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.

Four Steps to High Performance Teams

Most people use the term “team” loosely in business settings. Yet because so much work today is accomplished by teams, it’s important to clearly define what a team is and examine what makes a team most effective. These characteristics apply whether the team is working virtually or in a physical setting.

We define a team as two or more persons who come together for a common purpose and who are mutually accountable for results. This is the difference between a team and a group. Often, work groups are called teams without developing a common purpose and shared accountability. This can lead to disappointing results and a belief that teams do not work well.

A collection of individuals working on the same task are not necessarily a team. They have the potential to become a high-performance team but first, they need to clarify their purpose, strategies, and accountabilities.

The Characteristics That Make a High-Performance Team

Some teams achieve outstanding results, no matter how difficult the objective. They are at the top of their class. What makes these teams different? What sets them apart and makes them capable of outperforming their peers? Below are the characteristics and best practices that are shared by outstanding teams.

Align for Results. High performance teams begin by aligning for results. They work together to clarify the team’s purpose, so that everyone knows what they’re aiming for. Next, the team members define their goals, outline their respective roles, and agree on behavioral norms.

Perform Under Pressure. Another characteristic of a high-performance team is its ability to perform under pressure. When conflicts arise, issues are embraced and discussed. Team members encourage each other to express their views with candor. Because the goal is to achieve the team’s purpose—rather than to protect individual egos—team members listen with curiosity and openness rather than defensiveness.

Develop Team Cohesion. Anyone who’s watched a championship team perform can observe that the team’s members work in harmony, collaborating with one another and doing whatever is necessary for the good of the whole. No matter what a team member’s role, their contributions are respected and appreciated. Team members trust one another and hold each other accountable, which further develops team cohesion.

Sustain High Performance. The final characteristic of a high-performance team is its ability to sustain its impressive results. The team members continue to demonstrate unity by sharing leadership. A high-performance team will adapt to change and accept even greater challenges.

As you read through the characteristics of high-performance teams, it’s probably no surprise that teams like these are effective. I’ll never forget the time I was invited to a Boston Celtics practice during the heyday of Larry Bird, Robert Parish, and Kevin McHale. Standing on the sidelines with Coach KC Jones, I asked, “How do you lead a group of superstars like this?”

KC smiled and said, “I throw the ball out and every once in a while, shout, ‘Shoot!’”

In observing Jones as a leader, I noticed he didn’t follow any of the stereotypes of a strong leader. During time-outs, the players talked more than KC did. He didn’t run up and down the sidelines yelling things at the players during the game; most of the coaching was done by the team members. They encouraged, supported, and directed each other.

The Celtics of that era exhibited the characteristics of a high-performance team. They were aligned for results, knew how to perform under pressure, had built team cohesion, and had reached a level of sustained high performance that did not rely on the coach for direction to get the job done.

When this low-key leader, KC Jones, retired, all the players essentially said he was the best coach they’d ever had. Why? Because he permitted everyone to lead, and that’s what a team is all about.

Building a highly effective team, like building a great organization, begins with a picture of what you are aiming for—a target.  Let these characteristics be your target. By benchmarking your team in each of these areas, you can identify where you need to improve to become a championship team.

Sharing Information About Yourself

In years past, the leader was the boss. Yesterday’s leaders shared information on a need-to-know basis and personal disclosures were rare.

Since then, leadership has evolved. Successful leaders today can no longer lead based solely on the power of their title or position. They must create genuine partnerships with those they lead, based on the following fundamental belief:

Leadership is not something you do to people;

It’s something you do with people.

So, how do you create genuine connection with the people who work with you? One of the most effective practices is Sharing Information About Yourself—which is one of the fourteen SLII® micro skills I’ve been discussing in my last several blogs.

How to Share About Yourself Effectively

Like many skills, there’s a right way and a wrong way to share information about yourself in a work setting. Let’s begin with the right way.

A good start is to share your Leadership Point of View with the people you lead. Your Leadership Point of View describes the key people who have influenced your life—such as parents, grandparents, coaches, or bosses—and what you learned about leadership from these people. It also describes key events that were turning points for you and explains what you learned from those experiences. Finally, your Leadership Point of View identifies your personal purpose and values. By sharing your Leadership Point of View, people will know your values, what you expect from yourself, and what you expect from them.

It’s Not About You

Use good judgment when sharing information about yourself. Remember, the purpose of sharing about yourself is to foster a thriving partnership. It’s not about you; it’s about creating connection.

Keep the focus on sharing information that will be useful to the person you’re leading. The information you share should put them at ease and help them relate to you. Do not waste people’s time by oversharing or disclosing personal information that could make people uncomfortable.

Before you disclose personal information, ask yourself: Will this information serve the person I am leading? Perhaps you have a personal anecdote that can help someone understand why a task is important. Maybe you have a story about an error you made that can illustrate why a certain policy or procedure makes sense. It can be helpful to share your mistakes with others, so that they don’t have to learn the hard way.

It’s Okay To Be Vulnerable

As Brené Brown contends in her bestselling book, Dare to Lead, it’s okay for leaders to be vulnerable. You might think that if you admit you don’t know how to solve every problem, people will see you as weak. Quite the contrary. When you show your vulnerabilities, rather than thinking less of you, people will think more of you. Why? Because they already know you don’t know everything!

For example, my team is aware of the fact that I often don’t know how to say no. I’ve never heard a bad idea, so I say yes too easily. As a result, I tend to become overcommitted—which puts stress on me and my team. That’s why we established a system a few years ago for me to give out my executive assistant’s business card instead of my own, so she can help screen calls and talk with me about which business proposals are realistic considering my time, energy, and the team’s resources.

Did admitting I have a hard time saying no weaken my leadership? Not in the least. In fact, it led to a solution that made work easier for all of us.

So—with others’ best interests in mind—share information about yourself with your team. You’ll be building trust, strengthening relationships, and leading more effectively.

Sharing Information About Your Organization

Sharing Information About Your Organization is, in fact, one of the SLII® micro skills—the fourteen directive and supportive leader behaviors I’ve been discussing in my last several blogs.

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. Why did I do this? I shared this information so that my students could master the material and get an A. After all, the point of education is to give people knowledge, not to sort them into some normal distribution curve.

The Benefits of Sharing Information

Business leaders should also strive to give people knowledge. Just as giving my students the final exam and teaching them the answers allowed them to master the course material, giving employees the information they need empowers them to find solutions and make informed business decisions.

Today’s most successful leaders know how to create a partnership with the people they lead. They view people as working with them rather than for them. Managers skilled in SLII® don’t just tell people what to do; they actually provide resources and information to help people do their jobs.

When employees learn more about the organization, they can see where their individual work fits into a larger context. They work faster and smarter, because now they have access to organizational resources and knowledge. Knowing that their tasks have meaning and connect to a larger purpose boosts people’s motivation and increases their job satisfaction.

Transparency Creates Trust

Being transparent with information about your organization—even information on sensitive topics such as future business plans and strategies, financial data, industry issues, or problem areas—communicates a sense of “we’re in this together.” This kind of information sharing builds trust and improves morale. It also encourages people to act like owners of the organization, which ultimately improves the bottom line.

More and more organizations are realizing the benefits of sharing sensitive information. A study from Robert Half Management Resources found that 56% of private organizations provide at least some employees with regular updates on the company’s financial performance—a 32% increase over 2012.

Sharing sensitive information has benefitted our own organization. When the events of September 11, 2001 created a crisis in our company’s bottom line, the leadership team opened the books to show everyone how much the company was bleeding, and from where. This open-book policy unleashed a torrent and ideas and commitment to increase revenues and cut costs—and the company emerged from the crisis stronger than ever.

Information Sharing in the Age of COVID-19

Fast-forward to 2020, as organizations around the world adapt to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our new president, my son Scott Blanchard, has been living his value of forthrightness by writing weekly updates to the entire company about how COVID-19 is impacting our business. Scott candidly shares information about our company’s finances and survival strategies—and the news often isn’t pretty. “It is a cruel irony that the values I cherish are not only being tested but pushed to the limit,” he wrote in an all-company e-mail. “While I can’t foresee what will happen ultimately, I remain committed to these values and to the values we have leaned on in the business during the most trying of times.”

When leaders share information about the organization, they multiply the number of intelligent minds working to solve problems. In our own company, this has led to a revolutionary transformation from classroom to digital learning. As Scott puts it, we’ve shifted from surviving to thriving—and it wouldn’t have happened without the commitment and brainpower of our associates.

That’s why I so often say: “No one of us is as smart as all of us.”