Archives for posts with tag: management

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Companies experiencing high employee turnovers may be wondering why they keep losing good employees and how they can stop it. There are many reasons why people choose to quit their work and leave a company. Likewise, there are ways to make sure it can be avoided if not, stopped.

The following are just some of the reasons:

Money. Other companies may offer better opportunities and benefits, including a bigger salary to excellent employees. One way to avoid this is to make sure you are giving a fair remuneration for the position and the job your employees are doing as well as providing incentives and praises for their achievements.

Office conflict. There are sure to be some office conflicts one way or another, and that these clashes may become a reason for employees to leave the company. A little competition in the workplace can be a good thing, but it’s better to unite the team as a whole than to operate on a divide and conquer strategy. Teambuilding activities and open communication are ways to minimize conflicts in the office.

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Poor management. The problem may not be with the employees at all but may have something to do with the abilities of their immediate superior. Make sure managers are fully qualified for their position and are effective leaders and motivators to ensure low employee turnovers.

Stress. It’s impossible to avoid stress at work, and managers often give more work to people they know to be reliable and capable. But employees are not machines, and there is such a thing as too much work. If employees can’t find a healthy balance between their personal life and work, they may decide to leave due to extreme stress. Distribute the work equally among employees so that no one person is carrying the entire load.

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Bertrand Management Group aims to provide strategic planning and management training to their clients for a more productive workplace. Follow this Twitter account to learn more about business and employee management.

There are many ways to motivate employees but this article from Business2community.com talks about the fine line between empowering and victimizing them.

What Are Your Motivation Tactics?

There have been hundreds of books and articles written on how to motivate one’s employees. All manner of theories and ideas have been introduced, from those that insist that employee motivation lies with financial reward to those that declare you must motivate your employees based on their age group. What many of these theories and ideas don’t express is how deeply employee motivation is tied to personalities, company culture, and the style of management employees receive.

At the core of managing people is a need to empower them. Realizing that each and every employee has strengths and weaknesses is a huge part of successfully managing and empowering them. What are some easy ways to empower your employees? We’ve listed a few below.

Consider the Personalities on Your Team

Many managers avoid getting to know the members of their team because it is, in fact, extra work. Taking the time to have meaningful conversations about the roles your team members fill, what isn’t working for them as far as processes go, and the efficiencies they enjoy in their daily roles can yield tons of valuable information, and not just for the health of your role as a manager.

Successfully empowering your employees begins with considering the wealth of personalities within its confines. From the quiet workers who need to be encouraged to speak up in meetings to the boisterous personalities that demand more leadership roles, you can allot your team members assignments and roles within the company that directly reflects their strengths, comfort zones and aspirations. When they’re working within the sphere where they feel most able, empowerment (and more efficient,  more enthusiastic work) will follow.

Mad Men wherein young, hardworking, and talented copywriter Peggy Olsen is expressing her frustrations with her job to her boss, Don Draper. Don’s reaction to Peggy’s inquiries is a classic example of how to alienate and victimize your employees rather than empower them, and while the show is set in a drastically different time than ours, it’s still relevant to the conversation of employee empowerment.

Not only does refusing to recognize your employees’ hard work make them feel disvalued and overlooked, it can work against any aspirations you have to increase leadership roles on your team. Be aware of exceptional work. Reward it. Acknowledge it. Empower your employees by giving their work the recognition it warrants. Don’t expect their often-paltry paychecks to be all the recognition they need.

Have Realistic Expectations

inevitable failures from the very beginning. By assigning to many tasks and setting unrealistic deadlines, you ensure that your employees will either A) Miss their deadlines so they can do the work correctly, or B) Meet their deadlines, but turn into low-quality work that does not reflect their abilities. Both scenarios produce mental anguish, frustration, and eventual disempowerment for your employees.

Being honest with yourself about the actual possibilities and parameters for your company is the first step towards making realistic assignments and setting attainable and fair deadlines for your employees. When they’re given enough time to do good work, your employees will deliver on their abilities and, as a result, feel empowered in their positions.

Independent Decision-Making

Allowing your employees to make decisions in their jobs without seeking approval or review from you or another management member is also important in the empowerment process. If you shudder at the thought of allowing a task to be marked “complete” before getting your seal of management approval, you might want to rethink the people you’ve hired to hold positions in your company. If micromanagement of each and every task is the only way you’re able to sleep at night, you must re-align your priorities and consider searching for job candidates who can work independently from your constant scrutiny and overseeing.

Unless you’re paying each of your employees a king’s ransom each paycheck, micromanagement is going to suffocate and frustrate them and might also make them feel victimized. Your lack of confidence in their abilities says more about your own lack of confidence in your hiring practices than about your employees’ inability to deliver.

Discourage Competition; Encourage Team Work

Bosses who try to inspire competition among their employees are usually just trying to inspire a spike in performance. What they usually end up doing, however, is creating an atmosphere of tension and deceit that will inevitably become more distracting than empowering. Encouraging your employees to compete with their team mates (the keyword here is team) is bad for collaboration, office culture and the health of future group projects. You want your employees to feel like a united front, willing to help and encourage one another on any project. Any competition that crops up among your team should arise organically, as a result of personal hunger and ambition, not because you planted the seed.

Empowering your employees can seem like a tough riddle when you’re facing trying times in your business and bolstering leadership roles is imperative. You may find that employee empowerment lies in treating your employees like the assets to your company that they are. Seeing them as dynamic people, capable of leading, collaborating and contributing on all levels, will not only help them feel empowered, but it will help you grow as a manager.

Learn more about motivating employees by visiting this Bertrand Management Group blog.

This article from Inc.com reveals that all businesses, from small firms to large corporations, should be paying more attention to customer data. Here’s how businesses can fully utilize the information that’s available to them:

Image source: http://www.inc.com

Image source: http://www.inc.com

Imagine you’re waiting at the checkout in a store. The customers in front of you represent a lot of things: sales, maybe a mild annoyance for you if the line is long, and finally, a heck of a lot of information.

That last piece of the puzzle–customer data–can be the most important, but it’s also underappreciated. Although big online companies track just about everything their customers do, smaller brick-and-mortar ventures are often far behind the curve.

I talked recently with Angus Davis, founder of Swipely, a Rhode Island company that’s trying to take advantage of that opportunity.

Swipely offers payment processing for small businesses, with a focus on collecting and analyzing customer data so its users can improve their operations and marketing. I’ll admit that I was originally interested in the company because I grew up in Rhode Island, which isn’t exactly known as a modern tech or startup hub. In fact, Rhode Island has perennially had the worst unemployment rate in the country.

Swipely, however, is a success story. The company was reportedly the first Rhode Island software company to raise a Series A venture capital round and grew from 30 employees a year ago to about 90 today.

“The idea is that the payment network moves money but doesn’t glean data well,” Davis said. “Our technology enables people not only to accept payment but access powerful analytics about customers.”

Swipely focuses on smaller businesses, and Davis told me that two-thirds of its customers are restaurants (including chains such as Rosa Mexicano and Fig & Olive).

Here are the five things Davis thinks companies are able to do more effectively than their competitors through tracking customer data:

1. Know your customers better than their mothers do.
The key here is to identify your 100 best customers, keep track of what they love to order, and make sure you know how often they visit. Then use that knowledge to make them feel special. Marketing experts suggest that developing 100 fiercely loyal customers can drive more word of mouth than a $25,000 advertising campaign.

2. Evaluate your marketing efforts.
There’s an old saying that 90 percent of advertising doesn’t work, but the trick is that it’s so hard to know which 10 percent is actually effective. If you can track how many of your sales in any given time period come from new customers, as opposed to repeat visitors, you’ll understand more quickly whether your marketing efforts are working.

3. Spot hidden items that will unlock new sales.
There is often a trove of data that’s hard to find without the right tools. If you’re running a restaurant, is there one menu item in particular that new customers come in to try? Identify it, and you’ll see which hidden gems you can coach your staff to recommend to first-time guests.

4. Help your employees to become better salespeople.
You can effectively track who on your staff sells the most and drill down deeper to see who turns over tables most often or persuades customers to purchase particular menu items. Figure out who your stars are, and you’ll know where to focus your coaching efforts.

5. Collect feedback without lifting a finger.
Let’s use the restaurant industry as an example some more. Nearly half of restaurant reviews mention specific menu items, which means there’s another rich data source to mine. Listening to what customers have to say about your business on sites such as Yelp, OpenTable, Google, and TripAdvisor gives you a quick way to offer concrete feedback to your chef, servers, and marketers.

 

Follow this Bertrand Management Group Twitter page to find more resources on better business practices.

Work on your success as a leader by following these tips from TLNT.com.

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Popular leadership books often use the phrase “born leader” to describe those who possess a natural ability to lead others. What many fail to mention is the number of “natural” leaders who had help along the way.

It can take years to become an overnight success. If you are willing to do the work and follow this advice, you can certainly cut that time in half.

Here are 10 leadership tips for succeeding all around:

  1. Move forward by looking backward. Have you been successful because of your leadership, or in spite of it? I’ve watched time and time again as companies and leaders succeed in spite of poor management skills. Now, imagine the levels of success they could have achieved if those who were in charge had great leadership skills? Or even just good leadership skills? Gather feedback about your management style and adjust accordingly.
  2. Lead by example. Behave as you would want your employees to behave, but also understand that your role is different from that of your employees.
  3. Surround yourself with the right people. Hire for fit, train for skill, and if the opportunity presents itself, hire people who are better than you. Be prepared for the arrival of new hires so they immediately feel connected to the organization.
  4. Stop the blame game. It’s always someone or something that is at fault. But in the end, the buck stops with you. Sure, you may not have inherited a stellar team, but that doesn’t mean you have to settle for mediocrity. You have the power to inspire people to exceed expectations. You also have the power to release people who aren’t making the grade. What you don’t get to do is blame everyone else for your team’s failure to perform.
  5. Cut your losses early. Mismatches happen, no matter how good you are at interviewing. Take action quickly to avoid having the rest of the team distracted by a poor hire.
  6. Invest in yourself and your people. Can you name one organization that has cut its way to exceptional customer service? I can’t. It’s time to put your money where your mouth is. If your firm prides itself on customer service then invest in more people to reduce the wait times, especially during peak calling hours. And while you are at it, give your employees the tools and training they need to provide exceptional service.
  7. Build on strengths. Everyone focuses on improving weaknesses. You can distinguish yourself by paying particular attention to areas of strength, as this is where you’ll receive the greatest return for your investment.
  8. It’s better to be respected than love. As human beings, we have a natural tendency to want to be loved. But what happens when your desire to be loved interferes with your ability to lead? Effective leaders recognize it is more important to be respected by their people than adored. They make the tough decisions that are needed to secure the future of those around them, including their direct reports.
  9. Your success depends on the success of others. To succeed as a manager, you will need to shift your focus from “me” to “we.” Going forward, your success will no longer be measured by your individual contribution. Instead, you will be evaluated on your ability to create and maintain a highly engaged team that is willing to give it their all.
  10. Find a coach or a mentor. You are ultimately responsible for your own success. If you are lucky, you may get approval to attend a training session this year. It’s a start, however training isn’t going to ultimately get you where you want to go. Find a coach or a mentor who can swiftly guide you through the landmines that exist in every organization.

It’s time to try something new if what you’ve been doing all along isn’t getting you the results you are seeking. Choose one or two of the above tips and move those items forward. Then select a few more. Before long, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a natural leader who is succeeding all around.

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Success doesn’t come overnight. To continue learning is the key. For more tips on how to reach success, follow this Bertrand Management Group Facebook page.

According to Adam McCauley, the author of Quick and Nimbl, a lot of managers try to avoid feedback thinking that it will cause a battle. But the best managers have “adult conversations” right away to clear the air. Read it here.

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We aspire to be the largest small company in our space.”

When Dominic Orr, the chief executive of Aruba Networks, said those words, he crystallized a goal I had heard many leaders express during the hundreds of interviews I’ve conducted for the Corner Office column: they want to foster a quick and nimble culture, with the enviable qualities of many start-ups, even as their companies grow.

All leaders and managers face this challenge, regardless of the size of their companies. Even the founders of Google have worried about losing the magic that helped propel their search engine’s phenomenal growth. When Larry Page announced that he was taking over the chief-executive role from Eric Schmidt a few years ago, he explained to reporters that the company needed to move faster and recapture the agility of its early days, before it grew into a colossus.

“One of the primary goals I have,” Mr. Page said at the time, “is to get Google to be a big company that has the nimbleness and soul and passion and speed of a start-up.”

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After searching for patterns among my interviews, I identified six key drivers that every organization needs to foster an effective culture that will encourage everyone to do their best work and help drive innovation. Here are brief summaries:

A Simple Plan

One of a leader’s most important roles is to boil down an organization’s many priorities and strategies into a simple plan, so that employees can remember it, internalize it and act on it. With clear goals and metrics, everyone can pull in the same direction, knowing how their work contributes to those goals.

Tracy Streckenbach is the C.E.O. of Hillview Consulting, and she helps companies develop and carry out turnaround plans. Unlike consultants who deliver a report and then move on, she often joins client companies as a top-ranking executive to get them on the right track. She has seen firsthand the value of a simple plan.

“You want to create an environment where people want to be at work,” she said. “I lived through that whole Internet craze where you couldn’t hire people fast enough. During those days, you thought of culture as Ping-Pong tables and disco balls. Now I think the big focus is on how you get people invested, so that they care about what they’re doing and feel like they have a hand in things. The only way you can do that is if you have very clearly defined and measurable goals. Then you make sure each and every department knows them, and how their work will support the overall goals.”

She added: “It sounds easy and simple, but it’s not. In one company, it probably took me six months to clearly define the right goals and how to measure them. It’s also devastating if you get them wrong, because then you’re encouraging the wrong behaviors. But once you get it right, you see this change in people. They want to get the job done, and not just put in the time.”

FM Global, an insurance company, provides a good example. It uses a simple operating framework with three “key result areas,” or K.R.A.’s: profitability, retention of existing clients and attracting new clients.

“You can talk to our employees in San Francisco, Sydney or Singapore, and they’ll know what the three K.R.A.’s are,” said Shivan S. Subramaniam, the chief executive. “All of our incentive plans are designed around our K.R.A.’s, and every one of those K.R.A.’s is very transparent. Our employees know how we’re doing. And, most importantly, they understand them, whether they’re the most senior managers or file clerks, so they know that ‘If I do this, it helps this K.R.A. in this manner.’ ”

Rules of the Road

Exercises to develop corporate values have prompted plenty of eye-rolls over the years, and can often yield little more than slick posters in conference rooms. But when developed and enacted in a thoughtful way, guidelines for behavior can help employees concentrate on the work at hand, rather than on navigating the stressful politics that arise when all sorts of bad behaviors are tolerated.

Mark Templeton, chief executive of Citrix, a technology company, says its culture is based on three values: respect, integrity and humility.

“I think people generally want to belong to something of greater purpose that’s larger than they are,” he said. “And a culture around values is part of that. People say, ‘I want to be on that team, that club, because they believe in something.’ Everyone feels that they’re birds of a feather because of common values. We have clarity around where we’re going, and then they get to fill in how we’re going to get there — with the right kind of management, of course, and leadership, and the right kind of processes and metrics. But it’s very much seen as a giant start-up.”

Though companies have many approaches to codifying their values, two overarching rules about them emerged from my interviews: First, there is no “right” way to develop values. Values can come from the leaders themselves or can be developed with input from everyone in the company — or a mix of both. Second, what truly matters is that the company has to live by its values, reinforce them every day and not tolerate behavior that’s at odds with them.

After all, if employees start seeing a disconnect between the stated values and how people are allowed to behave, the entire exercise of developing explicit values will damage the organization. People will shut down, roll their eyes and wonder why on earth they hoped that this time might be different.

“I think it’s easy for people at many companies to become cynical, which then leads to politics, which can create a cancer that can topple even the greatest companies,” said Kathy Savitt, the former chief executive of the e-commerce site Lockerz and now the chief marketing officer at Yahoo. “Cynicism is that first cell, so to speak, that can metastasize within an organization when you feel a company is not actually living out its core values.”

A Little Respect

Unless you are one of a fortunate few, you’ve had at least one bad boss over the years, someone who was overly and unfairly critical of your work and who maybe even humiliated you in front of your colleagues. We can all remember those moments as if they were yesterday. Many C.E.O.’s worked for a poor boss when they were younger, and say the experience deeply influenced their leadership philosophy. They want to create a culture of respect, because they know that people will shut down on the job and simply go through the motions if there is a culture of fear.

Richard R. Buery Jr., C.E.O. of the Children’s Aid Society, said a bad experience with a former supervisor provided extra motivation to be in a leadership position so that he could influence culture.

“One lesson I learned is the critical importance of being a good person and treating people well,” he said. “I remember having a boss who upbraided me in front of a group of colleagues. I think substantively she was wrong, but that wasn’t the point. As a colleague, you should have enough respect to come and talk to me, even as a boss, to say: ‘Look, I want to pull you aside. This is what I think you should have done. This is what you didn’t do.’ And that always just stayed with me. I wanted to create an environment where it wouldn’t be O.K. to treat people like that.”

Robin Domeniconi, the chief marketing officer at Rue La La, a flash-sale site, said she uses the expression “M.R.I.” as a cornerstone of culture.

Image Source: nytimes.com

“M.R.I. means the ‘most respectful interpretation’ of what someone’s saying to you,” she said. “I don’t need everyone to be best friends, but I need to have a team with M.R.I. So you can say anything to anyone, as long as you say it the right way. Maybe you need to preface it with, ‘Can you help me understand why you don’t want to do this, or why you wanted to do this?’

“If you get people talking and challenging each other, you’re going to have the ability to arrive at the right decision so much quicker and so much easier,” she continued. “I just make it so it’s a human environment. We’re all vulnerable. We have all this stuff inside of us that we’ve carried with us. So if you have compassion for that, and you understand that, and you know someone’s smart, then you need to make an effort to understand why they may behave the way they behave.”

John Duffy, chief executive of the mobile-technology company 3Cinteractive, has made respect one of the core values of his company. He says a zero-tolerance policy for disrespectful behavior frees up colleagues to challenge one another.

“We have absolutely clear discussions with everyone about how respect is the thing that cannot be messed with in our culture,” he said. “When we have problems with somebody gossiping, or someone being disrespectful to a superior or a subordinate, or a peer, it is swarmed on and dealt with. We make everyone understand that the reason the culture works is that we have that respect. There is a comfort level and a feeling of safety inside our business.”

It’s About the Team

Respect is just part of the equation; performance and accountability also matter. For any company to operate at a high level, people have to play their positions.

Call it trustworthiness, or dependability. What it means is that you recognize your role on the team. When everyone does that, the team can focus on executing the strategy, instead of worrying whether colleagues will do what they’re supposed to do. (And such concerns, multiplied across an entire organization, can add up to a lot of wasted energy and lost momentum.)

When companies can find the right balance within — treating one another with respect, while setting clear expectations that everyone must play his or her part — the group becomes greater than the sum of its parts. To foster such a culture, many C.E.O.’s establish a simple rule for their employees: They have to do what they say they are going to do.

“I expect the best, and I hold people accountable for everything that comes out of their mouths,” said Steve Stoute, chief executive of Translation L.L.C., an ad agency, and the chairman of Carol’s Daughter, a beauty products company. “Don’t say you’re going to do something and not do it, because in a company of this size, everybody is directly responsible for the person next to them.

“It’s like one of those moments where everybody’s holding hands,” he continued. “So if somebody doesn’t do something, it’s felt throughout the organization. The organization’s not big enough to withstand those kinds of errors. At big companies, that happens all the time, and it can take years before it starts to affect the bottom line. Small organizations have the benefit of being nimble, but the threat is that when one person catches a cold, everybody catches a cold.”

Adult Conversations

The simple approach described in the previous two sections — that employees should treat one another with respect while playing their positions on the team — can succeed only if colleagues are willing to have frank discussions to work through inevitable disagreements and misunderstandings.

Such talks — call them “adult conversations” — aren’t easy. In many companies, managers are afraid to offer frank feedback. As a result, problems are swept under the rug, tensions simmer and talks that should have happened in the moment are delayed for months, until a performance review.

Many C.E.O.’s say that such talks can uncork energy that is otherwise bottled up when people are reluctant to say what they are really thinking.

“A lot of my growth as a manager has been around conquering my own insecurity and gaining confidence,” said Seth Besmertnik, the C.E.O. of Conductor, a technology company. “When you’re confident, you can give people feedback. You can be candid. You feel secure enough to say what’s really on your mind, to bring someone in the room and say: ‘You did this. It really made me feel XYZ.’ Having good conversations is really 80 percent of being an effective manager.”

The Hazards of Email

Bring up the subject of workplace email during conversations with C.E.O.’s, and the mood often shifts. Email is a hot-button issue, and clearly a source of endless frustration.

The problem, of course, is that for all the obvious benefits of email in speeding communication, it is also a dangerous trap. Emails are too easily misinterpreted, with often-disastrous consequences for the culture of an organization, because they can damage whatever connective tissue exists between colleagues. Yet the allure of email is powerful, and people fall repeatedly into the same trap, thinking that email is the best way to accomplish a lot of work in a short time.

Many C.E.O.’s are perceptive observers of the hazards of email, and they establish a variety of rules in their companies to discourage its use and encourage people to talk instead.

“If there’s a conflict and you need to resolve it, you cannot really do it in an email because people don’t know tone,” said Nancy Aossey, chief executive of the International Medical Corps. “They don’t know expression. Even if they like you and they know you, they might not know if you were irritated or joking in an email. There are things we can say in conversation that you can’t say in email because people don’t know tone and expression.

“People change when they talk in person about a problem, not because they chicken out, but because they have the benefit of seeing the person, seeing their reaction, and getting a sense of the person. But arguing over email is about having the last word. It plays into something very dangerous in human behavior. You want to have the last word, and nothing brings that out more than email because you can sit there and hit ‘send,’ and then it just kind of ratchets up and you don’t have the benefit of knowing the tone.”

By talking over the phone or in person, you’ll not only avoid dangerous misunderstandings, but you’ll also develop relationships and a sense of trust with colleagues — essential ingredients in fostering the kind of high-performing culture that drives innovation.

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This piece from the Harvard Business Review reveals that a leader showing optimism can, at times, demotivate his or her team.

I admit that I’m prone to an optimistic outlook, a belief that most problems can be tackled with hard work and the right mindset. I’ve read the research that indicates that positive thinkers tend to do better in school, work and life. Perhaps I even assumed that optimism was infectious and that people wanted to work with a confident, hopeful leader. In the true spirit of optimism, how could this possibly go wrong?

Then I found out from a colleague that he didn’t find my optimism nearly as reassuring as I did. We were in the middle of a high-stakes research project with a small window of opportunity to write an article for a prominent academic publication. To pull this off, we needed to complete a complex analysis, do a round of additional research, and actually write the article, all while working on several other projects and operating on a thin budget.

To me, this seemed like a feasible, interesting challenge, and I enthusiastically dove in. Then at one critical meeting, a more junior colleague turned to me and said, “Liz, I need you to stop saying that!”

“Saying what?” I asked.

“Saying that thing you always say — ‘How hard can it be?'” I looked puzzled. He explained, “You say that all the time. ‘How hard can it be? We can do this. After all, how hard can it be?'”

I recognized what he was saying and began to explain my logic: While I was working for Oracle Corporation, a small but rapidly growing company, I had been thrown into management at the tender age of 24 and was told that I was now in charge of training for the entire company and was tasked with building Oracle University and making it work in globally. I learned to say to myself, “We can do this. After all, how hard can it really be?” Now, I explained how this growth mindset had worked beautifully for me and many of my colleagues over the years. Yet steadfast, my colleague reiterated, “Yes, but that is what I need you to stop saying.”

“But why?” I probed.

He paused and said, “Because what we are doing is actually really hard, and I need you to acknowledge that.”

He wasn’t opposed to the idea that our enormous task was doable; he simply wanted me to acknowledge the reality of the challenge and recognize his struggle. He didn’t want me glossing over the challenge with my coat of optimism. So I did admit, “Yes, what we are doing is hard. It is really, really difficult.” I then assured him that I would do my best to stop saying that thing. Meanwhile, in the back of my mind I told myself “Sure, I can stop saying that. After all, how hard can it be?”

Is it possible that a can-do attitude that worked so well for you as an individual contributor may actually work against you as a leader? When you play the role of the optimist, you may undervalue the struggle the team is experiencing or their hard-fought learning and work (or give the impression that you do). Your staff may wonder if you have lost your tether to reality. And, when a leader seldom focuses on the problems, it leaves more junior managers to worry about those risks. In fact, by being too optimistic, you may actually be putting your employees in the role of having to play the “sensible pessimist.” Or worse, you might be sending a message that mistakes and failure are not an option because, after all, “How hard can it be?” And yet wise managers know that mistakes are inevitable, and that failure is just the price of creativity.

Having coached many executives, I know that senior leadership ranks are filled with glass-half-full types (in fact, one might need to be an optimist to cope with the inherent pressure of these positions). Consider how Nike, Inc.’s chief of global design, John Hoke, sparked a transformation in his organization once he realized the restrictive impact his and his management team’s optimism was generating. John gathered his senior leaders for a week-long offsite to explore new thinking in design and how leaders can multiply the talent inside their organization, which I helped facilitate. As I described the profile of the optimistic, creative, energetic leader, John and his team quickly recognized their own reflection and were curious how they might be inadvertently diminishing capability and ingenuity in others. John asked that we pause our agenda to better understand how his own hopeful style of leadership might actually be causing some angst. His team explained the extraordinary pressure they felt to deliver flawless design, every time. With the London Olympics around the corner and a brand promise to sustain, the group insisted that there simply was no room to fail.

With John’s encouragement, we decided to define a space for experimentation. We rapidly laid out their various work scenarios into two buckets: One where failure was OK and the other where success had to be assured. The group debated each until they agreed on every scenario. Within an hour, they had created a playground — a safe space for their teams to struggle and potentially fail without harming their stakeholders or their business. This thinking rippled across Nike’s design community and sparked leaders like Angela Snow, VP of creative operations and Casey Lehner, senior director of global design operations, to introduce the “risk and iterate” performance goal that encouraged each team member to identify something they would take a risk with and then iterate solutions throughout the year. This effort legitimized the possibility of failure and created safety for designers to tackle the scary problems.

John Hoke and his management team didn’t lower their aspirations or become less optimistic about the capabilities of their team. But, by acknowledging the downside and recognizing the messy, iterative path of innovation, they liberated their team to go bigger and reach further.

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Image source: blog.efax.com

Go ahead and be optimistic. But first, be sure to acknowledge the downside so your team is free to explore the upside.

 

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