Three ways to help leaders & teams navigate cross cultural disconnects to manage challenges & appreciate the benefits of today’s diverse workplace.
Culture is a big, hairy topic. Even more challenging is that we each belong to more than one culture. There’s country culture, corporate culture, family culture, and beyond. We’re each a unique cultural mishmash of all of these. So, how can we prepare ourselves and our teams to manage challenges and appreciate the benefits of our diverse cultural backgrounds?
Here are three simple ways (that often feel very complex) to help us navigate cultural dynamics:
Before we dive in, let’s acknowledge the obvious. There is no way to fully dissect all the complexities of cross-cultural interactions. It would be overwhelming, not to mention impossible. So, what can we do, and where do we begin?
A great place to start is “The Culture Map: Decoding How People Think, Lead, and Get Things Done Across Cultures,” by Erin Meyer.Meyer looks at eight facets of culture and how they may relate across countries: Communicating, Evaluating, Persuading, Leading, Deciding, Trusting, Disagreeing, and Scheduling. These cultural factors offer a compass to navigate familiar complexities. When we explore and apply these insights, we begin to understand our similarities and differences more clearly.
Personally, I’ve found these insights extremely helpful, not just in my work but at home. My husband (French) and I (American) navigate our own cross-cultural microcosm of connects and disconnects. These range from funny to pull-your-hair-out frustrating. We usually reach a détente through active listening and patience. Also, a nice bottle of wine never hurts.
Recognize Different Communication Styles
Communication ranges from what Meyer describes as high-context (implicit) to low-context (explicit). High-context communication is more frequent in cultures with long, rich histories, which create context for a shared understanding of nuanced communication. Meyer uses Japan as an example of a country with high-context communication. Alternatively, the US is a relatively new country that has been populated by global immigrants from different cultures who speak different languages. As a result, communication in the US tends to be more direct to help assure clarity without depending on shared backgrounds, culture, or language. Of course, we still experience disconnects and misunderstandings even within cultures. Looking at possible roots of these challenges benefits us no matter what cultural factors may be at play.
Prepare to Expect and Explore Differences
Team members from different cultures may hold different assumptions about how to communicate. Each of us may enter a conversation with the best intentions, but it can easily be derailed because of disconnects in implicit assumptions. We walk away feeling confused, frustrated, and sometimes even offended. When we explore and understand these differences, we can consciously work to bridge gaps to improve communication and achieve better collaboration.
Engage the Human Fundamentals
Culture influences how we communicate with others around the world and even in our own communities. Navigating cross-cultural differences can be challenging, but it can also offer great benefits. We each bring different experiences and perspectives to help us tackle challenges and achieve success. Beyond culture, we share a lot of human factors, including our desire to build trust, feel respected, and be understood. In the end, we’re more alike than we are different, and our common ground is a great place to start building bridges.
Virtual teams’ management requires leadership to use people skills and communication technology to build trust, teamwork and relationships.
Leaders want to know the “tricks” to managing virtual teams. We want better tools, systems, and processes that will take groups of people spread around the country, or even the world, and transform them into well-oiled high-performing teams. Here’s the secret: There are no tricks or shortcuts to building a team (virtual or otherwise). Even with the best processes and technology, virtual teams are still made up of people who need to build relationships, create trust, and collaborate to be a successful team. I know the blog title was a little misleading (a clickbait and switch), but now that you’re here, let’s move beyond the illusion of “tricks” to real people-focused ways to address virtual challenges: build relationships, communicate as human beings, and optimize time together.
We may respect titles or acquiesce to hierarchy, but we build a relationship with a person, the whole person. We’re often encouraged to separate our personal life from our work life, which is a lot like asking us to cut off our right arm to fit through the office door (and I don’t type well one-handed). When we bring our whole self and connect with someone else as a whole person, we find more in common, build better connections, and increase trust. As virtual teams, we don’t bump into each other in the halls, or at the coffeemaker, to help us build these connections more casually. Our interactions are more limited and more formal, occurring mostly during meetings and…well…more meetings.
In a virtual team, we have to create opportunities to make more informal connections. It sounds ridiculous to work that hard to create “natural” interactions, but when we don’t plan and protect this time, our attention will be hijacked by some fire-of-the-moment, and what’s “urgent” will consume what’s “important.” So, how do we purposefully create opportunities for connection?
Use Existing Meetings
Carve out time at the beginning of team meetings to connect as human beings: share what we did over the weekend, discuss a favorite hobby, or talk about anything other than work. We can also use virtual meeting tools to create smaller breakout groups for more intimate interactions, and then come back together to share important points or a new tidbit we learned about a teammate.
Create Virtual Cafes
Meet 1:1 or in small groups for an online coffee break or happy hour. –Even if we work in different time zones, it’s 5 o’clock somewhere.
We need to build in those human moments to stay connected even when we’re thousands of miles apart.
Communicate as Human Beings
Continuous communication over technology does not mean communication is clear or effective. It just provides a digital trail to prove messages were sent. I won’t call out specific tools because I might get sued, but you know the ones. The tools that allow us to constantly ping each other with emails, instant messages (IM), texts, etc. What we often forget is that even when we use these tools, we still need to communicate with the brains of human beings. Ongoing distractions interrupt our concentration, limit our focus, and reduce productivity. We need to use the right tools in the right way:
Email is best used to confirm information (that has already been discussed), and share information that is clear, concise, and not inflammatory. To make emails more effective try some of the following: Use the subject line as part of the message– “FYI,” “Response Requested,” “Action Required” or even “Action Required. Otherwise, will send X by Y date.” (That last one usually gets a response. Whether or not it’s a “good” response, depends on your audience). Call attention to due dates in emails by putting them in red. Keep emails short and summarize key points. Short emails take more time to write, but long emails take more time to read. So, if we want emails read, we should keep them short.
The above examples are focused more on US corporate cultures. We may need to adjust our approach to the team, company, or country cultures in which we operate. Regardless of the approach, our goal is to be effective.
IM is good for a quick back and forth chat or to align schedules for a meeting. When either email or IM goes on too long, stop the thread. Summarize the text and identify next steps, or jump on a video conference to discuss.
Video is better than both email and IM when we want to communicate more complex ideas. Only about 25% of communication is made up of the words we use. The rest is tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language. That means text-based tools leave out 75% of our communication. So, we shouldn’t be surprised when our meaning isn’t always clear.
Technology tools are not just about sending information, but managing how and when we receive it. To improve our focus, we can block time on the calendar to turn off our email, IM, and phone. The book “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World” by Cal Newport offers great insights and tips to help us improve our concentration and get work done. If you are really struggling to focus, then stop reading this post, and go read Cal Newport’s book instead.
We can’t let technology dictate how we communicate. We need to use the tools in ways that will improve our communication. When we assume communication has been read and understood just because we click “Send,” that’s when things fall through the cracks (and often fall apart).
Optimize Time Together
The goal is to meet in person as often as schedules, pandemics, and fuel prices allow. Once face-to-face, we don’t want to squander our time, squeezing too much content into back-to-back meetings or doing work we could have done remotely. We want to use this precious in-person time to connect with each other and build stronger relationships. Of course, work has to get done, but spending time on people is also essential. When we know and trust each other, communication is easier, collaboration is more effective, and our work will be more productive long after the in-person meeting is over.
No Shortcuts to Building Teams
There are no magic “tricks” to leading virtual teams. Virtual or not, we work with people, and that requires focus, communication, and intentionally building relationships. When we align our approach with how people “work” (inside and out), our communication and collaboration will be more successful. No tricks required.
Executive presence is crucial to effective leadership. Aspiring leaders may reject developing executive presence if they view it as inauthentic or an attempt to become someone they’re not. This perspective could not be farther from the truth. Executive presence is the observable result of stepping into our strengths, owning our depth of experience, and valuing what we bring to leadership to instill trust and confidence in the people around us.
Mindset is how we think about ourselves, the world around us, and interactions between the two: Do we see ourselves as a leader? Do we believe we bring value to our role? Do we secretly believe we’re “faking it,” and fear others will discover we have no idea what we’re doing? Mindset impacts our confidence, and our level of confidence impacts our executive presence.
Confidence is something we can develop. It comes through successes and failures when we learn from those experiences: “Wow, I did a great job, and here’s what contributed to that success…” or “Huh! That failure didn’t kill me…I wonder what else won’t kill me?” Confidence is built through engaging in the world and running toward something we want, rather than running away from what scares us (unless what scares you is a charging alligator. Then run, run like the wind!). When we seek the intersection of experiences that both excite and scare us, that is where growth happens, and through that growth we build confidence.
Competence is also critical to executive presence and to our overall leadership. Even with a powerful mindset, we will not have an executive presence if people do not have confidence in our skills and abilities. However, it’s not just about having competence, but how we communicate that competence. Regardless of our personal style, there are deeper fundamentals we can leverage to communicate competence, both explicitly and implicitly.
Explicitly, we communicate competence through the ideas we bring to the table, how we respond to questions, and how we engage in discussions about the business, industry, etc. Implicitly, we communicate competence through our behavior and delivery. Physically, people who are calm and grounded appear more competent. They have a clear, concise message and tailor that message to their audience. Leaders with a strong executive presence do not appear easily flustered or overwhelmed. This is not to say they don’t sometimes feel those things, but there is a difference between our internal experience and our outward behavior. It’s the metaphor of a duck gliding serenely across the water while paddling like mad beneath the surface. This does not mean we should take an artificial “Fake it ‘til you make it” approach. Instead, author Timothy R. Clark encourages a more authentic, “Behave until you believe.” ( “The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety: Defining the Path to Inclusion and Innovation,” by Timothy R. Clark.) When we breathe, slow down, and calm our mind, we help our inside experience begin to align with our outward behavior, and this allows us to improve how we communicate leadership.
Engagement with Others
Executive presence is not a one-way communication. We also communicate competence and confidence by how we listen to people, ask good questions, and seek to understand the knowledge and perspectives of others. Executive presence does not mean we always need to have the right answer, be the smartest person in the room, or make all the decisions. Leadership is a team sport, a synergy between a leader who serves their people, and the people guided by that leader. Without synergy, leadership does not exist. An adage, often attributed to John C. Maxwell, says “If you think you’re a leader and you turn around and no one else is following you, then you’re simply out for a walk.”
A Powerful Combination
Our executive presence is a combination of many factors, including internal mindset, communication of competence, and how we engage others. All these factors merge to create an executive presence that is unique to each of us. The most effective executive presence is not only achieved through our individual actions, but through the powerful interaction between us and the people around us. Our executive presence inspires others to have confidence in us as a leader, and that together we will achieve our goals.
Introducing Speakers: Rachel Burr and Joanne Z. Tan
Joanne Tan 16:50
Okay, now, thank you so much for joining us. This is my first time going live. It’s pretty nerve wracking, by the way. I’d like to first introduce Rachel Burr, or leadership coach and CEO of Catamentum Leadership Coaching, as my honored guest today. So Rachel, would you like to introduce yourself first?
Rachel Burr 17:16
Sure. Joanne, thank you so much, first of all, for having me today, it is always an honor to interact with you. So I am Rachel Burr, CEO and executive coach for Catamentum Leadership Coaching. I’m an executive coach. And there, that means a lot of different things to different people. So my specialty area is really that I’m a people expert. I work with leaders who may be extremely good at what they do. They may be brilliant at business, but they struggle with the people aspect of leadership. And a lot of times that happens, you’ve got high potential leaders coming into a role, they have been promoted, because functionally they’re very good at what they do. And people leadership is just a very different skill. And so helping bring up the people leadership to match the functional skill makes an extremely strong leader. And then the last piece that I really work with leaders on is, as a strategic thought partner, helping them think through their people strategy, and really the overall organization development to make their teams and the organization that much stronger.
Okay, thank you so much. So I need to, …well, here’s the “occupational hazard”: as a branding expert: I have to toot my own horn. I never enjoy it, but I have to. Okay, so I’m a brand expert, brand strategist, brand builder, for companies and individuals. Decode Create, Amplify – three words summarize what we do: decode brand DNA, create brand structure, strategy and stories, amplify brand messaging, using technology. So we help business brands, personal brands, professional brands, for leaders, seasoned professionals, aspiring board members, small business owners, coaches, b2b service providers, such as accounting firms, fractional CFOs, realtors, commercial insurance brokers, etc. So my company that I established is called 10 Plus Brand. It’s an award winning digital marketing agency in the San Francisco Bay Area. I also host a podcast series called “Interviews of Notables and Influencers.” We have almost 50 episodes now on various subject matters. And the last one is, third year in a row, our top three picks as best Super Bowl commercials. Yes, generating a lot of interest. You can see them and read them or hear them on my website 10 PlusBrand.com. I have a law degree. I was trained in business and liberal arts. I was a professional journalist, editor and designer. And I’m also an award winning photographer.
Joanne Tan 20:22
So Rachel and I, although we have different focuses, – she focuses on working with a company’s leadership, and today, (I’m going to explain later) is going to about how to keep your talents, prevent the exodus, while I focus on helping the individuals and companies to establish their brands, – so we have different focuses, but we share a lot in common, particularly this one belief that everyone has internal power. And when everyone’s power is unleashed, and in alignment with his or her purpose, the world and ourselves are better off.
Rachel Burr 21:00
The Great Resignation: What mindset, skills, lifestyle changes are needed for your next fulfilling career?
Joanne Tan 21:02
So according to BBC News, the number of people who have decided to work for themselves in the US has been rising by 500,000, since the pandemic and still growing. So today’s topic is going to focus on what is after the Great Resignation. If you have already quit your job, or are thinking about career changes, and if you want to seek more fulfilling work or career, (we’re not here addressing retirees,) what mindset, skill set, disciplines, and lifestyle do you need to prepare yourself for the new changes?
Joanne Tan 21:43
So before I will let Rachel explain about her perspective, and how her expertise can help with companies keeping talent, if you’re listening as someone who’s resigning or thinking about it, or making career changes, – are you thinking about striking out on your own? Be your own boss? Are you seeking more fulfilling work within another organization? But if you are seeking better work-life balance, need more family time, we’re not addressing it here, because we’re not life coaches. (But I can introduce you to some good ones. ) So Rachel, as a people expert, has 15 plus years of corporate experience, developing both leaders and their teams. And she has dual master’s degrees in organizational development and psychology, which is a very powerful combination. So Rachel, what are you going to focus on today?
Rachel’s focus is to help leaders farm talents; Joanne’s focus is to help individuals get ready for starting their own business or switching careers
Rachel Burr 22:55
Well, since our topic is this whole idea of the Great Resignation, and what comes after, you know, I want to talk first of all about: people are leaving, what are they leaving for? They’re searching for something. I mean, we’re all searching for something. But people are searching for something, there’s a reason that this has been a catalyst for movement. So how, as a leader, do you help better understand what it is that people are looking for? And how do you help provide that, in a way that people will want to stay, you’ll be able to retain and keep your top talent or your key players as you develop your talent?
Rachel Burr 23:28
And then second of all, kind of two sides of the same coin, how as a leader, do you think about YOUR development? How are you strategically developing YOUR leadership? What are you searching for? Because it’s not just maybe the people on your team or the people around you, but my guess is you’re searching for something too, and how do you invest in that? So how about you, Joanne, what are you going to focus on in this piece?
Joanne Tan 23:54
Okay, so I’m focusing on helping those individuals who have already quit, or are seriously considering doing that, whether on your own or joining another organization. So there are two categories. One: those who are striking out on their own, be your own boss, or seriously thinking about establishing running your own companies: What do you need? What do you need to know before you make that decision? It’s a very tremendous change, okay.
Joanne Tan 24:29
And number two, is addressing those who are switching companies, those individuals seeking a better career in a different environment or a better fitting organization who will need help with LinkedIn and resume. Okay, so, Rachel, you want to start with your insights?
How can business leaders keep talents by growing relationship, connection, and value, as a 2-way street
Rachel Burr 24:55
Sure! Yeah. So people are leaving. Why are they leaving and what are they looking for? You know, it’s really interesting. When you ask folks, a lot of times, their first response is: well, you know, better money, better title, better culture, better whatever. The title and money and all of those pieces can be true. Absolutely. Those are really a kind of foundation, or the ticket to play. And they’re the easy answers. When you’re doing an exit interview, for example, at an organization, what are people gonna say, you know, money, title, etc. The challenge with that is that while again, important, sometimes it can be like, you know, a coat of paint on a house that is desperately in need of repair. And it’s really about the house that we’re talking about today, your house as a leader and how you’re building it.
Joanne Tan 25:47
So what can a leader do about this “house”? More than just a superficial “coat of paint”?
Rachel Burr 25:54
Right. So I think there’s a couple of things: leaders want to keep highly, you know, kind of value people are highly valuable in an organization. But it’s also a two-way street. We talk a lot of times about, oh, you know, getting the best out of our people or the most out of our teams. It’s like, yes, and how are you investing in that relationship?
Rachel Burr 26:15
Because it is a relationship. You know, just like it’s a relationship, when you’re saying a love relationship. It’s one of those things where, you know, you’re investing along the way, it’s not when all of a sudden that someone says, Oh, I’m leaving you, and you’re like, “No, no, no, I promise I’ll change”. And then it’s kind of that knee-jerk reaction. It’s like, No, this is a relationship. Humans, we’re relationship oriented. And it’s not a relationship with say, an org, like when you think of a company company, it’s the people IN the company, there’s no separating them. So I think it’s really important for a leader to understand how, like, what are the fundamentals in kind of investing in this relationship? And the long term investment, not the knee-jerk reaction, last ditch kind of piece.
Joanne Tan 27:03
Okay, relationship. Okay. So…
Rachel Burr 27:08
Want me to talk a little bit more about that?
Joanne Tan 27:10
Right. Yeah. How do you build relationships?
Rachel Burr 27:13
Yeah, so I’m going to talk about a few factors, obviously, there’s a huge laundry list. But you know, with any kind of brief piece, let’s just focus on a few key pieces that people can take away. I think one is this idea of relationship. It’s about getting to know each other as people, a lot of times as leaders, or even as you know, kind of like leadership, or organizations, we think about kind of leaving the personal life or leaving the other pieces of our life at the door. And that’s not the way this works, we show up at work as a whole person, we want people to show up at work as a whole person. Otherwise, it’s kind of like saying, well, we’d like you to cut off your right arm in order to fit through the door. So really getting to know people as individuals first, not just as an employee, right. So I think that’s first and foremost.
Rachel Burr 28:07
Second is around that connection. We fundamentally are social creatures, we want to belong to something, we want to feel connected to each other, we want to feel connected to the higher purpose of the organization. We want to feel that organization or that work community we belong to, is also aligned with our values, and that we’re actually participating in that success. So that connection piece, that belonging, – that’s also very important.
Rachel Burr 28:35
And then really, as a leader, how do you understand the core of who your people are? What are their values, their strengths, their interests, their talents, because if you’re going to bring out the best in them, or help support bringing out the best in them, so they can bring their best, you have to know what that is first. And sometimes the challenge is, your people may not even know some of this themselves. So it’s a collaboration, together to be able to figure this out, how do you help them bring their best to work.
Joanne Tan 29:04
You know, you remind me about what I call the company’s brand in alignment with the individual’s brand, the company’s aspiration in alignment, vice versa, with individuals’, the employees’, the staff’s, the management’s, – that’s the intrinsic motivation, that’s the aspiration, that’s the inspiration, rather than just the Job List describing what functionalities I’m looking for, and you’re filling this hole, as a peg filling the hole, do-you-have-this-skill-that-skill checklist – That’s old fashioned, not working anymore. We need to come up with some more heart-and-soul approach.
Rachel Burr 29:49
Joanne Tan 29:49
Yes. On both ends, the two-way street. Yes.
Rachel Burr 29:52
Yeah. People want to feel excited. You know, I’ve read through laundry lists of say values, or especially really long Value Lists, that companies will come up with. Their intention is good. They’re trying to really describe the culture or describe their brand. You describe those things in this very specific way. The problem is that if people can’t carry that information with them, it can’t impact them. So it’s like, I don’t know what those are. There’s a huge laundry list. It’s not impacting my behavior, and how do I know if I’m really connected to that?
Joanne Tan 30:25
Right. Right. It has to be internalized. Yes, they have to live that value. Yes. And improve that. It’s a process. Okay. So what if it’s not a right fit?
Rachel Burr 30:41
So I would say just as summarizing this, yes, and I think that the last piece, too, I just want to make sure I point out is: there’s also this recognition of the value that people bring. So in a lot of times, leaders struggle with providing what they call adjusting or negative feedback, but we’re also really having affirming feedback and valuing what people are bringing and developing that. I think it’s interesting, sometimes leaders will say we in terms of positive feedback, well, that’s just not who I am. And it’s like, okay, but here’s the deal, when I actually, when I hear leaders say that, what I’m really hearing them say is, I don’t know how to do that, or I’m not comfortable with that. And the reality is, I can say, alternatively, as a metaphor, well, I, you know, I don’t want to change the oil in my car, that’s not who I am. It’s like, okay, I had a choice. But you know, just know that I still have a gas car, not an electric one, but eventually, what’s gonna happen is that the engines gonna seize, and it’s gonna leave you stranded on the side of the road.
Make investment in people and their growth in farming talents
Rachel Burr 31:41
So again, as you’re making these investments in your team, it’s like changing the oil, right? It’s a choice. And it’s about really having that kind of well oiled relationship, well oiled dynamic, in order to make sure everything continues to move you forward. So these are really simple things. I mean, on the surface, they’re very simple. People are like, Yeah, we know this. Yes. And we don’t do it. It’s difficult sometimes, there’s a lot going on, very complex, you know, environments, busy, lots of things on our plate. And a lot of times, some of these things take a backseat. And the problem is, by the time they actually come to fruition or something happens, and someone says I’m leaving, it’s too late.
Joanne Tan 32:22
Too little, too late.
Rachel Burr 32:25
Too little, too late. Now, to your point about sometimes it actually is right to leave, whether it’s the individual or it’s something in the business has shifted, there’s just not a connection there. Or maybe the person has actually outgrown the business. Now, there are good reasons to leave too. And I think what’s important is that you have a couple of choices for the leader on how to handle it, you can either handle it poorly, like if you have a key person that’s leaving, like, let’s say someone you really value that they’re leaving, what does “poorly” look like? Well, you can try to put up barriers or you can kind of cut them off, or all of these things in terms of relationship.
Rachel Burr 33:03
Or, you can see yourself as essentially the farm, the farm that’s growing great leaders. And I have this great example for me that I use a lot of times when I’m talking to groups of leaders, etc. I’ve been very fortunate to have some great managers in my life. And this one particular manager, his name is Wilkins. I hope he’s watching this at some point. I talked about the moment that he and I were working together. He was my leader for Strategic Marketing at the time. And we were doing a performance review. And he sat me down, I was a senior manager. And he said, “Okay, so do you want to be a director of strategic marketing?” And I said, “not really.” And he was kind of taken aback. He said, “Okay, well, what do you want to do?” I said, “I want to do organization development.” And he’s like, “Great. What is that?”
Rachel Burr 33:58
And it was this brilliant moment. Because what he did after that was, he put my name in a hat for another job that he felt like that would get me aligned with where I wanted to go. And it tells you that leaders don’t necessarily have to have the same interest, or even sometimes completely understand what it is you want. They just have to be there to support you to get you where you want to go. And people a lot of times are afraid to lose that good talent. But the problem is, if you have talent that you can’t actually grow any further or they don’t have a place to grow, if there’s going to be this kind of chafing and it’s a short term solution, that person is not going to stay.
Rachel Burr 34:36
If however you help them because you know, their core, you know what their interests are, you’re talking to them about this, if you help them maybe get a different position in the organization, or even help outside of the organization, has that farm, what you do is, think of it less as losing a person and instead of like creating alumni. So the idea is like, you know, when you graduate from high school, graduate from college, the idea isn’t necessarily that you’re maybe going to stay forever. But now you have this amazing network of people that you’ve helped grow, and who you trust as this great like the potentially referral network, so when you need talent, when you need people coming in, you have these people out there that can actually refer and help you move forward.
Joanne Tan 35:23
Very good. That’s a mindset evolution, if not revolution. And servant leaders, servants – you’re serving the individuals, helping them grow. Yes, at the same time, you have to grow yourself, right?
Rachel Burr 35:39
Oh, yeah, absolutely.
Joanne Tan 35:40
So tell us about that.
Leaders need to grow themselves and model continued improvement
Rachel Burr 35:43
Well, I think you know, as leaders, a lot of times, we’re very focused on the development of the company and the development of our people. And the reality is, our development is no different, is a leader’s – It’s about who we are at our core. What do we want to do? Where do we want to grow? We’re very good at setting a vision and a strategy for an organization. But how often do we really take that moment to step back and say, Okay, who do I want to be as a leader? Like, what does that look like? What is my path? Because far too often, I’ve watched leaders, you know, there’s a ladder that shows up, we talked about ladders in corporate America, right. And there’s a ladder, so we climb it, and there’s another ladder, so we climb it. But the reality is, like, how do we take a step back and really understand who I want to be? What is my career? What is the kind of leadership I want to develop? And that does two things, right? When our leaders develop, not only do they, you know, increase their potential and their capacity for leadership for themselves in their organization, their teams, but they are modeling growth, they are modeling the expectation that we continue to improve, we continue to develop, and that is just so powerful for us.
Joanne Tan 36:55
That is a perfect segue to what I’m going to talk about.
Rachel Burr 36:58
Self-assessment before starting your own business or changing career
Joanne Tan 36:58
Yes. So whether you want to climb the ladder, or want to seek a better fitting opportunity in a different organization, or striking out on your own, the first and foremost is do a self assessment. Especially for those who are thinking about striking out on their own. Okay, you need to do a thorough research about the best options for you to align your passion, your talent, to the best fitting opportunities, be it working in another company or starting out on your own. Okay, so you need to check: Are you truly the be-my-own-boss type? I mean, it’s not for everybody. Okay. And you’ve got to know all the hurdles, all the requirements, all the things you need to handle as your own boss. Okay. Do you…
Rachel Burr 37:49
Can I ask you something? Joanne?
Joanne Tan 37:50
Rachel Burr 37:51
What told you, that when you started out on your own, what told you, you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
Joanne Tan 37:56
Ah, gosh, mostly, I seek …for me, I’m very analytical, thanks to my torture in law school. It trained me. I’m very grateful for that analytical training. It trained me to be extremely focused on distilling, outlining a vast amount of information, coming to the gist of it and coming with the vision and the strategy, okay. And business, how to run a business is just a tool, but with analytical skills. But on the other hand, I’m also very creative. I’m an artist, for me to combine both, the analytical, strategic, and business, and to creativity, truly creating art. Okay, I have to create my own. There’s nowhere I can fit as a peg in a hole. Yeah, so I am just so glad I made that choice. And I will, you know, share more about the details. Okay.
Rachel Burr 39:04
Can I paraphrase really quick, what I hear you say, because I think it’s so important for people to take away is that what I’m hearing you say is you took, – and I always, you know, I use the metaphor for building blocks, – but you really understood these key pieces, these key building blocks that maybe seem to somebody outside very disparate or very different, and what you did, was you took all the pieces you knew were important to you and core to you, and then building the path, brick by brick, not waiting for the path to show up for you, but really you building and tailoring that path forward.
Joanne Tan 39:35
Rachel Burr 39:36
That was so important.
Joanne Tan 39:37
Yes, you do this self assessment and do a thorough, thorough research about the best options that will align your passion, your talent, your skill sets to the best fitting opportunities, okay. And if the opportunity does not exist, to the extent, to the fullest extent that will make me satisfied, then I create my own! But it’s not for everyone.
Joanne Tan 40:02
So you need to know, do you really desire this, to do this on your own? Extremely desiring this? Okay, now you’re making this move not because of the corporate culture, or not getting along with my boss, and job frustration and wanting to run my own life, … those are not enough reasons, even though they are good enough reasons, but they’re not supposed to be the deciding factors. Okay, you have to figure out how well do I know myself? What do I really want from my work? What are my true strengths and weaknesses?
Joanne Tan 40:42
Okay, and those true strengths and weaknesses are not really like, Oh, I am using the adjectives, “I am friendly,” “I am an extrovert”, or whatever, “I’m talented”… No. This is from the point of view of your target audience, their needs, who you’re going to serve. What are their pain points? And what are my solutions to their pain points? And do I qualify to give them solutions? Do I have a passion for doing this, day in and day out?
Be your own brand, whether you work for yourself or in an another organization
Joanne Tan 41:13
And then, of course, do you have your own brand? What does your brand stand for? We all are in our own so-called “forest”. And we need each other to see our blind spots when you do that self assessment.
Rachel Burr 41:29
Absolutely. Can I make an observation for you?
Joanne Tan 41:31
Rachel Burr 41:32
For those of you who don’t know, Joanne actually helped me do my brand. And so what you’re seeing behind is this lovely piece. But one of the things Joanne does so well is to help you really kind of deconstruct down to like the gnat’s eyelash, of like, who am I? What’s important to me? And it is… it feels like this getting down to your DNA about… and the process, it’s kind of… it’s a little grueling in a very good way, but it makes you really stop to think about what’s important to me, what am I bringing forward? Because there’s a huge mind shift coming if you’ve never been on your own outside, and as a starting place, knowing who you are and even what you want, who you want to serve – Oh my gosh, fundamental!
Joanne Tan 42:15
Yes. Thank you so much. So it was my privilege and honor working with Rachel, branding, from DNA, truly just from DNA, and then creating the identity, creating the verbal, visual, the website, and then do the digital content marketing. So it’s brick by brick, floor by floor, you build your own skyscraper, and the most important thing is the foundation. That’s YOU. Understanding YOU, and who are, your target audience, and whom, …what’s the service-market fit, product-market fit,… Yeah. So of course, from both the point of view of who you are, what your talents are, what are your value propositions, as well as THROUGH UNDERSTANDING OF THOSE YOU SERVE.
Rachel Burr 43:11
Can I make one other observation?
Joanne Tan 43:13
Rachel Burr 43:13
So because I think it would be helpful for everybody to connect that because like, it kind of started off, you don’t want to make sure that this isn’t a knee jerk reaction for that, like when people leave an organization that they really know, if they want to go out on their own, what they’re getting into, – although none of us completely know what we’re getting into, – so how do you connect, how are you connecting this back with this idea of the Great Resignation? Everybody kind of leaving to work on their own?
Go out on your own to work for yourself? – check this list first:
Joanne Tan 43:36
Yes. So everybody is leaving and we’re just in the target audience that are for better opportunities, for more job fulfillment. So, if you think you can start on your own, and you enjoy calling your own shots, being your boss, great; but you need more, you need far more than a desire, you need a mindset, skill set, lifestyle. So what do you need? to hear some laundry list, you know, not exhaustive, but important factors for you to consider:
Joanne Tan 44:09
How good are you at leveraging other talents to fill up your weakness gaps? Because you may be an accountant or tax expert, but you’re not talented in networking, or marketing, or whatever other required skills. Okay. So you may be an executive coach, you’re great with numbers, building team dynamics, but you need help with personal connecting to individuals. And if that’s not your forte, then what do you do? You, on the one hand, truly realize your strengths, but how are you going to fill up your weaknesses? Okay, you have to learn whom am I going to be a partner with? And how do you build your own team? But you cannot build your own team if you don’t know.
Rachel Burr 45:00
Joanne Tan 45:02
And also you cannot build your own circle of support if you don’t know about yourself. When you’re on your own, you need everything: to bounce off ideas with somebody; you, as a human, you need to vent your frustration with someone, okay; you need to share your goals and feelings and frustrations, – good and bad. So you need to have your circle of support.
Rachel Burr 45:27
Can I make an observation about that? I think that’s so important. Because I think when you were pointing, you know, like this Great Resignation, and people wanting to go out on their own, are on my own. People make the mistake of thinking I’m really doing this by myself. And it’s like, we don’t do ANYTHING by ourselves completely. It’s to your point, it’s about you having to build a village around you. It’s like, it takes a village. Yeah, well, it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to raise a business.
Joanne Tan 45:51
Rachel Burr 45:51
Having a partner, for example, like you, and some other key people that I’ve had, you know, a lawyer, a bookkeeper, other consultants, knowing and trusting those people to be able to augment where you are not strong and not trying to turn yourself into something you’re not, because I’m not going to turn myself into a bookkeeper, a marketer, or a lawyer, – It takes that village and you have to be willing to build that village around you.
Joanne Tan 46:15
Right, right. Absolutely. When you choose to say YES, that’s on the foundation of saying NO to things.
Rachel Burr 46:24
Joanne Tan 46:25
You’ll have to say NO to things, and to say YES to things
Joanne Tan 46:29
And networking, when you’re on your own, you’ll have to network, in person, virtually, on social media, and joining networking professional groups. And that is going to take time to practice. Just to practice your elevator speech, I remember when I first started on my own, oh my gosh, I wrote different versions before the networking meeting. It was challenging, but you do it, the more you practice, the better you get. Just practice, okay, there is no such thing as “oh, I’m not good at this, so I’m not going to do it.” If you’re on your own, you’ll have to do that. Okay. And also, you need to be self motivated. You need to have social skills, and keep regular hours for exercise, for yourself, for recharging yourself. So my lesson is that it’s far more likely to overwork when you own a business.
Rachel Burr 47:26
Joanne Tan 47:26
Because it’s your baby! You’re passionate about it, and you love your work. And well, for me to book my vacation was like, procrastinating for half a year. And so you have your assistant or someone who will be your “boss”, is like: “can you please make sure you force me to take a vacation”? And also be disciplined. If you set goals, you will have annual goals and quarterly goals, and don’t feel bad if you don’t reach all of them. And have a coach, you know, have someone who will hold you accountable, who checks up on you. And even though you cannot be a bookkeeper, you need to be on top of your finances.
Rachel Burr 47:35
Oh Yeah, absolutely.
Joanne Tan 47:58
you need to learn about accounting, you need to know. All these fundamentals. Okay,
Rachel Burr 48:26
Can I make an observation on that?
Joanne Tan 48:27
Rachel Burr 48:28
Because I think what’s really important here is we’re talking about if people are going out on their own, and really, you know, kind of building this community around them, there is a difference between partnering with someone and abdicating. And the idea is, you cannot abdicate any of your business to somebody else, you can partner very closely and get their expertise, but you still have to be very mindful, and you’re owning and driving the whole thing. Like you said, this is your baby. And there’s nothing more connected than you and your business that compared to when you work for someone else, you are just.. it is integral to you. So you cannot abdicate that responsibility. You have to be a part of it while still partnering with other people.
Joanne Tan 49:09
Right. You are the captain of the ship, and you have to go in a direction and make sure the whole ship and the crew, everybody go in that same direction. And you have to be on top of your finances, okay.
Invest in your brand, LinkedIn profile, website – your initial down payment
Joanne Tan 49:22
Brand building. Because when you quit a corporate job, it’s a complete reboot of your operating system, like a computer. You need to do an inventory recounting of your why’s, your what, and how, okay, and it’s an INVESTMENT when you build your brand in the very beginning. It’s an investment in your business, initial down payment. It’s an investment in yourself. It’s an investment in your company. So I need to thank you, Rachel, for making that investment in your own brand. It’s the whole nine yards, 10 yards of branding and
Rachel Burr 50:05
10, remember? 10 Plus!
Joanne Tan 50:09
Yes! So at minimum, you need to have a LinkedIn profile update, and you’ll need to have a website, okay, that’s a minimum, that will show off your unique value proposition. And make sure you are talking to your target audience in those two areas on LinkedIn and on your website, you’re talking to THEM specifically, after a whole lot of research, analysis, competitive landscape, and your product-market fit, your …all of that, that’s called DNA decoding.
Joanne Tan 50:45
And then, after that, you need to amplify, keep amplifying the brand, it’s like a house, like you said, it’s a house, after it’s built, it’s regular maintenance, like a car, you need regular wheel adjustment that will realign. You need to make sure it’s fed, the brand will grow by being fed with healthy food, with healthy content, good content, on social media, and all that.
Learn to handle stress and refrain from over working
Joanne Tan 51:11
So last is lifestyle. And if you are stressed out and thinking, Okay, I’ll have less stress by going somewhere else, I just want you to know, it’s going to be more stressful. Okay. It’s a different kind of stress,
Rachel Burr 51:30
You mean, just going somewhere else – You mean going somewhere else as a different company, or going out on your own life? Which …
Joanne Tan 51:36
Both. It’s a different kind of stress in a different environment, in a different organization, but stress is universal. And you have to learn how to deal with it and handle it. It’s a different kind of stress. Okay, but I just want you to know, to escape from stress is not a reason for you to make a major career change or start on your own. Okay?
Rachel Burr 52:01
Can I make an observation about that?
Joanne Tan 52:02
Rachel Burr 52:03
Because I think you’re right, I think one of the things to balance is, a lot of times we reach some kind of a limit. And there’s a whole reason how that gets to that point in an organization. And as we said, sometimes there’s good reasons to leave. But the reality is, any company or any culture has something, there’s always going to be stress, there’s always going to be factors that we have to deal with. So I think, to your point is, whether we switch, whether we stay, we switch to another company, or we go out on our own, we have to find ways to manage that stress, and also understand what is it that, where do we have control over pieces? And what can we do proactively to manage that, because it’s never like, we’re gonna end up in an environment with no stress. And honestly, we don’t actually want that, because when there’s no stress, or too little, kind of, like motivation in the environment, we can become really complacent, or bored, or a lot of things. So it’s kind of this optimal piece and understanding what’s right for us,
Trust and Competence – the evergreen bottom line
Joanne Tan 52:56
Right. And no matter where you want to be, staying in the same company, climbing the ladder, switching companies or striking out on your own, two fundamentals, from a brand builder’s point of view: Trust and Competence. You need to convince those, your target audience, whoever they are, that you are trustworthy. And that’s not just by words, it is by action, okay, by your values, by how you align your values with the new environment; and you show competencies like I can handle the job, I can do this. Those are evergreen, the bottom line,
Rachel Burr 53:00
Joanne Tan 53:35
And for brand building is to convey the two.
Rachel Burr 53:50
Joanne Tan 53:51
What about… any evergreen nuggets from you, Rachel?
Rachel Burr 53:57
Yeah, I would say so we’re talking about whether or not to stay, whether or not to go, in an organization. And I think it still comes back to relationship, connection and value. And as a leader, and as the person maybe kind of working with a leader, again, the relationship between the two – this is a relationship, how are you nurturing the relationship, much like you’re saying nurturing the brand. How are you building that trust – very important. The connection: How, as a leader, how are you helping people build real connections and connecting to the higher purpose of the organization? As an individual, how am I reaching out and connecting, and feeling like I’m a part of something. And then the value, as a leader, how am I making sure people are recognized for their value? How do I even know as an individual what the value is I want to bring, and how did a leader and individual work together, to really bring out the best value for the organization and for the individual. So relationship, connection, value.
Joanne Tan 54:59
Okay, good, and that will nurture trust and competence.
Rachel Burr 55:04
Joanne Z. Tan 55:05
There is no end to keep improving those two elements.
Rachel Burr 55:10
Yeah, absolutely. Ongoing investment
Joanne Tan 55:13
Right. Could you give a couple of take-home nuggets for the audience today?
Invest in building talents, model growth, – simple and difficult.
Rachel Burr 55:20
Absolutely. So I think just recapping, when you’re a leader, and you’re looking at this idea of the Great Resignation, and this isn’t going to stop or whatever, we’re calling it the great … or the reorganization after however this happens, it still comes back down to some fundamental human factors. One, as a leader, we have to invest, we have to invest in retaining top talent and building teams, and that requires a continual investment. Think of it like a financial portfolio, if you really want the return, you have to make the investments, you cannot expect to get that return, and we don’t in financial portfolios, but somehow something we expect that with people that we don’t have to invest and we still get the results. Invest!
Rachel Burr 56:01
Second, simple and difficult. A lot of the things we talked about today to help keep people you know, engaged, valued, all of that, – they’re not complex or complicated, but they’re difficult sometimes to do, especially in this complex world. So don’t confuse simple and easy, simple can be quite difficult, but it’s so important to do.
Rachel Burr 56:26
And then the third thing I would say is as leaders, model growth, so, very easy, like I said, focusing on the growth of the business or even your team, but as leaders we have to model growth, we have to invest in ourselves, because that is showing others how important it is to grow. And that we not only expect, but we believe in the value of that growth, and we believe in the value of their growth. Right. That would be my takeaways: invest, simple and difficult, and model growth.
Joanne Tan 56:57
Okay, good. On that note, model growth means you become the example, the role model,
Rachel Burr 57:05
Know yourself (get help in decoding your own brand DNA), build and grow your brand
Joanne Tan 57:05
How you grow yourself and have the ripple effect of influencing others. So, my three takeaways: number one is: Know thyself. Number two is build your own brand, and three is grow your brand. It can be a company brand, it can be your individual brand, it can be a professional brand.
Joanne Tan 57:26
So knowing thyself is the hardest thing to do, is know your true strength, your weakness, your passion, your limitations. Without knowing thyself, you cannot build a team, you cannot inspire others, you cannot be a valuable contributor to your company, or to your own growth and career. So the best surgeon cannot operate on himself. It takes humility, to invite others with trained minds, to be your thought partner, to be your coach. And especially when you are embarking on a significant career change. It takes humility to engage others’ help, and build your company and career as a servant leader.
Joanne Tan 58:12
So build your own brand. I already talked a lot about that. And then grow your brand, business or personal just like a house, okay, needs maintenance. Okay, you need to keep maintaining it. Your brand needs to be fed with good content, regularly, on social media, and your website, your profile needs to be updated and adjusted and your brand strategies need to be tweaked, periodically, regularly.
Answers to five questions from the audience
Joanne Tan 58:41
So, before we end, some questions came in from the audience. The first one is, if someone is currently fantasizing about quitting their job, what is a good exercise to help them decide? As I said, In the beginning, you need to do a self assessment. And if you need help, we are here to help you. You need to do a thorough research about the best options to allign your unique value proposition, your passion, your talent, your heart and soul to the best fitting opportunities, be it working in another company or starting out on your own.
Joanne Tan 59:20
And the second question is, how do I know if now is a good time to look?Well, I read an article about the Great Resignation leads to the Great Reshuffle. So right now actually, is a golden opportunity for people to think what is my best fit? What is my next level of growth? Because there are many opportunities opening and companies are eager to fill up the vacancy. And so if you want to seek out better opportunities, or a more fitting culture, this is a great time. And if you want to start on your own, – people are so used to the independence of working remotely from the pandemic, – so this is a great opportunity if you want to start on your own. Okay. So first and foremost, what do you want?
Rachel Burr 1:00:18
Joanne Tan 1:00:19
Okay. Now, a third question, what should I ask myself before I quit? You want to answer that, Rachel?
The question is: Am I actually going towards something I want? Or am I running away from something I don’t want?
Rachel Burr 1:00:28
Oh, sure! Well, I think first, my question would be: what’s driving this? You know, there’s a lot of times where things happen, or we get frustrated, or whatever in life, and the question is, am I actually going towards something I want? Or am I running away from something I don’t want?
Rachel Burr 1:00:47
Going towards something we want is always a positive, we’re reaching out, we’re growing, we’re really trying to strive for whatever that vision is. Avoiding something we don’t want, – I’m not saying stay in a bad environment, or stay in a toxic relationship. But let’s get clear. If I don’t know what it is I want to go to, my tendency is just to jump to jump. And a lot of times when we do that, we end up jumping from “the kind of the devil we know, to the devil we don’t” kind of deal. And so it’s a reaction, or a knee jerk kind of thing. And we end up a lot of times back in the same situations.
Rachel Burr 1:01:23
So what I would say is, really, what is it that’s driving me to quit? And if it’s that I’m trying to, if I’m just trying to get away from something I don’t want, maybe get some clarity, like what you were saying was, how do I get clarity on what I do want, and try to jump towards that. Be purposeful, be intentional about where I want to go. Just not trying to get away from what I don’t want.
Joanne Z. Tan 1:00:28
Right! Next question: Why should I consider staying?
Rachel Burr 1:01:53
Oh, well, again, we were talking about how, you know, there’s good and bad about every place that we’re going to go. And I think one of the things sometimes is, again, frustration and stress play a factor into this, but being able to step back, and I just think I just posted an article recently, and you helped me post it, around maybe doing a staying interview, like, what would I …what I want, if I were coming in new, what would I want this job to look like? Or what would need to change for me to want to stay, and take an active role in it? Rather than just saying I’m done, I quit, kind of taking and constructing what would I want this to look like with a fresh start? And then how can I build that? How can I influence it? And maybe it’s not, you know, there’s places we can’t, but there are places we can, And how do we take ownership of that? And really say, Okay, if this were the case, this could be a great place to work.
Transform fear into cognitive data for decision making
Joanne Tan 1:02:48
Right. And make sure the decision is not based on fear, is not driven by fear. But just let the bells and whistles really alarm you when you are making any decision based on fear. Because that’s not going to be a good decision. That’s not growth oriented.
Rachel Burr 1:03:08
And I will say on that, just as a note, because emotions, people get a little confused sometimes with emotions. Fear is a good flag, it’s a RED flag: something’s wrong. And so it’s data. And so it’s important for us to say, Okay, what’s going on that I feel this way, and then try to engage that more COGNITIVE part of our brain that says: How do I understand this?
Rachel Burr 1:03:28
Because otherwise, the reaction is just to jump, based on fear. And it’s like, okay, but what is the fear telling me? How do I take in that INFORMATION? And then how do I make the right DECISION on how to respond?
Before you take a job or start a business, Ask: What do I want? What are my vision, purpose, passions, values, skills? – let the opportunity fit YOU.
Joanne Tan 1:03:41
Right, so last question, what should I do to refresh my brand or resume?
Well, of course, first and foremost, what do I want? Ask yourself, what do I want? Okay. And don’t be an opportunist. Just because there are opportunities opening up, doesn’t mean it’s the right thing for you. Okay, you got to be truthful to yourself, you got to know what are your strengths and weaknesses? What are your value propositions? What is your passion? What are your values? What are your purposes? What’s the vision for your life, for the future? What is it that you want to leave on this planet earth when you exit? Yeah, live your life from that VISION.
Joanne Tan 1:04:27
Okay, and then you put the ducks in line, like, what are my chops? Okay, what are my skill sets, what are my education, what are my value-adds? And then you figure out who, where, how is my best fit, is my opportunity.
Rachel Burr 1:04:45
Yes, can I make a clarifying note on that? Because I think what’s important is that I want to pull out the meaning of how… It’s a word that is often used, from what the value of what you’re saying, because a lot of times people think of an “opportunist”, meaning taking advantage of an opportunity. And yes, But I think what you’re saying is, you want to take advantage of opportunities that are right for you, not just any advantage, not just anything that happens to come your way. It’s about really understanding who you are, and then looking for those opportunities that are a good fit for you at your core DNA.
Joanne Tan 1:05:18
Right! Then you can have happiness, fulfillment, satisfaction from your work, whatever that work is, because at the end of the day, when you are fulfilled, then the company is benefiting the most.
Rachel Burr 1:05:33
Joanne Tan 1:05:33
Right. Whether it’s your company or other’s company, okay. And the company needs to do the same.
Rachel Burr 1:05:40
Joanne Tan 1:05:41
Keep reassessing your value, your vision, your goal, your strategies, your brand.
Joanne Tan 1:05:47
Okay. Anyway, so we can keep talking about…
Rachel Burr 1:05:50
Contact us on our websites: For investing in your own brand, decoding your brand DNA, – business and personal brands, LinkedIn profiling, website, etc., www.10PlusBrand.com
Joanne Tan 1:05:51
It’s almost an hour. If anybody has questions and wants to follow up, feel free to reach out to us, either with LinkedIn messaging, or Facebook messaging, or visit our respective websites. My website is 10PlusBrand.com. You can send me a message there.
Rachel Burr 1:06:19
And you can see mine in the background too, but Catamentum, And it stands for catalyze momentum, and then unleash potential. So it’s www.Catamentum.com.
Joanne Tan 1:06:33
Love that name. Thank you. Thank you so much Rachel. I really enjoy this conversation.
Rachel Burr 1:06:40
Joanne Tan 1:06:41
Yes, we’ll continue another time.
Rachel Burr 1:06:44
Absolutely. Thank you so much. It was an honor to join you today.
The dreaded annual performance reviews: Employees fear them, or at best are indifferent. Managers view them as check-the box HR processes to (begrudgingly) complete. Ultimately, it’s not even clear how useful the information really is. Why do we continue to torture ourselves?
Intention vs. Reality
Why do leaders require annual performance reviews? Humans are a superstitious lot. We often protect the traditions of our predecessors without questioning current relevance.The intention of annual reviews is to evaluate the performance of all employees against common metrics. Comparison of those metrics ostensibly determines raises, promotions, etc. It all sounds very logical, but this “fair-and-square” approach has a number of fatal flaws. Here are just a few–
Complex work is not easily quantifiable.
Not all managers give effective performance feedback.
Comparisons are not always meaningful.
Complex Work is Not Easily Quantifiable. Frederick Taylor was an efficiency whiz kid of the Industrial Revolution. Revered in some circles, reviled in others, an “-ism” was named after him, “Taylorism.” Taylorism evaluated performance by the efficiency of all the minute measurable aspects required to build a widget. If you couldn’t measure it, it didn’t matter. Taylorism strove to eliminate anything hindering efficiency, like thinking. Thinking was very bad for business; it distracted employees from the efficiency of predictable repetitive piecework. The value of employees was determined purely by the number of widgets/hour they produced. (Talk about a great place to work!)
Taylor died in 1915, but echoes of his “ism” linger. We measure what is most quantifiable, not necessarily what is most important regarding performance. Work today is far more complex. Rather than just efficiently following a process, the need to think, adjust, pivot, and innovate is critical. Efficiency is important, but efficiency and creativity are a balance. How do we capture that balance in a check-the-box performance review?
Not All Managers Give Effective Performance Feedback. Feedback is key to help people improve their performance and grow their career. Some managers are excellent at engaging their employees, providing regular feedback, and coaching people to help them grow. Other managers save up their big feedback discussions for annual performance reviews. Waiting until the end of the year to provide feedback is not helpful. First, feedback is most effective when given close to the time of a person’s actions. If we wait too long to give feedback, the impact of that feedback is lost, along with important details. Second, the year is long, memories are short, and time clouds our judgment. We are more likely to remember performance early in the year (primacy bias) and performance toward the end of the year (recency bias), but we forget a lot of that “in between stuff.” We also tend to remember BIG performance moments, especially when those big moments were BIG MISTAKES connected to strong negative emotions. When we only have feedback conversations once a year, performance factors that were at the beginning, the end, or were negative have a disproportionate impact on our overall assessment.
Comparisons Are Not Always Meaningful. Just because we can compare two things (or people), does not ensure the comparison will be meaningful.What does it mean to rank someone in marketing as a 5/5 on their performance review compared with someone in engineering, operations, finance, or HR? Does it mean–
They’re all doing equally well in their jobs at their respective levels?
They’re all making an equal contribution to the success of the company?
One or two of them demonstrated exceptional performance, while others did an “okay” job, but their managers gave them a 5/5 to avoid a difficult conversation?
When the 5/5 data are fed into the ERP system, how does this problematic comparison distort impacts on salaries, bonuses, ESPs, and RSUs? I haven’t the slightest idea. Have you?
Making Performance Feedback More Impactful
How do we change our approach? I don’t have a perfect solution, but here are some places to start:
Summarize, Don’t Surprise. Communicate no new feedback during an annual performance review. The word “review” is meant to be a “summary” of performance discussions, feedback, and coaching throughout the year. If a manager hasn’t had these conversations, then the manager and employee need to talk about the lack of discussion and how together they can improve communication.
Increase Frequency of Meaningful Feedback. Provide feedback early and often. Don’t wait for the annual performance summary. Make feedback meaningful. Specify the behaviors observed (e.g., actions, lack of actions, tone of voice, body language, etc.). Then, communicate specifics to the person about the impact of these behaviors.
Focus on the Humans in the Process. Too often we focus on getting the process “right” and getting it over with. We can easily forget the objective is to have conversations with human beings about performance. When we stop seeing people as human beings, and instead see them as performance widgets to be assessed via assembly line, that’s when people disconnect from the company machine and take their strengths and talents elsewhere.
Is That Your Final Answer?
Should we revamp the annual performance “summary” or completely blow it up? I don’t know. What I do know is a check-the-box process for annual performance reviews is not effective. It’s long past time we step back, challenge traditions, and innovate a new approach that will enhance people’s growth and improve results.
The art of delegation has never been more important. Organizations are larger, more complex, and have distributed workforces that span the globe. Individual leaders are not scalable, and that makes delegation essential. So why is delegation still so challenging?
What gets in the way of delegation?
Three of the biggest challenges to effective delegation are time, trust, and history.
Time – VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity) no longer describes only short-term crises, it’s become a reality for doing business. To make effective decisions in a VUCA environment, employees need leaders to invest their time to–
Time is precious and leaders have very little to spare. However, the alternative to taking time is to delegate work by “throwing it over the wall,” without clear expectations or intent. Throwing work over the wall is a recipe for disastrous results, and it reinforces the bias: “It’s faster if I do it myself!” This reactive micromanagement is a great way to lose talented employees who won’t feel valued, and won’t see opportunities to grow.
Trust – Even with clarity, leaders may not trust people to execute to their standards. Ultimately, leaders are accountable for results, and when a leader’s neck is on the line, the impulse to “control” (vs. “coach”) easily rears its ugly head.
History – The old “What got you here, won’t get you there.” Leaders often started out as talented individual contributors who were rewarded and promoted for their willingness to jump into action and swiftly solve problems. There’s no easy “off switch” for self-reliant behaviors. Just like there’s no easy “on switch” to immediately illuminate the “leadership light” that will refocus someone to coach and motivate others. We tend to hold on to what’s worked for us in the past, even when our role and environment have changed. It takes time, and often coaching, to help leaders make such a significant shift.
What helps leaders delegate?
Build Trust – Leaders must invest their time and attention if they want to build trust with people. We start by building a relationship with someone as a person, understanding their values, strengths, talents, and motivations. When we get to know the whole person, and they get to know us, it builds a deeper foundation for everything that follows.
Invest in People’s Development– Talented people who see no growth path leave for better opportunities. During “The Great Resignation,” droves of talented people left organizations in search of greater purpose, growth opportunities, and a more meaningful connection with company culture. When a leader invests in development, this investment is key to encouraging talented people to stay, grow, and continue to flourish.
Intentionally Create a Coaching Culture – The word “intentionally” may be overkill. Organizations don’t create a coaching culture “by accident.” Creating a coaching culture requires leaders to let go of “command and control” and, instead, develop their bench. Leaders who truly value a coaching culture require coaching as a core competency when they hire, develop, and promote people into leadership roles.
Keep a Finger on the Pulse – Doctors don’t control the details of how a human body works. They assess overall health and search for early warning signs that indicate problems. In the same vein, leaders don’t micromanage how work gets done, but they keep their finger on the pulse of progress. People will make mistakes as they learn. That’s part of growth. The key is to reinforce positive results and coach people to course-correct while mistakes and problems are small, rather than waiting for issues to build to a crisis.
Delegation is not easy. It’s a dynamic balance of knowing when & how to step in and when & how to step back. Nevertheless, delegation is a skill that can be learned, and the only way to learn is to practice.
Fast-growing companies want to quickly hire and onboard people who are not only smart and capable but also a good “culture fit” for the organization. The question is, what does “culture fit” mean, and how do we communicate company culture in a way that is both clear and tangible?
Define the Culture
Company cultures have been described as “the way things get done around here” or “the water in which we swim.” Neither of which are particularly helpful when talking with applicants or onboarding new employees as they dive into the deep end. Leaders must explicitly define and set expectations for the company culture they want to create.
One of the key ways to communicate company culture is through a company’s vision, mission, and values. Unfortunately, some companies create lengthy vision and mission statements or have a list of core values a mile long. The result? None of it is useful. These cultural artifacts may be displayed on a website or flashed across a screen during meetings, but often people don’t even know where to find them, let alone how to embody them. Three things must be true to communicate culture effectively: Head-Heart-Hands.
Head – Are the vision, mission, and values so clear and concise people can easily explain them off the top of their head? Our brains haven’t changed in thousands of years. We may have a vast amount of storage space, but we have a very small working memory to process and retrieve information. Why is that important? If we can’t easily remember the vision, mission, and values of our company, then it’s unlikely they will influence our behavior.
Heart – Are the vision, mission, and values inspiring? People want to feel motivated by the purpose of the organization and connected to the values. They want to feel energized by the vision for their future and proud to belong to a successful work community.
Hands – Are the vision, mission, and values actionable? Culture is not just an idea. Culture flows through people’s “hands” in the actions they take, the work they do, and the relationships they build.
We must be able to know the culture in our Head, so it can inspire our Hearts, and be delivered through our Hands. Through this integration we connect with culture as a whole person, and this connection distinguishes true commitment from passive compliance. True commitment means we authentically give our time, attention, and talent to achieve results, and those results are aligned with the company culture we aspire to create.
Explicit communication about mission, vision, and values is important, but it is not sufficient in how we communicate culture. As the old saying goes, people may pay attention to what we say, but they are far more likely to pay attention to what we do.
Live the Culture
Anyone can slap words on a wall and call them values. Organizations have “espoused values” (what they say their values are), and they have “values in practice” (the values they live day in and day out). How closely aligned an organization’s espoused values are with the values in practice is a measure of cultural integrity, and it is palpable in “the way things get done around here.”
Leaders must actively seek feedback about where organizational values are aligned and where there are gaps. This takes courage and candor, both from the leadership who ask the questions and the people who provide feedback. Creating a culture of courage and candor is the topic for another blog post (and many, many leadership books). We can start by asking a few simple questions:
“What are examples of how we live our values?”
“What are examples of how we are not living our values?”
“What is at least one thing we could do differently to close that gap?”
If we really want ongoing honest feedback, we must do at least three things:
Create Safety – People must feel safe providing honest feedback. Some leaders have created trust and safety among their teams. However, even more leaders think people feel safe when they don’t. Rather than assume everyone feels safe, assume everyone does not feel safe, and solicit feedback accordingly. One of the easiest ways to solicit “safe” feedback is through a brief, anonymous survey with open-ended questions like the ones above. Surveys are not a perfect mechanism for feedback, but they’re a start.
Acknowledge Input – Acknowledge people’s feedback and summarize the resulting themes. This helps people feel heard and connect the dots between their input and the feedback from the overall team or organization.
Take Action – The only thing worse than not soliciting feedback is soliciting feedback and not acting on it. Sometimes the actions we need to take are clear. Other times, we may not know how to solve a problem, and we have to ask for help. It’s not about finding a “perfect” solution. It’s about taking action to experiment and try new things, so people see that we genuinely want to live the values we espouse.
Grow the Company Culture
As companies grow, the culture naturally changes. The core values are still fundamental, but the diversity of perspectives and how those values are lived will grow and expand. Like an acorn that grows into a towering oak tree, values are the seed that will guide authentic growth. So, how do we grow a culture as we scale a company? One of the best ways to grow and keep people connected to the culture is to encourage stories about how people are living the values.
Human beings are natural storytellers. We have passed on knowledge and understanding through stories for generations, especially knowledge that may be difficult to define, such as culture. Encourage people to tell their stories about how they are living the values, how they see others living the values, and the impact these experiences have on them, both large and small. Integrate a diverse range of voices into what the values mean to different people. Diversity of thinking and perspectives is critical to creating a strong, sustainable culture and overall organization.
Culture is not just something that happens around us, it is something that connects us and becomes a part of us. As a result, the way a company culture is most effectively communicated is not through slides in a presentation or a list of values on a wall. The most effective way to communicate culture is through the thoughts, actions, and experiences of the people living it.
A huge thank you to Joanne Z. Tan and her team at 10 Plus Brand for all their help throughout a transformational rebranding process. I could not have done this without you. Joanne is an expert at helping you tap into the fundamental building blocks of your brand DNA to clearly express who you are at your core and the unique value you bring. Thank you, Joanne!
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My grandparents’ fishing cabin was not much to look at. It had a few small rooms, a “one-fanny” kitchen, and it sat on the bank of a muddy river filled knee-deep with silt. My grandfather bought it as a place to get away from the world (and, at times, away from my grandmother).
A little east of the cabin was an old shed. In its prime, the shed had been a “boat house,” but by that time my grandfather just used it for storage. I remember opening the door of that shed and immediately being struck by the stench of mildew and catfish bait. (Ugh!) As kids, we’d hold our breath, run into the shed, grab a fishing pole or canoe paddle or whatever we needed, and run out as fast as we could.
Eventually, my grandfather decided the shed had outlived its usefulness and potential. Plus, it blocked the downstream view of his river. So, one cloudy summer day my grandfather, my uncle and my cousins began the work of tearing down the shed. They ripped off the warped wooden siding around the exterior, and they took apart the shed until only the open framing and roof remained.
That’s when it started to rain. So, they took a break. My grandfather went into the cabin and brought out some drinks. Everyone grabbed a lawn chair or a stool, and they all sat under the roof of the old shed, waiting for the rain to pass.
They talked, they relaxed, and they watched the river roll by. Just then, a gentle breeze blew through the bones of what used to be the shed. “This is really nice,” someone smiled. My grandfather looked out over the river and nodded. It really was. In that moment, the “old shed” was gone, and a “gazebo” was born.
The gazebo became a fixture of life at the cabin. We ate there, we drank there, we laughed there, we even cried there. Now, I can’t remember the cabin without thinking of the gazebo, and how grateful I am that it rained that day.
We never really know the potential of what lies inside, whether it’s the potential in an old boat shed or deep within ourselves, but often we need to let go of what “is” or what “has been” to discover what’s truly possible.
How do we navigate a path that doesn’t exist? At least, doesn’t exist yet. We know how to follow a well-worn route. In school, we had specific course requirements, and within each course there was a neatly outlined syllabus: read these books, do these assignments, take these exams, and become an engineer, accountant, physician, dentist, etc. Once we’ve chosen a career, there are additional paths to pursue, corporate ladders to climb, and footsteps in which to follow. These paths are not easy, but at least they’re clearly marked. That’s the first building block to your path.
Some people seem to have always known what they wanted to do in life. They found their path early, and they stuck with it. Others, like myself (and I’m assuming some of you) also found a path and followed it, but then ultimately just felt “stuck.” What do we do when we reach a point in our journey where the path is not clear, or there may not appear to be any path at all? Getting stuck can be painful, but it doesn’t have to be permanent.
Navigation – Our Internal Compass
When we feel stuck our first instinct is often to look outside ourselves for solutions, or at least for something better: a better job, better company, better relationship, etc. We may expend a lot of energy throwing the proverbial spaghetti against a wall to find anything that will “unstick” us. However, there’s a more strategic and tailored approach. There may not be an obvious path, but we have an internal compass to help us navigate the way forward.
Last month, we talked about breaking things down into our fundamental building blocks of what’s most important to us: our values, strengths, interests, and motivations (see Best, Worst, & Better exercise). We can use this core information as a compass to guide us toward options that are better suited to us, and then use it as criteria to evaluate and decide between those options. Getting clear on what’s important to us first is a good way to start getting unstuck.
For example, I’ve been feeling “stuck” for a couple weeks on writing this blog post. –Don’t you just love irony? On the other hand, maybe this is a just-in-time opportunity: How do I get unstuck? (I’m as anxious to find out as you are.)
Create a “Good Enough” Vision We can start by asking, “What does success look like?” In my example of writing this blog post, my first (and snarkiest) response would be, “a Pulitzer” (Special Citations & Awards category). Now that I’ve set the bar so high that I can’t even begin to see a path forward, let’s readjust.
A vision for success doesn’t have to be “perfect.” In fact, it won’t be. So, we need to let that go. Letting go of perfection doesn’t mean aiming for mediocrity. It just means releasing our creativity from overly rigid expectations to explore and experiment. Our vision just has to be “good enough” to get us moving in a specific direction. So, let’s try this again:
Reflection Question: “What does success look like?” My Response: “A clear, practical (hopefully somewhat humorous ) blog post about how to find an authentic way forward when there is not a well-defined path.” –Good enough!
Play with Our Building Blocks Going back to our building block exercise (above), what are a few of the blocks we want to play with in building our path? Not EVERY building block, but just two or three. We already have a lot going on, and trying to juggle even more information on top of that can become unmanageable. So instead, we cut through the noise and prioritize. Ask, “Which building block do I want to play with first?”
My three go-to building blocks with these posts are usually the following:
My interest in making them humorous, even if I’m the only one who thinks they’re funny.
My value of transparency and my strength in using my own experience, struggles, and learning as fodder for thought.
My motivation to offer practical tips to help people take action.
Your building blocks may be entirely different. In fact, my building blocks may be entirely different in a different situation. For example, humor may (or may not) be appreciated in a blog post, but I find it’s rarely appreciated by international immigration and customs agents while I fumble to find my passport.
We can use the previous “Best, Worst, & Better” exercise to identify some of our initial building blocks, or if we already know our building blocks, then we can just ask ourselves:
Where am I stuck?
What’s at least one thing I will do differently today to get unstuck?
What will help me be accountable? (e.g., Who can I tell? or What support do I need?)
Basically, we need to find a place to start to explore and experiment that is aligned with who we are and what’s important to us:
Self-Reflection Question: “What are a few blocks I want to play with first?” My Response: “Humor, transparency, and practical tips.”
Get Moving We only get “unstuck” when we’re willing to take action. I’m on version eight or nine of this blog post, not counting a few major detours and rewrites. But that’s okay. Exploring and experimenting is part of the “unsticking” process. We have to start somewhere.
This may sound like we’re back to throwing spaghetti against a wall, but there is one big difference. This time, we started by identifying the fundamental building blocks of what’s most important to us, and then intentionally using those blocks to start building our path forward. We’re not randomly trying anything and everything, grasping at the first alternative that comes our way. That’s not building a path. That’s just stumbling around in the dark, and it often leads to more stuckness. Instead, we’re building from the core of who we are and what we want to achieve. As a result, whatever building block we use to create whatever path we build will be more authentic and, therefore, much more likely to lead us to what we really want. We often won’t get it right the first time, but when we lead from our core, even the detours are meaningful. We need every single building block.
Once we know the direction we want to go, getting started can still be difficult. It’s simple physics, really. Newton’s first law of motion states—
“An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.”
My practical interpretation of Newton’s law is this: It’s hard to get started, but if we get off our ass and get moving, we’ll be more likely to keep moving.
Action Item: Get off ass and get moving. My response: Wrote >8 versions of blog post + drank 14 grande lattes + ate 3 petite vanilla scones. – You tap creativity your way, and I’ll tap it mine.
Detours & Exit Ramps
The “road not yet built” is not linear. Detours are not only some of the most interesting parts of the journey, but they can yield very useful outcomes. For example, one of my many detours in this blog-writing process led me to my topic for next month’s post.
Beyond the detours, we also have to recognize when we need to step back, let go, and build an exit ramp from our current path. Knowing the right time to exit from the road we’ve planned (even if not yet built) is more art than science, and not something anyone else can easily tell us.
We often know it’s time to exit our current path long before we’re ready to accept it. This is especially true when we’re highly invested in a particular part of our journey or a specific destination. I found it hard to change direction even on this little blog post. Think how much more challenging it is for us to build an exit ramp from a career, a relationship, or something else that’s been intricately woven into the fabric of our lives but no longer serves us.
When we consider building an exit ramp, we may look back on the long stretch of road we’ve already built and worry all our hard work will be lost and our time wasted. I see it differently. All our travels shape our journey and inform who we become. At times, we may be on a road because it’s a direct path to our ultimate destination. Other times, it’s specifically because we traveled that stretch of road that we finally realized we needed to reorient our path toward a new destination.
Always Under Construction
We build our road as we go. There is no perfect path, and there will always be tradeoffs to the routes we choose. When we tap our internal compass to navigate uncharted terrain, we leverage our core building materials to create an authentic path. If we’re lucky, we’ll encounter detours that are both scenic and productive, and we’ll recognize the signs when it’s time to exit a stretch of road to better serve our overall journey. Our life is always under construction, and we are the only ones who can build the road forward.