Leading through a Seismic Shift

As the pandemic fades, people are returning to a new, hybrid workplace—where some are working from home and others are back in the office. To guide leaders through in this unfamiliar territory, our company has been offering a series of free, helpful webinars. You can sign up for them here.

Whether we want to admit it or not, our organizational cultures have changed over the last 15 months. The old rules no longer apply and the new rules, it seems, are up for grabs.

Harnessing the Power of Your Organizational Culture

In the new, hybrid work environment, how do leaders get the support of their employees and return to pre-pandemic levels of performance?

New York Times bestselling author Stan Slap provides lots of great ideas in the first webinar of our five-part series, “Back to Better: How to Return Your People, Purpose, and Performance.”

“This is not a physical relocation issue,” says Stan. “This is a cultural commitment issue.” Stan is a lively and entertaining guy, so it’s fun to watch him explain how leaders must work with the existing organizational culture to create predictability, energy, and a sense of belonging and relevance.

He also expresses the importance of the human connection: “Be a human first and a manager second.” Great advice!

Taking Advantage of a Rare Opportunity

In the second seminar in our Return to the Workplace Series, “Vision & Execution: Making the Most of an Opportunity to Change Your Organization,” Scott Blanchard makes an important point: this moment in time presents a rare opportunity for leaders to influence their organizations.

“Right now, return-to-work is a critical strategic mission for almost every company out there,” Scott says. He stresses that now is the time for leaders to step up.

“Leaders might be underleading the return to work,” he continues. “Our company’s research reveals that up to 75 percent of people report needing more direction from their leaders, not less.”

Scott points out that good things rarely happen by accident. “When good things are happening in an organization—from a Girl Scout troop all the way up to a nation state—it’s always a leader who is responsible for creating that positive momentum. And whenever things are not going well, the leadership of the organization is a part of that situation.”

Creating an Engaging Picture of the Future

The world has changed in the past year and a half, and your organizational vision and return-to-work strategy need to reflect that.

Scott stresses how important it is for leaders to take concrete steps and pivot to the future. “Peter Drucker said that the only things that happen naturally in organizations are inefficiency, friction, and political mayhem. This is especially true in an environment where things are changing.”

So, what is the solution to the potential chaos in your organization?

“Success requires a vision, a plan, and the tenacity to stick with the plan,” says Scott. “First, create an engaging picture of the post-pandemic future that excites people and inspires them about your mission. Next, help people see how their current roles and responsibilities connect to that vision.”

Leading Successful Change Requires High Involvement

Leaders cannot pull off successful change strategies without the support of their people. That’s why it’s so important for leaders to be other focused rather than self-focused. What do your people need to deliver on the vision and plan? What are their concerns? Are you listening to their feedback, including them in decision-making, and staying involved as the plan moves forward?

Research shows that top-down change—where leaders do little more than set the strategy—is often doomed to failure. Yet more than 80 percent of organizations still manage change from the top down.

An Epic Shift

Transitioning to the hybrid workplace “is an epic shift of millions of people,” Scott concludes. Now more than ever, your behavior as a leader matters. Your people want to know: “Does my leader have my back?” If the answer is no, they will become disengaged, and your strategy is likely to get derailed. If the answer is yes, this can be an exciting new chapter for you and your organization.

Learn More in Our July 7 and July 21 Webinars

What’s the best way to communicate in the new, hybrid workplace? How do you regain people’s trust and support? Find out in our next two complimentary webinars. To register, use this link: https://www.kenblanchard.com/Events-Workshops/Returning-to-Workplace-Series.

Celebrate Your People as They Come Back to the Workplace

It was a long time coming! When California dropped most of its COVID restrictions, our company decided to have a celebration at our corporate headquarters here in Escondido. We wanted to bring everybody—over 100 people—back together for three reasons:

  1. First and foremost, everyone, everywhere, has been through a pretty rough 15 months. We wanted to give our people an opportunity to get together, face to face, and see that it could be done in a fun and safe way. To respect everyone’s individual feeling of safety, we used a unique approach where each person wore a colored wristband that indicated their comfort level. Those who wanted to keep a six-foot social distance wore a red wristband. People who preferred an elbows-only distance wore yellow. And those of us who wore green bands were basically saying, “Come on in for a hug!”  
  2. We’ve made a lot of changes to our physical office areas during everyone’s work-from-home time, so we gave tours to anyone who asked. Our fabulous Campus Comeback Team—led by the one and only Shirley Bullard, our CAO—redesigned, remodeled, and redecorated most of our office spaces. We are so proud of our beautiful new open space designs where people can safely work together in person.
  3. There’s something about “breaking bread” together that brings out that real family atmosphere. Because everyone needs to eat, we hosted a made-to-order taco grill in the parking lot with beer and sodas for all and plenty of tables and chairs that made it easy to munch and mingle. It reminded us of the fun we’ve had together at past events and got us excited about today—and tomorrow.

Even though many of our people are not coming back to the office full-time, most will be back at least once or twice a week. Starting out our “new normal” with a successful, well-attended celebration was a great way to show everyone that our offices are back in business—even though everyone has been working harder than ever all this time. It’s okay to come back. It’s still the same place. Welcome!

So how is your organization bringing people back to the workplace? Make sure people feel welcome by bringing them back in a way that lets them know how important they are and how glad you are to see them again.

If you’re not yet sure how to tackle the challenges of bringing people back to your workplace, we have some great content for you to read and watch in our newly updated Returning to the Workplace Resource Center Stream. For even more information, catch our free Returning to the Workplace webinar series featuring luminaries like culture expert Stan Slap on employee culture and commitment; Craig Weber, author of Conversational Capacity, on candor and curiosity; Blanchard president Scott Blanchard on setting a vision and leading people through change, and trust expert Randy Conley on accelerating trust during times of change. Lots of free information you can use to help your organization make your people feel special!

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.