Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Do Leaders Need to Use Social Media?

What is a leader today?

I was listening to a teleclass from Linda Bernardi from the Bernardi Leadership Institute and she said the word “leader” should be changed to “collaborative influencer.” The word leader, she said, brings up old experiences with authoritarian types, and that’s not what a leader should be today.

Leaders today, she emphasized, need to be able to engage their constituents in a cooperative manner with the intent to create an awesome customer experience together. A leader today needs to take advantage of the two-way conversations and transparency that social media channels provide. In this case, they need to be able to effectively text and blog, Facebook and Twitter, and do whatever it takes to interact honestly with their constituents: customers, employees, investors, lenders, vendors.

I don’t think a two-syllable word is going to be replaced by a nine-syllable one, but I understand what she is saying. There is a shift going on. Leaders are being forced, due to the internet and it’s social media channels, to be more transparent. If they want their company to be taken seriously by their customers and themselves to be respected by their employees, then they need to know how to engage with them on their terms.

Many of my clients eschew these modern avenues of communication. They say they don’t have the time, are not interested, and/or don’t like the lack of privacy. However, social media is not going away. It is getting bigger. They need to know that to be an effective leader today, they need to be able to carry on relevant conversations that show their knowledge of their topic, and their interest in their constituents.

A leader today needs to be a collaborative influencer both face to face and virtually. These skills are essential . The very definition of a leader is one who influences. And others won’t allow themselves to be influenced – or can’t – if communication is not in the form they use and expect.

Does your CEO use social media effectively – to influence collaboratively? Do you? How important do you think it is for your organization’s leaders to be able to use social media effectively in order to build trust, respect and business?

Are you a “collaborative influencer”?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

How Layoffs Reveal Your Leadership Qualities

I just received an email with the subject line ‘Checklist for Terminating an Employee’. It turned out to be an advertisement for a book called From Hello to Goodbye. For some reason, although the book is about the entire work span of an employee, the only chapter that was mentioned in the message was the one on how to “terminate the employment relationship”.

This how-to chapter was the sole selling point for the entire book. The email came from the Society for Human Resource Management, so it is intended for HR professionals.

Although I’ve never been “fired” per se (although one insensitive career counselor moved a colleague to tears when she told our group of newly separated workers that being laid off was the same thing as being fired), I have been laid off several times and each time the process was handled very differently. No matter how Human Resources, legal departments or senior management define the termination process, the ultimate responsibility for how the separation is actually handled rests with the worker’s manager.

The coldest, most impersonal layoff I experienced was probably done according to the above-mentioned Checklist. My boss had been distant for some time. When he called me into his office where another manager was sitting, I immediately knew this was it. It offended me that he felt he had to have a witness. Without any emotion, he said he’d decided to outsource my position, explained my severance package, and asked that I pack my things and leave that afternoon. This was the least sensitive layoff I’d experienced, and the one done most “by the book”. My boss was Vice-President of Human Resources.

The most humane termination experience I had was the time my boss defied the HR rules. My supervisor rounded up our team of four and said, “I’m not supposed to tell you this, and you can’t tell anyone else. But lay-offs are going to happen next week and all of you are among them.” She then took us out to lunch and gave us the rest of the day off to “go sign up at the unemployment office”. It was a Friday and on Tuesday of the next week, dozens of people were called into a large room and told en masse that their jobs were eliminated. Stunned co-workers wandered the halls, but gratefully, we weren’t among them.

In the second example, some will say my boss acted rashly and laid the company open to possible lawsuits by doing what she did. But my opinion was she was a very smart leader. First, she knew us well and knew that getting laid off would be a hardship for us. She wanted to give us the news in as helpful and human a way as possible. She showed empathy and concern.

Second, studies have shown that ensuring the dignity of terminated workers goes a long way toward heading off lawsuits. One study of displaced employees found that 15 percent of workers who felt their severance experience lacked dignity or respect had filed wrongful termination lawsuits.

Honesty, sensitivity and caring for an individual help mitigate the devastation of layoffs. As a leader, you must take care to make clear, fair and informed choices about which employees to let go and which to keep. By being transparent about how the decisions are made, and making an effort to over-communicate the what, why, and how of the layoffs, you are showing your employees respect.

One study reported that losing one’s job created more stress than a divorce. It doesn’t matter which euphemism is used – downsizing, rightsizing, workforce reduction, delayering, made redundant, releasing, and on and on – if you are laying people off, you are the instigator of perhaps one of the biggest stressors of your employee’s life. That’s a lot of weight to carry.

When feeling stressed, it’s common to make more errors and to react emotionally. If you serve as an example of calmness and empathy during challenging times you can help spread that behavior. The worst situations are an opportunity to reveal the best in you.

Unemployment is still high and the news in the last week reminds us that cutbacks are continuing. Unfortunately employee layoffs are one of the primary management tools used to increase efficiency and reduce expenses. Bank of America announced over 30,000 layoffs in the coming year. You just need to check Daily Job Cuts or the BLS site Mass Layoff Statistics to see the gloomy updates.

It’s not easy to be the one to communicate a termination or to be among those left behind. By choosing behaviors that show respect and caring, especially when times are very difficult, you have an opportunity to illustrate true leadership qualities.

“At the heart of leadership is caring. Without caring, leadership has no purpose.”
– James Kouzes and Barry Posner, Encouraging the Heart

A new euphemism: "We have to synergize backward overflow."

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Coaching Virtual Teams

A good manager is also a good coach. But what if your team is a virtual one, spread out in different cities or countries? A lot of leaders with virtual teams choose to ignore that part of managing and prefer to focus their precious time on their projects, not their people. It is definitely taking the easy way out, but when their companies don’t particularly reward efforts at employee development you can’t blame these managers much.

Being good leaders, we know this is short-sighted, especially when there is a dearth of good leadership which is only going to get worse as people switch organizations, opt out of corporate work, or retire.

Developing future leaders starts with being a great coach to them.  Building trust and respect is the foundation of coaching. I know your time is limited but adding a few minutes to your schedule should pay off when you don’t have to spend time onboarding a new hire after your employees quit for more enticing opportunities. Here are a few suggestions for developing trust and respect and for coaching those remote employees:

• Talk one-to-one via the telephone to each direct report periodically. Include a little “personal time” talk to find out what they did during the weekend, how their family is doing, and milestones for them and their kids. Write down their kids’ and spouses’ names and important facts like their hobbies or birthdays. Put the birthdays and other milestones into your calendar.

• Be sure and send a text or email message acknowledging those milestones when they come up in your calendar. Follow up with questions about events and people that are important to them. Your direct reports will be impressed that you remembered or cared. This is all about relationship-building.

• Listen carefully during conference calls and take notes. Listen to how your employees communicate and interact, ideas they may present, or priorities they focus on. Listen first of all for things you can reinforce with a little praise and appreciation. Listen second for things you can help them improve in order to be more successful. Respond immediately out loud on the call for the good stuff. Call them later for a ‘coaching to improve performance’ conversation for the other.

• Stay collaboratively influential with social media. Be sure your team has a Yammer or Sharepoint site, or even a Facebook page where you can share ideas and observations with each other. Besides messages about the projects your team is responsible for, this allows you an open forum for team coaching.

Studies have shown that 5:1 is the “magic ratio” for optimum relationships. That means in order to develop and maintain good relationships (whether personal or professional), there should be a minimum of 5 positive interactions to every negative one. That’s even more important to keep in mind when you can only communicate virtually. Just talking about business all the time is neutral, and not necessarily a “positive interaction”.

How to manage performance and coach employees to develop is a challenge when it’s face-to-face, much less virtually. Managers need to be even more vigilant and observant in order to detect those teachable moments and identify those coachable direct reports. But if you don’t want your people to jump ship at the next opportunity, you need to be the boss they want to work for. That means helping them be successful in their current work and coaching them on how to be ready to advance in their careers. No matter where they are.

How do you build trust and respect with your virtual team members?

Communicating with your remote team members can have unforeseen challenges.

The Playing for Change folks must be incredible at virtual teaming to come up with these amazing performances!