Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Are You Sending the Right Messages?

As a leader in a complex organization, you are a source of knowledge, direction, and motivation for others. You want to foster high performance and enthusiasm. Keeping top talent engaged and productive takes time and attention. 

Sometimes in a crunch you are amazed at how well people perform, and at other times breakdowns occur and you wonder if you are having an impact at all. 

If this is the case for you, your organization, or your clients, how do you make sure you are nurturing the kind of organization you want to have? Many companies use surveys and metrics to measure performance, which can provide useful feedback, though often generalized or too long after the fact. 

When you assess your own leadership influence, how can you tell if you are sending the right messages, in real time, so that you can adjust with agility? How can the way you communicate reinforce healthy interdependence rather than passivity or resistance?
Here are some places to look. 

Content and Context
Let’s say you are calling a meeting, maybe a conference call. You craft the agenda, being careful with the wording and ensuring that sufficient information is provided. It’s important to meet sooner rather than later, and there are ten people involved, so you send an invitation to the participants with the agenda and attachments. 

Meeting time comes, seven people show up, three have read the material, and you receive two "can't make it" emails and an autoresponder that the other person is out of the office. The others are trying to open the attachments and find your email. There’s some confusion as to who was supposed to be on the call. There will be more tradeoffs in the decision than you would have hoped for, due to missing people and a ticking clock. 

What happened? Even though you got the content out there, apparently it didn't get the attention you wanted. It’s not just that everyone is busy, although that’s true. If this has happened more than once, it’s clear that it’s not about what you are communicating, but about how. 

It’s time to step onto your personal observation deck and consider the context. If you accept the premise that “the meaning of your communication is the response you get or the effect it has,” then you know it’s time for learning.

Conscious Competence
It’s helpful to have a framework that accounts for all the aspects of successful influence to achieve results while building relationships. 
Using SYNTAX (see the “swirl” model), you can step through five aspects that will give you specific clues.

Being awake and on your observation deck in itself gives you many additional choices. Besides thinking through the content, you can step into the shoes of each team member and think about what’s in it for them. You can take an overview of the whole situation to see how best to make it flow, with everyone included that needs to be included.

With that assessment, you can address much more than the INFORM task, which is all you were thinking about when you wrote the agenda. Often we get deep into the matter at hand and can overlook the other dimensions of influence.
Rather than being a side trip, stepping through PLAN, LINK, BALANCE, and LEARN, in addition to INFORM, saves a lot of time and hassle. Conscious competence is an investment that pays off big time. 
It’s All About the Request
The swirls, or arms, of SYNTAX all connect through the center, BALANCE. Balance is about making requests and agreements that move the action forward and build trust and cooperation. 

When you step up and make a clear request, you are not just putting information out there. You are taking action, which engenders action. 

When you convey a specific time frame with your request, you make the action a lot more likely to happen. 

We often think we are making requests when we are just sending out information. Being consciously competent at making requests means you are putting your intentions into action and inviting others to respond. Crafting a good request is just one of the SYNTAX skills that gets you real-time results while modeling effective behavior.   

Common Sense
This seems like common sense. What’s missing in many leadership moments is that we overlook key factors that determine the response we will get or the effect we will have. 

As we grow our skills and influence, we develop our capacity for both focus and flexibility, which are characteristics of outstanding leaders. Balancing these means sending the right messages more of the time. 
We have inherited some common sense that should be re-examined in the world we inhabit today. For instance, many people have a knee-jerk reaction that negotiation means opposition, or that your influence comes from the position you hold, or that it’s up to the listener to figure out what you are asking for, i.e. they have to "sink or swim." 

These reactions send messages that you may not consciously want to send. They are often outside of your awareness or intention, and still they come across to the other person.

Modeling is the Most Powerful Form of Influence
Who you are and what you do has more influence than what you say. Are you willing to be authentic and take responsibility for the impact of your actions? If so, that is likely to show up in the people around you as well. For instance, if you were the one who was late for the last meeting you called, others’ expectations may shift accordingly. 

So, Are You Sending the Right Messages?
The only feedback you really have is the results you are getting. As you succeed and see the people around you contributing with enthusiasm or at least good cheer, apparently you are sending the right messages. 
You can observe how all aspects of SYNTAX are present in that outcome. This strengthens conscious competence for the other times.
When, as will happen, you encounter obvious or hidden roadblocks, engage your curiosity. Get on the observation deck and LEARN by trying out new choices. Take the context into account and build multiple dimensions of influence. You will be enhancing the conscious competence of those around you as you do so yourself.  SYNTAX is a roadmap that makes this process tangible. 
The ideal goal of of SYNTAX is for every workplace - or community - to be a place where people are fully able to contribute their talents. As you embody the messages you send to create the outcomes you want, you are creating that kind of community. Bless you. 

Whose Lives Are You Shaping?

The motivation to work on ourselves--for instance, take a course, visit a therapist, join a mastermind group--is that we want something better in our lives. Whether it's a career step, a relationship goal, or a skill we want to develop, something is important enough to merit time and attention. 
While these reasons are worthwhile, what about working on ourselves because of the influence we have on other people? In Western culture, we are more likely than in other cultures, such as Japanese, to set and go after individual goals. This may be even more evident in the workplace than in families and communities. We may undervalue the so-called "soft skills."
Teachers, coaches, health care workers, and such are very aware of how they are shaping the lives of students or clients.  That is the work. Hopefully, they are receptive to feedback and continue to grow and learn as people-helpers. Their professional development deepens their skill and wisdom as guides.
Do managers take the same care about how they relate to employees?
Research documents the strength of managers' impact on the people who work for them. Managers' leadership skills are not only important for the success of the enterprise, they are also a major factor in employees' sense of self worth and motivation. 
Managers, from project managers to top executives, are evaluated mostly in terms of productivity and profit. If they are held accountable for employee satisfaction or retention, it is secondary to performance. While these concerns seem to serve the company's interests, they don't account for the delicate human relationships that actually keep it together.
Managers are likely to be high performers who can be tough on other people as well as themselves.  When you add in the pressure of deadlines, organizational demands, and urgent business issues, that tough taskmaster can come out and, without any evil intention at all, stomp all over the people who are nearby. 
Perhaps instead the manager just fails to connect and communicate, leaving employees in the dark. The manager's inability to give feedback well, or make clear requests, or create a collaborative climate, might set employees up for failure or harmful competition.
In most organizations, it's really a personal choice to invest in how you relate to and affect people who work for you. In the long run, people who are acknowledged, challenged, and respected will show a return on the investment.

Invest in your ability to have a positive influence by growing your own skills.  Start off by doing it for them. Then when you are getting a lot out of it for yourself, the return on your investment will at least double.
This can seem paradoxical. Helping your employees may mean putting time and attention into your own development, not just theirs. Students in our courses often comment that they wished their manager would have taken this course. It would make their work lives so much easier. 
To go another step, it would make work much easier if the manager AND the employees learned some of the same concepts about communicating, effective meetings, clear requests and agreements, etc. so that the team could evolve together. 
If you are a manager, or whenever you are leading people, tune into the responses you get when you interact with them. Maybe even ask them their experience of your communication, if you have already created a safe enough space for them to tell you. 
Of course, SYNTAX is what we recommend for a way to empower others as well as yourself. Whatever the chosen method, consider that you have as much responsibility as anyone for the experience of the people you lead, and show up as the kind of leader you want to be. You are shaping lives.

How to Create a Ripple Effect

It’s not what we get done in the time we spend working, but the impact of what we do that matters.
The impact can go far beyond our immediate accomplishment. How we communicate makes all the difference. 
Think about all the leverage one action can have. Here are a few of the ripples from anything you do, whether it is to call a customer, hold a meeting, even send an email request:
  • getting the task done
  • making progress toward a bigger goal
  • facilitating other people's work
  • teaching and transferring knowledge
While we are getting it done, we can also be
  • building relationships
  • upholding values
  • validating people
  • creating a high-performance culture
Each action can be a stand for something we believe in. It can send a clearer message than any amount of words can do.
Sometimes we create a ripple unintentionally, not necessarily the one we want. For example, an email criticizing someone that is "accidentally" forwarded.
Even that can turn out to be an  opportunity if it is used to open a conversation that would otherwise be hidden.  In general, though, that's not the ripple you want to send out.
My colleague Ken Kirste, formerly at Sun Microsystems, comments that one of the main benefits he received from learning and teaching SYNTAX was that it allowed him to stop his internal rehearsals and actually learn from his interactions with people. As a result, relationships improved with bosses, colleagues, friends, and family.
I know that many people learned from Ken's practices and passed them on to others. In fact, someone who worked for Ken in the past told him recently about being in charge of a group of volunteers. Ken says,
"Everyone was chaotically rushing about when she called them together and instructed them 'Go Slow to Go Fast.' She said I would be surprised how much it calmed everyone and produced a much more efficient group."
According to Christakis and Fowler, authors of the book Connected, we have a direct impact at least three degrees out. Our friends' friends' friends influence us, and are influenced by us, on "a broad range of attitudes, feelings, and diverse as political views, weight gain, and happiness."
So, friends,  let's all be in favor of political fairness, slim and healthy lifestyles, and lots of happiness! If we can choose what we want to ripple out, why not?

If you do want to create a big ripple effect, this is your time. Nowadays a message can go much farther than ever before. The Web and social networks make it possible to reach more people in less time with less expense. When your intended audience is very specific, you have a better chance of having a noticeable effect with them.
Messages that carry have certain qualities, including
  • resonance with something people are thinking or feeling
  • relevance to their identities or immediate situation
People resonate with stories, with emotions, and very much with messages that articulate what they are thinking.  Even if not relevant, resonant messages have wide appeal. They spread quickly.
The most relevant ones are the ones that get action. This is why it's so important to know the audience you want to reach.
All the skills of influence come into play to create your ripple effect. Using SYNTAX,
  • set your goal, including whom you want to reach
  • create positive relationships with those you want to influence (marketers call it KLT - know, like, and trust)
  • make clear requests and agreements
  • exchange high quality information
  • keep learning from the feedback you get
The truth is, you already have a ripple effect. What do you want to do with it?

DON'T Solve That Problem!

Is problem-solving part of your job? If your answer is "Of course!" you may benefit from looking again before jumping into fix-it mode. 
When we pride ourselves on being great problem-solvers, we may be missing out on the value our problems have for us. That sounds like a weird thing to say: of course, we want problems solved.
If we are good at solving a particular kind of problem, we are motivated when we see one of those. We perk right up and do what we usually do to solve problems. "Oh, yes, I know how to deal with this." 
It's likely we will get to solve that kind of problem over and over again. Or we could be solving the wrong problem, as did the designer who only put the legally required number of lifeboats on the Titanic so the deck would not be cluttered. 

Let's slow the process down for a moment. Something has emerged from the flow of work that is labeled a "problem."
How do you react when you see, hear, or feel that there is a problem? How does that affect the outcome?
The crucial first few moments have a huge impact on how this is going to go. Skillful leaders train themselves to make the most of those moments.
Whether you are solving business problems, technical problems, personal problems, or all of the above, extract all the juice from them. 
One or more of these ideas may yield an easier or more effective way forward or an unexpected gift.  Choose a worthwhile problem and before you send that email or call that meeting, consider:  
Notice your immediate assumptions and conclusions. What seems obvious? What other interpretation could there be? In his recent book,Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman points out that our automatic mind filters out whatever doesn't fit our assumptions. We don't question them, so there is an amazing amount outside of our awareness. As he puts it, "What you see is all there is." Reduce blind spots by actively questioning assumptions. For instance, ask "What's important to us about this?"

Emotional Intelligence  Pause and check your feelings. What are they telling you? In addition to your here-and-now response to the situation, what else is triggered? Is there an emotional charge about this? You can use this situation to bring up and clear feelings you have about this situation or similar ones in the past.  
Root Cause
What allows this problem to exist? Is there something we can change upstream that will prevent this from happening? Can we solve it so it doesn't occur again? It's even worth asking whether there's some psychological or political gain in keeping things the way they are. If so, is it time for that to change?
What If?
Ask "What if...", for example,
What if this doesn't actually belong to me? What if I don't do anything? What if I do something totally different this time?
Even if you don't act on the "what if's" they can free up your thinking. 
Desired Outcome
Reframe the problem as an outcome. 
What do I / we want?
What will that get us?
How will we know when we get there? 
In SYNTAX we encourage ourselves to ask these questions for any significant action.
The fact that the problem has become known is a gift. Perhaps it brought up something important to talk about. Or opened a door to a new possibility. What is the positive intention that led to this problem? Is there a way to honor that intention and find a better alternative?
However it turns out, since this problem has had the nerve to come into your life, make it pay. When you have squeezed more out of this breakdown than you may have expected, OK. Go ahead and fix it!

Are You Making These Mistakes in Getting Results?

At times, we all need to get someone else to make a decision. Whether it’s about signing off on a project, buying our product or service, or making reservations for dinner, results depend on someone  making a decision.
The thing is, they will make the decision their way. They can't do it any other way, and if they try, they will most likely be unhappy with the result.
Have you seen this to be the case? Have you, or someone close to you, said, "I knew it wasn't going to work out. I shouldn't have gone along just because I was talked into it." 
When we really want something for the other person, or need something from them, our good intentions can actually get in the way of how they NEED to make the decision.
Here are three common mistakes that block our effectiveness at helping others make good decisions.
Mistake #1: Putting our attention in the wrong place. When we are so attached to our own agenda, or really working on the best way to present our offer, or just nervous and worrying about how we are doing, our attention is on ourselves and not the other person. This not only keeps us from getting the information we need from them, it also unintentionally conveys that we are not really interested in them. Bad move for gaining trust. 
Mistake #2: Being logical. Or, more specifically, using your own logic rather than the logic of the other person. Even if you listen carefully to what the other person wants, you are likely to organize the solution using your own logic rather than the sequence or emphasis that feels natural to them.
If you offer services to others, the more you know about how they think and decide, the better service you can provide for them.
Mistake #3. Leading too soon or too much. People who are great at influencing have a wide range of behavioral flexibility. They can move quickly or they can be more deliberate to match the pace of their client. They don't rush decisions. It's a lot easier to avoid this mistake if you are avoiding mistakes 1 and 2 - so that you are listening and following the other person's logic.

Correcting these mistakes shows the other person that you are being responsive to them. If you genuinely want to get decisions that are mutually beneficial, follow their logic and provide the information that they need to make a good decision for them.
Not only will you get better results in the short run, your relationships become stronger over the long run.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Change the Game

Mahatma Gandhi's message, "Be the change you want to see in the world," sounds simple. It's a profound reminder that we need to consider how our choices express our values.
In everyday situations, it can be easier to see what needs to be changed than to get it done. Anyone who has worked in a complex organization has dealt with people and systems that seem to block solutions.
Mature workers (of any age) have learned to work with, through, and around these people and systems, and that is generally a good thing.
Sometimes, this ability is a liability. The status quo has a tendency to perpetuate itself, blocking innovation and needed changes. People who are keeping it going are often blind to the part they play. 
When Eric Berne wrote the book Games People Play fifty years ago, he used the term "game" to refer to repetitive series of interactions that result in a predictable, negative, outcome. This type of game is mostly played outside of awareness, so it can take a little digging to discover how you could be contributing to a situation you don't like.
The ethic of self-reliance has a side effect of keeping such self-reinforcing routines going. Bringing up an issue or complaint can be risky. That's when it's tempting to collude by keeping your mouth closed.
When, despite the workarounds, not solving the problem enables a negative situation to continue, true leaders step up and find a way to intervene.
The distinguishing characteristic of game-changers is that they consciously design their way out of negative routines. It can be messy, as people who followed Steve Jobs' professional life can testify. Or it can be conscious and elegant as you bring influence skills into play. 
When you are in a nonproductive or repetitive situation, three skills and three steps can give you traction while maintaining diplomacy.
The three crucial skills are:
1. Describing the facts
2. Developing a full representation of your desired outcome
3. Getting on the other person's map.
We will walk through these and then share the three powerful game-changing actions you can take to move any situation forward - especially those in which you feel stuck. 
The first step, which is to tell the truth about what is going on, is very helpful to me when I find myself struggling. The hardest and most rewarding part of that is to take ownership of my own reactions.
As long as I am focusing just on what other people ought to change, I won't be part of the solution.
If there's something that's been bugging you, find a quiet moment and observe your feelings and thoughts about the matter. Do you notice anything familiar about your responses? Have you been here before? That's a good sign that you may be playing into the problem while intending not to. 
Join us tomorrow for our 45-minute teleseminar where we will explore the three skills, go over the three steps that change the game, and end with the one quality that will help you do it. 
If you cannot attend and would like to listen to the recording, please email and we will send you the link, which will be up for the coming week. 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Managing the ADD of Everyday Life

How to handle distractions, overwhelm, and procrastination and still get somewhere.
Do you have days that just seem to fly by, full of activity, and you feel as if you have gotten nothing done? Life happens at an increasingly complex and rapid pace. You would be unusual if you weren’t paying attention to multiple streams of information, internal conversation, relationships, work, schedule, decisions, and more. Keeping track of our goals, having a sense of progress, may seem out of reach. 
As it turns out, knowing your outcome is a saving grace when living in an interrupt-driven world. Sure, we can recognize that uninterrupted quiet time is best for challenging work or creative invention. When we don’t have that, or when we have just too many things competing for that time – and when life throws us extra stuff that has to be integrated (i.e., IRS Audit, parent care, child care, house move or remodel, refinance, buy a car) – it can be downright discouraging. 

Here’s a ray of light to help us deal with the overload. Sure, the 20 things on the to-do list may be there longer than we had anticipated. Just the same, if we ask ourselves three outcome questions once in a while, and put attention on them just long enough to anchor the desired result that we want, our wandering activity path will still bring us closer to where we want to go.

On top of having an internal gyroscope set on our desired outcomes, another benefit of that momentary attention on a specific goal is that we can look back and quell our picky voices by seeing how far we have come on our path, even if we don't have hours of focused time to work on it.

I heard a story as a child about two people who each had the task of digging a hole. I can still see in my mind’s eye the image of a big hole and a big pile of dirt. One of the people walked by every day and took a shovelful of dirt out of the hole. The other guy waited until the last minute and had to work very hard to catch up. The one was whistling and the other was panting. I took in the lesson that tasks can be easy if done bit by bit.  

I may not be able to finish all that I want to do today, and still I can make progress – if I have thought about my goal.
Alan Lakein, one of the classic time management gurus, called this the “Swiss Cheese Method” of carving out manageable chunks of the overwhelming task. It feels great to come back and finish something that is mostly done already. 
If you have something that is hanging over your head (may I mention that it is time to get your taxes together?), take a moment to focus on it and ask yourself the three outcome questions:

What do I want to accomplish?
What will that get me (and others)?
What will I see, hear, and feel or do that will convince me it is completed?

Step into the experience as if you have just finished the job. See what you’ll see, hear what you’ll hear, and feel the effects of doing it. 

Now let that go and do one little task that leads toward the result. 
When your day splays out in unplanned directions, those little tasks can turn wasted time into steps forward.  

The fast pace and multiple distractions are not going to abate any time soon. We make a mistake when we put off tasks until we have “enough time.” Then we rush like crazy or miss the deadline. 

OK, enough. Go ask yourself the questions and do that little task!