Do your organization’s vision and values really line up?

At Padraig, we work with a lot of leaders.

Sometimes they lead a unit or a group of frontline staff within their organization, sometimes they have layers of managers and staff reporting to them, and often they are the CEO with everyone reporting to them.

One of the most frequent challenges our senior leaders talk about is the struggle to deliver on their organization’s vision — to make real the ideal. Often that comes down to the culture in the organization.

Culture is a direct result of the values you exhibit

Many of our client organizations have rock-solid vision statements. They clearly define what they’re aiming to do, where they want to be as an organization, and ideally, why they want that. The why is essential because it helps to define the values they live by in their organization.

Some organizations excel in accelerating toward their vision. It seems as if everyone in the organization knows where they want to be and why they want to be there; they’re driven to deliver on that vision in their day-to-day work.

Having a well-crafted vision statement is an essential starting point. But, why is it that some organizations, with great vision statements, are excelling and others don’t seem to be getting there?

It often comes down to Values and Culture

How do you work together? How do you treat each other? Do we value conflict around ideas or do we value people who keep their issues to themselves and do the job they’re given. The key is to be able to name the values you strive for and then to live them. That means modeling those behaviours as the leader and truly welcoming the behaviours in others.So why do I say that — who wouldn’t welcome someone living

So why do I say that — who wouldn’t welcome someone living up to the values they asked for?

Well, I’ve worked in a couple of organizations where we defined our values, we debated what we wanted to see, we put them down on paper, heck we sometimes even made posters for the boardroom wall. And then we sometimes forgot about them when they were most needed. But, not intentionally! Sometimes competing pressures drew us away from what we thought were our values.

Take, for example, a company we worked with recently whose values were aligned with some of the most successful value statements out there:

  • We have high aspirations and a desire to win.
  • We are focussed on our customers.
  • We think like owners.
  • We drive toward action.
  • We each see ourselves as key members of multiple teams.
  • We bring our passion and excitement for (…) to work every day.

These are pretty good values — one can see where they could really help an organization achieve great things if tied to a great vision. However, when push came to shove, as they say, some of these values weren’t always being lived. For example, “we think like owners” seemed like a great idea at the time, encouraging an entrepreneurial mindset in staff at all levels of the organization. The challenge was two-fold: preparing people for that expectation and then actually accepting it when it was needed.

Let me explain.

When a customer had a problem, frontline staff didn’t feel equipped to make important decisions to address the need themselves. And, when fixing that customer’s problem meant costing the company financially, management got very uncomfortable with the idea of frontline staff making those decisions. YET, allowing staff to fix the customer’s problem quickly, on the spot, would have definitely lived up to, “We are focused on customers” AND “We think like owners.”

So what was the result?

The customer didn’t feel like they were the focus, frontline staff felt ill-equipped and uncomfortable to live up to the values the company espoused and, perhaps worst of all, staff at all levels of the company saw this unfold more than once and concluded that these values weren’t true. They concluded that the values were platitudes on the boardroom wall that management didn’t actually believe which led to a culture of mistrust, uncertainty, and underperforming.

So what’s the solution?

Well, the company above was great at the first step — agree among yourselves what you value.

Then, brainstorm how that might unfold. When you come up with an example where push comes to shove, share your concerns openly, debate what that value would look like, and whether or not there is an overriding value that is more important

For example, if the client above had proactively thought through the potential conflict around fixing customers’ problems, they could have then decided if they value cost-savings and profit on individual transactions more than a customer first and entrepreneurial approach. If they chose to stick with their original values, the brainstorming would have helped them figure out, ahead of time, what they needed to do to make that real by putting parameters in place. If they were better prepared, they could have lived up to their values and, thus, formed the culture they aspired to much more successfully.

Accountability is another important piece in ensuring that behaviour is consistent with the vision. If you ignore the behaviour of others who act inconsistently with the vision, you threaten the trust and alignment of the people who are behaving consistently with it. Accountability does not mean finger-pointing and accusations. It means having Essential Conversations to keep everyone on the same page. It means learning together from mistakes because you care about each other. Help each other stay on track by celebrating wins and catching each other doing things right.

Communicate your organization’s vision and values through multiple channels.

Whose job is it to remind us of our vision and values? Many believe it is the CEO’s job. Others see it in the HR Director’s job description. But in the best organizations, it’s clear that every leader and every function sees it as their responsibility to own and communicate the vision.

When the communication comes from leaders throughout the organization, the possibility of having the it understood, embraced and executed increases substantially. When staff hear about values from the CEO and no one else, they often feel they have no one they can question about it, no one they can challenge to help them solve a real-life problem like the customer service situation above. Whereas if all leaders are united in their talk about the vision and values, staff have many people they can turn to for advice, coaching, and guidance.

Ultimately, as people see the greater good that comes from aligned vision and values, a strong and successful organizational culture develops, employees know how they fit into that culture and can decide if it’s the right place for them, prospective employees know what you stand for, words spreads about your culture and work life and soon you’re racing towards success on your vision.

Coach’s Question

What are your organization’s vision and values? Are they well known? Agreed upon? If so, are you all living up to them all the time? If not, what needs to change?

4 steps to empowering your team

We talk a lot, these days, about empowering our teams.

That probably sounds like it’s a good thing — giving our people the authority to make decisions, to take initiative, and to guide the direction of the organization.

But, there may be a couple challenges with that:

  1. Some of us may feel uncomfortable giving up control.
  2. Some people may not be ready to be responsible and accountable for decisions and direction.

On top of that, you may have heard of an empowerment project going terribly wrong or maybe you’ve experienced it first hand and you can’t help but wonder – is it worth it?

Well, I’ll admit it, sometimes it isn’t easy.

But here at Padraig, we’ve had a chance to work with a lot of organizations and a lot more leaders and we’ve seen empowered teams make huge gains and achieve incredible things.

So, like most good things, it takes some investment, it takes a bit of effort, but if you make the investment, and you give the effort, the return on that investment can be enormous.

It’s about thinking about what “empowered” looks like to you — and what it doesn’t look like — and share that clearly with your team along with your expectations.

If you think empowering your team might be a good idea but you’re worried about some of the pitfalls and wonder what should you look out for – here are our 4 steps to an empowered team.

1. Paint the picture of what empowered success looks like

Clearly define the vision. What are the big-picture, longer term goals of the organization or your part of the organization? Having the vision clearly defined allows us to keep that in mind as a team when we’re making day-to-day decisions. If we all have our eyes on the same destination, we can stay relatively well aligned.

Talk about your values. Talking about vision and goals is essential, but just as much, your team needs to know the ground rules and the context that they’re working in. If the goal is to sell 10,000 units this year and the sales team is off to the races securing orders from clients while the production team is caught up on a design flaw, we have a problem.

Perhaps one of our values is that we communicate regularly, before getting too far along the path. Or, may one of our values is that we work as a team and help each other overcome hurdles. Or maybe it’s a simple as agreeing that the goal is 10,000 units sold to exceptionally happy customers. Either way, we want to be clear to the sales team that closing deals on 10,000 units in isolation from production or shipping actually didn’t achieve the goal the way it needed to be achieved. We all had to work together.

2. Provide the tools

Clearly define roles. People who don’t know what they’re supposed to do aren’t going to do it well. If roles are clearly defined, the team knows the parameters within which they can move freely.

Customize the tools to each individual. As you define the role for each person, ask questions and pay attention to how they analyze information and make decisions. Are they analytical, or driven by emotion? Are they self-aware? Are they goal-focused? Do they see opportunities or tend to notice the risks?

Knowing how each person sees the world will help you find the right person to handle and empower with a specific responsibility.

Provide Context. Lots of it, and often — help people to see the bigger picture and the greater implications will empower them to make decisions which consider more than they have previously had to consider.

3. Demonstrate Trust

Give them the opportunity to make decisions, and don’t second guess them. A lot of us as leaders are willing to allow our team members to make decisions, but want to step in as soon as we see something done differently than we would do. Try to take your hands off the steering wheel while observing where they take us.  You can (and should) still build in milestone checkpoints along the way.

Assign responsibility for key projects from start to finish. Allowing someone to make decisions means allowing them to own some projects and feel the responsibility of completing that project.

Appreciate their efforts. This is the one some of us often forget. I know I do. I tend to keep pushing when folks are doing well with new tasks, without stopping to show my gratitude. But, encouragement can go the furthest in creating team chemistry, longevity, and commitment.

Recognize people in ways they appreciate — for some that will mean recognition in group meetings, for some a sincere and heartfelt thank you face-to-face, privately. In either case, be specific. What is it, specifically, that you are recognizing and acknowledging?

Encourage Safe Failure. Many employees, and certainly many organizational cultures, are risk-adverse. If they work in an environment where the boss is always correcting them before they have a chance to execute, they will constantly look for approval before taking action or, worse, simply avoid any new or dynamic action.

Present your team members with opportunities to try new things in a way that doesn’t put the organization in danger. And, this may be the hardest part, when failures occur — remind yourself this is a learning opportunity that will make this employee even more valuable going forward. That is, if you review and help them learn what went wrong, and why.

4. Model the Behaviour

Ask questions… often. Your organization’s future leaders need to understand that great conversations lead to great decisions. Meaningful, purposeful dialogue not only develops skills and knowledge but also good decision-making and sound judgment. As the leader, ask thoughtful, curiosity-driven questions to get the conversation started.

Listen with intent. People feel valued when they’re heard and when they feel valued, they’re more confident. You’re asking them to take on more responsibility and accountability so provide the opportunity for them to engage you, to seek your counsel and to affirm their choices. More on that here.

Drive to solutions while talking about the bigger vision and values you’ve already shared, encourage your team to share their struggles and their challenges, AND encourage them to share their potential solutions.

One of my mentors used to insist on three solutions when we came to him with a problem. He would then help us choose and implement the best solution (which, interestingly, was sometimes a fourth option that combined elements of the three)!

Coach their thinking. Do you remember the best teachers you ever had? Chances are they were the toughest; they challenged you to question your assumptions, guided you to new ideas, encouraged you to consider other perspectives, and pushed you beyond the limitations you perceived for yourself.

Become that teacher.

By challenging your team members’ thinking and assumptions, you set the stage for their breakthrough moments.

Respect Their Boundaries. This is another one of those points where we need to remind ourselves of different behavioural types in the workplace. While you want to push your team members to embrace new experiences, and to push themselves beyond their comfort zone, you don’t want to shove them so far out of their comfort zone that it becomes a negative experience. If you’re ever unsure about an employee’s comfort level, don’t hesitate to check in and ask, and then coach them to help them decide whether they are pushing enough outside their comfort zone, or too much.

Coach’s Question

Do you use all four steps in empowering your team? What areas could you practice more of in your organization?

What is your listening style?

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

– Stephen R. Covey

Such a simple and powerful quote. I love it because hearing it was an a-ha moment for me. It really sunk in: our listening style says a lot about us.

I find that my mind is always racing to the next challenge or goal. I’m always on a deadline, always aiming for something, always ready to respond, advise or solve — both, to be helpful, and to achieve and to progress.

Since learning, a little bit, to tame that thinking and since becoming an Executive Coach, I’ve met a lot of leaders like me.

There’s probably some correlation between fast thinking, goal oriented people, and early success in leadership. I say early because those characteristics often serve only to get you to a senior role, they then, regrettably, often work against you when you try to succeed as a senior leader.

And, I think Mr. Covey struck the nail on the head in discovering why that is.

Often, in a webinar I offer, I ask participants to think of the best boss they ever had. To close their eyes and think of that person and then tell me what quality or attribute it was that they most admired about them.

I would estimate that of all the many answers, probably 50% or so say something like “they listened to me.”

So if listening, with intent, is going to engage your colleagues and employees, while helping you succeed and achieve good things for your organization, how do we do it?

We pay attention to a few things:

Physical presence

How we physically and emotionally show up to others can have a big impact on whether or not they felt heard. I’m sure we’ve all had a time when we were speaking with someone and they said they were listening but they were looking elsewhere or clearly off in their own world.

Try these tips to demonstrate your listening style:

  • Make eye contact. Try hard to “digest” the words as you hear them. Listen for the themes and the threads.
  • Use body language such as subtle nods when you feel you understand, leaning in when you’re listening closely, arms uncrossed.
  • Pay attention to their body language. Are they worried? Uncomfortable? Eager? Pleased? Tie-in their body language to their verbal cues to better understand their intent.
  • Don’t multitask. It’s tempting in this digital era, to try to finish that last email as you listen (can you hear it: “Go ahead, I’m listening, I just have to get this email sent…”) or to steal a glance when your phone makes that “Ping!” sound.
  • Come out from behind your desk. A colleague of mine makes a point of walking around her desk and sitting side-by-side when her staff come in to tell her something. She finds it helps put people at ease and allows her to step away from her distractions.
  • Switch from “Yah, but…” to “Yes, and…” Once someone has shared something and you respond with “Yah, but” it has a way of negating what the other person said. This can shut down a conversation, sometimes before the person has made their case — particularly if you are the senior person in the room. Instead, try something like “Yes, I can see where you’re coming from, and I would add…”  See how this can reframe your interjection. It often helps keep people engaged and validates their contribution.
  • Know when you’re not going to be a good listener. If you’re distracted by other pressing matters, let the other person know and see if you can better schedule a time to talk (and then be sure to keep your commitment to that time).
  • Put yourself in their shoes. Try to imagine the conversation, as it is taking place, from the other person’s perspective. How must they be feeling? If you were in their shoes, what would you appreciate from the boss? See if you can give them that.
  • Know their objective. Ask yourself what the other person would like from you — perhaps ask them that. Are they wanting to unburden, do they simply want to be sure you are aware of a situation or do they need your input? Your advice? Your decision?

When it’s time to speak

This might seem like it’s no longer part of the job of listening but it’s one of the most important ways that you can show the person you’re speaking with that you heard them loud and clear.

  • Paraphrase. Start by paraphrasing what the speaker said to make sure you heard correctly. Ask questions to confirm your understanding and not just of what was said, but what you understood their goal to be.
  • Confirm you heard properly. Ensure you’ve got this understanding before you dive in to your response.
  • Demonstrate collaboration. Again, try to replace the word “but” with “and” to show collaboration on the conversation, not opposition.
  • Build, don’t negate. Build on what they said before taking the conversation to a new place.

There’s always room for improvement in our listening style and the way that we interact with others and, yes, communication is a two-way street. You don’t always have to accept or agree with the other person’s points but the first step to resolving disagreements is reciprocal understanding.

Practicing effective listening techniques and prioritizing listening before speaking can go a long way to improving the flow and quality of communication between you and your team (or you and anyone in your life).

Coach’s Question

Can you think of a recent conversation where you weren’t listening with the intent to understand? What would you do differently next time?

Five steps to catering your communication style

It’d be nice if what we meant to say was always received as such.

Not just nice, it’d be an absolute miracle to businesses and personal relationships alike.

There’s an entire industry built on translating between people speaking the same language. Just let that sink in for a second… people who speak the same language OFTEN don’t understand what other people are really saying.

And we all know it’s true, don’t we?

Effective communication is hard. Really hard.

People understand things very differently. We all have an entirely different lens through which we view the world (and hear the world)!

So how then, do we effectively communicate with different people who receive things in an entirely different way?

Well, most people don’t. Most people don’t spend the time to consider who they’re talking to and cater their message to have the highest chance of absorption. In fact, a lot of people don’t even know that they need to do this.

But, as leaders, we know. As leaders, we know we have to cater to individual communication styles. We have to consider our audience. We can’t assume that people understand things as we say them. We have to make sure that everyone gets what we’re saying – even if it’s hard to get it across.

At Padraig, after years of helping clients to resolve communication breakdowns, we’ve come up with five simple steps to help make sure that what you’re trying to say lands on the right ears and as you intended it.

1. Identify your goal.

It may be as “simple” as – getting to know some of your colleagues or staff. Maybe you want to give performance feedback or perhaps you want to engage in problem-solving or brainstorming. If you’re leading others, you have to be particularly mindful of your goal and help them understand what you’re looking for.

If you’re looking for brainstorming but you’re not clear about that, your effort at thought-provoking questions…

“Why do we do this?”

“What might change the way we’re seen?”

… may come across to a nervous junior employee as accusations or dissatisfaction.

Think about the situation or the moment. How do you adapt your style to a casual gathering versus a more formal meeting?

2. Consider your position (and theirs).

You may not realize how your position or the perception of your position impacts what you’re trying to communicate. Something that may seem very straightforward to you, may come across as very stressful to a staff member who is trying to make an impression or is new to their role. Are you more senior in the organization? Do you underestimate the amount of knowledge you have on a particular subject?

Sometimes, in an effort to please or make an impression, people take on more than they should, nod their head in agreement when they want to ask questions and smile when they’re terrified. Think about the information you’ve provided and what you’re asking of your audience – do they line up? If they haven’t had your experience, do they have everything they need to complete the task successfully?

3. Know your audience.

Are you long-time work friends, or relatively new acquaintances? Is the other person new to their role, or new to your team?

Even deeper than that, what’s their behaviour type? Are they driven and goal focussed, or sociable and team oriented, or perhaps they’re caring and focused on the well-being of others, or maybe they’re detail and task-oriented – they like to be left alone to focus on specifics.

If you contemplate where the other person is on that spectrum, you can try adapting your communication style to them. If they’re direct, driven and goal focused, try starting with the end-goal, and then fill in with details.

If they’re more methodical, you might try diving into the details or where you need their help with details.

If they’re sociable and engaging, see if you can communicate in a way that highlights their importance in the conversation while giving them time to digest the details.

Think about your audience’s priorities and deliver your information accordingly.

4. Consider HOW you communicate.

There are a few moving parts on this one – how you communicate in terms of what medium you use but also the words and tone you choose and body language.

We all hate meetings about meetings and “reply-to-all” emails that aren’t relevant to us.

Is more than one person important to the conversation? If so, you may need a meeting. If the topic is clear but requires many to be engaged, email might work. If the topic is sensitive or challenging, if you and the other person are not going to see eye-to-eye and “agree to disagree” is not an option, then face to face is the way to go.

See last week’s column for details on how to succeed at those Essential Conversations.

Then there are the words you choose. Are you prone to exaggeration? Superlatives? Expletives? Think about the others you’re talking to. What will land with them and still get your point across? Is it ok to use technical jargon, or do you need to be clearer?

Watch your body language. Many of us speak louder with our body language than with our words. If you’ve ever been advised “you shouldn’t play poker” you’re probably giving away a lot of thoughts and emotions with your facial expressions.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but regardless of whether you are highly emotive in your body language, or the opposite, be aware of how that is received by others. Are you aware of your body language only when you want to be aware? What about the other times – when you’re nervous, uncomfortable, angry, shy, embarrassed or tickled pink — how do those show up on you?

5. Observe your audience and their feedback.

This is especially important as a follow up to point number two. If your role in your organization is superior to the person you’re communicating with, it’s so, so important to remember that there are a lot of other thoughts, feelings, and emotions at play. They may be trying to impress you or are fearful of disappointing you.

What silent cues and spoken cues are you receiving from the other person? As the expression goes – are you picking up, what they’re putting down?

Consider where they’re coming from and pay attention to the things they’re NOT saying.

Communication is a two-way street but as senior leaders, it’s up to us to make sure that our messages are received as intended.

Coach’s Question

Can you identify two members on your team who require different communication styles? How do you adjust your approach?

How to turn difficult conversations into Essential Conversations

Have you ever had occasions at the office where you knew you had to confront someone and you were avoiding it? Maybe you were angry with them, maybe you were unhappy with their work, or maybe you felt disrespected or offended by something they said or did.

You spent A LOT of time thinking about how the confrontation was going to go and dreading it.

Maybe you played all the possible worst-case scenarios through in your mind. You KNOW she or he is not going to take it well. They might get angry, maybe they’re even a yeller or worst of all – they tend to respond passive-aggressively. Ugh.

You twist it around a few times in your head and decide, “Maybe it’s not such a big deal, maybe I should let it go… just this time. It will be easier for everyone if I just forget about it.”

But, then, it happened again or got worse. It started to feel like it was too late to say something and now it sort of seems like you’ve been sitting on this and if you challenge them about it now, it’s going to feel like you should have said something sooner. But, you’re also growing more and more frustrated or upset.

This happens way too often.

Why? Because we’re human. Because we all see things differently. Because one person’s expectations are often different than another’s. And because many of us avoid conflict.

I’ve been in this situation. Many times. I tried to keep the peace by not saying anything. Sometimes I was worried if I said something I would get too angry (my Irish temper had been a challenge at times). Or, I wondered if perhaps I was overreacting and should let things slide. I’d think, maybe it’s me, not them.

The trouble is, if I didn’t say anything I would never know. And, a number of times that I did avoid the conversation, things continued to get worse and eventually I did lose my temper or react strongly or out of utter frustration.

You can probably see where I’m going with this – stuffing the emotions back in, keeping things under your hat, avoiding confrontation – they’re all pretty common traits and they almost always lead to a worse situation.

So, how do we fix this?

Enter Essential Conversations.

We fix difficult and frustrating conversations with a roadmap – a path from frustration to clarity.

Essential Conversations is a conflict resolution model that we’ve developed based on many other great models including Fierce Conversations, by Susan Scott and Kerry Patterson’s book Crucial Conversations.

We took what we loved about the models we used in our coaching approach and weaved in other ideas that we learned over time from working with senior leaders and executives.

What we offer is a series of steps that you take to prepare, address, and resolve whatever issue it is that you’re facing. It ensures that the concern is detailed, emotions are understood, and the desired outcome is clear.

Essential Conversations make room for dialogue by building in space for listening to the other person and helping them to articulate their perspective, their emotions, their concerns or frustrations. We interrogate our own reality and we interrogate theirs – we seek to understand and to be understood.  We help them share their thoughts as much as we help ourselves.

Most importantly, Essential Conversations help us to commit to a solution.

We wanted to give you the opportunity to see the exact steps and try them out for yourself. Scroll down to download the step-by-step guide to Essential Conversations to help you:

  1. Think through the conversation that needs to be had and
  2. Keep you focused as you initiate the Essential Conversation with the other person.

By all means, download them, share them, use them as often as you can. Let me know how they’ve helped you – I’d love to hear from you. If you have questions, add them below and we’ll respond.

Coach’s Question: What conversation have you been putting off, that you need to have? Grab our handouts below and see if you can have it.

To learn more about our team workshop where we help you and your team learn how to have Essential Conversations.