How Managers Can Create Psychological Safety

One common concern managers have is when they ask their people to share their ideas and people do not speak. This situation may have its variants and typically managers ask questions like, “What do you think? or “What do you think about . . . ?” Or, “Do you have any questions?” A little more prodding from the manager may not work so the meeting or conversation ends. The manager thinks that things are clear later feels frustrated that work was not done right. She mistakenly assumed that things were clear because her people had no questions.

Why do people not freely share with their manager what they are thinking and feeling about something? A common reason is that they do not feel safe with the manager. When the manager is one who frequently shows impatience, gets angry, or worse, says nasty things that offend and hurt their people, that manager is truly an expert in creating a deep divide between her and her people. Instead of building a solid professional and collaborative relationship based on mutual trust and respect, the manager creates ever bigger and deeper gaps. Often, managers are not aware that their annoyed or ominous facial expressions, or hard tone of voice, or perhaps dismissive manner, create fear that prevents openness and taking risks with you.

Psychological Safety means that people believe and feel they can open up and engage, be honest with what they think and feel, be vulnerable with what they know or do not know, without fear of negative impact to themselves. That is, there is no fear of being judged and suffering consequences that may hurt their image, status or career. Greater Psychological Safety enables more open and candid discussions, enhances team collaboration, and enables a more high performing team.

Psychological safety is said to have been researched and written about by Edgar Schein and Warren Bennis (1960s), by William Kahn (1990), and has recently become a buzzword perhaps because of Amy Edmondson’s (2018) work. Check out her book The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth and her talks/videos.

For the many busy managers who may not be inclined to read, or if you are more of an auditory learner, here are some short videos about Psychological Safety by Amy Edmondson. For the short article, you can listen to the audio version if you prefer or if you are commuting to/from work.

In a nutshell, here are some tips to consider about what can managers think, say, and do, to create Psychological Safety:

STOP: Stop being annoyed, angry, and verbally abusive with your people. Stop thinking that they know what you know because if they do not have your knowledge, aptitudes, education, and experience, they are not as “seasoned” as you are. Stop judging them. Stop making them feel incompetent or stupid.

START: Start thinking of yourself, and behaving, as their coach and mentor, so that together, you and your team can create greater value. Start thinking of how effective your team/group will be when they feel safe to open up to share their ideas and feelings. Start practicing a few things that make people believe and feel safe to take risks with you, e.g., show that you are a vulnerable and imperfect human.

CONTINUE: Continue developing greater self-awareness on what you say/do that make people avoid being open with you vs. what you say/do that make them believe and feel it’s ok to take the risk of being mistaken, admitting lack of knowledge, looking ignorant. Continue reinforcing that you and your team are learners on the same journey with a shared vision and that you will learn and figure out the best possible approaches and solutions to achieve your team/organizational objectives. Continue building up their confidence in thinking on their own, and honing their problem-solving and critical thinking skills.

Photo by fauxels from Pexels

How to Make the Most of Your Coaching Sessions

Your company has engaged a professional coach for its leaders and high potentials and you are one of them.  How do you make the most of this investment in your personal and professional growth?  Here are a few tips to consider:

  • In the context of your job role and career in the organization, reflect on your strengths and areas for development based on past and present,  formal and informal feedback, from your superiors, peers, and direct reports.  Identify possible developmental goals you may want to be coached on by your professional coach.
  • Talk to your executive sponsors about what they see as your strengths and areas for development that they would like you to be coached on, Take note of where your and their perspectives may be similar or different. Ask questions to better understand the perspective of your executive sponsor and share your own views as well.  Ask about what specifically they would like to see change and improve as outcomes of coaching.
  • If the company invested in a 360 feedback survey as an input to your receiving coaching, learn as much as you can about the tool and what feedback were given to you by the people you selected to be your 360 respondents. Keep an open mind and receive all feedback as the gifts that they are, both positive and negative.  You may not agree with the feedback, nevertheless, that is how you show up to the 360 survey respondents.
  • Remember that our intentions do not always manifest in ways that others perceive them. Sometimes, if not often, there may be disconnects between our intentions and the perceptions people have about us and our actions.  Areas where there are huge disconnects between our self perceptions and that of others are helpful places to start our reflection on how come there are these gaps and what actions we can take, things we can do differently (e.g., start, stop, continue doing), to bridge these gaps.
  • Identify the initial top three priorities you need and would like to be coached on by your professional coach and build agreement with your executive sponsors about these.  If it’s too soon to have specific goals at the start of the coaching, that’s fine. The initial coaching sessions can focus on deepening your awareness and understanding of the situation you are in and what makes sense to work on with your coach.
  • Between coaching sessions, be sure to work on whatever assignment or actions you agreed to do with your coach, and learn what you can from these.  No excuses.  Being a more self-motivated and self-directed adult learner, you take responsibility for yourself. Keep a learning journal to write your questions, perceptions, ideas and insights that can help you move forward with your intentions and goals.

We are all always learning, and brain research shows that we continue to rewire our brains through neuroplasticity and nuerogenesis even as we grow more experienced and older.  (Bergland, Christopher, Psychology Today, 2018) (Bergland, Christopher, Psychology Today, 2017)

Managing Business Performance Using Objectives, Key Result Areas, Key Performance Indicators and Targets

One of the critical competencies for managers and supervisors is managing the business performance of their departments/sections/units.  More often than not, this is one area where coaching and mentoring is much needed.

One basic approach that can go a long way is to learn more about and apply the use of SMART Objectives, Key Result Areas, Key Performance Indicators, and Targets.  While attending workshops are helpful, reading available materials and books are effective ways to learn as well.  Even more effective is to try out the few KPIs that are most relevant in terms of aligning a department’s objectives with the overall strategic objectives and strategies of the company.

Simply put, a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) is a measure of how well something, an objective, is achieved and gives valuable feedback on whether performance is on track or not so that the manager and team can take appropriate action to get back on track.

Not having clearly defined KPIs is like driving without a clear destination and directions to guide you.  Don’t leave results and outcomes to chance.  Plan the work and then work the plan.  Always have measures and get top management sign off.

Here are some useful resources to get you started on your journey of learning by doing and experimentation.

Here’s an article if you would like to discover more resources on KPIs:   Finding the Right KPIs – 5 KPI Libraries That Are Key to Your Performance.

If the subject of KPIs excites you, there are many resources to study and learn from, and help you equip yourself and your team with the knowledge and skills to effectively plan, execute, monitor and control, and realign business performance.

What matters in life?

During the Holy Week, many of us may have vacations, staycations, or just a simple and quite time for reading, prayer, and reflection at home. Checking LinkedIn, I stumbled on this short video by Marshall Goldsmith on “What matters in life”?  Food for thought for us to think about what’s most important in our lives.  For Catholics, the Holy Week is a good time for reflection on this question and what is the meaning of life.

On being Able and Ability as a trust booster, referring back to a previous post on the The ABCD Trust ModelTM, continuous learning is not so much for ourselves alone but to continue to develop so that we have more, new and deeper knowledge, experience and expertise, to put to use in the service of others who need these gifts more than we do.

 

Nurturing relationships to build Trust

It’s easy enough to get tied up and busy with one’s day-to-day work responsibilities and forget to build and nurture key relationships. One way to remind ourselves is to reflect on who and what really matters and then to plan trust boosting activities. Put these activities on your calendar. Blocking off time can help you make sure you do them.

Now, whether you plan to have coffee, lunch or other shared activity, here are some trust boosting  things you may want to consider.

Get to know the person on a more personal level.  Learn more about the person’s career aspirations, work-related concerns, family, and hobbies, and share similar information about yourself.

Show sincere interest by listening well and continuing the flow of the conversation based on what the other is saying. Try listening more than talking.

Take note of things done well by the person, or effort made, and give recognition in public.  Give credit where credit is due.  A short praise and pat on the back in front of the team can go a long way to boost the person’s confidence and nurture trust.

Show appreciation when the person may have done more. Often, a simple “Thank you” or acknowledgment like, “I appreciate (and then mention what you appreciate)” communicates that you don’t take the person for granted.

If you notice that the person seems to be feeling stressed or you sense that something may be amiss, take time to inquire and offer help, if that makes sense, or just be the listening ear.

Get ideas and inputs of the person on pertinent matters such as a challenging issue or problem that she can contribute to solving. This communicates that you care about and value her ideas.

Last but not least, follow through on what you say you will do. And, in case you forget, apologizing and making up for it can help you recover a bit of possible loss in trust.

Are you behaving in ways that build or erode trust?

To say that trust is an important foundation of all successful and mutually beneficial relationships is perhaps an understatement. Trust is key whether we are talking about relationships between parent and child, husband and wife, friends, manager and direct report, consultant or service provider and client.

As we may all know, trust is easy to lose and difficult to earn. Trust can easily be lost as a result of one incident. Earning it back can take time and effort, and a strong desire and willingness to restore it.

How we behave either helps to build and strengthen trust, or erode and weaken it.  One useful little book that can help us assess ourselves and others on trust, and also provide a model and specific actions for building trust, is Trust Works: Four Keys to Building Lasting Relationships by Ken Blanchard, Cynthia Olmstead and Martha Lawrence.

Here’s a snapshot of The ABCD Trust ModelTM from the authors.  In a nutshell, we become more trustworthy when:

  • We are Able, meaning, we demonstrate competence and a high personal standard in getting things done when working with others.
  • We are Believable, meaning, we act with integrity, i.e., we are sincere, respectful and nonjudgmental.
  • We are Connected, meaning we show that we care about others by listening, showing empathy, and giving credit where credit is due.
  • We are Dependable, meaning we show that we are reliable and others can count on us.

Some questions to ask yourself if you want to do a bit of personal reflection are:

  • On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest, how trustworthy might others perceive me to be?”  You can think of a specific person as you may impact different people in different ways depending on your usual behavior towards them.
  • How often do I  behave in the listed ways?”  In applying this question to each behavior under The ABCD Trust ModelTM, you can use the scale given by the authors:  H-Hardly ever, S-Sometimes, O-Often, V-Very often, and A-Always. Be honest with yourself in terms of the frequency you actually do demonstrate these behaviors.

ABCD.Model

How people perceive us depends a lot on our behaviors.  Often, there can be a disconnect between our intentions and our actual impact.  I am reminded of the adage “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” It is not enough to think that we behave in ways that show we are able and dependable. The question is what do other perceive about us?  Trust is a two-way street.

Take stock of your self-rating and ask others to rate you to see if there is an alignment between how you think you show up vs. how you actually do.

The nice thing about the The ABCD Trust ModelTM is that it can be used as a framework to talk about and work out trust issues in constructive ways. Check out the book to learn more about how you can build or rebuild trust through “trust boosters” and avoid eroding trust through “trust busters.”

Trus.Works

Goals vs. Dreams

Kung Hei Fat Choi!  It’s Chinese New Year and the general forecasts from Feng Shui masters can make an interesting read.  For most of us, this is probably more a fun thing to do and we don’t really believe these forecasts.  Or, maybe we choose to believe if the forecasts are positive and about developments that we like, and we choose not to believe when the forecasts aren’t all that palatable.  In any case, we can have fun reading and talking about these.  Is one’s fortune in the stars, one’s zodiac sign and or one’s horoscope? 

In one TV series episode that I recently saw, the protagonist facing an impossible challenge was told that he was lucky that things worked out his way.  He retorted that he didn’t believe in good luck and said that he made his own luck. This mindset of us helping create our own opportunities is definitely better than a fatalistic one where you may believe that you are just at the receiving end of good or bad fortune.  Focus on our sphere of influence, on the things that matter and where we have impact on.

Another line from the same protagonist caught my attention as well, “I don’t have dreams, I have goals. And I’m ready to move on to the next one.”  There’s nothing wrong with having dreams as dreams tend to be bigger and more distant in the future.  But unless you break down your dreams into milestones that drive you forward one major step at a time, then maybe your dreams will remain dreams. 

The morale of the story?  As you review and write down your goals for your development, your career, your life, make it a point to write SMART goals or break them down into specific milestones. That way, you’ve made your own yardstick to know when you’ve reached them and ready to move on to the next one.

On Setting Goals for Yourself and Your Team

Whether in leading oneself or a team, identifying SMART goals can help you focus your efforts and that of your team.  When you feel lost or adrift, having lost your steam, take pause and think about your goals. What do you really need and want for yourself? What do you really need and want for your team?

SMART has become a popular and well known acronym for setting goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.  Yet, it is easy enough to forget this and sometimes, when you are not accomplishing anything or when your team is not working together synergistically, the root of the problem may be that you and the team have lost sight of the goals, or the old goals need to be revisited and changed.

If you find yourself getting too busy on busywork, avoid the potential activity trap by taking time out to identify what are truly most important for you.  Who do you want to become?  What do you want to achieve?

What do you want?  This can be a very powerful question that many don’t ask themselves. If you know what you want and why, the rest follows.

So, what do you want this 2016?  How does this fit into your career plans, your overall life plan?  Write down your goals now. Don’t worry about wordsmithing them at this time. It’s more important to capture what’s in your heart. You can always refine them later.

Pedestrian.Stoplight

 

“If it isn’t a clear yes, then it’s a clear no.”

Still on Essentialism by Greg Mckeown…  I like the idea of “if it isn’t a clear yes, then it’s a clear no.”  It does help simplify and clarify making decisions.  True enough, many tempting good opportunities do come our way and it can sometimes be difficult to discern and say no.

Having clear criteria to make selection decisions can help us pick and focus on what’s most important instead of making too many choices that result in spreading ourselves too thin and then missing the more desirable and important opportunities that may come later.

The key, according to Mckeown and TED speaker Derek Sivers in his piece “No more yes. It’s either HELL YEAH! or no.” as Mckeown mentions in his book Essentialism, is to use a simple technique for becoming more selective in the choices we make…that is, put the decision to an extreme test:  if we feel total and utter conviction to do something, then we say yes.  If not, then we say no.  If the answer is not a definite yes, as Mckeown quotes another leader, then it should be a no. This does actually help.  The bottom line is what’s most important to us.

When a tempting good opportunity comes, like an attractive project, if you don’t feel like it’s the right one for you, then it probably really isn’t. Sure, giving it more thought and reflection helps. And soon as you know in your mind and in your heart that it is not what your are looking for and not what you really want, then just let it go. This keeps you open and free for the right one when it comes along.

When the nagging thought that you might be wrong grips you, that you might be missing out on something great, why not sleep over it and revisit it the next morning?  Well, just remember to let go sooner than later so that you don’t end up uselessly obsessing and wasting precious time over it.

Decide what criteria you are going to use to consider and accept the opportunity. Such criteria varies and depends on each person.  Mckeown recommends you identify three minimum and three extreme criteria to evaluate the opportunity.  When it passes these, then it’s a yes go ahead.  He suggested that you write down at least three minimum criteria and three extreme criteria that the opportunity must pass. He also suggested, for instance, three possible questions to consider:  What am I passionate about? What taps my talent? What meets a significant need in the world?

Had I learned to think and decide this way much much earlier in my life, I may have been able to make better decisions faster. It’s not too late to start now because, as the saying goes, today is the first day of the rest of my life.

On Becoming an Essentialist vs. a Nonessentialist

My sister gave me a copy of the book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg Mckeown for Christmas and I had put on the night table beside my bed.  I had a number of books to finish and so postponed starting it until two weeks ago.

It was a good thing that I began to read it sooner than later. It has helped open my eyes. I like several key messages which are so true. These are some of the ones that resonate.

Yes, I want to be an essentialist! Am I investing myself in the right activities? Which problem or opportunity do I want? That depends on what my immediate, short-term and long-term goals are. I suppose that I was, sometimes still am, guilty of wanting to have it all. With limited resources, time being the most important, I must admit that it makes sense to make hard choices about what to focus on. This starts with discerning my most important goals, and activities follow. Less but better. There’s no point in trying to do to many things and not doing well in the most critical ones. Better to focus on a few that make a difference and where I can make a difference.

Cut out the trivial many. This will be quite a challenge. After taking the HarvardX Course on Unlocking the Immunity to Change: A new Approach to Personal Improvement, one of the the things I realized was that I just had too many activities lined up and it wasn’t easy to decide which were real priotities. Now, also realizing that, let’s face it, the reality is such that there are always trade-offs and that we can’t choose to do everything, I’m able to help myself eliminate more of the activities that matter less.

Now, this one is a gem among gems. Apparently, Peter Drucker had told Jim Collins, author of the business classic Good to Great, that he could either build a great company or build great ideas but not both, and that Collins chose ideas. McKeown continues with the observation that Collins still has only three full-time employees in his company, yet his ideas have reached millions of people through his writing. I started to think, well couldn’t he do both? Hold on, that’s precisely how a nonessentialist thinks: I can do both. Again, there are, and will be, trade offs. So, better to make a choice, avoid spreading oneself too thin, and instead to maximize one’s success and contribution. Less is better. Less is more.

Create space to escape and explore life. Space to read. Space to concentrate. Space to think. This I think I am a little better at, but there is always room for improvement. It’s encouraging to know that some very well known and famous entrepreneurs deliberately carve out such space regulary to help them refresh themselves, discover new ideas, and learn new things. A good tip is to plan and schedule creating space in your calendar and stick to it.

I have a long way to go to being a true essentialist, one who thinks that almost everything is nonessential and being able to distinguish between the vital few from the trivial many. I am nevertheless happy that I’ve become more self aware of my nonessentialist beliefs, assumptions, and actions.  Telling myself that my “big” nonessentialist assumptions are not true (e.g., “Everything is important. I can do everything.”),  I can gain distance from them, test and modify them.  I can be less captive of my big assumptions, overcome my immunity to change in this area, and move a few steps closer to an essentialist “self-authoring mind.”