leadership incorporated blog

December 17, 2012

Leaders: Are You Using The Activation Phenomenon To Succeed Bigger?

A 2001 study at Johns Hopkins showed that when nurses met the medical team by name and asked about their concerns early on, they were more likely to note problems and offer solutions than nurses who were not treated as valued team members. Getting people personally involved activated their participation, their sense of responsibility and their willingness to speak up.

The researchers called this the “Activation Phenomenon.”

Think about your own experience in workplaces where you were (are) activated and challenged to be at your best. Weren’t you more interested in your work? Did you look forward to getting to work and not want to stop? Did you have moments in which time stood still while you worked your magic? Didn’t you find yourself caring deeply about the work, the results, your clients, co-workers, and vendors?

On the other hand, most of us have experienced not being encouraged to use our smarts and skills and can-do spirit. We’ve felt frustrated, bored, undervalued. We’ve questioned our own worth. We’ve done our time without caring about the results, because, really, what was the point of caring?

Companies that produce the best results over time more often make people feel the first way. Organizations that create the second set of feelings, generally have to spend a lot of their time and capital on people problems, efficiency problems, quality problems, turnover problems…yes, all kinds of problems. And that gets in the way of creating sustainable success.

Do some of the engagement issues come from the people themselves? Of course, yet no problem is one-sided. And your business is either doing things to activate engagement on the part of its people, its clients, and its vendors or it is doing things to deactivate them.

So, it’s a good idea to periodically take an unflinching look at some of the conditions business leaders create that either activate or de-activate even themselves:

  • Create A Strong Sense Of Purpose: When we feel connected to the “why” behind our jobs, we work longer, harder, smarter and with greater passion. When disconnected from the end results of our work, our roles become abstract and we become disengaged.
  • Offer A Good Meaty Challenge: Stretching people just slightly out of their comfort zones is highly engaging. On the other hand, asking too little keeps us feeling bored and insignificant. However, asking the impossible breeds resentment and lack of respect.
  • Build A Connected Team Feeling:  Personal connections, being part of something bigger than ourselves, knowing others depend on us and that our delivery has an impact on their ability to perform is a powerful and energizing motivator. When work is impersonal and disconnected from others, it’s much harder to care.
  • Treat People With Respect: Virtually everyone does their best work when approached consistently as valuable human beings and team members. Conversely, being talked down to, blamed, ignored, yelled at, dismissed, and so on, almost always results in mutual disrespect.
  • Provide Constructive Feedback: Study after study shows that people work harder when we know how we are doing, whether the feedback indicates we are exceeding, meeting, or failing to meet expectations. One critical warning: make sure feedback is actionable and focused on the work, not the person. Blame, judgment, and feedback that does not suggest a course of action will demotivate.
  • Give The Authority To Make Decisions That Impact Outcomes: When people are able to create and carry out actions that produce results, we feel empowered and take ownership of the process. When we’re held responsible for conditions over which we have no control, we become passive and resentful, feeling that we’ve been set up to lose and that it doesn’t matter what we do.
  • Allow Permission To Make mistakes: In environments that encourage mistakes (and learning) we feel freer to think out of the box, to come up with new and better ways and speak up when we see the potential for problems ahead. When mistakes happen, we don’t hesitate to surface them and get to immediate resolution. On the other hand, when we fear “getting in trouble,” we risk less and cover-up more. Which do you think is of greater benefit to any organization?

See anything here that your organization might do better on? What conversations can you have in the next few weeks to activate yourself and the people your business depends on to hit the ground running in 2013?

Wishing you a happy holiday season and some highly activated growth in the new year.

September 26, 2011

Inspired to Succeed: New Pecking Order

Simone L. just took over the leadership role in a mid-sized pharmaceutical contract manufacturing company. She had been with the organization for many years and was well-liked and respected by her peers. No one was surprised when she was chosen to succeed the retiring president.

Simone felt she had the support of her co-workers. So she was unprepared when those relationships changed as she assumed the presidency. All of a sudden people were talking behind her back. She got push back on changes that she thought everyone had wanted for some time. There was buzz that one of her co-workers was resentful, and thought he should have been selected for the position.

This isn’t unusual. Leadership both connects and separates you from those you lead. Change shifts the ground beneath your feet in relationships and increases uncertainty among those who used to be your peers. You may feel the same as ever, yet people see you as changed. Even as their respect may increase, so does the distance between you.

So what’s a new leader to do?

  1. Build confidence by having a clear vision and voicing that direction consistently so people know where the organization is heading.
  2. Build trust by always doing what you say you’ll do.
  3. Build certainty through structure. Structure is calming and safe.
  4. Build team by relying on people to do what they do best and making sure everyone understands their role in the big picture

Get used to being a little separated. Relationships will change. Expect it and stay calm and understanding. Above all, don’t take it personally. It goes with the territory.

March 21, 2011

Inspired to Succeed: What business leaders can learn from a girl’s volleyball team.

I’m writing this while watching the third match in my daughter’s Club Volleyball tournament. The team came out of the box slowly. It took them a little while to get communicating and start working as a team. They lost match 1 but it was close. In match 2 they found their focus. They killed and actually started to have some fun. But now in match 3, they’ve lost it again. They’re not talking to each other. They’re not working well together. They’re making mistakes. Blaming each other. And they’re certainly not having fun.

This same thing happens to businesses trying to grow. They can fumble around trying to find their direction and ways to communicate and best work together as a team. Then their efforts pay off and they experience some progress, some success. They get excited, start having fun. But often what they’ve created isn’t sustainable because they aren’t really paying attention to what’s working and what isn’t. They forget they’re in the middle of a process with no end. They stop communicating collaboratively. And they feel the same panicky, pressure that the volleyballers felt as they watched their success slipping away.

How to turn it around:

1. Realize that growth is a process. As you move from point A to point B, all kinds of things change and to be successful, you need to continue to adapt. Don’t get cocky with your first success and think you’re done with the work!

2. Analyze your progress. Look at what’s working and what isn’t. Look at what’s changed. Look at what is now possible that wasn’t before. Work smart.

3. Communicate. Blame only accelerates the loss. Start talking it up. Get team members input. Let them know what you’re doing and what you need from them. Keep everyone focused on getting to point B together.

4. Focus on the fundamentals. John Wooden (sorry for mixing sports metaphors) never had any team focus on winning. Instead he had them work and work on passing, shooting, driving down the lane. Do the same with whatever the fundamentals are in your business. Usually quality, customer service, and teamwork top the list.

5. Have fun. My daughter’s team started having fun when they started winning. What they didn’t realize is that you can accelerate your success by having fun first. Figure out how to make the process fun for everyone on your team and quality will improve, customer service will improve and the results will follow. Making it fun is one of the most powerful secrets to winning at business. Most companies don’t get this one right.

6. Celebrate. This is one thing the girl’s volleyball team has down. They celebrate after every play. When they ace the serve, it’s “Aaaahh, ace! Woop! Woop! “ On a good block, it’s “Access Denied!” And when they lose the point, they slap hands just as if they were congratulating each other. And in every way, they are moving forward, even when they lose the point. If they’re smart they’re learning from it.

This week, one of my clients shared with me that a $300,000 lesson they were regretting a few years ago turned into something they are immensely grateful for today. That lesson more than paid for itself over time.

I like the idea of celebrating this. In fact, I think I’ll start to celebrate all my progress, too. I invite you to join me.

Ace, Ace, Baby!

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