Leading in the New World of Work

Just when we were beginning to adapt to all the changes at work due to the pandemic, things are changing again as people head back into the office. You might be tempted to say that everyone is returning to business as usual, but in many ways, that term no longer applies.

As Scott Blanchard, president of The Ken Blanchard Companies, explains, “We’re not going home to whatever work was like before. We’re pivoting into the future and reorganizing ourselves in a way that takes advantage of new realities.”

How are you navigating this transition to the new world of work? If you are a leader, you’re probably feeling torn. On the one hand, you have concerns about people’s safety. On the other hand, you feel the pressure of financial commitments and marketplace demands. How do you resolve these seemingly opposing forces?

Communication Is Key

The first step is to communicate, communicate, communicate! It’s always important to keep information flowing, but it’s crucial to do so during times of transition.

People appreciate hearing from their leaders. For example, at the beginning of the pandemic back in March 2020, Scott began sending out a weekly email to everyone in the company. These weekly emails expressed everything that was on Scott’s mind—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Even when the news was dire—such as having to cut back on staff and services—Scott was candid and compassionate. He gave people information with as much advance notice as possible and explained the leadership team’s thinking behind every major decision. On Zoom calls with the company, people could see the pain and anguish on Scott’s face as he discussed some of these decisions.

The response from the company was an outpouring of support for Scott. People empathized with the difficult position of being a leader in such a tough time. When we had our People’s Choice Awards earlier this year, people chose Scott for the top award—the Most Values Led Player—even though his name wasn’t officially on the ballot.

Whatever decisions you and your leadership team make about the return to work, inform people about your decisions with candor and compassion.

Adapting to a Hybrid Environment

Leaders can smooth the way for a successful transition back to work in several ways.

First, recognize that the pandemic caused a major shift in the way people think about work. Today’s workers don’t think of work as a place they go; they think of work as something they do.  According to a recent Gallup poll, 35 percent of full-time employees say that, given the choice, they would continue to work remotely as much as possible. This means that your workplace will probably be a hybrid space designed to accommodate people who come to the office as well as people working remotely.

Second, create conditions that make it easier for people to get work done. “People don’t want harsh lighting and cubicle farms with no places to rest and relax,” says Blanchard Senior VP Shirley Bullard. “Give people motivation to come to the office by creating areas that are comfortable and inviting.” For example, people coming back to Blanchard’s offices will find a new hobby room, massage room, meditation room, and lots of places to gather on comfortable sofas and chairs. While it may seem counter-intuitive, changes like these increase employee engagement and productivity.

“Coming to work is a way to beat the virtual fatigue,” continues Shirley. “Socializing with others at the office breaks up the monotony of back-to-back Zoom meetings.” People are more brilliant when they have a sense of autonomy and are not fatigued.  Plus, bumping into people at the office leads to impromptu conversations that can spur innovation and motivation.

Third, meet with the people you lead. Get together in person at least once a month, if possible; more often is even better. Ask them how they’re doing in their new, hybrid work environment. Let them know that your organization’s policies might be changing as the situation evolves. Understand each person’s circumstances, listen to their concerns, and help them resolve any issues.

Learn More in Our Seminar Series Starting June 16

To explore more ways to create a successful return to work strategy, join us for a complimentary, five-part webinar series on Returning to the Workplace: Exploring a Hybrid Model. Register for any single event—or all five—using this link: https://www.kenblanchard.com/Events-Workshops/Returning-to-Workplace-Series.

Don’t Let Failure Stop You from Succeeding

We have all made mistakes in life, done things we regret, or had to deal with failure at one level or another. Some consequences are harder to get through than others. The big question is: how do you come back from the aftershocks of a bad performance, decision, or mistake?

My good friend and coauthor of Helping People Win at Work, WD-40 Company CEO Garry Ridge, knows how. When he took the reins of that organization many years ago, he knew he had to create a safe culture where people knew they wouldn’t be punished or fired if they made a mistake.

“What I needed to do was to help people realize that mistakes were inevitable but not necessarily fatal,” said Garry. “To do that, I had to redefine the concept of mistakes. I needed to teach people not to be afraid to fail. I had to earn their trust by showing that neither I nor any of our managers would take adverse action if someone tried something new and didn’t succeed. At WD-40 Company, when things go wrong, we don’t call them mistakes; we call them learning moments.”

Believe it or not, lots of leaders who encourage innovation in their people feel the same way. High performing organizations like WD-40 Company treat mistakes and failures as important data, recognizing that they often can lead to breakthroughs.

My personal physician, Dr. Lee Rice of the LifeWellness Institute, has this to say about learning from failure: “I like to encourage people to dream big, envision the meaning of success in their effort, and wholeheartedly go for it. Announce the goal, put a stake in the ground, and be committed. Remove the obstacles that have been the seeds to past failures. Pave the way for success and don’t be afraid to make the critical choices and changes that will ensure success. Let go of fear. Expect problems and don’t become paralyzed by temporary setbacks or failures. Learn from past mistakes and use them as a means to learn and grow. Be grateful for the lessons, enjoy the path, and embrace love.”

San Diego’s own Phil Mickelson recently made an amazing comeback with a PGA Tournament victory. At age 50, he is now the oldest major champion in golf history. He had experienced some tough times on the tour for a number of years—so, as a well loved player, walking to the 18th hole with victory in hand was quite a thrill.

A tweet he sent out, which immediately went viral, is worth sharing:

“I’ve failed many times in my life and career and because of this I’ve learned a lot. Instead of feeling defeated countless times, I’ve used it as fuel to drive me to work harder. So today, join me in accepting our failures. Let’s use them to motivate us to work even harder.” – Phil Mickelson

What a wonderful perspective on life.

If you still have pangs of negative feelings about something that didn’t go quite right in your life, remember this: We all come from unconditional love. God didn’t make any junk. And we all can learn to feel that unconditional love for ourselves. No matter what you do, you can’t control enough, win enough, have enough, or do enough to get any more love. You have all the love there is. So don’t feel so bad about yourself that you start believing other people are better than you are. And be careful not to let your ego go too far the other way, where you start believing you’re better than other people. You ought to feel just fine about yourself. You’re not any better or worse than anybody. You are beautiful. And when you have that kind of balanced self-esteem, you can get through anything.

So try not to get down when things don’t go the way you want initially. Hang in there. The future is still in your hands if you tough it out, work hard, and have a positive mindset.

Returning to the Office: How Using SLII® Micro Skills Can Help

As the number of fully vaccinated individuals in the US increases, people are beginning to return to their offices. Many companies are using a “flexible hybrid work model” that has people working from home most of the time and coming into the office just for team-related activities.

No matter how your organization is addressing this issue, now is the time to take a situational approach to leadership. By using the time-tested micro skills of SLII®, you can help people stay on track, regardless of their working arrangement.

SLII® maintains that there is no one best leadership style. This means that the person being led needs varying amounts of direction and support depending on their development level—their competence and commitment—on a specific task or goal.

Using SLII® Micro Skills: An Example

For example, let’s say you manage a customer service associate, Jason, who has been working from home for the past year. In some parts of his job—working with customers, for instance—he shines. You’ve even received emails from delighted customers singing Jason’s praises. In this area of his job, he is a self-reliant achiever and can handle a delegating leadership style, where your main job is to cheer him on. But in other areas of his job—for example, using the company’s new software system—Jason has expressed discouragement. This is where you’ll need to use a coaching leadership style and give him more direction and support.

In a series of blogs over the past year, I described in detail the seven micro skills of Directing and Supporting leadership. Let’s see how you could apply these micro skills to benefit Jason.

Use the Seven Directing Skills

Directing skills are actions that shape and control what, how, and when things are done. These are helpful for people who, like Jason, need help to become competent in a specific area of their job.

First, set SMART goals (specific, motivating, attainable, relevant, timebound/trackable) with Jason to help him tackle the new software system. Depending on your vaccination status and office policies, the two of you might want to do this in person at the office, at least to get things started.

Second, show and tell him how to achieve specific tasks with the new software. This is the approach to take when someone is brand new to a task and you need to set them up for success by demonstrating what a good job looks like.

Third, establish timelines for his learning of the new software system. When will his learning begin? When will it be completed?

Fourth, help him identify priorities related to his work with the new software. Together, make a list of what Jason plans to accomplish and rank them in order of importance. This way you’ll both be on the same page about what Jason will be accountable for.

Fifth, clarify your roles related to his learning. What are Jason’s responsibilities? What are yours?

Sixth, help Jason develop an action plan to complete his learning. This is a step-by-step plan that will show Jason how to begin, what to do, who to consult with, and when to finish his learning plan.

Seventh, monitor and track Jason’s performance. Set up regular, 15- to 30-minute meetings to check in with Jason and see where he needs help.

Use the Seven Supporting Skills

Supporting skills are actions that develop mutual trust and respect, which increase a person’s motivation and confidence. Because Jason has expressed discouragement about the new software system, he needs help to build his confidence and restore his commitment. Here’s how to use supporting skills to give Jason the boost he needs.

First, listen to Jason. Don’t assume you know the challenges he’s facing. Ask him open-ended questions and give him time to answer. Resist the temptation to jump in. Reflect his thoughts and feelings back to him so that he knows you understand what he’s saying.

Second, facilitate self-reliant problem solving. If you find yourself thinking, “Forget it. It’ll be easier and faster to do this myself,” that’s your cue that you need to enlist Jason to step up. Help him brainstorm ways to address his problem and cheer him on as he works to solve it.

Third, ask for Jason’s input. Again, ask questions and assure Jason that his thoughts and feelings count. This will increase his engagement and commitment.

Fourth, provide rationale for Jason. Nobody wants to do meaningless tasks. Explain why the company is using this software system and how his input contributes to the bottom line.

Fifth, acknowledge and encourage Jason by giving him positive feedback on his efforts and praising the things he’s doing right. This is my favorite SLII® micro skill!

Sixth, share information with Jason about the organization—specifically, how learning to use the new software system affects all the other departments and the company’s mission. Help Jason see where his contribution fits into the greater whole.

Seventh, share information about yourself. Telling Jason about your struggles with technology, for example, can give him hope and reduce his stress around the issue.

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You can adapt the above example to whatever leadership situation you find yourself in. Remember to diagnose the person’s development level on a task and match the appropriate leadership style. The key point to remember is:

Leadership is not something you do to people, but something you do with people.

Powerful Practices to Help You Adapt to Change: Part 2

It’s clear that a strong ability to adapt to unexpected change is a must for every individual and organization. We’ve found four powerful practices that can help people as well as companies become more change-adaptive. I wrote about the first two practices—Mindfulness and Curiosity—in my last blog post. Today, I’ll cover the third and fourth: Courage and Resilience.

The Third Powerful Practice: Courage

When faced with monumental change, responding with courage doesn’t mean you will instantly feel confident and in control of what’s happening. You probably won’t say, “I’m just going to power through this change even though I don’t have a clue about what’s going on.” No, this kind of courage is about having the strength to speak up for yourself in the face of uncertainty.

It requires courage to speak up and share your ideas and concerns about a proposed change. It also takes courage to be open to others’ perspectives and rationale for change. People who are courageous stand up for themselves and take action that helps them feel more optimistic, more included, and less victimized by change.

Consider speaking up:

  • If you believe you know things the change leaders don’t know
  • If you are aware of obstacles that could derail the change
  • If you think your ideas might make the change better
  • If you have experience or expertise to share

Don’t forget that you also demonstrate courage when you ask for what you need. Everyone needs some support during a change—and asking for support, reassurance, or mentoring takes courage. Take a moment to pause and reflect: “What do I need to be able to adapt to this change?” “Who should I ask to help me?” and “How should I go about asking for support?” 

Thinking of yourself as courageous can give you options and energy to act, not just react. It can help you feel as if the change is happening with you, not to you. And that’s a great position of strength.

The Fourth Powerful Practice: Resilience

If 2020 didn’t teach us resilience, nothing will! People who are resilient in the face of change are able to handle some discomfort and to demonstrate resolve in seeing things through. Change-adaptive people who are resilient are confident in their ability to adapt to change. They are able to bounce back and stay the course. They believe when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.

People with resilience know their strengths and they lean on those things. When you’re experiencing a change, remind yourself of the ways you are really strong. What do you bring to the table? Now look at the people around you. What do you know about their strengths that you can remind them of?

Resilient people typically focus their energy on what they can control and let go of what they can’t control. For example, I don’t watch the news very often. I keep up enough to stay informed, but most of it focuses on things I don’t have any control over. I am more resilient when I can stay focused on things I can control.

Finally, don’t forget the famous phrase: This too shall pass. Time goes by and softens the hard times we go through. Before we know it, months or years have passed and when we look back, that problem is over, we figured out a way to solve it, or maybe we just got through it together.

So choose to be a change-adaptive person who practices mindfulness, demonstrates curiosity, speaks up with courage, and follows through with resilience.

  • Mindfulness: Acknowledge and regulate your emotions.
  • Curiosity: Seek information and look for opportunities to help you move toward the change.
  • Courage: Share your concerns, contribute your ideas, and ask for the support you need.
  • Resilience: Acknowledge your strengths and focus your energy on things you can control.

Change is a fact of life. The more change-adaptive we are in these four areas, the better we will be able to deal with each change that comes our way.

Powerful Practices to Help You Adapt to Change: Part 1

If the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that change pushes us out of our comfort zone. When the change is significant it can disrupt our peace of mind, making us defensive, close-minded, and anxious.

To thrive in an increasingly unpredictable world, we need to develop better responses to change and perhaps even learn to embrace it. Over the next couple of blogs, I’ll be focusing on four powerful practices that can help you adapt to change.

The First Powerful Practice: Mindfulness

We hear a lot about mindfulness these days. But what is it, exactly?

Mindfulness is making the choice to slow down and notice what you’re thinking and feeling—without judging your thoughts and feelings.

For example, suppose you’ve received news that your company is going to be reorganized and your department is going to be merged with another. For many people, this would trigger a negative feeling like fear or anxiety. It also might trigger some negative self-talk, such as, “Oh no, my job will probably be eliminated.” Notice that in this example, you have a negative feeling (fear/anxiety) followed by a negative judgment (“I’m going to lose my job.”) That’s a double negative!

A mindful approach to hearing about this change would be to pause, take a deep breath, and observe your feelings and thoughts.  Your self-talk might go something like this: “Oh look, I’m feeling fearful and anxious right now. Isn’t that interesting?”  You might notice the thought about losing your job, but you would recognize it as just that—a thought, not reality. You would not attach meaning to it. You would simply witness, rather than judge, these feelings and thoughts.

So, how does this witnessing consciousness help you deal with change? By becoming more aware of what is taking place—both inside and outside of yourself—you can respond to uncertainty with acceptance. Once you acknowledge and accept what is, you will be able to reframe your reaction to the change (“This could be an exciting opportunity”) and adapt more successfully to shifting conditions.

To get out of a reactive state and get into a state of mindfulness, take these steps:

  • Feel your feet on the ground or rub the palms of your hands together. The idea here is to bring you out of your feelings and thoughts and back into your body.
  • Close your eyes and take a deep breath, inhaling to the count of three (1, 2, 3).
  • Slowly exhale for twice as long, to the count of six (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6).
  • Repeat the inhalation/exhalation two more times.

You don’t need to be a yogi to practice mindfulness. For example, my granddaughter, Hannah, teaches music. She recently used the steps above to get a classroom of rowdy, eighth-grade boys to settle into learning and it worked like a charm. If eighth grade boys can become mindful, anybody can!

The Second Powerful Practice: Curiosity

Change takes us into unfamiliar territory, and not knowing increases our anxiety. What can you do to survive and thrive when you’re faced with the unknown? Research tells us that curiosity plays a fundamental role in successfully adapting to change.  In this context, here’s what we mean by curiosity:

Curiosity is a desire to seek information about a change to better understand it, reduce the fear of the unknown, and look for the opportunities it brings.

To stimulate your curiosity, start by asking: “What am I feeling? What am I thinking?” so you can make a choice about what you’re going to do instead of simply reacting to the change. Notice when you’re digging your heels in and thinking, “That’s it. This is horrible.” Take this opportunity to be curious and open-minded by asking, “Hmm, I wonder what’s possible now?

Cultivate curiosity about the change itself. Who is it affecting? What, exactly, is happening? When is it happening? Where is it happening? Gaining knowledge about a subject can often make it less daunting.

Get curious about solutions and positive responses. Who can help you and others with the change? What can you do to help? How might you think about this situation differently?

The story of hotel executive André van Hall is an uplifting example of how one man harnessed the power of curiosity to adapt to a frightening change. In 2011, André began to lose sight in one eye. Over the next several years, his condition progressed to near-total blindness. Rather than reacting by saying, “That’s it. My life is over,” André cultivated curiosity about his condition and began to ask questions. “How will I function as a blind man?” he wondered. “How will I get to work without driving a car? For that matter, how will I get my work done?”

André reached out for resources and advice. He discovered and embraced speech-based computer technology. He and his wife moved to Denver, so he could easily access Denver’s urban transportation system. He learned how to use a cane. He researched organizations that offer guide dogs and was matched with his beloved guide dog, Pelham. André—who now calls himself a Professional Speaker and Curiosity Instigator, sums it up this way: “Instead of simply continuing with life, my curiosity pushed me to flourish!”

By practicing mindfulness and curiosity, you can adapt to whatever changes life throws your way. Keep your eye on this space for Part 2 of this blog series, when I’ll discuss the other two powerful practices for adapting to change: courage and resilience.