Your skeletal system is not your nervous system. Anyone who has worked with me, especially in the last couple of years will know that this is my favourite expression when starting the discussion around how to optimise the way we approach change.
The skeletal system is of course important. It’s the tangible, structural and probably most visual aspect of change, represented by things like a change plan, the organisation charts in a restructure or documented work flows for a new system. We need the skeletal system because people need structure throughout change. We know that people like structure at the best of times, and when the ground is moving underneath us, structure is needed more than ever.
However we also know that the skeletal system is only as effective as the nervous system that powers it. If the skeletal system is about the solid and structural elements of change, then the nervous system can be considered as the way we approach the change and work with the intangibles.
Consider stakeholder management throughout change. This is often thought of as sharp end of engagement throughout change, and the process is usually one of asking: who are our stakeholders, and why are they our stakeholders? What if we reframed this to ask a different question that combines the approaches of the skeletal and nervous systems? It would sound something like this:
Who do we think:
We are then armed with a powerful piece of information that is ready to be validated through informal conversations and checking in with each team member or group to get a sense of where they are at. Once the validation has occurred you can then structure your leadership around what those in each category need to hear or experience to help them engage with the change.
And then of course, there is the more recent COVID-19 situation. The rapid change experienced by everyone as we transitioned to virtual working didn't give anyone a chance to manage the transition as well as we would normally like. But we are now talking about what the near future looks like, including talk of returning to the workplace. In this situation, you can use the above analysis to gather a picture of where your team is at in terms of the next transition; in fact I would suggest it's a non-negotiable if you are looking to lead in an engaging manner, and build engagement between your team and what's next.
The final word?
Both the skeletal and the nervous system are required for the human body to function effectively and the same goes for ensuring there is engagement throughout change. If we focus only on the tangibles, we miss the opportunity to get people involved and engaged with what’s going on. If we focus only on the intangibles, such as who we need to engage and what they need to hear or know, we risk losing them because they can’t see or sense how the whole thing hangs together and more importantly what there is for them to hold onto throughout the change.
Author: David Morley
David is developer of global-minded leaders, teams and businesses.
There is much being said about the idea of trust in recent times, and with good cause. You only need to look to the state of 'alternative facts', the political landscape and more recently in Australia, the royal commission into banking and finance. Trust is leader led, as much as culture is, and really the two concepts are interdependent when creating constructive and healthy culture.
Bringing it back to leadership though; we know that the ability to build trust is a critical characteristic of effective leadership. Whether directly, when you are the manager, or indirectly, like in a matrix where influencing with integrity is the key skill. It also underpins the achievement of healthy employee engagement - after all, a position of trust is what we aspire to as engaging leaders.
Over the years I have seen good leaders suffer because they get the trust dimension so terribly wrong; and most times it is not because they don’t understand the importance of trust, it is because they expect trust to be given almost immediately.
If you are new to a leadership role, either for the first time, or as an experienced leader transitioning across, it won't matter that you have a great track record as a leader. Nor will it matter if you have immense pressure to get fast results.
Neither give you the right to demand immediate trust.
You are a stranger. Even if you are from the same organisation, and you are known, or some people have worked with you in the past; the fact is that 'new' trust has to be built in the context of your new role. Being known as a colleague is much different than being known as a leader. There are different qualities and attributes required in each role.
So how can you build trust and honour the relationships you want to build? Here are a few important things to remember:
Finally, trust is not something that needs to be spoken of or made explicit. It is something that occurs organically as a natural respect co-existing between two people or groups that has been earned. Aside from healthy results, you will know when you are in a high trust relationship or team…you will just know.
Is it really possible for every leader to be as vulnerable and authentic as we think they need to be to create a safe space for us to work and play in? And will our people always naturally respond to the efforts of leaders in encouraging 'authenticity' at work?
The short answer is no. If you have managers or employees who are having challenges being as open and ‘real’ as we’d like them to be then in some respects that’s being vulnerable as well. They are letting us know that they either don’t know how to be more authentic, aren't ready for it or that they are unwilling.
As leaders we have a role to play in making it ok for people to relax and engage with what they are doing on a daily basis and who they are doing it with. This article explores how we as leaders can start to shift our approach in making this happen.
Being vulnerable happens differently for all of us...there is no cookie cutter approach
Not knowing ‘how’ to be vulnerable can be remedied through learning and experience. We know that coaching, mentoring and specialist courses in this area can certainly help. However, the unwilling aspect is a bit different. If they are unwilling does it mean we give up on them? No; but the workplace is not a therapists couch, so we can’t dive into the role of counsellor. Yet the reality is, people show up for work each day who are not so open (or completely closed) to the idea of vulnerability. Have they had a bad experience playing with this idea at work before? They opened themselves up and were ridiculed or it was used against them? Or is it their belief system learned from a very young age? Another reason related to this is related to national culture…in some cultures being more emotionally restrained is considered appropriate, whilst in more collectivist cultures (eg; Asian, eastern European, Middle East) sharing occurs over time as a relationship genuinely develops, because for these groups the door to trust is opened based on ‘who’ you are and not ‘what’ you do. And then there is organisational culture. Is your culture open and supportive of this way of being? There is a whole different article on that alone waiting to be written; but for now we will stick with who we are as leaders and what we can be doing.
Enabling vulnerability means acknowledging and using your potency
As leaders this means that our role is to be thinking about how we create the opportunity for vulnerability to grow. And the solution evolves around psychological safety, which applies to all aspects of work life around the world.
Leaders have a certain potency that comes with their role that can be overlooked. That is, our ability to create a safe place where people feel ok to bring ‘who’ they are into the role and the workplace. I remember when I started my working life, this was an optional and largely unknown aspect of leadership, and if you had a leader who did this then you really had landed on your feet! Today is different. We know more about human development and motivation, and the links between performance, culture, engagement and happiness at work. We also know more about the role that we play as leaders in making it ok for our people to bring as much of themselves to work as possible, and not just a persona shackled by a strong defensive boundary.
How do we make it ok? It’s simple to understand in one respect and the same time, depending on our own frame of reference, can be difficult to do. We lead by example in making the environment inclusive and non-judgemental. We give people time to colour their role with ‘who’ they are, and we don’t enforce a time limit on the development of trust and engagement. In fact, by expecting that trust or engagement should be occurring by a certain time could be saying more about our personal needs as a leader than it does about the people we are leading.
Unconditional Leadership - The key to vulnerability
Really, the key to this is about being unconditional in your style. Accepting that as a leader you may be creating the opportunity for rapport to build, but it may not be reciprocated, or it could take time before others start to relax and share. Others may be ready for it and it happens quickly and naturally.
But being unconditional in your style is a central pillar to building a psychologically safe and enjoyable place to work. It's easy to understand...not necessarily easy to do...but highly rewarding. For everyone.
In the western world we never believe we ever have enough time; we squeeze as much into our day as possible, we want to get to work, maybe grab a coffee and just get on with things. Yes, there are of course those who are cultural outliers and have a more longer-term relationship with time and a more relaxed approach to how things are done (because there is plenty of time!), but for most of us it’s about just getting on with the task at hand.
Which happens to be one of the biggest detractors from building healthy and engaging relationships at work!
To build engagement amongst peers, or between the leader and their team you need to know ‘who’ you are working with. To know ‘who’ you are working with takes time and effort…the time to build rapport and a depth of safety in the relationship that makes it easier to really relax with each other.
Let’s face it, we don’t drop our personal boundaries and defence mechanisms and let just anyone in; nor do we naturally do it quickly. So when we come to work and just get on with things we are preventing the development of rapport and resilience in our relationships.
If you are a leader, then this is one of the most effective and simplest things you can be doing to develop more engaging relationships in your team. Simply put:
If you’d like to know more about the ways in which you can build a more engaging leadership style, view our Engaging Leadership resources, or enquire about our Lead2Engage program.
When it comes to fostering engagement, the role of a leader is central, and for leaders themselves, it can seem quite overwhelming. We know that the level of engagement is the result of a number of factors, two of which are leader-critical. They are the ability of your leaders to understand and articulate your:
Let’s explore these ideas in brief.
Whether you are a first time supervisor or a seasoned leader, your ability to make sense of where the company is headed and wrap your head around the strategy and objectives as they relate to your level of leadership is a pivotal activity when it comes to building engagement in your teams. The reason for this is simple. People like to know where they are going and what they are investing their energy in. Sure, there are some people who are just happy to turn up each day, do what they have to do and then go home. But for a majority of your people, they like to know why they are turning up each day and just how their role is contributing to the achievement of the bigger picture. Part of this is psychological, as we all have deep hungers for being informed and acknowledged. At its very core, sharing what you know of how your team’s objectives contribute to the function or company strategy will feed those hungers and prevent your people from making their own sense of where the ship is headed. So, if you know where the ship is headed, share it.
This one can seem a bit harder than sharing on direction as culture can seem like such a big and impermeable beast. But the reality is that as leaders we are custodians and champions of our organisations culture. If you’ve not gone down the path of capturing and optimising your organisational culture, you can still nail this one. What are the company values? These are usually derived from processes that distil what we believe are the important ways to think and act around here. If you don’t have clearly stated values, what is the vision? This is another way of getting in touch with the culture of an organisation. It’s certainly not the whole picture, especially if you find yourself in a situation where the stated vision or values are not demonstrated by the leadership of the business. Between your vision and values, you have some important guide posts for ‘how’ you should be leading. Whether they be values such as ‘passion’, ‘entrepreneurial’ or ‘customer-focused’, find a way to bring these to life in the way you lead. Talk with your team about what they mean for how your team does what it does on a daily basis. From first time manager to experienced leader…this one can be easy to do as well. From a psychological standpoint, by having this conversation your people feel involved in the business. And when you walk the talk, and carry out your role in the spirit of the vision or values you let your people see what good looks like. Some people need to see it to make sense of it whilst others will just get it.
These are a couple of small actions that any leader can deploy that will start to have a positive impact on engagement. Seriously, they are not time-consuming nor do they need to suck energy…rather they will most likely generate energy…and we know that when we feel energised we also start to feel engaged.
Employee Engagement is a broad topic, encompassing factors such as reward and recognition, leadership style and culture. Time and again though, research tells us that the number one factor that impacts on employee engagement is leadership. Or more specifically; the ability for leaders to connect with their people in a way that inspires confidence and energy.
Employee engagement is easy to define. Most people can tell us ‘what’ employee engagement is. Many leaders can tell you ‘what’ they should be doing to create engagement, and we know that there are numerous training courses that teach the skills required for managers to be engaging.
So why is it that leadership training in the area of employee engagement often fails to live up to expectation?
The answer is simpler than we may think. Whilst we may have a grasp of the ‘what’, there is still the question of ‘how’ and ‘when’. In other words, traditional employee engagement training initiatives tend to be quite tactical in their approach, but come up short on the strategic element; and this is where the greatest gain is to be had in terms of increasing the engagement levels of your workforce.
There are a couple of steps that will help you enable, and optimise the quality of engaging leadership in your organisation.
1. Implement an Organisational Engagement Strategy
An Organisational Engagement Strategy makes it easy for leaders to engage with their people, and in return, makes it easy for all employees to engage with the organisation and what it stands for. An Organisational Engagement Strategy allows you to see all initiatives at a single glance, ensuring coordination of activity, and that the right activity occurs at the most optimal time – and in synch with other initiatives that may be taking place. It also helps you see how much – or how little – is being done on the engagement front. Importantly it also gets the leadership group on the same page with what is happening across the business, and helps them to see how their behaviours are either reinforcing, or detracting from, the effectiveness of other initiatives.
2. Heighten the Positive Impact of Your Leaders
Knowing the skills of engaging leadership, like how to build rapport or listen actively is only part of the equation. For example, take a Formula 1 racecar driver. Sure he knows what he has to do to get the car around the track; but it is understanding when to use certain techniques, and why, that ensures maximum impact. For the leader, just as it is for the racecar driver, this is as much about understanding the psychology of those around him, as it is timing. Of course, understanding the broader strategy contained in the above point also contributes to this effectiveness.
None of this needs to be difficult and the potential return is great. It's just a matter of taking the time to be a little more strategic and coordinated with where and how you target your engagement activities, and then helping your leaders to engage in ways that are genuine, timely and inspiring.
Ponte Valle can help your organisation take this next step to engagement maturity and success and can work with you to:
Every team has an abundance of energy ready to invest in positive ways. Unfortunately it is often stifled as a result of team members not knowing where and how they can play, and what they can be doing to help elevate the team and themselves.
How can you reverse this? Well, it’s not as complicated as you may think, and it only involves a couple of simple steps:
Ensure everyone is on the same page as to why we are here. Not having a singular and well understood 'reason for being' is one of the most common errors made by companies and their management teams. I have often asked leadership groups what their mandate is only to get a variety of responses (that are usually reflective of the two or three different clashing or confused cultures displayed by the workforce!). Understanding our 'reason for being' is critical; without this we are headed down a road to nowhere.
Articulate where we are headed (the vision)…so people know the direction within which to invest their creative and productive energies. If you don’t have a vision at team level, adopt the company vision. If that doesn’t exist then you have a perfectly good excuse to sit down and think about what the direction is for your team and where you’d like them to be in, say, 12 months. If there are any boundaries, let the team know so that they know how far they can stray with their creativity and investment of energy towards the common goal.
Everyone knows what they need to do (role clarity). We may know why we are here and what the vision is, but if the team doesn’t know how their individual roles are expected to contribute, then creativity will be replaced with confusion over who is responsible for what. The results of this is something we often see; either team members defending their patch and protecting their boundaries rather than collaborating and working together; or the opposite when we see team members over compensating and getting involved with everything and anything simply because how roles are expected to contribute (and therefore collaborate) isn’t clear.
My experience is that if we know why we are here, what we are here to do, and how we are expected to contribute then the scene is set for a motivated and engaged workforce. More importantly, as a leader, you become an enabler, rather than a blocker to team success.
Over the last five years there has been what seems to have been a significant increase in the numbers of studies conducted around the world to try and understand what drives employee engagement. Blessing White, Gallup, KPMG, McLeod amongst many who have been working hard to discover the factors that help us enjoy what we do at work, to the extent that we don’t mind doing that little bit extra to make a difference.
Many organisations also embark on their own organisational employee engagement surveys seeking to understand what motivates their workforce. But for most employees, knowing that they have been surveyed and listened to still doesn’t answer the key question in their mind of ‘why should employee engagement matter to me?”
The answer is simple; we spend most of our waking hours each week at work. So why wouldn’t we want this time to be as stress-free, productive, and maybe even enjoyable, as possible? The chances are that if you are stressed at work, have a poor relationship with your manager, don’t know how you fit in with what the company is trying to achieve, or how you can be developed to contribute more effectively (amongst other things) then you probably aren’t getting the most out of your job; either personally or professionally.
And this is why employee engagement surveys and follow up initiatives matter to all of us. It is an opportunity for an organisation to demonstrate that they take seriously the need for all employees to be involved and engaged, with the preference being that the main stress being experienced is the healthy stress of learning a new skill, growing your career or problem-solving.
But employee engagement isn't just about what the organisation can do for you. Employee engagement is a two-way street, and whilst leadership groups are typically going off and learning how to lead and engage their teams, this doesn’t mean that everyone can’t be taking some level of ownership for their own their engagement. Some tips for increasing your satisfaction at work include:
Underpinning all of this is the link between our satisfaction and happiness at work and business results. Benchmarking results from the recent Gallup engagement study confirm that a more engaged workforce:
So why should employee engagement matter to everyone? Because it’s about you, your colleagues, your manager and your customers. And the best thing is, engagement is two-way. For everyone; it's about taking ownership and seeking to be engaged. For managers, seek to engage. And that’s why, and how, employee engagement matters to all of us!
There are plenty of times at work (and in life) when we want to gain the cooperation, buy in or consensus of those around us; whether they be a manager, colleagues or an employee. So what’s the easy answer? Well, in my experience there is no easy or perfect answer; but I have encountered a couple of methods that tend to bear fruit.
Is it me or is it you?
If you are continually struggling to build a relationship or gain the collaboration you are looking for, perhaps it’s time to take a step back and do a simple 'is it me or is it you' analysis that will provide you with enough information to decide a way forward.
However, if they insist that they are ok with what you are proposing then perhaps it’s an issue of capability...do they have the skills or experience to do what you’ve asked them to do? Are they out of their depth? This can impact on desire as well. Engage them in a conversation on the topic, ask technical questions and involve them so that you can determine the level of knowledge they have on the topic. It’s easy to presume that others have the skills and knowledge required...and hard when everyone realises too late that they don’t. If it is skills then it's easy to organise opportunities for development or experience; whether it be training, coaching or shadowing on the job.
If the person you are looking to get buy in or collaboration from is openly resistant that’s a great start...after all if they are passively aggressive you usually don’t know it until it’s too late that they aren’t happy or really don’t buy in to what you are promoting. But if they are acting out with energy then you know what their position is, and you can do something about it. With these people I find that a more effective strategy is to channel the energy...something you can’t do with more passive behaviours. Involve them in the discussion regarding a solution, remember that the acting out is a defense mechanism. This is usually a result of lower self-esteem, or event/s that may have impacted on their sense of self worth over time. This is your chance to embrace them and channel their energy toward a solution rather than do what everyone else does and push them away or disagree with their position (which reinforces, and in their mind justifies, their rebellious behaviour).
And finally… consider the ‘save face’ factor
These are just a few ideas for increasing your chances of collaboration or buy-in that have worked for me over the years. However the most important element that underpins all of these suggestions is very simple. When looking to gain the support or cooperation of others, approach them in a way that you would like to be approached. With respect, and where possible, in a way that allows them to save face. After all, sometimes it’s hard to change our way of thinking over night, and some behaviours are deeply ingrained and gained from years of being the accepted way of doing something. The more you allow the opportunity for buy-in to your message in a way that protects sense of self, the more you improve your chances of collaboration or buy-in.
I have learnt over time the importance of resilience, and being able to manage and lead a team during times of uncertainty. As much as it can be painful and works against our natural desire for structure in our daily lives, being able sit in the middle of ambiguity and lead a team effectively despite the unknown can reap great rewards for you and your people.
Before I talk a little on ambiguity, the first thing to understand is the idea of resilience. If you are able to develop a healthy level of resilience, you are in a better position to understand, or at least make some sense of the uncertainty that can sometimes surround you as a leader. Those times, for example, when there is a restructure or that period of uncertainty after a new manager or CEO commences. Even in smaller businesses when you are realizing that it is time to strengthen or adapt your product line to remain viable. Uncertainty knows no bounds and when you step into the role of leading a business or others, you suddenly start to realize just how much uncertainty tends to exist…especially when you are in the thick of it and expected to make decisions that affect others.
Some ideas on how you can start to develop resilience are covered in an earlier post “Effective Self-Management - the key to Resilience”. But what is the link between resilience and dealing with uncertainty?
The added value for a leader who can manage with, and through, periods of uncertainty is that they can
Now these aren't necessarily easy, particularly if you like to have higher levels of control and structure in your life. The reality is that you may not know what the exact outcome or future looks like. Yet for your people to remain productive and focused your job is to create a focus or direction. This is where resilience comes into play as you may be behaving in a way that is not natural. In other words, you are living the new way of being even though you still haven't figured out what it all really means. You are creating a structure for your team to operate in, even when you aren’t sure of the bigger picture yourself.
Some of the best leaders I have followed and worked with have been able to do this. Even when I knew they couldn’t be absolutely certain of what was happening around them, they had the courage to back themselves, and their ability to create a mini-structure and direction when the drive and energy of the wider company came to a stand still during a crisis.
An easy example of this are those leaders who, when there is a major restructure or leadership change at the top of the organisation, continue to ensure a productive and focused team. They choose a direction, steer the team in that direction, and provide stability and focus for their team. This can be as simple as heightened focus on team objectives and an increase in team meeting frequency to share what information is known. In a complex or matrix organisation, the ability toconduit manage is a critical skill in making this happen.
I’ve also seen the opposite occur; when the manager chooses to use this time to stop everything and wait. The problem with this is that the energy in the team builds as a result of the natural stressors and tensions in the organisation, especially if there is talk of lay-offs. But rather than providing an outlet for the energy through direction and focus, the manager harvests uncertainty and ambiguity, which is fuelled by gossip and misinformation.
To deal with uncertainty in the best possible way, keep things simple and follow these guidlines: