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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Why Organizations Need Process Frameworks

Most any organization that you encounter is likely to have a process for virtually any activity. That framework is often viewed as an outward manifestation of an organization's culture. 

How often have you heard the phrase "That's just how we do it here."? I've found that responses like that are usually a sneak peek into what it must be like to be a part of that organization. It is also a kind of leading indicator to a business' process framework. In short, its a way to gauge how groups choose to solve problems. 

In the lexicon of Continuous Improvement Process Design work, a process framework is a way to visualize the effectiveness of a process by employing three distinct sets of tools: 

  • Process Definition Systems: Pre-specification materials like process maps & checklists that help practitioners with problem identification, problem measurement and the development of process designs.
  • Process Management Systems: Root Cause Analysis findings that signal & surface problems, allow for rapid experimentation and utilize countermeasures to establish stability within the process in question.
  • Process Innovation Systems: Measurement data of processes that creates a launching pad for the targeting of newer and improved goals to be reached by the process being improved upon. 

So, what are you supposed to do with this information? What's in it for your organization?

You can start by defining as specifically as you can, what your processes are. Do you know why you do what you do? Do you know what your processes are supposed to look like? You should examine whether the way things have always been done is actually working. This deep examination can get you closer to identifying problems your organization is facing and the best solutions for those problems.  

Other approaches to sketching out Process Frameworks include interviewing employees about what and how they do their jobs, observing (aka Go-and-See) how employees do their jobs and asking key questions about how they are able to measure success, repeat it and course correct when needed. 

What this process work will do for your organization is help you organize your priority processes and offer you ways to find efficiencies, decrease waste and save money.

At OVP Management Consulting Group Inc. we believe helping clients determine what kind of problem-solving organization they are is a great way to begin any culture change or change management process. And asking the kinds of questions that start with, "How do you know...?" is a great way to establish baselines for your process framework. 

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