In the last article, we covered decision-making. Once a decision has been made, how do we effectively implement it? It is important to remember that deciding in itself doesn’t mean doing. From decision to action there is a long way. Implementation encompasses an understanding of who will do what by when, accountability, and then taking action. These should ideally be decided when the decision itself is made. Then, for implementation to happen, it is critical to learn how to establish better commitments and how to always honor them, and what to do when unexpected things get in the way.
So, how can we create impeccable commitments?
A commitment is a two-way contract that includes a request and a promise. It looks like this:
In order to accomplish A, B, C…
I request you to do X by Z (date).
Can you commit to that?
This clarifies who will do what, by when, and why.
When it comes to committing, there are only two acceptable possible answers:
Yes, I commit.
No, I do not commit.
While there are three we can accept until one of the above emerges from the process:
I commit to respond (by a certain date).
I need clarification (on any of the elements).
I counter-offer (on condition of my acceptance).
But let’s also remember that things can be unpredictable, and oftentimes circumstances change. Still, we can always honor our commitments, even when delivering is at risk. So, how do we assess integrity in commitments?
You believe you have the resources and skills to fulfill it.
You intend to apply your energy to the task (will).
You have done substantial planning to mitigate risks.
Honorability in commitments means honoring your promises, and unconditionally fulfilling them whenever possible. If the commitment is at risk:
Alert the creditor immediately.
Apologize and offer an explanation.
Inquire about potential damages and offer reparation.
Learn for the future.
Can you imagine living in an organization (and a world) where the above become true? How could our relationships improve? And our customer centricity? And our accountability? Just think of how life would be if we were told something is at risk as soon as it emerges and not after.
Guidelines for Impeccable Commitments
Following these guidelines in implementation helps to ensure that the productivity and effectiveness of meetings, conversations, and decisions made do not go to waste. Further, it adds to the quality of authentic relationships and conversations if we can abide by some standards. That way, even if circumstances change, things are not irreparable. A new way forward can be found, we can take care of our expected outcomes and the relationship can become even stronger because we know we care for each other.
Let me tell you a story, the story of a 7-year kid (maybe me, maybe you, maybe your son or daughter…) being inspired by his parents to be his own superhero:
–Who is your hero? – my father asked.
– Spider-Man! – I said excitedly.
– Why my son? – my father asked.
– Dad, because he knows what is right, what is wrong. And he has superpowers! He can save and protect the good guys and our planet against the villains! – I answered, even more excited.
– And how are you going to look and act like him? – my father asked.
– I don’t know… I’ll have to find a spider to bite me… – I said, laughing out loud.
My father and I couldn’t stop laughing.
– I have an idea that can save us from the hospital… Shall I tell you? – My mom said, joining the conversation.
So my mom started to first tell me a story, followed later on by many other stories (with my dad) embedded in a game called #ConsciousKids. It changed my life!
– Tell me, my son, do you remember when you learned to ride a bike? How many times do you fall? Do you remember the knee injuries? And your cries of pain and frustration? – Said mom.
– Well yes, mom! – I answered.
– With your dad, we saw you fall, cry, scream with rage and we saw you get up, try again and fall down and try again.- Said mom.
– Yes, with mom we looked at each other and I remember we said to ourselves: “He is beautiful, our little one hero!”. – Said dad.
– Do you know why? Nope? Tell me: When did you feel proud and strong like a hero? – Ask mom.
– Well when I managed for the first time to pedal alone without falling for many meters, I was so happy and I cried with joy to be the hero! – I answered.
– There you were just happy to have succeeded. For us, you were a hero every time you got up crying after falling and hurting yourself. – My dad said.
– That’s how and when you were a real hero for us: You showed us your strength, your courage, and your determination to overcome your weakness, and you didn’t give up despite your failures and your pain. – My mom said.
– The important thing is not to fall it’s how you get up. – My dad said.
– Oh yeah, I think I got it. – I said
– Good! So, what other opportunities can you find to be your own hero? – Dad replied
– Okay, but that sounds difficult to me. I think it’s easier to go back to the search for the spider than to give me superpowers. – I said
– Don’t worry son. I have an idea! Would you like to play a game with mom and dad? – My mom said.
– Yes, I love playing with you. – I said
– Well, welcome to the Conscious Kids game. We’ll be back with more stories very soon! Are you ready? – My mom said.
– Yes! – we all answered in unison and we laughed together and hugged each other. This game sounds like fun.
Click below to sign up for our newsletter and get even more amazing content regularly!
In the last article, we learned all about communication. Before we can get to the next two parts of this series, decision-making and implementation, remember that the quality of our conversations is key. Decision-making requires effective meetings with a clear purpose and effective communication among the people involved.
Making effective decisions is surprisingly, and unfortunately, not so common. Things generally could be much better. In order to chart a better path forward, it is useful to have a model that we can easily implement and rely on. In this decision-making model, I am presenting, there are really only 5 possibilities regarding who “owns” the decision:
I decide: when information is mainly held within the person involved and a fast decision needs to be made
We discuss, I decide: This is one of the most used models. One person is responsible but wants to make a more informed decision, and other people have relevant knowledge or perspectives. Another reason to implement this is if you need high levels of engagement from people participating in the implementation coming after. For this, you might need a meeting. The more effective it is, the better information and engagement you will find.
We discuss, We decide: This is what we many times call “consensus”. We need to use this type when we are discussing topics related to the team itself: our values, operational agreements, and big strategic choices. But let’s be cautious, as people misunderstand what consensus means — it is not 100% alignment, but means we can live with the 80-20 rule. Yes, it is hard to have 100% alignment among 10 or 20 people or even more. Then, we need to go with the flow and what most people are aligned with. When we are not in full agreement we just need to ask if we can still go with the flow, and this should be true unless there is an ethical or legal issue with the decision that was made. If it’s just a matter of different perspectives, we need to learn to let go and respect what the majority is inclined to.
We discuss, You decide: this is complementary to “we discuss, I decide”. In this case, we acknowledge that we empower people while still bringing the knowledge and expertise from others.
You decide: when someone has the role and expertise to lead this, we should help them do so. It is a clear way to give accountability and decision-making power to someone.
What must be done is pretty simple: define who makes the decision, and how, before making the decision. And then, everyone involved should commit to the outcome upfront. A big roadblock that often comes in the way is that we don’t clarify how we are making decisions. Before starting the actual discussion, clarify who is the decision maker, and what is the mechanism. Start the discussion with the decision-making model already clear.
Once the decision-making model is clear, the common issues highlighted at the start of the article are taken care of as well. People know who is making the decision, even if they disagree on the decision or way forward, they have bought into the process (barring ethical or legal concerns), and they are kept in the loop from the start so that they don’t have to fear outcomes after decisions have already been made. When we put together effective meetings, communication, and decision-making, we have added a lot of productivity and relationship effectiveness to our lives. Think about the positive effects this can have on the individuals, the team, and on business results.
The short answer is no. Great cultures are those that have a great story that employees want to be part of while great brands are those that have a great story that customers want to be part of.
Many times, we may think that creating a brand is based on a great marketing strategy. Buying billboards, producing TV commercials, and using social media and content marketing are great tools to create brand awareness, however, remarkable brands are those that create the conditions under which customers want to talk about them and be associated with them.
The Raving Fan Strategy
David Salyers, one of the original precursors of the Chick-fil-A brand, promotes a strategy they developed known as the Raving Fan Strategy. In short, this strategy consists of three parts.
Operational excellence: Serve people and give them what they want, but do it with excellence.
Second Mile Service: Going the extra mile is not enough; excellence means going a second extra mile to ensure customers/clients/partners spread positive remarks about your brand in a positive way- word of mouth.
Emotional Connections Marketing: Emotional Connections Marketing is the concept of finding ways to invest marketing dollars and resources into what’s important to your customers and then make it important to you. For example, if you’ve got kids in a local school and I support that school, I’ve supported you – my customer. I’ve used the resources that I have to care about what customers care about.
The only way that this can happen and be sustained over time is by intentionally building an organizational culture that lives by these values, and then letting your brand story be a consequence of that culture.
It Starts with Leadership
A good place to start is to get clarity on what we stand for as an organization and our desired ways of working in order to create remarkable customer experiences. These start with our leadership teams and should shape the unwritten norms that tell people what is expected of them and what is celebrated or frowned upon.
For example: Is it ok to make decisions to serve a good customer without checking every detail with your boss? Should you follow the rules even if they don’t make sense or are you expected to speak up?
There are key things that leaders can do to build a strong culture that in turn builds a strong brand. Leaders need to understand what is important to their customers and then communicate that across the organization to make it important to everyone involved. Then you have to focus on walking the talk by defining systems and showing behaviors that support these expectations.
Culture is Caught more than Taught
It’s crucial to understand that example teaches much more than just words. A lot of people think, “let’s set up a class and teach our employees about our culture”. But in reality, the strongest way to “teach” cultural values is to bring clarity around what they are, and then empower leaders to role model them consistently.
Your employees and your customers will certainly notice whether you are living your brand from the inside out or not. After all, every interaction that your customers have with your team has the potential to elevate or destroy their connection with your brand and, therefore, turn them into detractors or raving fans.
In the first instance of this series, we broke down more effective meetings. This time, we will talk all about just that — talking! Many people muse about the difficulty of having effective challenging conversations.
This can be as simple as telling the truth with honesty and respect, and sharing ideas without fear of reprisal or being written off as unrealistic or too “soft”. In order to have productive conversations, where everyone is present in mind, body, and spirit, we need to get to a dynamic that changes everything.
The quality of our communication and conversations has an impact on the quality of our meetings, decisions, and implementation. How? Read along!
First of all, let me introduce you to the I-WE-It model.
We are always meeting because we want to achieve something (IT). And whatever we are doing, we need to do it together. Plus, this might not be the last time!
So, remember: every conversation is an opportunity to increase or decrease trust (we) and to feel better (or not) about ourselves in the process. The more you create a virtuous circle, the more effective you will be.
The first step, before even beginning to deliver the content or topic of conversation, is to create the connection and context (who, why, and where). We need to connect with people there so that everyone can more quickly listen to others and express their concerns and ideas.
That way, even if there is a disagreement, everyone can feel like they are in it together. At the “We” level, any conversation is an opportunity to increase trust and collaboration. That way, no matter what the outcome, people can feel connected, respected and empowered.
At the “I” level, it is checking into whether we feel valued and that we can grow and express who we are. This can even be applied to solo time — what is the quality of the conversations you have with yourself?
Sacrificing the “I” or “We” for the short-term “It” creates an unhealthy dynamic, and if there is no inbuilt trust then for the next conversation and negotiation we might need to have sooner than later. It is important also to remember that we cannot control the appearance of thoughts, emotions, and feelings — these just “happen”.
If we voice them literally, we can unintentionally escalate conflict, hurt relationships, and feel bad. If we don’t voice them or tell a “cosmetic” truth, we never address the real problem. The relationship is hollowed and we keep the toxins without ourselves. Often the task is negatively impacted as well — and worse, the “I” energy leaks out anyway. The only way through (and the most effective short and long-term) is to have an authentic conversation. So what does that entail?
Having Authentic Effective Conversations
First, understand that the only reason you have a toxic thought is because something that you care about feels at risk. Once you have acknowledged a toxic thought, you have 3 options:
Spill it out (just say it). This is the reactive level — our first reaction.
Swallow it (don’t say it). This is the superficial level — what we want others to think about us.
Distill it (transform the toxicity into a learning opportunity). This is the core truth — who we really are; our true BE-ing.
Underlying reactivity, there is something of value that is at stake. In order to distill your core truth, you need to ask yourself:
What really matters to me?
Why is this a concern to me?
What is at stake for me?
What do I really want?
The core truth is always honesty and respect. Try out these practices above, and watch how much more effective your communication becomes — through the quality of outcomes of conversations, and the quality of your relationships.
How many of us wish we had more productive, effective hours in a day?
From my conversations with leaders around the globe, I gather probably all. That said, there are some very simple things each of us as leaders do every day, that if done more effectively, could free up immense amounts of time and energy.
This series will dive deeper into four areas that we are actually practicing every single day of our lives, that if improved, could increase the quality of all things we do at work.
And through this, it can lessen workload, improve productivity, and empower others. Without further ado, these four things are:
Did you realize that every day, we are in a meeting, and/or having a conversation with someone or ourselves, or making a decision (or judging one that was made by someone?) or implementing something (with less or more will and energy)?
Let’s start with the one we most feel trapped in at almost 8hs a day: meetings. Through implementing the practices we discuss, you will improve your capacity to be in the right meeting, with the right setting, for the right reason… or decide not to be there consciously!
These facts and figures are pretty staggering, and illustrate just how important this topic is:
Employees in upper management spend 50% of their time in meetings.
Research suggests that employees spend 4 hours per week preparing for status update meetings.
A recent survey found that 67% of employees complain that spending too much time in meetings hinders them from being productive at work.
More than 35% of employees found that they waste 2-5 hours per day on meetings and calls, but achieve nothing to show for it.
First, make sure you design the agenda strategically to justify the investment of time you and other people will be making: choose the right topics, information, and people needed, and align time per topics and dynamics to achieve what you want.
3 Types of Meetings
It is important to note that there are really only 3 types of necessary meetings — to inform (to seek understanding), to discuss/debate (to gather input), and to decide (to choose between two or more options), but usually, the one calling the meeting does not clarify this upfront.
When this happens… can you make sure you ask for this to be clarified before starting? After understanding the intention of the meeting, it is key to understand if your participation is truly necessary or important. Many people end up in meetings without knowing why they are there, and without their presence really being needed. Do I need this information? Is my input needed? Do I need to be part of this decision?
Next, check in and align intentions to ensure that people are present and connected to each other, and to clarify what the goal of the meeting is. Clarify the expected outcome for each topic on the agenda, and explain to people how they could effectively participate. Now it’s time to deep dive into the content.
Make sure you agree on commitments and the next steps before leaving each section of the agenda. Close out the meeting with a “check out” and capture key actions and learnings for the next one.
From the outset, it is important to confirm that the meeting is truly necessary. If the purpose is to inform, clarify if it could have just been an email. If discussion, don’t spend 90% of the meeting just talking about things without any structure or intention. If the meeting is for decision-making, make sure everyone knows how the decision will be made before you engage in the discussion.
5 Key Habits for Effective Meetings
Lastly, there are 5 key behavioral habits for effective meetings:
Be a player, speak in 1st person: when sharing your perspective and opinions, own them to make them more relevant and clearer.
Be a learner, ask clarifying questions (before sharing opinions): before you make someone “wrong”, seek to understand through thoughtful questions.
Reflect back: make sure whoever has just spoken feels understood before sharing your own perspective.
Make clear requests: if you have a need, express the request to the right person in a clear and straightforward manner.
Give acceptable responses to requests: A response could be acceptance, asking for clarification before accepting, or saying no while explaining why you cannot commit to it — and discussing other possibilities if needed.
Try these out, and watch how much more effective your meetings become. In the next piece of this series, we will discussdecision-making.
It is hard to be a good leader — whether the source of leadership is being an executive, running a country, or being a frontline manager. It is also hard to find good leaders. An extensive 2015 internal study of twenty thousand executive placements was conducted by the executive search firm Heidrich and Struggles. The study revealed that 40 percent of these newly appointed executives fail within eighteen months.
A failure means the executive left, was asked to leave or was performing significantly below expectations. Consistent with data from other research in subsequent years, the success of executive appointments was no better than 50 percent. Executive recruitment seems to be a hit-or-miss activity. Candidates have an equal chance to succeed or fail.
The challenges managers face today are less predictable than they were in the last century. Solutions to problems are not so easily found in previous successes. The power to effect change requires more gentle influence than formal top-down authority. Especially now, leadership is ambidextrous. Leaders need to be good at keeping their ship afloat while, at the same time, reinventing the future.
Curiosity in its various dimensions is well suited to assist leaders to widen their perspectives, listening intently, engage new challenges, experimenting, learning faster, and building organizations that create results in times of crisis.
What is a curious leader?
In a cross-industry curiosity study led by curiosity researcher Todd Kashdan commissioned by Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, professor Kashdan posits several curiosity barriers associated with leaders.
Autocratic, top-down leadership behavior stifles curiosity as curious subordinates are not provided with the opportunity to question or challenge decisions, nor are they invited to explore and share novel options.
The prevalence of risk-averse behavior makes leaders opt for proven and safe ideas, thus restricting creative thinking time.
A preference for conformity and fear of standing out from others among managerial peers.
The above points already highlight a number of dimensions explaining incurious leadership behavior. What becomes clear is leadership positions are sensitive to the nature/nurture divide. Leaders show up with their own level of curiosity, yet simultaneously are also adapting their individual inclination for curiosity to the context they are in.
An interesting finding in the research is that when a CEO displays a healthy dose of curiosity, the company benefits both in terms of an increase in operational efficiency as well as an above openness to exploring new territories.
When the CEO, or the team leader for that matter, is high on curiosity, the members of the organization are more likely to agree with the statement that the organization encourages curiosity. This does not mean employees at all levels of the organization automatically feel encouraged and enabled to show up curiously at work.
Curiosity needs champions. The shadow the manager casts is an important driver of team curiosity. In my research, I have established a linear correlation between the number of hours a manager spends on the acquisition of new information and knowledge through reading books or articles, viewing educational videos and taking (e-) classes, listening to podcasts or e-books, and so on.
The more the manager consumes new knowledge, the more the team also follows in the curious behavioral footsteps of the leader. As a result, there is an increase in the hours the team spends on learning to mimic those of the leader. Intuitively this makes sense.
When the manager is curious herself, she will—openly or not—make it clear she values new knowledge in the team. The team will recognize that learning and intellectual exploration are important and will follow her example.
The inverse is sadly also true. If a manager does not communicate in words or—more importantly in actions—that learning is important, the team refrains from consuming learning. Luckily, not all team members mimic the manager’s learning habits.
Some of them—the A players—are intrinsically so curious, that even a non-conducive environment does not stop them from exploring. A-players are not negatively influenced by the behavior of their leader. In summary, curious managers uplift the team and stretch it beyond what they thought was feasible. Incurious managers, on the other hand, stifle the team and hold it back.
Curious Leaders Create Successful Cultures
A 2018 study of three thousand international employees conducted by Harvard Business School professor Francesca Gino disclosed the implications of workplace curiosity and the corresponding leadership support for curiosity. She states curiosity is an important aspect of a company’s performance because of the following reasons:
When curiosity is triggered, leaders tend to be more intentional and rational about their decision-making.
Curiosity makes leaders—and their teams—more adaptable to the dynamics of uncertain market environments.
Curious leaders command higher levels of respect of their followers than incurious leaders.
Workplace curiosity works in real-time. When leaders are more curious and invite surprise about everyday activities, the more it has a carry-over effect on team members.
However, when studying the above-mentioned Harvard Business School research on how leaders viewed curiosity, Professor Francesca Gino found: “Although leaders might say they treasure inquisitive minds, in fact, most stifle curiosity, fearing it will increase risk and inefficiency”.
On the one hand, executives realize the underlying importance of curiosity in helping to implement their firm’s strategy agenda when it comes to product and services innovation, outwitting competition, winning deals, and taking calculated risks in the pursuit of novel and creative outcomes, etc. On the other hand, these same executives are rejecting curiosity as something which goes against the grain of operational efficiency of the organization or that of their team.
A crucial misconception is that curiosity will naturally occur in any reasonably healthy workplace. In fact, curious work environments are rare. They require deliberate and consistent action. Here are some steps to help you as a leader promote a more curious work environment:
Put curiosity on the team agenda.
Show up as an all-around curious individual interested in the world, the people around you, and yourself.
Ask for (reverse) feedback.
Become aware of your question strategies. Are they open-ended or closed?
Baseline your own curiosity as well as that of the team.
Identify barriers to curiosity in the team, create quick wins and build on their success. Ask the team how they can help in creating a curious environment.
Do try out the above steps and explore on your own how curiosity can lead to building more successful and better performing organizational cultures.
I invite you to become aware of how you show up as a leader. Are you showing up with curiosity or with judgment? Are you listening to fix or are you listening to learn? Are you projecting yourself a personal desire for continuous learning and growth or not (what type of questions do you allow in your team meetings; questions that confirm what you know already or questions that challenge the status quo)?
These questions will help you become aware of your own curiosity level, trigger you to make curiosity at work intentional, and help you start measuring progress.
Welcome to the community of curious leaders. Watch the full webinar here.
I have a dream, and its name is Conscious Kids! And I want us to dream together. With my colleagues at Axialent, I work with great business and people leaders around the world. Fundamentally, we help build conscious cultures and coach leaders to successfully run conscious businesses. I love what I do. I really do it out of passion, and I am rewarded by the outstanding impact this work has on individuals and organizations. And yet, I feel there is so much more that can be done to foster consciousness in our ecosystems.
A few months ago, at an Axialent Board meeting in Barcelona, I had some sort of revelation: we could also support the leaders of tomorrow – our kids! This revelation made me feel 30 years younger, made my eyes shine, and filled me with renewed energy…and a new sense of noble purpose. I began my work toward this by preparing a series of videos where I addressed what conscious kids means concretely, how we could impact kids around the world, and how to make this revelation real.
When discussing “kids”, I am referring to potentially three different groups: children ages 7-12, teenagers 13-17, and those preparing to enter their adult and professional life.
In the first phase of these videos, I addressed the what (help kids raise their consciousness so that they are the owners of their lives), the why (our kids’ freedom of mind is at risk), and the how (to raise our kids’ consciousness and be the owners of their future).
The what of conscious kids is the DNA so to speak. It is helping kids to become:
The player, rather than the victim of their life
A learner, rather than a typical teenager pretending to know everything
A master of their emotions, rather than being controlled by them
Someone who thinks for themselves, rather than just as they are told to think
Someone who speaks their truth constructively without the fear of avoiding confrontation or conflict and without disrespecting the opinions of others.
The why of conscious kids is somewhat obvious, yet under-addressed. Kids are facing many challenges today for which they are not prepared. There are more and more challenges coming up that nobody but themselves will have to manage individually and collectively.
As adults, we don’t yet know the solutions to the unique challenges they will face. But it is our job to prepare and empower them. As I see it, our children are endangered by three key phenomena:
Social networks, which are based on algorithms that create circular thinking. Social networks do not only tell us what to think but also unconsciously how to think and what relationships to have or not to have with others. These are all the opposite of critical thinking, and of thinking for oneself.
A dramatic polarization of opinions towards the extremes, which divides people within the same family, community, and country in an increasingly violent and lack of respect for others ‘world. Kids need to discover and master polarity thinking that is not taught at school.
The meteoric arrival of the metaverse will immerse us — our kids first — in a world of virtual and augmented realities. Once again, for the better and for the worse. The metaverse, together with artificial intelligence and transhumanism, is revamping the notion of life and of WHO we are. Psychiatrists and psychotherapists have already evidenced how virtual worlds in some video games are leading our kids to face serious risks of loss of identity, confusion about reality, and what the sense of life is — not to mention the risks of manipulation and brainwashing in virtual reality worlds. The metaverse could also be a world of opportunities for the best — if we infuse it with consciousness and mindfulness.
One thing for example that is of major concern, I think, is the relationship our kids should consciously build with their AI avatar(s): The avatar is their self-representation / projection in the virtual worlds. We need to help them decide and define how this avatar could be their own hero: a hero who can help them become the best version of themselves in real life, and NOT a confusing chimera of someone they are not and should never be.
My fourth video on conscious kids was a very early reflection on how we can help kids raise their consciousness and be the owners of their life and future. A couple of possibilities include:
A community-based learning & development program where kids will learn from each other, from their parents, from teachers, psychologists, therapists, and pediatricians, from their sports coach, from universities, from corporate foundations, and from all kinds of educational governmental agencies and NGOs — with the support of high-tech companies through strategic alliances.
Gamification — through the investigation of how kids of different ages learn, providing video games, sports, art, and/or physical projects that are tailored to raising consciousness.
Our aim is to become a marketplace and connector, leveraging the ecosystem of private and public initiatives around the world for raising our kids’ mindfulness, and their ability to make this world a better place for them and for others.
Take a look at my series of videos about Conscious Kids:
At this stage I have three key inferences to be validated or not as we are confronted by realities in our experience:
The ways kids learn and develop are obviously different from how we structure L&D programs for adults — and the way kids will learn & develop in the coming years and decades will be completely different from what it is today. Their world is changing dramatically at a pace that we adults might not even be able to imagine.
Kids and their education are our future: I don’t know how yet, but I intuit that the kids themselves will be the masters of this game. They will tell us, we will learn from them, and they will make us grow. We will not be the teachers — just enablers, facilitators, and coaches. What a shift of paradigm in our education approach!
Likewise, with AI and the metaverse we really need to figure out how together, kids and adults, we will shape the world and the life we want.
The next step in this exciting journey is to develop the how suite further. Stay tuned for further videos in our next phase, towards the end of the year. I am looking forward to this journey ahead, and hope you are with us!
Among the key capabilities required to navigate in this context is empowerment.
I understand empowerment as: “The process of gaining freedom and power to do what you want or to control what happens to you”.
So, fostering a culture of empowerment is about helping others connect with their own possibility of making things happen and driving actions towards a vision.
We cannot “empower others”, but we can invite others to take ownership by creating the right container. People must step into their own power and ability to impact.
Empowerment accelerates growth and leads to faster decision-making. Agile organizations that enable innovation lead to satisfied clients with high-quality products and fulfilled employees.
Unlike autocratic leadership, a culture of empowerment encourages people to play to their strengths, grow and develop, and build self-confidence. It brings out the best in people in service of a higher purpose.
In a culture of empowerment:
people work with autonomy and with a sense of purpose (goal-directed actions).
day to day decisions with a clear intent and communication are pushed downwards to ensure faster decision-making and agility.
decisions are based on facts vs opinions.
accountability is the other side of the coin; with greater power comes greater responsibility.
leaders promote high support and high delegation.
trust is the cornerstone.
What are some of the common challenges in building a culture of empowerment?
Fear of failure: One of the most common challenges is fear of failure. In an attempt to mitigate this fear, leaders begin to micromanage others and try to control them step by step to ensure the outcome they are hoping for. This kills empowerment and innovation and causes people to feel disengaged because their creativity is being suppressed.
Lack of purpose and direction: not setting clear guardrails of the impact we are looking for will end up in people feeling lost and with a sense of meaninglessness at work. Connecting our work with a higher purpose fuels engagement and provides guidance as a headlight.
Opposing to others’ voices and ideas: killing peoples’ ideas before they are even born is a fast segway to building an evasive and risk-averse culture with people laying low to avoid being pointed out or criticized.
Watering down accountability: leaders are responsible for creating a high trust and high support environment to drive empowerment and high accountability in their team. They set the behavioral standards that are required in the organization, they live by example, and they demand others to do the same. Holding each other accountable in each other’s roles is crucial to building this type of culture.
In the words of Steve Jobs, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do, we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” We can build a culture of empowerment by aligning the leaders’ behaviors, systems, and symbols of the organization to reflect empowerment fully.
These are some essential steps we need to consider:
Leading like a coach: Leaders don´t tell others what to do, they help people come up with their own answers. They support the team to open newly unthought-of possibilities and push them forward. They know their team members, are confident in what they can bring up together, and provide enough space for people to try new things, learn and become the best version of themselves. They establish clear boundaries and set the standards by role modeling.
Creating a psychological safety and trusting environment: We all need to feel safe to fail, learn and continue improving. Bringing our whole selves to work is still a challenge in many organizations. If we are living in fear of criticism or retaliation, we will hold back, and not be able to push the limits of our creativity and help the organization find new heights.
Developing feedback as a habit on your team: Having honest conversations on a recurrent basis about what has worked and what needs to be addressed in the future is needed to fuel empowerment and grow accountability. We can all easily fall into a pattern of not sharing feedback and allowing small resentments to grow over time. It takes some intentionality to do this, and a process, until it becomes a habit — it does not just happen on its own.
Shifting into a player and growth mindset: Focusing on the things that we can control and approaching our challenges as an opportunity to continue learning and growing provides us with the energy and right attitude to sit in the driver’s seat of our life and own our power to change the things we need to.
Acting courageously: Is about showing up and doing our best in congruency with our values and being detached from the potential outcome.It takes courage to take each of these steps. There is a reason that cultures of empowerment are few and far in between at times. It can be a difficult process to begin and to work through all the barriers, but has exponentially positive results.
Fear-based cultures constrain results by maintaining the status quo, causing people to feel to disconnected from the organization, and limiting innovation and engagement through command and control strategies. Victimhood arises, and people tend to blame others to survive and prevail in the system — while avoiding taking risks.
Instead, a culture of empowerment brings out the best in people by unlocking their potential, increasing performance, promoting doing things well, and establishing trusted relationships with others. It is a key lever to drive sustainable growth.
CXO you are, after all, known as a courageous individual & the culture is a reflection of the leadership (past and present).
Years of expertly-executed reorganizing and cost cutting have recently been exchanged for retooling and future-proofing the company against disruption, uncertainty and change. An increased ability to anticipate, adapt and respond more quickly will drive greater advantage for the organization, keep us healthy and strong for the road ahead. “WE’RE SAYING & DOING A LOT RE: CHANGE/TRANSFORMATION”
For many months, the board and the CEO have been focused on a more generative and healthier balance of efficiency, velocity, flexibility, long-termism, sustainabla-bla-bla results, strengthening core yada-yada values, human capitabla-bla and clarity of purpose + profit bla-bla-bla. (Even if you believe in these “buzz words” – we all recognize that they can be a trigger/distraction.)
The organization is DOING a lot in the name of change with regard to strategy, vision and business process. And your company has already invested millions in new product development/innovation, agile processes/structures, office design, change management protocol, new internal communication campaigns and many town halls. You even built beautiful digital centers of excellence.
“BUT STILL, TRANSFORMATION ISN’T HAPPENING FAST ENOUGH”
Meanwhile, new competitors are growing rapidly and creating a significant threat. Despite all the changes you have made, the market is telling you that you are not executing fast enough and the transformation is not happening deeply enough. Your brands and digital channels are growing X times slower than your competitors. Even your newer executives, hired from companies that were “born agile and digital” are experiencing surprising difficulties and unexpected blockages from within the organization. You strongly believe that the company culture is what’s causing the lag, drag and counterproductive friction. Culture is unintentionally undermining the execution of your growth strategy. The organization is not moving forward in terms of the performance improvements expected by now. Your leadership team wants better results. Accordingly, you committed to your pioneering CEO that you would Transform (with a capital T) your company into a courageous and adaptive, high-performance culture — one that is fully engaged, agile, creative and collaborative…one that is more capable of digital-yadayada, customer-centribla-bla, etc. “Transformation with a capital T, which we define as an intense, organization-wide program to enhance performance (an earnings improvement of 25 percent or more, for example) and to boost organizational health. When such transformations succeed, they radically improve the important business drivers, such as topline growth, capital productivity, cost efficiency, operational effectiveness, customer satisfaction, and sales excellence.” –Bucy, Hall and Yakola (McKinsey & Co.) THE BIG “T” RARELY FOLLOWS A “DO AS I SAY” PATH; EVEN THE “DO AS I DO” PATH HAS LIMITS
Your C-suite peers and report directs are likely somewhat cynical about the idea of culture Transformation being successful at your company (and justifiably so) — not because they think you are insincere, but because they are convinced that the system “is what it is.” The system always wins, and the system itself lacks the objectivity to be fixed by the system.
Our traditions are usually stronger than our intentions to change.
Plus when the other execs talk about being on board with fixing the culture with transformation efforts, whether they are aware of it or not, they are likely talking about transformation with a little “t.” In the spirit of Bruce Lee, rather than being in such a hurry to fix it, we’re better off if we first focus on enriching our understanding of it. Most executive teams lack a shared language and understanding of this complex topic. Most HR and change management functions don’t have the expertise to best support the executive team with an effective orientation to the topic let alone help them make a conscious choice about committing (or not) to a strong plan to develop cultural empathy and lead the way. (The strong HR execs that do have the expertise, are often caught in a very tough spot, because they are viewed as part of the system themselves.)
Most executives are unaware of how unaware they are when it comes to leading Transformation and shaping culture. We are often unaware of our own contribution to the very thing we complain about. When it comes to the big “T,” we (leaders) are often the limiting factor. Here is what I mean: Many senior executives and their peers don’t really know how culture works from a socio-technical systems (see image below) standpoint. Most don’t know the difference between organizational culture and climate. Most don’t have a clear understanding of the levers for change, the sequence of steps, the essential versus important, etc. Most don’t have experience experimenting (and learning) with emerging best practices in adult development. BEING > DOING; BUT MOST EXECUTIVE TEAMS AREN’T READY FOR THAT
You and your peers have earned the benefit of the doubt — that you are sincere about change (+ you have more than enough courageous) — but only you know if you’re serious about the deep (identity) work of Transformation necessary to change your individual and collective BE-ING level.
“Most are not serious about change because it requires senior managers to change their behavior. You know how corporate bosses can be. This is not always a very welcome method. I’ve been kicked out of plenty of boardrooms.” Eric Ries (author of The Lean Startup)
Unlike Mr. Ries, I am actually not advocating that you should (or shouldn’t) be serious about it. (No need to kick me out of your boardroom.) I believe it makes total sense if you’re not ready yet. I believe it depends on your business context and it depends on what you/your system truly value most. If you (and your system) value control, obedience and compliance to old norms – then it is a mistake to promise new standards of courage, collaboration and creativity. It is a mistake to make promises about the big “T” when you are only ready for the little “t.” How do you know when you are ready?Typically, readiness doesn’t come until you have suffered enough trying to fix it the old way – just focused on the doing & trying harder. Once you are dissatisfied enough with your current-level results, then you are ready to consider expanding the goal beyond executing/DO-ING the little “t” and instead work on the big “T” = the BE-ING. Our biases/norms today cause us to react to change with a disproportionate reliance on the “DOING” (technical domains/hard skills, e.g., technology, behaviors) versus securing the path to value by also focusing on the “BE-ING” (human domains/soft skills, e.g., mindsets and identity). Devaluing serious attention on the human domain (in favor of the technical) has historically been the default protocol for most corporations. To succeed at the big “T”, we need both at full strength; we need to upgrade both.
While you may be pitching the big “T,” the majority of the executive team may only be agreeing to the little “t.” Despite the frustration and burnout, if they are not yet ready to agree to the big “T,” then be patient. They will be ready soon enough. For now, “no” is the second-best answer to “yes.” At least then, you can all make that choice consciously/more deliberately. Again, they will be ready soon enough to choose readiness. Change is a chronic condition. It is persistent and long lasting. There will be plenty more suffering. Eventually, once the suffering becomes too great…those of you that stuck around will collectively be more ready to courageously experiment with the deeper, more effective work of the big “T” together.
It’s not your fault if you’re not collectively ready for the big “T” right now – but nonetheless it is your responsibility.
Here is a sampling of consistent leadership team quotes from executives (in various states of individual readiness) across many different industries:
BLAME, DRAMA AND LACK OF TRUST ARE THE ENEMIES OF RAPID ADAPTATION & COURAGE
Many executive teams approach culture change with the wrong mindset and a limited set of tools. Few ever get to the real work of Transformation.
We often hear root-cause explanations (for why it’s so hard) that sound more like “blame-centric” perspectives and worldviews, suggesting that specific people (e.g., millennials, old-timers) “who just don’t get it” make the culture work difficult. Many of us get too caught up in the drama of focusing on where/who to blame for the lack of progress. The analysts/media will blame the brand (for being exactly what they said it was — sleepy, stuck in the past). The board will blame the C-suite. The C-suite/leadership team blames the board, and now they blame you, the CXO (but not to your face). The leadership team blames each other. The leadership team blames HR. The leadership team and HR blame middle management and their inability to “get with the program.” Middle management blames leadership and their unwillingness to listen. The frontline employees blame their direct manager and the corporate ivory tower. And the suffering continues. This response is a reflection of the current culture. The culture is a reflection of the current (and past) leadership. This tendency for blame and persecution will only stifle improvement + learning & development efforts and make it even harder. I like to say, if it’s hard for you… then chances are you’re doing it wrong. There is a much more effective response available when the team is ready for it. INDIVIDUAL COURAGE DOESN’T SCALE. COURAGE IS A TEAM SPORT.
It’s good that you are courageous. Unfortunately, courage doesn’t scale from an individual act. Courage is a group behavior. Individual heroics are distracting and represent a VERY misguided storyline when it comes to building a courageous culture. The reality is that most courageous individuals often appear less courageous when they are working in a low trust environment. Lencioni’s work showed us that when the environment is lacking trust then the consequence is a paralyzing sense of bystander-ing that occurs from a fear of conflict, fear of speaking up and fear of making mistakes, lack of commitment, etc.
Usually, at least one leadership team member (avoiding ownership of the trust issue altogether) will say something out of desperation to bring the focus back to courage like:
“I just want courageous people who will try new things and charge up the hill on their own; I want generals, not soldiers waiting for me to tell them what to do. They should know what to do by now. They’re either soft, they’re lazy, they don’t care or they don’t get it. People need to know we are serious about this transformation. Maybe we should fire some of the cowardly people to make the rest move faster.”
The overwhelming majority of your employees aren’t lazy and they aren’t cowardly. They aren’t stuck; employees do get it. Your employees are delivering on exactly what you/your system still values most. They are actually delivering on the current, unwritten norms of the culture = conformity.
Inside an organization, courage is not something you DO alone.
As the existential, humanistic psychologist/philosopher Rollo Reese May famously said (alongside Viktor Frankl and other major proponents of existential psychotherapy),
“the opposite of courage…is not cowardice; it is conformity”— it is the need to fit in.
Courage, like conformity, has to be the group’s agreed-upon way of BEING – a group identity – for it to be scalable and sustainable.
We have to learn to make courage an act of conformity – not an act of valor.
The expert way to do that, is to learn-by-doing – with the explicit intent of becoming. (check out this multi-dimensional example of “courage as a team sport” illustrated by the SPURS)
So if courage is a team sport, how do we make courage a cultural act of conformity?
Psychological safety is the answer, according to Amy Edmondson research from Harvard. Her work illustrates how great performers who find themselves in fear-based, aggressive-defensive and passive-defensive cultures will likely behave like they are afraid to make mistakes and therefore don’t take risks and don’t pursue learning new things as energetically (or as wide-spread) as courageous cultures. The same employees, once they transfer out of the fear-based environment into a constructive culture, will behave courageously in the face of new challenges and changing circumstances. The same goes for adaptability and agility. Most organizations learn in the long run that it is not simply about DOING courageous/agile stuff; it is about BEING courageous/agile. Transformation with a big “T” is a team sport. Transformation happens more quickly and more deeply in community. Culture = the visible and invisible norms (e.g., systems, symbols, behaviors) of our community. Culture is about learning what it takes to fit in—beyond the poster on the wall and the verbal and nonverbal messages. BE-ING CURIOUS, BEING CLEAR AND BE-ING CONSISTENT
Culture is about decoding the way we get stuff done, successfully around here – historically, currently and ideally. Leaders have to be crystal clear, aligned and exquisitely consistent about their approach/curiosity to explore those gaps.
Leaders need a reliable, MRI level of detailed visibility into the invisible components of culture (and a simple model) to understand and discuss where you are currently as a culture — and where you want to be in the near future. You need to see clearly where you have anomalies of ideal culture success and current culture gaps. To have an effective culture strategy, you can’t afford to use anecdotes or guess about the gap to be closed. It is easy to check. “Check” means the expert use of qualitative and quantitative tools. “Check” also means ask. Just ask. And your openness to receive the answers matters. Culture isn’t declarative; it’s interrogative. Here’s a line of questioning that I use to check on the awareness, urgency and alignment of executive teams involved in both the big “T” and little “t” imperatives: I’m curious…you are a year or so into this transformation…how’s it going? What are you most excited about? What are you most concerned about? How are you feeling about the transformation?
What is the business reason/goal for this transformation? What are the key metrics used to measure degrees of success in the execution of this transformation?
What are the business consequences of not transforming successfully? On a scale of 1 – 10, how important/urgent is this? What if you don’t intervene and people just do (think, relate, act) as they have been doing to date?
IDEAL STATE: Do the executives who make up the leadership team have clarity about the ideal culture (vision) you are transforming to? Imagine if you woke up a year from now and find that the vision has come true and your goals have been accomplished. What does that look like? When culture change has taken hold, it makes it a lot easier and more likely to achieve your industry-leading/pioneering performance-level goals. How can you tell? What does that look like/feel like? What is different? What are some key habits and areas of mastery that you are excited about? What are people inside and outside your company saying about it?
CURRENT STATE: Compared to this ideal, what is missing in the current situation? Do these executives have clarity about the current culture and where you are at now? Do you have individual and collective diagnostic tools? From your perspective, how do people need to perform differently in the next X years in order to transform?
CULTURE PLAN: Do the executives agree on the gap to close? Do they agree on the plan, priority and sequence to close it? What have you done already? What is keeping you from closing the gap and shifting to the ideal culture? What are the identified blockers/obstacles?
PERSONAL IMPACT: Why did you raise your hand for this? What matters the most to you? Why? What happens to you (personally) if you don’t accomplish the vision? What happens to the council?
Does the leadership team have clarity, shared language and understanding about how culture evolves and the impact of history on the current state? Have they identified causal factors (e.g., systems, structures) that are part of the work climate? Do they understand how they reinforce and shape the current culture and what may be levers for change in improvement plans?
How well does the leadership team embody the ideal cultural attributes? How are they being supported? Are they first going to create a shared learning environment for both the technical and human dimensions of change?
How many people in the organization, beyond the leadership team, are being impacted by the transformation?
NEW CONVERSATIONS AND PERSPECTIVES ABOUT CULTURE
Senior leaders report culture as being critical to business success. A new approach is needed to support leaders responsible for shaping culture.
Understand and appreciate the complexity and unique culture perspectives of peers and experts.
Understand how culture is created and the impact of history on the current state as well as important aspects of the work climate that shape and reinforce the current culture.
Build a common language for understanding the layers of culture using qualitative and quantitative methods.
Discover how culture evolves. Identify paths that increase the likelihood of shared learning and positive results with any major change effort.
Identify causal factors (systems, structures, etc.) that are part of the work climate. Understand how they reinforce the current culture and how they may be levers for change in improvement plans.
It is always amazing to see what is possible when we engage each other in a newly designed dialogue/mutual learning experience. Some very insightful commentary and shifts of perspective take place. Where transformation is the goal, the unit of work is dialogue. ADDITIONAL EMPATHY AND MOMENTUM
I am always reminded that we (leaders) have a lot to learn about the complexity of culture change efforts and the impact our own leadership has on keeping the status quo (traditions) in place — despite our intentions to lead change. Perhaps in conversations like these, more leaders can begin to see how MAYBE it makes sense that our people are stuck and confused about what to do with regard to culture change because we (the leaders) are stuck and confused too. Usually, that sparks an environment/energy that is more ready than ever to learn how to shift culture more quickly and sustainably. THREE PART APPROACH TO BUILD A MORE COURAGEOUS CULTURE
The approach and sequence matter. The means is the end.
The idea of the work to be done is simple: test and learn what works (in the context of business) to help deliver better results + build stronger team trust + create stronger sense of individual fulfillment and satisfaction. The details of the execution are complex.
EVERY TRANSFORMATION JOURNEY IS DIFFERENT
It is about engaging with others differently. It is about how we choose to take care of each other while pursuing excellence, together. Here are examples of journeys, shifts and models (used by Axialent) that are most effective at helping high-performance teams build an even more courageous culture inside of multinational organizations. “BE agile versus DO agile”(Supporting one of the largest AGILE transformation projects in the world.)
COURAGEOUS CULTURE IS A LIFESTYLE CHOICE
We can’t BECOME courageous just by deciding to do so any more than we can just BECOME healthy just by deciding to do so. Deciding isn’t the same as being. If everyone could just BE the better, more effective version of ourselves we would. We would all eat healthy, exercise, meditate and stop doing the old counterproductive habits that trip us up. We aren’t lazy, apathetic, lacking discipline or willpower. We all have competing priorities – some we aren’t even consciously aware of. We are all at our own current level – working on our own next level. We are all somewhat socially-defined and self-authoring. We are all social beings. We all need to fit in. Courage is a group behavior & a way of working/BE-ING together. A courageous culture unleashes and amplifies our courage – it expands our capability to learn and adapt.
To win today, high-velocity organizations need to fuel unprecedented learning, awareness, people development, cognitive flexibility, complex problem-solving and impeccable coordination of action (at scale). To sustain it at scale, we need to build deliberately developmental cultures (mutual learning environment vs unilateral control) fostering safe, courageous, high-trust, high engagement, productive conflict/healthy debate, mutual accountability and a focus on results. How will you help your organization become the kind of culture that is even more courageous, adaptive and agile? We (collectively) have to work on BECOMING that kind of culture over time – becoming an environment where diverse human beings can bring 110% of their grit, energy, intelligence, creativity and courage to bear on the increased challenges that face us all. Change is a persistent, unstoppable, chronic condition (a 21st-century lifestyle) that we’ll always have to live with & embrace together as a group.
The condition is complex, but the treatment is simple. Do more of what makes you stronger: EQ/Mindsets+AQ/Muscle Building. Prioritize and strengthen the muscle groups that upgrade the culture vs fall victim to our unconscious obedience to current norms.
We’re all always working on culture — we’re either helping it become more adaptive and courageous or we’re unintentionally keeping it stuck. CXO, You got this!?