Feedback

Not to toot my own horn, but I tend to be quite good at accepting feedback and and incorporating it into my work.  I value feedback as an essential tool of collaborative work and as a means of ensuring that multiple voices and perspectives are heard and incorporated.

Of course, I’m sure we’ve all had those painful moments when we’ve gotten unsolicited feedback so late in the game that we end up facing a sleepless night on the eve of a big event or before a deadline.  Oh, the wound is still fresh!

In any case, we can always try to be proactive about getting feedback.  I like the AWARE model for asking for feedback that is highlighted in this talk:

Ask for feedback, 
Watch your emotions, 
Ask questions to clarify, 
Reach out for perspectives, and 
Engage your potential.
 

I particularly liked the description of why feedback can be difficult–as it lives in that tense spot between the need to learn and grow, and the need to be accepted just the way we are. Yet, becoming comfortable asking for and giving feedback helps to hone our growth mindset and helps us see feedback as a gift. 

Consider watching this video with your team and leading them in a discussion about how they like to get feedback from you and how you can solicit feedback from them.  A sign of a healthy team is one where 
 
Can you shift your mindset to one of growth and see feedback as a gift? Your challenge for the week? Ask for feedback from one of your colleagues by using the AWARE model.  

The Happy Secret to Better Work

Here is one of my favorite TEDTalks—The Happy Secret to Better Work.
 
 
 

In his very humorous talk, Shawn Archor talks about how we view the world and how that affects our happiness. Seems obvious.

He also says, though, “75 percent of job successes are predicted by your optimism levels, your social support and your ability to see stress as a challenge instead of as a threat.”  

So what do you, as a manager, do to build that optimism and resiliency among your team? I’ve written about the need for feedback, both constructive and positive, in the past. How can we link that to building that ability to see stress as a challenge and not a threat?

I’ve incorporated several of the lessons that Shawn talks about here (and elsewhere) in my life, including keeping a running list of what I am grateful for. Even on the most craptastic days, there is always something out there that can add beauty to our lives. And if I am really struggling to find something, I create something by reconnecting with a friend, setting a (virtual!) coffee date, or even planning a trip (one of my favorite activities! We can hope, right?). I usually write my list before I even get out of bed in the morning as a way of framing the day in the most positive sense possible.  

Of course, we are in trying times, indeed. When Shawn delivered this talk, we were not months into a global pandemic. I, like many, am managing an entirely remote team. One of the things that seems to be going well on my team is that we’ve built and constantly reinforce the expectation that we will change, evolve, and pivot as needed to address COVID. In some ways, knowing that more change will come, even if we don’t know what it will be, disallows the team to settle into complacency or routine. The routine IS change. That clear-as-can-be communication has been crutial.  What tricks do you have up your sleeve for keeping the optimism on your team?

How have you built up your own optimism and resiliency? How have those skills served you now, given that we are living through this pandemic? What new skills have you been able to tap into?

Managers as Coaches

“The single most important managerial competency that separates highly effective managers from average ones is coaching“. What do you think about that bold statement? In the past, I have held positions where many of direct reports were fairly new to the workforce. I spent a lot of my time coaching them on elements of their job– from the importance of record keeping to writing professional emails. In the end, they knew that they could always come to me for help which, for me, was the true sign of a strong team.
 
If you are looking to build your skills, here is a free online course on Managing as a Coach.  If that goes well for you, consider taking the entire specialization that it is a part of: Become a Better Manager.    Overwhelmed by the idea of taking the whole course? Feel free to pick and choose according to your needs. 
What have YOU done to become a better coach?

Ranomafana, Madagascar, 2016

Book Report: Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us

Instinctually, many of us may think that motivation at work is driven by money. Or maybe power. Or, in the case of some of us (ah hem) the mission of the organization for which we are working.

Daniel Pink, a smarty-pants lawyer-turned-motivation-researcher has spent four decades researching the idea of motivation. In his book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, he shares his findings about motivation which boils down to three main factors:

  • The ability to direct our own lives, which he calls “autonomy”
  • The ability, freedom, and space to learn and create new things, which he calls “purpose”
  • The ability to do better by ourselves and our world, which he calls “mastery”

So, what does this mean for you and the teams you manage? Mainly, I think it means making space for you and your teams to engage in your work in those three ways. How can you help your team members to build their autonomy, purpose, and mastery?

This book, and the third factor in the list above, inspired me to integrate one super simple practice into my every-day management style. When I delegate tasks or make an ask of my team, I gave them a compelling “why” that is linked to the bigger picture of our work–why what we were doing was going to make the world better.

Now, let’s say that I was asking my team to do something mundane, like, say submit their milage report. How in the world would I be able to link that to saving the world? I admit that at the start of my practice, I had difficulty linking tasks like this to our mission. With practice, I became a pro. So, for this example, I would tell my team that by submitting their milage reports we could assure our donors and funders that we were responsible stewards of their donation, that we actually were doing consistent and meaningful work in the community, and that our timely report submission was a sign of our respect for them.

Pink fights against theories that folks are motivated “extrinsically” with  short-term incentive plans and pay-for-performance schemes and the traditional carrot-stick motivation and punishment.  Pink writes that those extrinsic motivators “can deliver a short-term boost — just as a jolt of caffeine can keep you cranking for a few more hours. But the effect wears off — and, worse, can reduce a person’s longer-term motivation to continue the project.” That reduction in long-term motivation is partially due to the waining intrinsic motivation BECAUSE OF the extrinsic motivator–it is a vicious cycle once extrinsic motivators are introduced.

I found two of Pink’s illustrative examples particularly compelling. Swedish blood banks decided to change things up and pay people to donate blood. They anticipated that their blood bank would be filled to the brim. In fact, they saw blood donations plummet. Why? Well, you may have guessed…turns out we are motivated to donate blood out of the goodness of our hearts and not for literal blood money. The good Swedes are motivated intrinsically, not extrinsically. The second example that I found compelling was about Encarta. Remember Encarta? It was a pet project of Microsoft’s Bill Gates. It was a 1990’s CD-based encyclopedia that Microsoft paid big bucks to develop. Microsoft eventually threw in the towel and admitted defeat. While Microsoft never publicly stated it, it was presumed that their defeat was at the hands of Wikipedia–an online encyclopedia with content that is generated for free by people like you and me out of a desire to share knowledge. Those who contribute to Wikipedia are those who are motivated, again, intrinsically and not with the traditional carrot.

This book is most applicable to those who are managing people and teams. However, I think it is also tremendously useful to teachers and parents as they consider how to build motivation in children. I also find it particularly useful to consider as I develop trainings that are meant to change behaviors over the long term.

With this new knowledge, that we can and should build intrinsic motivation of our teams, I pose the question: How do you help to promote building purpose, mastery, and autonomy in your teams?

You can read the book, which I highly recommend. But, if you only have 18 minutes and 36 seconds, here is his TED Talk that describes some of the highlights of his theories.

Book Report: The One-Minute Manager

The One-Minute Manager, by Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson, is a quick ready. It comes in at just 112 pages. So, that is one argument for why you should read it, I suppose; you can learn something useful in just one sitting.

My argument against reading it is the same argument against reading a lot of these management books. There is no evidence to back up what they claim you should be doing to be a good manager. This (like The 5 Dysfunction of a Team) are written as a story with key management lessons sprinkled throughout. I am not a fan of that writing or learning style.

The story emphasizes the importance of asking the right questions, holding staff to a high standard, accountability, and offering praise when it’s appropriate. Common knowledge? Probably.

The book has some nice, neat, easily packaged take aways.

The One Minute Manager establishes One Minute Goals. Those are goals that should take no more than one minute to read. Write up goals for your team and individual employees on a regular basis to help manage their work flow, manage the team’s and your expectations, and help to keep everyone on task. They suggest having just a few short-term goals at one time; those goals are constantly updated.

The One Minute Manager also looks for things to praise. It only takes one minute to find something good! I do like the notion of keeping an eye out for the positive, especially in the busiest times at work! Of course, praise can help build motivation and reinforce what a person is doing.

Finally, the One Minute Manager reprimands in One Minute. It is a two step process. First, tell the person that what he or she did wrong, how you feel about it, and then let that simmer. Then, step two, tell the person how how much you value them and tell them your sense of their capabilities. The idea behind this one is that if you reprimand immediately after the reprimand-worthy event and reprimand often then a culture of feedback is built and employees get back on track quickly. To me, again, this advice seems pretty basic. Of course I value my team and will tell them that… even when trying to correct something that went wrong.

This was a quick summary. The author, Ken Blanchard himself, has a quick 8-minute lecture on the One Minute Manager.

So, overall, do I recommend this book? No. But, now that you have this handy summary, you essentially have the main take-aways minus the silly story. You’re welcome.

Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe

I was recently reminded of this great TED Talk by Simon Sinek called Why good leaders make you feel safe.  

In his talk, he suggests that when the right environment is created, we are all capable of doing remarkable things and acting in great service to others. He attributes trust and cooperation to building that great environment.

I have found that, perhaps oddly, when I’ve worked in really fast paced environments (ie: disasters, pandemics, epidemics), the tolerance for mistakes is higher. We know that we are making decisions quickly and not everything will go right. But, in some ways, that increases the trust and feeling of safety. It allows for honest conversation. It encourages people to ask for help.

But, how do you do you build a sense of safety? Simon proposes some suggestions, have a listen!

What are your thoughts?

How do you make your team feel safe?

Or, in your own heart, what could you be doing to increase that level of safety and security?  

Book Report: With Charity for All: The Terrible Truth of Charitable Failure

Ken Stern, a former CEO of NPR, chronicles ways in which non-profits are financial nightmares…from overpaying CEOs, to failing to deliver on programatic promises, and finagling suspect non-profit tax breaks.

He posits that the non-profit machine keeps churning because donors do not do their homework. We donate to a charity when a friend is fundraising on Facebook. We buy the wrapping paper because out nephews are hawking it and don’t give a thought to the beneficiary. And, oh yes, I will gladly buy those Girl Scout cookies (I will gladly support girls empowerment with inclusion of LGBT kids!)!

He also writes about non-profits that have detriment effects–like D.A.R.E. Did you know that kids who went through a D.A.R.E. program are MORE likely to try drugs? There are even more organizations who can’t prove the effect of their work; maybe they have a positive effect, maybe not. In an ideal world, every non-profit will have a skilled monitoring and evaluation team working to ensure that programs are on track. Sometimes, for small organizations, that isn’t quite feasible. When I was a Peace Corps volunteer, I worked at a very small organization with just three of us working full time. We kept track of some key data and could certainly show an effect of some of our work. Could our M&E systems have been more robust? Sure–but that would have required another person on staff!

He makes the point that non-profits are often judged on their ratio of programmatic spending to overhead. Big overhead = bad. Oh, how I wish that donors would see a big picture. Non profit employees often earn less than for-profit counterparts and are still expected to have the same level of investment in terms of their education and professional development. The lowly non-profit workers are often strapped with debt, living with roommates until 35, and eating Ramen for far longer than anyone should. Interested in learning more about this aspect of the book and indulging in my tangent? Watch this great TED Talk by Dan Pallotta.

So, what are we to do?

Stern suggests greater government oversight, a requirement for non-profits to reapply for their government non-profit status, and for non-profits to invest more time and energy into measuring the results of their work. But, for donors, some of the onus is on us to dig deeper into organizations we wish to support–he urges us to look beyond HOW the money we donate is spent to the RESULTS of that spending. Certainly good advice! If you need some help deciding or don’t wish to do the research yourself, GiveWell.org is a great resource for reviewing charities you are considering.

I am also asked frequently what organizations I donate to– sometimes knowing someone in the industry is helpful. I have an eye on the budgets of the some of the places where I work and being in the field helps to know which organizations have an ethos that aligns with my own (like Partners in Health) and which ones do not (like World Vision). If my ethos and values align with yours, I’d be happy to chat!

Book Report: Getting Things Done

Book reports–I’ll read it so you don’t have to.
 
One of the constant challenges that managers face is in balancing it all–taking time to be deliberate, creative, strategic, and visionary all while driving work forward.
 
The book Getting Things Done offers lots of tricks and tools that can help do just what the author promises.  Frankly, I found the paper-based system to be outdated in this digital world; I am far too often on-the-go, rarely work at the same desk, and don’t own a filing cabinet all of which are requirements for his paper-based system.  However, I have some great take-aways from this book that DO work for me in our digital world.
So, this post is, essentially, a Cliff Notes series of suggestions that work for me, and hopefully, will work for you!
 

First up, the weekly review: In a weekly review, you, essentially, clean up the week that just ended and plan for the week to come. I especially like this approach as I find it helps me to transition more easily into the weekend and sets me up for success for the following week.  I find that my weekends are much more enjoyable and relaxing when I know that I have tied up loose ends from my workweek. This article offers a fantastic list of what you can include in your weekly review. Fans of Marie Kondo and Gretchen Rubin will appreciate how the process also includes a cleaning up of one’s physical work space, too. I typically look back at my calendar to see what meetings I was in and make sure that I have either completed the tasks that were assigned to me during the meeting or do any follow up that may need to happen such as asking for meeting notes, scheduling the next meeting, and so on. I also look to the week ahead and make sure that I have either provided or requested agendas for all of the meetings on my calendar. Great tip–if there is not an agenda consider carefully if it is worth your time! 

As a minimum, on Fridays, I try to use at least thirty minutes to review my calendar for the upcoming week, prioritize my to-do list, and use the Getting Things Done trigger list to help spark my memory of things that may be in the back of my mind or loops that may need to be closed. I don’t have a perfect system but this helps to make sure that I stay on top of my activities. Plus, I find that by using the Trigger List that I end up clearing my mind of all of these little things that I’d subconsciously been keeping track of.  I would love to hear your suggestions about how you optimize your time and make sure that we honor our commitments.  

 
What tricks have you learned and developed over the course of your career?
What works best for you?
Let’s hear from you in the comments so that we can all benefit from your practices! 
 
Do you have a team member who could use some help in getting and staying organized? Perhaps this review could do the trick!

The Story of Us

Since the 2016 Presidential elections, I’ve been reading more and more of the work of Marshall Ganz (and wish that I had an earlier introduction to his body of work!).

Ganz worked for United Farm Workers for sixteen years before becoming a trainer and organizer for political campaigns, unions, and nonprofits. He is largely credited for the success of the Obama grassroots campaign. 

Why am I writing about him now? 

Well, let me draw your attention to this article: Leading Change: Leadership, Organization, and Social-Movements and in particular, the section on telling stories. I try to help health care workers see themselves as agents of change. In trainings, I aim to include elements that work to build motivation and build a sense of unity between health care workers and their community and patients.

Whenever I am working to develop a curriculum or health care worker training, I like to ask three simple questions:

  • What should the participants know?
  • What should the participants be able to do?
  • How should the participants to feel about whatever they are doing/learning?

This is, of course, a re-visioning of the standard “know-do-understand” model of curriculum development. There are times when we need to ensure that health care workers are not perpetuating stereotypes or messaging treatment options in ways that may be alienating to patients.  By helping to frame the story of health care, we can also help to ensure that patients receive the best possible care.

How do you incorporate storytelling into your work?

Book Report: Just Mercy

I first heard about Bryan Stevenson’s work when I was working at the Kasungu District Prison in Malawi. I discovered his TED Talk and promptly shared it widely. As I am sharing it with you, now…

I watched that talk while working in the Kasungu District prisons and was immediately humbled by the enormity of his work. I became more familiar with him while working at Partners In Health as he is one of the PIH board members. I didn’t get around to reading his book, Just Mercy, until several years later. What was I waiting for?!

That should ring as not only an endorsement but a call to action…march down to your library and check it out! You won’t regret it.

Mr. Stevenson represents those on death row, who are overwhelmingly African American. In the book, he shares the arc of his life and tells the compelling story of how he started the Equal Justice Initiative. Equal Justice Initiative “is committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, to challenging racial and economic injustice, and to protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society”. Bryan Stevenson fights racism and injustice as a part of his minute-to-minute work.

The story is important. In fact, I wish that we could have a national book club so that we could collectively examine our values and priorities. Stevenson writes, “presumptions of guilt, poverty, racial bias, and a host of other social, structural, and political dynamics have created a system that is defined by error, a system in which thousands of innocent people now suffer in prison.” He recounts the stories of a few of his cases–children tried as adults, people sentenced to death row with scant evidence that they were even at the scene of the crime. The stories made me want to celebrate those who made it OFF of death row, lay at the feet of Mr. Stevenson, and, of course, call my Senators (they are on speed dial lately!). Of course. Mr. Stevenson and his team are vigilant in their commitment to this work and, yet, they are only able to work with a fraction of the people who need his activism, representation, and his ardent belief that wrongs can be righted.

Read this book. I promise you won’t regret it.

I’ll end this with a line from Mr. Stevenson’s TED Talk, one that always moves me and inspires me. I hope it evokes the same feelings in you…

 “We need to find ways to embrace these challenges, these problems, the suffering. Because ultimately, our humanity depends on everyone’s humanity. I’ve learned very simple things doing the work that I do. It’s just taught me very simple things. I’ve come to understand and to believe that each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. I believe that for every person on the planet. I think if somebody tells a lie, they’re not just a liar. I think if somebody takes something that doesn’t belong to them, they’re not just a thief. I think even if you kill someone, you’re not just a killer. And because of that there’s this basic human dignity that must be respected by law. I also believe that in many parts of this country, and certainly in many parts of this globe, that the opposite of poverty is not wealth. I don’t believe that. I actually think, in too many places, the opposite of poverty is justice. “

PS: A movie about Bryan Stevenson just came out–Have you seen it yet? I can’t wait!