TAG Consulting

Three Culture-Killing Mistakes Leaders Can Make

October 31, 2017

At TAG, we wake up every day committed to helping leaders and organizations perform at a higher level, in ways that lead to productivity, employee and team engagement, and success as measured by a chosen mission.

The primary way we do that is by serving leaders who are committed to crafting thriving organizational cultures where everyone realizes their innate desire to belong, to contribute, and to make a difference. This can’t happen unless leaders are focused on the strengths, not the weaknesses of their people.

Because we are strengths-based in our thinking, we spend more time focusing on what’s going right in an organization – or with a leader – than what is going wrong. But combine decades of experience and you’ll see some common mistakes leaders make that can be culture-killers unless they’re addressed.

Lacking self-awareness. Like the general population, managers tend to have little self-awareness, all the while thinking that they know themselves perfectly well. But study after study continues to confirm the fact that our minds generally are very unreliable. And this is especially true when it comes to knowing ourselves and analyzing our own behavior.

A question we like to ask is “What is it like to be on the receiving end of you”? Many leaders have no clue as to their own ‘wiring’ and how their behavior is perceived by those around them. That’s why in our consulting practice, we take a great deal of time to assess people and organizations, to get a handle on how people are wired, and how they go about ‘doing life.’

Managing and leadership generally has many behavioral facets: how I deal with superiors, with peers, with subordinates. How I communicate both verbally and non-verbally. What activities energize. Which drain and deplete. One of the most interesting facets of leading is the decision-making process. Most managers will tell you that they make decisions logically and reasonably. But studies indicate quite the opposite. Your desires decide what you want. Your logical brain crafts an explanation, and you execute.

A thriving culture can be so powerful that it is a counterweight to some of our own worst impulses and default thinking.

Mistaking ‘care’ for affirmation. A manager has taken a new position in a new city in the non-profit organization in which she has worked successfully for some time. This is a significant promotion which carries with it a great deal of responsibility and a team of eight direct reports. After she has been in this new position for six months, one of her direct reports levels the charge on her that she “doesn’t care.”

Sue, our manager in question, is a brilliant woman who has always made significant demands on herself, always expecting the highest performance, and needing little if any outside encouragement or motivation. All of her motivation is internal. This profile has translated into superior performance, and has led to one promotion after another.

Now with the charge of ‘not caring,’ she is baffled, and wonders if she is doing the wrong thing by her team. When asked about some of the history of her new team, as best she understands it, she explains that they have been led by managers who were very empathetic, constantly asking reports about their current personal situations. Accountability was another matter. Yes, there were the usual number of high performers. But mediocrity and poor performance went unchallenged.

Now Sue has entered this organization with high standards and a very specific vision (endorsed by leadership) as to where she wants to take the organization, and the performance needed by everyone to achieve.

Sue needs to have her situation reframed, so that she can refocus on what is actually going on, and what she now needs to do. She has become semi-paralyzed with the ‘not caring’ charge. But is that charge valid? Does she in fact need to alter her behavior?

The reframe is the fact that this is the organizational system pushing back on her higher standards, and need for accountability. She definitely is not the empathetic person delving into the personal lives of her reports. She is the high-achieving manager with a definite program that requires particular performance goals. And now the system is reacting and pushing back on her, attempting to alter her behavior (as she is trying to alter the behavior of her people) and become more in line with what the system has experienced down through its existence.

Caring has to do with nurture. It is a valid characteristic, when used at the right time in the proper context. But it often competes with another value: challenge – the value that sets goals and expectations of performance to reach those goals. Proper parenting is a mixture of nurture and challenge. When one of these values is emphasized too strongly over the other, difficulties will begin to emerge for the children.

As a first step for Sue, clear performance standards and metrics need to be established for each position. This first element is unfortunately lacking time and again across the organizational spectrum. When there is unclear performance standards, expectations become fuzzy (what am I to do, at what intensity, over what period of time?).

As people are clear on what is expected of them, it becomes clear what represents superior, average, or subpar performance. As people perform in expected to above expected levels, the manager can then affirm them. These people will then feel appreciated for the work they are doing, and understand clearly how they are contributing to the successful completion of the mission.

Failing to hold people accountable. This builds on the point made above. First, people need clear expectations. Then they need periodic feedback (accountability) as to how they are measuring up to the expectations. What often happens is two fold: 1) no precise performance standards are ever laid down specifically tailored to each position, and 2) no periodic performance reviews are scheduled wherein employees are evaluated on the specifically tailored performance standards. Evaluations, when they are conducted, are general and subjective, and therefore of no practical use in helping employees understand how their performance fits into the overall mission of the organization. These evaluations are useless in assisting employees to understand how they are performing with a view toward making modifications for improvement.

Do you recognize any of those mistakes in your own organization?

How can you address them beginning today?

Conflict: Are You Winning Or Losing?

October 31, 2017

We use “Red Zone/Blue Zone” as convenient shorthand for how we all respond to the inevitable conflicts that will come our way. This plays out in our personal life to be sure – but it is also writ large in our professional lives. Whole organizations can end up living in either the Blue or the Red Zone.

How do you know which is which? Here is our quick set of comparison characteristics to contrast life in the Zones.

In the Red Zone:

-We focus on feelings more than on results.
-There are no common standards and no way of monitoring performance and behavior.
-People in the organization assume ‘family’ roles – mom, dad, arrogant older brother, spoiled little sister, patriarch, etc.

In the Blue Zone:

-There is a focus on efficiency and effectiveness.
-The structures of the organization are closely monitored and respected.
-Business issues are the top priority.

What about your organization? Does the Red Zone or Blue Zone more closely describe the way people interact there?

Employee Engagement: How Are You Doing?

October 31, 2017

In our multiyear study of organizations, we found that those with the strongest and best cultures could be counted upon for operational stability and integrity. They were extraordinarily well-managed enterprises. And they had highly engaged employees, who have a God-designed desire to contribute, to belong, and to make a difference.

We have found that organizations with high levels of employee engagement typically have these four characteristics:

1. Team members consider themselves to be empowered.

2. There is a culture of collegiality.

3. Management attracts top talent and rewards them accordingly.

4. Team members are fully engaged in their work and in the mission of their organization.

It really is as simple as that. Employee engagement is not dependent on industry, amenities, bells and whistles, geographic location, or the link. Empowerment, collegiality, talent recognition and reward, and personal connection to the mission of the organization. Have those four elements in place and you will have highly motivated and engaged employees.

How does your organization do with that checklist?

The Leadership Lie

October 24, 2017

When it comes to leadership, you have been lied to.

Actually, we all have been.

Here’s the lie:

“Some people are just natural born leaders.”

This is a lie. It is one of many lies we have been told about leaders and leading.

The truth is that leaders are made, not born.

Leaders are forged through experience and trial. While others are reading books on “leadership”, leaders are learning to read a room, to interpret body language, to resolve conflict and to trust and empower people to succeed and fail.

Recently I was invited to give a presentation on Leading and Following to a group of people at the University of Colorado. I shared with them the difference between “Leadership” and “Leader”.

Leadership is a verb. It is a philosophy. We write and read books about leadership. It is also what we blame when something happens we don’t like or agree with. All too often I hear phrases like, “I blame leadership for that” or “leadership made that decision”.

As though there is some unknown faceless entity that makes choices and decisions we don’t agree with.

On the other hand, “leader” is a noun. It is a person. It is an individual. These people lead even when not in formal positions of leadership.

There is nothing worse than trying to follow a person in a position of leadership when they are not leading. It is like being forever trapped behind that one car in the fast lane that is driving under the speed limit. It is frustrating and discouraging.

“Leadership” is never self-aware, whereas the most remarkable leaders are the most remarkably self-aware. They know who they are, what they are good at doing, what they are lacking. They know what they bring to every agenda, every meeting, every project. They know how to surround themselves with others who excel in areas they do not.
I find that leaders rarely read books about “leadership”. They read books about leaders or books written by leaders.

At our best, we do leader development, not leadership development.

In her book Team of Rivals Doris Kearns Goodwin tells a little known story about Abraham Lincoln and Leo Tolstoy.

In 1908, in a wild and remote area of the North Caucasus, Leo Tolstoy, the greatest writer of the age, was the guest of a tribal chief “living far away from civilized life in the mountains.” Gathering his family and neighbors, the chief asked Tolstoy to tell stories about the famous men of history. Tolstoy told how he entertained the eager crowd for hours with tales of Alexander, Caesar, Frederick the Great, and Napoleon.

When he was winding to a close, the chief stood and said, “But you have not told us a syllable about the greatest general and greatest ruler of the world. We want to know something about him. He was a hero. He spoke with a voice of thunder; he laughed like the sunrise and his deeds were strong as the rock…His name was Lincoln and the country in which he lived is called America, which is so far away that if a youth should journey to reach it he would be an old man when he arrived. Tell us of that man.”

“I looked at them,” Tolstoy recalled, “and saw their faces all aglow, while their eyes were burning. I saw that those rude barbarians were really interested in a man whose name and deeds had already become a legend.” He told them everything he knew about Lincoln’s “home life and youth…his habits, his influence upon the people and his physical strength.”

By every account of Lincoln’s life, he was not a born leader. Many people looked at him and saw nothing extraordinary.

And yet for many he is the epitome of a leader. A leader who succeed and failed. A leader who took risks and chances. A leader who most likely never read a book on leadership.

As we look at our present situation, our culture is in need of leaders. People who have spent a lifetime being molded and shaped by circumstances and experience. People who are self-aware and more importantly socially-aware. People who lead by the strength of their convictions and their commitment to people.

Trevor Bron

To meet Trevor, click here.

What Does A Dependable Organizational Culture Look Like?

October 10, 2017

An organization (or a person) is dependable if it can be relied upon to act in certain ways. If an organization honors its promises – to employees, customers, partners, vendors – over and over the it can call itself trustworthy.

In situations where other organizations might break their word or destroy trust, dependable organizations keep faith and maintain trust. As a result, people like working for and doing business organizations that are dependable.

So, what does this culture of dependability look like? It can be seen, specifically as it does three things over and over. Organizations with a culture of dependability:

  1. Make promises (and keep them). The US Constitution is a promise that makes our government and society possible. Churches, clubs, organizations of all kinds have covenants, policy manuals, systems and procedures that embody the promises which enable people to work together in an atmosphere of trust.
  2. They are consistent. People know what the organization will do and not do. When adversity or crisis strikes, their response is largely predictable. Their decisions and responses – in both good and bad times – is consistently good, consistently reliable, consistently trustworthy.
  3. They are predictable. This is related to, but different th at consistency in that consistency looks to the past and predictability looks to the future. When we have confidence that we can predict the  behavior of a person or organization then we can trust them.

Trust and a culture of dependability is built by people and organizations keeping promises and by behavior that is consistent and predictable.

Take the honest look – how does your organization rate in terms of showing a culture of dependability?

How Anxiety In Your Organization May Actually Help You

October 10, 2017

Who is the most anxious person in your organization?

Perhaps your answer is “me”! Whether you put your finger on yourself or someone else comes to mind, anxiety in an organization is an exhausting, distracting, and sometimes frightening thing.

When we encounter a person who is anxious, our own anxiety level tends to skyrocket. Driven by our own anxiety we want to do anything possible to either eliminate the source of the anxiety or, often, to eliminate the anxious person!

And anxiety has a nasty tendency to spread like wildfire through an organization, sapping morale, cutting productivity, eroding trust in leadership.

If you think of anxiety as a form of resistance, though, and remember our mantra that “Resistance is your ally” you will have a better shot at managing and reducing chronic anxiety.

And remember this:

The most anxious person in an organization is always a symbol of the organization as a whole.

When a group is anxious they need more than anything else for their anxiety to be recognized and understood and brought into the open. What the group needs is a leader who is managing his or her own anxiety and in so doing creating a “holding environment” where the anxiety of a group can be acknowledged but contained. Over time, as the anxiety in the organization is reduced the very best resources and creativity of the team gets freed from focusing on anxiety to tackling the challenges the organization is facing.

Such a leader is called a non-anxious presence. There’s no bigger challenge for a leader than to be this person, especially when you own anxiety is so high.

To be a non-anxious presence on a daily basis requires balancing two emphases – self-awareness and other-centeredness.

You have to be aware that you are anxious yourself and be calm and shrewd about determining the source of that anxiety. Realize that the anxiety of others is not primarily about you but that you are the one in position to help them navigate and manage it. Like resistance, anxiety can be your friend in that it reveals deeper forces at work in an organization and gives you the chance to adjust your strategies. Anxiety is both an early warning sign and a gift to a leader – pointing the way to new ways of thinking and being, new approaches to chronic problems. But you can’t lead in this until you have the courage to name and face your own anxiety.

Once you have learned to be a non-anxious presence in your own life you have the opportunity to turn to others. Anxious people are not your problem; they are given to you as a trust. Your job as a leader is to create the holding environment where their anxieties can be acknowledged, honestly named, and dealt with by truth tempered with compassion.

Such a holding environment results in business measurables such as increased productivity , energy for customers and clients, and productivity. But it also results in more fully engaged employees who are willing to give more and more of their discretionary energy because they are being honored and affirmed.

As always for a leader, your fundamental challenge is not to save your organization, but to save yourself! And that can start with the very real anxiety you may be experiencing.

One of your best resources for managing your own anxiety and that of your team is working with a leadership coach, someone who can serve as a trusted advisor to navigate the sometimes choppy waters of leadership. If you or a member of your team could benefit from such an ally, we would love to talk to you – we have a deep bench of experienced and skilled coaches who can serve as a non-anxious presence for you! Simply click here to get more information.

To Build A Great Culture, Drink More Water

October 10, 2017

Most of us know that good health requires drinking lots of water. But as we rush through our days most of us say we don’t even have time to think about it.

But what would you say if we told you that going to the water cooler often would make you a better leader and give you a head start on crafting a thriving organizational culture?

Culture-crafting leaders are, by definition, busy men and women. The good ones know that they must listen to their people so that they can understand, filter accurate information from people saying “what the boss wants to hear” and communicate personal care and concern for the team.

There are lots of things you can do to create virtual water coolers, whether or not your office has a burbling blue machine with a tap.
-An “I read every email” policy from senior leaders.
-Town hall meetings.
-Focus groups where the boss reads the transcripts.
-Open door policies within set office hours.

Now, these are good but none pack the punch of tons of informal, off the clock, in the moment unplanned conversations. Some of the very best leaders we have worked with schedule unscheduled time.

Yep, you read that right. They build into their calendars time for NO formal meetings, phone calls, or strategic planning. They simply get out of the office and into the “field” and talk to people.

Unscripted conversations, heartfelt ‘thank yous’ , and the simple visibility of the leader all go a long way towards creating engagement, high morale, and loyalty – all key ingredients for culture change!

Plus, you’ll be better hydrated for better health!

4 Building Blocks For A Trustworthy Culture

September 28, 2017

We live in a society characterized by distrust. And this distrust has invaded the cultures of the organizations in which we work.

A recent poll found that only seven percent of employees strongly agree that they trust their senior managers to look out for their best interests.

Even worse, only seven percent agree that they trust their coworkers to do so!

The reality is that we live in a world that is saturated with distrust and your employees bring this distrust in the doors with them every day.

But there is hope. The same poll found that 58% of employees who had strong trust in their management were ‘completely satisfied’ with their jobs and 63% would consider spending the rest of their careers with their organizations.

It’s indisputable – there is a direct link between trust in leadership and employee engagement and retention. Organizations which have cultures characterized by trust are thriving organizations.

Our research and experience at TAG shows that employees who work for an organization defined by trust feel valued, work harder, experience greater satisfaction, and are less likely to think about leaving for somewhere else.

They belong, contribute, and make a difference.

An annual survey of “Best Places To Work In America’ found that the most appealing workplaces were distinguished by high levels of trust, cooperation, and commitment and did better than their peers and competitors in these ways:

-They have stronger long-term financial performance
-They experience lower turnover
-They receive more job applications
-They are more diverse in their employee/volunteer base

Organizations with thriving cultures have as one of their components the experience of Connection – their people are connected by trust and a willingness to let each other shine. Connected organizations are characterized by these four attributes.

1. Dependability
2. Communication
3. Learning
4. Integrity

Here’s an idea: have your leadership team engage in a series of discussions about trust in your culture, revolving around those four attributes. You’ll discover where trust is deeply rooted in your organization. And you will discover ways to shore up trust where it is lacking.