Building Safety in Your Organization

At present, I’m reading a leadership book called, The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups. In the book, the author claims that successful organizations have three things in common: They build safety, share vulnerability, and establish purpose.

Building safety is step one. How do we build it? We send a consistent stream of signals that reinforce the belief that people in the organization are connected. Coyle calls these “connection cues.”

In successful cultures, leaders continually provide a steady stream of small, powerful behavioral signals—we are connectedwe share a future—that moves people away from selfish behavior, and creates cohesion and cooperation. Successful cultures aren’t smarter—they are safer.

What cues signal that safety is a priority for your organization? Here are a few tips from the book:

  • Overcommunicate that you are listening
    • “Yes.” “Uh-huh.'” “Got ya.” These cues encourage the speaker to go on
  • Spotlight your fallibility early on, especially if you’re a leader. Open up, show you make mistakes
    • “This is my two cents.” “Of course I could be wrong here.” ” What do you think?”
    • Spark a response in the listener, “How can I help?” This invites participation
  • Embrace the messenger
    • If someone brings you bad news, embrace it. That way they know it’s safe to come to you when there’s  a problem in future
  • Overdo “Thank yous”
    • Saying “thank you” is less about thanks and more about affirming the relationship and cueing safety, connection, and motivation
  • Make sure everyone has a voice

 

Take it further:

Daniel Coyle website

Daniel Coyle at RSA (video)

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Where are all the women inventors?

I’m sitting in on a Social Impact Analysis course hosted by Acumen. The course is project based and with my project, I’m exploring the question: How might we inspire more women to become inventors?

Some data on the problem here:

http://fortune.com/2016/07/21/patents-women-gender-gap/

 

 

The Abrasiveness Trap

It’s becoming more well known that being an assertive woman in the workplace is not a quality that gets women promoted. Whether a woman’s manager is male or female, studies reveal that women who are assertive are perceived as abrasive compared to their assertive male colleagues who are perceived as decisive and confident.

There’s a lot of advice out there for women. One of the most popular books on negotiation tactics for women, Ask for It by Linda Babcock, suggests that women should be clear about what they want, but that they should ask for it in a “relentlessly pleasant” tone. To the author’s credit, she comes right out and says, “I don’t like it either, but the research shows that this tactic is highly effective.”

However, Babcock follows this statement with one that has a big hole in it. She writes that if enough women play the game and use the relentlessly pleasant approach to acquire positions of power, then perhaps when more women are in power, assertive women applying for jobs or asking for promotions will no longer have to play this game.

This claim is flawed because, as Babcock points out in an earlier chapter, both female and male managers are biased against women. If this bias magically goes away when more women are in leadership roles, Babcock fails to explain the magic.

So what do we do about this trap? I’m not sure. Perhaps negotiation advice for women should be focused less on individuals playing the game and more on communities of women having their eyes wide open and helping each other out.

 

Take it Further

The Abrasiveness trap: High-achieving men and women are described differently in reviews

 

 

 

Leading with Empathy: Yourself, Your Team, Your Customers

When you are leading a project, it’s tempting to focus on the solution. But it’s much more important to lead with empathy. Leading with empathy allows you to understand problems all around you. And once you understand these problems, you are in a much better position to build solutions. In terms of leading a product team, there are three levels of human relationships with which you need to engage empathy: yourself, your team, your customers.

Empathizing with yourself might seem like an oxymoron because the very definition of empathy is to stand in someone else’s shoes. That said, sometimes you need to see yourself as someone who really cares about you sees you. When you need to understand your fear, as a trusted friend might, and distinguish which parts of it are within your control and which parts are beyond your control, then focus your energy on the former. You need to be kind to yourself, just as a friend would,  and tell yourself that you belong here. Empathizing with yourself is the first step to leadership. If you can recognize your own hurdles, then you can help others work through theirs.

Empathizing with your team is important to leadership. It’s important to know what each team members goals are. Because when you know that, you know what motivates them and you can help them align their own motivations with the work that needs to be done. Motivated team members are the best team members. It’s also important to recognize the different points-of-view that your team members bring to the table and verbally acknowledge that you value that diversity. This acknowledgment quells doubt and builds confidence. Empathizing with your team members to understand and appreciate their motivations and their diversity creates enrollment. Enrollment is what you need to lead your team. 

Empathizing with your customers or users is a path that’s becoming more well known these days. This shift in thinking about project management is a shift from focusing on the bells and widgets of the solution or gadget that you want to build to paying attention to the problems that your customers have. Paying attention requires empathy. It requires emersion in your customer’s problems. The field of anthropology offers us a thorough set of tools for doing this that has been adopted by several prestigious innovation programs.

Leading with empathy will help you understand the problems at every level of the project at hand. Understanding problems will help you lead your team and customers to create and enroll in solutions that are driven by empathy. Empathy all around.

 

Take it further

Empathizing with yourself: Hardwiring Happiness

Empathizing with your team: Radical Candor

Empathizing with users: Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries

When to Use Radical Candor

The management book, Radical Candor is often interpreted as, “Be blunt when giving feedback.” But it’s more nuanced than that. One of the most useful tips in the book is, “Praise in Public, Criticize in Private.” For example, if someone on your team sends out a group email and there is a mistake in it, let them know in a private message, not in a “reply all.” But if they share good work in a group email, “respond all” and praise away. Common sense, yes?

But what about a workshop or critique situation? If you read this blog, then you know I went to art school. And art school is tough, especially critique.

Critique is a group meeting in which you hang your work on the wall and your professor and peers rip it to shreds. It makes you tough. If managed correctly, the public criticism is all about the work, not about the artist, and it ultimately makes the work better. An artist that is practiced in crit eventually internalizes this kind of feedback and can call it up while they are working to make good decisions.

On the other end of the spectrum from critique is radical empathy, the practice of helping people feel seen and heard.  This is especially important when teaching women and people of color who tend to hang back in group critique settings. First generation college students might have this challenge too. It can take them a while to speak up at all. And when they finally do, is critique the best environment help them build confidence? Do they need to be toughened up or have their lives been tough enough already?

I don’t know the answers here. But it’s good food for thought. Something to hold in my heart and continue to think about.

 

TAKE IT FURTHER

Radical Candor blog

Is “Grit” Racist?

Using Pattern Recognition to Gain Buy-In

When you are introducing a new idea to people on your team or to potential partners or customers, right at the start you need to connect your new idea to something that your listeners are already familiar with. If you don’t do this, your listeners will be distracted, skeptical, and they might even question your credibility.

But if you come right out of the gate and introduce your new idea by drawing an analogy to something that your listeners are already familiar with, you are much more likely to get buy-in. Follow that analogy with some convincing data, and you’ve got even more buy-in. Once you have buy-in, you can spend your energy focusing on the real nitty-gritty of your project rather than spending it trying to convince people that your project should be a project at all.

Storyboards are Customer Centered

Early in the design process of your product, service, or system, you want to use tools that reflect what stage of the process you are in. At the start of your process, low fidelity tools like storyboards and paper-prototyping let you create and test out a bunch of ideas really quickly. This rapid iteration helps you figure out where your product needs to go.

Storyboards are especially helpful because they help you create stories about your customers’ problems and their journey to solve them through a series of tasks. Storyboards help you empathize with your customer and they help your team get on the same page about the problems you are solving and for whom. Storyboards also help keep you from drilling down too quickly on features and product details that may seem cool to your team but may not be relevant to your customers.

Want to learn more about storyboards? Check out this fantastic video from HCI prof, Scott Klemmer.

Creating a team that trusts each other

It’s not that hard to do once you decide to do it

STEP 1. Know Yourself, Especially Your Fears. Know what triggers you. Know what scares you. See how that influences the decisions that you make, the things that you say to other people without thinking, the control that you insist on keeping.

STEP 2. Be Vulnerable. Be transparent about your fears. Not all of the time. But when they get in the driver’s seat and mess things up, it’s ok to say to your peers, “Hey. This could have been smoother. I was driven by X. Next time I might try Y.” Be honest with your team in a way that invites them to be honest with you and with each other.

STEP 3. To Change Habits, Use the Pause Button. Recognize patterns of behavior that show other people that you don’t trust them. Then commit to changing those patterns. You don’t have to know what the new pattern will be right away. You just have to teach yourself to press the pause button. Instead of reacting when you are triggered, press pause. Give yourself time to think about the best way forward. Yes, it’s scary. Yes, you will eff it up sometimes. You’re human. The important part is that you recommit and that you keep trying.

STEP 4. See and Hear the People Around You. Know what their priorities are. Know what fears they have. Don’t assume that you know them or can read them without really talking to them. And don’t assume that you know them through gossip. (Btw — don’t engage in gossip. Shut that sh*t down)

To get to know people’s priorities and fears, you might ask, “What’s on your mind?” and follow that with, “And What Else?” These questions* help people dig deep and they help people feel seen and heard.

STEP 5. Value Your Team’s Diversity. Acknowledge Tension. You have a diverse team because you value multiple points of view. But the cost of that diversity is that it sometimes creates tension. Don’t avoid the tension. Don’t pretend it doesn’t happen. Lean into it. It may very well be a sign that your team is about to make a breakthrough or solve an important problem.

STEP 6. Don’t Rush to Solutions. Each problem has multiple solutions. Before you make a decision, articulate the problem you are trying to solve, and if you have a solution in mind, share it along with the rationale behind it. From there your team has the information they need to offer you alternative solutions. Spending a little time in this process creates buy-in, gains trust, helps people be seen, makes them feel included. It seems like a lot of work, but taking the time to build trust is worth it. A trusting team works better than a team that is distracted by fear.

STEP 7. Give Feedback. As a rule, criticism in private, praise in public. When you give criticism, be sure to share your rationale and your high-level thinking. This will make the criticism less personal and more inclusive. As for giving praise, be sure that it’s more than, ”Great job!” Let people know that you see their process and that process is something you value. “I like how you did X. I can tell you really thought about Y,” is useful and meaningful feedback.

A trusting team is free to redirect the energy that they used to spend on protecting themselves to helping make your organization great. Because they believe in it. Because they have buy-in. Because they feel seen and heard and trusted.