Start with the folks doing the real work.
When “getting ahead” on your job means finding ways to strengthen team performance, having a strategy to find ideas to do so is like gold.
That was the discussion when Judy met Dan for coffee recently, and the conversation soon focused on where they were with their respective companies and what it takes to be “on the fast track.”
“I’m happy,” Judy admitted. “Just got my third promotion and I’m supervising four people.”
“That’s great,” Dan smiled. Then his voice dropped as he added, “I feel stuck. I’ve applied for several promotions and they tell me I was a finalist each time but didn’t get the job. I volunteer for special projects and try to make creative suggestions – but twice when I’ve been given the go-ahead on a suggestion to management, I got no cooperation and the idea flopped.”
“I see how that would be frustrating,” Judy responded. “I remember you got all-A’s in business planning courses, but maybe you need more ‘people planning.’ You saw how to ‘fix’ processes and convinced management on your ideas, but you didn’t start with the people actually doing those jobs. Do you think they felt undervalued when you went straight upstairs without asking for their input?”
“Oops. I get it. I didn’t sell the idea to front-line people, I took it to the person who doesn’t do the real work,” conceded Dan.
“Ideas are great, but real brilliance is giving ownership of an idea to people who can actually make it work. When the whole team participates in creating a concept, they make sure it succeeds.”
Judy outlined ways of people planning to get buy-in from the people who would implement Dan’s proposals.
Find patterns. Correcting mistakes as they’re spotted is a typical tactic, but too often where a single correction seems helpful in the moment; it doesn’t contribute to long-term improvement. Identifying repeated behavior and habits to improve is the key to lasting progress.
Observe entire team. Watch group processes and results. Mistaking one person’s actions for a group pattern often leads to false conclusions. Individual performance is the responsibility of each direct supervisor and commenting about on individuals will make you look like a busybody instead of an effectiveness advocate. Remember that documenting people outside of your authority can create an unfriendly work environment for which you could be reprimanded.
Focus on positives. When there are positives and negatives, start with the positives and do it in “broadcast” mode, making sure others hear how well their colleague is doing, especially those in authority. People listen better when hearing about what they’re doing right than when being told what’s wrong. Emphasize their triumphs, and then ask how they’d expand on that success so that they find the negatives instead of having them pointed out.
Credit those doing the work. Sometimes it takes patience to keep asking questions until others “get” the idea that you’ve been trying to offer. It’s worth the effort to keep trying to hand off your ideas, because when a team feels like a change is their idea, they make sure it works. Working from the inside, they find even more ways to improve the process. And you’re known as a helpful friend, instead of a critical busybody.
No fault. Formulate questions that are curious, not judgmental. When people feel blamed, they become defensive just when the situation calls for creativity and cooperation. The person most likely to be blamed is exactly the person in the best position to suggest and implement a solution.
Watch without expectation. An open mind won’t let conclusions arrive before observations. You wouldn’t be observing if you didn’t think there was a solution to be found, but your previously held conception may be exactly what blinds you to new ideas and the opportunity to encourage the person who can make that idea work.
Use colors for tracking. It takes practice to start to recognize patterns. Marking events on a calendar using different colors helps quantify areas of behavior and potential solutions. Be conscious of marking team, not individual, observations.
Review notes often and quickly. New ideas come from new ways of seeing, not from seeing the same thing over and over. Spending more than five minutes reviewing a week’s notes is probably wasteful. You’re not writing a book report, you’re just looking for ideas for discussion with other problem-solvers.
Gregory Lay is a journalist, trainer, speaker, and speaking coach specializing in organizational understanding. For more, go to Accidental Career.