Thursday, June 25, 2020

7 Musts When Engaging in Healthy Conflict

Guest post from Mike Robbins:

The ability for you and your team to effectively engage in conflict may not be all that easy or fun, but it is fundamental to your performance, both individually and collectively.
As important as engaging in conflict is to the culture and performance of your team, there are both healthy and unhealthy ways of doing it.

Here are seven things to remember when dealing with a conflict or disagreement—one-on-one, within a group, or within the entire team:

1. Take responsibility. This is not about pointing fingers or figuring out who’s at fault; it’s about owning up to the situation and recognizing that we’re a part of the issue. It’s also about owning our emotions and reactions in an authentic, healthy way.

2. Address the conflict directly. Conflicts are always handled most successfully when they’re dealt with directly and promptly. Be real and vulnerable when you disagree with someone, or when you have an issue to address, but make sure to do so as soon as possible. Don’t let it fester.

3. Seek first to understand. As challenging as it can be, the best approach in any conflict situation is to listen with as much understanding and empathy as possible— even when we’re feeling angry or defensive. If we can understand where the other person or people are coming from, even if we don’t agree, we have a good chance of being able to work things out.

4. Use “I” statements. If someone does or says something and we have a specific reaction to it, that’s real. If we judge someone, make a generalization about them, or accuse them of something, not only is it factually untrue (it’s just our opinion), it most likely will trigger a defensive response (because we’re usually being self-righteous in that scenario). We must own our opinions as ours, not speak them like they’re the truth. Using “I” statements allows us to speak from a place of authenticity and ownership, ideally without blame or judgment. There’s a big difference when we say “I’m feeling frustrated” versus “You are frustrating.”

5. Go for a win-win. The only real way to have a conflict resolved authentically is when it’s a true win-win for everyone involved. This doesn’t necessarily mean that each person gets his or her way. It does, however, mean that everyone gets heard, honored, and listened to. And, when and if possible—we make compromises that leave everyone empowered and in partnership.

6. Acknowledge others. Whether it’s a one-on-one conversation, a situation that involves a few people, or a discussion that includes the whole team, acknowledgment is essential to resolving conflict effectively. Thank the other people involved in the conflict for being willing and able to engage. Thank them for their courage and their truth. Acknowledgment isn’t about agreement; it’s about honoring and appreciating the willingness to have a tough conversation, which is brave all the way around.

7. Get support and have compassion. Conflicts often bring up fear and cut to the core of our most vulnerable insecurities. Therefore, it’s critical to reach out for authentic support (not necessarily agreement on the topic) from those who can help us work through the issue and resolve it in a healthy and responsible way. It’s also important to have compassion with ourselves and others as we attempt to engage in these conversations. Usually they aren’t fun or easy, but they are necessary for us personally, for our relationships, and for the success of the team.

Mike Robbins is the author of five books including his latest, We’re All in This Together: Creating a Team Culture of High Performance, Trust, and Belonging (April 14, 2020).  He’s a thought leader and sought-after speaker whose clients include Google, Wells Fargo, Microsoft, Schwab, eBay, Genentech, the Oakland A’s, and many others.

Friday, June 19, 2020

What’s the Secret to Strong Leadership?

Guest post from Alain Hunkins:

Over the past two decades, I’ve worked with thousands of teams, and tens of thousands of leaders in twenty-five countries around the world.   I’ve worked with every industry you can think of, as well as some industries you probably don’t know exist.

On the surface, each team and company’s situation and issues were unique. However, over time, I started to see patterns emerge- patterns of behavior.  It’s been said that success leaves clues, and it’s true.  Great leaders operate using similar principles to guide their actions.  What’s less well known, as equally as true, is that mistakes leave clues, too.  Poor leaders rely on a set of “shadow principles” that keep them mired in mediocrity.

So what separates great leaders from the rest?  Mastering three fundamentals:  connection, communication, and collaboration.
At its core, leadership isn’t about control, power, or a job title. Leadership is a relationship between two people. The quality of their relationship is built on the quality of their connection.  Connection provides the spark that gets others to willingly follow your lead. It’s the main ingredient in trust. There’s a reason we say, “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”: it’s the root of humanity.

Connection comes with a price—the investment of your time and attention.  It also takes a willingness to put your ego aside.  Demonstrating empathy towards others means being courageous enough to be vulnerable from time to time.  However, these upfront costs pay dividends on the back end—that of engagement and commitment.

When leaders are asked, “What is your biggest challenge at work?” communication is usually at the top of the list. This makes sense: leaders spend 70-90% of their time in group or team interactions every day.  Communication and leadership are joined at the hip.

Effective communication is harder than it looks. For the most part, it’s taken for granted.  We treat communication like a basic utility. Just like the electricity in your home, it’s expected that it’ll always be there for you. Not until the blackout do you notice you have a real problem.

The challenge with communication isn’t one of quantity -- it’s a quality issue.  Great leaders know that the goal of act of communication isn’t communicating, it’s to create shared understanding. The best leaders don’t assume that getting to understanding just happens.   They know that the nature of transferring meaning from one person to another is rife with challenges. They accept obstacles as part and parcel of the process. They just happen to know what those obstacles will be in advance, so they can proactively deal with them.

If there’s one constant in 2020, it’s change.  This year we’ve taken VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous) to a whole new level.  People, companies and entire industries have had to pivot and reinvent themselves.  Technology has connected more people in more places at more times than ever before. Leaders need to harness the power of these connections. 

Today’s leader can’t stay stuck in a silo, relying on the antiquated model of top-down command and control. Instead of commanding, they need to become skilled facilitators.  Instead of being in charge, they need to focus on helping the people in their charge.

Collaborative leaders call on a variety of skills. They need to know how to build a common vision and unifying purpose. They need to inspire others to bring their whole selves to work. They need to create a climate that draws out the best ideas. They need to know how to flex their decision-making style for each situation.  If that wasn’t enough, they do all these things while making it easier for their people to do their best work.

These efforts bring rich rewards. Leading effective collaboration is a win/win. Not only are employees happier, creative and energized, but companies that promote collaboration are five times as likely to be high performing.

Connection, communication, and collaboration.  These fundamentals are the foundation for leadership success. They’re not complicated to understand, and they don’t require a great deal of sophistication. However, there’s a big gap between knowing and doing.  Practicing these principles consistently is what separates the great leaders from the rest.  If you call yourself “leader”, the true challenge is making connection, communication, and collaboration an everyday habit.

Building Strong Leaders (Wiley, March 2020) is a sought-after speaker, consultant, trainer, and coach. Over his twenty-year career, Alain has designed and facilitated seminars on numerous leadership topics, including teambuilding, communication, peak performance, innovation, and change. His clients include Wal-Mart, Pfizer, Citigroup, IBM, General Motors, and Microsoft.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

How to Build a Team of Innovators

Guest post by Chuck Swoboda:

As increasing competition, new technologies and evolving customer expectations
to disrupt nearly every industry, business leaders are turning to innovation as a way to keep their companies relevant. The standard solution is to create teams that focus explicitly on innovation. The problem? Most of these teams struggle to innovate, often delivering incremental improvements at best.

Why is that? According to McKinsey, many CEOs struggle to identify people good at innovation -- the “intrapreneurs” within their organizations who possess the rare mix of skills, motivation and attitude to successfully bring new ideas to market. Simply telling a team to focus on innovation won’t suffice. You need to thoughtfully select people with the right mindset for the team.

This problem fundamentally begins with how most companies evaluate talent. They have well-established processes for assessing employee competence in their current jobs, but those same tools can’t determine an employee’s capability for innovation. In fact, the skills that are valued in traditional roles often get in the way of the behaviors needed for innovation.

Most organizations reward employees for their ability to manage. Their job is to follow known processes and best practices to limit risk in order to deliver a predictable result. The people who are best at this struggle with risk taking and trying new ideas in search of unpredictable results, which are the behaviors required for innovation. If you’re building a team of innovators, you have to focus on a different set of qualities.

Here are some of the qualities to look for:

1. Unafraid of failure. The fear of failure prevents most people from taking the risks necessary for innovation. If you only do things that you know are going to work, you’re going to leave the best opportunities on the table. There’s no innovation without risk -- they’re fundamentally related. When building a team of innovators, you’re looking for people who are unafraid of failure, yet unwilling to fail.

2. Found on the fringes. When Brad Bird was hired at Pixar to develop a new animated movie, he recruited the supposedly disgruntled and “misfit” workers from within the company. These people were dissatisfied with the way things were and believed there was a better way of doing things. The result of their efforts was “Toy Story,” which set a new standard for animated films. To do something that’s never been done before, look for those talented employees who are unsatisfied with the status quo -- people either so frustrated that they’re looking for a new job or are stuck on the edges of the organization because they’re viewed as too difficult to work with. These are the employees most likely to succeed at innovation.

3. Deals well with uncertainty. The traditional interview process tends to focus on someone’s technical qualifications. It identifies what they’ve done in the past, when what you really need to know is how they think. Whether you’re building an innovation team from internal candidates or hiring from the outside, you need to see how someone reacts to uncertainty. One way is to ask them to solve a Fermi question. If you want to see how they react to a new problem, ask them, “How many barbers are there in New York City?” Have them use things they know, or can deduce, to develop an estimate while you watch them work out their guess. If the person insists on more information or is uncomfortable trying to find a solution to this problem, they’re not right for your team. You don’t need to worry about their specific answer -- in fact, their answer doesn’t matter. What you’re seeing is how they deal with uncertainty and how they leverage knowledge from other domains to develop an estimate. Innovation is about embracing challenges to develop new insights.

4. Actions, not words. When building a team, you need people that can actually be successful when the pressure is on. It’s tough to get at this by just talking with someone. You need to see the person in action. Here are a few tactics you might try:

- Play a game with them. The basketball court is a very effective place to evaluate someone under pressure. It’s not about skill, but how they react when you pass them the ball. Do they pass it right back to avoid making a mistake? Do they evaluate the situation and adjust to opportunities as they evolve? Do they try to score by themselves? Innovation requires people who are able to adapt under pressure to dynamic changes in responsibilities, and who truly believe the team is more important than the individual.

- Take them to a bad restaurant. People tell you a lot about themselves when they’re put in an uncomfortable situation. Take them to lunch at a restaurant that you know has terrible service and average food at best. When things start to go wrong, see if they get frustrated. If they don’t get frustrated, let yourself get frustrated and see how they react. Innovation requires that people deal effectively with tough situations. You need to know if they can stay focused and help the team stay focused on what really matters.

- Do a test run. Hire the person for one day to work with your team on a real problem that you’re facing. At the end of the day, ask the person to spend the evening coming up with a plan as to how they might overcome the current challenges, and then have them present their proposal to you and your team the next morning. You’ll both learn pretty quickly if the person is a good fit. Innovation requires you to embrace the brutal truths. To be an effective team member, they can’t be afraid to call things out that are going wrong, and to be able to receive critical feedback and use it to learn.

Building a team of innovators requires time, patience and a bit of creativity. Instead of normal hiring practices, identify people who effectively solve unexpected problems, are excited by dynamic roles, stay focused on what really matters when things don’t go as planned and are willing to speak up when they see something is wrong. When you get the right people in place, you can actually achieve innovation instead of just talking about it.

Chuck Swoboda is Innovator-in-Residence at Marquette University, President of Cape
Point Advisors and retired Chairman and CEO of Cree, Inc. He is co-inventor on more than 25 patents covering LEDs and lighting technology, and has over 30 years of experience in the technology business. Additionally, he is an author, speaker and host of the “Innovators on Tap” podcast. His new book is The Innovator’s Spirit: Discover the Mindset to Pursue the Impossible (Fast Company, May 5, 2020). Learn more at

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Hiring in the World of HyperGrowth

Guest post from Beth Armknecht Miller:

Recently, I was working with an executive who shared a job description for a new IT
position. He leads a rapidly growing company so there were going to be multiple hires for
the same position in a short period of time. As he spoke about the position and the next steps in his hiring process, I became uneasy.

Why was I concerned? Because of the things I didn’t hear him say. As he continued to describe his hiring process, it became clear to me that his process was flawed and without adjustments, he would end up with an individual that would probably depart in less than a year. A very costly mistake, when the salary for position was $120K.

As I questioned him, the first gap I identified in his hiring process was a high opportunity for bias. The interview team was comprised of three “old guard” employees none of whom had been trained in screening and interviewing candidates specifically around bias. We all have unconscious biases, yet many hiring managers don’t understand the risk bias brings when hiring an employee. Using validated hiring assessments, is one technique that can help decrease hiring bias. If you are using an assessment, make sure it is validated for hiring. And if you aren’t using one, find one!

This company had big growth plans and had been quickly hiring to meet their growth needs, yet their process wasn’t consistent. Today with the shortage of talent, a consistent process can provide companies with a more expedited hiring process, a critical component to attracting and hiring top players. In addition to an inconsistent process, none of the managers had been trained on behavioral interviewing techniques.

High growth companies have a unique challenge, and that is identifying new employees who can grow and develop with the company. Too often employers hire for their current needs and don’t evaluate a candidate’s potential. This is especially important for a fast-growing company. Now, measuring potential can be difficult when you don’t have any historical information from a candidate sitting across from you. So, what questions can you ask that would uncover a candidate’s potential? From my experience, high growth companies need people who are competent in embracing change, emotional intelligence and continuous learning.

And finally, have an onboarding process that starts the minute a candidate accepts your offer. Get them engaged with you and your team before their first day. This will decrease the likelihood of them having “buyer’s remorse” and not showing up for their first day of a work, a phenomenon which has been increasing the last few years.

So, if you are a high growth company with multiple job openings, take these steps to speed up the hiring process, increase hiring success and talent retention. When you follow these steps you will decrease the time to hire and retain talent that will grow with your company.

1. Identify a validated hiring assessment and develop job profiles using the assessment. Then measure each candidate against those assessment profiles. Also train your managers on how they can decrease their bias during the hiring process. Both assessments and training will decrease your hiring bias.

2. Train your hiring managers on how to conduct a behavioral interview. This requires understanding the related actions and behaviors that will demonstrate future success. It also increases consistency in the hiring process.

3. Decrease the timeline of the hiring process. Evaluate your current hiring process, is it ready for hyper growth? This Hiring Process Checkup can serve as a start to your evaluation. Panel/team interviews is one method to decrease the time to making a hiring decision.

4. Focus on uncovering a candidate’s potential, not just their skills and experience. Understand the core competencies of the specific position and include these three competencies critical to companies with high growth: emotional intelligence, learning mindset, and embracing change.

5. And finally, review your onboarding process and make sure that it starts BEFORE the employee’s first day. A study from the Aberdeen Group found that 83% of high performing organizations started onboarding employees before the first day. Our Onboarding Plan Questions can help you with your review.

Beth Miller is an accomplished author, speaker, and solution provider; her insight and expertise make her a sought-after leadership influencer. A serial entrepreneur and executive coach as well as a former Vistage Chair of 13 years, Beth is featured in numerous industry blogs and publications including Entrepreneur, Leadercast, and Her book, “Are You Talent Obsessed?,” compiles her best practices for business leaders.