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.
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.
“Where do I even start?” Have you ever uttered those words when you thought about changing roles, shifting your career, or even just escaping the job you currently have? I know I have. My client, Jane (not her real name), felt frustrated and exhausted, like so many clients before her. She knew she wasn’t happy in her current role, but she also didn’t know what else she might do or how she would figure it out. How do you build your path?
“There are things about this job I really enjoy,” Jane said. “I believe in the products, and I love working with my team. The people are wonderful.” Jane had interviewed with other companies in the area, but they all had their issues. “Any job or company is going to have drawbacks,” she rationalized. “How do I know any of them would be any better?”
“So, you’re going to stick with ‘the devil you know,’” I said. It was a statement more than a question.
“I guess so,” she conceded. “Plus, the money is really good.”
“They wouldn’t call them golden handcuffs if it was easy to walk away,” I smiled.
I would say I was surprised by the number of people with whom I have had this conversation, if I hadn’t also had this conversation with myself too many times to count. How is it possible that so many of us are this frustrated or unhappy about our jobs, especially when we spend so much of our lives at work?
Tailor the Job to Fit You (Not the Other Way Around)
Maybe being unhappy at work is just the reality we’ve come to expect. As humans, we adapt to our environments. The process is called “habituation.” The word sounds ominous, but it really means that we just stop noticing or even expecting something different when we experience the same thing over and over and over again. (Come to think of it, that sounds more depressing than ominous.) In some situations, adapting is a good thing. For example, when we’re in a noisy office environment (even if now that’s mostly our “home office”), we learn to tune out a lot of the repetitive ambient noise to concentrate on our work. But what happens when we just continue to adapt to a situation or environment that really isn’t a good fit? Why don’t more of us take the leap to get out of jobs or environments that aren’t working for us?
One of the biggest problems is we’re going about the process all wrong. We start looking at the macro level of the situation and work from the outside in. We look at the companies and the job postings, and we try to determine our fit with what we see available. Then, we tailor ourselves (e.g., talents, skills, and experiences) to fit what we think the employers want. But before we start rearranging our resume and LinkedIn profile to look like the “perfect candidate” for 100 different roles, how do we know what we want and what would be a great fit for who we are?1
We need to take a different approach and start at the micro level and focus on the inside first. We need to start by understanding our fundamental building blocks: values, strengths, interests, and motivations. Once we have better insight and understanding into who we are, what we’re good at, and what’s important to us, then you can use that information to build your path forward. Rather than the job becoming “the goal,” the job becomes the next step as part of our individual journey.
Start with What You Know
Sounds great, but (again), “Where do I even start?” How do we figure out our building blocks? There are great assessments to help us identify our strengths, weaknesses, values, etc. Whether we’re looking at our leadership style, individual strengths, or even how we operate as a team, I have used a number of tools with my clients based on their specific objectives. But even before we look at more formal assessments, take some time to really stop, reflect, and debrief, and focus first on what you already know about yourself. Try this exercise I call, “Best, Worst, & Better.”
Best, Worst, & Better
Take time to reflect on the following, and write down your answers:
Step 1 – Break Down Your Best: Think of at least 2-3 times when you felt the most engaged, energized, and excited about work you were doing. Maybe you were at your job, or maybe you were working in another area of your life (e.g., working around the house, coaching your kids’ game, engaging in a hobby, etc.). In each of these situations start to dig down into the building blocks of what made the experience so great. Ask yourself questions like the following:
What did I love most about what I was doing, and why?
What was important to me about what I was doing?
What strengths, skills, and talents did I use in the process?
What interested or motivated me most about what I was doing?
What was most satisfying to me about the work, the process, and/or the results?
Step 2 – Break Down Your Worst: Now think of at least 2-3 times when you felt the most miserable, disengaged, and/or deflated about work you were doing. Again, break it down into the individual building blocks of what made it such a negative experience. Ask yourself questions to look at the opposite of how you looked at your “Best” moments:
What did I hate most about what I was doing, and why?
What stood out as the most negative part of this experience?
How did this work tap into my weaknesses (rather than my strengths)?
What was most boring, frustrating, and/or discouraging to me about this work?
Step 3- Break Down Your Better: Finally, take a look at your “Worst” list and now flip it 180 degrees by asking, “What would have made this better?”
For example, let’s say you love working with numbers and solving problems from the ground up, but you were given a project with limited information. As a result, you struggled to understand the objectives, and how the different parts of the project fit together to create a solution. If you ask yourself, “What would have made this better?”, you might come up with things like, “Having a clear high-level view of the problem, understanding how my work fit into the broader context, knowing the different stakeholders who were involved, and clearly understanding the objectives we needed to achieve.”
The question, “What would have made this better?” may unearth some of the same factors that contributed to your “Best” situations, but it also may unearth new and important pieces that didn’t show up the first time around.
Step 4 – Find Your Themes. Once you’ve written out your answers, take a step back and start to look for themes:
When are you at your best?
What’s most important to you?
What are things you won’t tolerate?
Maybe you find you’re at your best when you’re working with people, or maybe you prefer to work with numbers. Maybe you find you don’t like to work in isolation, or maybe you’re highly intolerant of too many interruptions. Maybe you prefer being strategic, hands-on, or some combination of the two. There are no right or wrong answers. There’s just you: who you are, what’s important to you, and what you really want.
Step 5 – Pile Up Your Building Blocks. Finally, create two columns on a document or a spreadsheet. The header of the first column is, “What I want.” The header of the second column is, “What I don’t want.” Congratulations! You’ve begun to identify your building blocks to build your path forward.
This is not the end. In fact, it’s just the beginning, but you have answered the first very important question: “Where do I even start?” You start here. You start with what you know. You start with You.