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Last December, I was involved in a series of conversations with senior executives of large multinationals that were answering in a way or another the key question of: What is the role of an HR team in an organization?
I took a consultant’s approach while answering this question and identified the key levers that would influence the function of Human Resources in an organization; Continued to key drivers within and prioritization of them.
With a couple of months working on the “correct” answer to the question (which can be anything from purely functional to almost spiritual), I decided to use Technology as a common thread for the changes this field has had in organizations over time.
The field of Human Resources can be divided into two basic areas:
- Personnel management focusing on administrative and legal processes associated with employment of people. This includes things such as managing payroll, providing health care benefits, and handling the administrative and legal details associated with establishing and terminating employment contracts. I like to refer to this as the basic care and feeding of employees.
- Business execution focusing on talent management processes associated with aligning the workforce to deliver business results. Business execution is often described as “getting the right people in the right jobs doing the right things.” You might also add “in a way that supports the right development for what we want people to do tomorrow.” I refer to this as maximizing and sustaining workforce productivity.
Personnel management is critical to organizational performance but it is not seen as strategic. For example, while it is difficult to motivate employees if their paychecks don’t show up, paying people on time is not going to give a company competitive advantage.
In this sense, personnel management is similar to other crucial support services such as processing expense reports, maintaining e-mail systems, or managing building facilities. The personnel management side of HR typically gets little attention from line of business leaders unless it fails to work.
Business execution represents the strategic side of HR. HR’s ability to increase business execution is the primary reason why HR matters to operations leaders.
Line leaders rarely ask personnel management questions such as “how do I ensure people get paid on time?” They often ask business execution questions such as “how do I get people aligned around the company’s strategic goals?” If HR leaders want greater influence with the CEO and his/her direct reports then being good at business execution is how they will get it.
Why HR struggles to deliver business execution
If line leaders care so much about business execution then why are HR organizations so often viewed as administrative functions consumed with personnel management issues? If HR can help operations leaders “get employees to do what they need them to do,” then why aren’t these leaders proactively reaching out to HR executives for help implementing business strategies? The answers to these questions hinge on an HR department’s ability to truly drive increased levels of business execution.
One reason HR organizations struggle when it comes to business execution is, it is harder to support than personnel administration. Personnel administration is largely about implementing well defined and efficient processes (e.g., ensuring the proper information is collected when enrolling employees in a health care benefits program). In contrast, business execution requires predicting and changing employee behavior (e.g., identifying employees who have the potential to become future business leaders and giving them assignments that allow them to realize this potential).
Predicting and changing behavior is hard. Two things are required for an HR organization to effectively support business execution.
- Expertise — The HR organization must have expertise in methods for predicting and changing employee behavior. For example, understanding how to use goals to motivate employee performance or being able to measure employee performance in a way that allows the company to accurately predict future potential.
- Implementation — The HR organization must be able to efficiently deploy its business execution expertise across the organization. It does not matter if the HR department knows how to increase employee performance if the department cannot effectively share this knowledge with the line leaders who actually manage employees.
How technology enables HR to evolve to business execution
Technology has and continues to play a pivotal role in enabling HR organizations to move from personnel management to business execution. To illustrate this process, let’s take a look at four different “generations” of HR that have emerged over the past 20 plus years.
- Pre 1990: Generation “Personnel Administration.” Prior to 1990, many HR organizations were almost entirely focused on personnel administration. This was due in part to the sheer amount of time required to manage administrative HR processes before the widespread implementation of HR automation technology. In fact, prior to 1990 many HR organizations were not even called “human resources.” Instead, they had titles such as Office of Personnel Administration or Personnel Department. The main focus of HR in this generation was on how to efficiently process employee paperwork.
- 1990 to 2000: Generation “Human Resources.” Two things happened in the 1990s that led to personnel management being redefined as “human resources.” First, implementation of ERP technology significantly reduced the time needed to perform administrative HR tasks. This freed up HR organizations to focus more on business execution topics. This led to significant advances in the expertise found within HR related to predicting and changing employee behavior. Many of the talent management techniques we now take for granted were largely developed in the 90s (e.g., action learning, competency modeling, structured interviewing, goal setting).
Second, the widespread adoption of personal computers made it possible for HR organization to utilize more sophisticated talent management techniques to support key talent decisions. For example, using computer based tools for and forms for evaluating employee performance and assessing job candidates. Throughout the 90s the focus of HR steadily shifted beyond personnel management to include processes designed to improve the quality of workforce decisions (e.g., determining who to hire, proactively managing employee turnover, or using job goals to drive employee development).
- 2001 to 2010: Generation “Talent Management.” Widespread adoption of Internet systems in the 2000s allowed HR organization to more efficiently share data across what had previously been independent HR processes. For example, automatically importing data collected during the hiring process into systems used to support employee development and management or the creation of an employee profile that truly represents the employee’s life cycle from beginning to end,
Greater access to data enabled HR to shift from focusing on specific employee decisions to aligning talent management processes. No longer was HR limited to being a series of isolated silos focusing on staffing, training, compensation and succession. Now HR could function as a set of integrated talent management processes designed to ensure a steady supply of high performing talent in critical job roles.
- 2011 to ?: Generation “Business Execution.” As companies increasingly adopt cloud computing applications, HR organizations are spending less time maintaining in-house talent management tools and more time on how to most effectively use these tools to increase workforce productivity. The shift to the cloud also enables HR technology vendors to invest more resources into creating highly scalable, user friendly applications that embed HR expertise in tools that are accessible to line managers. This should allow HR professionals to shift their energy from managing processes to actively supporting business execution. HR is focusing less on simply keeping track of who employees are, and more on ensuring these employees are being used effectively to support the company’s short and long-term business strategies.
The impact that cloud based business execution technology has on HR can be likened to the impact that global positioning satellite (GPS) technology has on the use of street maps. It allows companies to take information off of shelves where it was rarely accessed and put it in the hands of decision makers when they need it in a format they can readily use. The result is an increasing number of HR organizations that are fundamentally and profoundly improving how line managers run their businesses.
Turning HR into a Business Execution department
While technology plays a critical role in enabling the transformation of HR from personnel management to business execution, technology by itself does not create this change. HR leaders must effectively use this technology to drive more business relevant conversation with line leaders.
Rather than asking operations leaders about HR topics such as employee engagement or leadership development, HR professionals must start conversations by asking line leaders about what it is they need people to do. What kinds of people do they need in the company to support the company’s growth strategies? What do they need employees to do differently tomorrow from what they are doing today to effectively drive new business initiatives?
Running a business requires doing three things:
- Defining Strategy — Figuring out what you need to do to succeed.
- Managing assets — Securing the capital & resources required to support the strategy.
- Driving business execution – Building and managing the workforce to effectively leverage company assets to deliver strategic objectives
Defining strategy is commonly owned by the CEO and marketing. Managing assets is often owned by finance and supply chain. HR, for perhaps the first time in its history, now has both the knowledge and tools needed to play a true leadership role in driving business execution.
The next step is for HR leaders to take ownership of this role. We have the tools and knowledge, we just need the courage and conviction to use them.
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As the workschedule goes around the clock I have little time to collect thoughts. Its more of a time of doing. Yet, I bumped into this quote from Meryl Strip. Captures the feeling, doesn’t it?
“I no longer have patience for certain things, not because I’ve become arrogant, but simply because I reached a point in my life where I do not want to waste more time with what displeases me or hurts me. I have no patience for cynicism, excessive criticism and demands of any nature. I lost the will to please those who do not like me, to love those who do not love me and to smile at those who do not want to smile at me. I no longer spend a single minute on those who lie or want to manipulate. I decided not to coexist anymore with pretense, hypocrisy, dishonesty and cheap praise. I do not tolerate selective erudition nor academic arrogance. I do not adjust either to popular gossiping. I hate conflict and comparisons. I believe in a world of opposites and that’s why I avoid people with rigid and inflexible personalities. In friendship I dislike the lack of loyalty and betrayal. I do not get along with those who do not know how to give a compliment or a word of encouragement. Exaggerations bore me and I have difficulty accepting those who do not like animals. And on top of everything I have no patience for anyone who does not deserve my patience.” _ Meryl Streep
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Assumptions, Hypothesis, Lean, Product, Startup
In the last few weeks I have had the chance to consolidate some of the tools I have seen to initiate projects in the area of management consulting and technology. And the reality is, that although the Philosophy behind them and the lingo in front of them is quite not the same (the industries although very different are not opposing – for all of them you need a large amount of post it notes) the main principles of these tools are basicly the same:
1. Understand the problem/need that you are to solve for your client/customer
2. Structure your thoughts around the problem and see them from every angle trying not to miss anything.
3. Come up with an hypothesis to solve the problem or need that is addressed
4. Test it and either implement or go back to your sketching board.
In any case, thes use of so many of these tools in the last week have made me pick a current favourite, which interestingly enough is not one of the latest tools that the cool kids shared with me recently. It’s something a bit older that even if it still looks a little casual for corporate use, I think it can get a project ahead just because well… it’s very slick and smart. Yes, I am talking about the Lean startup Machine’s Validation Board, and here she is… Ta-ta!
According to Grace Ng, the VP of Design at LSM, the project’s goal was to “help entrepreneurs all over the world get out of the building and talk to customers.” Ng explains that “so many products fail because they aren’t solving a problem that customers care enough about.” That right there, understanding consumer need, is the difference between helping people with a useful product and a redundant flop.
As you’d expect, the Validation Board essentialy helps startups implement Lean Startup practices into their everyday processes. It’s not an instant ticket to success, but it’ll help entrepreneurs validate their best ideas and if you ask me, you can use it also for a Turnover project as long as you keep the EBIT impact in focus.
So how do you go about using it?
1. Start with hypotheses about your problem and customers. – A common mistake is starting with a solution. But solutions are worthless if the problem isn’t a real problem. .As for your customers, choose a “segment” rather than a demographic: not travelers ages 20-30, but maybe people who travel to gain cultural understanding. That allows you to craft a specific solution for a similar group, rather than a diverse group of people who happen to be the same age or gender.
2. List core assumptions about the problem. – For example, list why it’s a problem. If you think tourists have a problem finding local places to visit, is it because they don’t speak the language? Because other websites lead them to tourist traps? Or everything’s too expensive? Depending on the answer, the ultimate solution will be different.
3. Test your riskiest assumption. - For example, you might riskily assume that people want to see non-tourist traps. So “get out of the building,” hit the streets, and start offering free tours. Do people get excited about your neighborhood cafe, or are they clamoring for the Coit Tower? Ask them why they’re willing to follow you around. At one Lean Startup Machine workshop, a team actually went out and collected DNA samples, defying protestations by the judges that people would keep their saliva to themselves.
In the tech context, the key here is not building a product yet; you’re just testing; or in the management consulting context, don’t start with your PNL just yet. People really overestimate, ‘- Oh, I need to build it, I need a team. There’s no way I’ll ever be able to learn this without building it.- And it’s just wrong. It’s not true, Both consultants with an MBA and top developers are expensive people and will rarely be willing to work for free or long into the night for an idea that’s not already thought through.
For those that really need to see “it”, my good friend @cjcheshire is turning into one of the voices setting the tone around prototyping. Follow him to see how codeless magic can happen.
4. Look for a “minimum success criterion.” - This is the lowest possible response that will validate your assumption. For example, for the impromptu tour guide, it might be that 10 percent of people are willing and happy to take your quirky tour. Or, even better, that 10 percent of people are willing to give up something, like an email address for future updates. If your assumption is validated, test the next riskiest assumption; if it’s invalidated, your problem hypothesis is wrong, so come up with a new one. And so on.
The validation board may not be a magic bullet – it can’t come up with problems and solutions for you – but it can save you lots of wasted time and money. Oh… and it is so pretty and for free here.
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While recruiters continue to gain skills in search techniques, candidates are elusive and wary of getting unsolicited emails, InMails, and efforts to get them engaged with your firm on Facebook or LinkedIn. Anyone can understand that.
Recruiters, especially not corporate recruiters that have to rely more heavily on their network’s growth potential should also be much smarter about how they find and engage with candidates. A really good candidate has no need for trivial engagement with you and knows that he or she can easily find another position.
The best recruiters use a targeted strategy to identify which candidates are most likely to not only have the skills their organization needs, but which ones are staying current in their field, are learning new skills, and which ones are motivated to work hard.
Younger candidates are attracted to firms that offer access to learning opportunities and older candidates are anxious to gain current, relevant skills.
There may be no better way to do this than to look in-depth at what MOOCs have to offer.
MOOCs (Massive, Open Online Courses) have been growing in popularity for some time. These are college-level courses that are mostly free, and enrollment is quick and easy. They are offered by top schools such as MIT, Stanford, and Harvard (personally have taken on several of them and I am very satisfied) as well as by a number of firms that provide their own courses, developed by experts. Enrollments in MOOCs have soared over the past few years and as of last October the largest provider, Coursera, had enrolled five million, and edX, a partnership between Harvard, Berkeley, and MIT, had more than 1.3 million.
Sourcing With MOOCs
One MOOC provider, Udacity, also offers a program where recruiters can access student resumes. Firms like Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Twitter have paid Udacity and Coursera to match them with high-performing students.
Most of the courses have online forums where students engage in conversation. A corporate recruiter can use these as a way meet candidates and assess their skills. Some of these participants will be recent grads with little experience but who are fast, motivated learners. If you can get your hiring managers to take part, they might be attracted to one or more of them.
Screening With MOOCs
While completion rates are low, those who do finish a course are often the most motivated and have demonstrated their ability to stick with a task to completion.
A number of recruiters are starting to consider candidates who have completed a MOOC. Anyone who has completed a course, or a series of courses, most likely has the same knowledge as someone who attended the brick-and-mortar version. Some of these courses are better taught online than in a classroom because they encourage interactive discussions, require homework, and get students engaged in collaborative projects. A participant’s ability to collaborate and their contribution to the discussions can provide insights into their eventual work habits.
Engaging Candidates With MOOCs
You might want to think about going one step further and consider partnering with your training or development function to develop your own course. This would not only meet the desires of Gen Y to gain new skills, but would also provide an authentic way to engage with potential candidates.
Sites like Udemy, Moodle, Udacity, and others allow organizations to create their own private courses. These can attract potential candidates and provide a platform for engagement that is authentic and useful to the candidate and your firm. If you can involve hiring managers, as well as fellow employees, you will have one more high-quality source of candidates.
Or, you can choose to sponsor a course offered by a university and use it as a way to find new candidates as well as to learn about the capabilities of potential candidates. AT&T and other organizations are already sponsoring courses for their own employees using MOOCs. There is no reason this could not be expanded to include potential employees.
A staffing firm for the creative industry, Aquent, has already started offering free classes using MOOCs to attract candidates and develop their skills before placing them. This has increased the supply of candidates, ensures quality, and is a selling point to hiring managers.
Improve Retention With MOOCs
Gen Y in particular expects that the firm they work for will provide them with development, learning opportunities, and mentors. One of the reasons often given for leaving a job is lack of opportunity and lack of development. Formal training is expensive and small startups do not have the cash or time to invest in training or a staff to provide it. MOOCs can provide a cost effective (usually free) way to encourage engagement and retain good employees.
If you do not have the capacity to build your own courses, there are a growing number available. A website called MOOC-list lists of all the courses now offered on MOOCs.
The MOOCs revolution is here and 2014 will be a year when those who pioneer how to use them for recruitment will be able to reap benefits for many years to come. Take some time and learn more about them, enroll in a course, and get a hiring manager involved.
A significant number of companies worldwide use some form of assessment centre methodology to evaluate candidates for recruitment, development and promotion – and most seem satisfied with the process. But is that confidence misplaced? Recent studies suggest it may be.
First, a definition: An assessment centre is a methodology (not a location) in which participants are run through a variety of job-related exercises while trained assessors evaluate their behaviors. Created at Harvard, implemented by German intelligence in WWI, refined by the British and Americans in WWII, and legitimized for business by IBM in the 1950s, the assessment centre has long been held in high regard by HR professionals as an unbiased way to predict candidates’ future performance.
The methodology has served well for many years. Studies between 1966 and 2007 showed an incremental validity of about .40 over other methods such as cognitive ability tests, personality assessments, and interviews. This means that about 20% of job performance could be explained by results from the assessment center. Having such a strategic window into the future for organizations has been a real advantage for their talent management processes.
But a recent meta-analysis has found the validity of assessment centers to have fallen to about .27, which ranks below the predictive value of other, less sophisticated methods. This is clearly a concern as organizations can easily spend upwards of 6,000 USD per participant and more on these types of interventions.
What is contributing to this decline? There appear to be a number of factors at work:
- Pressure to reduce costs – While organizations recognize and have benefited from the assessment centre approach and methodology, there is significant pressure to find ways to be more efficient and cost effective in their recruiting practices. This has led to corner cutting and a disregard for best practices. There has been an alarming trend in the use of “assembly line” or “off the shelf” approaches that have commoditized this valuable process.
- Unqualified assessors – More and more professionals claim to offer this type of service without having the proper credentials. And when companies try to take the service in-house, most lack the appropriate training and resources (not to mention, time) to do the job properly.
- Irrelevant competency frameworks – Talent competency models need to be refreshed. Many organizations are working off of frameworks that have been around for three or more years or they are electing to use off-the-shelf models. Either way, they need to assess whether or not the capabilities in these models are reflective of what success looks like in their organizations today and where the organization is moving strategically.
- Outdated delivery modes – Traditional methods of administering the evaluations simply do not align to the virtual, real-time nature of today’s professional jobs. Many organizations still employ a “paper/pencil” approach where participants are handed instructions for an exercise or asked to respond to a series of paper memos. Such an approach damages the relevance of the experience from a candidate standpoint.
Increasingly I see the impact of these factors in failed assessment programs and with participants who have had bad experiences and are skeptical whether they will get valuable insights from another assessment. How can organizations refresh their assessment center methodology to create a more realistic experience for candidates and gain relevant insights for their leadership development efforts? Time for a Fresh Approach.
In order to confront these challenges head on, I believe the first step is the integration of technology. Technology has become integral to today’s world of work and it is important that the setup of assessment centers capitalize on the latest advancements to create a more realistic experience for candidates. Properly applied, technology provides:
- Distributed delivery and scalability to help reduce costs
- Standardization and control to solve quality issues
- Contemporary diagnostic tools to regain relevance
Technology-enabled assessment center tools could provide a much more realistic experience – one that “feels right” to participants since it incorporates the everyday digital tools that businesses run on, such as computers, email systems, and so on. The ultimate goal of an assessment center should be to mirror a “day in the life” of the target role from the participant’s perspective.
Another important step is to conduct a proper job analysis to define the key success factors to be measured during the assessment center. Simply electing to go with an off-the-shelf assessment or standardized benchmark is a recipe for irrelevant results. To reliably predict something as complex as human behavior it is imperative to thoroughly analyze what “success looks like” in the target role within the organization. High performance is organizationally specific … meaning that the success criteria for a position in one organization may be very different from the same position in another company (in my career the consultants joining a top consulting firm, would miserably fail to join another top consulting firm, even in similar functional expertise). This seems to be the fundamental issue with leveraging a standardized benchmark for talent assessment.
For an organization get the most from its investment in assessment center methodology, consider the following:
- Ensure your benchmark for success is relevant and up to date by doing a thorough job analysis on the target role
- Use exercises that reflect today’s world of work and have the proper integration of technology and virtual business challenges
- Deploy tracking mechanisms that allow you to correlate the results of the assessment with on-the-job performance and continually improve the process over time (Definitely looking forward to experiment on this one)
If you decide to engage an assessment provider, determine how they are able to ensure the proper discipline is applied in all steps of the assessment process from job analysis and success profiling, to administration and evaluation, through to feedback and coaching. Ask yourself: is the process truly being fitted for my organization? This is critical for effective decision-making and impactful results for the individual and the organization. Taking a shortcut on any of these key steps will impact the quality and validity of the outcome.
I believe that, fundamentally, the assessment center methodology is still sound and can be a powerful predictor of future performance. But it requires an approach that is customized to your organization’s competencies and culture … uses technology to drive relevance, scalability, and standardization … and is guided by experienced assessment professionals to yield the best results.
Is your organization using assessment center methodology? What has been your experience? How are you handling the challenges?
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The hiring process is stressful for both sides. The job seeker is putting their talents and career future on the line, which is a vulnerable place to be. The organization is investing considerable resources in hopes of finding a star in the making. This is important stuff.
And yet far too many organizations make a mess out of the candidate experience in the recruiting process. This is astonishing, and just plain self-destructive; In the field of hyper-selective organizations the pool of candidates is ever so small and bad word to mouth can be…it.
Get this: The Talent Board, which runs the Candidate Experience Awards surveyed over 45,000 job applicants about their experience. Of those who had a positive experience, 61 percent would actively encourage colleagues to apply to the organization; 27 percent of those who had a negative experience would actively discourage colleagues from applying. In addition, almost 40 percent of the positives would buy more of the goods or services the company sells, even if they weren’t ultimately hired; 30 percent of the negatives would buy less goods or services. Finally 50 percent of positives share their positive experience; 32 percent of negatives broadcast their bad news.
In other words, a good candidate experience is brilliant marketing for an organization; a bad one is a continuous stain in the reputation of your brand for people that could be interested to join your organization. Devastating as that is, this fact is even worse: a bad hiring experience may cause the right applicant to turn down the job. Top talent has no desire to work in a disrespectful organization with leaders who simply don’t care about the recruiting process. Today people want to feel WANTED, APPRECIATED; it is sort of like dating.
Savvy organizations turn HR into a powerhouse marketing and recruiting tool. I guess as a continuation of my post “User in the middle… He is King Bunny” Here are 5 steps you can take to follow their lead:
1) Walk in the job seeker’s shoes. We’ve all been job seekers at some point in our careers. As you design or improve your hiring process, keep the candidate experience on your eyesight at all times. Yes, this is about fulfilling your organization’s needs, but the more you understand and design the process from the applicant’s point of view, the more successful you will be. Role playing can be invaluable here. Have a team member play an applicant as you design each step of your process. My current employer, DP DHL Inhouse Consulting, is absolutely brilliant at this one.
2) Communicate. Remember that disgraceful statistic: over 70 percent of online applicants never even get a form reply. It violates the rules of common human courtesy and smart communication.
You must explain every step of the hiring process to an applicant. Always meet the deadlines and markers you have established. If for some unforeseeable reason, you’re unable to, communicate that swiftly and directly to the applicant. Stay transparent and honest all the way through. My manager, Allison Watson, at the time I worked for Google sets the bar high on this one. She was swift and uncompromising, therefore successful in an organization that will sample a good portion of applicants every quarter to measure their recruiters’ success.
3) Bring employees in the process. Jobs don’t exist in a vacuum. You want to hire people who are going to mesh with your culture. The best way to ensure this is to seek employee input in designing and implementing your hiring. A fresh pair of eyes can sometimes provide just the insight you’re seeking. And consider having promising candidates meet with their possible future teammates to gauge workplace culture fit. Too many HR departments want to guard their culture from the world. That’s a mistake. Moliere once said: “I take my good where I find it.” He’s one smart guy. I guess the best case I have seen in this regard are ThoughtWorks and their use of pair interviewing throughout their complete set of applied interviews, with the added bonus of reduction of interviewer bias.
4) Personalize the recruiting process. You’ve heard me say it again and again: when it comes organiyations and their people, one size fits no one. You want a hiring process that has built-in flexibility, not rigid rules. Some of the best talent is idiosyncratic, eccentric and maybe even a bit weird (exhibit A: Steve Jobs). The last thing you want is a process that eliminates stellar talent for bureaucratic reasons. Yes, a college degree from an elite is nice, but is it really the key determinant of an applicant’s future performance? I don’t think so. And in this parameter I have to give the thumbs up to ThoughtWorks again.
5) Seek honest feedback. Your hiring process should be ever-evolving. Social media has handed HR powerful new tools that impact every step of the process. Actively seek feedback from candidates, both those you hire and those you don’t. Listen and respond, just keep tweaking. A static hiring process will soon turn stale. Think of feedback as a dialogue, a lesson, and an inspiration. For this one I don’t know any organization that has learned to do this swiftly rather than individuals and I have seen no one as fierce in combining the power of social media and physical events as Ms. Amy Lynch (who I am very sure is to become a recruiting guru one of these days and single handedly made herself a local celebrity in Manchester, UK in a few months).
Hiring lies at the very heart of HR and Leadership. When candidates are hired after a positive experience, they hit the ground running, their commitment to your organization having been nurtured and strengthened during every step of the process. When candidates aren’t hired, they walk away feeling respected and appreciated, and are far more likely to recommend other talent look into your organization. This is world-class HR. And you can make it happen!
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When it comes to building alignment around your vision, dialogue plays a key role. Through dialogue, a leader establishes a two-way conversation, in contrast to the one-way communication needed for clarity, which I discussed in a previous. It involves suspending judgment and stretching to connect with the other person’s point of view. This requires openness and active listening. Skilled leaders use dialogue as an opportunity to give people a voice. By engaging the group and making others part of the conversation, you open the door to shared ownership and accountability. In other words, you gain buy-in and begin to build engagement.
I read of several examples and practices in which dialogue changed history (highly recommended!) in William Isaacs’ book Dialogue. This book (I dare to say) is, at least in a business and decision making context an interesting predecessor to the Senge saga.
Going at the moment through an extreme change in leadership paradigm, I couldn’t help but gathering some thoughts and giving a continuation to the post: Clarity.
Dialogue is an art, but it’s also a skill that can be developed by practicing two key behaviors:exchanging perspectives and being receptive.
We want the people we lead to get it—to share our vision, our plan, our urgency, our passion. But it’s just as important for people to know that we get them. When people feel understood, they can open up more about what’s really bothering them. If you can get them talking, and if you listen to what they are saying, you’ll be able to address issues, answer questions, and share insights. It’s all about exchanging perspectives.
Exchanging perspectives can sound like hard work and it can be too. A bit too much of it will drive you to slow decision making which can lead an inability to scale up processes and has set many promising enterprises on a path from stagnation to extinction. But consider this: If you ask those around you about the leaders they enjoy working with most they are those who consistently rose to the top were those while genuinely listening to other people and taking others’ input and ideas seriously. I have heard of great practices and resources (especially in Europe) to improve in this area and I would be happy to share if asked.
Going through this path of growth myself, there are a couple of things I am trying out for creating dialogue by exchanging perspectives:
- Create an open and relaxed environment where people feel comfortable asking questions and sharing perspectives.
- Have one-on-one conversations with people.
- Practice reflective listening.
The other best-practice behavior used by leaders to create dialogue is being receptive. Being receptive is a bit more straightforward than exchanging perspectives. It’s not so much about the process of having the conversation or even the content of the conversation. It’s about the vibe you are sending out during the conversation. Both consciously and unconsciously, people sense whether you are receptive and approachable.
Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Well, here’s some feedback I heard while asking people how good their bosses were at staying open to input:
“He does ask for input and feedback, but doesn’t really listen to or consider it.”
“She doesn’t seem to feel that the opinions of others are important.”
“He frequently shoots down others’ ideas.”
“When the group is trying to come up with ideas or suggestions, she acts like she is being personally attacked.”
Your tone of voice and body language speak volumes. So make sure you’re not sending the wrong message. Also, this is not the time for debate. Try to get people to open up by saying “Tell me more about that,” to keep the conversation going. Remember, you’re trying to have a dialogue, not give a lecture. Set the stage for an honest dialogue and make sure people have the opportunity to say what they want to say.
If you’re the kind of leader who believes “It’s my way or the highway,” here are a few tips to help you show more receptivity:
- Make sure your tone of voice and body language come across as receptive.
- Be careful not to debate or battle for you own side.
- Look for signs of people just telling you what you want to hear; then encourage more honest feedback.
Listening can be a hard craft to master, especially when it goes to really understanding the small signs that create high complexity in the work environment. My experience trying to explore this area has been with the incorporation of meditation and mindfulness practice into the business context but I would love to hear new perspectives.