BLOG: Extraordinary Leadership and High Functioning Teams

Survey Results: The Top 3 Challenges Facing Organizations

Posted by Kristin Dressel on Tue, Jul 28, 2015

Recently we posted a survey asking managers and leaders to answer the following question: “What are your organization’s biggest challenges in 2015 regarding talent?” Respondents were able to pick their top 3 concerns and without question they are:

  • Building trust on teams
  • Engaging and retaining employees
  • Improving bottom line results

cc_survey_results_July_2015Are you facing these concerns at your organization? Each one presents a challenging situation to any business and all three are inextricably linked together. You can’t get an improved bottom line without engaging and retaining your employees. And leaders understand that their team needs to trust one another in order to increase productivity and improve results. How stressed out are your employees trying to manage all of this?

In today’s chaotic and fast-paced business environments it seems like everyone from the executive level down to the line staff is under pressure to constantly improve results. But it’s not enough just to demand higher results; the company has to provide the support, training and resources necessary to achieve it. Has your company offered team development workshops to improve the trust and communication on workplace teams? If not, how can any organization expect a team to increase their performance levels if they don’t understand each other and know how to work together better?

Likewise, your company wants to engage and retain employees, especially the high performing ones. Have you rewarded or recognized their efforts lately? When was the last time you selected them for leadership training so they can be better prepared for the next career level at your organization?

If your company is having difficulty retaining key employees ask them what you can do to keep them. A higher salary is always nice, but many people will stay if they feel appreciated and if they know of a clear career path within the organization. The companies that provide training and development for their employees will be able to retain their employees better than companies who don’t.

Coaching and developing employees is necessary in today’s business climate in order to retain employees and remain competitive. It’s simply not enough to offer a company picnic once a year and expect your employees to stay content. By taking the time now to invest in your employees and teams by training and developing them will pay dividends over the long haul.

team leaders develop trust on your team in the workplace

Tags: building trust, employee engagement, Building a Leadership Bench

Coaching and Developing Employees to Success

Posted by Kristin Dressel on Wed, Jul 22, 2015

cc_coaching_skills_03As my daughter swam in the state long course swim championships this past weekend, I thought about how her swim coach needs to train and develop her swimming talent just like a manager who needs to train and develop the talent on his team. After each race during the competition, he talked to her about what she did well and what to focus on for the next race. He makes training fun sometimes and more challenging at other times to push her to higher goals; and listens to her when she reaches a plateau and is frustrated from her lack of progress.

How good are you at coaching and developing employees? An excellent coach in any arena (business, sport, etc.) needs to be able to do the following:

  •          Listen
  •          Ask questions to uncover roadblocks/solutions
  •          Believe people can get better
  •          Encourage them
  •          Hold people accountable
  •          Celebrate accomplishments
  •          Motivate higher levels of performance
  •          Know your people

If the talent on your team isn’t accomplishing what you believe them to be capable, have you determined what you need to do as their coach/boss to help them get there? Can you honestly look at the list above and say you consistently perform all of those behaviors for each team member?

As the leader, you need to be many things to many different personalities and what works for one person may not work for someone else. Maybe one person needs you to recognize them when they meet small goals. Perhaps another person just wants you to listen to them while they try to process the problem and discover the solution.cc_disc_workshop_002

Learning the workstyle of yourself and your team through a DiSC workshop will help illuminate better ways to communicate with each one, learn what is more important to them and identify each person’s strengths and weaknesses. Greater understanding leads to higher performance. So take the time to learn about your team and each person’s workstyle and preferences. You’ll be developing talent and improving your ability to coach your team while increasing your team’s performance levels. Now, if only my daughter would listen to her swim coach so she could improve her performance!

Learn How DiSC Can Transform Your Team

Tags: DiSC assessments, Coaching Skills, leadership coaching

Does Your Organization Have the Summertime Blues?

Posted by Kristin Dressel on Tue, Jun 30, 2015

clearwater_nature_006The summer is when people take their vacation, lie on the beach and contemplate their life thinking about what makes them happy, the many stresses they put up with at work, and where they want to go next in their career. Often it’s during this time of the year that your employees are deciding if they’re going to start looking for another job.

There is an abundance of research and a common phrase that suggests employees don’t quit their jobs, they quit their boss, manager or company. Are your employees going to come back from vacation ready to look for a new job? If so, then think about what’s truly causing the blues at your company.

Consider the following questions carefully and answer them honestly, then determine ways your organization can improve the culture.

Do your employees lack commitment?

If your employees lack commitment, then start showing and telling them why you value them. When was the last time the leaders in your company showed their gratitude or recognized excellent work among their employees? Recognition needs to be consistent, clearly communicated (or shown), and completed on a regular basis. It’s not enough to recognize a star performer all the time. Be sure to acknowledge the efforts of everyone. Just by simply thanking someone for a job well done can be a big boost to his or her level of commitment to the company.

Are dysfunctional teams running amok?

Be honest, does your company really know how to develop high-functioning teams? If a team is performing well, it might be dumb luck or a team leader who’s had excellent leadership training. Most people don’t know how to lead a team and, likewise, most team members don’t know how to effectively collaborate together. These are skills that can be learned by everyone. Make a commitment to implement a policy in your company to develop high-functioning teams by training teams on better communication and collaboration skills through a better understanding of each team members’ workstyle. Whether they are newly formed teams, departmental teams, special project teams, or another type of team, every team will benefit from team development training.

Is the culture too competitive?cc_collaborative_leadership_002

An organization is considered too competitive when leaders position - pit - employees against one another to get ahead and employees are encouraged to have an “every man for himself” attitude. Too much competition breeds secrecy, lies, fear, cutthroat behavior, negativity, fat egos, distrust and a complete lack of collaboration. How can anything get accomplished if employees wonder about the ulterior motives of others?

A competitive culture can also develop when the company structure is chaotic and hard to figure out. Does your organization have a clear path of development for employees? Are they supported and encouraged by their leaders to advance to the next level? Or is everyone left to figure it out for themselves and the last one standing wins? Communicate your company’s values and mission clearly and speak out against tolerating destructive behaviors that harm not only the employees, but the organization as a whole. Then, develop and train your employees to become your organization’s future leaders who are passionate about the company’s values, not feeding their own ego.

These are just a few of the questions smart companies should ask themselves about their current state of affairs. The first step to making any changes begins with acknowledging there is a problem. If your company is experiencing the summertime “blues”, then don’t wait to start now implementing new practices that can have positive impact now, or it might be too late.

team leaders develop trust on your team in the workplace

Tags: corporate culture, organizational change, improve workplace relationships

The Top Organizational Challenges

Posted by Kristin Dressel on Thu, Jun 25, 2015

CC_leadership_diversity_002-resized-600What are your organization’s biggest challenges this year regarding talent? This and two other short questions are part of our new survey and we need your input! We are asking our readers to provide their opinion on topics of interest and challenges. Now that the year is half over, it’s the perfect time to identify what situations you are facing.

Click here to take survey

Take 2 minutes to let us know what talent challenges you are facing at your company and what leadership topics interest you most. We will publish the results of the survey in a couple of weeks! We value your input and appreciate you taking the time to share your opinion.


Tags: corporate culture, Building a Leadership Bench, Feedback

Positive Behaviors for Handling Conflict

Posted by Kristin Dressel on Tue, Jun 16, 2015

cc_tough_talk_002Every organization faces conflict among team members, breakdowns in communication and behaviors that create more dysfunction than function.  How your leaders handle these challenges becomes the standard which all employees follow. If the team leader is selfish and has a “me first” attitude, then employees will follow suit. If the leader is compassionate and good at listening, then, likewise, the others on his/her team echo that behavior.

To foster an open and safe environment in your organization encourage your leaders to exhibit these 5 positive behaviors when dealing with conflict.

Maintain a Calm Demeanor

Avoid retreating from conflict or caving in to avoid facing tension in a situation. Employees need their team leaders to remain calm when facing a crisis and to tackle it directly, learning the facts of the situation, understanding what has already occurred, what is possible in terms of resolution. Panic is contagious.  So is calmness.

Focus on Logic & Objectivity

Building on that point, discuss with your leaders the importance of focusing on the facts of each difficult situation and maintaining objectivity throughout. It is easy for any leader to become overwhelmed with problems, but helping them approach issues objectively and logically improves their ability to clearly determine solutions.

Speak up About Problems

It may be tempting to ignore tension and problems or want to sweep them under the rug, or assume that someone else will handle them.  Leadership is about quickly identifying and addressing issues that face the department so the situation doesn’t escalate. When confronting conflict, encourage your team to resist the blame game, or becoming aggressive and saying something he/she will regret. Creating a safe environment in which to identify what is not working is a leader’s responsibility.

Show Empathy

cc_coaching_skills_for_leaders_002Leaders can set a good example by showing empathy to others on the team, even the people with whom they disagree. Train your leaders to focus first on understanding someone’s perspective before trying to get their own point across. And, every leader can set a positive tone by prohibiting gossip and reminding others of the golden rule: “do unto others as you would have them do to you.”

Listen to Others’ Perspectives

Don’t let the “quiet mice” in your company get away with not providing their opinions. Every person has value and it’s important to listen to everyone’s input and perspective. You never know where the solution to a problem will come from and the source may surprise you. When your leaders excel at listening, they help build confidence among others and validate the importance of everyone’s contributions.

Leaders are under constant stress to keep their team and department functioning at a high level while producing the results your organization demands even in the midst of dramatic change. Conflict is difficult in any organization, but every company would benefit by encouraging these positive behaviors among their leaders, setting a great example for the other employees to follow and help begin eliminating dysfunction, improving communication and reducing tension.

Prepare for Difficult Conversations Worksheet

Tags: improve workplace relationships, difficult conversations, Emotional Intelligence, Coaching Skills

3 Reasons Why It's Hard to Create a Coaching Culture

Posted by Rebecca Dannenfelser on Fri, May 29, 2015

"We want to create a coaching culture."

cc_leadership_011We work with companies to create cultures where business results flourish. Most of the time, we are called in because an engagement survey has produced some abysmal results, or retention of top talent is waning or because a new change transformation initiative is failing. Partnering with a C-level executive or a top leader in HR usually produces a desire to see leaders at the top engage in developmental practices that support their people so that the people take better care of the results. 

Most of the companies we see say they need leaders who can:

  • Coach others
  • Motivate their teams to achieve goals and results
  • Deliver feedback that empowers

Nine times out of 10 they say: "We want to create a coaching culture."

So what stops an organization from developing talented senior and mid level leaders who know how to coach? In our work, we observe there are 3 key things that prohibit an organization from creating a coaching culture.

1. Leaders don't know how to coach despite thinking that they do!

  • Only 11% of senior leaders actively use coaching despite 70% of organizations claiming they coach their people (Bersin “High- Impact Performance Management: Part 1- Designing a Strategy for Effectiveness, August 2011).
  • First hand experience training over 1000 leaders in the acquisition of coaching skills with only 3% demonstrating understanding of what it takes to coach direct reports prior to the training despite claims that they know how to coach!

CASE STUDYCC_communication_01

Consider Jane, a VP of sales in a $500.0m company. She has been a leader in 4 other companies, always in a sales management or leadership role. She considers herself a very strong coach, so when her engagement scores on “my manager regularly coaches me to find my own solutions to problems” demonstrated a low score of 45%, Jane was shocked. When we sat with her and explored what coaching looked like to her, we discovered Jane thought if she told her people what to do in an open and friendly manner, this was coaching. Her company was implementing a “leader as coach program” and she quickly realized that coaching was more about listening, asking open-ended questions and allowing her people to find their own solutions.

2. Leaders don't listen!

One of the fundamental, foundational skills needed to coach others is the ability to truly listen when you ask a question. It's our observation that a lot of leaders inside companies:

  • Lack the patience to truly listen, so they interrupt
  • Ask questions without waiting long enough for the person to form their thoughts
  • Ask questions that they feel have only one answer - their own
  • Over-rely on directing others so they are more comfortable listening to their own voices, ideas, and opinions

Tom Peters one of our favorite authors on leadership and management, makes a great point on the crucial importance for leaders to learn to listen strategically longer than 18 seconds. Tom says, "the single most significant strategic strength that an organization can have is not a good strategic plan, but a commitment to strategic listening on the part of every member of the organization." Watch the video here

cc_coaching_skills_043. Leaders don't ask the right questions!   

Leaders tend to ask questions that are leading, lack transparency and do not motivate people to find their own solutions. This is really not that hard, yet we see leaders get confused about how to use great questions to move the coaching conversation forward. Unfortunately, too often we see leaders who:

  • Start their questions with, "now wouldn't you agree this is a better way to do this?"
  • Ask questions that are yes/no or close-ended, shutting down any dialogue
  • Use rapid-fire questions to berate or "trap" people
  • Use the proverbial "we" to describe what's happening, as in "I called you in to talk about your performance because we have a problem"
  • Over-use "why" which causes defensive reactions

Open-ended questions encourage direct reports to brain- storm their own solutions, so a leader can understand how they think. This empowering approach leads to greater accountability from the direct report to solve his/her problems, while fostering belief in their own abilities. 


Consider Tom, a VP of Advertising. He has worked for his current company for 5 years. Every year, he takes time to create the goals for each of his 7 direct reports. He spends many hours working up the ideas, strategies and advertising campaign money each direct report will collect. The budget calls for an aggressive 15% increase this year. After completing the coaching training program, he decides to take a risk and do things differently. He calls his direct reports in and tells them he wants them to develop their own plans to present to him the following week. His biggest fear was that his team would not be able to create strong enough goals to produce the 15%. He was pleasantly surprised when his team rolled up a budget of 20% over last year. He realized that he had been holding them back! They had ideas and solutions that allowed them to buy in at a higher level when the ideas were their own! cc_coaching_skills_07

If you truly want to create a coaching culture in your organization, you need to acknowledge that people probably don’t know how to coach, don’t know how to listen and ask questions that motivate those they lead. But, don’t give up hope!

It’s our greatest joy when we see the light bulb go off for the leaders we’ve trained and they really start to understand what it takes to be a “leader as coach.” For while the impact on the direct report is substantial, it’s amazing what can happen to the leader when they engage in coaching practices. They finally get to see what they’ve been missing—a real chance to get the most from their people and to be free to worry about that vision, alignment and execution thing!

What’s your biggest roadblock to creating a coaching culture? Do your leaders have the skills to coach others?

Examine Your Coaching Ability


Tags: corporate culture, Coaching Skills, leadership coaching

3 Ways Leaders Erode Trust Inside an Organization

Posted by Rebecca Dannenfelser on Wed, May 20, 2015

clearwater_leaders_009-resized-600Organizations know that teams are the lifeblood of how work gets done. And, it’s understood that highly effective teams where trust abounds produce greater results, higher morale and retain talent for the future. The field of positivity supplies vast amounts of research on the connection between trust, positivity and results and the impact they produce on engagement levels and culture. So what’s stopping organizations and their leaders from developing teams with higher levels of trust?

First let’s explore what comes to mind when you hear someone describe a trustworthy leader? In our work over the past ten years with over 2000 leaders, a leader is considered trustworthy when he/she:

  • Keeps commitments
  • Possesses integrity
  • Displays honesty
  • Has your back
  • Does his/her part
  • Is reliable
  • Has a code of conduct
  • Knows and lives his/her values

Patrick Lencioni’s 5 Behaviors’ of a Cohesive Team Model builds on this definition of a trustworthy leader, and tells us all those things are true but you have to have more. The intangible ability to be vulnerable is the “real deal” when it comes to building trust and creating the foundation of an engaged culture.CC_5_behaviors_team_01

Does your team trust one another? Do they trust you as the team leader? To understand what you need to do to build trust on your teams and across your organizations, you need to also grasp what you need to stop doing that is hurting your ability to build trust.

Trust Destroyer #1- A Leader Who Can’t admit To Being Wrong

Years ago, I worked for a leader who could never admit anything was his fault. He was always right, infallible. If we disagreed on something about the direction of the business, and things heated up between us, he came out swinging. The closest he ever came to saying he was wrong? “Next time, don't let things get so out of hand between us”, he’d say, as if it were up to me to control what would escalate between us. And, I wasn't the only person on the team that struggled with his self-righteousness. Never being wrong made people want to avoid him, or partner with others on the team instead of with him on projects. It was a real shame because he had a true knack for business, was wicked smart and great with client execution. He eventually left the company because when his business results started to slide, he couldn’t admit anything was his fault.

Sadly, those types of leaders are still roaming inside organizations today wreaking havoc on their own teams and the ability for teams to cross functionally work together. Despite what we have learned about engagement and empowerment and the value of learning from mistakes, many leaders continue to drink from the fountain of “I’m right and you’re wrong”. They simply don’t know how to be real—to be vulnerable, self-reflective and to own their own mistakes.

Learn to Embrace Vulnerability

You may be the team leader but that doesn’t mean that you have all of the answers. It’s okay to admit your weaknesses to your team. By being open to your team members, you can begin to build trust with them by modeling openness, transparency, and asking your team for feedback. Let your team members know that they should ask questions and provide input regarding the direction of the team. By embracing vulnerability as the team leader, you can help the rest of your team become more open with a willingness to share weaknesses, ask questions, and provide feedback. This is one of the key pillars for building trust on your team.

Trust Destroyer #2- A Leader Who Won’t Apologize

CC_leadership_006It’s bad enough when a leader can’t or won’t ever admit to being wrong, but layer on a leader who even when it’s known they screwed up not admitting that they did and you have a leader who is demoralizing the spirit of the team. A recent client experienced this first hand. Upon starting her new role, she was asked to focus on price when negotiating with suppliers, even when that meant putting pressure on the suppliers to take risks. She became alarmed when she discovered this pressure was causing the suppliers to take risks that would hurt the brand and put the company at risk. Sharing this news with her CEO produced a startling reaction. Instead of being pleased that she had uncovered news that could hurt the company, she was scolded and blamed for the pressure the suppliers felt to cut corners. Our client knew she was going to be blamed for this huge mess so she left the company. What hurt her the most? The CEO’s inability to apologize or acknowledge the role he played in the problem. High turnover and low morale remain persistently present in this culture, with the organization now looking for their 3rd leader over the past 5 years. It’s no wonder, the business is struggling and people are leaving the team and the company.

Learn to Apologize

Do you admit your mistakes to your team? Are you afraid to apologize to your team because you think they won’t believe your or want to follow you? Apologizing to your team for past errors, lack of judgment, behavioral outbursts, poor communication and other blunders will show your team the importance of taking responsibility for mistakes and learning from them. If you act like you never do anything wrong, then your team members will feel uncomfortable apologizing for faults. They will lack the trust needed to take accountability for mistakes and, instead, they will play the blame game to avoid feeling guilty and facing any consequences.

Trust Destroyer #3- A Leader Who Won’t Ask for Help

I hate to ask for help. It feels like a weakness. I led several teams over my 25 years at Federated (Macy’s) Department Stores, and this was really hard for me. It cost me a lot too. It hurt my ability to be open to new ways to do things. And it set high standards for myself and others, that were impossible to keep. It created a desire for me to just work longer and harder and to expect that from my team. And the thing is, others knew when I needed help, so when they would ask me about it, my rejection of their offer hurt my relationship with them. Today, I still struggle with asking for help, but I have realized the ability to be vulnerable about needing help or support from others is a great way to build a relationship that is very powerful and more authentic. Over the past ten years of working along side my partners in our leadership development firm, I have experienced the joy it gives to others and myself when I admit I need their help. It makes them free to also ask me to help them when their burden is too great.

Learn to Ask for Helpcc_coaching_skills_for_leaders_002

After embracing vulnerability by being more open as a team leader and apologizing for mistakes and admitting when you are wrong, take the next step and ask for help. Some leaders have a superman complex where they feel responsible for every task. Or they lack the time, knowledge and resources needed but are afraid to ask for help for fear of looking weak to their team or their boss. Great team leaders are not afraid to ask for help. They have a clear sense of their strengths and weaknesses, therefore providing them the confidence to know when they should look to others for help. Also, great team leaders know that soliciting input from their team members and articulating how much they value their team members’ contributions serves as a positive way to build team trust.

Do you lead by example? If you truly want to build trust on your team, then model trustworthy behavior by being vulnerable. Create a safe and supportive environment on the team by showing empathy towards your team members, give them the benefit of the doubt, and follow through on what you commit to achieve. Encourage your team members to speak up and share their ideas, recognize their hard work, and embolden them to solve problems on their own. By modeling how you trust your team, in return, they will develop more trust towards you and the entire team.

Today’s organizations need leaders who want to run teams built to be highly effective. It takes work and commitment to engender trust on your team and inside your organization. So are you ready to take the first steps to becoming a trustworthy leader? Download our free team leadership self-assessment to gain clarity about your trust behaviors.

team leaders develop trust on your team in the workplace

Tags: building trust, corporate culture, improve workplace relationships, high performing teams

Be a Great Team Leader: 4 Views on Accountability

Posted by Andrea Hopke on Mon, May 18, 2015

clearwater_office_002The two most popular downloadable documents on our website tell an interesting story about organizational needs and dynamics.

1. How to prepare for difficult conversations

2. Creating high functioning teams 

Teams, both functional and cross-functional, are the engines that drive most organizations. They are microcosms of how we collectively work together to achieve great things.

Where most teams struggle is accountability which is defined as holding each other accountable. That includes peer-to-peer accountability, not just accountability of an individual team member to the team leader. It’s about getting aligned - in alignment - with each other; coordinating who is doing what, when, why, and how in order to achieve some significant goal(s) in a determined period of time. Sounds so simple.

What gets in the way? Habits condoned by the organization. In your organization, do you have:

  •   Organizational silos focused exclusively on their own work and success?
  •   Performance reviews that emphasize individual over collective results?
  •   A culture that encourages politeness over directness?

What other obstacles exist?  

  •   Team leaders not role modeling holding others accountable 
  •   Lack of clarity and lack of directness.
  •   Team agreements, usually unstated, that allow for behavior that derails the team

When we “put up with” behavior that limits team success, for whatever reason, we are agreeing to be non-accountable. Which is why our form on preparing for a tough conversation and the material on teams have been downloaded hundreds of times.

In fact, when we ask clients what type of tough conversation they are preparing for, more times than not, it is with someone on their team. And based on research by Patrick Lencioni, 2/3 of 12,000 teams completing the team profile find that their lowest scores of the 5 areas (Trust, Conflict, Commitment, Accountability and Results) is: Accountability! Why is that? Because we don’t speak up when we believe someone is not doing the work. It’s a vicious cycle.


So, let’s go upstream and see if we can help your team and your organization put into place some practical elements that will help teams share the responsibility for each other, and in the process, help your organization build the culture that engages and sustains with clear communication and appropriate support. 

Let's use the DiSC profile to help us take a new view on accountability and shift the old habits to new practices on your team. Regardless of your natural work style, learn to borrow from other styles when the situation calls for it. Accountability comes in many shapes and forms. Learn to recognize the approach you need in the moment to build a team that thrives. DiSC_circle_with_descriptions

View #1:  Borrow from the “D”s drive for results

D’s are direct, results oriented, have a sense of urgency and while they can be blunt and impatient, they are also the drivers on the team who push for the next step that needs to be taken. On your team, apply a “D” mindset to the most pressing issues your team is grappling with today: 

  • What needs to be said (avoid the blunt and impatient part, go for clarity with facts and substance)? 
  • What needs to be clarified: goals, milestones, roles?
  • What needs to happen right now, today, in order to maintain positive momentum?

View #2: Engage others as an “I” would

“I” styles want to collaborate on the path to results, they want to co-create outcomes. Like “D’s”, they are action oriented, but in a different way. Their actions are about engaging team members, and while results are important, what matters to an “I” is the level of engagement and involvement with other members of the team in order to be effective.

  • Who are your allies in creating accountability?
  • How can the team celebrate success as it works together toward goals?
  • How can the team better tap into the specific strengths of each team member?

View #3:  Adapt the “S” style of listening

One of the strengths of an “S” perspective is creating safety so change can occur and tough conversations can be tackled. Borrow the “S” style of calm discussion in pursuit of understanding all the facts and bringing all voices into the discussion about accountability.

  • What questions need to be asked to bring clarity?
  • What can the team agree to in terms of behaviors of interaction that encourage positive outcomes?
  • Who needs to be involved in these discussions?

View #4:  Incorporate the “C” conscientiousness

One of the hallmarks of a “C” point of view is doing the right thing by applying logic and rational evaluation and disarming drama and high emotion that often escalate when accountability is not addressed.

  • What standards can the team put in place to help track agreements, expectations, and outcomes?
  • What assumptions need to be identified and addressed in order to create greater clarity and buy in?
  • What are some practical solutions to team issues around accountability?

So, which view would be most helpful today as you dedicate yourself to shifting the team dynamics toward greater accountability?

improve team accountability in the workplace

Tags: high functioning teams, team building and accountability, DiSC assessments

HR Leaders: Does Your Culture Offer Feedback That Gets Results?

Posted by Rebecca Dannenfelser on Thu, May 07, 2015

cc_coaching_skills_for_leaders_002"Feedback is a gift. Ideas are the currency of our next success. Let people see you value both feedback and ideas." - Jim Trinka and Les Wallace

We were recently asked by an SVP of HR to help bring a feedback program inside a growing technology company. This HR executive was tired of having people leave because they didn't really know where they stood, or depart because they simply never heard anything positive about their performance. She knew feedback could be a tool that motivated and developed others. She was focused on 3 key things:

  1. Getting Senior Leaders to role model it—by not just delivering and receiving it well, but also by seeking it themselves
  2. Creating a program whereby people could learn how to deliver it well, and practice learning how to ask for it
  3. Finding a way to demonstrate how feedback creates a culture of accountability, transparency and hope for the future

Feedback? Just say the word to leaders and they cringe, or even roll their eyes. Ten years ago when we started training leaders on the benefits of feedback, we would here the groans, and wonder why does feedback get such a bad rap?

Just recently, we asked a group of 60 leaders in an all day training program, what do you think when your boss says “I want to give you some feedback.”

93% of the group said: “It’s going to be negative.”

Was it really this simple? Yes and no. Sure, most of the time people fear feedback because of the simple fact that it could be negative. But that’s not all, there are other reasons why feedback is feared and avoided. People have experienced the following:

  • Unjustified emotional hijackslots of leaders can tap into the time their boss missed the mark, was unjustified in his/her criticism, or even went on an emotional meltdown with screaming and threats
  • Clumsy, awkward delivery with vague tones that leave a person wondering what just happened? Am I on warning or was that a pep talk?
  • Lack of timeliness of feedback—so many people fear BOTH receiving and giving it that they delay it and by the time it’s delivered, its no longer relevant or the resentment is at the boiling point

Is it really all about just giving a receiving?cc_tough_talk_003

Much in the literature is built around how to give feedback well. When giving it, a person needs to:

  • Be prepared with specific behaviors and times
  • Be timely, and do not delay or wait until “performance review time”
  • Find time to deliver it informally and formally,
  • Recognize it does not have to be negativerecognition of a job/task that is well done goes a long way
  • Offer hope by focusing on the future versus mired in the past
  • Be clear so the person clearly understands the feedback
  • Takes into account the way the person would want to hear it, recognizing the difference in the learning styles of different people 

Giving feedback that produces new skills, better behavior, and sustained, positive results is not easy. It requires something from both the person delivering it and the person receiving it.

So how does a person on the receiving end of feedback, role model the behavior needed for positive reflection and growth? The best reactions usually include:

  • Effective listening and taking notes
  • Asking clarifying questions
  • Recognition that it may be hard to hear what is being said and asking for time to absorb is appropriate
  • Acknowledgment of one’s feelings is important—feedback can catch people by surprise
  • Appreciation—most feedback deserves thankfulness as it takes courage on both parties to have these conversations

Getting feedback right whether you are delivering it or receiving it is very important, but if organizations want to really create cultures of transparency, humility and accountability, they need to have leaders at ALL levels go out of their way to seek feedback for their performance improvement. For this reason, we add what we think is the single biggest way to truly leverage feedback in any organization. You create a culture where people want to seek feedback.

"Followers who tell the truth, and leaders who listen to it, are an unbeatable combination." - Warren Bennis

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Tags: building trust, Building a Leadership Bench, Feedback

HR Leaders: Is Your High Potential Employee Cupboard Bare?

Posted by Kristin Dressel on Tue, May 05, 2015

cc_2014_team_003-resized-600As an HR leader you are constantly on the lookout for talented, knowledgeable and dedicated employees. But do you feel that your “high potential” cupboard is bare? When you have a job opening and want to promote someone from within, do you see that your company’s talent pipeline is empty?

It makes your job easier when you already have in place a stable of high potential employees who are ready to lead at the next level. Begin to build your high potential talent pipeline by asking yourself the following questions:

How does my company define “high potential”?

Some companies typically define high potential employees as those in the top 5% of job performance. These are employees who consistently and competently achieve superior results, distinguish themselves with admirable behaviors, embrace the company’s cultures and values, and tend to learn and grow more quickly and effectively than their peers.

But focusing exclusively on performance can be a miss. Other elements key to hi-po success include a pattern of proactively seeking to problem-solve or lead through influence. Effectively creating trust on teams or work groups, and helping to establish group dynamics that underscore accountability and commitment. If your company focuses only on performance, which is who you promote; leaving out the high potentials who may be the exact talent you need as your company grows. 

What’s the definition at your organization? Has senior management discussed this to determine the characteristics that are most valuable?cc_mentors_001

For instance, high potential employees often take on new and challenging assignments. They seek out opportunities to develop new skills, leave their comfort zone, and make difficult decisions to show they have the drive to succeed and make the sacrifices necessary to get ahead. Fear is not a part of their vocabulary. They are ambitious, proactive, take calculated risks, and believe that good is never good enough. High potentials constantly pursue new avenues for higher results and strive towards an ever higher level of performance. Can you name 10 people in your company who fit that profile? Can you name 100?

For a clearer view of how your organization defines high potentials, get feedback from everyone at the senior and executive level regarding the list of traits and attributes they look for when deciding who to target for further development and future promotion. Leadership competencies, management milestones, goal setting and achievement all play a role in how companies talk about and measure potential. Gain agreement on this list of characteristics so everyone is aligned around the same standards.

What feedback does the company provide to employees?

Next, for an employee to truly be ready for the next level, they need to know what their strengths and weaknesses are so they can begin to work on improving them. In your culture, what formal and informal paths are available and encouraged to see and provide feedback to employees? How effective are these conversations?

Make assessments a part of your company’s plan to identify, develop and train high potential employees. While they should be working on improving their skills on their own, showing them that they are valuable to the company by investing in their development validates their efforts and provides additional motivation for their desire to develop their skills. Have a conversation with employees about what they can do to improve their opportunities for advancement and see who steps up to exceed expectations. These are your high potential employees.

How Does Your Company Communicate Expectations for High Potentials?

cc_clarity_001Without clear expectations and ongoing communication around feedback and development, many employees believe they are doing everything “right” in the workplace.  They consistently receive satisfactory job performance reviews and generally believe they are near the top of the list for promotion. But you may still not consider them as a high potential employee. How does your company communicate the expectations for becoming a High Potential employee?

Once you’ve agreed upon a list of character traits with senior leaders and implemented assessments to profile your employees, develop a clear plan of action or guidelines to communicate to employees what they can do to improve their chances for becoming a high potential. Explain how high potentials regularly seek feedback from their managers and peers, network with other departments within the company, learn about their industry and the direction it’s headed, and seek opportunities to lead others even outside of the company (i.e. volunteer positions). High potentials are determined to excel and succeed both professionally and personally. Their motivation to learn, grow, and achieve comes from within and usually burns brightly in every thought, action, and choice they make.

So are you ready to take the necessary actions to fill your high potential employee cupboard?

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Tags: corporate culture, Building a Leadership Bench, Feedback