Organization Politics – Tactics and other takeaways

This is the final post in the series about Organization Politics. In the first post Organization Politics – Truth or Myth, we presented some examples of situations which might be termed ‘political’ and proceeded to analyze these situations in more detail in the next post Organization Politics – Anatomy of Office Politics. In the last post Organization Politics – Dealing with Politics, we presented some strategies of dealing with politics at workplace and reasons why it is a good idea to deal with them rather than walk away from it. In this post, we will wrap this up with a discussion on what you need to do in various roles you play in a decision-making situation.

As we talked in the previous post, it is important to engage with political situation, it helps the organization as well as your career. We also presented a high level framework for dealing with such situations. In this post, let me get into the details of tactics you can use to handle politics by applying the framework.

Whenever you engage with a decision-making situation, you are in one of these 3 different roles:

  • Observer/Recipient – You are not part of decision-making team and you have to live with the decision. Usually this happens when some high-level organization-wide decisions are being taken, like reorganization, new goals for the organization, etc. This also happens when you choose not to be a participant.
  • Participant – Your input is solicited but you are not the decision-maker for the decision. This is the most common scenario when you either choose to walk away or engage fully.
  • Decision-maker – You are primary (or one of) decision-makers for the decision. This is the case when you are a leader or manager.

For each of these roles, there are actions that need to be taken in 3 phases: before decision-making happens, during decision-making, and after decision has been made.

Let’s see how each of these roles should be handled.

Observer/Recipient

When you are an observer, your goal should be to understand the decision (and its implication) as early as you can, as well as learn from the experience of others. It is important to understand the decision and its implication to your work, otherwise you will not be able to adapt to it in time, and sometimes it can cause significant issues. For example, if a reorganization within your business unit merges 2 groups into one, it is important to know the new leaders/influencers who are close to decision-makers and understand their priorities, otherwise you may be spending late nights on some project that is not considered important by them and which is likely to be cut.

Before decision-making
  • Understand the context and the problem to be solved
  • Identify decision-makers and influencers
  • Try and stay close to one of the decision-makers or influencers
  • Create your own hypothesis of what the final outcome should be
During decision-making
  • Get to know the discussions as they unfold
  • Make attempts to influence the outcome
After decision-making
  • Read up on all written material available about the decision
  • Talk to as many participants as you can
  • Compare final outcome with your hypothesis to explain the difference if any

Participant

When you are a participant, your primary goal should be to be in the best position to influence the decision and then proceed to do so in an ethical manner. You should also be in a position to justify your actions after the decision has been taken, so it is important to stay consistent and transparent, as much as possible.

Before decision-making
  • Understand the context around the problem
  • Talk to other decision-makers and influencers to understand their positions
  • Identify potential allies
  • Prepare to present and defend your proposal
During decision-making
  • Understand others’ points of view and self-interests
  • Create coalition with like-minded decision-makers/influencers
  • Present inclusive solutions and use your influencing techniques
After decision-making
  • Clearly articulate your position during decision-making discussions to those who want to know.
  • Discuss with observers/recipients to understand their reaction and understanding
  • Compare final outcome with your proposal and study the differences

Decision-maker

When you are a decision-maker, your primary goal is to convey the sense that the decision will be taken by involving right stakeholders, using a well-known decision-making process, and will be in the best interests of the organization, and then adhere to it.

Before decision-making
  • Identify right stakeholders to be included in the decision-making process
  • Clarify how the final decision will be made (consensus, majority, etc.)
  • Create your own viewpoint about the decision but stay open for feedback
During decision-making
  • Understand others’ points of view and self-interests
  • Make the process inclusive by making sure everyone participates actively
  • Use your listening techniques to gather the most out of discussions.
  • Make final decision using the process identified before
After decision-making
  • Clearly articulate decision made and rationale behind it
  • Encourage participants and observers to learn more about the decision
  • Compare final outcome with your initial point of view and study the differences

When you are seen as ‘playing politics’

In spite of your best intentions and efforts, if you are a participant or decision-maker in a decision-making process, you may be labeled as ‘political’. This can undermine your personal brand and damage your credibility. Best thing to do in these circumstances is to over-communicate. Two things need to be communicated, using multiple channels ((emails, blog, videos, podcast, meetings, etc.) and multiple times:

  • Decision-making Process: Make sure people understand how the participants were selected, how were options generated and brainstormed, how were options compared and final option selected, etc. Understanding of the process helps give a sense of comfort and fairness.
  • Rationale for the decision – Communicate why this is the most optimal decision made under the circumstances. Everyone has their own version of ‘best’ decision, and it is important to share all the inputs that went into making decisions so that people can make a more informed assessment of ‘best’.

Key Takeaways

Frequently, you will participate in (or observe) a situation where you think you are being exposed to ‘politics’. It is tempting to say ‘this is politics’ and bail out of the situation, rather than take it on and learn to handle them. If nothing else, these are worth engaging because of the wealth of learning to be gained:

  • Discovering self-interests that drive stakeholders in a situation
  • Create inclusive solutions by focusing on AND of multiple viewpoints rather than get into debates about best viewpoint
  • Deal with difficult people and tough conversations
  • Make complex decisions with incomplete information and multiple right answers
  • Critical communication and listening skills

An organization is a complex system. It achieves optimal results when multiple perspectives (and interests) intersect and a collective, and best-for-the-organization decision is made. If people walk away from these conflicting situations citing politics as a reason (rightly or wrongly), organization suffers and gets destroyed in the long run.

It is best for the individual (great learning) and organization (best decisions) when individuals engage with complex situations (termed ‘political’ many times) and give their best.

Don’t get me wrong: Workplace politics is a real thing. When senior leaders have only self-interest in mind (and no thought about organizational goals), situations can turn messy and unmanageable. This is the office politics that you should be wary of, especially if you are not the political kind. However, situation is not always so bleak. What I am pushing back on is really the pseudo-politics that we think we are victims of – I want us to buckle up and handle it successfully.

Comments and suggestions on this series are most welcome and much appreciated.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Organization Politics – Dealing with Politics

This is a post in the series about Organization Politics. In the first post Organization Politics – Truth or Myth, we presented some examples of situations which might be termed ‘political’ and proceeded to analyze these situations in more detail in the next post Organization Politics – Anatomy of Office Politics. In this post, we will discuss why we need to deal with ‘politics’ as we see around us at workplace and learn a way to do so.

Let me reiterate a point I made in the last post: Every political situation is a decision-making situation.

So why should you even deal with politics? Why not just walk away and look for situations where politics doesn’t exist?

Deal with Politics – Why

There are a few reasons why walking away is not the best strategy all the time:

  • Every political situation is a great learning opportunity. Walking away means walking away from a lesson life is giving you. It is like bunking classes in the college for the hardest (and usually smartest) prof – you regret it later, and you have to still learn it, and usually in a much harder way.
  • Every workplace decision impacts your career. It is much easier to control your career growth when you can influence the decisions at workplace than when you are just the recipient/observer of the decisions being made by others.
  • Situations that get branded ‘political’ are very common. If you walk away from these common situations, you end up being a novice at workplace, someone who shirks responsibility, and will lose your credibility to lead and manage the organization.

Last point is worth repeating: in my opinion, many of us use politics is an ‘excuse’ to shy away from tough situations rather than build a career the hard way. This is what distinguishes a great career from a mediocre one. Anyone who wants to grow their career must be willing to engage in situations that others (or you) may brand ‘political’.

The picture above illustrates the engagement vs. outcome scenarios when you face a political situation. When you have low level of engagement, you just react to the decisions made. When the outcome is favorable, it probably works out fine for you. However, when it is unfavorable, it becomes frustrating and career-limiting, esp. because you didn’t have any say in it. This can give rise to ‘it was politically motivated’ thought. When you have high level of engagement, you feel more in control. Outcome may still be adverse, but still the participation provides better understanding (and it is like any other unsuccessful project you work on) of the decision. When the outcome is favorable, it provides confidence in one’s ability to influence outcomes. Irrespective of outcome, high level of engagement ensures better learning experience and prepares you for successes down the road as you engage more.

Deal with Politics – How

3 steps need to be taken to handle political situation (or any other decision-making situation) effectively.

Increase Awareness

It is important to understand context, as well as stakeholders, involved in a situation. Understanding an organization’s context means knowing about culture, process, and people related to the situation at hand. For example, in situation #2 presented in first post about quality process, it is very important to know how organization (various divisions which need to collaborate) define and perceive quality, how they feel about process compliance, how have cross-functional teams succeeded (and failed) in the past, etc. Similarly, identifying and knowing stakeholders will mean understanding who all impact and get impacted by the decisions made in the given situation. For the stakeholders involved in decision-making process, it is important to know their goals, values and incentives that they stand for. Such understanding is crucial for the next step of analysis. This is really a data gathering step.

Analyze Goals, Values and Incentives

Once you have most of the data, it is time to analyze it to come up with a plan of action. Politics (and most complex organizational decisions) is primarily about stakeholders trying to maximize their personal incentives at the cost of others’ incentives and sometimes at the cost of organizational goals. It is possible (though hard and time-consuming) to come up with decisions which maximizes collective incentives and doesn’t jeopardize organizational goals. To do this, it is important to understand various goals and incentives at play in a given situation, and come up with various possible alternative options. It is also important to understand the values exhibited by the individuals involved in the situation. For example, if CTO is passionate about high quality of software the company must produce consistently, he may be willing to let go of some of his personal incentives, and will be pushing hard on others to do the same, if a decision is going to undermine the quality in some way. There may be similarly powerful personal values that need to be factored into possible alternative options.

Influence and Persuade

Once you decide to be part of the solution in the given situation, you need to display strong influencing and persuasion skills. A lot has been written on this topic – see Five Steps to Increase your Influence and the book Art of Woo. Once you have some plan of action (and multiple options for the decision), you need to be able to influence the stakeholders and persuade them to accept one of the proposals. While doing that (maybe using some of the skills and styles mentioned in the references above, or your personal style), it is important to keep the relative authority/power wielded by the stakeholders. Sometimes, knowing who to influence (or persuade) is more important than knowing how to. For example, if you can get the CTO who is passionate about quality to become the sponsor and champion for your quality process initiative, you will avoid many influencing sessions – the CTO will do that for you. Similarly, if you have CFO batting against your proposal, it is critical to persuade him first, even if it means modifying your proposal a little bit to get him to your side. Such trade-offs are good for the organization too, since a proposal vetted by a senior leader is much easier to execute (and hence the organization gets the return on its implementation quickly).

In the next (and final) post, we will wrap-up by converting above details into a set of tactics that can be employed in various situations. Stay tuned!

Organization Politics – Anatomy of Office Politics

In the previous post Organization Politics – Truth or Myth, I presented a few examples of situations that can be described as ‘political’ in nature. I also talked to a few more managers and individual contributors since then to understand a few more examples of such situations in various types of organizations. In this post, I will discuss characteristics of a situation that might be tagged ‘political’ by some.

When I recounted my story in the last post, I didn’t include my lesson from it. For me, there were 2 lessons:

  1. A situation demanding complicated decision-making phase is very likely to be seen as political by observers. So it is very important to be transparent and consistent about what I do as a leader in such situations.
  2. Politics lies in the eyes of beholder. One person may claim the situation to be ‘politics’, while another may claim it to be ‘complex decision-making and persuading multiple stakeholders to your point of view’. Since I can’t control perspectives too much, I should learn to deal with such perspectives.

Anatomy of Organization Politics

In an organization, politics is almost always used in a derogatory sense, a black mark of sorts on the organization culture. When someone claims “I want to do great things for my company, but the office politics doesn’t let me do it”, he almost always means he is a good guy getting into a situation that makes him do bad things.

Here are a few more situations which are likely to be tagged ‘political’:

  1. You are impacted by a decision that didn’t go in your favor, and you don’t see any reason why it shouldn’t be in your favor.
  2. You see some managers/leaders favoring one person much more than others, even when the person may not be the most capable person around.
  3. You see someone making decisions by getting influenced by ‘friends’, rather than making a ‘rational’ decision.
  4. You see bizarre decisions being taken when multiple divisions/groups of the company are involved.

All ‘political’ situations are decision-making situations. A decision in an organization needs to maximize the value that organization creates as a result of this decision. Understanding decision-making in an organization is critical to understanding organization politics. Situation and Stakeholder characteristics of a ‘political’ situation are worth reviewing.

Situation Characteristics

A decision-making situation which seems political typically consists of these elements:

  • High visibility, high stakes –The situation is under spotlight and decision has a big impact on one or more of stakeholders or their groups..
  • Lack of transparency – There is little clarity about how the decisions will be made (criteria to evaluate options, generating multiple options, validating assumptions, etc.), who will make decisions, how do people contribute to decision-making process, etc. Even after the decision is made, detailed information about the decision rationale and process doesn’t flow readily to the teams who are impacted.
  • Multiple ‘right’ answers – There is no clear right or wrong answer, and there are multiple ‘good’ solutions to the problem being addressed.

Stakeholder Characteristics

Stakeholders exhibit one or more of these behaviors:

  • Rigid Viewpoints – Participants are rigid about their viewpoint and unwilling to budge from their position, because they think they have the right answer and others are just wasting time.
  • Strong self-interest – Personal incentives at stake (year-end bonus, public recognition, bigger responsibility, “I-told-you-this-won’t-work” etc.) are very important for stakeholders.
  • Conflicting incentives –Stakeholders have conflicting incentives and self-interests (organizations have conflicting incentives set up by design to ensure debates and optimal decisions)

Decisions which come out of such situations and stakeholders are very likely to be seen as ‘political’ by many people – participants as well as observers. In the next post, we will look into ways to handle these situations and why we should handle them rather than walking away from them. Stay tuned!

Organization Politics – Truth or Myth?

 

I recently conducted a 2-week course on Being Effective as a New Leader which was offered as part of an initiative from Sunstone Business School. A theme that I heard from many participants was ‘politics is creating too many problems for me’. It was brought up by people with deep experience in leading teams, as well as newbie managers. While I tried to help address their ‘politics’ issues, it was clear that it is a more deep-rooted phenomena than I thought. Based on my discussions with these participants and others I have been talking, it seems that there is too much of office politics going on that impacts people. This post is an attempt to analyze ‘organization politics’ and offer some thoughts on dealing with it.

Let me start with a personal story: In 2007, I moved to US headquarters of the company I was working with. This was a senior leadership role (and a change from Test to PM discipline for me), reporting to a newly hired (and very seasoned) SVP Engineering. Many of my peers were new in the company too. I was struggling to work well with my new peers and my new manager (while keeping my team insulated from these issues and focused on delivery), and I was doing my best to get agreement amongst them by working individually with them (to understand how I can get them to work with me) and collectively (to make sure decisions are collectively agreed to). While I was describing my daily struggles to my wife, I said: “If someone sees from outside various meetings I do and what I say in those meetings, they will say I am deeply political. I would have said the same if I wouldn’t have been struggling with this right now.”

Here are a few examples of ‘political’ situations at workplace that I have seen or others have described to me:

  1. You propose a new way of doing things to your manager, he outright rejects it. You try a few times, he keeps rejecting it. You give up “my manager is too political, he doesn’t want me to hog the spotlight when this thing succeeds”.
  2. You are driving a company-wide initiative, with multiple cross-functional teams working together to come up with better quality process, and you don’t get support from engineering team members: they don’t attend your meetings, never respond to emails, rarely pick up their phone. You try to escalate to your boss but he said he can’t do anything; engineering team doesn’t want you to succeed. You give up – “engineering team is playing politics with us, this initiative can’t succeed”.
  3. You are part of a senior leadership team, and have been working for 10 years in the company. You have a new manager and a few new peer. They seem to gang up against you whenever you point out that a new initiative won’t work because it has been tried before in this company. Your manager thinks you are blocking progress, and you think that your manager wants you out of the company to serve his own political needs.

Have you seen these in your organization? Please share any situation you have faced or observed at your workplace which can be termed ‘political’. This will help me shape my next post as I analyze and offer suggestions.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Receiving Feedback Effectively

As I talked about in Giving Feedback Effectively, feedback giving requires skill and practice, and it is worth the effort. Ability to receive feedback well (and then act on it appropriately) is also a key skill to learn. Lots have been written about giving feedback, less on receiving. You want to be good at receiving feedback because they provide tremendous learning opportunities. Being good at receiving them also encourages feedback givers and you get more feedback from them and others.

There are 3 steps to be followed whenever you have an opportunity to receive feedback.

Make the feedback giver comfortable

You need to demonstrate behavior that makes the person comfortable. A feedback giver is doing a favor to you and you should show your appreciation. Good behavior also makes the information more forthcoming and you are likely to receive feedback again. Behaviors to be demonstrated when receiving feedback:

  1. Listen well – You should be totally focused on the feedback, and your body language should show it (it will if you are honestly focused on the feedback).
  2. Demonstrate your understanding – Paraphrase and say again, ask clarifying questions, etc.
  3. Don’t defend – Not jumping to defend your actions is probably the hardest thing to do, but must be done if you want the feedback session to go well. Feedback giver gives feedback because they want to see you get better, not to be proven wrong. If you think the feedback is unacceptable, unfair, or wrong, feel free to ignore it when it is time to analyze and follow-up.
  4. Stay calm – This is hard if the feedback is critical, but it is important to stay calm throughout. Remember, the feedback is rarely about who you are, it is almost always about what you did. Also, most feedback givers will withdraw immediately if they see you are getting too uncomfortable.

Collect as much data as possible

When receiving feedback, make sure you get 4 things right:

  1. Context – Which meeting, event, instance is being talked about? What really happened? Who is the affected party?
  2. Action – What did you do?
  3. Expectation – What were you expected to do?
  4. Impact – What was the impact on the affected party?

Analyze feedback and follow-up

Follow this 3-step process when you analyze the feedback:

  1. Analyze all the data from the feedback session and form hypotheses
    1. Do you agree with the feedback? If not, why do you think the feedback giver felt this way? This usually generates more data (by looking at an event from outsider’s perspective) or triggers the need for more data
    2. Do you need more information? Maybe talk to others who saw you in that context? If so, talk to them and ask them open-ended question (make sure you don’t bias them)
    3. Why did you behave the way you did? Was there a different way to behave? Was it better?
  2. Decide whether to accept it or not
    1. Accept for improvement – You may agree with the feedback and work on creating an improvement plan for yourself.
    2. Accept for monitoring – Many behavioral traits are hard to put your finger on, and watching for them usually reveals more data. Feedbacks can serve as good trigger to observe yourself for some such traits.
    3. Reject – There are many reasons you might want to reject the feedback. It could be a one-off behavior, or a behavioral trait that you believe defines you, or it isn’t really sometime you need to fix, etc. Be clear why you are rejecting, otherwise you might be ignoring some serious problem.
  3. Follow-up – Make sure you communicate the decision you made about this feedback, to the person who gave the feedback. Also, make sure you thank them again.

Giving and Receiving feedback are 2 of the most important tools to have in your armory if you want to be an effective professional. Being good at these is important for your career growth and relationship-building.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Giving Feedback Effectively

Giving feedback is one of the most important tools for career growth. It may be easy to do, but hard to do well. Here we are talking about feedback that is delivered face to face.

A feedback can be of two types:

  1. Solicited – You are asked by the receiver to give them feedback.
  2. Unsolicited – You want to give feedback though the intended recipient hasn’t asked for it

While #1 is easier to handle than #2, unless the recipient is expert at receiving feedback, both require care when delivering the feedback. A feedback is really well-structured communication, and all communications build relationship. When you learn to give feedback well, you become good at building and maintaining good relationships, which goes a long way in enhancing your career growth in unforeseen ways.

A feedback can be positive too, and it is equally important to deliver a positive feedback as it is to do the critical one. However, given that this is positive, the downside of getting it wrong is really low (worst case, it sounds like a hollow praise, which is not too bad!). Feedback has come to mean critical feedback and that is how I am using the word in rest of this post.

Why Give Feedback

There are many reasons why you give feedback:

  1. Requirement of Role – If you are a manager, you are expected to give feedback to your reports. Depending on organizations, there are other roles which are expected to give feedback – mentor-mentee, employee-intern, manager-HR, project manager-team member, etc.
  2. Building Relationship – Relationships break when you don’t like a behavior but you don’t talk to the person to understand what went wrong. Giving feedback about what you felt and what should be done next is a great way of going forward and slowly build a trust relationship.
  3. Solicited – Sometimes, you are asked by someone to give feedback. It may be your manager soliciting feedback from his reports, or a peer or another team member genuinely interested in their development and seeking input.

How to Give Feedback

A good feedback is:

  1. Immediate: a good feedback is delivered as close to the actual event as possible. Otherwise, both you and the recipient forget details and the feedback may not remain effective.
  2. Personal: a good feedback talks about how it impacted you as a person, instead of talking in general terms. For example, ‘your words were very blunt’ is not personal, ‘your words hurt my feeling and made me feel small’ is. These are better because they can’t be challenged by the recipient as an arguable opinion, and hence focus stays on what to do about it.
  3. Non-judgmental – a good feedback is factual and avoids any judgmental statement. The goal is to focus on what can be done about it, rather than debating its merits. For example, ‘you were dismissive of any suggestions being given in the meeting’ is judgmental, while ‘when I offered a suggestion to the problem we were discussing, you dismissed it without spending any time on it’ is factual.
  4. With examples – A good feedback provides very specific examples so that the recipient can evaluate the feedback and act on it. For example, ‘you are not detail-oriented’ is not very helpful (though managers love to give such feedback! J), ‘Your last 3 spec documents had basic grammatical mistakes, the excel sheet you produced for our customer projection had some wrong formulas, and when I asked you to plan the team offsite, you didn’t take care of many logistics details; it seems that you lack attention to detail.” Is much more helpful for the recipient.
  5. Kind – A Good feedback is delivered with good intentions and with a goal to help the other person improve. So its choice of words are appropriately kind and empathetic, but without losing the specificity of the feedback. It is very important to keep the core feedback clear and precise, and not interpret kindness to mean sugarcoating and diluting the message.

Also, take permission before starting, keep reading the recipient’s words and body language, and be ready to modify/terminate your feedback mid-way. When you are done giving the feedback, you may be asked follow-up questions for clarification or help, so be ready for it. A typical follow-up will be ‘From your perspective, what would have been the ideal response from me?’

Handling Feedback Response

One of the hardest parts of the feedback is to deal with the response you might get from the recipient. These could be of all kinds, here are a few categories:

  1. Silent – The person is usually too shocked or hurt to respond. This silence can be very awkward. Usually, this can be handled by asking permission to terminate the session and leave the recipient alone.
  2. Defensive/Aggressive – The person starts explaining his actions and proves why their action was right under the circumstances. If this happens, treat this in a similar way you would treat an unsolicited feedback (listen, thank, and walk away). You may later choose to give feedback about the defensiveness shown by the person but it can be a slippery slope (if you tell someone they get defensive when receiving feedback, they can’t argue back because it will prove the point you just made, so they have no way of showing they disagree!).
  3. Receptive – The person thanks you for the feedback and wishes to terminate the session to go back and think about it. This is the best case scenario, and the right behavior you should expect. The person may do nothing about the feedback, and as a feedback giver, you don’t control it and shouldn’t feel bad about it. They may come back later to ask for more details or your suggestions to solve the issue you saw.

Best way to be good at giving feedback is to keep giving feedback to people and handle the consequences of some badly delivered (or received) ones! These experiences are your best teachers.

In our next post, we will focus on ‘how to receive feedback‘. Stay tuned!

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

How engaged are you at workplace?

Consider these data points:

  • According to a HT-Shine.com-AbolutData survey, talent acquisition and employee engagement are top 2 challenges for the HR managers.
  • A recent Tower Watson Study suggested that “Only just over 35% of global workforce is highly engaged.
  • According to Assocham, “Attrition rate has fallen sharply in IT, ITeS and the BPO sector to the level of about 15-20 per cent during the last six months of this year as against about 55-60 per cent in the year-ago period”
  • According to a survey by MyHiringClub.com, “India Inc has witnessed attrition rates of as high as 21 per cent during the three months ending September on account of improving job scenario”.

While you may doubt some of these numbers because of the suspect quality of respondents and sample size, I think these do paint a singular picture: employees are not engaged at their workplace. Whether they leave the company or not depends on external job market, but from company’s perspective, these employees have partially checked out and their productivity has gone down.

Consider the benefits to the organization if they could improve the engagement numbers – it would improve productivity and reduce their attrition numbers, which in turn means they have to worry less about hiring.

I have seen many employee engagement/satisfaction survey results, and time and again, employees make 2 clear points:

  • I don’t have career development opportunities
  • Company/manager is not invested in my career

My recommendation:

  • Invest in making managers a better coach/mentor
  • Help employees be proactive about their career and seek opportunities on their own within the organization.

If this is done well, here is how it plays out :

  1. Employees are clear about their career goals and career development needs
  2. They discuss with their managers proactively and frequently to seek out opportunities that align with their goals and development needs
  3. Company facilitates this by encouraging employee movements across groups – short-term assignments as well as transfers. Company also support on-job training for employees who want to venture in an area they don’t have skill but have high interest (engineer moving into marketing for example) and help them succeed
  4. There is high engagement all around, attrition is low, hiring needs are largely filled by internal candidates, and company gets crucial multi-skilled employees

What is your engagement level? What keeps you engaged at your workplace? We are very interested in hearing your point of view on this and would love to publish your views here.

3 Tenets of an effective one-on-one

Being able to do effective 1-1s with their reports is one of the biggest strengths a manager can possess. 1-1 is the forum to guide, coach and inspire the report with maximum effect. It is also the place where difficult discussions can be done (performance review, coaching and mentoring, critical feedback, etc.) which helps in employee development and growth. There are 3 tenets of an effective 1-1 and they need to be practiced all the time to achieve maximum results from 1-1s.

Create a trusted communication channel

An effective 1-1 requires open and honest communication between the participants. This can happen only in a ‘no-harm zone’, a setting where there are no repercussions of being candid and critical at times. Otherwise, the 1-1 degenerates into a status reporting or a crib session, both of which are sub-optimal utilization of this valuable time. A trusted communication channel is created when the manager encourages openness, and demonstrates the same by being open themselves. It takes some effort, and patience to reach a situation when such a communication channel is created, but the time spent in creating this is worth it. Sometimes, you may not realize that you don’t have a communication channel established, and you may think things are going great. To check if you have such a channel established with someone, reflect on you last few 1-1s and check if you held back on communicating something for the fear of it being misunderstood or misinterpreted. If you did, you need to work on establishing the channel. Many a times, an established channel can break down, so a check is required once in a while.

Be diligent about 1-1 process

Once a trusted communication channel is established, the communication can become overwhelming in its intensity and volume. If this is not managed properly, effectiveness of 1-1 can reduce drastically. It requires a clear agenda, a framework for resolving issues, and prioritizing issues to be discussed and debated. It also requires setting some ground rules about giving and receiving feedback (more data-driven, less emotion-driven) so that discussions remain productive. It is always a good idea to focus on long-term goals rather than short-term ones (since short terms are usually urgent enough that they get your attention anyway), and it is important to be in a listening mode more than talking mode. Make sure you and your report are on same page about the 1-2 issues that will be discussed in an upcoming 1-1 (of course, unplanned topics can come up, esp. when your report wants to bring something up and is hesitant in giving a heads-up) so that there can be more productive, data-driven discussion on the topic and results achieved.

Follow-through

  1. This is one of the many places where great managers outshine merely good managers. Discussing issues in a 1-1 is hard; but following through on the work needed to resolve the issues is way harder, and much more important. It is tempting for the manager to deprioritize them when compared to more immediate short-term work. However, doing so sends a clear signal to the report that you do not care about the 1-1 enough, and it breaks the trust and renders the 1-1 process useless in no time. If you can’t follow-through on something in time, make sure you communicate the reason to your report, keep them posted, and apologize when required. Demonstrating commitment to what you agreed to do in a 1-1 is extremely important for a manager. This is one more reason why the topics covered in 1-1 should be few and deep, rather than many and shallow (which generate many follow-throughs and harder to complete).

Each of these tenets are stiff and require effort and commitment, but keeping them in mind when interacting with your reports will help you in having more effective 1-1s. Best way to know if you are doing good on these is to get feedback from the reports you are having 1-1 with. If they don’t tell you some areas of improvement, it is likely that tenet #1 is not working well! If they do, make sure you follow-through and get better. This is a continuous improvement process.

4 Steps to a Sustainable Personal Brand

Given that so much of personal and professional brand-building happen online, it is important to actively manage your personal brand as projected online. Here are 4 steps you can take to build your personal brand, in a sustainable way:

Manage LinkedIn actively

LinkedIn profile is the single most important branding tool online. With 175 million professionals, this is where people start when they want to know about you professionally. Don’t write it only with a job in mind; write it to showcase you to the world – your strengths, experiences, capabilities, interests and passion, group affiliations, etc. Don’t hoard too many recommendations, it starts losing value if you overdo it. Think before you add someone in your LinkedIn network (or accept an invite) – the company you keep suggest a lot about you (just like in the offline world).

Use Twitter to build your knowledge community

Twitter is probably the most confusing social networking tool – it is not very clear how best to use it professionally. But with its more than 500 million users, it is a potent tool for branding. I advise everyone to use it as your information filter to build a community around you. With so much of news, analysis, opinions flowing around, it is almost impossible to keep track of what is going on. Follow a few personalities and news sources that align with your interests or world view (if you think women entrepreneurs need to be encouraged, follow someone who is passionately doing something in this area rather than someone who is a well-known basher of the idea). To make sure your network stays fresh, make sure you actively stay on the lookout for fresh sources of information, and prune or augment your list as needed. Once you have this list of people and topics you align with, make sure you engage in the conversation by commenting, sharing and retweeting.

Showcase your talent via blogs

I can’t emphasize its importance enough. This is arguably the most important tool you can use to significantly impact your personal brand. Blog gives you an authority and influence based on your knowledge and/or passion. It also provides you with a platform to creatively express your thoughts, thereby creating a set of followers and like-minded peer group. While writing frequently is hard, if you can write first 10 posts, rest will come naturally through habit. Also, it is important to pick a topic that you want to write about, not something that you think people want to read about, only then you can keep the discipline of writing frequently which is key to maintaining a blog.

Stay active in your domain and interest areas

There are lots of online resources catering to any given domain, including discussion groups, news portals, influential blogs, industry forum sites, etc. Make sure you are active there, both in reading as well as in commenting and sharing. While sharing and commenting, make sure you share (or comment on) what you like, not what you think others will like. You should connect these to your blog through your comments (most sites will allow you to link to your blog while posting comment) and by commenting on them on your own blog and tweets, thereby adding value to the topic in your own way and initiating a discussion among your own followers.

All online channels are 2-way communication channels, and they need to be interconnected to get the best impact. A successful personal branding strategy mixes them together to come up with a uniquely personal approach which is used consistently and frequently.