Let's talk about the "F-Word"

Feedback: Curse, threat, or opportunity?

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It's that time of year again, feedback & performance time! While some innovative organizations are switching away from gathering and giving feedback once a year, many still hold this time for year-end performance reviews. 

During my years working in talent management, I met only a handful of people who enjoyed the performance process. Managers hate the administrative burden, fighting management to get benefits and bonuses for their team, and the difficult conversations that ensue. Administrators are the arm-twisters and enforcers of processes that they oftentimes feel don't match their innovative views on performance. Employees dread the process, don't feel heard (no one believes their mandatory self-assessment makes a difference) and wind up disenchanted.

While I would be more than happy to write one or many articles espousing the reasons we should move towards more holistic, ongoing, and well-rounded feedback, I fear I would be preaching to the choir. Instead, let's take a few minutes to identify how managers, administrators, and employees can make the most of the existing feedback structures. And, if you are one of the lucky ones in that progressive performance process (I can't help it I love alliteration) then I encourage you to do some writing yourself. Share your experience, your wins, and challenges with this long overdue performance model. 

“The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.”
   
– Harvey S. Firestone

  • Managers often have the hardest time with this process. Not only do they need to advocate for themselves but they need to make sure they are making the case for their team. They also, occasionally, have the unfriendly burden of communicating some less than pleasant feedback. At this time of year, I always advise the managers that I work with to plan and structure their time so that they can give the performance and feedback process the attention it deserves. If your organization offers a self-assessment to its employees, read them! Not only should you read them, but you should incorporate the assessment into your overall review. This is the “if a tree falls in the forest” scenario. It isn’t enough to have read your team’s assessments, they need to KNOW you read them. Finally, instead of walking into a performance review with an information giving mindset, think about shifting to informationgathering. Start the session by asking questions and you will find that you learn more about the mindset and goals of your team than you ever know before.
     
  • Administrators are the group that often is caught in the middle. Whether this is your HR, Talent, or Professional Development team recognizing that they are trying to keep the trains running in a process that everyone dreads is step number one. If you are administering one of these processes my number one piece of advice is to put your oxygen mask on first! Take care of your performance review early so you aren’t adding stress to the process when it comes time to twist those arms. The next piece for you is communication focused. Do not assume any level of knowledge about the process or the program when speaking to your different constituencies. Always break things down, be overly thorough and aim to explain the WHY over the HOW of the performance process. As administrators, we can get so buried in process and protocol that we forget the why of our work and the why is what keeps people engaged.
     
  • Employees are frequently telling me that no one in their organization actually cares about the performance process so they don’t give it much attention either. This is an understandable but misguided approach. I challenge all those receiving a performance review to take real ownership of the process starting with the self-assessment. The “brag memo” as a former colleague liked to call it should be just that, an entire memo of you bragging about yourself. If you can’t remember the wins you had over the past year, how do you expect your manager or supervisor to? If you have to write one of these assessments (and even if you don’t) you should have a brag folder. What is a brag folder? It is simply a file where you keep every piece of positive feedback you received over the year. Everything from “Thank you so much for getting this to me so quickly” to “This is fantastic work product and the client was thrilled.” It can be anywhere that works for you; desktop, email server, or good old-fashioned paper file. Keep this and refer back to it when it is time to brag. Remember that in some organizations the only way to memorialize your progress is through the performance review system so you need to own that. If your manager was gone tomorrow, how would the company know your worth?

Feedback can be a difficult thing to give and to get but when all sides approach the process with a thoughtful and productive approach it can truly be a gift. Whether you are giving, getting or facilitating feedback this fall/winter I encourage you to try the tips above and let me know how it goes!

Sharing is caring. A lesson for our leaders.

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Leaders are bestowed with a great gift. They have the capacity to shape individuals, organizations, and nations. Without being cheeky, I will remind everyone of the wisdom given to Spiderman, “With great power, comes great responsibility.”

All too often in corporate America, our leaders see the power in their actions, their decisions, how they choose to structure teams and deals but not in their words. The power of a leader and their words should never be underestimated. And this does not only apply to CEO's and Managing Partners, if you manage even one person, your actions and words have an indelible influence on them.

I can recall all of my supervisors, managers, coaches, and bosses and the interactions I had with these people have left a lasting impression on me. In many cases, these interactions have shaped me into the professional I am today. So, this begs the question, what will your impact be and how can you choose the language that will be most beneficial in reaching that impact?

At Fringe, we spend a lot of time thoughtfully crafting these messages with managers and leaders and we have compiled our top tips for making a positive impact through your communications below.

One quick note: These suggestions work no matter what your goal is. Your impact can be anything you want it to be. We suggest that you spend time developing that goal and then deciding how best to communicate that goal.

 

  • Be thoughtful: Once you have developed your goal, think critically about how to best communicate that goal. Who are the key decision makers you need on board? Who do you expect to push back and how will you manage those objections? Mapping these points out in advance will provide you with the confidence to have productive and challenging conversations with your team.
     
  • Be generous: If you know what your vision is, SHARE that vision. Share it with your peers, your direct reports, their subordinates. Build a community of action around this goal and get everyone who can be involved, involved. By building grassroots support for your goals, you enlist an entire group of people who are willing to go to bat for your vision.
     
  • Be courageous: It can be frightening for even the most experienced leaders to share their vision for a group or organization. We ask leaders to set lofty goals and we expect that they will deliver. A natural reaction is to keep these goals to yourself so no one will be disappointed if you come up short. But we know that sharing goals increases the likelihood that you will achieve them.

The Anxiety Impact

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Over the past two years, as the election cycle ramped up to full speed and we voted for president, reports of increases in hospital and doctor visits increased. The cause? Political anxiety. Doctors have reported seeing more and more patients who are presenting with symptoms of depression, malaise, and anxiety that seem to be rooted in the national political discord.

Many of my readers work in people-driven organizations that rely on the productivity of minds and hearts. With this as our common work setting, these increases in anxiety are sure to be present and to pose a challenge for our leaders. From a neuroscience perspective, all of this anxiety and angst is suppressing our cognitive ability to have insights and work creatively with our colleagues. And while this basic premise of productivity drain should be addressed, I would offer that a larger issue is the way we manage the well-being of our people.  

Related: High-Intensity Feelings May Be Tiring You Out

The American Bar Association recently released a groundbreaking report on the well-being of attorneys in the industry. Not to be overlooked were strong recommendations to address some of the most serious challenges the legal industry faces including addiction and depression. However, I was pleased to see a strong focus in the report on the need for greater civility. The ABA refers to this as “fostering collegiality and respectful engagement throughout the profession”.

It would appear that, in line with the public discourse, incivility is on the rise in the legal profession. I would be willing to bet that the law is not the only industry experiencing this trend.


This type of incivility is deeply connected to the anxiety being felt throughout our offices, bars, playgrounds, and sometimes, dining room tables. While it would be worthy to try to tackle all of these situations, for the purposes of time let’s look at this in a workplace setting. How can we address this anxiety and incivility in our teams without adding to the cyclone of negativity or overstepping the bounds of our workplace relationships?

The first step is a small one but a challenging one. We need to talk to our colleagues and have honest dialogue including active listening and questioning aimed at understanding not proving. This does not mean that we should all start prying into each other’s personal lives at work. Nor does it mean that our offices should become a place for open political debate. What I am suggesting is that we take the time to talk to our colleagues on a more involved level. Walk across the hall instead of emailing. Pick up the phone and engage in direct contact and conversation with each other.

 We also need to be more aware of those around us. Are you watching for subtle cues that someone is in distress or feeling particularly drained? Do you know what resources your organization has to assist someone who needs more than you can offer or are comfortable offering? If you are in a position of leadership, you need to know these things and you must be watching and learning from your team so you can identify distress at the onset.

 Additionally, and very much in line with the ABA report, we need to start modeling and engaging in holistic well-being at work. The de-stigmatization of self-care will be critical to balancing this emotional exhaustion with the work we do every day. If as a professional culture we continue to fight the war of “Busy, Busier, or Busiest” we will find ourselves with increasingly more anxiety and far less civility. We need to move our offices to a place where we can congregate towards common goals and missions. To do this we must put our own oxygen masks on first. Take care of ourselves in a visible manner so that we can take care of those around us.

You can find the full ABA report HERE

Networking Going Nowhere?

I hear from clients and colleagues on a regular basis that networking is the WORST part of their job. Many times the complaint is that they go to so many boring events only to leave tired, tortured, and sometimes tipsy. Networking, it seems, has become a corporate chore. We all know we need to do it but we don't apply any thought or invest much joy into the endeavor. The problem is, we are networking wrong! 

Networking is nothing more than building a network. Much like Rome, a network is not built in a day much less, an evening. 


At Fringe, we describe networking like building a house. Eventually, a storm will come into your professional life and you will need shelter and support. your network will give you that. But, you have to take your time and be thoughtful in building that house. You have to gather the people and connections who will be there for you when things get rough. That only comes with thoughtful preparation AND time.

Yes, in our instant gratification world, networking still takes time. Don't make the mistake of thinking that attending events means you are networking. The events are just the first step to connecting and building contacts. Read on for our top tips to get you to move from simply attending events to building a bad ass network.


NETWORKING TOP TIPS:
 

1. Know why you are there. Set a goal or intention to focus your energy throughout the event.

2. Know who you are. Be prepared to tell people what you are all about and what you have to offer.

3. Practice active listening! Don't just listen to respond, listen to learn. Ask lots of questions and really take on what people say.

4. Go for it. Remember that everyone else is just as nervous and dive right in!

5. FOLLOW UP! Don't let more than a week pass without following up with at least one person. Remember, the connection you make at the event is just the first step. 

Want to make the most out of your networking? Reach out, we would love to chat!

Intern season: May the odds be in your favor!

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Across all industries and geographic areas, young professionals are transitioning from student to intern. Summer internships are a major recruiting tool for many companies as they provide exposure and experience to young professionals looking to start their career. 

For many interns, the stress of joining a summer program can turn this critical development experience into a Hunger Games style battle of the interns. If you manage interns, considering this fear and addressing it directly can create a work experience will leave a lasting and positive impression on your interns. When executed well, this impression leads to a brand loyalty that can support your organization in years to come. 


We understand that time is at a premium during these programs. That said, here are four quick things you can do to integrate your summer interns into your organization and make sure their experience moves from Hunger Games to Happy Days!


1. Talk Big Picture

When appropriate, share the organization's goals and vision. Millennials, in particular, like to be a part of something bigger than themselves and sharing even a small portion of the strategy for your team or company is a great way to make them feel as though they are "part of something" with immediacy. Increasing this sense of relatedness will help reduce the stress of competitiveness and increase collaboration.

Related: Millennials work for purpose, not paycheck

2. Create Certainty

Share the expectations that you or the organization has with the interns. Share early and share often! Orientations are a great place to roll out these expectations but we have all experienced "orientation fog" at some point so please, don't stop there! Being purposeful and consistent with the expectations you have set will create certainty around what interns need to do to succeed. Think of this as providing a roadmap to success.

3. Ask & Listen

Do you know why your interns are at your organization? Do you know where they hope to take their career in the next five years? If you don't, or if your answers are generic, ask them! Investing a small amount of time in this line of questioning can pay dividends when it comes to the investment that your interns will make with you over the summer and when they return to their educational institution. 

4. Give Ownership

Now that your interns understand the big picture, know what you expect of them, and know that you are invested in them it's time to hand over control. By engaging in these actions you have created a cheerleader for your organization. Let them know exactly what you want from them in this capacity as well. Do you want to recruit more students from their school? Are you looking to find students for the Fall with a similar work ethic and interest set? Empower your interns to go back to their school or socials group and share the good word that working at your organization is where its at!


Fringe helps clients craft communications that create positive change in their organizations. Have a communication challenge that has you stuck? Let us help! Reach out and let's get you unstuck!

The Power of Language at Work

Leadership and language go hand in hand. Our language and word choices as we lead our teams through triumphs and defeats, change and uncertainty, have become passive at best and inconsequential at worst. The speed with which we manage and the number of projects being juggled simultaneously seem to demand a carelessness when it comes to speech and communication.

At Fringe, this rush to communicate is one of the biggest obstacles clients face. The words that you choose can and do have a dramatic impact on the engagement of your colleagues and direct reports. Recently, we discussed the impact and difference between “teammates” and “co-collaborators”. In the end, the decision was made that co-collaborators gave both team members an equal footing in the project. The goal was to avoid the inevitable one-sided team project. We all remember this from junior high school, right? You get placed on a team project in class, one person ends up flaking (usually at the 11th hour) and the remaining team member does the “group” project alone.

Co-collaborators may not end up having the desired outcome we hope for but the action of thoughtfully considering your language before communicating with your colleagues is the first step towards better communication. We know that all communication is received through various filters by the receiver. It is highly unlikely that everyone on your team with whom you communicate is filtering information the same way. Taking the time to carefully craft important messages with all receivers in mind is step one to getting everyone on board.

In addition to being thoughtful with your word choices, it is important to consider the power of consistent language. For this, we can look to one of the biggest companies out there.  

Apple doesn’t ask you to “try new ways of thinking” or to “contemplate divergently.”
They have used the same simple slogan, Think Different since 1997. Why?
Because it pays to be consistent.

We know what to expect from Apple and your team needs to know what they should expect from you. Think about the largest, most impactful projects you are working on. Are the naming conventions consistent? Everything from the way you organize content to the action steps your team takes should use the same consistent language choices. Doing so allows your team to know what is expected of them and it creates certainty and relatedness - two critical factors for successful collaboration.

Consistent, thoughtful language. If you are doing these things you are almost there! The final point to keep in mind with your chosen wording is that it should be frequent. The brain likes what is familiar, and we can get our teams and colleagues working together faster and more efficiently if they speak the same language. And the best way to integrate into any new language is immersion. I am not suggesting that you walk around repeating buzzwords like a corporate bot, but I am suggesting that your language and the frequency with which you use that language has a direct impact on the ability of those around you to be comfortable and confident in using that language themselves.

Does it take more time to craft communications this way? Yes, and this is one of those situations where that time is directly connected to the value received.

PowerPoint and Audience Engagement

PowerPoint - the presentation tool we love to hate. For the purposes of this article, let’s use PowerPoint as a proprietary eponym. Any other form of presentation deck, Google slides, Prezi, Keynote etc. can be considered a part of this conversation. Whether you are the presenter being tripped up by reading your slides or the audience member trying to absorb the written content and pay attention to the presenter, at some point a PowerPoint has derailed your presentation or learning.

The long-standing myth that humans can multitask has been firmly and scientifically dispelled. Earl Miller, professor of neuroscience at MIT has explained the phenomenon we think of as multitasking as our brain quickly shifting focus. We are not capable of thinking two thoughts simultaneously. Instead, we are playing a rapid game of ping-pong with our ideas. So what does this have to do with PowerPoint? 

If your slides are packed with content (usually via text) you are presenting your audience with a conundrum. Should they read your slide or listen to you speak? Remember, they can’t do both simultaneously.
 

Ideally, your audience would be focused on you, the presenter. A live speaker should be much more compelling than simply reading a PowerPoint slide. Unfortunately, most audiences default to reading your slides instead of listening to your stories. Some would say to ditch the deck altogether but PowerPoint presentations have become our standard method of presenting in the corporate world so if you want to reclaim the attention of your audience, here are some simple but effective tools to get you on track.

[Related video: Death by PowerPoint]


FONT SIZE
Keep your text at or above 19 pts. Keeping your fonts large is the easiest way to reduce the amount of text on a slide - you can't add more text, it just won’t fit!

IMAGES
Replace as much text as possible with images that support your points. These don't have to be clip-art, try using shapes and text together to enhance your points.

CUT IT
Analyze your presentation and be ruthless with your slides. How many slides should you have? Only as many as required to support what you’re saying.

REHEARSE
Knowing your content well is the easiest way to reduce your reliance on reading your slides.

GO BARE
Try your presentation without a deck at all! This won’t work for every presentation, but it is great practice for those inevitable technological glitches.

HANDOUTS
If your PowerPoint makes a useful handout it probably doesn’t make an effective presentation. If you have substantive information that the audience needs to walk away with in a hard format, create a separate document as a leave behind.

If you employ these tactics, your PowerPoint will support your presentation, not the other way around!


Fringe helps our clients present with impact and influence. If you or someone on your team are preparing to present to any size audience, our presentation coaching is perfect for you. To get your deck, your message, and your physical and verbal presentation prepped for success, reach out directly to me for more information.

Your organization's secret super-hero

This article was originally posted on The Huffington Post.

The title of brand ambassador seems to be a popular one these days. Most frequently used for companies who sell products, brand ambassadors are deployed into communities to spread the word, display the product, tweet, Instagram, and hashtag to oblivion. Many companies have brilliantly deployed brand ambassadors. As a relatively active woman, I have always been impressed with the way Lululemon or Nike have created real grass-roots efforts in their efforts to sell $90 leggings!

But brand ambassadors aren’t just for companies selling wares. Anytime someone from an organization interacts with a candidate or a prospective client, they are acting as an ambassador. We “wear” our firm culture in much the same way the Lululemon ambassador would wear the latest styles. 

Over time, a lack of “ambassadorship” has a significant impact on the ability of an organization to consistently recruit top talent. Yet, in many organizations, very little time is spent discussing the role of a brand ambassador.  Even those companies who encourage their teams to convey the feel of their culture often make a critical misstep; they define too narrow a group of employees to act as ambassadors. For many organizations, this is the talent acquisition, human resources, business development, and marketing staff. Unfortunately, that group likely makes up less than 10% of your organization.

We live in a social proof world. People source reviews and talk to friends of friends who might be connected to the business before making an ultimate decision on accepting a job or signing on as a client.


When potential candidates or clients are deciding whether or not to choose your business over the competition, what are the odds that their only interaction will be with the 10% we identified? By neglecting to utilize a significant portion of your organization as brand ambassadors, you may inadvertently be deploying mixed messages, a muddled view of the culture, and an unclear vision of your business.

Time for some good news. Your army of brand ambassadors is waiting and ready! The people in your organization chose to be there and are likely happy with their choice. They simply need to be activated and empowered to take on this new charge. Before broadening the scope of brand ambassadors in your organization, it is important to ask yourself if you have a cohesive brand and culture for these ambassadors to represent? Be brutally honest about this. If you aren’t sure, the answer is probably no. You want to ensure that everyone who is empowered to speak to and about to organization is on the same page.

  • Consider developing a program for new employees outlining the mission, values, and brand you have cultivated.
  • Encourage your teams to speak openly and honestly about those values when asked.
  • Continue to revisit on a regular basis. Organizations shift and grow much as people do. Who we are today is not likely who we were ten, five, or even two years ago.
  • Think about who will consistently deploy this message to new employees. 

By empowering the full force of your employees to speak to their community about the strengths of your organization, you will soon realize the power of these secret super-heroes. After all, why should leggings get all the attention!


If you are interested in learning more about empowering the super-heroes in your organization, please reach out directly via email or schedule an informational call to find out more about how we can help.