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.
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.
I was speaking with an ex-colleague a few months ago, and they shared with me something that happened to her at work.
Her supervisor told her to “… get a growth mindset. You have a fixed mindset and you need a growth mindset!” Her response, not sure if it was verbal or just to herself, was, “My mindset is my own business!”
Telling is not developing!
It made me think of how we assess others. When I think of fixed vs growth mindset I apply it to myself. What areas do I need to grow in? (still looking at you, touch-typing!)
But this interaction made me think how managers and leaders (and co-workers for that matter) consider those around them. Do they have a fixed mindset about others, even if they have a growth mindset about themselves?
Does considering oneself to have a growth mindset, create a level of false superiority over those one thinks have fixed mindset. I say false, because anyone with a true growth mindset would be considerate of others and work with them, not talk down to, or about, them.
Consider terms like:
that’s the good old Tom we know
she’ll never change
they’ve always been like that
you need to have a good think about your future (meaning someone is fixed in their current situation)
If we are in a fixed mindset about others, our coaching and interactions will bear this out. We will coach with a limited view of achieving outcomes. Because “they’ll never change” we don’t look for alternative solutions or coaching methods. And even if we do sometimes, it’s simply to prove they can’t change! The good old, “I’ve tried everything!” approach (personal experience!).
If we are providing feedback to our manager on our team’s performance, our report will be governed by our view of them. This goes both ways, by the way. It’s called the “horns and halo” effect.
There is a great video on the Ladder of Inference by Cheryl Williams. Suffice to say, we behave in accordance with our assumptions of others.
And then, what do you do when you’re in this situation? It can be difficult to change our views because we have built up such database of evidence in coming to our conclusions assumptions. We develop blindspots to what people do well, so their fixed mindset behaviours are highlighted while their growth mindset behaviours are diminished.
We absolutely need a growth mindset around our own performance.
We also, perhaps more importantly, need to have a growth mindset with our colleagues, direct reports and those we interact with at work.
Photo Credit: Photo by Akil Mazumder on Pexels.com
This one is straight from James Clear‘s email I received last week.
When doing performance reviews (let’s accept for a minute they are a good thing and well executed), staff often ask how they can achieve higher than the average (aka, doing the job).
I have come across a few managers who aren’t prepared to have this conversation. My conclusion is managers are afraid staff will seek ways to achieve what they have said and will be forced to give higher ratings. That’s just … weird!
I think James sums up the higher scales nicely: (italics are my comments):
The 3 Levels of Employees:
Level 1 — You do what you are asked to do. (This is “doing your job.”)
Level 2 — Level 1 + You think ahead and solve problems before they happen. (I don’t think this applies to the immediate job. That would be considered continuous improvement or identifying something that needs to be fixed to do the job properly.)
Level 3 — Level 2 + You proactively look for areas of opportunity and growth in the business, and figure out how to tap into them. (This is organisational or department-wide. Maybe seeing a significant risk to the business and developing a solution.)
If a company is going to have rating scales, companies (i.e. managers) need to be able to have a conversation about the scales and how to achieve them.
Note 1: For the record, if you do conduct Performance Reviews, they really should be just regular conversations summarising what both parties already know.
Note 2: I am trying to improve my writing and was taught (eons ago) that if you have the word “that” near the beginning of a sentence, you can actually delete everything up to and including the “that” and the sentence will still make perfect sense, and likely be more clear.
Here is paragraph 3 (above) in it’s original state:
What really mystifies me is that I have come across few managers who are even prepared to have this conversation. My conclusion is they are afraid staff will then go seeking to achieve exactly what they have said and then they will be forced to give higher ratings.