This guest post is from Jim Haudan, the CEO of Root, Inc., a renowned strategy and culture change organization that helps other companies “get their strategy out of the boardroom and into the hearts and minds of everyone in the organization.” Jim has co-authored a new book “What Are Your Blind Spots?” with Rich Berens. Today’s post is an excerpt form the Root Blog and highlight some of the principles in their book.
Words are poor conveyers of meaning. Pictures can be one of the most versatile tools in any leader’s toolbox. Michelangelo started the David in 1501 at the age of 26 and famously said: “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” He was intensely focused on freeing the slumbering figures in the stone.
Similarly, Picasso was able to visualize and capture realism in his painting from a young age, and evolved so immensely throughout his career eventually co-founded the cubist movement.
For many of us, our best “artistic” moments happen on a napkin sketch at the kitchen table or at a bar. We use images, lines, stars, circles and arrows to first capture an idea. Then share it with someone else. That person’s perspective and questions are what encourage us to revise the sketch and improve its clarity and meaning.
The conversation around our napkin art is what drives the a-ha moment, the excitement. You, as a leader, can use visualization and visual iteration to free the figures (or your people) slumbering within your organization, and drive innumerable a-ha moments.
Here are three ways to do just that:
- Use visualization to create clear meaning
Even the most common terms in strategic plans (words like operational excellence, customer centric, innovation, accountability, high performance, collaboration, vision) suffer from lack of meaning. Instead, define meaning with a picture. Have each member of your team draw a picture of what a high performance team looks like to them.
Compare the pictures. Then create a single image made up of the strongest elements of each person’s initial drawing. As a team, tell one story (accompanied by the picture) of what a high performance team means. Pictures drive common understanding in a way that words often cannot.
- Use visualization to think in systems
Many of the most complex issues we face are systems issues. It is hard to understand a system unless we can see it. Consider systems such as how we make money, or how to execute our business model. It’s tough to imagine without a diagram.
One well-known manufacturer found itself with hundreds of millions of dollars painfully tied up in working capital. The company tried unsuccessfully to reduce this amount for two years.
Finally it used imagery, pictures and metaphors to illustrate where the money came from, where it went, and how much is left afterwards. The business engaged all of its people to better understand how its economic system worked. Within six months, the company had freed up $300 million of working capital. Pictures make invisible systems tangible.
- Use visualization to frame a process
Customer acquisition, supply chain, and new product/ process development are just three examples of key business processes. Many process errors occur at the handoff points where clarity of workflow between departments and people is not always clear and co-owned.
Instead, visualize or blueprint a major process step by step and highlight the key handoffs that often become the “process busters” for the most important processes in your organization.
If Aristotle was right when he said the soul never thinks without a picture, and if everyone is right when they say a picture is worth a thousand words, then a grand visual metaphor for achieving organizational goals can be priceless.
When a picture is clear in our mind’s eye, we can make sense of it. When it is not clear, it is nearly impossible to take action on it. So, it doesn’t have to be the Sistine Chapel ceiling, but every extraordinary leader must know how to paint a picture for their people of where they are and where they want to go.
About Jim Haudan
Jim Haudan is Co-Founder and Chairman of Root Inc. Root Inc., the organizational change expert on helping companies create leadership alignment, execute strategies and change successful, build employee engagement, and transform businesses. He is a sought-after business presenter who has spoken at TEDx BGSU, Tampa TEDx, and The Conference Board. His latest book, What Are Your Blind Spots?: Conquering the 5 Misconceptions that Hold Leaders Back is co-authored with Rich Berens is CEO and Chief Client Fanatic of Root Inc. The book equips readers with the tools needed for a personal leadership reset. You’ll discover how to increase engagement, productivity, and growth in your own organization.
A colleague of mine many years ago had an interesting approach to observing and grading her staff’s performance.
We used a standardized form to grade each person’s job performance on their respective stations. It was a tool for both training and development to improve operations and build the team members’ job skills and competnecy.
“Micky” ran a higher volume operation than I did at the time, the flagship unit of the company. She inherited a facility that had solid leadership previously and a grounded and well trained staff that executed well. It was a golden opportunity with the pieces already in place to take the unit to another level of performance. She was young and recently promoted to the position, and was determined to show her influence and position.
However, Micky failed to gain a loyal staff because of a fatal flaw in her leadership. One of the key indicators was how she graded performance.
Micky’s approach to the station grading, was to never give her staff a perfect score on their performance. Ever.
Her justification? “Nobody’s perfect; they always have something they can improve on.”
What Micky failed to realize is she was telling her people they were worthless and could never be good in her estimation.
It should come as no surprise that internal conflict started to occur. Turnover increased, and employee engagement started to suffer. Revenues started to drop. Upper management spent more time in the facility. What was handed over to Micky as a smooth sailing ship was run aground by the following leadership failures:
- Not recognizing your employees for what they do. Micky failed to acknowledge the already well-trained staff of what they did well. Her failure to highlight people’s competency started to create resentment and distrust in her people. Good leaders will always praise and promote their people’s abilities and skills.
- Lack of faith in your people. Another by-product of her critical attitude towards her staff was effectively saying that she did not trust them in their jobs. When a person is constantly critical staff will play down to the expectation of them. Conversely when you show your people trust they will play up and fulfill that trust even further.
- High standards became unattainable. High standards are great, but unless people are supported and trained to attain them, or see them being attained, they will get discouraged and stop trying. Micky killed her team’s development by not allowing her people to attain the standard – one that was commonly attained in every other company facility.
- No commitment to true training and development. A leader’s true task is to build their people up to reach performance metrics and skill levels. Micky failed to see this as being relevant to her role, and instead she adopted a mindset that her job was to point out flaws. Her ability to train, even after pointing out any deficiencies, was poor. She never set her folks up for success.
- Non-verbals communicated disdain for people. Micky was also notorious for showing her frustration that people couldn’t do their jobs. Rolling the eyes, sighing audibly, her sour demeanor, and huffing around after a mistake was made – these all underscored her contempt for her people. She may have tried to talk a good game, but her people knew exactly where they stood by her body language.
- What you say is what you get. Micky’s self-proclaimed thinking was “I’m the manager, so no one should get better scores than me.” Micky set a goal, and achieved it. It was unfortunately a misguided goal.
- Pride. Micky’s pride was ultimately her biggest flaw, and downfall. Her people became a bother to her, and got in the way of her job. Every mistake that occurred as the store spiraled downward, she took personally as her people sabotaging her.
Eventually, the company had enough of her personality and dismissed Micky. Her replacement spent the better part of two years cleaning up the mess, but eventually got a solid and well trained staff and turned the operation around by devoting her time to building her people up.
Micky failed to acknowledge that the core fundamental tenet of leadership is to inspire and develop your people. When grounded firmly in a culture of value, people tend to perform at their highest levels. When absent, engagement and performance decrease.
The absolute worst thing a leader can do is to see themselves in a role to lord over their people. Be a servant leader, set your folks up to win, and grow your business by growing your people. It’s the best way for a leader to grow as well.
Keeping employees engaged is similar to the process of using a balance scale.
On a balance scale, if you place weights more on one end than the other the scale will tip towards the heavier side. Employee engagement is very similar.
Envision the scale with two distinct balances on either side – one is engagement and one is disengagement. Each side has has a weight that can only be placed on one side – one weight is positive impact on your people (engagement), and the other is negative impact on them (disengagement).
Each organization has an employee engagement scale, but so does each team and each individual.
The overall goal of leadership is to weight the scale so heavily on the positive engagement side, with virtually no negative on the other balance. However the delicate nuance is to understand each individual’s scale and ensure their engagement side is properly weighted.
The challenge is to understand the principles of negativity and employee disconnect, and how any negative actions, including yours, are counted on the employee’s scale.
Negative impacts to your staff almost always outweigh the positive.
It takes a large amount of positive to offset negatives when they do occur.
Unlike weights on a physical scale which has constant density, employee engagement has variable weights based on the dynamics of the individuals and basic human principles of interaction. Consider the following variables:
- Positives are lighter while negatives weigh more
- Negatives can vary in weight from individual to individual
- More than one positive is needed to offset negatives
- Small and seemingly normal positives may not outweigh negatives
- Both weights have varying degrees of visibility – positives need to always be visible (public and tangible); negatives are usually invisible and hard to discern as many leaders are blinded to them
- Negatives gain increasing weight over time (distrust grows) where smaller negatives can carry an enormous weight
- Staff Appreciation Days, Thank You cards and Employee of the Month programs are good positives, but are too infrequent to offset constant year-round negatives
Some items that are heavier positives:
- Sincere apologies
- Concrete actions to correct poor leadership
- Increased valuation of a person
- More voice
- Public praise and apology
- Deferred leadership role, showing trust for your people to showcase their talents
While not an exhaustive list, these examples show the intricacies of how mindful leaders need to be in creating a culture of total engagement.
By gaining more awareness of the correlation of negative and positive weights that get placed on an employee engagement scale, you can create a better leadership style that puts more positive engagement weights and builds a deeper and more committed team in your organization.