Sharing Information: A Counterintuitive Key to Success

I’ve always been a big believer in sharing information. As a college professor, I used to give out the final exam on the first day of class—and spend the rest of the semester teaching students the answers so they could master the material and get an A.

The same principle works in business. If leaders want to build a culture of trust, responsibility, and mastery, they need to share information with people. Giving team members the information they need enables them to make good business decisions.

Sharing information sometimes means disclosing information that is considered privileged, including sensitive and important topics such as future business plans and strategies, financial data, and industry issues or problem areas. Providing people with more complete information communicates trust and a sense of “we’re in this together.” It helps people think more broadly about the organization and the interrelationships of various groups, resources, and goals.

By having access to information that helps them understand the big picture, people can better appreciate how their contribution fits in and how their behavior impacts other aspects of the organization. All of this leads to responsible, goal-related use of people’s knowledge, experience, and motivation. While this runs counter to the thinking of a lot of top-down managers, the philosophy is based on the following premise:

 

People without accurate information cannot act responsibly;

people with accurate information feel compelled to act responsibly.

 

In an example close to home, The Ken Blanchard Companies, like many businesses, was negatively impacted by the events of September 11, 2001. In fact, the company lost $1.5 million in sales that month. To have any chance of ending the fiscal year in the black, the company would have to cut about $350,000 a month in expenses.

The leadership team had some tough decisions to make. One of the leaders suggested that the staffing level be cut by at least 10 percent to stem the losses and help get the company back in the black—a typical response in most companies.

As with any major decision, members of the leadership team checked the decision to cut staff against the rank-ordered organizational values of ethical behavior, relationships, success, and learning. Was the decision to let people go at such a difficult time ethical? To many, the answer was no. There was a general feeling that because the staff had made the company what it was, putting people out on the street at a time like this just was not the right thing to do. Did the decision to let people go honor the high value that the organization placed on relationships? No, it did not. But what could be done? The company could not go on bleeding money and be successful.

Knowing that “no one of us is as smart as all of us,” the leadership team decided to draw on the knowledge and talents of the entire staff. At an all-company meeting, the books were opened to show everyone how much the company was bleeding, and from where. This open-book policy unleashed a torrent of ideas and commitment. Small task forces were organized to look for ways to increase revenues and cut costs. This participation resulted in departments throughout the company finding all kinds of ways to minimize spending and maximize income. As the company’s Chief Spiritual Officer, I cheered people on by announcing we would all go to Hawaii together when the company got through the crisis. People smiled politely, although many had their doubts.

Over the next two years, the finances gradually turned around. By 2004, the company produced the highest sales in its history, exceeding its annual goal. In March 2005, our entire company—350 people strong—flew to Maui for a four-day celebration.

So the next time you’re stuck, consider sharing information. You might be surprised by the positive results.

Don’t Underestimate the Power of Mentoring

Last time, I introduced you to a few of the concepts covered in One Minute Mentoring, my new book coauthored by Claire Diaz-Ortiz. The reason we call our book One Minute Mentoring is simple: sometimes the best advice you’ll ever give or receive can be communicated in less than a minute. Here’s a little story about one minute mentoring that happened to me by accident.

A few days ago, I was chatting with a young woman named Rachel who works at our company when she mentioned she is preparing to go back to college this fall. I asked her how she felt about going back to school.

“I guess I’m excited,” she said.

“You’re excited! That’s good. Any other feelings going on?” I asked.

“Well,” she continued, “to be honest, I’m also a little scared.”

“You know, those two emotions—excitement and fear—are triggered in the same place in your brain,” I said. “So if you feel fear, try to think of how you can take that emotion and reframe it in a more positive direction. For example, instead of thinking of college coursework as something to dread, I think it’s possible that you’ll find it a lot more interesting now that you’re a little older. Think of all the things you’ll learn that you don’t know yet.”

“That’s really true,” Rachel said with a smile. “So if I reframe my own thoughts I can actually turn that fear into excitement. I like that idea,” Rachel said.

“Your brain will believe anything you tell it,” I continued. “So if you keep thinking about how daunting it is to go back to school, fear will continue to be your main focus.”

“But if I keep thinking about it in a positive way, I’ll start feeling the excitement more than the fear.”

“You’ve got it,” I said.

Rachel told me later that conversation was like a light bulb turning on in her mind. In one simple conversation that took less than a minute, her perspective on going back to college changed. Rachel and I don’t have any kind of a formal mentoring relationship, but in that minute I was her mentor and she was my mentee. I didn’t even think about what I did as mentoring until a few days later.

The best part about this story is what happened afterward. Rachel said the concept of reframing a negative emotion into a positive one was so important to her that she told several people at work about our conversation—and most of them were as intrigued with the idea as Rachel was. She took that small bit of information and shared it with others. Now who is the mentor? Rachel. And the mentees are all the people she talked to about reframing negative thinking.

See how mentoring can happen in just a minute? And you might not even be aware you’re doing it. Never underestimate the power of mentoring!

Learn more about One Minute Mentoring or order your copy at Amazon.com.

The Power of Mentoring

This month HarperCollins is publishing the new book I wrote with Claire Diaz-Ortiz, One Minute Mentoring. Claire and I hope our book inspires a lot of people to get involved in mentoring, because we firmly believe mentoring relationships can change your life.

Behind every successful person, you’ll find a mentor—usually several—who guided their journey. There are many famous  mentor/mentee examples—Socrates and Plato, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, Maya Angelou and Oprah Winfrey—the list goes on and on.

One of the surprise benefits of mentoring is that in many ways it benefits the mentor as much as the mentee.

If mentoring is so effective, why aren’t more people involved in mentoring relationships?

One of the biggest barriers people worry about is time. It’s true that a mentoring relationship will take a little time, but a few hours a month is not going to do you in, especially when you realize how energizing and inspiring those few hours will be. And often the best advice you’ll ever give or receive can be communicated in less than a minute. That’s why Claire and I call our book One Minute Mentoring.

So how do you find a mentor?

There’s an old saying that when the student is ready, the teacher appears.  Mentors are all around once you start looking for them.  You might find a mentor in a boss, teacher, neighbor, friend, or colleague. Or you might find one through a professional association, volunteer organization, or online mentoring organization.

That old saying works both ways—when you’re ready to become a teacher/mentor, the student/mentee appears.  We encourage people to step up and become mentors, because you won’t fully discover, appreciate, or leverage what you have until you start giving it away.

It takes time and intention to learn to drive—but once you know how, you can really go places! The same is true with mentoring.  We all have 168 hours each week. Investing a few of those hours in mentoring will energize you in a way that web surfing and TV watching never will.

Learn more about One Minute Mentoring or order your copy at Amazon.com.

Catch People Doing Something Right

When was the last time you praised a direct report, a colleague—or your boss? I’ll bet many of you can remember when you praised a direct report, but you may have to think long and hard to remember the last time you recognized the efforts of a peer or leader.

Catching people doing something right is a powerful management concept to use with direct reports. It can also be a great way to build trust and camaraderie with others. Think about the last time you were recognized for your efforts. I’ll bet you felt pretty satisfied and encouraged to keep up the good performance. No matter what your role, you have the power to ignite that same reaction in others.

Keep in mind that the most effective praising is specific. Don’t just walk around saying “Thank you” to everyone, or even “Great job.” Those phrases become relatively meaningless when people hear them all the time. For example, saying “Thanks” to the colleague who provided help with a project doesn’t have the same effect on them as if you said “Thanks, Renee, for providing the data I needed to finish the quarterly report. I couldn’t have presented it at the board meeting today without your help. I know I can always count on you. I’m so glad you are part of this cross departmental team.” A few simple sentences like this don’t take long to deliver, but they can have a lasting positive impact.

And don’t forget to let your boss know that you think they are doing a great job, too! It’s easy for direct reports to picture their managers getting plenty of positive feedback from their own bosses. But stop and think about how meaningful it would be for a boss to hear this statement from a member of their team: “Thank you, Jessica, for passing along that information from the last board meeting. It really helped me understand the strategic direction of the company and the role I can play in helping achieve our goals.”

The next time you see great performance from a team member, a colleague, or even your boss, let them know that you noticed. Give it a try—I’m sure you’ll see how much stronger your relationships become!

Managing By Values

Many years ago, I heard John Naisbitt give a speech on his book Reinventing the Corporation and was intrigued by a concept he called “Fortunate 500” companies. We all know about Fortune 500 companies that are ranked on revenue, profits, and market value. But John defined Fortunate 500 companies as organizations measured by the quality of service available to customers and the quality of life accessible to its employees.

Over the next few years, I worked with several people to put a process to this idea. The result was the book I coauthored with Michael O’Connor, Managing By Values. The three elements of the Managing By Values process are:

  1. Identify your core values
  2. Communicate the core values
  3. Align the values to your business practices

The most important part of this process is to decide what is most important to your company. Once you gain that clarity and define your core values, you must constantly communicate them to your employees. Use the values as a guidebook for how you make decisions and operate on a daily basis to show employees that you are completely committed to them. And make sure that your internal business practices are aligned with your values so individuals and teams can function easily and not hit road blocks because an internal process doesn’t support the values.

When you manage by values, you’ll have delighted customers who keep coming back, inspired employees who give their best each day, owners who enjoy profits made in an ethically fair manner, and suppliers, vendors and distributors who thrive on the mutual trust and respect they feel toward your company.

We certainly found this to be true during the economic downturn of 2008-2009. It became clear to us in February 2009 that we would probably fall, at a minimum, 20 percent short of our revenue goals for the year. The first thought of some was that we would need to downsize—get rid of some of our people. While that would be legal, we didn’t think it was consistent with the rank-ordered values we had at the time. Our #1 value was Ethics—doing the right thing, followed by Relationships—gaining mutual trust and respect with our people, customers, and suppliers; followed by Success—running a profitable, well-run organization. To us, downsizing would focus on our #3 value but miss doing the right thing and damage our relationships with our people. As a result, we involved everyone at an all-company meeting and together figured out how to cut costs with a minimum impact on people’s lives.

Fortunate 500 is a clever play on words but it is actually a very powerful concept—and perhaps even more important now than it was when I first heard about it. Today people, especially millennials entering the workforce, want to know that their work is worthwhile and they are contributing to a bigger cause. If employees share the common values of a company, they can achieve extraordinary results that give their organization a competitive edge.