One question from clients that makes me happy is “We want to invest in our employees through leadership development. What should we keep in mind as we put the program together?”
First, I tell them there are three characteristics that distinguish the best leadership development programs from the least effective ones—commitment, alignment, and accountability.
Commitment. Active, authentic support from all levels of the organization, especially senior management, creates meaningful and impactful programs. When leaders know that senior management endorses, supports, and believes in what they’re learning, the two-way loop of commitment is completed—senior management believes in me; I believe in the value of the development. Employees are quick to recognize window dressing training programs.
Alignment. The knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to be hired, promoted, and execute organization vision, strategies, and goals must be what’s taught. Assure direct relevancy between course content and how leadership is practiced within your organization. If not, why are you wasting everyone’s time?
Accountability. Employees have to know that their boss is watching for a learning transfer from development session to practical on-the-job application. Research from McKinsey shows that employers with the most successful leadership development program are four times more likely to require development program participants to apply what they’ve learned on the job.
Next, I tell them they have to be prepared to make three resources available to program attendees—time, role models, and accountability partners.
Time. Development programs take lots of forms: formal offsite sessions, classroom, workplace developmental assignments, coaching from inhouse or external experts, etc. Regardless of the method, allow attendees to be fully present. Don’t expect them to continue managing their jobs while taking in new skills.
Role models. Leadership skills are learnable, so connecting those in development programs with those who exemplify the best and brightest of your organization hones the attendee’s ability to think, understand, and do.
Accountability partners. In the best leadership development programs, the boss is always an accountability partner; and participants also partner up with someone who is going through the same program. Together, these people can reinforce learning, follow-up on learning transfer, and be a safe place to try on new skills.
Lastly, I tell clients to adopt three attitudes toward both their leadership development programs as well as those participating in them—look for potential not only past performance, leave room for individuality and curiosity, and give permission for people to learn from their failure.
Look for potential. How an employee thinks, feels, and acts—are they flexible, self-directed, open to change, able to think critically and make a quality decision, interact well with others, and the like—says more about their leadership future than many quantitative metrics.
Leave room for individuality and curiosity. A team of cookie-cutter leaders isn’t going to be successful in today’s fast-paced, inter-connected business environment. Leave plenty of room for meaningful diversity of thought, opinion, perspective, and experience.
Make room for failure. Learning from failure is the absolute best teacher. Give your leadership development program participants space to bot try out what they learn and have a do-over if things didn’t go well the first time.
What else would you add to this list?
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Lately, it seems like there is one new corporate crisis after another in the headlines. Some of the largest, most visible, and successful companies are being forced to publicly apologize while feverishly attempting to convince their customers that these unfortunate incidents are only isolated blips that don’t imply the presence of any systemic organizational issues.
What’s going on here?
Is it arrogance, weak leadership, corporate greed, human error, or bureaucracy? Or is it simply the newfound social media cautionary tale?
Make no mistake—systemic issues are at play and there is a connection among all of these communications crises.
While evolving technology has increased the number of brand touchpoints available for instantaneous distribution of damaging content to millions of people, technology is not the root cause of this dysfunction. The corporate dysfunction isn’t new either. In reality, organizations and people haven’t changed; there has always been corporate dysfunction.
The very DNA of an organization is revealed through each and every touchpoint. When interactions reveal weakness, deeper problems within the organization are exposed. In an interconnected world where companies can fall from grace in hours, it has never been more important for leaders to address the common thread that creates corporate crises: a lack of clarity that originates at the very core of the organization.
Clarity is what happens when leaders take a holistic view of their strategy, people, and story—and ensure that there is alignment with each.
An outcome of alignment is a sustainable, positive culture with strong leadership. With clarity, employees at every level know how to live out the vision, mission, and purpose of the organization. They understand the behaviors expected of them every day. This clarity guides the people who work for the company and provides the reason for everyone to come together and serve.
It is this DNA that is the soul of an organization and drives decision-making, profits, and improves performance. Finding and leveraging that clarity is the difference between:
- A spokesperson communicating a difficult decision or creating an entirely new crisis.
- Customers believing the firm does care about their privacy or that everyone is management is a liar.
- A passenger walking off an airplane or being dragged off; a pet arriving at its destination alive or dead.
- Being seen as being committed to doing more to solve domestic and sexual violence issues or seen a being more interested in damage control.
- Being revered for your role as one of the leading technology disruptors in the world or being reviled for the way you treat your employees and customers.
The digital economy has forced leaders to prioritize trust, transparency, and authenticity. It is no longer possible to explain our way out of crises or dysfunction. We must understand that the most contrite apology statements, countless refunds, or discounts will not fix crises that reveal systemic dysfunction.
Many examples of great companies that have successfully overcome public relations crises with openness, honesty, and empathy exist. The company names may not be at as memorable. But thanks to the clarity within their organizations, their customers forgave them, and in many cases, the connection with those brands actually improved.
The key to successfully managing any public relations challenge today is to find organizational clarity before the crisis happens.
Have you found organizational clarity?
Today’s guest contributor is Brad Deutser, president of Deutser LLC , a consulting firm that advises leaders and organizations about achieving clarity, especially in times of transition, growth or crisis.
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Are you looking to foster the right workplace culture, so your employees are engaged, loyal, and productive? If so, that’s good! The best way to ensure a driven team is to create a culture that fosters the results you want.
While the competition may try to copy your product or services, there are two things they can’t copy— your people and your culture.
Some companies like Southwest Airlines, Zappos, and the Virgin Group are outpacing their competition because of their culture. If you’re interested in doing the same for your organization, I have four tips for growing a business culture that inspires loyalty, engagement, and the high performance those qualities produce.
- Start new hires on a Friday—and make them feel welcome.
Many managers think new employees should start on Monday. But think about it. That’s the day when their new co-workers are facing a long to-do list for the week. Be different and consider starting new hires on Friday when the office is a bit looser. Another option is to throw a little party for the new hire. Many offices hold going away parties for departing employees, but doesn’t it make more sense to put this enthusiasm toward the person with whom you’re making a commitment rather than the person who’s no longer working for you?
- Recognize accomplishments by putting them in writing and I mean handwriting.
Typing emails and instant messaging is clearly much more convenient, which is why an employee who deserves special attention will recognize the extra effort behind a hand-written note. A hand-written note or letter has such a personal touch. The recipient knows that the manager or CEO has taken the time and effort to create a special communication just for him or her. If you make people feel special, they’ll feel good about both the organization and themselves.
- Provide lunch and make it a free one.
One of my clients started with only ten employees, and each day one employee would bring in lunch for everyone. As the company grew to several hundred employees, the CEO found that free lunches were so beneficial that the company now hires a caterer to maintain the boost in culture the lunches provide. While many leaders may cringe at the expense, employee appreciation outweighs the cost. An added benefit for those who can’t get past the cost is that providing the inhouse lunch keeps people engaged within the office, rather than having them leave for lunch and maybe return a little bit late.
- Flatten the privilege structure.
It’s not a good idea to create anything resembling a class system. One over-looked way companies create separation by creating special parking arrangements for upper management. At one point in my career, I was the No.1 salesmen at one company, but I always preferred to park with the others. I’d come in at 5 a.m. and notice that those with reserved parking weren’t there yet. They arrived significantly later than those who parked in the unreserved spots. Provide parking on a first-come, first-serve basis. That way upper management doesn’t feel too entitled or privileged above other employees.
Corporate culture is the only sustainable competitive advantage that is completely within the control of the entrepreneur. ~David Cummings, Co-Founder, Pardot
Today’s guest contributor is Jack Daly, author, former CEO, and an expert in sales and sales management with more than 20 years of business experience. Jack has both a bachelor’s degree in accounting and an MBA, and he was a captain in U.S. Army.
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Corporate leaders tell us change is the biggest challenge they’re facing today. Why? Constant change makes it difficult to remain relevant and to create value for customers.
Humans tend to hate change. Whether it’s introducing a state-of-the-art computer program or transitioning a company to a wholly new and innovative way of working, our brains literally create chemical pain that says, please stop all that new work.
So, instead of enjoying the challenges that come with trying something new, we resist.
Our brains are elastic and can, in fact, adapt, but it’s not a smooth, easy or comfortable process. It’s tough enough for the people at the top to think about reworking processes and policies; imagine the difficulties when you’re talking about altering the culture of an entire workplace.
Companies have cultures, whether they know it or not. That culture is an amalgam of core values, beliefs, and behaviors that pertain to the business and the way it is conducted. Employees live out that culture every day.
Getting employees on board when the corporate culture has to evolve can be a challenge. However, if company leaders provide purpose to the changes by showing how they’ll improve business and create stability after the transition, they have a better shot at a quicker buy-in.
To do that, though, they have to get out of the office. They have to witness first-hand how customers use the product or service, and they have to interact with employees.
3 tools to take control of change
I suggest that leaders adopt an “anthropologist’s tool kit” and do these three things to aid them in changing the culture of their organization. Leaders need to:
- Conduct observational research.
Consider shadowing clients and employees as they use a product or service. Find out what their challenges are, and what trends they see that have them concerned or excited.
Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose. ~Zora Neale Hurston, author
- Find customers’ pain points.
What happens when someone contacts the company’s customer service center? What works and what doesn’t? Are emails and phone calls answered? What happens when people visit the website? If responses are delayed or unsatisfactory, find out why.
Wisdom is nothing more than healed pain. ~Robert Gary Lee, comic
- Use culture probes and storytelling.
What are the stories customers and employees could tell if they had a company leader’s ear? Put away any defensiveness and just listen.
Stories constitute the single most powerful weapon in a leader’s arsenal. ~Dr. Howard Gardner, professor Harvard University
I advise companies to expand the research role past the executive level. Allow team leaders and others to be a part of the company’s new story and encourage them to visualize how they can play new roles in an emerging business environment.
By doing that, they’ll be the energy behind your innovation.
About today’s guest contributor, Andi Simon, Ph.D. Andi Simon, a corporate anthropologist, professor, award-winning author, trainer, and speaker, is the founder and CEO of Simon Associates Management Consultants. She has appeared on “Good Morning America” and has been featured in the Washington Post, Business Week, Forbes, and on Bloomberg Radio.
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Who isn’t interested in a new job, a better job, or upgrading a career? That’s what many of us work for.
But there’s a component of the career betterment process that people sometimes overlook, and that’s the job reference. A bad reference can be a killer we’re not initially even aware of.
Former employers are supposed to offer limited information like employment dates and title about previous employees. Human Resource reps are generally—but not always—consistent in following this policy. However, it’s often a different story when former supervisors are the ones who are contacted.
While there’s nearly an unlimited list of reasons why a former supervisor might offer potentially damaging information about a job seeker, we’ll focus on seven possible reasons why approximately 50% of past bosses ignore corporate policy and offer negative commentary. These reasons are:
- The past boss may think the person is not qualified for the position for which they are being considered. They may even be envious that one of their team is being considered for such a position.
- The past boss may not have liked the person or their performance.
- The past boss may fall in the “bad boss” or “bully” category.
- The past boss may be unhappy that the person left the organization or are thinking about leaving the organization, and they are either retaliating and/or discouraging someone else from hiring this job seeker.
- The past boss may be having a bad day and offer more revealing commentary than what they normally do.
- The past boss may simply be offering the truth as they see it, not being mindful—or aware—that they shouldn’t be offering that level of commentary about a former employee.
- The past boss may have personal issues and/or biases regarding a person’s age, religion, or sex.
Given the substantial number of negative supervisory references that are given, what can a job seeker do?
First, never assume that a prior supervisor(s) is following company policy when they are contacted about a reference.
Another useful step is determining whether or not a former supervisor is indeed a reference problem. You can determine that by using a reference checking company (they exist!) to conduct a reference check on your behalf. If a former supervisor’s commentary is in any way unfavorable, the job seeker will have some form of recourse in discouraging them from offering such commentary again.
Bottom line, it is critical that the job seeker vet their references prior to seeking new employment. Sadly, too many candidates only become aware of a negative reference once a number of promising job opportunities have passed them by.
About today’s contributor. AllisonTaylor and its principals have been in the business of checking references for corporations and individuals since 1984.
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What happens when a corporation’s leadership is engaged, talented and competent, but so stuck in their ways—their comfort zone—that they can’t quite grasp the importance of acting as a strategic, forward-thinking team?
If that’s the case, it could be time for drastic measures. Measures so drastic that company vice presidents might be left mumbling, “What just happened?”
To that we say, “Shake them up.” Don’t be afraid to get people’s attention in an over-the-top way, even if it means pretending you’re Zeus, and a very miffed Zeus at that.
We’d never ask anyone to fire lightning bolts we wouldn’t ourselves. Frank once dressed as the top Greek god at a company training session—complete with blaring music and swirling clouds—and required his dubious vice presidents to dress as gods, too.
We might have called what Frank did as outside the box thinking, but we’re not sure Frank has a box.
These extreme tactics may sound absurd, but they can snap executives out of their doldrums and inspire them to view daily decisions from a different perspective.
Not every company CEO will go to the extremes Frank did, but they still can think creatively, and even outrageously, in figuring out ways to help their company leaders evolve into a high-performing team.
3 comfort zone blasters
Three lessons for zapping people out of their comfort zone that we’ve learned from our sessions that could benefit other CEOs include:
- Place people in the right roles.
Sometimes a job just isn’t the right fit for the individual. Rather than fire them, place them in a role that capitalizes on their strengths. At the conclusion of one of Frank’s training sessions, 40 percent of his vice presidents were assigned to new positions that better matched their abilities and potential.
Hiring people is an art, not a science, and resumes can’t tell you whether someone will fit into a company’s culture. ~Howard Schulz, Chairman & CEO of Starbucks
- Train first, then promote.
Often, high-performing employees are rewarded with promotions, but are woefully unprepared for their new duties. Promoting people and then training them afterward is not the best way to develop leaders.
I am convinced that nothing we do is more important than hiring and developing people. At the end of the day, you bet on people, not on strategies. ~Lawrence Bossidy, former CEO of Honeywell International
- There is little growth without discomfort.
Most people prefer to keep everything as is once they become comfortable. That may get the job done, but improvement won’t happen unless people are confronted with situations that throw them off balance.
Recently, I was asked if I was going to fire an employee who made a mistake that cost the company $600,000. No, I replied, I just spent $600,000 training him. Why would I want somebody to hire his experience? ~Thomas John Watson Sr., IBM
Be proactive. Companies that can get their leadership teams thinking strategically are rewarded with greater teamwork and a better bottom line.
Today’s contributors, Frank Granara and Lorraine Grubbs, are co-authors of Beyond the Executive Comfort Zone: Outrageous Tactics to Ignite Individual Performance. Granara is CEO of General Insulation Co. and has a bachelor’s degree in business from Northeastern University. Grubbs is president of the consulting firm Lessons in Loyalty and takes principles and practices she helped develop to companies that strive for better employee engagement and loyalty.
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