Archive for July, 2011

How to Accelerate Success: Create an Appreciative Culture

Sunday, July 31st, 2011

Would you like to accelerate your organization’s success? It’s as simple as making appreciation an integral part of your daily practices and culture.

More than a dozen years ago a friend introduced me to a relatively new concept called appreciative inquiry. It has changed my life dramatically, as well as the lives of individuals and organizations who have adopted this framework. And it is a critical component of organizational success.

Very simply, appreciative inquiry (AI) is a framework for viewing the world. Instead of seeing the proverbial glass as half empty, AI practitioners perceive it as half full. Rather than focusing on fixing or solving “the problem” in a given situation, we begin by identifying what we did well or right, and we build on those successes. The fact is that human beings gravitate toward people and things that give us life and energize us, and we move away from people and things that suck the energy out of us. Using a storytelling process with carefully chosen questions, AI enables us to identify our strengths and past successes, which collectively provide a strong foundation for the future. We look at what we have done WELL, and we use those elements as building blocks to co-create our desired future. AI has been used successfully all over the world by individuals, small and large organizations, societies, international organizations, and the military. Personally I have used an appreciative approach to help clients develop strategy, identify goals, re-direct the behavior of dysfunctional teams, resolve conflicts, and create positive work environments.

Without having experienced or observed an appreciative process or culture, it’s impossible to fully grasp its tremendous power to unleash an infectious creativity and energy among those who experience it. Let me give you a quick example. In 2009, I was asked to help a non-profit organization develop a business strategy. The recession was just becoming evident, and the Executive Director and Board members were worried that they would not be able to obtain the resources necessary to sustain their work during the difficult days that were sure to come. When they arrived for the strategy session, the question they wanted to focus on was, “How can we keep the lights on and the doors open?” That was the WRONG question. Instead, we re-framed the question to be, “How can we build a world free from domestic abuse, and empower families to create that world for themselves?” During the session, I had the participants interview each other using questions that specifically addressed their past successes and their dreams for the organization. By identifying the common themes and using them as the basis for creating a common “big picture” for the organization, we developed a strategy that literally was breakthrough – and a far cry from merely keeping the lights on! During our follow-up session in 2011 to fine-tune that strategy, the Board was able to report remarkable progress in realizing the organization’s dream.

The point is that when leaders create an appreciate environment in which they and their employees can be creative and expansive, the sky literally is the limit. Why? Because we find the things that we seek. If we look for positive, life-affirming elements in the organization, we will find them. By the same token, asking negative questions will lead us to unproductive, energy draining answers. The fact is that the questions we ask determine the direction in which people look for answers. We get to choose which questions to ask, and as a result, the direction in which our organizations will go.

It’s not necessary to undertake a major change initiative to realize the transformative power of appreciative inquiry. To the contrary: you can create an appreciate workplace in short order simply by asking purposeful, positive questions every day – and teaching others to do the same. If you’d like some examples, my article Transformative Questions for the Workplace lists twenty general appreciative questions. Given that the failure to create an appreciative environment shortchanges all organizational stakeholders, isn’t it worth investing a few minutes of your time to discover how you can accelerate your organization’s success by adopting an appreciative view of the world?

If you would like to learn more about this transformative framework, I invite you to request a free copy of my Special Report on Appreciative Inquiry. Then let us know how you can use this remarkable technique to accelerate your organization’s success!

© 2011 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved

How to Create Alignment throughout Your Organization in Two Simple Steps

Sunday, July 24th, 2011

A few years ago I was in Santa Barbara, CA visiting a client on Halloween. The students at the University of California, Santa Barbara have a tradition of dressing up in costumes and parading informally throughout the downtown area on Halloween night, so I stayed into the evening to enjoy the show. After a while I went into a bakery to warm up before heading home. The young woman behind the counter began showing me a variety of treats, and insisting that I sample some of them. I finally said to her, “You’re spending a lot of time with me, and you don’t even know if I’m going to buy anything.” She replied, “That’s okay. My job is to make you happy.”

Wow! THAT’s the kind of experience your customers have when you align employees’ interest with organizational goals. (And yes, I did buy some baked goods before I left.) Yet I find that many executives and business owners don’t know how to achieve this alignment, which is critical for both employees’ and leaders’ success. When I am asked (frequently), “How can leaders align employees’ interests with organizational goals?” I have a two-step reply:

    1. Create a vivid “big picture” or vision for the organization, and communicate it widely, frequently, and consistently, using multiple media and language that is appropriate for the audiences; AND

    2. Paint the employees into the picture – i.e., make sure that each worker can state specifically what value he or she provides to the organization.

Both steps are important: employees who both see the organization’s “big picture” – i.e., its mission, vision, goals – AND can articulate clearly the contributions they make to achieving that picture are highly motivated individuals. In fact, they will be so energized that you will have to get out of their way so they can work! These are people who cannot wait to get to work every day, because they know they are making a significant difference in the world.

When I worked at Fed Ex during the early years (late 1970s and early 1980s), I couldn’t wait to get to work every morning because the environment was electric. We were on a mission to deliver critical packages “absolutely, positively overnight.” To empower us to do that, executives pushed decision-making down the ranks as far as possible and gave us great autonomy. Risk-taking was rewarded as long as mistakes were treated as learning experiences. When I traveled, I got a chill every time I saw a FedEx truck, and I loved the immediate attention I got when people discovered what company I worked for and peppered me with questions about it. Because purple is one of the company’s colors, my colleagues and I used to claim that “purple blood” ran through our veins.

What’s the secret to create such a highly engaged, productive workforce? Creating a clear “line of sight” between each individual and the organization’s goals – i.e., painting a clear, compelling vision and showing every employee how he or she contributes to it. Some of the elements I just named are very effective in maintaining that engagement – e.g., autonomy, trust in employees’ competence, and a culture that supports prudent risk-taking. Although I worked in staff positions, I still could articulate, and sometimes physically point to, what I did or contributed to doing. The visceral reaction I experienced every time I saw a FedEx truck or plane – either in person or in a movie or on television – meant that I felt a part of the company’s success. As a result, the company’s mission – “absolutely, positively overnight” – became mine as well.

If you would like to learn about a simple and quick technique to determine whether your employees are aligned with your organization’s goals, I invite you to read my article, The Transforming Power of Asking, “What’s Your Job?” Then let us know what you discover!

© 2011 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

How High a Priority are YOUR Employees? Are You Sure?

Thursday, July 7th, 2011

One question that I often hear these days is, “What can we do to be successful in today’s economy?” My answer comes in the form of two questions:

    1. “How high a priority are your employees?” AND

    2. “Would your employees agree with your answer?”

Leaders who want their organizations to be successful first and foremost must focus on helping their employees become fully successful. When employees are fully successful, their productivity skyrockets, and customers are delighted because the organization is able to deliver, or over-deliver, its promised value.

I learned this secret to high productivity early in my career when I worked for FedEx. Fred Smith, the founder and CEO of the company, anchored the corporate culture on this simple philosophy: People – Service – Profit. Fred’s belief was that if you take care of your people, they will provide excellent service, which will increase profits. I have yet to see any evidence to disprove his belief. To the contrary, I have seen company after company adopt some version of this philosophy. Why? Because it works!

How do you make employees a high priority? I developed a research-based tool called the Employer Performance Scorecard that identifies four areas that influence employees’ perceptions of how they are treated. I encourage my clients to use this scorecard to help them assess employees’ perspectives about how they are treated on a day-to-day basis. High scores mean you place a high priority on employees; low scores mean you have work to do!

Here are the four areas and representative elements in each one:

1. Managers and supervisors
The #1 reason why employees leave organizations and why they join unions is dissatisfaction with the immediate supervisor. You can help employees be successful if you ensure their supervisors are meeting their needs effectively. This requires that you set your supervisors up for success (e.g., provide the proper training and tools) so they are able to manage effectively.

2. Organizational culture
Employees who feel they are part of something larger than themselves and that their views are respected are likely to perceive that they are valued. You can help employees be fully successful if you ensure they have “voice” (i.e., they feel they are heard) and that they understand how they contribute to the organization’s mission or vision.

3. Organizational processes
You increase employees’ ability to be fully successful when you ensure that workplace decisions and processes are procedurally fair, that communication is two-way, and that leaders truly “walk the talk” – i.e., their behaviors are consistent with their words.

4. Rewards and recognition
Research consistently shows that pay generally is not THE reason for employee dissatisfaction, disengagement, or turnover as long as there is a reasonable level of compensation. Employee commitment to their own success (and by extension, that of the organization) skyrockets when workers are recognized for their contributions to the organization. There are hundreds of no- and low-cost ways to recognize your workers in ways that are meaningful to them. Truly, a little recognition goes a LONG way!

How would you answer the two questions I posed at the beginning of this message? If you are not sure, or if you would like additional information about how to ensure that you employees are a high priority, I invite you to take our Employee-centered Workplace® Assessment. And let us know what YOU do to make sure your employees are a high priority!

© 2011 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

Why Insisting that Employees “Do More with Less” Is a Mistake, and How You Can Stop Making It

Monday, July 4th, 2011

One of the biggest and most preventable mistakes I see employers making in response to layoffs, furloughs, and budget cuts is what I call the fallacy of “doing more with less.” The admonition to “do more with less” has become commonplace in organizations over the last two years. Do you find yourself using it yourself? If so, stop it!

Here are three reasons why adopting the “doing more with less” approach is a mistake:

    1. It’s counterproductive: surviving employees, already demoralized by layoffs and furloughs, perceive that they are being asked to pick up the slack without being compensated for doing so – and they’re right!

    2. Doing more with less is not sustainable long-term. There’s only so much you can add to existing workloads before people and systems begin to break down.

    3. Employees become disengaged, burned out, resentful, and cynical – and they will leave the organization the first chance they get.

    In addition, I’ve found that when they try to “do more with less,” people start seeing everything as a priority. And of course, when everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority.

Here are two ways you can avoid falling into the fallacy of “doing more with less:”

1. Embrace the concept of doing LESS with less

This actually increases productivity: employees know you are being realistic and they appreciate your honesty so they reciprocate with good performance. Employee commitment is likely to increase when you’re truthful about what you’re asking your workers to do. If you would like to learn more about this issue, here are two articles that go into more detail:

The Fallacy of “Doing More with Less”

How to Prioritize: Doing LESS with Less Effectively

2. Set priorities effectively, and allocate available resources accordingly

Let’s be clear about two facts about priorities that people often ignore. First, priorities are what you DO, not what you say you will do. Realistically, you can only have a handful of priorities at any given time. (That’s ONE handful!) Second, priorities involve choices about time. By saying you don’t have time to do something, such as going to your kids’ soccer game, you effectively are saying that other things are more important to you at the moment.

A few years ago, I developed a straightforward process for setting priorities. Here it is in a nutshell:

    First, identify clearly your organization’s vision or mission. Beginning with the end in mind is the first step in organizational success.

    Second, use that vision to categorize everything you do (e.g., evaluate performance, develop products and services) as critical, very important, or important.

    Third, devise a realistic formula for allocating resources based on the above three categories. For example, while you might decide to allocate 100% of your resources to items in the “critical” category, it’s probably more realistic to devote 70-80% of them to the critical priorities, 15% to very important items, and 5% to important items.

If you would like more detailed, step-by-step information about this process, you may obtain the template, Pat Lynch’s Process for Prioritizing Organizational Services and Programs, by clicking here and checking the appropriate box on the list from my web site. You will receive the link to the template immediately via e-mail.

What are your thoughts or experiences about doing LESS with less? Let us know!

© 2011 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

New Teleseminar: 7 Strategies for Organizational Success in Today’s Economy

Monday, July 4th, 2011

Would you like to learn about the best no- or low-cost strategies that will help you re-focus and re-vitalize your organization so it can thrive in today’s economy?

I recently conducted a one-hour free teleseminar, 7 Strategies Executives and Business Owners Must Know for Organizational Success in Today’s Economy, in which I identified and described time-tested concepts, tools, and techniques that can make your life much easier and put your organization on (or back on) the road to success. Here are a few of the topics we covered:

    • How to set priorities and allocate resources
    • Techniques to increase employee engagement
    • Why insisting that your employees “do more with less” is a mistake
    • How to align employees’ interests with organizational goals
    • No- or low-cost tools and techniques that ensure organizational success

If you are struggling with the challenges caused by having to produce the same results with fewer resources, then I invite you to invest one hour of your time in listening to this free teleseminar. Then let us know which strategies you found most useful in helping to make your organization more successful!

© 2011 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.