Get Agreement To Move Your Agenda Forward

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Last week I was in Michigan giving a presentation to a group of leaders about the importance of adopting universally understood leadership language. This notion of leadership language was preceded by commonly asked question of managers across industries: “How can you get the concept of engagement to show up in behavior and performance of associates and team members?”

The short answer I gave was practice.

Providing leaders of teams with a common language to talk about performance and behavior expectations is half the battle. It’s the “secret sauce” for getting team buy-in. And once you have a common language, everyone has to practice using it, in order for there to be a common measure of performance.

Some organizations use assessment tools to establish behavioral norms.

For example, using behavioral interviewing tools, pulse surveys, personality and/or problem-solving tests to begin establishing a set of expectations from potential employees. And once they are on the team, organizational norms are further reinforced by training modules.

Below is a partial list of tools that organizations can use to help develop a common language and shared values amongst team members:

Regardless of the tools selected, each of these assessments offer unique approaches to establish organizational language that, if adopted, can serve as foundational blocks for determining the types of behaviors that are expected in your organization. And if those blocks are set, they can then be used to inform the written and spoken materials that describe the culture your organization hopes to display.

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For example, what do you mean when you things like: “I want my associates to be more engaged.” or “Our teams are operating in silos.” or “We lack good communication in our organization.”? It’s these types of assessment tools that can narrow the definitions of the terms you want to be a part of your organization’s lexicon.

Finally, when your organization’s “cultural artifacts” are on display, you will need “ambassadors” that exemplify the qualities needed to succeed in your culture. These are people that walk the walk, talk the talk and are able to translate the nuances that form your unique culture. And this is where finding support from outside your organization can be a competitive advantage.

While applying the tools noted above can be straightforward, getting an accurate interpretation of the results of the assessments is often done best by people outside the organization. The role of a change management consultant, for example, is to be able to help leadership see how well or poorly new language is taking hold with an organization. That same consultant must also be able to provide a set of measures that can track the team’s adherence to the new language being used to change culture.

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All of this work is designed to help companies identify, validate, practice and improve ways of engaging employees, who in turn represent your organization’s values to your customers. Further, it provides managers & supervisors (often considered the most important roles within organizations) with actionable data to move the needle on engagement in your company.

The more employees understand, appreciate and internalize your company’s unique language, the better equipped they are to help others understand and appreciate your company.

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Leader Language Creates Culture

In practice, the concept of lingua franca is familiar to most people.

It’s the commonly used language used by groups to communicate thoughts and ideas that can be shared by diverse groups of people. And in specialized worlds – like that of leadership - it is the common thread that binds the activities and approaches to decision-making that help frame the ideas of organizations.

Visionary leaders have always used language to express their grandest ideas that would change the world. They are masters at figuring out how to get the rest of us to adopt their language to express our own intentions.

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The kind of leadership that relies on dictate has long passed most organizations by as antiquated, ineffective and unsustainable (despite what some public discourse may sound like today). Instead, the idea of influencing behavior by tapping into what affirmatively motivates people is how the most successful leaders of our day operate.

Whether it’s the language of finance, community organizing, healthcare or technology transfer, the people we revere as transformational in their fields use language to motivate, inspire and shape the cultures that they find themselves in.

I would venture to say 75 percent of a leader’s role is to communicate expectations, inspire people to perform to their abilities, course correct when work is off course and transmit the importance of everyone’s participation to the larger goal of a project or enterprise.

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To successfully do those things, leaders must possess a number of technical skills that are essential to understanding what “perfect performance” looks like in a given field. But, once a leader is able to demonstrate her technical bona fides, much of the rest of her portfolio is really about inspiring, convincing, influencing and praising the golden triangle of stakeholders for any organization: the company, the customers and the collaborators.

Noah Zandan, CEO of Quantified Communications once noted in an article published by Inc. Magazine that there are several ways visionary leaders can best create an inspirational lingua franca for your organization:

·      Use more of the present tense versus future tense language when speaking about your organization

·      Talk more about your team more than you do about the institution or yourself

·      Use more sensory or feeling language to describe how things appear

This advice goes for the language you use in written materials, as well. Transmitting a “sense” of “who” your organization is can have equally motivating impacts on people that are (or want to be) associated with your team.

I’m also reminded of Simon Sinek’s book Start with Why when considering how to use language to inspire. In it, he posits that people are inspired by “a sense of purpose”. It is that connection that must be made in order for a resonant lingua franca to begin to take hold and reflect your culture.

Below are a series of questions leaders should be asking themselves on a regular basis when seeking to figure out if he is using language that reflects inspiration:

·      How do you transmit vision?

·      How do you praise good performance?

·      How do you constructively criticize misses?

·      How often are you “walking the shop floor”?

·      At what point in a process do you offer praise for good performance?

·      At what point in a process do you offer criticism for poor performance?

·      Do you check to see if the language you use to lead is understood by your audience?

·      Does the language you use to talk about that vision support your vision?

·      Are new employees “taught” your organization’s lingua franca in a systematic way?  

All of these questions and many others ought to be considered when thinking about the development of a robust and inviting culture in your organization. Let us know if any of these concepts are helpful as you begin changing your own workplace cultures.

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The Importance of Self-Efficacy

A large part of successful leadership is being able to empower people to “do their best”. Visionary leaders understand the importance of delegating important work to employees for the purpose of building self-efficacy on teams, and the development of a cultural approach to performance improvement.

Self-efficacy is most commonly defined as an individual's belief in his or her capacity to execute behaviors necessary to produce specific performance objectives. It reflects confidence in the ability to exert control over one's own motivation, behavior, and social environment. This is different than self-confidence in that speaks to one’s belief in his or her self-worth and likelihood of succeeding in a given task.

The concept of self-efficacy helps shed light on how people look at trying new experiences in a profound way. It is also an approach to organizing teams that offers managers of people a framework to establish ever-rising standards of behavior and success in organizations.

Leaders with pronounced self-efficacy seem to have a higher level of "commitment" to completing tasks once they take them on, compared to people who find themselves lower on that scale. When leading people in organizations, it is not enough to have self-confidence in one’s technical abilities to achieve success.

According to renowned leadership coach Richard Seaman, adopting an "approach" behavior, seeking challenges and persevering with tasks are all qualities of high achievers and people who have high self-efficacy. Below are some examples of how to do this:

Below is a list of ways leaders can increase self-efficacy in organizations:

  • Improve training and professional development practices

  • Improve leadership and mentoring practices

  • Display confidence in your colleagues regularly

  • Systematize coaching strategies

  • Recruit employees with high self-efficacy

This has a direct relationship to how people see themselves, in terms of their self confidence and belief that they can accomplish certain things. At the same time, the opposite can also be true. 

In Albert Bandura's book Self Efficacy: The Exercise of Control, the author tries to illustrate the points noted above by examining the efforts by minority groups to encourage "pride in racial characteristics," as demonstrated in the term "Black is Beautiful." When a person's "belief" in one's self and one's self worth are knocked down consistently from different corners, a that person's self-efficacy can fall.

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Interestingly, there are some that argue that past performance has an influence on self image. So, some people with low self-efficacy, who tend to avoid new challenges, give up easily or become anxious with tasks, may actually harbor some of those "insecure" feelings because of some outside stimuli that contributed to a lowering of self image.

From a practical standpoint, these levels of "security" vs. "insecurity" often serve as the barometer for how people might approach new experiences in the workplace. So, it stands to reason that if one of your employees has been given consistent negative feedback for how she delivers PowerPoint presentations, that stimulus is going to help foster anxiety within her the next time she has to present in front of executives in your organization.

As a leader, I've had to learn from a number of experiences that "self doubt" is the quickest way to get other people to believe that you can't do something. A healthy belief in one's abilities or self-worth helps set the stage for the adoption of a more confident approach to tackling problems.

Of course, overconfidence (the over toggling of self-efficacy) needs to be monitored and taken into consideration when evaluating employee ability and performance. The Delta between a person’s expected performance and his actual performance is where overconfidence can be an indication of whether self-efficacy has spilled over into the territory of overconfidence, which can negatively impact performance.

But, establishing a culture of leadership where appropriate praise for achievement and constant ratcheting up of expectations can positively support the self-efficacy of individuals in an organization, and help overall performance of the group.