Evolve Your Team
Evolve or Perish
Susan* is the head of a medium-sized organization in the United States. She came on to lead the organization and inherited a leadership team. She immediately noticed that there were some people who were not in the right place. However, she didn’t want to turn the organization on its ear when she first arrived – she had some major priorities she wanted to achieve and large-scale change would simply delay her priorities. She wanted to use the momentum of her new leadership position to get traction on her priorities. So, she decided not to go through the process of removing leaders. Instead, she made a few swaps to make sure strong leaders were in charge of the business lines that would support her priorities.
Despite her swaps, there was one leader whose leadership style was so incongruent with the values and culture of the organization that she was always fielding complaints about him from his subordinates and peers. Susan, and her Chief of Staff both tried numerous times to address the issues as they popped up real time. However, the executive seemed to be gaslighting them – the executive would interpret things in a completely different way than was intended. She wasn’t sure if the total miscommunication was a deliberate tactic or that she just wasn’t saying things in a way he would understand.
She ultimately came to me looking for a translator. Being unable to communicate with and manage this executive was her ONE THING. If she could tell ME what her issues with the executive were and I could help the executive understand and correct the behavior, her ONE THING would be resolved and she could focus all of her energy on her priorities.
When I first reached out to the executive, Ben*, to introduce myself, it didn’t take long to understand exactly the frustration Susan was feeling. However, Ben was just as grateful to have a translator and we quickly built up a rapport. I was able to share the blunt, no-room-for-misunderstanding translation of Susan’s asks while also helping Ben transition his leadership style from command-and-control to collaborative.
We had many conversations where I was giving him practical tips on how to address a specific issue on his own team using collaborative, coaching leadership techniques – instead of cutting his people out of the process and doing it himself or assigning someone else. He regularly shared with me his successes with the pride of a schoolboy.
As we moved further down the road, I realized that his organization was at the tail end of a business model transformation and there was a lack of clarity on where they were headed next. We both agreed that the ambiguity related to the lack of vision was contributing to some of the issues on his team.
I shared my ABCDE strategic planning process with him and we started planning how I could help him co-create a vision with the organization through focus groups, surveys, and other communications.
Using constructive conflict and some real-talk, I was able to help set a seemingly doomed executive up for continued success and bring his team along. While it will take a while for all of the directors to forgive, forget, and truly trust the executive, we are well on our way to a much healthier organization – and all levels of the organization are committed to moving forward for the benefit of the business.
Declan* runs a regional office in the North East of the United States and came to me because his employee engagement scores were low, especially compared to his organizational metrics, which were some of the best in the organization, per capita. He wanted to make sure there wasn’t a hidden issue he was too close to see. He admitted that during all-hands meetings there was very little interaction with the workforce – people rarely spoke up or asked questions.
He tried the typical “pizza party” type engagement activities to no avail – they were poorly attended and received eye rolls from the workforce.
He tried bringing in other external consultants who swopped in, facilitated sessions without gaining the organizational context needed to make a lasting change, collected their check, and swooped back out again, never to be heard from again.
He finally reached out to me because he had tried everything else. He couldn’t figure out the root cause to his engagement problem and was afraid it was going to start negatively impacting his productivity metrics – or that his best and brightest employees would leave.
The first thing I did was listen. I listened to what the perceived problem and pain point was – his ONE THING. As I learned more about his situation, I started creating a custom plan of attack for his issues. Given the obvious hidden causes in this situation, I recommended that I spend several hours (over 80) interviewing all key individuals/ stakeholders in this problem. He wasn’t sure I’d be able to get honest answers because nobody was willing to speak up to him. But I assured him that it was one of my superpowers.
As I held 40 hour-long one-on-one interviews, I heard all kinds of things – from personal issues that didn’t rise to an organizational problem, to several root cause “themes” that did need to be addressed so the organization could move forward and increase engagement. Note – not one of the solutions included a pizza party of any kind.
When I arrived for my week onsite, I finished up my final one-on-one interviews and began engaging with the leadership team to start sharing my findings and planning the all-hands workshop. The work with the leadership team was the most important.
We spent time talking about the findings and how employee perception is reality, regardless of leadership intent. We also discussed all of the positives of the workforce and overcame some preconceived notions that might have been coloring the way people reacted to each other. Leadership had to accept responsibility for where things were today and take ownership of fixing it. They also needed private time to react, roll their eyes, admit to having their feelings hurt, etc. before we engaged with the entire workforce, where they had to be humble and supportive.
During the full-day facilitation with the whole workforce, a lot of difficult conversations were put out on the table and leadership (with my help and guidance) created a safe space for people to share their opinions and recommendations.
By the end of the session, we did a reflection round-robin. One of the best real-time results was that one of the most cynical senior employees, who could rally others behind her cause, took responsibility for her attitude out in the open and committed to working on that moving forward.
Since our engagement, I occasionally get phone call updates or questions from both front-line employees and leadership. There are tangible results for several of the root causes we identified. And, those results were obtained collaboratively between the workforce and leadership. The next engagement scores went up as well and I know that as they continue working together and putting the issues out on the table to collaboratively solve, the scores will continue to improve.
Do you have…
accomplish everything you needed them to accomplish?