Noah Barsky PhD

Growth should be exciting, but, if not properly governed, can generate much apprehension, tension, and noticeable reluctance. The antidote to organizational inertia, unmet goals, and related career plateaus hides in plain view – business acumen. While most employees are adept at tasks and responsibilities, many often cannot articulate why their work is important.

Enhancing business acumen about how the organization competes, performs, and utilizes key resources holds the key to maximizing employees’ talents and functional expertise. Knowing more about the business sparks curiosity, illuminates job relevance, builds a success culture, and can motivate commitment to previously unimaginable levels of achievement. For those who expand, hone, and renew business acumen, results follow and career trajectory soars.

What are business acumen essentials? Senior leaders and executive program participants most often identify and agree on these four fundamentals:

START WITH A CLEAR AND UNIFIED UNDERSTANDING OF STRATEGY

Business strategy can simply and clearly be defined in terms of how a company creates customer value and differentiates itself from the competition. Frequently lost in a buzzword morass, strategic insight starts with clearly identifying the existing and emerging competitors, not only by name, but size, strength, and intentions. Coupling competitive intelligence with insights about existing and prospective customers provides the key elements of credible market presence. Most importantly, strategic clarity reinforces why employees’ work matters and provides an unambiguous reference for business planning, review, and evaluation.

RECOGNIZE THAT RISK IS EVERYONE’S RESPONSIBILITY

Risk is often considered to be solely the domain of compliance, legal, and human resource professionals. While, as a minimum, companies should certainly abide by laws, meet regulations, and honor policies, risk avoidance, and mitigation are insufficient for a lasting, thriving enterprise. Business, at its essence, is a risk-seeking and risk-taking endeavor. Employees must understand the external and internal risks that their organization faces and the necessary actions to manage each (and those that emerge) as the entity navigates its competitive market. The foundation for understanding business risks resides in understanding a firm’s value chain and its purpose in strategy execution. Regardless of the method, good governance stabilizes growth.

REALIZE THAT MONEY IS THE REWARD NOT THE REASON

Employees must, in some way, have a concept of their company’s financial condition and the consequences of (in)actions. Without necessarily becoming a CPA or financial analyst, those with a basic awareness of their employer’s financials relative to prior years, competitors, and budget, have the perspective required for sound economic choices.  The company’s sales growth, profitability, cash flow flexibility, debt service, and overall financial viability either enable or restrict activities and initiatives. Profitability is imperative to reinvest in the business, increase wages, sustain operations, and maintain access to capital.  In top organizations, the finance function stewards scarce resources and works cross-organizationally with informed leaders who must spend and invest wisely for short-term needs and future well-being. Business choices require due financial consideration – from all.

MANAGE THE BUSINESS, NOT THE METRICS

Well-run businesses, exceptional employees, quality offerings, and leading technology score well on any scale. In an era of data abundance, companies need professionals who can focus the workforce on metrics that truly matter – those that drive meaningful outcomes, not simply tabulating quantifiable outputs. Performance measurement is essential to calibrate business decisions,  but should never be an isolated obsession. Those who advocate to make numbers “look good” can descend down a dangerous path of “form over substance” with incentives to manipulate, misreport, or worse. Performance measures, chosen with care and courage, offer candid insight into a company’s progress on strategic priorities, as fulfilled by operational excellence helmed by trusted leaders.

On scales of 1-10, ask yourself and others how well your workplace fares in terms of insight about strategy, risk, finances, and performance measurement. The answers reveal the areas of greatest strength and opportunity. Take action to improve ratings by just one point on each scale and marvel at how employees find more purpose in their jobs, energize the workplace, and perform better. Business acumen is the oft-overlooked differentiator that can enable you and your colleagues to deliver growth that your organization expects and deserves, and, even more importantly, because its future and your career depend on it.

ABOUT NOAH BARSKY PhD

Noah P. Barsky, PhD, is a professor at the Villanova University School of Business. He has also been a faculty member with the Institute for Management Studies since 2001. Dr. Barsky serves on business advisory boards and delivers executive education programs for Fortune 100 companies, global professional services firms, and industry associations. He has authored five books and published over seventy articles in various academic and professional journals. To learn more about Dr. Barsky and view his upcoming IMS programs CLICK HERE.

Author and Mentoring Expert Dr. Wendy Axelrod

I often hear from people who want to deepen their mentoring skills, and are surprised when I suggest that cultivating the best possible relationship is a skill in itself. Masterful mentors know how to foster qualities that are most central for a career-expanding mentoring relationship. Acceptance, mutual respect, conversational safety, and transparency are all part of it. As the mentor, you have the lead in observing how the relationship is going and taking steps to ensure its vitality.

Here are three actions to consider

OBSERVE WHAT IS HAPPENING IN THE DYNAMICS OF YOUR RELATIONSHIP

Each of your meetings has the potential to be a gem of a conversation, taking the mentee to new places and new insights. 

  • Assess the flow of your conversations and how it contributes to the forward progress of your mentee’s goals. Time spent together should be purposeful, yet flexible enough to include ad hoc discussions. Allow yourselves to delve into some areas more deeply, especially when those discussions have discovery potential.
  • Take note of whether there is enough trust for them to share what concerns (or even embarrasses) them most, whether a lack of confidence or competence, or a troubling interaction. If they are holding back, think through how you can make the conversational environment safer for them.
  • Consider a wonderful barometer of the atmosphere between you as to whether you are each eager for your next meeting. If so, identify the positive underpinnings of the relationship and discuss those. If not, jointly envision what needs to be addressed, which might include: expectations not being met, lack of accountability to the process, or maybe spending too much time on topics that are not goal-oriented.

ESTABLISH REGULAR CHECK-INS TO DISCUSS THE PROCESS

As part of setting expectations for your work together, advocate regular check-ins to ensure the health of the process. This opens the door for the mentee to speak up to someone with much greater experience. And, it avoids suddenly bringing up negative news when your process is not going well. Select from a variety of ways to tuck this into the mentoring conversation:

  • Ask questions that are specific and require a thoughtful response on their part, e.g., “In what ways is our process supporting your mentoring goals?”  “What two things would take this mentoring process to the next level?” If they are cautious about responding, remind them that this is good practice for questions they get at work about improving their functions.
  • Reserve five minutes at the end of the meeting for each to describe your favorite part of the meeting, and what you believe was accomplished. Then identify what you want to be included in your next meeting.
  • Suggest that each of you take accountability, in advance of the next meeting, to propose useful questions to help address a knotty part of your process (e.g., the mentee feels too directed by the mentor, or the mentor is not seeing anticipated follow-through)

WELCOME FEEDBACK FROM YOUR MENTEE

Many people believe the normal flow of feedback in mentoring is what the mentor offers the mentee. Inviting feedback from your mentee is an act of trust and respect. Though they may not provide much substance the first time you ask, they will appreciate your openness and be more likely to speak up when it really counts. Consider these three actions:

  • Prime this conversation by giving a lead-in, stating the purpose of this discussion.  Invite the feedback with a non-threatening question that allows them to suggest future behaviors rather than evaluate your performance. e.g., “What could I do in our conversation next time, that would make us even more productive?”
  • Be mindful that the way you receive the feedback is modeling how they could take in feedback from others. Plus, importantly, it sets the tone for true give-and-take in your ongoing relationship.
  • Take an inquiring stance, using an open, curious tone of voice. Ask for details. I once had a mentee whose feedback to me was, “Wendy, when I come to you with a problem, you ask too many questions. I wish you’d just give me straight-forward answers.”  I asked her for examples and that helped me understand her frustration with my approach. Just as important, the open tone of the conversation led to a discussion about how well-formulated questions can spur deeper and actionable learning.

Ready to take your mentoring even further? Become a master at cultivating a deeper relationship; one that is open to questions, feedback and purposeful modifications in how you work together. This is bound to both increase your capacity as a mentor, and achieve more impactful and lasting results.

ABOUT DR. WENDY AXELROD

Wendy Axelrod is an Executive Coach, former HR executive, mentor, author, and speaker. For three decades, Wendy has helped organizations to achieve extraordinary results with their leader and professional development efforts. She is particularly sought out for helping mentors and leaders become exceptional at growing the talent of others. She is the co-author of Make Talent Your Business and the author of 10 Steps to Successful Mentoring. Learn about Wendy’s IMS program.

Dr. Alan Zimmerman

Some time ago, John McGuirk said, “The ability to form friendships, to make people believe in you and trust you, is one of the few absolutely fundamental qualities of success.”    

I agree. If you’re trying to lead a company, build a team, sell to a client, or improve your home life, you’ll have a lot more success if you know how to build relationships with all those people.

Fortunately, relationships are not a matter of chance. They are a matter of choice. They depend more on you than the other people. Here’s what you can do.

1.  Make Relationships a Priority.

You tend to achieve your top priorities. So even though it may be hard to find the time, you’ve got to make your personal and professional relationships a priority. If you don’t, relationships tend to die—just like businesses tend to die.

2.  Be a Giver.

Be kind without expecting kindness. Be giving without expecting appreciation in return. As the great Roman philosopher Seneca reminds us, “There is no grace in a benefit that sticks to the fingers.”

Quite simply, when you give to others, more often than not they give their cooperation, their productivity, their business, and their loyalty in return.

3.  Be Appreciative.

Everyone has qualities that can be appreciated. An old Arabic saying states that a real friend is one who blows the chaff away and nourishes the seed which remains.

How true! Everyone has some chaff or some unlikable qualities. They’re not hard to see. But when you are appreciative, you overlook the unlikable qualities–if possible and if appropriate–and recognize the good things you notice.

Perhaps no one said it better than TV star Donna Reed. As a youngster I used to watch her television show, a good, clean, upbeat family show. As an adult I remember her wisdom. Donna said, “When you handle yourself, use your head. When you handle others, use your heart.”

An Action Step.

Select two people with whom you want to build a stronger, deeper relationship. Then select two helpful things you could do for each of those individuals. Do those things without any expectation of a returned favor. You’ll be glad you did.

About Dr. Alan Zimmerman

At the age of 7, Dr. Alan Zimmerman was selling greeting cards door-to-door. By age 14 he owned a small international import business. By age 21 he was teaching at the University of Minnesota, and during the next 15 years, he was selected as the Outstanding Faculty Member by two different universities.

At age 36, Alan had retired from teaching and opened his own speaking and training company. That position has allowed him to deliver more than 3000 programs, to more than a million people, in 49 states and 22 countries. The National Speakers Association has named him a Certified Speaking Professional and inducted him into the Speaker Hall of Fame, which places him in the top 1% of speakers worldwide.

Dr. Zimmerman will be speaking at IMS Boston on September 23, 2020. You can find more information HERE.

CONSIDER THIS SCENARIO

ACME Corporation is implementing a new technology. 

  • Executive Eric exclaims, “We need this new technology to remain competitive!  Why is it taking so long?  Why aren’t my managers getting their people on board?”
  • Middle Manager Mary laments, “I’ve been directed to implement this new technology when we haven’t even finished our last major roll-out.  My staff just rolled their eyes at me when I announced the change, complaining about how they don’t have time to learn the new process with everything else on their plates.” 
  • Employee Eddie complains, “Here we go again. Another program of the year. We’ll outlive this change, just like the last one corporate tried to shove down our throats!'”

DOES THAT SOUND FAMILIAR?

Change challenges vary by organizational level. Those at the top, like Executive Eric, usually set the direction of the change and are most convinced of the need for it, but they tend to be isolated from many of the change’s direct impacts. Staff on the front lines, like Employee Eddie, are most removed from the rationale behind the change, but are often most directly impacted by it; an alteration in their behavior is usually a significant part of the change initiative, and they can thus appear most resistant to it. That means that managers like Mary – and perhaps you too – typically find themselves stuck in the middle, squeezed between these two levels, sandwiched between the edicts of their bosses and pushback from their staff.

WHAT CAN A MIDDLE MANAGER DO?

Managers can play a mission-critical role in leading change by helping their organizations overcome these all-too-common disconnects across organizational levels, which result in over 70% of major organizational changes failing to achieve their objectives. Here are ways to exert your influence and emerge as a powerful voice in leading change, which is a pivotal capability for a leader at any level across all industries today:

INFLUENCE UP

What you see depends on where you sit.  It can be easy to vilify senior leaders above you in the hierarchy, but they don’t know what they don’t know – and it’s your job to tell them. Why is the TV show Undercover Boss so popular? Because in every episode a CEO masquerades as a frontline employee and experiences how hard it is for good people to comply with the changes they must wrestle with. How can you step up to help your executives see that sometimes the emperor has no clothes, and that they may benefit from a new way to engage people in and equip people for new directions?

ALSO, INFLUENCE DOWN

At times managers can be as in the dark about the changes they are supposed to drive as their staff! Take control by proactively obtaining the information you need about the ‘they, why, what, who, and how of the change,’ so you are armed to deliver the message to your people. It can be tempting to join the naysayers, especially when you have so many legitimate concerns and such limited information. Remember that behind every complaint is a request, and strive to tease out the wants and needs, communicate what you unearth in a business language that can be acted upon, and challenge your team to step-up and be part of the solution versus the problem.

HERE’S THE BOTTOM LINE

The most important change leadership competency is courage – the courage to say what needs to be said in an authentic, transparent, professional and respectful way to help others up and down the organization appreciate the need for change, understand the barriers in the current state, and collaborate to invent a new path forward.

ABOUT BARBARA TRAUTLEIN, PHD

Barbara is the principal and founder of Change Catalysts, the author of the best-selling book Change Intelligence: Use the Power of CQ to Lead Change that Sticks, and the originator of the CQ® System for Developing Change Intelligence®. For over 25 years, she has coached executives, trained leaders at all levels, certified change agents, and facilitated mission-critical transformations – achieving bottom-line business and powerful leadership results for clients. She is gifted at sharing strategies and tactics that are accessible, actionable, and immediately applicable.

Dr. Trautein will be delivering 11 IMS programs on Developing Your Change Intelligence to Lead Critical Initiatives in 2020. To learn more about Barbara and her IMS programs CLICK HERE.

Julie Winkle Giulioni on employee development

A significant investment is made each year on studies, training, portals, and programs related to career development. Sadly, the return on this investment continues to disappoint organizations, leaders and employees alike. And it’s unfortunate because what’s needed doesn’t cost even a penny. What’s needed to ensure healthy, sustainable career development is creativity.

“Creativity” and “career development” rarely come up in the same sentence. In fact, many organizations have inadvertently wrung a lot of creativity out of career development through the creation of complicated systems, processes, and forms. What many organizations are discovering is, the more sophisticated the individual development planning process, the less creativity is actually allowed. It turns leaders into box-checking bureaucrats, for whom career development is yet another task on a never-ending To-Do list. It’s like completing a paint-by-number career development plan. That’s not creativity, that’s drudgery.

APPROACHES TO CREATIVE DEVELOPMENT

Although many organizations have completely revamped many aspects of the employee experience—from recruiting to compensation—innovation in career development practices have typically remained largely stagnant. There are, however, a few pacesetting companies that are implementing genuinely creative solutions that ensure relevant and sustainable development. 

In general, these companies focus on two broad approaches that cost nothing but can quickly shift mindsets about how to develop employees:

  • Thinking outside of the box—the checkbox on the standard forms, that is. There’s a balance to be struck between the structure (required for manpower/succession planning) and the ongoing, iterative, informal, in-the-moment way people actually learn, grow and develop. Lightening the administrative load of the former frees up energy and creativity for the latter.
  • Rebranding the outdated career ladder. Although the regular, predictable progression associated with the ladder metaphor went missing from many workplaces some time ago, too many employees and leaders alike still hold that image. Progressive organizations are replacing the ladder with more nimble, lateral, and reality-based models including climbing walls, jungle gyms and Tetris-style ways of thinking about how career development really works.

Here are a few examples of creative ways to embed career development into your work team’s daily life:

ASK

This is the simplest route to helping employees grow: ask their opinion. Yet, managers sometimes forget to ask, “Where do you see the need to develop?” or “What would feel like a stretch assignment to you?” As a manager, it’s easy to get caught up in prescribed “development” activities handed down from upper management and take shortcuts. 

EXTRAPOLATE

What tasks/projects does your employee already do that can be extrapolated into a new project that will energize him/her and provide value to your organization. Perhaps she took a financial project and ran with it; what can you help her do to increase the complexity in the task, so she grows in this area?

DELEGATE

You’re probably already delegating, but here’s the twist: give away a task that you love to do. Perhaps there’s a task that you long ago mastered, but you hold onto because you enjoy it. Who on your team would also enjoy it, if only they had the chance to try it? These are just three possible avenues to injecting creativity into your organization’s career development processes. Everyone from the C-suite to the front lines needs to update their thinking about, expectations of, and efforts to support career development. As these examples show, the shift does not require a significant financial investment. Rather, what’s necessary is the infusion of the priceless quality of creativity.

ABOUT JULIE WINKLE GIULIONI

Julie Winkle Giulioni helps organizations enhance learning, engagement, retention, and the bottom line. Named one of Inc. Magazines top 100 leadership speakers, Julie is the co-author of the international bestseller, Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Organizations Need and Employees Want, a respected speaker on a variety of topics, and a regular contributor to many business publications. Julie will be presenting her insights for IMS members in 2020. Learn more about Julie at: https://www.juliewinklegiulioni.com/

Julie Winkle Giulioni on employee development

When you were a kid, did you ever complete a paint-by-number set? Whether it was recreating a picture of your favorite animal, or bringing to life a colorful race car, it was fun to see the image come to fruition.

But it was also limiting. What if you wanted the cat’s ears to be purple, not gray? And what if, while painting that race car, you decided what you really wanted was to paint a spaceship?

Although paint-by-number sets offer the advantage of structure, consistency, and immediacy, they are inherently limiting. And in that way, they are like the complex and colorful career development systems that many organizations create. In an attempt to systematize and create a structure for time-starved leaders, there is an inevitable reduction in creativity.   

As a result, many managers and employees are “painting by numbers” when it comes to career development. They do what’s expected of them. They complete the forms. They meet deadlines. And they continue to complain about the lack of authentic career development in their organizations.

Responsive organizations, dedicated to the engagement and well-being of employees, are struggling to address these issues and meet the needs and expectations of today’s workforce. But the inconvenient truth is that today’s environment is very different from the environment that established these expectations decades ago

A CHANGING DEVELOPMENT ENVIRONMENT

  • Baby boomers are living longer and occupying key roles longer than expected, stemming the historical tide of upward opportunities.
  • Flatter, leaner structures translate to fewer leadership roles—the roles that individual contributors have typically looked to for growth and development.
  • More fluid structures mean that former career paths are less stable and predictable. The chess game many career strategists successfully won in the past now frequently ends with moves toward roles that are no longer necessary. Or there’s suddenly a new and unexpected space on the chessboard—a new role for which they aren’t prepared.

Despite these fundamental shifts in the workplace, some organizations are trying to make career development—as it’s been understood in the past—somehow work. But many engage in unproductive and organizationally unnatural acts like:

PAPER PROMOTIONS

This “creative” approach to meeting employee expectations for growth involves gaming the org chart. A sizable service organization in Asia recently promoted several individuals by changing the title of “senior manager” to “assistant director.” Same customers. Same work. Same pay.

SILLY SUPERVISORY SCHEMES

Given the very few supervisory roles for the many individuals with an appetite for them, a technology firm in India has begun promoting tenured staff to supervisors. Most of them have one direct report (or an open headcount), creating a 1:1 individual contributor to supervisor ratio.

DEVELOPMENT DECOYS

Other organizations are getting on the “promotions aren’t the only way to grow” bandwagon. They recognize that additional projects, stretch assignments and similar development opportunities in the role are the ideal alternative to promotions and moves that aren’t available anyway. The problem is that too frequently this takes the form of dumping great volumes of work on already overburdened employees. As a result, savvy employees — the ones you want to engage, grow and retain — have developed a well-honed “nose” for extra work masquerading as “development opportunities.”

While well-intentioned, these efforts are not going to move the needle when it comes to career development. And here’s why. Most organizations responded years ago to wildly new workplace conditions with significant structural and organizational changes. The new employer/employee contract (or some may argue the lack of a contract altogether) has changed every dimension of human resource management from recruiting through compensation—except career development.

Somehow, employees and leaders alike have held onto the expectation—and hope—that career development could continue unscathed. But it’s simply not possible. As challenging as it was to establish the new workplace reality that included the loss of the lifetime employment guarantee, it’s time to establish a new reality around career development.

Does that mean that organizations must abandon career development? Absolutely not! But they must redefine what it means and how it really works today. And that requires a dose of creative career development planning. It’s not enough to provide paint-by-number templates; organizations must also give their leaders the latitude to formulate personalized plans unique to their teams’ needs. It’s time to allow access to the entire color palette for career development. 

ABOUT JULIE WINKLE GIULIONI

Julie Winkle Giulioni helps organizations enhance learning, engagement, retention, and the bottom line.  Named one of Inc. Magazines top 100 leadership speakers, Julie is the co-author of the international bestseller, Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Organizations Need and Employees Want, a respected speaker on a variety of topics, and a regular contributor to many business publications. Julie will be presenting her insights for IMS members in 2020. Learn more about Julie at: https://www.juliewinklegiulioni.com/

Author Hendrie Weisinger

These days, I often think of one of one of my graduate school professors. His name was CR Snyder and I doubt you know the name unless you are schooled in positive psychology.  Through long discussions and being under his supervision, I got to know him well and when I graduated, my impression was he was an arrogant guy.  Forty years later, I think of him as a brilliant guy.

Hope Theory

Rick, as his students called him, was the creator of “Hope Theory” and if you asked him to explain he’d answer, “the perceived capability to create pathways to desired goals and to motivate oneself while thinking about those pathways.”   His three main concepts were goals, agency, and pathways. The goals represented approaching life in a goal-oriented way. The pathways were finding different ways to achieve the goals that someone creates. The agency was the actual act of believing that a person can prompt change and achieve the goals that they set out for themselves. “I know I can do this!” is a high will power belief.  Dr. Snyder basically characterizes the hopeful thinkers as people who can form goals and work towards them. 

Rick, who is recognized as one of the three founders of the Positive Psychology field, went on to do over two hundred studies that show hope has served man well.  “Hopeful” individuals show higher self-esteem, more meaning in life and happiness, cope better with injuries, disease, and physical pain, excel in academics from elementary to graduate school perform better in sports and are more productive in work.

I can list dozens of management and leadership skills but I believe the importance of all of them pale in comparison to the skill of creating hope.  If you can’t make yourself hopeful, you lack resiliency and if you can’t make your team hopeful, you can count on the fact they will come in last.

Building Resilience

So, the next time you feel down and out or your team suffers a setback and things look glum, apply these two tips and you ‘ll find yourself bouncing back, or as some say, resilient.

  1. Create  “will power” by establishing goals that provide purpose and meaning.  These type of goals are physically arousing and translate into directed energy. After a setback or in times of adversity, reiterate your meaningful goals, purpose and meaning and you will begin to feel resilient. 
  2. Create Pathways.  Brainstorm and problem solve obstacles away by creating and innovating new routes that can help you achieve your goal.  Break each down into a simple step and each one taken, will increase the individual’s will power to continue.  The individual becomes resilient because he or she is hopeful they will make it.

Remember, as Andy Dufrense told Red, “Hope is the best of all possible things.”

The Snyder Hope Framework

This is something new that I found when I was researching rainbows. Something called the “hope theory” exists, where the word rainbow is used as a symbol for representing a theory. The hope theory is defined as the perceived capability to create pathways to desired goals and to motivate oneself while thinking about those pathways (1 Snyder).

Snyder was fascinated by the concepts of hope and forgiveness. Throughout his career, he published six books about Hope Theory, and 262 articles about the impact that hope can have on aspects of life such as health, work, education, and personal meaning. His theory had three main points to it. The three main concepts he discussed through it was goals, agency, and pathways. The goals represented approaching life in a goal-oriented way. The pathways were finding different ways to achieve the goals that someone creates. The agency was the actual act of believing that a person can prompt change and achieve the goals that they set out for themselves. Snyder basically characterizes the hopeful thinkers as people who can form goals and work towards them.

About Dr. Hendrie Weisinger

Dr. Hendrie Weisinger is a celebrated, influential, world renowned psychologist. A New York Times bestselling author, he is a leading authority in the application of Emotional Intelligence, an expert in Anger management, and the originator of the highly regarded techniques of Criticism Training, and the originator of the emerging new field, pressure management. Dr. Weisinger is the author of many successful books, including: Nobody’s Perfect, Anger Workout, Anger at Work, Emotional Intelligence at Work,The Power of Positive Criticism and the New York Times best-selling book Performing Under Pressure. Dr. Weisinger’s latest book, The Genius of Instinct introduces the principles of evolutionary psychology to everyday life.

References:
Snyder, C. R. “Hope Theory: Rainbows in the Mind.” Psychological Inquiry 13.4 (2002): 249-75.

Futurist Bob Treadway

No single set of skills and techniques will help you sustain and improve your team, organization, or even career more than anticipation. Most leaders have never taken a course or seminar on the subject. It wasn’t in the required curriculum for your university major, was it?

Effective anticipation sees not just the obvious that’s ahead but also the hidden, the hinted-at, the possible. The process need not be complicated. But it must be persistent. I urge you to adopt the approaches I list here. Habits of anticipation will stand you in good stead for your entire career, for your entire life.

Here is a “starter kit” for anticipation. Things to do, ways to think, and habits to adopt that allow you to see developments before they arrive, avoid nasty surprises, and take advantage of opportunity.

Widen and Lengthen Your View

The most successful business leaders keep themselves informed. They see media, listen to viewpoints, mine promising sources, and collect forward-looking contacts that see ahead. They leverage time saving summaries, look at sources with a future focus, and employ technology to push information their way. They team with peers and associates to compare notes, discover unusual insights, and gain novel perspective. They change up their sources and network to cast a wider net for signals of what’s ahead. Nothing goes over their head. They allow their curiosity to drive a continuous alertness to signals of the future. I list two excellent free daily resources at the end of this posting.

See the Significant

I’m often asked, “What should I pay attention to? There’s so much reading and information I’ve got to see already.” Recognize information that will have the strongest impact on your future from three simple categories:

  1. Be surprised. A surprise is new information, a departure from your current understanding, and probably a signal of something to come you should be monitoring.
  2. Determine “game-changers.” Keep an open mind but be honest with yourself about factors, forces, and innovations that could change everything. Robotics, artificial intelligence, generational change, and social adoptions are appropriate current examples. Don’t hunker down in denial. Here is an opportunity to adapt, ally, or move in a new direction.
  3. Notice what has strong implications. An implication is a consequence, result, impact, upshot, or ripple effect. A development with high-impact implications is a blip on your radar. Your mind should jump to the question, “Since that’s happened (or will happen) then what?” Your brain will think like a futurist to create a range, a cascade of after-effects.

Analyze Impacts

Many of my clients organize implications into systems and patterns. One quick technique you can try is to write a trigger event, situation, or scenario in the middle of a blank sheet. Then ask the “then what?” question and write 3-5 impacts down in a circle around the trigger. Then go to each of the those implications you recorded and ask “then what?” of each of those, generating 2-3 more implications. By the time you reach the third level you’ll see entries and patterns that are actions and strategies for how to move into the future.

Of course this process is even better when done in a small group as we do in IMS learning experiences. The addition of other viewpoints and experiences causes you to include a wider range of possibilities. You’ll find your teammates bring perspectives you would not have developed on your own. This also allows you some time to contemplate what’s coming. The “implication wheels” you generate are insightful, full of specifics, and prompt you to use the next portion of the took-kit below.

Pull the Trigger

Anticipation leads to a forecast. Forecasts are valuable insights and knowledge of future events. But scanning, thinking, and analysis is useless unless it leads to action. Doing something that protects, leverages an advantage, opens a new avenue, or puts a proactive plan in place is what seeing around the corner should accomplish.

Those are four components of an anticipation system. Widen-broaden your view. Recognize the signals both obvious and less so. Analyze potential impacts. Take action.

Scanning Resources

Two free, well-curated, morning-delivered summaries I suggest you give 5 to 10 minutes daily:

Morning Brew – business-oriented with useful dashboard graphics, a forward-look, and good writing – morningbrew.com/daily/r/?kid=ee9dc2

Quartz – the news e-mail that took things up a notch. International in scope. qz.com

About Bob Treadway

Bob Treadway is the President of Treadway & Associates, a consulting and training organization that focuses on future business environments, strategy and planning methodologies. He has consulted and designed programs for major organizations as such Gillette, Berkshire Hathaway, SBC, American Express, Pfizer, and the Federal Reserve. You can learn more about Bob on his website at: https://www.trendtalk.com.

Author Jan Ferri-Reed

It’s only a matter of time. The leading edge of the Millennial generation, now in its late 30s, is loading up the ranks of management. Over the next 20 years, Generation Y supervisors and managers will steadily replace Baby Boomers and Gen Xers at supervisory levels, including the executive suite. But are they ready for big roles?

The good news is that, for the most part, Millennials are excited about having the opportunity to manage and lead. As a group, Millennials are believed to be confident, ambitious, skilled and well-educated. They expect to do well in their careers and strive for an opportunity to exhibit their skills.

The Challenges Facing Gen Y Managers 

The first problem facing newly appointed Millennial supervisors may be the “perception gap” that exists between Generation Y and older generations. Older workers may suspect their Millennial supervisors lack the work ethic that got their predecessors promoted.

Millennial managers may also harbor certain stereotypes. They may view their older workers as stuck in their ways, staunch in their beliefs and late (perhaps hesitant) adopters of technology.  

Of course, these perceptions are generalizations. They may not be fair to individual workers and could interfere with Generation Y’s abilities to build trust and the older generations’ abilities to succeed under new, younger management. 

Millennials may also tend to underestimate their older employee’s skills, knowledge and contributions to the workplace. With less tenure in the company, they may not always be aware of the organization’s history, traditions and cultural expectations.  

Collaboration styles

Millennials are widely regarded as having a collaborative style of communication and teamwork. Unfortunately, Baby Boomers and Gen Xers may not have always had the pleasure of working for collaborative supervisors. After decades of management and organizational development, “top down,” formal styles of management are more familiar to many older workers. Employees who are accustomed to explicit direction may not respond well to supervisors who solicit input and give employees autonomy.  

There is also a risk that a Generation Y’s relationship with members of their own generation may suffer when they receive an appointment to management. This isn’t strictly a generational dilemma. Workers elevated in the ranks often find their former coworkers regard them as friends rather than superiors. This can become problematic when supervisors must give corrective feedback to an employee who remains a friend. It can be difficult to maintain the balance between being a good friend and an effective leader. 

Supervisory Strategies for Millennial Managers 

Most successful supervisors are made and not born. By implementing strategies for taking charge of the work team and building trust and respect, new Generation Y supervisors can be sure to get their management careers off on the right foot. 

Establish Two-Way Communication and Build Trust 

A great first step for a new millennial supervisor is to conduct one-on-one discussions with each of their employees. This time should be used to become acquainted (as needed), discuss the employee’s expectations and review the team’s goals. This is the best way to prevent future communication breakdowns and the best way to begin establishing trust with each employee. 

Establish Expectations 

Most employees are anxious to find out what their new supervisor expects from them as a team, as well individually. While it may not be necessary to establish new office rules, it may be best for new supervisors to review existing policies. This is a good time to clarify expectations, explain one’s management style and determine communication and coaching preferences. 

Celebrate Successes 

Ultimately, a team supervisor is responsible for ensuring that their team is successful in meeting the company’s goals. This also means that supervisors should provide positive feedback in addition to constructive feedback.  By celebrating team and individual successes, newer supervisors can gain leadership status and credibility with employees. 

Leaders of the Future 

There certainly are many other tasks, functions and skills that supervisors should learn if they plan on long careers in management. Will these Generation Y managers confidently take the reins and lead their organizations to greater levels of success? Or will they crash and burn? Perhaps only time will tell, but there’s good reason to hope for the best. 

About Dr. Jan Ferri-Reed

Dr. Jan Ferri-Reed is a seasoned consultant and President of KEYGroup®, a 33-year international speaking, training and assessment firm. She is co-author of Keeping the Millennials: Why Companies are Losing Billions in Turnover to This Generation and What To Do About It, and author of Millennials 2.0 – Empowering Generation Y.  Jan will be presenting her program at IMS New York in December. Learn more about Dr. Ferri-Reed.

Author and coach Bill Hawkins

I’m constantly telling leaders that probably the most important element of coaching is providing feedback. People need to know what they’re doing well, and they need to know what areas are in need of improvement. This may seem obvious, but research shows that many managers find it awkward and uncomfortable―and even embarrassing―to tell someone their performance needs improvement. So we put it off, hoping the situation will improve on its own. Many times it doesn’t; in fact, it may get worse.

In my coaching practice I’m frequently asked, “Is there a better way to do this?” The answer is yes! Of all the coaching and feedback models available, I do have a favorite.

Here’s why:

  • It respects the dignity of the person receiving the feedback.
  • It’s structured in a positive way to increase that person’s ability to really hear and accept the message.
  • There is a future―what you’re going to do differently―that should produce an immediate positive adjustment in performance.

Step 1: Describe the Problem Concisely

For some, this may seem impossible. “But there’s history and context, so I need to build my case.” Don’t. No long-winded build-up, no history, no blame. Keep it in behavior terms and avoid a discussion about attitude. You don’t know “why” the behavior occurred; just describe what was done.

Example:

“In our last meeting with several members of senior management, you interrupted the discussion three times to talk about issues you’re experiencing with the reorganization.

Step 2: Describe the effect of the person’s behavior on others: you, the department, the team, the customer―and themselves.         

Example:

“In meetings like this, bringing up problem after problem without suggestions, alternatives, or success stories brings the whole team down. And senior management may get the impression you aren’t doing your best to make the changes a success, which can negatively impact your opportunity for promotion. I need you to help me set a more positive tone.

Then, if possible, say something to minimize potential embarrassment (yours and theirs): “This isn’t like you.”

Step 3: Ask, “What Happened?”

Now give them an opportunity to “explain.” You must listen―really listen―to their explanation. Don’t interrupt. Don’t argue. Even if they get some facts wrong (and they might), and even if you disagree (you probably will), don’t argue. Instead, try to see it from their perspective.

Step 4: Get Their “Buy-In”

Helping this person take a share of responsibility for the situation is key. Notice I did not say their fair share, because who determines what is fair, anyway?

You want different behavior next time, so your goal is to get the other party to accept a share of the responsibility and move forward.

Example:

“You are right, it was a new situation for you, the instructions weren’t clear, and there were other people who were also negative. I understand that. Let me ask you, what could you have done differently?”

Step 5: Develop a Plan

Ask, “Faced with the same situation, what would you do differently next time?”

Once the person is aware of the situation, there’s a good chance that he/she will be able to come up with alternatives for the future. If not, be prepared to offer help, but my experience is that they will have ideas.

Resist the temptation to perfect their plan. If they are anywhere close, go with it.

Effectiveness is an equation:

Results = (quality of the idea) multiplied by (the motivation to implement that idea)

The idea may be good, but whose good idea is it? If it’s not their idea, the motivation to actually implement the idea decreases significantly.

Although they may nod and accept your great plan, it is still your plan. (And if it doesn’t work, your fingerprints are all over it.) You’re much better off with an acceptable plan that is theirs to own.

Step 6: Get a Commitment

Most people you work with take their commitments very seriously. So get one. Say, for example:

Example:

“The next time this situation comes up, do I have your commitment that you will do this?”

Step 7: Show Confidence

Finally, finish the conversation by stating your confidence in the person. For example:

“I have every confidence that you will.”

This quick 7-step process puts some structure to a difficult and uncomfortable task for many leaders. You won’t use it every day. When you need to approach a sensitive subject and you anticipate a difficult conversation, use this. It works.

About Bill Hawkins

Bill Hawkins leverages the latest research on leadership effectiveness to design and deliver high-impact practical leadership education workshops. He has worked with over 20 Fortune 500 companies in 17 countries, co-authored 5 books on leadership, and is listed in the Who’s Who of International Business. 

Bill will be presenting 4 more programs for IMS in 2019: Chicago in September, and Washington, D.C., New Jersey, and Toronto in December.