ROWE and row your boat

Remember the idyllic days of kindergarten filled with catchy songs and rhymes? The innocence of it all! One song I remember is the ditty:

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“Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream.”

I was reminded of this song in relation to an organization’s culture. Culture in a simple form describes “the way we do things around here.” If everyone is not rowing in the same direction, it can make or break an organization’s ability to thrive or become dysfunctional. The organization’s culture creates an identity that tells employees and the public what treatment to expect from the organization. The culture can be influenced by the industry that the organization belongs to, the employee demographic or the history of the organization. Scholars have defined organizational culture as shared beliefs, norms, assumptions, and core values of the individuals within an organization. Regardless of the influential factors, the leader has the responsibility to create the desired culture which will support the identity he/she wants the organization to have.

The current business climate has forced organizations to re-think their human resources practices, change aspects of their culture and improve employee engagement. One system that has appealed to some organizations is the Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE) system. It is an outcome of a certain type of corporate culture, for example a flexible, democratic environment. As described by MindTools, it places the emphasis on the deliverables from employees rather than a specified work schedule. Employees have the flexibility to govern themselves with support from their managers. The deliverable must meet a pre-determined timeline and be quality work. The length of time it takes to work on the project or the amount of time spent in the office are irrelevant.

The ROWE system may not be suitable for all environments because it requires a strong organizational culture to maintain its success. It is also not suitable for some working environments with roles that require stability, and structure, especially when interacting with the public. An organization’s culture under the ROWE system must be healthy and strong with effective leadership. In healthy cultures employees feel valued and will reciprocate the perceived support through high performance and high engagement.

A strong culture has cohesiveness among its members in terms of expected behaviour and values. A suitable leadership style under the ROWE system would be situational leadership where leaders encourage their employees through motivation and goal-setting. The ROWE system, due to its emphasis on autonomy, would require an environment built on trust, support, accountability and clear communication.

Culture is the blueprint for an organization’s health and success. It determines how the organization functions, the behaviour of its members and the things it values. The culture promotes shared values and serves as a beacon for employees on how to problem solve and conduct themselves. An organization is successful when it consistently meets its goals through high performance. Goals cannot be met without input and output from employees and employees will not be motivated to do the work without a positive environment. The culture is the grounding for individuals and the organization on a whole. A negative culture derails the growth and strength of the organization. A negative culture can form when there is misalignment between touted beliefs and actions. In other words, everyone and everything must row in the same direction.

The building blocks – mission, vision, values and strategy must align with the culture to ensure a consistent identity and avoid confusion. The consistent messaging will reinforce the culture and promote unity both inside and outside the organization.

Is leading the same as managing?

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Is leading the same as managing?

A manager can be a leader and a leader can excel at managing but are they the same? Let’s start with some similarities and differences between leading and managing.

Some similarities may include:

  1. Both have authority. They oversee people and tell them what to do
  2. Both have direct reports – subordinates
  3. Both engage in forms of decision making

Now the differences:

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1.Strategic: thinks in terms of long-term goals
Has a vision for the future
Synthesizes information
Tactical: thinks in terms of the short-term
Concerned with daily operational tasks
Analyzes information
2.Transformational in approach
Looks for opportunities to learn, innovate and grow the organization
Transactional in approach
Concerned with daily tasks
3.Risk-taker
Makes bold moves
Challenges the status quo
Risk-averse
Afraid to make big decisions
Comfortable with routine
Maintains the status quo

It is possible to be an effective leader and not an effective manager. It is a balancing act to be both effective at leadership and managing. As the article, Leadership vs Management states, “the often made misconception is that leadership is a skill that people are born with it. More often it is a competency that is achieved through experience, self-development and practice.”

Leaders who are only concerned with vision and big picture thinking can neglect the operational aspect of the organization. Although he/she can master high-level goals, they cannot deliver on transactions such as human resources, planning, budgeting etc. Being effective as both a leader and manager is key because the skills complement each other to manage day-to-day functions, facilitate change, achieve goals and deliver on the big picture.

The reverse is also true. It is possible to be an effective manager and not a good leader. Lussier and Achua (2015) listed three managerial leadership skills: Decision making (conceptual ideas), interpersonal (interacting with people) and technical (tasks). A manager can be adept at these skills but does not have the ability to develop a clear vision for the organization or connect the vision to operations. The manager may be able to direct subordinates but cannot challenge, motivate, influence or engage.

Leadership is a shared, participatory, consultative process. Five elements of leadership as identified by Lussier and Achua (2015) include: Leader-follower, influencing, organizational objectives, change and people. Organizational success is dependent on all elements being fulfilled. One person does not have all the solutions to the many issues that may arise. Sharing the responsibilities will offset competencies and fill gaps. The organization’s objectives are shared goals that requires collaboration to achieve them.

Times are a changin’

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“The only constant is change”, as the saying goes. Work as we know it is being turned on its head with telecommuting, working with and managing teams in various geographic locations, emerging technologies such as Chat Bots and AI etc. Not to mention the many external factors that affect the internal workings of organizations such as policies, regulations etc. Many employees and organizations are dealing with how to manage these multiple changes. Change management is an intervention used within organizations to get employees on board with change and minimize disruption to the business.

As a Learning and Development professional, the change management hat is one that I wear at times. The difficulty with being a change agent, is that I need to get on board with the change quickly so that I can then help others to embrace it. One skill that can help employees embrace change quickly is adaptability. This is your ability to manage disruptions and adjust to new conditions quickly. Go with the flow. It is beneficial to keep an open mind.

Let’s talk about how to manage change in organizations: it begins with each individual.  Organizations are comprised of people working together towards shared goals. If the people do not get onboard, change cannot be successful.  So how do we motivate employees to embrace change? There are several tactics that can be applied but the key is to emphasize the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) factor for each individual. Explain what’s in it for them – give them the autonomy to own the change.

Effectively managing change requires managing people and managing those processes, tools and techniques that will impact those people. ADKAR is one of many models available that’s used to help identify, diagnose and strategize. This model comes from the organization Prosci.

The acronym means this:

A – awareness of the need for change

D – desire to support and participate in the change

K – knowledge of how to change

A – ability to implement the required skills and behaviour

R – reinforcement to sustain the change

The model is only a tool because each organization has different needs. However, to manage change effectively, there are common threads across organizations.

Thread 1: Leadership buy-in is essential

Thread 2: Alignment with strategic business objectives

Thread 3: Techniques must appeal to individuals – establish engagement and learning

Effective change happens when everyone’s on board.

Being Agile

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The new buzz word in organizations stem from a project management methodology – agile.

What does it mean to be agile as an organization? Typically, the word conjures images of sports teams, fitness training or intense competitions or for the warm and fuzzy, dogs panting through jungle gyms. Although most people confuse agility with speed, they are two very different concepts.

Agility means being nimble – moving quickly and being able to change course easily.

It is not an easy task for a large, complex organization to achieve agility.  Think of an obstacle course with hoops, cross bars, tunnels and planks.  The maneuvers, twists and turns in order to compete and deliver on strategy could bog down even the leanest, most well-run among us.  If done well, it could pave the way for strength, nimbleness, skilled and controlled movements.  

We need to be able to respond to our highly competitive environment and adapt appropriately. This is the essence of agility. Working in an agile environment, you do not need to wait for perfection before you make a much needed decision or wait until the project is finished before you evaluate. Isn’t it great if you can course correct with minimal impact instead of realizing at the end of the project that you’ve missed the mark with huge consequences?  Agility fosters continuous learning, openness in communication, collaboration and sharing.

As employees, we play a role in contributing to the efficiency and effectiveness of the organization, improving processes and managing risk. Continuing to assess and reflect on performance and goals will not only keep you flexible but also affect the nimbleness of the organization in leveraging the right talent for the right roles. Agility is also applicable on our career paths. We must keep learning and developing to be able to move quickly and effectively.  After all, an organization is only as good as its people.

 

Is your organization behaving?

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“Oh behave”! as Austin Powers would say in the Spy movie. Behaviour, or lack thereof, is very important in an organization, so much so that it affects not only the culture and employees’ performance but the company’s bottom line. The news is flooded lately with examples of poor behaviour in the workplace. Uber and Amazon comes to mind. Uber with the toxic woes of diversity issues, discrimination and sexual harassment. It was reported, via an editorial in the New York Times, that Amazon has a culture of punishment, overachievement and fear. These factors influence how employees behave at work – their attitudes and attributes in the workplace.

The field of organizational behaviour is a very important one as shown in the two examples. It is concerned with predicting, explaining and managing people’s behaviour at work. For better or worse, we all participate in some form in our organization’s culture. I work for a major insurance company which is on a tear of a culture shift brought on by many variables –  both internal and external. The internal factors are heavily weighted by the external factors such as the current social and technological climate. Yes, the robots are here. Welcome to the age of automation.  The name of the game is: adapt to survive or perish.

Organizational behaviour goes hand in hand with the field of organizational psychology. Organizational Psychologists study the behaviour of employees at work and how they shape the culture of an organization. Why do people stay with a company? Why do they leave? What motivates people? How can teams work together effectively? These are all questions an organizational psychologist would analyze as part of their work in organizational behaviour.

We all want to work for organizations that cultivate synergies with their people, processes and systems. Organizations that are strong, collaborative, engaging and innovative. Cultivating and maintaining those attributes start with the social aspects of an organization – the effort of its people. Let’s not forget the role of leaders in organizational behaviour. It starts at the top. Employees typically model what they see and experience.

When employees are engaged, demonstrate a willingness towards learning, are motivated etc. they in turn create positive, rewarding organizational cultures. It starts with cultivating critical behaviours.

How about you be the best that you can be

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Another year coming to a close. What a year it’s been filled with highs and lows of all sorts! Was this a good year for you? How many goals did you cross off your list? Did you grow personally or professionally this year? These are all apt questions as we get through the frenzy of the holidays, approach a New Year and begin to take stock of the old. But, what if we abolished the cage of setting goals in the New Year and just focus on being the best that we can be at all times? Sometimes we place ourselves in restricting, impossible situations which only add undue anguish and stress to our lives.

I’ve often heard the expression that a career is a journey and not a sprint. There is nothing promised to anyone. Sometimes we work hard and get the desired results but other times, the results we seek are elusive. Either way, keep going! Continuous learning has proven to be the secret to being the best that you can be – growing personally and professionally. This puts the pressure off achieving everything all at once. I’ll use the analogy of starting to save. Let’s say your goal is to save $10,000 in three years. The thought of coming up with that lump sum all at once is pretty daunting but if you break it down into contributing $277 per month or $69.25 per week, it immediately becomes a more doable task. It’s the same with continuous learning – learn and improve as you go – a little adds up to a lot.

At times we may need to do a complete overhaul and go in a completely new direction in order to realize our goals. But, at other times, there are opportunities to build on the skills we already have. I strongly believe that no skill or experience is ever wasted. We can transfer existing knowledge and skills –  apply them to other disciplines, industries or job families.

Regardless of the date on the calendar, remind yourself that tomorrow is a new day and you can always hit the reset button at any time.  As morbid as it sounds, where there is life, there is hope. Strive to be the best that you can be!

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No skill, knowledge or experience is ever wasted

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It took me a long time to fully commit to a specific career. I am one of those people who like variety in a job – the opportunity to do many different things. I needed to find a multi-disciplinary career that would allow me to pull from my many strengths both within existing knowledge and skills.

As a Liberal Arts major, I honed my skills in communication – both verbal and written; analysis; interpretation, critical thinking; problem solving; cross-culture issues and an understanding of human nature. How do I parlay all of that into a job? That was the million-dollar question that would take me on a journey of discovery. On this journey, I learned about myself – what I liked in a job, the content I would like to work on, how I want to feel about my job, how I liked to work and the settings where I can thrive.

The Liberal Arts are often looked down upon as a waste of time. This point of view is unfortunate. In order to have a “dream team”, you need to have people with different perspectives, different ways of thinking, and different skill sets. Although you may have a team member with a bright idea, you also need a team member who can then convert that bright idea into a strategy, into a communication piece, into a branding and marketing project etc.  

My Liberal Arts degree trained me in applied knowledge, the ability to synthesize information, look for context clues to flesh out an argument and increase understanding.  I learned about people and culture, society, communities, social issues, history and human nature/behavior. All these skills and knowledge have come in handy in my current profession as a Learning and Development professional.

I entered the Learning and Development (L&D) discipline because I wanted to make a difference in the workplace – improving workplace performance and contributing to the personal and professional development of employees. This profession is multi-disciplinary because it pulls from many other disciplines e.g. sociology, psychology, communications, marketing, branding, history, technology, etc. I am using many of my skills from my Liberal Arts background and skills I honed as an administrator throughout most of my working life. In this profession, I wear many hats: organization specialist, communication specialist, project manager, instructional designer, facilitator, analyst, coach, mentor, to name a few.

I now know for sure that no skill or experience is ever wasted. We can transfer existing knowledge and skills to other jobs/careers and other areas of our lives.

It does not matter how you begin but what you acquire along the way. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

 

 

The power of a vision board

 

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“Without a vision the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18). I’m not overly religious but this biblical quote sums up the consequences of not having a clear vision of whatever it is you are trying to achieve. We all have goals of some sort either personal and/or professional. It is easy to create a goal – we may mull it over every once in a while, write it down, or discuss with family and friends. However, implementing the goal takes time, effort and persistence.  The implementation phase is usually the part in the goal process that proves the most difficult. 

The key to having your desired goal(s) top of mind is to have it in your face at all times – a constant reminder of what you are working towards – what you are trying to achieve. For those people who are visual learners this task is right up your alley but for those non-visuals it may take some effort to get going but it can be a very effective tool.

So, how do you get started? Here’s a very simple process:

1.       Define your goals. Decide and confirm what they are

2.       Write them down in order of importance and put a timeline beside each one

3.       Find pictures that match each goal – pictures that show where you want to go, what you want to achieve etc.

4.       Get construction paper and organize your pictures with labels in any fashion that appeals to you

5.       Post your board in a frequently visited spot or a place in your home – a place where you have to look at it often, for example attached to the fridge.

The vision board is effective because it serves as a passive motivator to keep working towards your goal — keep saving, keep studying, keep learning, keep exercising etc. This process also trains the mind to believe that you can achieve. It also moves the goal from being a general concept to something real – a tangible.

Many times we sabotage our own success especially with self-doubt and excuses. There are many clichés that serve the purpose of giving ourselves a boost when we get discouraged – “Believe in yourself”; “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” are two that come to mind. Whatever it takes, the key is to achieve that goal. A daily visual reminder can help keep you motivated and on track to finally crossing that goal off the list. Isn’t that the point?

 

 

 

Your name Inc.

There has been a lot of talk about personal branding. It took a while for me to fully understand the concept of having a personal brand. I finally get it! I recently transitioned personal brand 2full time into a new career in the learning and development (L&D) field and in the process inadvertently utilized and realized this concept.

So, what does it mean to have a personal brand? I stumbled upon a blog via Strategy magazine called “the future is female and other lessons” where the author describes it beautifully. The Blog has a heading labelled You are a Brand (and so am I) where she cites: “take care of your personal brand the same way you take care of a client’s brand; people have to buy into you as a person before they buy into what you’re trying to sell them. Think of yourself as a company with a brand. I know, it defies our usual thinking about ourselves. Put your name here ______ Inc. For example, my name is Tricia Thompson so my company is Tricia Thompson Inc. How do you want people to see you? Relate to you? What kind of footprint do you want to leave behind? How do you want your reputation to precede you? Food for thought.

Let me get back to how I inadvertently used my personal brand. I have been pursuing a career in learning and development for some time. My experience in my pursuit is that it is a tough field to break into without credible experience. In the interim, I volunteered as an adult ESL tutor and as an adult literacy advocate with organizations that reflected my passions and values such as Frontier College and West Neighbourhood House. In addition to volunteering, I also created a personal website and started this Blog as a “show and tell” to showcase my thought leadership and background in learning and development. In addition, I continued to be an active member of The Institute for Performance and Learning which represents workplace learning professionals in Canada. On Twitter, among others, I followed The Institute, Articulate which is an e-learning tool and community, The Muse which is a personal/professional development site etc. Let me include LinkedIn for good measure here as well. I crafted my profile closely towards all the work I did previously and presently which related to L&D. Are you getting the picture yet? My digital footprint, my associations, my online presence and community presence all pointed to L&D. So, when a position opened up in my current company, the hiring manager did not have to question my passion and transferable skills because I had already put breadcrumbs down which left a visible trail towards my goal.

There are many high profile personalities who do the personal brand thing really well. At the moment, Donald Trump comes to mind mostly because of the impending US election as I write this. Now, I am no fan of Trump but he has crafted his personal brand to a “T”. You really have to give credit to a man whose name has cachet. Trump is known for real estate. The man gets paid a pretty penny for having his name attached to buildings even though he may not be the owner of those buildings. That’s having a strong, cashable brand.

Remember your company and your brand in all that you do. Your brand should reflect your values, philosophies, passions and desires. It is important to reflect your brand consistently across all platforms. People should know what you are about even before the first handshake.

Evaluation: uncool but worth it

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Evaluation is a gift. This is the rationale a fellow training consultant usually gives to trainees at the end of her sessions. Compared to e-learning, designing training programs and delivering training, evaluation is the least exciting and “sexy” in the training world. However, it is a very valuable exercise. Evaluation is needed on both sides of the training scale – trainees need to provide feedback on the session to indicate whether their needs were met. The trainer also needs to assess whether the session was effective and prepare to implement changes if needed.

The evaluation card given to trainees is often called a “smile sheet” which presupposes all favourable responses. Often favourable responses are not the case.  Did you like the trainer’s delivery style?  Did you like the content?  Was the presentation useful?  These are examples of questions that a trainer would like to know after a session. Some trainees though take the feedback to a whole other level. They complain about the food or lack of food, the coffee, the length of time in the training etc. As annoying as it can be to read some of the unnecessary gripes, I think having them also sheds some light into the kind of participants you had at the session. Maybe they were hostages meaning they were forced to attend due to compliance issues or a manager’s request. You can never please “hostages” in any given session.

On the flip side, I don’t know a single trainer who gets up in the morning and attends a training session with the intention of boring trainees to death or delivering content that is not useful or effective. Yes, sometimes we attend sessions that are boring, ineffective and useless but I don’t think it was on purpose. I can be challenged on this!

In this age, data is big business and data analytics has picked up steam in the buzz words department. Data mining and analysis is worth its weight in gold in this business climate. Companies can use the data to see trends, market to target populations, increase products and service offerings etc. Very valuable. The evaluation exercise is in the same vein. Trainers need the data to adjust training sessions – determine what to start, stop or continue doing with the learners’ needs in mind. A training session is only effective if the expected outcome is realized.

So, yes, I agree with my colleague that evaluation is a gift. You cannot change what you do not measure.