Make Sure Everyone on Your Team Sees Learning as Part of Their Job

Make Sure Everyone on Your Team Sees Learning as Part of Their Job

As an executive coach, Kristi Hedges speaks regularly at corporate leadership development programs. During discussions, participants often confess the real reason they’re in the room, and it’s rarely “to grow and learn.” Time and again, the reasons include: they are checking a box on their development plan, their manager told them to come, or they’ve been told that their participation will increase the chance of a promotion.

The reality is that most people are not set up to take advantage of development opportunities. Many organizations view learning as something extra, something to fit in on top of the regular work. But to create a culture that encourages employee growth, managers need to make learning an expectation — not an option.

Learning helps people keep a broad perspective. When we feel expert at something, sociologists have shown, the earned dogmatism effect sets in, causing us to be more close-minded and to disregard new ideas and perspectives. For managers, suggesting that team members go to a training or take an online course isn’t enough; for many professionals, that’s just more work on their plates. Instead, managers need to encourage continual learning with supportive behaviors that, in turn, will shape their company culture.

Be a vocal role model. Managers should frame learning as a growth opportunity, not as a quid pro quo for promotion.

A good starting point is simply to talk about your own development. When managers open up about their personal areas for improvement, it becomes more acceptable for everyone else to do the same. Ask yourself: What skills are you most excited to develop? What areas do you need to grow the most in? What insights have you found helpful in accomplishing these goals? Then share your answers with the rest of your team.

You should come back from every workshop or training with a story about what you learned. Rather than the typical, “It was interesting,” be specific. For example, you might say, “I thought I was a good listener, but I can see that this is a growth area for me. The day showed me new ways to interact with others, and though they aren’t necessarily comfortable for me, I’m going to try them out.”

If you talk about learning as being enjoyable, you set a playful tone that encourages people to be adaptively authentic — and open to trying new behaviors.

Celebrate growth and lean into failure. Carol Dweck and her colleagues at Stanford University recently published research showing that people don’t simply have passions, they develop them. The best way to determine what you enjoy is to try new things, even when those things are challenging or uncomfortable. If you want your team to be excited about and find purpose in their work, encourage them to be curious and experiment.

A successful learning environment celebrates growth for growth’s sake. One way to develop this kind of culture is to recognize employees when they make progress on a new initiative — even if it doesn’t hit the goal — because they have proactively created a learning opportunity for themselves and the company at large. In addition, when you promote team members, do it for their professional development, even if it means you lose them to another division.

You can also support learning by not hiding failures. One technology company I advise began instituting mandatory post-mortems for all of its product releases and major programs, no matter the results. Team members were able to both celebrate successes and illuminate failures as a matter of regular business, creating an environment that encouraged transparency and continuous learning. People felt free to discuss issues without blame, and interdepartmental communication improved.

Make it easy for people. People usually take on development opportunities on top of their regular workload, so the easier you can make it for them to find the right program, the better. A Google search for “management training” will undoubtedly lead you down a rabbit hole for hours. Instead, try asking HR for recommendations. If that doesn’t give you the results you’re looking for, crowdsource what you need. Ask colleagues inside and outside your office what they’ve recommended to their teams. You might end up with a repository of vetted ideas.

When someone is attending a program, lighten their workload to reduce stress and allow them to be present. I’ve heard many employees complain that their boss recommended them for a development program only to email them constantly throughout the session, forcing them to step out to address work issues.

And make it easy for participants to apply the learning. In an attempt to show “value,” managers often require team members to present their takeaways or train others after completing a program. But doing so just creates more work for the participant. It’s more valuable to let people apply what they’ve learned to their own projects first. This gives them the opportunity to determine what lessons are relevant before sharing them with the rest of the team.

Foster new experiences. Research shows that to be inspired, we need to transcend current thought and become aware of new or better possibilities. As the adage goes, if you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.

Cross-functional projects, role rotations, and geographic relocations are just a few ways to expose people to new learning experiences. Special assignments that last at least a year will help give your team a chance to “eat their own cooking,” or witness the impact of their decisions. People benefit most and feel empowered when you allow them to weigh in on what learning opportunities are of the greatest interest to them.

New experiences can feel daunting, especially when someone is accomplished in their current role — but that’s exactly why you should foster them. Only by tackling unfamiliar challenges will people get the feedback they need to learn. Your team may not always succeed when faced with challenging situations, and that’s OK. The goal is for them to learn from the task, not necessarily to knock it out of the park.

Companies are investing considerable money and time into developing talent, but without doing the up-front work to ensure that leaders are building a learning culture. Frontline managers have the largest and most immediate influence. If you’re a manager who wants to grow your team, demonstrate that you’re committed to growth yourself.

How to Get Your Team to Follow Through After a Meeting

Paul Axtell
March 30, 2017

ny team leader knows that it’s what happens between project meetings that makes or breaks a project. And yet it’s often challenging to keep a team motivated and focused on getting agreed upon tasks done. Ideally you’ve checked that everyone is aligned and agreed on next steps but assigning tasks and deadlines is usually not enough.

After all, once you’ve left the meeting, things come up. Circumstances change. Priorities shift. Most people are working more hours than they want to work and still taking work home. And in many places, it’s generally accepted that people won’t do everything they’ve agreed to in a meeting. People don’t use “my dog ate it” as an excuse, but close to it. Just in the last week, I’ve heard, “My morning got away from me” and “Something else came up.” It’s hard to buck against this kind of culture but it’s possible.

Start by ending the meeting with clear agreements on specific actions and completion dates for each item. I love the phrase: Do thing X by time Y or call. Don’t automatically default to your next meeting date as the completion date for each action item. Choose a date that makes sense to the project and creates a sense of urgency. Remind people that they can negotiate on dates until they feel comfortable being able to deliver as promised.

Then ask people to communicate if one of their action items becomes at risk of non-delivery. This is not about perfection in delivery, it is about perfection in communication. It’s important to deliberately cultivate and coordinate commitmentsif you expect people to follow through.

Get a one-page summary of the meeting out within an hour if possible so the discussion and next steps stay on everyone’s radar. Then assign someone to track and follow up on action items between the meetings. This is not about micromanaging or not trusting — this is simply good project management.

Keep a running tally of which items get done. How many of the agreed-upon action items are completed by the dates agreed upon? This record of your action item completion rate — your say/do ratio — will tell you how you are doing. Set a target. In my experience, a 60% completion rate is about average. Getting to 85% will give your team an incredible sense of accomplishment. But don’t expect perfection — it’s the overall pattern than matters.

Don’t let the tracking turn you into a task master. Be compassionate. Each person on your team has a complex life — much of which is unknown to you. You are not the only person asking for their time. People are usually on multiple teams and often have more than one person to whom they report. By being interested in each of your colleagues, finding time to chat, and working to understand their current reality, you can gain their respect and permission to ask them to do what they say they will do, reliably — almost every time.

Of course, when someone does drop the ball, don’t let non-performance go unchallenged but make it a gentle conversation when you discuss it. You shouldn’t think less of the person because they didn’t keep their word — it’s usually a cultural thing not an individual flaw. Remember that you are establishing a new norm. Role model the desired behavior and continually remind people of what is expected.

If all of the above isn’t working and you’re not hitting a completion rate that you’re comfortable with, you may want to address the issues head-on with your team. An open and honest conversation about keeping the agreed-upon commitments is constructive.

Here are the questions to ask of yourself and your team:

  • Is each action item essential to completion of the project?

  • At the time we commit, do we fully intend to do whatever it takes to deliver?

  • Are we clear about what needs to be done, who will do it, and when it will be done?

  • Do we have the ability to say no or negotiate when we can’t fully commit?

  • Is it OK if someone follows up to check on our progress?

  • Do we have a system to keep track of action items and their completion?

  • Do we have an agreement to communicate if something comes up that might interfere with our completion of the task?

This problem-solving discussion will increase everyone’s level of awareness for making and keeping commitments as well as surface problems that keep them from doing so.

Getting to a higher level of completion on action items leads not only to exponential progress toward goals, but also to a tremendous sense of accomplishment — both personally and for the group.

Calculating the ROI of Customer Engagement

Calculating the ROI of Customer Engagement

We know that customer engagement matters. Yet much of our thinking about engagement remains simplistic. Most current definitions of engagement are bimodal – someone is either engaged or they’re not. But this is a limited view that hampers our ability to manage engagement in meaningful ways.

How to Write Email with Military Precision

From HBR: https://hbr.org/2016/11/how-to-write-email-with-military-precision

In the military, a poorly formatted email may be the difference between mission accomplished and mission failure. During my active duty service, I learned how to structure emails to maximize a mission’s chances for success. Since returning from duty, I have applied these lessons to emails that I write for my corporate job, and my missives have consequently become crisper and cleaner, eliciting quicker and higher-quality responses from colleagues and clients. Here are three of the main tips I learned on how to format your emails with military precision:

1. Subjects with keywords. The first thing that your email recipient sees is your name and subject line, so it’s critical that the subject clearly states the purpose of the email, and specifically, what you want them to do with your note. Military personnel use keywords that characterize the nature of the email in the subject. Some of these keywords include:

  • ACTION – Compulsory for the recipient to take some action
  • SIGN – Requires the signature of the recipient
  • INFO – For informational purposes only, and there is no response or action required
  • DECISION – Requires a decision by the recipient
  • REQUEST – Seeks permission or approval by the recipient
  • COORD – Coordination by or with the recipient is needed

The next time you email your direct reports a status update, try using the subject line: INFO – Status Update. And if you need your manager to approve your vacation request, you could write REQUEST – Vacation. If you’re a project manager who requires responses to your weekly implementation report from several people, type ACTION – Weekly Implementation Report. These demarcations might seem obvious or needlessly exclamatory because they are capitalized. But your emails will undoubtedly stand out in your recipient’s inbox, and they won’t have to work out the purpose of your emails. (It also forces you to think about what you really want from someone before you contribute to their inbox clutter.)

2. Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF). Military professionals lead their emails with a short, staccato statement known as the BLUF. (Yes, being the military, there is an acronym for everything.) It declares the purpose of the email and action required. The BLUF should quickly answer the five W’s: who, what, where, when, and why. An effective BLUF distills the most important information for the reader. Here’s an example BLUF from the Air Force Handbook:

BLUF: Effective 29 Oct 13, all Air Force Doctrine Documents (AFDDs) have been rescinded and replaced by core doctrine volumes and doctrine annexes.

The BLUF helps readers quickly digest the announcement, decision, and when the new procedures go into effect. The reader doesn’t necessarily want to know all the background information that led to the decision. He or she likely wants to know “how does this email affect me?” and the BLUF should answer this question every time.

For my corporate job, I don’t use the acronym “BLUF” because it would be unclear to recipients, but I have started leading with “Bottom Line” in bold at the start of my notes. Sometimes, I even highlight the bottom line in yellow so that my point is abundantly clear. Here is an example of a BLUF adapted for corporate use:

Subject: INFO – Working from home

Shannon,

Bottom Line: We will reduce the number of days that employees can work from home from three to one day per week effective December 1st.

Background:

  • This is an effort to encourage team morale and foster team collaboration
  • All members of the management committee supported this decision

Shannon knows that no response is required because it was marked INFO. She also quickly grasps the information in the email because of the Bottom Line. Because this is a big change in corporate policy, background details are provided to show that the decision is final, supported by management, and intended to result in positive effects for the company.

3. Be economical. Military personnel know that short emails are more effective than long ones, so they try to fit all content in one pane, so the recipient doesn’t have to scroll. They also eschew the passive voice because it tends to make sentences longer, or as the Air Force manual puts it, “Besides lengthening and twisting sentences, passive verbs often muddy them.” Instead, use active voice, which puts nouns ahead of verbs, so it’s clear who is doing the action. By using active voice, you are making the “verbs do the work for you.” Instead of, “The factory was bombed by an F18,” military professionals would say, “An F18 bombed the factory.”

Even though short emails are usually more effective, long emails abound, even in the military. If an email requires more explanation, you should list background information after the BLUF as bullet points so that recipients can quickly grasp your message, like in the above example.

Lastly, to prevent clogging inboxes, military professionals link to attachments rather than attaching files. This will force the recipient to check the website that has the attachment, which will likely provide the most recent version of a file. Also, the site will verify that the recipient has the right security credentials to see the file, and you don’t inadvertently send a file to someone who isn’t permitted to view it.

Here is an email example for corporate use that uses keywords in the subject, bottom line, background bullets, and active voice:

Subject: INFO – Meeting Change

Shannon,

Bottom Line: We scheduled the weekly update meeting for Thursday at 2 PM CST to accommodate the CFO’s schedule.

Background:

  • We searched for other available times, but this is the only time that works, and it’s important that you are on the call, so that you can address your P&L.
  • CFO will be in Boston on Thursday meeting at an offsite with the management committee.
  • He wants to review the financial report that can be found here (insert link) before the call.

By adopting military email etiquette, you will introduce a kernel of clarity to your correspondence and that of your colleagues and clients.


Kabir Sehgal is the author of New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller Coined: The Rich Life of Money And How Its History Has Shaped Us. He is a US Navy veteran, Lieutenant in the US Navy Reserve, and a recipient of the Defense Meritorious Service Medal. He was a vice president at J.P. Morgan as well as Grammy and Latin Grammy award winning producer. You can follow him on Twitter or Facebook.


This article is about BUSINESS WRITING

Polite Ways to Decline a Meeting Invitation

by Liane Davey

There it is in your inbox: a meeting invite to a meeting you really don’t want to attend. Maybe because it’s shoe-horned into one of the few remaining white spaces in your calendar. Or it’s for a time that’s already booked, and now you’re left to decide whom to turn down. Whatever the reason, sometimes you need to decline a meeting invite.

Your first challenge is deciding which meetings to decline. A little discipline goes a long way here. Establish a set of criteria for participation and stick with it.

Start by assessing the value of the meeting. Is the meeting about something important, timely, and worthwhile? Is it set up for success by having a clear purpose and agenda? Is there background information available to inform participants in advance? Are the appropriate people invited so that meaningful progress can be made? If the value of the meeting isn’t clear from the invitation, reply back with a few open-ended questions before making your decision:

  • “Could you please provide some additional information on the agenda?”
  • “What stage of decision making are we at on this topic?”
  • “How should I prepare for the discussion?”

If it’s clear that the meeting is worthwhile, your next question is whether or not you’re the right person to attend. Are the issues within the purview of your role? Do you have the expertise to contribute to the conversation? Are you underqualified or overqualified for the level of decisions on the table? If you’re questioning why you were invited, reach out to the meeting organizer before responding:

  • “What are you looking for me to contribute at this meeting?”
  • “Who else will be there from my department?”
  • “Who will I be representing?”

Finally, if you believe the meeting will be valuable and that you would make a contribution to the discussions, you need to decide whether or not the meeting is a priority for you right now. How central is the meeting topic to your role? Where does the issue fit relative to your other immediate demands? How unique is your contribution and could your seat be better filled by someone else?

If you can’t say yes to any of the three criteria above, then it’s appropriate to decline the meeting, but tread carefully. You want to leave your co-worker feeling that you’re a good team player and a positive contributor, even if you don’t attend her meeting. Consider a few different options:

Can I stop the meeting altogether? If the meeting failed criteria #1 because you don’t believe it’s set up for success, take a moment to talk with the organizer about your concerns. It’s possible the person will dismiss your comments, but it’s possible that you trigger one of two positive outcomes: either the meeting gets better positioned for success or it gets cancelled. Try one of the following approaches:

  • “This is an interesting topic. Based on our current year priorities, I’m not sure we’re ready for a productive conversation yet. Would it be possible to push this meeting back and let the working group make a little more progress before we meet?”
  • “I’m looking forward to making some decisions on this issue. From the meeting invite, it doesn’t look like Production is involved. I would like to wait until someone from Production is willing to join. Otherwise, we won’t be able to make any decisions.”
  • “Based on the information in the invitation, it looks like this meeting is for informational purposes. Would it be possible to get a summary sent out rather than convening a meeting?”

Can I recommend someone else? If the meeting is important, but it failed criteria #2 because you’re not the right person for the job, try recommending someone else. Be sure to invest some effort in finding the right person so you don’t appear to be shirking the responsibility. Try floating these options:

  • “I’m flattered that you are interested in my input. I don’t believe I’m the best qualified on this topic. I did a little digging and it looks like Pat would have the necessary context. Would you be comfortable inviting Pat rather than me?”
  • “Given that this is a decision-making meeting, I think it’s more appropriate to have my manager represent our team.”
  • “Thanks for the invite to this meeting. I don’t think I’m required at this point. If it’s alright with you, I’d like to send Jose as my delegate.”

Can I contribute in advance? If the meeting failed criterion #3 (you determined that it was an important topic on which you could add unique value, but attending the meeting doesn’t fit with your schedule or priorities), you have the opportunity to add value in advance. Take a few minutes to pull together some notes and to brief the chair or a suitable participant. That will be much more efficient than attending the entire meeting. You can respond to the organizer by saying:

  • “This is going to be an important discussion. I’m not able to attend, but I will find some time to share my thoughts so you can include them in the discussion.”
  • “I’m sorry that I can’t attend the meeting. If I prepare you in advance, could I ask that you represent my ideas at the meeting?”

Can I attend for part of the meeting? If one or more agenda items did meet all three of your criteria, whereas others didn’t, you might have the option of attending for part of the meeting. You can respond with one of the following:

  • “Thanks for the invite. I think it’s really important for me to be part of the discussion on rebranding. Given a few other priorities at the moment, I’m going to excuse myself once that item is complete.”
  • “Would it be possible to cover the rebranding discussion as the first agenda item? I can’t stay for the entire meeting but I’d really like to contribute on that one.”

Regardless of which option you choose, you’re trying to do three things. First, model deliberateness about the use of time. Second, share your rationale so that the meeting organizer has some context for why you’re not participating. Third, make an effort to meet the organizer’s needs, even if it’s not in the way they had originally envisioned.

It might be a bit of a culture shock at first, but all the overwhelmed people with 35 hours a week of meetings will quickly admire your discipline. Just remember, you need to afford the same courtesy to the people who decline the invites you send!

 

Liane Davey is the cofounder of 3COze Inc. She is the author of You First: Inspire Your Team to Grow Up, Get Along, and Get Stuff Done and a coauthor of Leadership Solutions: The Pathway to Bridge the Leadership Gap. Follow her on Twitter at @LianeDavey.