Build Your Team’s ResilienceHow do you get top performance from your teams while supporting them through these crazy times? Brain science has the answer. Emerson CEO Trish Emerson explains how leaders can use hacks to build people’s strength and resilience.
Hacking Human Biology to Improve Performance
According to the Harvard Business Review (1), employee productivity in most organizations dropped by at least three to six percent during the COVID-19 pandemic. Leaders have a particular challenge, balancing employee output with supporting them through today’s very real issues. But there are hacks we can use to help our people be more resilient, all based on our biology.
It’s hard for our brains to process stress and think strategically at the same time. (2) When we see or hear something, our brains try to make sense out of it and determine a response. If we perceive a threat, our amygdala gets involved. You might know the amygdala from its biggest hit: Fight or Flight. If the threat seems strong, the amygdala might react quickly at the expense of the frontal lobes, which are trying to make sense of everything and compose a rational response.
Stress impacts our capacity to perform. Stress physically changes our brains. (3) It steeps our brains in hormones that change its physical structure: neuro-processors get shorter and the prefrontal cortex gets smaller.
These physical changes impact everything. Science writer Virginia Hughes elegantly explains this relationship in Nature. In Stress: the roots of resilience, (4) she writes that those with PTSD have an underactive prefrontal cortex and an overactive amygdala, and that resilience depends on the communication between the two.
But we are built to bounce forward.
Researchers took MRI’s of the brains of stressed students, and observed physical damage. Then, they measured those brains after one week of vacation, and found their neuro-processors and damaged dendrites had regrown. But here’s the interesting part: they did not end up just as they were before. The repairs suggest that the brain increases capacity to address future stress.
So our teams are under unusual stress, which diminishes performance, but they have the capacity to be resilient. How can we promote this resilience?
The Leaders’ Role
We can do two things to promote resilience: 1) give the team agency, and 2) give the experience meaning.
Agency is the sense that person can impact an outcome. People with active control over their experience are resilient—they feel stronger and more resistant to challenges. Here are three ways to create agency.
- Engineer progress. It is imperative to give people simple tasks that show progress. Focus on a simple, observable activity that produces an outcome—not on the ultimate results themselves. It’s like the doctor pushing us to stand soon after surgery. She doesn’t say, “Heal!” she says, “Stand!” Because standing will get us walking, and walking will return us to full health.
For example, if we know that sales come from relationships, focus the team on contacting one client a day. That’s it. Then celebrate the completion of that step. It’s something they can control—it’s achievable and they can report success. Over time, the constancy of those moments will create results that matter. As Robert Louis Stevenson wrote, “Don’t judge each day by the harvest we reap but by the seeds that we plant.”
- Play the part. The physical and psychological are intertwined. Alison Wood Brooks, (5) at Harvard, studied reactions to certain types of fear, like stage fright or falling. She found that the sensation of fear and excitement are closely related. When she asked her subjects to say out loud, “I’m excited!” or “Get excited!” before a scary event, they reduced their anxiety.
Actors have known this trick for a long time. If we act happy—if our body language is open and we smile—we can actually produce that emotion. During COVID-19, a good number of us have been acting sad—withdrawing from friends, not dressing, and staying home. Small wonder depression has risen during COVID.
What can we do? We can model a bright mood and dress like we care. It might seem superficial, but the mirror neurons on our colleagues’ brains will encourage them to catch the positive emotion.
- Create fresh starts. It’s hard to move forward or express positive emotions in the face of daunting obstacles, like a global pandemic and lockdown. One way to clear those hurdles is a reset. Daniel Pink, author of When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, (6) tells us we have a wellspring of opportunities for resets. Look at the calendar for the start of the next year, quarter, month, week, or even the next new day. Look for holidays, birthdays, new team members, anniversaries of shared success. And we can manufacture resets, too—this is one reason software development sprints work—a long project becomes a series of kick-offs and accomplishments.
As leaders, we can create agency to promote resilience. We can give people active roles in a change, including choices and options. We can also engineer events that promote the expression of positive emotions and the feelings that come with fresh starts.
How we interpret stimuli determines our responses. We act based on the stories we tell ourselves. For example:
Is this picture good or bad? If you’re a dog person you might think this dog is playing. If you’re not, you might think the dog is vicious. We filter information through our own lens, and construct stories about the world.
Martin Siegelman is the University of Pennsylvania psychologist who gave us the idea of learned helplessness. He describes this process of interpretation in his 3P model. (7) He says that, when we encounter an experience, we might define it as personal, , and pervasive. For example, let’s say we’re struggling with an assignment in a computer science course. The table below are the alternative interpretations, according to Siegelman’s model.
As we can see, a negative event seen through the three Ps is potentially harmful to a person’s self-image and ability to perform. But reframing the experience to show that it’s impersonal, impermanent and specific is compassionate and can help people bounce back.
As leaders, we provide the context. We don’t need to twist a bad experience into a good one—we can simply acknowledge it. Then, depending on the event, we decide whether to reframe it. Some bad things are so horrible, we should just affirm people’s feelings and be with them. But for your average, everyday failures: reframe it.
Take it out of that personal / permanent / pervasive space.
Retell the story as a bad experience with a finite context that doesn’t confer blame or foretell the future. Give the experience meaning.
In business, we can tend to focus on intellect and will. Old school, Type A winners flourish on vending machine food, florescent light, and four hours of sleep, right? To fix performance issues, we have told our employees (and ourselves) to power through. So it’s inconvenient to acknowledge that we, and our teams, are basically animals with a strong connection between what we experience, how our bodies respond, and how we create organizational results.
Today, we have the knowledge and tools to do something about it—to foster resilience and high performance. It’s a strategy not only for these tough times, but for sustained success.
- Recognizing resilience: Learning from the effects of stress on the brain – ScienceDirect
- Stress: The roots of resilience : Nature News & Comment
- Get Excited: Reappraising Pre-Performance Anxiety as Excitement – Article – Faculty & Research – Harvard Business School (hbs.edu)
- When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing
- Martin Siegelman’s Positive Psychology
President Biden Gets an A in FCSWhen Emerson helps organizations manage change, we make it feel Familiar, Controlled, and Successful (FCS). Here’s how President Biden used FCS in his COVID-19 speech.
Co-authored by Mary Stewart
How the President’s Primetime Address Used Brain Science to Unite the Country
On Thursday, March 11, 2021, much of the country tuned in to President Biden’s first primetime address to the nation. His challenge was clear: unite the country to act according to his plan, and bring on the end of the pandemic. The audience, no doubt, was diverse in its attitudes toward Biden and readiness to follow his lead. How would he persuade resistant Americans to do the right thing?
We are in the business of aligning organizations around a change and creating positive momentum. So we feel you, Joe. And we think you did the right thing. You used the principles of brain science to your advantage, just like we do.
When we help our clients manage a change, we make it feel Familiar, Controlled, and Successful (FCS). Here’s how the President used FCS in his speech.
Our brains see new things as dangerous. Any change generates fear, which causes resistance. Creating connections between your change and other experiences makes people feel it is familiar, which turns off fear.
One way to do this is to compare your initiative to something people know and remember as being successful.
“I’m using every power I have as the president of the United States to put us on a war footing to get the job done. Sounds like hyperbole, but I mean it, a war footing. …It’s truly a national effort, just like we saw during World War II.”
”The development, manufacturing, and distribution of vaccines in record time is a true miracle of science. It’s one of the most extraordinary achievements any country has ever accomplished. And we all just saw the Perseverance Rover land on Mars. Stunning images of our dreams that are now reality.”
See what he did there? He didn’t just talk about the Trump administration’s initiative, or even invoke other pandemics, like H1N1 or Ebola. He used winning WWII and landing on Mars. He tapped into familiar, positive feelings and attached those feelings to the current initiative.
We don’t like to move forward in the dark. Our brains crave control. Adding choice, structure, and predictability makes the change feel controlled, so people feel less anxious, more engaged, and feel free to take action.
One way to create feelings of control is to give people information, so they aren’t surprised.
“I met a small business owner, a woman. I asked her, I said, ‘What do you need most?’ …and she said, ‘I just want the truth. The truth. Just tell me the truth.’”
Another way to create feelings of control is to talk about milestones. Tell people what is going to happen, and when.
“I said I intended to get 100 million shots in people’s arms in my first 100 days in office. Tonight, I can say … we’re actually on track to reach this goal of 100 million shots in arms on my 60th day in office… All adult Americans will be eligible to get a vaccine no later than May 1.”
A third way is to give people something to do, so they feel like they have a part in the change.
“But I need you, the American people. I need you. I need every American to do their part. And that’s not hyperbole. I need you. I need you to get vaccinated when it’s your turn and when you can find an opportunity.”
Finally people who have clear instructions and tools feel in control because they know exactly what to do.
“…in May, we will launch…new tools to make it easier for you to find…where to get the shot, including a new website… No more searching day and night for an appointment for you and your loved ones.”
He said he’d give accurate information, previewed the road ahead, told people how they can take action, and promised them support to do so. All of those messages grant control to the listener.
Winning releases dopamine—the feel-good neurotransmitter. Sharing successes releases oxytocin—the connection hormone.
One way to create a feeling of success is to create and highlight small wins.
“You can drive up to a stadium or a large parking lot, get your shot, and never leave your car, and drive home in less than an hour.”
“Millions and millions of grandparents who went months without being able to hug their grandkids can now do so.”
Another way to foster success is to celebrate collective wins.
“When I took office, only 8% of those over the age of 65 had gotten their first vaccination. Today that number is 65%. Just 14% of Americans over the age of 75 …had gotten their first shot. Today, that number is well over 70%.”
“…if we do this together, by July the 4, there’s a good chance you, your families and friends, will be able to get together in your backyard or in your neighborhood and have a cookout or a barbecue and celebrate Independence Day.”
The President talked in vivid terms about success—individual success through quick shots and warm hugs, and collective success through high vaccination numbers, culminating in a national day of celebration.
Mr. President, we’re big fans, both of your pandemic plans and the way you convey them. Brain science to message and epidemiology to protect—that’s a winning team.
Refreshing Leadership Meetings in 2021Meetings have such a bad reputation, especially among busy executives. But if you do it right, they’ll accept your next invite with a smile.
Facilitate the hell out of your next executive session
Leave them wanting more. Is that even possible with a meeting? People want fewer meetings, right? Or maybe you’re doing it wrong.
2021 is the perfect opportunity for a reset. Next time you facilitate an executive meeting, make it a satisfying experience: effective, focused, respectful, and even fun.
- Do your research. Nothing takes the wind out of your sails like the participants realizing you don’t know enough to run the meeting. Don’t make them stop and educate you. Make sure you’re rock-solid on the facts, figures, and history you need.
That starts with the Why. After you think you’re clear on the goals of the session, ask the participants. Send each one a personal invitation and ask them to answer one question:
“Why do you think we need this meeting?”
This will surface misunderstandings so you can resolve them before everyone shows up. It also gives each attendee some buy in – it’s a trick of psychology; you’re getting them on the record saying it’s important.
- Focus. We all know “Begin with the end in mind,” and that’s right. Start the session by confirming the goal. Here are a few more tips:
Limit attendees. In The Surprising Science of Meetings, Steven Rogelberg says the ideal size is seven participants. AND that decision-making effectiveness decreases 10% with each additional attendee! Balance your need to have all the right decision-makers in the room with the value of your outcomes.
Limit devices. I once sat in an exec meeting next to a new team member who kept his laptop open. I was the only one who could see that he wasn’t taking notes; he was reading the news, checking stock performance, and watching hockey highlights on mute. (I swear.) He didn’t last long in the company. Either the meeting is important or it’s not. If it’s not, then cancel it. If it is, then silence phones and close the laptops. If someone gets a call and has to take it, stop the meeting for a break. This has the double-whammy of respecting the call-taker (because you can’t continue without her) and pressuring her to get off the phone fast.
Use a “parking lot.” When someone goes off topic, stop, reset, and document that point on a flipchart page, whiteboard, or notes window. Promise not to lose that thread and follow up after the meeting.
- Limit session time. “I don’t need time. I need a deadline.” ~ Edward Kennedy Ellington. Duke was right— time limits work. Rogelberg and others recommend scheduling hour-long meetings for 50 minutes. If you truly need more time, break it into 50-minute sessions with specific milestone goals for each. And chunking up your process lets you use another technique…
- Delay decisions. Why do we say “I want to sleep on it?” Because it works. Time for reflection and synthesis yields better ideas. We’ve all sent that follow-up email saying, “Hey, I just had another idea” or “We didn’t have time to cover this, but…”
So design that into your session. Up front, explain that you will make no firm decisions at the end of any one meeting. Everyone will go away, let their “back burner” brilliance work, and come back together to confirm. This works well if you have broken your process into multiple short sessions. Assign a milestone goal for Session One, then use the first ten minutes of Session Two to play back tentative decisions, bring in new info, and make a final call.
- One up, one down. This concept comes from the military, but I know it as a best practice in my kids’ Montessori preschool. Each class had two teachers managing 25 kids working independently or in small groups. Rather than the goat rodeo you might expect, the classroom worked beautifully. “One up, one down” meant that when one teacher was focused on teaching students (in a chair or on the floor) the other should be standing, with a view of the whole group.
In an exec session, there should be at least one person focused on documenting, fixing, or providing support; the other should have eyes on the room, to manage the discussion and progress.
- Document, document, document. Executives have zero time for your shenanigans. They don’t want to repeat themselves, argue about what was said last time, or struggle to understand what’s going on. So make sure you collect and replay all essential information.
Record faithfully. If it’s ok with participants, record the audio and/or video of your meeting. That’s the only fool-proof way to make sure you know what happened. If you can’t do that, take copious notes. And commit to being the historian, calling up meeting minutes, inputs, and outputs in real time when asked. Use these to produce executive summaries at milestones and at the end of the process.
Dampen the politics. Sometimes it matters who’s talking. Junior participants might not hold the floor as long, or might get a quick rebuttal. But when you record and play back what happened, you can give all good content equal weight, removing any hierarchical barriers to a good idea.
- All brains matter. People process and retain information differently, so provide as many channels as you can. We default to bullet points and flow charts, with a voice-over from the facilitator. But that’s not the only way. Consider these:
Silent reading. Give the group information to read as an input to your discussion. Some people think better when eyes aren’t on them and people aren’t speaking.
Listening. The growth of podcasts and video books has revealed a segment of people who love to learn with their ears, minus other distractions. Use audio content in the session or as pre-work.
Video. Moving pictures really work for some people, especially with retention. Video has it all: sound, images, and verbal content.
Graphic documentation. This is a powerful way to capture ideas and decisions. Use a graphic artist to illustrate content in real time; you’ll end up with a graphic that conveys more than a list of bullet points ever could. Graphic documentation is a great touchstone to use after the meeting—post your graphic in a space where people can revisit it and use it to communicate to a wider audience.
- Be tenacious. Even the best outputs can evaporate after you all leave the room. People ignore emails, crises emerge, and enthusiasm fades over time. Don’t let go. Set milestones for feedback, new meetings, and other next steps. Get commitment before you leave the room. If necessary, unblock the logjams with one-on-one conversations over time.
- Lighten up. Why so serious? We can accomplish real work and have fun at the same time. We recently asked an exec team to come up with their own theme songs. Each member chose their own song, then they composed a song to represent themselves as a team, real-time. We captured and produced their work of art after the session. It was a good time, but it wasn’t just a good time—it surfaced and confirmed their strengths and cohesion. Think about how to brighten up your session. Use stunning graphics, gamify your process, or use a new environment for the meeting. Fun doesn’t have to get in the way—bake it into the work.
Meetings have such a bad reputation, especially among busy executives. But if you do it right, they’ll accept your next invite with a smile.
(Articulate) Rise to the OccasionTraditional in-person training isn’t feasible during a pandemic, so consider blending your curriculum with digital assets like Articulate Rise.
Looking to move your curriculum online? You’re not an expert in eLearning development and digital delivery? You’re not alone.
Now more than ever, people who have never built an online course are tasked with making the switch, and for good reason—traditional in-person training just isn’t feasible during a pandemic.
There are also significant advantages to blending your curriculum with digital assets. Improved access at point of need, reduced classroom time, and flexible learning mediums are good for the long-term health of any learning program, regardless of what the future holds.
But embarking on this new online adventure can feel intimidating. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be.
Enter Articulate Rise 360.
With this innovative technology in-hand, the barrier of entry for web-based training development is lower than ever. You don’t need a degree, certificate, or background in eLearning to build rich, engaging online content. It’s a simple-to-use platform that is actually as intuitive as other technology claims to be.
Don’t believe me? Let’s explore using the 5 Ws:
- WHAT – Articulate Rise is a web-based eLearning authoring tool. It helps you build responsive online training that automatically adapts to the device your learner is using. With a flexible outline format, you can string together blocks of content (e.g., embedded videos, articles, image hot spots, accordion interactivities, quizzes, etc.) into lessons, and then deploy your training through a single URL in one click (or an LMS if you need reporting data).
- WHEN – Turn to Rise when you need to get content online quickly. It’s the perfect tool for rapid development. The menu of easy-to-use out-of-the-box content blocks lets you add or remove with a single mouse click. Combined the with aforementioned outline format, you can largely fast-forward through the design process. You can jump right into developing your course, on the fly, without learning complex scripting or trigger manipulation.
- WHY – It’s easy to use. You don’t need a background in instructional design, or a certificate in eLearning development to create a course. It’s an industry-leading tool that is compatible with your learning infrastructure. If you don’t have an LMS, you can build out a full curriculum and still publish at the click of a button. It also gives you the flexibility to use the more powerful Articulate Storyline to build complex, custom interactions, if you need them.
- WHERE – Check out their free 30-day trial, learn more about the platform, and join the Articulate Community to find all the help, tools, and resources you need to get started.
- WHO – You! I can’t stress this enough; you can do this. Rise is designed so that anyone can quickly build engaging, visually pleasing online courses.
No, I don’t work for Articulate, I just happen to be a big fan who knows how challenging and rewarding eLearning development can be. I want it to be accessible to everyone; the more who use it, the better humanity’s training resources will be. It’s the kind of cycle I want to be a part of.
If you’re not happy with what you built, keep practicing, or reach out to me (firstname.lastname@example.org). Emerson Human Capital Consulting has expert instructional designers and eLearning developers who can take your curriculum to the next level. As an added bonus, all it takes is 30 seconds to transfer ownership of the course to you, so you’ll be ready to make changes as needed, with no hassle.
Six Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Change ConsultantSome firms dazzle you with strategy and slick slides then head for the door. Don't let them leave you hanging -- ask these questions before you hire a change consultant.
Don’t Let Your Consultants Leave You Hanging
We call them “deck and dash” firms—consultants who dazzle you with strategy, conceptual models, and slick slides…then wish you luck and head for the door. Now what?
Maybe that’s what you want, but at least be prepared. Make sure that they leave you in a place where you can get the benefits of your investment.
Before signing the contract, here are the questions you should ask:
- What will the business outcomes be? How will your work translate to benefits for us, specifically? It’s important to hear stories about their other clients, but the focus should be on your business. How does the work connect to your strategies and integrate with other initiatives in your organization?
- What has your team learned from similar implementations? Implementation informs strategy and design. Even if you are paying them to build deliverables and then hand them off to you to implement, you need consultants who regularly roll up their sleeves and help their clients launch. Consultants learn and sharpen from that experience.
- To what degree will you involve the business leaders impacted by this change? How? Many consultants like to touch base a few times to gather information, then go away and create — leading to a grand reveal of the solution. That’s fun and dramatic, to be sure, but it’s wrong. You need consultants who work with key members of your business, to ensure the solution is right for you, create momentum, and help the business plan for launch.
- What will the deliverables look like? Will they include implementation plans, timelines, and estimates? Ask to see samples from similar projects. Imagine being left with that deliverable. Could you use it? Would your business know how to get the benefits you expect?
- What does your last day look like? How will you transition your work to us? What you’re looking for here is their involvement in implementing the solution and your readiness to take it forward.
- What if we have questions after you finish the engagement? You need consultants who are invested in your success. If your people are sincerely confused or unprepared to use the deliverables the consultants built, then their work isn’t done. Make sure they commit to an ongoing advisory relationship to support what they delivered for you.
Paying for ideas, plans, and strategies might be right for your business. Just make sure you have a clear picture of your life after the consultants are gone.
Here’s how Emerson addresses the six questions:
- We helped a major university’s IT department focus on the outcomes they needed. Click here to read more.
- We helped a large U.S. government agency launch their HR strategy. Click here to read more.
- We worked with the largest hospital system in Missouri on a custom approach. Click here to read more.
- We built solid implementation plans for one of the best-known retail brands in the world. Click here to read more.
- We fully transitioned our work and expertise to a large pharmaceutical company. Click here to read more.
- We continued to support a business technology corporation with ongoing advice. Click here to read more.
From the Trails to the OfficeAfter 25-plus years of consulting and 100 endurance races of half marathon, marathon and ultra-marathon distances, I’ve noticed lots of parallels. Here are a few.
9 Lessons Learned From 25 Years of Consulting and 100 Long Distances Races
After 25-plus years of consulting and 100 endurance races of half marathon, marathon and ultra-marathon distances, I’ve noticed lots of parallels. I’ve learned many lessons during my races that apply to my work as a consultant. Here are a few.
Lesson 1: Be thankful you’re able to lace up and go. Not everyone is capable of going for a long run. Some can’t make it due to their age. Some have health problems. If you can lace up and toe the line, you’re lucky.
Try to think that way about work. Sometimes it’s hard to jump out of bed and sprint to work with a smile on your face. But recognize that there are people who would give anything to have your job. Understand that you are blessed. Be thankful for the opportunity and make the most of it.
Lesson 2: You have to show up in order to finish. Lots of people talk about doing marathons and ultra-marathons. Not a lot of people show up on race day. In order to cross the finish line you have to first cross the start line.
It’s just as true in business. It’s critical to “show up” each day. You can’t succeed if you only bring your A Game occasionally. You have to bring it every day, for the duration of the engagement. You have to show up in order to get your project over the finish line.
Lesson 3: Drink before you’re thirsty. One of the keys to finishing long distance runs is hydration. Drink early and often. Your body will appreciate it and you’ll be able to go the distance.
As a consultant, it is important to stay abreast of the latest trends, research, methods, and technologies. Continuous learning is vital to serving your clients or supporting your business. Read. Attend lectures. Participate in professional conferences. Take online courses. Seek certifications. Don’t wait until you need to know something to begin your search—stay on top of the latest information in your field. In other words, “drink before you’re thirsty.
Lesson 4: Never pass an aid station without refueling. Sometimes, on the trail, runners feel like they are falling behind so they bypass an aid station to make up time. Inevitably, this comes back to bite them. In your race prep, you develop a plan. In that plan, you’ve outlined all the things you MUST do in order to be successful. If it is a good plan, stick with it. That includes refueling at the aid stations.
On your project, spend enough time planning the work. Understand where all the “aid stations” are. We often refer to them as milestones. Be smart about how and when you’ll get there. Be prepared to pause, take stock, and celebrate this small victory. Let your team know how well they’ve done to get to this point. Remind them where the next milestone is and what it will take to get there. You and your team will benefit from taking these pauses to refuel.
Lesson 5: On the tough parts, keep your eyes on the trail. When it’s safe, look up and enjoy the view. There are lots of obstacles along the trail. It’s easy to lose your concentration. It’s easy to stumble and fall. You have to maintain your focus to do well.
The same is true at work. Things come up. Obstacles appear. Keep your eyes on the “trail” as you move toward your milestones. Some parts of the project will be trickier than others. Use extreme focus on those parts. But, when you can, look up and take in the big picture. Celebrate how far you’ve come. Try to enjoy the journey.
Lesson 6: When you’re feeling good, encourage other racers. You’ll need for them to return the favor when you’re not. As you run past your fellow racers, offer them a word of encouragement. It’s amazing how your quick gesture helps push them along.
The same holds true with your work colleagues. Look for opportunities to stop and offer them a pat on the back, a kind word, or a listening ear. There will be days when you’ll need for them to return the favor.
Lesson 7: If someone goes down, stop and help them. On the trail, things happen—pulled muscles…twisted ankles…heat exhaustion…cramps…slips, trips, and falls. When you come across someone in trouble, you help them. You get them on their feet or you offer them water or you go for help. You don’t run past them.
In business, people go down as well. It is often obvious when someone is struggling. You can see that they’re not going to make a deadline or won’t deliver the best deliverable. Help them. Can you act as a sounding board? Stay after work to lend a hand? Give up your lunch hour to listen to your colleague practice a presentation? Figure out a way to help. Your colleagues will appreciate it and the team will benefit.
Lesson 8: Run when you can. Walk when you have to. Just get to the finish line. Finishing is what matters—not how fast. Many runners get stuck focusing on their time. They want to go fast. They want to set a personal record. And some push so hard they end up dropping from the race (because of injury, exhaustion, mental fatigue, etc.). Sometimes it’s better to slow down. Slowing down can help a runner get to the finish line.
In business, you’ve probably heard the saying, “Go slow to go fast.” This is the same concept. Sometimes there is benefit to taking a step back—revisiting the work plan and focusing attention in another area for a moment in order to ensure you get to the finish line. Keep your overall goal in mind. What is it you’re trying to accomplish? What problem are you trying to solve? I’ll bet it has nothing to do with how fast you finish. So, slow down. Get it right. Deliver a great solution. If your company or client tries to push you to finish faster, remind them why you’re there. Remind them of the benefits of success and the cost of failure. Let them know you want to get it right. Tell them, “sometimes you have to go slow to go fast.” Changing those behaviors, implementing that new technology, or whatever your project has been tasked with will eventually help your client go faster.
Just keep running.
Lesson 9: An endurance run isn’t the most difficult thing you’ll ever experience. When you feel like quitting, keep that in mind. Don’t get me wrong, some runs are very difficult. Running 31 miles through the mountains, in the rain, can be a challenge. Climbing thousands of feet in the heat, or running hills over and over again along a 26.2 mile course can be debilitating. You’ll want to quit. When these thoughts enter your mind, remember, this isn’t as hard as life gets. There are many things harder than running in the mountains. I won’t list them here; I’m sure you know what they are. I’m sure you’ve experienced some of them. When you think about those trials, you realize you have it pretty easy to be spending the day in the mountains, breathing good air, getting some exercise, and enjoying the companionship of like-minded people.
We all have tough days at work. Tough months… Tough clients… Think back to all those “tough” experiences. You survived them all. Keep plugging away. Recognize those bad days aren’t so bad; you can handle them. Just keep running.
Endurance running and consulting: same thing, different wardrobe. Who knew?
Learning From SuccessGreat athletes learn from success and failure. Great businesses do the same.
I’m a big sports fan, so I know that any athlete worth his or her salt learns from failure. The football coach who lost the game when the team couldn’t convert on 4th and 1…A baseball player who goes 0/3 because he is rolling his hands and grounds out three times…The golfer who hits the ball in the rough because of a slice. The list goes on and on. They focus on the skill that’s not up to par and they fix it, to avoid future losses.
It isn’t only athletes who learn from failure, of course. It’s common in our work lives too.
Project lookbacks and hot-washes are common when things go wrong. We typically focus on identifying why we didn’t get the outcome we wanted. We talk about and document lessons learned so we can be better next time. We consider failure such a rich learning experience, we even build training around it.
The reality is that the line between success and failure—between good and bad outcomes—is sometimes very small. And when we get the outcome we want—in athletics or in business—few of us examine the experience.
Does the baseball player who goes 2/2 at the plate with a walk and two ground ball singles between 3rd base and shortstop analyze his swing after the game? Probably not. The player goes home feeling good and relishes the outcome. What about the football coach who won the game when his team narrowly converted on the short yard situation? What about the salesperson who exceeded her quota on the back of a large deal in the final month of the quarter?
Most people feel good about situations like this and chalk the positive outcome up to their skill.
We can all see that this logic is flawed. Each of these situations could have very easily turned out differently. Why don’t we do anything about it? Why don’t we learn from our successes?
Annie Duke, the poker champion, writes about this in her book: Thinking in Bets. It’s called self-serving bias. People naturally attribute positive outcomes to their own skill. That means a positive outcome requires no action. On the flip side, people label the positive outcomes of others as good luck.
Think about it—have you ever said, “He was so lucky: the deal practically fell in his lap.” But how many of us have said that about ourselves? According to science: not many. We examine ourselves only when we fail.
So what should we do to guard against self-serving and overconfidence bias? Here are a few tips:
- Acknowledge it. It’s real. We’ve all been guilty of it at times.
- Reflect. Challenge yourself and others to think critically about what happened and what could have changed the outcome, whether it was positive or negative. What was the tipping point? Then work backwards to discover what actions led to the result.
- Identify and practice key behaviors. Think about the leading indicators. Based on our reflection, what are the behaviors that give us the highest probability of success? Build a plan to practice these behaviors.
Learning from success takes discipline, but it doesn’t have to be a heavy lift. Check your ego at the door, and be honest with yourself and your team. Great athletes learn from success and failure. Great businesses do the same.
Tough Times Need a Tough TeamFaced with unprecedented challenges, your leadership team needs to get aligned and then sound aligned.
Imagine this: your senior managers are hosting virtual meetings. In each one of them, someone asks a question. “What are we doing in response to the pandemic?”
- Manager 1: “We are doing everything we can to keep all of us safe.”
- Manager 2: “I know we all hate these Zoom meetings, but we will be back in the office as soon as possible.”
- Manager 3: “You were sent an email on June 14, outlining our response to the pandemic. I suggest you read that.”
- Manager 4: “What are you concerned about? Let’s talk about what I can do to help.”
Which is the right answer? All of them, and none of them.
None of the answers is wrong. But they are all wrong because they are so different.
People have a fundamental need to feel safe in order to function. Control and predictability create feelings of safety. Four different vague or evasive answers create just the opposite. The costs of this kind of uncertainty: resistance, lost productivity, and an organization even less focused on its business goals.
Faced with unprecedented challenges, your leadership team needs to get aligned and then sound aligned. That’s a tight team.
We have tightened up many executive teams. We don’t tell them what their goals and message should be; we facilitate. Here is the essence of our process:
- Gather your team and ask them four questions.
- What’s the challenge we’re faced with?
- What’s the solution to the challenge?
- What’s the approach we’ll take to execute the solution?
- What’s the result we want?
- For each question, brainstorm a one-word hint: start broad, then narrow down to the top two to three words, and then down to the final one.
- Once the four words are selected, generate facts and examples to use when you deliver the message. Each of the four words needs its own supporting details. Now you have a message frame.
- Bring it all together in a 30-second story – the four words, buttressed by facts or examples.
- Practice telling the story. As you practice, customize it for who you are and whomever you’re addressing. That is, use different examples for a Marketing employee vs. an IT employee. Each executive’s story will be slightly different, based on their communication style, area of expertise, position, and audience.
- Practice it a few more times, imagining different scenarios.
- Use the message frame as the foundation of all communications on this subject.
Let’s try our scenario again. Four Zoom meetings. Four employees with questions. Four responses from leaders.
“What are we doing in response to the pandemic?”
Feel that? It’s peace of mind.
Are you uncomfortable? Good. The work is just startingYou want to be on the right side of this sea-change and tap into the culture of tomorrow. But to do this right, you will have to unlearn some of the behaviors that got you this far.
Getting the Inclusive Culture You Need
No organization remains untouched by these times. The pandemic, the sweeping protests for justice, and 2020’s political tipping point affect every person, every community, and every business. We must respond or be responsible.
You want to lead your organization through this and emerge stronger. You want to be on the right side of this sea-change and tap into the culture of tomorrow. Being one of the thrivers will mean you can attract the talent and customers you need in the future. So you’ll apply all your leadership talents to this challenge, just like all the other challenges you’ve faced.
Wrong. Here’s the first hard truth: To do this right, you will have to UNLEARN some of the behaviors that got you this far.
Act. Don’t wait until you have the perfect plan. Nature abhors a vacuum, and so do employees. They will fill in an empty space. If you say and do nothing, or wait too long to plan a response, they will assume you agree with the status quo or don’t care. And by the way, saying, “We are going to do something – stay tuned” is doing something. Just don’t do NOTHING.
Listen. Don’t say your organization celebrates diversity. Ask, “Does our organization celebrate diversity?” Don’t say you are putting health and safety first. Ask, “Are we putting health and safety first?” You might have departments and task forces and employee surveys on this stuff. So what — assume you have a problem and find out what it is.
And this is critical: Make it safe for employees to answer the questions and ask their own. If they think there will be consequences for making their bosses uncomfortable, you will hear nothing, learn nothing, and accomplish nothing. So say it, straight up: “No one will be fired or demoted for speaking up.” Also, give people several channels of communication – live and face-to-face, by anonymous forum, by survey, and via small groups or task forces. Capture what you’re hearing, synthesize it, and then distribute it for feedback. Say, “This is what we’re hearing. Are we getting it right?” Then listen again. It’s a cycle, not a task to be checked off.
Tap into the positives of a grass-roots change.
Wanting to be heard is innate. Forming community is natural. Think about protests and social movements – people march to be seen and heard, and they work on causes to create change together and feel like a part of something big. Simply put, these things activate feel-good chemicals in our brains. Do this for your business, and your employees will feel good about your culture. You will create unity around your organization, your brand, and your mission.
Disrupt. Changing culture is like changing the course of a river. You have to really want it, because it takes dynamite. It’s messy and confusing while it’s happening.
But the ugliness of the disruption is good – it’s a signal to all that you mean business. This is not just about memos and posters and procedures – they’ve seen all of that. This has to look like nothing they’ve seen before. It’s Opposite Day. How do you usually talk to everyone? What words do you use? Where do you meet? How does it feel? Don’t do any of that. Say or do things they don’t expect to set the right tone.
Then use that dynamite. When you hear what’s wrong, go after it. That looks different for every problem and every organization. Use your sounding board to guide you.
Facilitate. As you figure out significant actions to take, let people step up and lead, based on their skills and passions. And then follow; ask what you can do to advise, clear a path, and make things happen. And then lead by example. Show employees you are taking concrete and personal steps toward the culture you are defining together.
Never stop. Don’t declare victory and disband the change team. Assume there is always more to do. Make the effort permanent. Keep listening and learning. Forever. You can celebrate, but celebrate progress, as defined by employees and experts. Celebrate growth, and then keep growing.
So here are your new leadership behaviors, for a new culture:
Finding BalanceI realized I was wasting part of my life by "relaxing" on the weekends. So I made a decision. Every weekend I would do at least one thing I enjoy.
Emerson’s Off-the-Clock series captures the personal thoughts of our consultants.
In December 2012, I flew home from another busy week of consulting. I convinced myself (again) that I should use the weekend to relax. I needed to relax because I had another busy week coming up.
So I sat at home and watched television, ate, slept, and did nothing…all weekend. When I thought about it, I realized this was not unusual. There were many weeks when I pushed myself to the limit to please my company and my clients and then convinced myself to “relax” all weekend so I could perform for them again the next week. As I headed back to the airport, I realized I was wasting part of my life by “relaxing” on the weekends. So I made a decision. Every weekend, going forward, I would do at least one thing I enjoy.
It did not have to take the entire weekend; it might only be half a day…or two hours…or one hour…but every weekend I would do something that brought me pleasure.
On January 1, 2013, I began my quest. I went hiking. I went kayaking. I snowshoed. I spent time on my road bike. I mountain biked. I camped. I went spelunking. I went to film festivals. I visited museums. I attended food festivals. I tried new restaurants. I ate exotic foods. I went to the cinema, opera, ballet and I enjoyed musicals. I ran 5Ks, 10Ks, half-marathons, marathons and even ultra-marathons. I swam. I went birding. I explored small towns and large cities and other countries. I read. I wrote. I learned. For the past 385 consecutive weeks, I have done at least one thing I enjoy every week. Yes, work, family and life continue, but I have been intentional about carving out that time. Sometimes I go on solo adventures. Sometimes I am with family or friends. That’s what’s been fun about it—the experiences can be as varied as I want them to be.
Many have followed me on this journey. Some have decided to try it for themselves. Others have done some variation—instead of every week, they do it once a month. Others have come up with tons of kid-friendly adventures to get the family out and about each week. After following me for a few years, one of my former colleagues remembered how much he enjoyed painting, so he started again. He painted every week. Eventually, he left his job and became a professional artist! Most of us probably won’t go that far but all of us could use a little boost when it comes to remembering the things we enjoy and getting some of those things back into our lives.
This year, we’ve all been impacted by COVID-19. In March, many of us found ourselves sheltering in place. Fortunately, I have a lot of great parks nearby, so I’ve been able to spend even more time running, hiking, biking and birding. I’ve also been doing a lot of backyard birding, creating my own film festivals and other things (like painting “happiness messages” on rocks and later leaving them in parks for others to find). And I’m not alone. During quarantine, lots of people have re-discovered simple pleasures. Many families have dusted off their bikes and gone on family rides or started hiking and exploring their local parks. Folks who haven’t been fishing in years (or who have never been fishing) have been out to their lakes and rivers to have a go at it.
When the shelter-in-place is lifted and things slowly go back to “normal” (or to whatever the “new normal” will be), will people slowly forget about these simple pleasures? Will they forget about these things they’ve been using to fill their days? Will they eventually get back to the hustle and bustle of family and work and work and family? Will we forget we need to do other things that bring pleasure and joy to our lives? I hope not. I hope everyone takes a few lessons from this slower time. I hope we all continue to spend quality time with our families, reconnect with our friends and classmates and former colleagues, and continue to incorporate the fun into our lives. Being a great consultant is important, but being a well-balanced person is even more important.
So work hard, but remember to get up, get out and enjoy your life!