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Brutal honesty is not enough.

In my last blog I emphasized the importance and benefits of creating an open, honest, authentic and courageous communication environment in teams and in life. In this blog I want to dig a little deeper.

Living with a courageous and relentless commitment to openness and honesty is a powerful and, in my view, noble virtue. I am not merely saying this because I have personally adopted this commitment in my own life. I am saying it because I have seen the power of openness and honesty triumph over resignation, despair and challenge, as well as nurture opportunity many times. BUT, I have also seen openness, honesty and bluntness deeply hurt and deflate people.

People often think that “having no filter”, “calling it as they see it” and “putting it all out there” are virtues and an asset to their group or relationship. In fact, some cultures – the Dutch for example – pride themselves on their bluntness. When brutal honesty is delivered in a productive manner, it can definitely be a huge asset. But brutal honesty can also be a disaster and an impediment. It can hurt people deeply and leave casualties.

A sales manager at a global telecom company shared with me a story that I have heard in other places before: his boss asked him to represent his country in the weekly regional sales forecast call with the upper level managers. The economic times were challenging and deals were hard to come by, so everyone on the call was somewhat tense and apprehensive, especially his boss’s boss, who was under tremendous pressure from his superiors to perform. When it was time for the sales manager to present he didn’t have good news to share, so not before long he found himself being questioned, grilled and criticized by those who attended the meeting. Needless to say, he left the call feeling devastated and publically attacked, humiliated and demeaned. His boss’s boss had a different depiction of the incident. His take was: “The sales manager came to the call unprepared so I gave him some feedback and tried to help him steer his presentation the right way”.

If openness, honesty and bluntness don’t make a difference and empower people, they are not worth the dignity they stand for and represent.

I have also heard many people equate open, honest and authentic communication to “getting it all off their chest”. In fact, in a recent coaching conversation an executive expressed pride in the fact that he finally mustered the courage to tell his team-mate how he really felt about him, after a long period in which he accumulated pent up frustrations and resentments about his colleague. I empathized with his initial feeling of personal triumph. But when I asked him if the conversation made a difference to address, resolve or change things he wasn’t sure at all. In fact, upon reflection he admitted that the trust and partnership with his colleague didn’t get stronger, and they didn’t come out of that conversation with any tangible productive actions or directions. He left the conversation feeling relief, but his colleague seemed quite upset and disheartened.

Putting it all out there, or getting if all off your chest is the wrong focus. Making a difference should always be the purpose and focus of any communication. It should guide the approach, angle, style and intensity of all our conversations. If making a difference requires being completely open, honest and blunt, then so be it. But, if being completely open, honest and blunt would hurt, insult, demean or deflate the other person, it may be better not to say anything at all.

A friend of mine, who is teaching at a post graduate university, shared with me recently that her new boss adopted the “blunt, no filter” approach, which was less than successful in their environment. Her boss, who came from the finance world, did not take into account the less brutal and more “diplomatic” academic world she was now immersed in. My friend confessed to feeling wary and cautious about bringing issues to the front because of her boss’s unorthodox style.

There are always appropriate, effective and productive ways to communicate, give feedback and express criticism and dissatisfaction – no matter how severe – which elevate and empower people.

What good is it for anyone if people around them are torn down and/or afraid to speak their minds?

Blunt honesty is the right approach both in business and at home.

I love working with leaders who are relentless about driving a culture of open, honest and courageous communication around them. These leaders are about high performance and they have zero interest in, or tolerance for, internal drama or politics. They operate at a high level of personal integrity, authenticity and ownership. And they expect and demand the same from people around them.

They make it difficult – if not impossible – for people to get away with doing the things that undermine and weaken the organization: point fingers, adopt a victim mentality, indulge in destructive politics, and “CYA” (cover-your-ass) behaviors that distract from the goals of the organization.

Even if these behaviors are very subtle, they drain energy and waste everyone’s time. Eventually, people begin to feel that they cannot make a difference, and the organization loses focus and cannot achieve the results it seeks. In today’s environment of growing competition and limited resources, what company can afford this?

Any manager can do this – break these undermining patterns, reverse past damage and create a high performance team dynamic – if they are willing to be a courageous leader, role model this behavior, and call his or her people to account for it too. They need to stand for a new code of rigorous honesty, refusing to settle for less than the truth in an environment where people are used to only voicing what they think their leaders want to hear.

No matter which method they use, leaders must make their unconditional commitment to honesty known, and they must convince their people that they mean it. It’s not enough to declare it. They need to demonstrate through action that they are genuinely open to feedback, criticism and input, including about themselves. As one of my clients once admitted: “It takes 10 rights to fix 1 wrong, and 1 wrong to undermine 10 rights.”

This leadership philosophy of open, honest, authentic and courageous communication can be messy, lonely and painful at times. However, time and again, I have seen it lead to significant transformations inside organizations. In fact, clients have repeatedly shared with me that creating a new level of communication at work has even made them a better person in their personal life, changing the way they relate to their children and their spouses. One CEO even told me, “It saved my marriage.”

I am not a marriage counselor, and I don’t pretend to have all the answers. But one thing I do know is that when organizations have the courage to face the truth every day, a powerful platform of authentic team ownership, commitment and accountability emerges. The team is then equipped and energized to focus on any challenge or opportunity that lies ahead, no matter how unfamiliar, complex, or difficult it may be. In short, the team becomes unstoppable.

Is your Leadership Team making a positive or negative difference?

Any organization is a reflection of its leaders and leadership team (LT). If the leaders build a strong and genuine team dynamic of trust, unity, communication and ownership among themselves, these characteristics will be cascaded through the veins of the organization and internalized in its culture and DNA. If the leaders operate as individual silos, not a team, their people will follow suit. And, if they have trust issues among themselves, harbor resentments or are the source of negativity or victim behaviors, the same issues, sentiments and behaviors will be inculcated throughout their organization.

And, it doesn’t matter what leaders say in public. Even if it’s all the politically correct things, their people will watch their behaviors, pick up on subtle remarks and body language, and line up accordingly.

The LT is always an amplifier of sentiments, conversations and energy in the organization. Leaders’ behavior either amplifies the constructive, productive conversations that make a difference, or it amplifies and fuels the negative ones, which undermine and weaken; they are either the source of the solution or a big part of the problem.

Unfortunately, in so many cases the senior leaders amplify the negative sentiments and conversations. They initiate, express and participate in negative conversations, and they pass down negative and divisive messages to their people. I have heard managers and employees complain about this so many times, and I have seen this dynamic with my own eyes.

For example, I was working inside a large telecom company who acquired a smaller, more entrepreneurial, startup type company. As with most mergers and acquisitions the integration was done on paper but not in the hearts and minds of the people who had to implement it, especially not the people who joined the larger telecom firm from the smaller acquired company. As I walked the halls of the acquired company’s offices and sat in their meetings I could hear the resentments and negative and toxic feelings about the acquirer voiced in almost every conversation. Many of the complaints were legitimate and correct. However, given the negative environment, no one was collaborating to figure out how to fix the issues. And, even the senior leaders from the acquired company who agreed to, and gained from the acquisition, and now sat on the LT of the acquirer were expressing, engaging in, and fueling the negative and unproductive sentiments, behind the scenes.

Even when the LT members are not the originators of negative sentiments and conversations, they have the power to transform these into constructive conversations that address the issues, change things and make a difference. But, in many cases they avoid their responsibility and opportunity to do so. I guess cynicism is easier and more familiar, even if it is undermining and dysfunctional.

It seems that leaders often just don’t realize the positive or negative impact of their behaviors and conversations on their environment. They don’t focus on this topic hence they don’t see it, or take responsibility for its consequences.

If LT members periodically answered the question “Are we making a positive, neutral or negative impact through our behavior?” and perhaps also asked people around them for honest feedback on this, they would be more inclined to adjust their behaviors and conversations, especially if they realized that the cost associated with negative or neutral is dear.

Agreeing to disagree is always a cop-out!

How many times have you seen the following scenario?

A team meets to discuss issues that are critical to the organization’s future. The conversation goes on and on without resolution, as different people have divergent opinions about the best course of action. When the leader tries to bring it to a conclusion, they are no closer to alignment. They leave the meeting “agreeing to disagree.”

Such meetings are worse than a waste of time: they actually damage the organization, which is then no closer to making the necessary decisions and assuming responsibility for them. People have stayed within their comfort zones at the expense of moving the organization forward in new and dynamic ways.

This happens because leaders lack one or more of the following attributes: courage, an understanding of their role as leader, and the ability to powerfully manage conversations.

True leaders know how important it is to have an open debate with honest, respectful listening because there is rarely a single right answer to any dilemma or question. They are able to elevate their people to set aside their personal egos, agendas, and preferences to align with the collective wisdom of the group. They instill in their teams a real commitment to the type of conversation that leads to making choices, aligning behind those choices, and taking responsibility together. This requires courage.

There is never a justification to leave a conversation agreeing to disagree. It is always a cop-out. Of course, some topics are complex and may need a number of meetings to gather the necessary input and to digest it as a group. But paralysis by analysis is always an excuse to avoid taking a stand. And, the cost of lack of decisiveness, accountability, and follow-through is cynicism, resignation and stagnation.

Achieving extraordinary results requires the ability to align on goals. Agreeing to disagree precludes that. Organizations that achieve 100 per cent alignment behind a goal that is 80 per cent right have a much greater chance of success than those where people are divided behind a perfect goal. Compromise too often means that some of the people are 100 per cent behind one point of view and others are zero. How motivated are those zero per cent people to work towards the success of a goal they have not endorsed? They are the ones watching and waiting to say: “I told you so.”

Obviously, it is scary to step up to the plate and take full responsibility for a goal or direction that is uncertain, controversial, difficult to achieve, or politically incorrect. Making choices means eliminating alternatives. But when team members do find the courage to make tough choices, they are immediately more powerful. They are able to apply their energy towards proving their choices right rather than wasting energy on proving that others are wrong.

If an entire team is behind one direction – even if it is only 80 per cent correct – if they truly align, commit to a direction, and backstop each other, it is astounding what can happen. Individuals are then free to stake out a much more powerful future – and in my experience, they almost always do.

What has been your experience? 

Are you expecting what you haven’t been promised?

Having hopes, dreams, and expectations is a good thing, for the most part. Sometimes, however, having expectations can be a source of disappointment and frustration.

We have expectations in most areas of our life. At work, we expect our boss and colleagues to treat us a certain way. And we expect that things that are not working well in the work environment will get addressed and fixed in a timely manner.

In our personal relationships, we expect our partners to treat us lovingly, and with respect and generosity. And, we have clear images and standards about what all that should look like. In fact, if you self reflect on this you’ll see that we have a view about how things should be in most areas, most of the time. Sometime we state our expectations, but often they stay unspoken. When our expectations aren’t met, we tend to get upset, disappointed, frustrated and often discouraged. Sometime even resentful, and angry.

But, when we get disappointed or upset about unfulfilled expectations – what percent of the time were these expectations explicitly promised to us by someone?

I have found in my own life and in my work with others that more often than not we get disappointed and upset about things based on expectations that we have, which in reality no one ever explicitly promised us. We often complain about things that we have no legitimate claim to; no one promised us those things. If someone did promise something and they didn’t live up to their promise or deliver, we have the right to complain and there are effective and empowering ways to do it.

Recently, I was coaching two senior executives in one of the leading brokerage firms. They had very different personalities and they were assigned to a lucrative project together, but were not performing as well as they needed to because they had significant trust and communication issues. They had many complaints about each other – about lack of honesty, courtesy, respect, transparency and collaboration. And, most of these were never effectively communicated or addressed.

One of the executives kept complaining about the fact that his colleague was not including him in the project in a transparent way. But, the other swore he was doing his best to do so. When I asked if they have created clear expectations about how to work together, and made specific promises to each other on what they could be counted on for, the frustrated executive said “No” and added “this is basic stuff. My colleague should know how to communicate and how to include me”. As if there is some universal truth about how to work together effectively. Once the executives learned to make specific requests for what they needed from each other, rather than merely expect the other to behave consistent with their standards, things started to work much better.

We will be so much more powerful and happier in our lives if:

1)     Every time we are frustrated, disappointed or upset about unfulfilled expectations in any area we would ask our selves: “Are these my expectations OR did someone actually promise these to me?”

2)     If we wanted an expectation to be fulfilled in a certain area, we looked for someone who can promise these and explicitly request what we want.

3)     We stopped complaining, being disappointed or upset about unfulfilled expectations that nobody explicitly promised us.

It can be very energizing to have dreams, hopes and desires as long as we don’t get trapped in the vicious cycle of unfulfilled expectations.

Where in your work and life have you been frustrated, disappointed and upset about unfulfilled expectations that no one ever promised you to fulfill?

Having Effective Conversations to Build or Restore Trust in Any Relationship

There are some people with whom we easily build trusting, productive relationships — people with whom we connect and take our relationships to the next level without much trouble or controversy. But there are other relationships — personal and professional — that require more work, either because past dealings or misunderstandings have created mistrust or animosity, or because different personalities make it harder sometimes to find common ground. Sometimes there is a problem in the relationship that we need to address or react to. But at other times, even if the relationship is functioning sufficiently, we want to take it to a higher, better level.

Communication: The Key to Transforming Relationships

Trust, relationships, partnerships: These are just different ways of talking about the same thing — a level of intimacy and trust necessary in order to connect, interact and collaborate well with others. This intimacy lives in communication and is shaped by communication. It gets built through communication, and it can be destroyed by communication, or a lack thereof.

Over the next few weeks, I will share my thoughts about how to take any challenging relationship and transform it into a genuine partnership based on trust, respect and understanding. I will also cover how to take relationships that are functional to the next level. The principles for both scenarios are the same. The application has to be personalized to each person, relationship and circumstance.

The Four Steps for Transforming Any Relationship

There are four steps that if you follow will enable you to significantly transform or improve any dysfunctional or functional relationship no matter what the starting point. The more you understand these steps as principles or spaces to navigate the conversation through, the more confident and effective you will be at applying them to any circumstance:

  1. Step One: Align both parties on the need for improvement in the relationship and the level of trust, the desire to achieve these improvements, and the commitment to invest the time to achieve them.
  2. Step Two: Complete the history of the relationship by fully getting each other’s reality and experiences.
  3. Step Three: Create rich and exciting new possibilities for the future of the relationship.
  4. Step Four: Turn the new possibilities into clear actions, practices and results that take the relationship to the next level.

Get on the Same Page

The first step for generating a new level of trust in the relationship is that both parties genuinely want to transform the relationship and are willing to commit the time, energy and emotion to the conversations that can make this happen. You can’t force people to do this. It’s got to be authentic. This doesn’t mean that people know how to achieve the desired outcome. It means they want it.

Create a Common Interest

It’s always easier if both sides want this and there is no need for anyone to convince anyone else. But, as we all know very well, that is often not the case. So, in order to get people on the same page, there sometime needs to be an explicit dialogue about “Why do it?” “What for?” “Why now?” and/or “What’s in it for me?”

Consider a contrarian view: There is a benefit and cost associated with having a prolonged dysfunctional or dissatisfying relationship. The benefit is typically status quo, avoidance of conflict and uncomfortable conversations. When operating in the benefit mode, people tend to blame others rather than take responsibility for the situation. This is often accompanied with some self-righteousness, which could sound like, “Why should I take the first step?” “It’s all because of them;” “I’ve tried to address this before but they didn’t cooperate;” etc.

On the other side, the cost typically includes stress and loss of joy and satisfaction. And overall it drains energy to stay upset, incomplete and/or dissatisfied in a relationship for a long time. Sometimes people become cynical or numb in the relationship or about relationships in general. I had a single woman friend who every time I asked her how her love life was going, she would tell me the same story about how “all men are selfish and only care about one thing…” Self-righteousness is costly in itself.

So, when discussing the need or opportunity for change in the relationship, you can look for the areas of cost. These will give you opportunities for areas of common interest.

We all know the saying: “It takes two to tango.” However, I believe that when it comes to relationships and trust, “It takes one to take two to tango.” So, if you are the one initiating the transformation in the relationship, don’t get distracted, discouraged or fall into blame — take responsibility for enrolling the other person in the breakthrough. Listen to their concerns. Swallow your pride. Acknowledge them as valid, even if they are not factually true. And respond to them from your commitment, not reaction.

Sometimes people don’t want to move on because they don’t trust the other person’s sincerity. So, declare your sincerity, even if you have done it before. Sometimes they feel they’ve tried to address issues before and the other person wasn’t sincere, didn’t listen, wasn’t open to what they had to say, didn’t take ownership or responsibility for past transgressions, etc. So, stay open, own their experience of your past attempts as valid, apologize if needed and express your sincere commitment to making it work this time.

This first step is the ticket into the game. Without a shared desire to elevate the relationship, the next steps are irrelevant. While it takes courage to take a relationship to the next level, especially if the starting point is dysfunctional, isn’t it “better to fail giving it your all, rather than give up without trying at all?”

Stay tuned for more next week.

Building a Team of Warriors Starts with YOU

If you find yourself leading a group of people who are locked into that negative, cynical, victim mentality, how do you shift it? How can you not only avoid becoming mired in the negativity, but actually change it? In other words, how do you help your team transition from Worriers to Warriors?

The attitude and mindset of any organization or team, no matter how large or small, is always a reflection of its leader’s mindset and attitude. If the leader is a Worrier, the team will follow suit. If the leader is a Warrior, he/she will naturally create the same environment for his/her team.

In order to transform a negative environment, you must lead by example. In other words, start with yourself.

Transformation always begins with honesty. Honesty allows for awareness. And awareness allows for ownership. Ownership means understanding, accepting, and taking responsibility for what’s not working. In the absence of ownership, leaders tend to resist and to be defensive and in denial about their issues. When people own and accept their issues, they are able to engage others in conversations about change in a much more authentic, direct, and courageous way.

So, as a leader, start with your own authentic reflection. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is my attitude most of the time?
  • How do I react to issues, challenges, and bad news?
  • What conversations do I engage in when things don’t work or go wrong?
  • Overall, do I behave like a Warrior or a Worrier?

Leaders often have blind spots about their own attitudes and behavior, especially when it is of the Worrier variety. You may want to reach out to a few trusted colleagues, peers, superiors, and/or subordinates and ask them to give you candid feedback. Just remember: People will only tell you what they feel you are willing to hear. Even if you say all the right things, if people sense you are not open to receiving honest feedback, they will adjust their input accordingly. Make sure you are sincere about your quest to gain awareness and ownership of your issues before approaching others.

Many leaders tell their people that “feedback is a gift” but then react badly when they are on the receiving end. So people just roll their eyes, keep to themselves, and avoid authentic conversations.

It’s much easier, safer, and more comfortable to behave like a Worrier. You always have someone or something else to blame. You can also avoid taking responsibility and therefore certain risks in addressing the issues. Being a Worrier doesn’t require courage, but you pay a price for that comfort – usually in terms of lost collaboration, trust, effectiveness, quality of work, morale and company pride, and even financial success.

Most leaders sincerely want to create a Warrior environment for their teams, but many seem to be stuck in their old habits and reactions. When leaders start confronting and internalizing the “costs” associated with a Worrier environment, they are usually more willing to change.

Being a Warrior requires courage and even the willingness to change. But for those who want to feel alive and make a difference, it is an exciting existence.

Being a Warrior is like any other skill. To develop a Warrior mindset, you must commit to this way of being and regularly exercise those muscles. There are certain attitudes and practices that enable you to live and operate in the Warrior space.

In my next couple of blogs I’ll talk more about what these are. Stay tuned and see you next week.

Do You Have a Team of Warriors … or Worriers?

Even the most technologically-advanced visionaries are reminded that people are still irreplaceable.

I work with teams that are located in one city, where everyone works on the same floor of the same building, and yet they don’t trust each other or collaborate well together. I also work with globally-dispersed teams who rarely see each other in person, and yet they function with high levels of trust, purpose, collaboration, and intimacy.

So, what determines the effectiveness of team dynamic?

At the simplest level, it boils down to people’s attitudes, mindsets, and dedication to the game, as well as their relationships to themselves and their colleagues.

We all have our own unique style and brand – a distinct personality, mindset, and attitude. We often say similar things using different words. We approach problems differently and think about things from different perspectives. Put simply, we go about business doing things in a way that is fluent with our own style.

There are countless flavors of styles, but they can be divided into two categories:

  • Worriers: Those whose attitudes and mindsets are negative, cynical, disempowering, discouraging, undermining, and weakening.
  • Warriors: Those whose attitudes and mindsets are positive, empowering, energizing, motivating, exciting, and inspiring.

The more team members you have in one category or the other, the more the dynamic of your team will swing in that direction. So, if you’ve got a team of Worriers, it’s going to be a very cynical and un-energizing environment. Victim mentality breeds in this environment. People often play the blame game, make justifications and excuses, throw others under the bus when things go wrong, and argue about who is right and who is wrong rather than focusing on what’s best for the project or company. It may sound as if I am exaggerating or describing a uniquely-dysfunctional environment. However, most teams – even really effective ones – seem to have these dynamics in their DNA.

On the other hand, if your team is made up of Warriors, they’ll make sure everybody genuinely owns the game, shares thoughts and ideas, and engages in the open, honest, authentic, courageous, and effective conversations that make a difference. In this environment, people tend to talk (not bicker) about the tough stuff – the things that don’t work. Team members are less concerned with who gets credit or blame, and the focus on how to fix and improve things is based on a shared vision and the company’s mission.

While Worriers complain, suffer, and engage in “would have, could have, should have” conversations, Warriors don’t dwell on problems. Instead, they say, “What do we do now?” In the face of challenges or stress, they get innovative and resourceful – and they get things done. This dynamic is much more nourishing and empowering than one made up of Worriers.

So, what do you do if you’ve got a team of Worriers? How do you shift their negative mindset and help them become more Warrior-like? Stay tuned for next week’s blog, when I’ll answer these questions and more.

4 Steps To Creating Total Strategic Alignment

Most leaders believe that it takes between six and 12 months, or longer, to develop a strategy. They mistakenly think that the criteria for a meaningful strategy are the amount of research and market analysis that goes into it, and the time spent vetting it with experts.

But our observation is that how well communicated a strategy is, is far more important than how logical or well researched it is. The effectiveness of any strategy is directly proportional to the level of ownership, commitment and accountability among the executive team. A strategy is only as good as the levels of commitment the people who are accountable to fulfilling it, possess.

Here are the essential fours steps necessary to create total strategic commitment and alignment.

Step one: Do a commitment audit and tell the truth about the current levels of ownership, commitment and accountability within the organization. Ask people to be blunt about the degree to which they understand – and believe in – your current strategic plan.

Step two: Craft a bold and compelling future. Help your leadership team roll the clock forward two to three years from now. What is a clear, concise and well-articulated 15- to 20-word statement that describes what you are committed to building as an organization?

Step three: Define your specific success criteria. What are the three, four or five key measurable outcomes that will let you know you have reached that future state?

Step four: Get everyone on board with these. This means cascading the process through the ranks of management, sharing the content of the strategy with all levels of staff and listening to and addressing issues of competence, sincerity and courage.

Remember, the issue is not, “What is the right solution?” but, “What will people buy into, take ownership for, believe in and commit to?” When staff buy into a strategy, it’s because they trust their leaders are telling the truth about the need for it, they believe that their leaders have the courage and resolve to address the real issues, and they have faith their leaders are competent to do what needs to be done in order to implement the strategy.

On top of this, when staff feel cared for, concerned about and respected, they will naturally support and contribute to the strategy being realized.

Why Agenda Driven Meetings Don’t Work

A key principle of generating total alignment and engagement is ensuring that you are always working backward from a deliberate, desired future — rather than merely extrapolating or perpetrating business as usual. When it comes to meetings — which consume enormous amounts of most managers’ time — this principle can make the difference between meetings that make a big impact, and those that waste valuable time.

To begin with, most meetings are designed backwards. The agenda planning starts with the questions:
How much time do we have? and What do people think we should talk about?

The reason we say these meetings are designed backwards is because the time allocated for the meeting should be determined instead by answers to the more useful questions:

  • What do we want to accomplish?
  • What do we want people to leave the meeting with?
  • What could we do during the meeting to achieve the desired objectives?

The answers to these questions will determine whether the meeting is worth having, who should attend, what should be covered and how much time it should take.

Once the purpose and agenda are agreed upon, and the meeting commences, the agenda should also be managed to produce the agreed outcomes, rather than having success determined by whether the planned schedule was adhered to. We have repeatedly seen meaningful, productive conversations interrupted by a timekeeper who thought his or her job was to play the role of the agenda police.

This orientation around time rather than outcomes means discussions that may have served their purpose might be extended unnecessarily, while other conversations that are yielding unexpected fruits might be shut down once the time allocated to them has been exceeded.

What Can Executives Do To Drive Employee Engagement?

In the last three posts on the topic of organizational commitment we looked at evaluating your companies level of commitment, the way two different CEO’s handle commitment and examined the warning signs for lack of employee engagement and commitment.

In this final post of the series we asked a few other authors to give us their take on the topic: WHAT CAN EXECUTIVES DO TO DRIVE EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT? Here’s what they had to say.

“Manage your inner control freak.  You can’t — and won’t — inspire employee engagement and commitment unless you loosen the reins and let go of control.  As a leader, you are there to champion the vision and keep people focused on the big picture.  Beyond that, you need to sit back and allow others to drive the process.  Fact is, your organization’s success is a story that everyone must create and own.” Jill J. Morin, author of Better Make It Real: Creating Authenticity in an Increasingly Fake World.

“Managers who are perceived by their employees as strong listeners have been shown to create work environments with higher levels of employee motivation, better relationships among coworkers and increased levels of productivity — all drivers of employee engagement. When managers listen to employees they begin to understand their passions, strengths and ambitions, and the possible ways these may be integrated with work. Listening helps employees feel understood and valued by their manager and demonstrates that managers are open to new ideas and collaboration (additional drivers of engagement). Listening is the core capability to enable managers to connect, engage and create higher levels of employee performance.” Erik Van Slyke, author of Listening To Conflict.

“If executives really want their employees to be committed, they must clearly communicate the mission statement of the company and ensure that everyone in the organization understands how his or her role contributes to that mission. Understanding that provides meaning for the employees in what it is they do. Too often, there is an environment of them versus us rather than a ‘we’re all in this together’ mindset. That is the mindset that leads to engagement and commitment. Kellie Auld, contributing author for Creative On boarding Programs.

Six Warning Signs You Lack Employee Engagement and Commitment

In the past two blog posts regarding this topic I explored the problem of lack of commitment and looked at two case studies. In this post I examine what to do if you want to tackle your commitment problem. Where do you begin? What are the most effective ways to assess if and where there are commitment problems? Here’s a list of some observable indicators:

1. People don’t speak up even when they know things aren’t being dealt with honestly and directly. This is relatively easy to spot, especially in meetings. Everyone knows important issues are not being addressed. Yet they fail to speak up because of fear or cynicism.

2. Missed commitments met with excuses, explanations, rationalizations and finger-pointing rather than a rigorous and energetic desire to get to the source of the problems, get back on track and take ownership for what went wrong.

3. Problems discussed and debated endlessly, with little lasting improvement from repeated attempts at resolution.

4. Initiatives to improve organizational performance progressing slowly or stalling altogether, despite sizable investments in resources and technology.

5. “Hallway” conversations are also a good indicator and can be easily detected. For example, when people spend their time talking about how things are not their fault or how another department or organizational level is to blame for sub-optimal results, commitment is lacking.

6. When people complain about how busy they are rather than doing what needs to be done, or complain about the unreasonableness of leaders’ expectations, this too can be a good indicator that people are avoiding rather than taking responsibility.

These are the informal ways of discerning commitment problems. We suggest that CEOs who feel they may have such issues go beyond sensing to asking employees directly – the members of their executive team and workers up and down the organization. In diagnosing the state of commitment in dozens of organizations, we have found questions such as these to be revealing. To what degree do employees:

  • Effectively address and resolve difficult issues around here?
  • Take ownership for solving problems rather than make excuses or point fingers when things go wrong?
  • Take risks and challenge the status quo?
  • Have confidence in the leaders of this organization?
  • Feel they can be honest with their leaders, including about negative or contentious issues?
  • Feel connected with, and empowered by, their leaders?
  • Communicate honestly and directly, without fear of retribution?
  • Trust each other and work together effectively across departments?
  • Come to work every day feeling that they make a critical difference to the future of the business?
  • Feel enthusiastic about their work experience?

There are also proven assessment tools and surveys available to help gauge commitment and engagement, the Gallup Q12 being a particularly noteworthy one where a 0.2 improvement along a 5-point scale has been statistically proven to correlate with an improvement in employee productivity.

One word of caution: If trust is low and fear is present, employees will not be truthful about the poor state of commitment. They must feel safe to tell it like it is. They must believe executives are genuinely interested in hearing unvarnished views, and they must feel encouraged to speak up about the real state of things, and praised when they do. Otherwise they will pay lip service to the process and say only the things they believe are safe. Unfortunately, this kind of lip service is more the norm than the exception.

To significantly improve commitment, the CEO and his team must be completely honest about, fully aware of, and own the current reality, especially the aspects that are dysfunctional. Once they understand the size of the commitment problem and no longer take it personally, they can begin to transform the cynicism, resignation, apathy and complacency into an environment of passion, ownership and total support.