One of the issues surrounding workplaces and the community is the increase in ambiguity.
I can recall my first role where “Able to manage ambiguity within the business” was in the position description. It was around the Y2K debacle. So … fairly appropriate. Few really knew what was going on or what was going to happen.
It the seemed that ambiguity was the word of the year and something to be proud of. Perhaps in some cases, for leaders in particular, it may be so. But if you want to to get the best from your team, I’d be counselling leaders to provide what certainty they can to those who do the actual work.
Here are some suggestions – there is no rocket science here. It is more a matter of doing the work rather than just acknowledging that this work could be done (but isn’t):
create a weekly newsletter outlining the achievements of the past week and the plans for the coming week
bring team members into the planning process. Allow them to communicate with their teams (no hush-hush meetings)
provide clear and specific feedback regularly, both positive and constructive.
maintain consistency – don’t be one person or type of leader one day and another the next. I had a leader who was like this and we’d message each other in the morning as to her mood! (I also have to admit that have been that leader! 😞)
Create Your Own Certainty
While this applies to us as leaders, it also applies to us within our functional role. What can we do to improve our own level of confidence as to what is happening?
Read the weekly newsletter (!)- and in this case, ask questions, don’t read it passively. It won’t stick. If someone is called out for doing a good job, find out what they did and maybe send them a note of congrats.
Reflect on your perforce of a task – what could you dod different/better next time? This is like feedback but within yourself.
Research information that can bring clarity to your immediate role. Expanding your knowledge allows you to develop a broader context.
Nothing is as bad or as good as it seems – maintain consistency within yourself. Learn not to panic or over react to adverse situations.
The more people are certain of their surroundings and immediate future, the more they can bring their full self to work. This means you are working together on the goal and less on trying to motivate or cajole people into improved performance.
If people are working in ambiguity unnecessarily, they can take actions (or inaction) that becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. Not only does it affect them but also affects the team and the business.
Think of one or two things you can do today that might increase the certainty of those you work and interact with. This can be colleagues, peers, your leader and those you lead as well as friends and family.
Let me know in the comments how you do this. I’d be keen to know. Plus I get to steal all your good ideas! 😉
A new SCARF based staff development/coaching template is now available on the Resources page here.
The template uses the SCARF Model to help leaders determine where their staff are in relation to the five factors in the model. The template uses a rating scale of 1 through 10. This allows a leader to determine granular levels of each factor. You can also use an either/or approach. This means you can assess whether a team member is in threat mode or reward mode.
Look for Trends
It is important to have data to support your views or you may be off on a wild goose chase. Also note, people can have bad days and weeks, so also look for trends over time. A quieter day in the team may simply mean they’ve had an argument with their spouse.
Another aspect is to go a little deeper than outward appearances only. This takes a little more care but you don’t need to be a psychologist. This might be what is referred to as “Will vs Skill”. If a person has the skills to complete a task but doesn’t, then it may be a “will” issue. There may be something internally preventing them.
Will vs Skill
A simple example I have come across many times is sales. People join organisations for a purpose and then sales comes into the role. (Or perhaps it was there all long and they have avoided it). Regardless, they now need to jump on the sales train.
Some people are averse to this approach with customers and avoid it. Leaders will consider all sorts of strategies to win them over.
The point about going deeper is to understand the aversion to sales itself. This may comes down to beliefs, attitudes and habits around the concept of selling. There could be many reasons for this:
family background is adverse to sales people
have been scammed before vowed to never do that to others
don’t want to be seen as a salesperson in the worst sense (many people use the “used car salesperson” metaphor)
Won’t people see me as pushy?
What if people say no? We all hates rejection.
In relation to the SCARF model, this might be seen as a threat and so they may use common behaviours to deal with the threat:
Fight – push back (e.g. why do I have to sell?)
Flight – avoid “selling” and describe is as better customer service (without the required results)
Freeze – reduction in contact with customers (in a contact centre this may look like shortened call times, hanging up on customers)
Flinch – using most of the process with out closing the sale (aka asking for the order)
The point is to assess where your individual team members are on the scale and work towards supporting them to the more beneficial side of the equation.
One of the dilemmas of trainers is in ensuring people to retain and apply the learning they have experienced.
This is one of my bug bears where I don’t want to spend time with a group, get great evaluations and feel they’ve “got it” only to find very little has been applied. I mean, application is the whole point.
I feel there is an open loop to learning that can be easily closed.
It’s back on the job, where the pressure of the work day and volume of requests do their very best to limit the time and effectiveness of embedding the learning.
People want to apply what they have learned because they remember what the benefit is. It’s having the time and clarity of what to do.
To that end, I have created a “Today I Learned” template.
This is a simple tool designed to allow a learner to have conversation on paper to make sure they are closing the loops to their learning.
It starts with a simple:
Today I Learned… and asks the learner to write down what the learning was. It could be a concept (Today I Learned … howto create an effective meeting agenda) to a whole workshop (Today I Learned … CPR).
So Now I Can … It then asks the learner what that means. This clarifies the purpose and benefit of the learning.
So now I can … set up meetings effectively … to help me stay on track.
So now I can … administer CPR if it’s needed … and save someone’s life.
I also suggest writing this in a format where you can explain it to others. This also helps in embedding the information.
But now back to work …
So you’ve just completed the best course you’ve ever attended and you’re keen to get stuck into it back at work (maybe CPR (above) was the wrong example to be keen about! 🙄)
But now, back at work with the pressures and demands, Ebbinghaus’s Forgetting Curve comes into mess things up! Elements are forgotten. We lose confidence and focus on the information just learned. It all becomes too hard and we hope we don’t need to administer CPR for at least 12 months.
To counter this, I’ve added the element of:
But I have questions … this allows the individual to acknowledge they had the training and gained some value. But now what do they do when they need to apply the skills/knowledge? It can all get a bit fuzzy, which means questions will arise.
Do I pull out the checklist first or do I go straight into CPR?
What if I get a stage the wrong way round?
“What if …, What if … What if …”
This section allows the learner to write down what’s in their head. Often in writing it out, the answer will become clear. Other times it may require contact with the trainer. (I’d be more than happy to help clarify concepts with a learner after a workshop. Their effectiveness back at work is the whole point, after all!)
The last two sections are:
What is preventing me: a list of things that might be getting in the way
What I plan to do is: a set of steps to overcome the preventions and create momentum
This is also intended as a coaching plan. Using it with a learner, it helps clarify the issues that are preventing improved performance or blocks to developing a skill. A good coach can work through each section and allow the learner to develop their own solutions.
You can find a copy on the Resources Page. I hope you find it helpful.
I’d be keen to get your thoughts. Have you developed something similar?
The SCARF Model was developed by David Rock in 2008. It may seem a deceptively simple model at first, but it creates a broad range of conversations to help develop you develop as well as the people around you and the team/s you lead.
SCARF stands for Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness.
The model depicts the possible reactions to the 5 areas when threatened or rewarded. In other words, if we recognise or help establish someone’s Status within a team, they will be more engaged. Threaten the Status and they may be less engaged, less productive and a flight risk!
First some definitions:
Status: Concerns an individual’s social standing, where do they fall in the pecking order.
Certainty: our brain’s ability to make accurate predictions about the future. Even if that prediction is that you’re sure you don’t know what’s coming.
Autonomy: The power to exert control over your environment.
Relatedness: feeling connected to other people—in particular people we identify as being similar to us.
Fairness: Humans have a hardwired desire for fairness. We seek a fair exchange of information, services and ideas. We also seek a fair exchange of respect, acknowledgement and a sense that we have been heard.
There is certainly more than one way to apply SCARF but I see benefit in the following:
Delivering SCARF is about providing each element to others. This might be seen as the role of a leader but it applies to anyone.
We can all raise the status of others. Acknowledge them, give them positive feedback, show appreciation, asking them to speak up in a meeting if you know they have something to contribute. It’s not difficult.
How can we provide certainty to our colleagues? What can we say and do that will help them be more confident and sure about the future? What information do you have that would be helpful? Do you have information you don’t fully understand and therefore not share it? If your team are relying on you, you may be putting certainty at risk!
How do we help them build the skills so they can achieve greater autonomy? What guidelines can they can work towards? Do you plan a direct report’s development with providing greater autonomy in mind? Do they know that?
How are we developing our relationships so they know they have something like a “best friend” at work? In the book, 12: The Elements of Great Managing, Wagner and Harter propose that,
“Something about a deep sense of affiliation with the people in an employee’s team drives him (sic) to do positive things for the business he (sic) would not otherwise do.”
To support this, you will likely find, when completing and reviewing exit interviews, the most common expression people provide is, “… the people were great … “
How can we ensure they know they are being treated fairly? This can be hard. Perhaps we use an internal compass. Do you suffer from the “horns or halo effect” where you consciously or, worse, subconsciously play favourites? (Worse be because you may not be aware that you do!)
Another aspect is taking responsibility to develop our own SCARF characteristics. These are similar questions but the responsibility is on ourselves to develop each elements of the model.
How can we raise our own status in order to make a greater contribution?
Can we take steps that will increase our own certainty? What research can we do? Who can we speak within the organisation? Is there product material we could read? All with the aim of being more confident within ourselves and, when the time is right helping others with this information.
Are we learning more about our role and responsibilities to allow greater autonomy because the boss trusts us? What are we demonstrating? What initiative are we showing?
Are we building our relationships with others in the team and across other teams?
Are we treating others fairly? How do we know and what can we do to ensure we meet this expectation?
One of the consequences of failing to consider these elements is staff turnover. I’ve seen this occur and I have been responsible for … fixing it!
I worked in an organisation where we had 40%+ staff turnover. It was just above the top of the industry range. We were turning over our whole staff every two years. As this was the resources industry (Mining & Gas) the cost of this was astronomical. Lose a good person and you had to replace them. If salaries were averaging $150k that meant recruitment costs were between $15k ands $30k. Do the math!
Twelve months later we were at 19%, just below the industry norm!
What did we do?
We increased out connection with your people.
We communicated what opportunities were available internally.
We developed recognition systems that truly valued people’s contribution.
We allowed the team to promote their areas to “recruit” internally.
We redoubled our efforts to remain in contact with people on site. We received feedback that once we placed them, we forgot them. More regular visits and news from “head office” were welcomed, rather than what was happening before. This showed we valued them and their opinions. They were connected to the company and felt part of something bigger. All of a sudden the greener grass elsewhere began to fade. (Status, Certainty, Relatedness)
We made sure they knew what was going on in the company. Many of these people knew colleagues on different projects and sites. And they talked. If we left a gap, they filled it in with their version of the “truth”. We worked to open the communication channels to get ahead of the rumour mill and keep in touch with those at risk. (Relatedness, Certainty)
This was crucial. We developed mechanisms to recognise years of service, outstanding project work and anything else worth a mention. And when a client sent through a compliment, we shared it far and wide. Not just a “thanks” back to the client. (Status, Relatedness, Fairness)
Team PromotionExpo (see note below)
This started off as a beast of a project to organise but was an outstanding success. The premise being an internal expo. Teams were invited to set up stalls to promote what they were doing. “Be as creative as you like”. They promoted what they did at their site and used all sorts of methods to do so. Some showed skills in presentation we didn’t know they had! They let people know what skills they used on site, what skills were still needed or would be needed soon. This allowed others who were rolling off projects to look at options internally. This was a huge relief to many, as they didn’t want to go on to the open market. Having roles come up internally provided a great deal of peace of mind. And those needing the skills, gained people who knew the culture and the basics of the project already, this limiting a downturn in project productivity. (Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, Fairness)
Admittedly, we can reverse engineer any successful strategy. However, looking at what we accomplished without SCARF in mind, demonstrates the benefits of the model. The principles hold true.
Reviewing these tactics, and how they significantly impacted turnover, provides a template for what to do across a number of critical organisational strategies.
Imagine your team. Imagine their performance mapped along a bell curve. It’s likely you’ll have a fairly common distribution.
You’ll have some at the right hand side, killing it. Mostly having good days, weeks and months. A good proportion will be in the mid range. What Kim Scott in Radical Candor* calls Rockstars! (Ch. 3, p 43). And on the left hand side of the bell curve are those who are not quite making it.
It’s these team members I want to address here because I have done what I’m about to describe (to my shame). If you make these mistakes it will cost you time, money, productivity and customer service.
The good news is … it’s all avoidable!
Mistake OnE: Fixed vs growth mindset!
Not theirs, yours! As coaches we can have an opinion of a direct report that they:
will not come to terms with a change
have always been this way
will never change
With this mindset, how do you think the coaching will go? Even if you are determined to be a good, objective and supportive coach, can you overcome the mindset? I’d suggest it’s harder than we think. I know most, if not all, coaches don’t want to be in this situation.
How to change the mindset to coach effectively?
As always, the following is going to depend a lot on your relationship with the individual. If you have a good, respectful relationship, options open up.
Have a conversation with your direct report and be open about your concerns.
Be open about you own thoughts and ask them for help – it may be more of a molehill than the mountain you’ve imagined.
Even if they agree with you, don’t take the easy way out too quickly. That’s just a path of least resistance. Stay with them and work with them on the solution. This is, in part, how you become a good/great coach. It’s when others look at your results and wonder :“How the hell did you get through to them? I’ve been trying for years!”
Dig deeper into what could be the learning, attitudinal or habitual issue. Many times we have performance issues due to a habit or belief. We don’t realise it because it’s in the subconscious. You don’t need to be a psychologist or therapist. Learn to ask good questions.
Over to you: what would you suggest?
Mistake Two: Average is the Enemy
Let’s imagine for a moment we have a person working for us who is on the left had side of the middle of the bell curve: they are considered a low performer.
At a minimum, we’d like them to hit the middle line. We’d like them to meet the goals of the role. We help them do this though coaching, performance management, counselling, training. A myriad of technologies.
Some people take to this like a duck to water. A little bit of coaching and development and they close the gap. Others take longer, like crawling across cut glass.
But let’s assume a happy ending and the performance gap closes.
What happens now?
What normally happens when we coach someone from the left hand side to the middle? From low performance to acceptable performance?
We stop the coaching and start monitoring and supporting.
We have just coached a below average performer to be … average!
The result being they will hover between just below and just above the acceptable level. As a leader we will deem this “okay”. Or, worse, we will be watching them like a hawk to re-start the performance management process again. That’ll make them feel comfortable! 😉
Why stop there?
You’ve just helped someone improve their performance. They may be keen to go further, to become a high performer.
What are your next steps?
Here are some thoughts.
Continue to engage with them about broadening their skills around particular aspects of the role. Aspects they may be able to improve quickly.
If it’s sales and service, help them with questioning and listening skills. Role play tough situations. Help them get comfortable with higher performance, so it becomes the new norm for them. So even with some dip in performance, they’ll still be above average!
Continue to provide feedback when they do something (positive) they hadn’t done before.
Partner them with a high performance colleague who has a bent for coaching and developing others. (Caution: some high performers hit their targets because they are left alone to get on with their work. Unless developing others is part of their development, I’d avoid these, at least at first! Again, first hand experience!)
Get them to log their achievements. It’s not an extra task, journaling is a very effective way of improving performance. This helps them reinforce their progress. These insights can also be used as tools in coaching sessions when looking to help them replicate good practices and habits.
Over to you: What have you seen work effectively?
As a coach we need to own our actions and mindsets. These mistakes cost you, the direct report and the company, money and misery.
As I confessed earlier, I’ve made these errors. (And maybe it’s just me!)
A common phrase these days is #IYKYK (if you know, you know).
Be on the lookout for your own mindset and, when you’re coaching someone who’s below par, enjoy the process of coaching them to high performance, not just average.
What have been your experiences? Have you seen this/done this? Prepared to share? 😉
I’ve been working with a business group over the past few months. We start off each session with 3 things we are grateful for. It can be a challenge at times. Some people don’t know what to write. Some think it’s corny. Some draw a blank and feel like they may be failing. Others just don’t care for it. To be honest, I find it hard sometimes.
I’ve been thinking a little deeper into my my model of life: Bamboo SL. One thing that has been missed in the model is the influence of feelings and how they drive us toward or away from things. They are kind of there but need to be brought more to the surface so I’m working on that. Stay tuned.
On the subject of feelings, gratitude is part of that. I thought it would be useful, rather than to try to think of things from the top of my head, I’d start to document what I am grateful for. And to document from both the physical and non physical aspect.
Let me know what you think.
The image above is of one of our spare rooms. It is also the room our granddaughter sleeps in when she sleeps over.
The point is to illustrate how I am learning to have gratitude.
This is the spare room. I’m grateful we have the room because it means Alex can sleep over. Having Alex sleep over means we get to see her develop and have fun with her. She is a super articulate kid. She’s got a bit of cheek and quite often she’ll come out with words and phrases we don’t expect a kid of four to have learnt (Not cuss words, normal words like “Grandad, I am very frustrated at the moment!”) I’m grateful for that too.
The pictures on the wall have been created by my daughter and my sister. I love the paintings and am reminded how talented they are. Each time I see my daughter’s painting (on the left) I get a real sense of warmth and love for her. It’s a relatively simple painting but is also quite expressive and a joyful image.
The picture by my sister is also quite playful and bright. It’s a cheerful image for which I am also grateful. It’s also a but quirky, like my sister! 😉
The bedspread was made by my wife. She has created a few of these and they are projects in themselves. We actually bought a cabinet to store them all! It takes, patience and an eye for colour and coordination. It’s a work of art in itself. I am of no help at all but the kids get involved and it becomes a team effort.
Lastly, on the side table on the right hand side of the bed is a small drawing of boats. It’s by my grandmother, Portia Bennett, who was a well regarded artist in her day. I have a few of her paintings.
And so, from one room, I can highlight quite a few things I am grateful for. The physical items have meaning for me as do the people associated with them. There is a lot of talent in the family and also the fact that people will do things for others to help make life a little nicer. And they bring joy to me and those who receive them – if we’ll slow down and recognise that.
If you are struggling to find things to give gratitude for, can I suggest an exercise?
Go through each room and list the items in the room. Perhaps just list the items at first. Maybe in a notebook down the side a page. And then, over time or when the thought strikes you, write alongside the item what you are grateful for.
What does the item do for you? How does it, or what it does or maybe just infers, make you feel? Could you be grateful for that?
Yes, be that guy! (or girl) in the sense of being the person you want to be.
I don’t mean in a new age, woo-woo manner (though there’s nothing wrong with that either!) What I mean is taking the time to define who and what you want to be in your best role or current role.
How do you see yourself at the moment?
A simple analogy: look in a mirror. Do you like what you see? This doesn’t mean you need to hate what you see or what you are. Just look and see what you’d like to change.
If you don’t think the shirt goes with the dress, change one of them. If you need a new hairstyle, go to a hairdresser.
Now work on the real you: do you get angry easily? How can you address that?
When you give presentations, are you cool and calm and enjoy the process or are you all nerves and flustered? How can you address that?
How do you talk to yourself? Are you encouraging yourself or berating yourself? How can you address that?
There is a saying to “find the job you love”. If you have done that, greatI If not, great: “love the job you find!”
More importantly, “love the ‘you’ you find!”
The ball is in your court.
And here’s a simple way to start moving further along the achievement line.
Grab a piece of paper.
Step One: List down up to 5 things you really want to address.
Step Two: Now pick one of those items you’d like to work on first (or select the one that will provide you the biggest improvement)
Step Three: Using the item you have selected list down up to 3-5 things about it that you do well, or want to do well. For example, if you selected “talk well to yourself”, what 5 things could you do (or are doing) that supports the notion of you being productive?
Step Four: Looking at those 5 items, select one that will give you the biggest bang for your buck.
Write that one down, or highlight it.
Here’s the fun part:
Step Five: Action: What will you do, each day, to develop that item?
List 5 things you want to improve on: presentation skills, meditation, pause before reacting, highlight strengths of others, reflect gratitude
List 3-5 things you do, or want to do, that will help you be more mindful: start mediating in the morning, read books on the benefits of mindfulness, write “be more mindful” in a conspicuous place, remove distractions (social media?)
Biggest bang: start meditating in the morning – will set me up for the day as well as reducing social media in the morning (double win!)
Action: segment my morning routine to allow 10 minutes for meditating, download an app, add to calendar.
While the process above may appear simple, the critical factor is moving towards being the person you want to be.
Following something relatively simple like this will help you see progress and, if you miss an opportunity, you will be able to quickly get back on track.