled Theory U. The book suggests that when we are faced with change, people can: 1) either get stuck and freeze, 2) they can retract and try to go back to the way things were, or 3) they can learn from this emerging future, which involves letting go, and letting come, and being present. He goes on to re-frame this as the action of presencing.
If you are familiar with William Bridges Transitions model, this is the neutral zone – a liminal space of letting go and letting come, of feeling and sensing and being present. Scharmer uses a biblical metaphor to discuss moving through this space; if you're familiar with the bible passage that is easier for a camel to go through the eye of the needle than for rich man to go through the gates of heaven, you may understand this passage through its metaphorical lens. However, Scharmer notes that the needle was actually a small opening in a gate in Israel and that camels had to like unpack all of the things they were carrying to go through. In relating this to Theory U, he notes that once you've let go of everything and become fully present, you can go through this eye of the needle and something new will emerge. This is the turn of the U where you'll be able to learn and co-create an emerging future.
I did see a lot of connection to mindfulness, in that through a mindfulness practice, we are better able to let go of all the noise in our head and really try to be present. I really enjoyed his guided mindfulness practice which is recorded at Walden Pond. If you're familiar with Walden from Henry David Thoreau’s writing, you may be familiar with this passage, “I went into the woods because I wished to live deliberately to front only the essential facts of life and see if I could not learn what it had to teach and not when I came to die I discovered that I had not lived.” I think Thoreau’s experiment is the ultimate kind of letting go and presencing, going to live simply in the woods and leaving all you knew before behind. As a coach, practicing mindfulness and being present is hugely crucial in our field. You cannot successfully coach if you're not fully present with those your client.
In one of the most moving videos from the course, Dayna Cunningham shares a story about a presencing moment that changed her life. She discusses a gathering in Berlin of about seventy people engaged in generative dialogue. She describes the experience as getting to a place with a whole group of people where you are so present and trusting and invested in others that you are changed by having been there. The way she describes it, she was so connected to them that in a new way, she saw them as part of herself. Perhaps this kind of life changing experience is not as achievable through the internet as a participant in a MOOC, but the potential for that sort of deep connection and transformational experience is one I hope to be present for someday.
Just what are creativity and innovation? You know them when you see them, right? But a deeper understanding of what creativity is—and is not—can help you enhance the creativity of any group. Creativity is a process of developing and expressing novel ideas that are likely to be useful. Innovation is the embodiment, combination, and/or synthesis of knowledge in original, relevant, valued new products, processes, or services. In order to connect creativity and innovation, one needs to adapt an innovative mindset:
Are your meetings characterized by innovation, collaboration, optimism, and experimentation? Would you like to see more of this on your teams and in your work? If so, let me (re)introduce you to Design Thinking!
Design thinking is a deeply human process that taps into abilities we all have but get over-looked by more conventional problem-solving practices. It relies on our ability to be intuitive, to recognize patterns, to construct ideas that are emotionally meaningful as well as functional, and to express ourselves through means beyond words or symbols. Empathy is the foundation of a human-centered design process. To empathize, we:
Design Thinking Phases:
Here’s a framework for an effective 1.5 hour meeting agenda that I regularly use in my work:
Design Thinking Goals
In summary, Design thinking is a method to inspire, ideate and implement great ideas in our workplaces. Wouldn't that be I-deal?
As an organizational leader in today’s fast-moving work environment, it is hard to know where to start in addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion challenges. These challenges are deeply seeded in our organizational cultures and engrained in the behavioral norms of those around us. Addressing these challenges require focus in three practice areas:
Leaders can start to build on these practices with a lens of expanding access and increasing diversity within their own sphere of control. One potential reframed approach to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is to focus on a process to enable a more equitable end-state, coupling ground-up with top-down change, and prioritizing iteration as core component of the plan.
Recent change literature suggests reframing change implementation with an eye to engaging stakeholders in deeper, more interactive ways to enable longer term success and buy-in. When looking at why change fails, Schwarz, Bouckenooghe, and Vakola (2021) propose that change will be most successful when it impacts surface, intermediate, and deep structures. They suggest that surface structures need to be reframed and made to have meaning to enable change. They note that multiple stakeholders need to be engaged in change (change leaders, change recipients, and community members), through a process generating organizational narratives that are retained and rewritten in the process. Finally, change needs to impact the deep structure of the organization, lasting over time, changing conventions, norms, and shared values, and shifting organizational frameworks and paradigms. In other words, for DEI change initiatives to be successful, change leaders need to formulate their approaches to collectively address change at each level: 1. Surface: adopting diversity management practices and processes, 2. Intermediate: impacting personal narrative and identity development for change stakeholders, 3. Deep: changing organizational culture and paradigms.
Melaku and Winkler (2022) recently wrote a Harvard Business Review article, entitled “Are your organization’s DEI efforts superficial or structural”, championing structural approaches to DEI. In particular, they note the importance of providing access to career opportunities (the what), promoting a culture of allyship (the who), a public commitment to DEI (the why) and well as committing to measuring the impact of these efforts (the how). As an internal organizational development consultant with over 15 years of experience with change in organizations, I fully agree that structural change happens at the intersection of strategic and relational efforts that engage others in a collective purpose, which is tracked and measured. Organizational development consultants work at all these levels, coaching leaders around their purpose and presence, facilitating conversations across constituents, and developing long term measurable strategic plans and practices. Are you working at all these levels in your organization? Ask yourself the following:
What – which of these practices having taken root in my organization? How impactful are they?
Who – who is benefiting from these practices? Who is engaging in these programs?
Why – is DEI apparent in the values, vision and actions of leadership and organizational culture?
When – are DEI initiatives focused on short term or long term change?
How – are you measuring the impact of your efforts across demographic groups?
By asking yourself the above what, who, why, when, and how questions, you can assess the extent to which your practices are engaging change at the surface, intermediate and structural levels.
The content for this blog was excerpted from “A Layered Approach to Practicing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Workplace”, a research summary I co-authored with Jodi Detjen, Managing Partner with Orange Grove Consulting.
When I originally conceived of a blog post on the adult development as related to the movie Frozen, I was thinking about the transformation that Elsa, the main character in the first movie, went through as depicted by her famous songs “Let it go”. The movie follows Elsa and Anna, her sister, from early childhood, where she is building a snowman with her sister to adolescence, where she just wants to be left alone. Elsa begins her life, as we all do, in the first order of mind. The snowman, Olaf, perhaps aids in understanding this stage best. He offers comic relief as he displays many characteristics of the magical childhood mind in the first Frozen movie as the snowman sings about the magic of summer, highlighting his inaccurate understanding of permanence. He has many questions (asking why, why, why), and during their journey across forest, he joins in the common car trip refrain,” are we there yet?”
Of course, the big transformational scene of this movie is when Elsa realizes that attending to all the needs of others in the kingdom and hiding her powers does not serve her well. In this scene, she moves to the next stage of adult development, from a “socialized mind” to a “self-authoring mind” (Kegan and Lahey, 2009) singing:
Don't let them in, don't let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be
Conceal, don't feel, don't let them know
Well now they know
It's funny how some distance
Makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me
Can't get to me at all
It's time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me - I'm free
She clearly has let go of the socialized mind and all those making decisions for her in the past, to find her own voice and break free, using her powers in a new way. I think this movie appealed to so many across generations because so many of us are operating from a socialized perspective, longing to break free and let it go. We can thank Elsa for showing us the way, as showing up with others in a new way is not easy and takes courage.
David Rock coined the term Neuroleadership and his Neuroleadership Institute has lead the way in research in this field ever since. A key framework for understanding leadership in relation to brain science is the SCARF model (this is a great 8-minute video explaining the model). While this framework can be hugely helpful to understand in the workplace, particularly to understand where our emotional reactions come from, I have recently learned of another model to more proactively added to the needs of our brains at work. Attention to our mental health in these seven activities, which Rock has named the Healthy Brain Platter, can help us overcome and avoid exhaustion, stress, and burnout and can increase our productivity and positivity (Rock et al., 2012).
· Physical Time: Exercise is critical to both our physical health and our brain health. Cardiovascular exercise in particular has been shown to improve cognitive function, though all exercise types can reduce stress and decrease symptoms of depression or anxiety.
· Downtime: The process of disconnecting from direction and rather acting with spontaneity is needed for our brains, particularly as a break from the goal-focused, pre-planned way we frequently work and live. This practice, which may include mind-wandering or daydreaming, can also increase creativity, renew our energy, and produce new insights
· Sleep time: Sleep is critical to our ability to regulate our emotions, solve problems creatively, and process our memories. Therefore, sleep is crucial for our mental, physical, and emotional health because it is time during which our brain processes and organizes our thoughts.
· Time-in: Engaging in a process of focusing our attention and creating moments of awareness and reflection, particularly through mindfulness practice helps the brain to be more open, accepting, and curious. Research shows these practices can be beneficial to our cognitive, physiological, social, and emotional health, particularly when practiced with regularity.
· Play Time: Play and laughter are built on social cues and connections. Engaging in play can help us establish relationships and learn social behaviors, as well as assist in creating a safe space to experiment and learn to navigate uncertainty. This is especially important in the development of children.
· Connecting: Our brains are wired to crave social connection; when they are present, we feel self-esteem and control, and when they are lacking, we can feel anxious and aggressive. Our health can also be improved through positive social connection, and hindered when we feel lonely.
· Focus Time: Our attention and ability to focus is associated with self-control, perception, and memory. Our brains need balance to stay focused and improve our executive function. Avoiding overstimulation can cause stress, and under stimulation can cause boredom. Focus time characterized as being “in flow” can be beneficial to our health and well-being.
Adaptability, Inclusivity, Dignity – an AID for getting more of each in our lives
I recently attended a webinar entitled the Future of DE&I: A Conversation Exploring Progressive Practices (here is the recording if anyone is interested); while I often find myself drifting back to my email after listening in for a bit on webinars, this one captured my attention enough that I bought the book, the Five Disciplines of Inclusive Leaders by Andres Tapia, the webinar presenter, and Alina Polonzkaia (2020). While I do not have a lot of time for reading on the side right now, I have reviewed the central models in the book which lay out five core traits of inclusive leaders (authenticity, emotional resilience, self-assurance, inquisitiveness, and flexibility) and five competencies of inclusive leaders (building interpersonal trust, integrating diverse perspectives, optimizing talent, applying an adaptive mindset, and achieving transformation - defined as confronting difficult topics and bringing people along to achieve results).
I am struck by the connections between the book’s focus on inclusive leadership, when compared to adaptive leadership and transformational leadership. Heifetz and Laurie (2001) identify six principles for adaptive work (getting on the balcony, identifying the adaptive challenge, regulating distress, maintaining disciplined attention, giving the work back to people, and protecting voices of leadership from below), as well as five adaptive leader responsibilities in relation to direction, protection, orientation, managing conflict, and shaping norms. One’s level of development impact one’s adaptability in relation to perspective-taking, authority, reflection, flexibility, and complexity - this list bears a striking resemblance to the five core traits of inclusive leaders list. Many potential interventions for leadership development can be utilized with these frames in mind - including coaching and mindfulness training.
A new frame for developing awareness again surprised me by its immediate relevance and application. I picked up the book, Leading with Dignity by Donna Hicks, again uncertain whether the book would have new insights, and again, the framework was not only useful but inspiring. Hick’s advocates for organizations and leaders to undertake Dignity work. She suggests seven things we all need to do: demonstrate and encourage lifelong learning and development, set the tone and make it safe to be vulnerable, cultivate trust, activate empathy, head to the balcony, and take responsibility. In a world with so much divisiveness, I see a path forward and cause for hope in these models of leadership taken together. Let’s commit to more inclusivity, adaptability, and dignity in our workplaces and our lives.
As a practitioner of organizational development for nearly twenty years, I got nervous this week when I received an email from my manager with the following subject line “Generated by Chatgpt – lol”. The email content read:
“There are several important ways HR can build a best-in-class workforce:
· Recruitment and Selection: HR plays a critical role in recruiting and selecting the best candidates for job positions. HR should develop a comprehensive recruitment process that attracts top talent, assesses candidate fit and potential, and ensures diversity and inclusion in the hiring process.
· Training and Development: HR should design and implement training and development programs that enhance employee skills, knowledge, and performance. These programs should be aligned with the organization's goals and support career development opportunities for employees.
· Performance Management: HR should establish a performance management system that provides regular feedback and recognition to employees and fosters a culture of continuous learning and improvement. The system should also include goals, expectations, and rewards aligned with the organization's objectives.
· Employee Engagement: HR should foster a positive work environment that promotes employee engagement, job satisfaction, and retention. HR can do this by offering flexible work arrangements, promoting work-life balance, and recognizing employee achievements.
· Succession Planning: HR should develop a succession plan to ensure that the organization has a pipeline of talented and qualified employees ready to assume key roles and responsibilities when needed.
· Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: HR should promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace. HR can do this by implementing policies and programs that address bias and discrimination, creating a culture of inclusion, and providing equal opportunities for all employees.
· Employer Branding: HR should develop and promote the organization's employer brand to attract and retain top talent. This includes creating a compelling company culture, offering competitive compensation and benefits, and showcasing the organization's values and mission.”
Woah. That’s a pretty good list and aligns closely to what I have been focused on over these past few decades. Before I started to panic, I reflected on the prompt my manager had used that fielded these results: “Tell me the most important ways HR can build a best in class workforce.” While Chatgpt may be ideally suited to pull a list from the collective internet wisdom on the “what” of the work, I think it has a way to go to get to the “how”. The “how” of leadership is interpersonal and iterative – computers can’t (yet?) do this type of process consultation. If you have a “what” that you are looking for, ask Chatgpt. If you have a “how” question, please reach out. *As noted above, part of this blog post was written with the assistance of Chatgpt.
On Friday, I went the dentist for my standard six-month cleaning. I generally don’t have a fear of the dentist, but for those who do, you may want to skip to the second paragraph. As I sat in the dentist chair, I was reminded about the cleaning that had taken place one year previous that almost had me calling around for a new dental practice. On that occasion, all was going as usual, but after about an hour of attention to my teeth, I began to wonder why the dental hygienist was still scraping away, sometimes going back to spots I could have sworn she already cleaned. I generally am on top of my oral hygiene, so when this process took three times as long as usual, I knew something was up. When she finally finished (to my great relief) and the dentist came in, I realized that my experience was directly related to the relationship she had with her superior. I could tell from their interaction that she was so worried about making a mistake or missing a spot that it was impacting her ability to do her job as well as my experience as the customer.
What I realized that day in the dental chair was that I was witnessing firsthand what it feels like to work in an environment that is not psychologically safe. As a consultant, I have worked with teams (and within teams) that have struggled with this, but sometimes my professional instincts pop up in my personal life. For those not familiar with the concept of psychological safety, the term was coined by Amy Edmonson, who defines it as “a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes”. It is not uncommon to find this lacking in high pressure professions such as the medical field, where Edmonson first took on this research. I highly suggest her Ted Talk where she further explores this concept: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LhoLuui9gX8.
As Edmonson’s research evolved, the application of the concept spread to be useful across numerous industries and types of teams. In fact, in 2016, Google did their own research on their most effective teams and found that psychological safety was the most important predictor of team success (https://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/28/magazine/what-google-learned-from-its-quest-to-build-the-perfect-team.html). Edmonson’s research scale consists of seven items:
1. If you make a mistake in this team, it is often held against you.
2. Members of this team are able to bring up tough issues.
3. People in this team sometimes reject others for being different.
4. It is safe to take a risk on this team.
5. It is difficult to ask other members of this team for help.
6. No one in this team would deliberately act in a way that undermines my efforts.
7. Working with members of this team, my unique skills and talents are valued and utilized.
Team that are interested not only in assessing their psychological safety but improving it might consider taking this Fearless Organization Scan Assessment with the help of a certified practitioner. The scan takes the seven items above and breaks down responses into four dimensions: Inclusion and diversity, attitude to risk and failure, willingness to help, and open conversation. A certified practitioner can assist a team in interpreting their results and setting up shared intentions and actions to move the team towards the learning zone (the place where psychological safety meets performance – read more here: https://amycedmondson.com/psychological-safety-%E2%89%A0-anything-goes/). If that sounds like something your team might benefit from, perhaps I can assist. Maybe give it some thought next time you find yourself in the dental chair?