Teamwork is the lynchpin in our long-term success.Ned Lautenbach
Want a team that takes ownership? Then stop and check the language that you’re using when you speak with your team. Most especially, what language are you using when you delegate?
Even more specifically, when you delegate, are you speaking in terms of How, What, or Why?
Here’s the deal…
If someone tells you “How” to do something, how much of your brain is getting engaged? Not much, right? You pay just enough attention to hear the steps, make sure you know what to do, and go do it. The end. Pretty mindless. The only “taking ownership” you’re doing is getting the work done.
Now imagine being told “What” to do. Now at least you’ve got to come up with the “How” yourself. Like, “Send a newsletter to our customers.” Now your brain is engaged figuring out how to get it done.
Finally, imagine being given a “Why” – something like, “We want to build a closer relationship with our customers so they remember us and think positively about us.” The part in italics is the why. Suddenly you have to step back and figure out “What” on your own, AND “How” to do it. Maybe you come up with the newsletter, or maybe something else. The point is you are now fully engaged with more of your “whole self.”
Obviously, it takes some work and coaching to get to higher levels with your staff. But with some practice and coaching, you CAN do it. Give it a try.
When I see business owners who want to build a business they’ll love, they generally come in two flavors — those just starting out who want the best chance to succeed, and those who have been at it for a while and are feeling a bit bogged down by some of the realities of building a business, dealing with the personalities involved (both customers and employees) and who might be questioning their own sanity once in a while. 🙂
Here’s the deal… You CAN do this. You CAN anchor on to four really simple pillars to guide you. Cling to these four pillars, learn about them, get really good at them, and it DOES get easier. Here they are.
- Grow a team that thinks and acts like owners. You need people who take charge, take ownership, and drive forward.
- Align around an irresistible offering. You can’t leave things to chance. You have to declare your goals and get everyone on board.
- Map an Action Plan for Breakthrough Results. Everything gets easier when you break your big goals into little goals.
- Execute a culture where everyone is accountable for results. This one, above all others, will drive your business forward. The real question is who is holding you accountable?
These four pillars will help your business overcome all obstacles and grow to your goals. Stick around and we’ll cover each of these in more detail.
I’m kidding. Right? Yes! Of course, I’m kidding!
However, that adorable little child in the bizarre little cap is me circa 1973. And that blurry brown creature behind the chicken wire in the cage on the left is a rabbit. It dawns on me as I write this that I’ve never asked what that old fat bastard’s name was. Let’s call him Fat Old Bastard. Actually, let’s call him Blind Fat Old Bastard because he couldn’t see worth a hoot and that’s about to become super important to this story. “BFOB” for short.
If it sounds to you like BFOB and I didn’t have the best of relationships, well, you’d be right. Look again at this picture and you’ll notice that I’m feeding BFOB some tasty, delectable, delicious greenery, aka grass.
One day in a scene that looked much like this, as I pushed the delicious greenery through the chicken wire to BFOB, apparently my tasty beige looked a lot like greenery. You guessed it — BFOB bit off my finger. Off. As in off my hand.
Well, ok, technically it wasn’t the whole finger. BFOB bit off my index finger to the first knuckle. And thankfully it wasn’t completely bitten off and BFOB didn’t swallow — the tip of my finger was still hanging on, dangling by a little bit of skin.
It turns out when you’re one year old and still consist almost entirely of a puddle of stem cells, you can recover from a lot. The doctors did little more than stitch the digit back together, slap the sort of bandage on it that can survive even a one year old, and wish my parents the best, telling them, “Maybe the finger will grow, maybe it will fall off.” It grew. It’s a little funky. Somewhere, there’s a picture of me smashing ants with that epic bandaged finger.
Now then, what the heck does this have to do with teams that think and act like owners, rallying people around a focused offering, mapping a path, and executing like a machine?
As of this weekend, it’s 48 years later and that rabbit is long gone. *I’m* the fat old bastard now, but thankfully not blind. But when I’ve told this story to people that worked for me, people that I’ve worked with, clients, etc. they “know me” on a different level. And they have a damn good time poking fun of me and my “bunny finger,” too. And that’s sorta the point.
How much do you know about the people that you work with? That work for you? That you work for? You see all the visible, diverse bits about them that give you impressions about them. But how much do you truly know? What do you know about what you can’t see? Where they come from? What story they have about a value they learned from a family member, coach, or embarrassing story from school?
And what do they know about you?
Making that human connection — OFFERING that human connection — doesn’t “get in the way” of being a leader. It is what makes it *possible.*
When Ed came into my office and started talking, I was surprised at what he said. His father had a medical emergency the evening before and Ed was obviously distraught. Since his dad lived 5 states away, his mind was with his dad even if he couldn’t be. He had come to give me a heads-up that he probably wouldn’t be giving his best self to his job today.
But it wasn’t his father’s medical emergency that I found most startling. I was shocked by Ed’s own potential medical emergency. Ed’s face and eyes were yellow and I could see what he hadn’t yet been to a mirror to see: He was in the throws of full-on jaundice. When I asked how his stomach felt, he said he didn’t feel well, but he thought that was worry for his father. Off to the hospital we went, where Ed had urgent surgery to remove his gallbladder as well as stones from his bile ducts.
All Sorts of Things Prevent Us From Being Available
“Availability” is a key concept in employee engagement. It’s the idea that if something is standing in the way of an employee investing their best self in their work, then their best work won’t happen. Clearly, that’s not the best thing for the business or the customer. But here’s the thing – it’s not the best thing for the employee, either. Low engagement, regardless of the cause, can lead to low job satisfaction and eventually leaving the job.
And there are such an incredible number of things that can prevent a person from being “available” to invest their best self. Ed’s example is at the extreme end of the spectrum.
Much simpler on-the-job things that prevent availability include things like:
- Not having the right tools
- Not having the right training, skills, or abilities
- Lacking safety to share opinions, or to try in the face of risk of failure
- A feeling of isolation or not being “part of the team”
Personal things that prevent availability include:
- Concerns about child care
- Personal or family health concerns
- Schedule conflicts
These types of issues are the reasons why it’s effective for businesses to invest in health care, employee assistance programs, and the like.
Lack of availability, whatever the cause, robs a person’s energy and attention and keeps them from focusing on the job. In many jobs, this means a hit to the bottom line and the potential for a sour employee that rubs off negatively on others. But in some businesses, like the construction trades, the lack of focus that comes with lack of availability can mean an increased risk to life and limb.
How Do You Check for Availability?
Is “Availability” something you think about and check for with your staff? If so, do you check for physical availability, mental availability, or both? Do you mostly think of it as your job to provide the physical resources and training your employees need? Or do you see it as critical to provide health care and employee assistance in order to support employees with personal issues that might impact availability?
Recently, I listened in on a conversation between various entrepreneurs about “the entrepreneurial mindset” and what made them successful. A very interesting thing happened. After kicking around several ideas about mindset and attitude, they concluded that actions, not attitude or mindset, are what set successful entrepreneurs apart from those who either fail or never make it big.
That is a super interesting position to take. Let’s dive in.
Actions over Attitude Does Play a Role
There is definitely something to be said about consistent action. If you haven’t been in business for yourself yet, then any entrepreneur can tell you it’s easy to fall into the trap of not taking action because of:
- sheer exhaustion
- lots and lots of other reasons.
Success tends to come to those who take action often, consistently, and even at those times when they’re uncertain or just don’t feel like getting out of bed and doing it. There are times when a business can be a hard slog. Keeping the flywheel of business moving means keeping forward motion moving. Don’t stop. Never stop.
And That’s a Mindset
Re-read that last section. That’s a mindset. The attitude that you must keep moving… you need to keep forward momentum… That’s a mindset.
Interestingly, everyone in the discussion I listened in on agreed that “constant action” was an absolute, unnegotiable key to the success of entrepreneurs. Yet none saw this as a mindset.
It is. “Constant forward motion” is one of the most critical mindsets for successful entrepreneurs.
And there are a few other closely related mindsets.
But before we dive into those, why bother? Why care?
If you’re new to entrepreneurship, it’s valuable to assess yourself and see where you’re strong or weak, and surround yourself with people who are strong in your areas of weakness. Nobody is strong in all areas, so that’s where finding your balance in others comes in. With that, let’s look at a couple other related attitudes.
Related, Critical Mindsets
Successful entrepreneurs tend to be incredibly focused. Specifically, they’re focused on the goal or goals they’ve set out to achieve. There are a lot of unknowns and uncertainty in business. While these things provide a lot of confusion, the best entrepreneurs are anchored in their goals, using them to constantly re-center their thoughts and actions.
Note that this has nothing to with working style. Lots of entrepreneurs are naturally scattered people, “multi-tasking” on dozens of things at once, and for whom their biggest hallmark is the messiest desk anyone has ever seen. It just means that in their mind, they are hyper-focused on their goals and what it is they’ve set out to do.
Failing Fast, or… (my favorite) Pivoting
Being hyper-focused on goals means the goal comes first and if whatever we’re doing to reach the goal isn’t working, great – let’s try something else. The best entrepreneurs aren’t bashful when their tactics to achieving a goal aren’t working. They’re the first to admit it and look for a new path. The goal usually stays the same, but small pivots to pursue that goal are the order of the day.
I’m In Control
This is related to a concept in psychology known as “Locus of Control.” The happiest and most successful among us tend to see things as under our own control or influence. Less successful and less happy people tend to see things happening “to” them as being caused by things outside their control and by forces out in the world.
Successful entrepreneurs as a group tend to have internal locus of control.
What’s Your Mindset?
The group I listened in on, much like fish in water, didn’t even recognize many of the elements of their own very powerful mindsets that had made them successful in the first place! So what about you? What is it about your mindset that makes you successful? And what is it where you turn to others for strength?
I never met my grandfather on my father’s side. At least not that I remember. He and grandma were killed by a drunk driver when I was one year old. I have no memories of them other than those created by pictures I see and stories I hear.
Last week, when mom had a fuzzy recollection that grandad had earned a patent, a couple of us dug in to find it. Sure enough there it was. In 1940, he filed and then sold a patent for a unique new fast opening and closing door and compartment on the sides of delivery trucks. Grandpa worked a milk route back in the days before milk tanker trucks when the job called for loading heavy containers of milk into the truck. Here he was trying to make his job easier and trying to solve a practical problem.
For me, the story spoke to where my dad got his own sense that he, too, could solve any practical problem as well as his own ability to work with his hands. Those were skills my father had somehow passed on to his own five children and I had never quite understood how. I had never quite understood where our universal assumption that we can solve anything had come from, or where our naïve matter-of-fact expectation that we can fix anything our hands can touch came from.
Now at just three years old, my firstborn already knows, “Daddy can fix it!” Even my one year old brings me broken toys exclaiming, “This! This!” The question on my mind isn’t how to fix the broken thing, but how to keep passing through example the tradition that they, too, can achieve whatever they set their mind to because it will never occur to them they can’t.
We All Want to Leave a Legacy
It’s not just me with my kids. Your employees care about their impact and the legacy they leave behind. (Even as I write that, I can hear somebody choke on their coffee… “My employees??” Yep, even them.)
Your employees want to know that they’re part of something bigger. They want to see that they are fulfilling a bigger purpose. Yes, they want to collect a paycheck. But they also want the opportunity to grow and use their skills, and they want to know that the role they play has an impact on their company and on the world around them.
If you doubt this, write up a little one or two question “pulse survey” and ask them things like:
- It is important to me that I understand how my work impacts our end customers.
- My co-workers and my company make me feel like I am part of something bigger than myself.
Ask for a rating on a scale of 1 to 5 from “Strongly Disagree” to “Strongly Agree” and see what happens.
As social creatures, we want to know that what we do matters and we get a little twitchy when we doubt that it does.
Find and Tell Your Stories
Chances are you formed at least one or two incredibly strong, vivid images in your mind from the story I told in the opener above. If you’ve read this far, you know I care about family and helping people succeed, and you have an incredibly strong story to know I’m telling the truth.
Now it’s your turn. I used a personal story. Your challenge is to find business stories.
You have your mission. (Right? You do, right?) What stories do you have about fulfilling your mission? I’m not even talking about big stories. I’m talking about any stories, preferably from your customers, about fulfilling your mission.
Find and tell stories about fulfilling your mission, and do it often. Tell it to your employees. Tell it to your customers and people who you want to be your customers.
Unlike the empty-sounding promises of most marketing, stories are real. Stories are powerful because they help us see, feel, and virtually experience a positive outcome without going through it ourselves.
Another time, we’ll talk about how to find those stories.
I was Dan and Laura’s new manager and I knew perfectly well what they didn’t. I knew that their first assignment with me was really risky. It was a project for which there was no guaranteed outcome. There was, in fact, a nearly 100% chance I would have to order considerable re-work, and a better than 50% chance their project would be canceled and they would be transferred to another project. None of this would be due to any fault of theirs. This was simply how this type of project ran: It was a proactive project to position the business for an opportunity that might never materialize, and so it might be changed or ended suddenly.
Here was my challenge…
Dan and Laura were very vocal that they were fed up and frustrated with Bill, their previous manager. They made no bones about the fact that they considered Bill to be “random” bordering on “thoughtless.” I believe the word “capricious” even came up, along with a complaint that “management always fails to plan.” Dan and Laura were fed up because Bill had canceled what they were working on and it seemed to them like the cancellation was random and seemingly without reason.
So here I was, with a team clearly alienated by their previous manager who had “randomly” canceled their work. And there was easily a better than 50% chance that I would have to either radically change or cancel their first project with me, too, risking alienating them even further.
The fact of the matter is managers and workers often have opposing interests at risk of alienating each other. It’s a matter of how you handle it.
Managers and Workers Work Toward Opposite Interests
Here’s the challenge with this situation and many like it. Very, very often – and often without realizing it – managers and employees are working toward opposite or at least very different interests. This can cause very interesting perceptions of each by the other.
For example, the higher you go in management (or as an owner) the less your day is about your own tasks and the more it is about decision making with imperfect information, managing risk, and reducing uncertainty. This often means making decisions “for now,” and changing your mind later when more information presents itself.
That sort of “mind changing” is the type of thing that can show up to workers as “random” and as a symptom of “lack of planning.” You know that’s not true, and you know there’s often no such thing as “certainty.” But quite generally, a worker working to deliver against goals perceives those goals and plans as both real and stable. And who can blame them: We generally talk about plans and goals not only as though they are real, but as things for which our workers are accountable.
As a result, the natural conflict is some managers think workers are inflexible or unreasonable, and some workers think managers are flakey, random, or lack planning skills. It’s the classic “in-group / out-group” conflict that has existed between managers and workers since….forever.
How to Manage Uncertainty and Not Alienate Your Team
With Dan and Laura, we managed this situation by sitting together and doing basic planning together. The truth was the exact work to be done wasn’t yet planned and there were lots of things to decide about the work. By talking openly and honestly about the situation and determining what work to invest in together, we achieved a couple of super important things.
- It let us share the uncertainty and ambiguity.
Most folks can actually handle a lot of ambiguity and uncertainty, but only if they know about it, and preferably if they know about it in advance. By talking about how uncertain the project was upfront, Laura, Dan, and I were all on the same page going in as to what might happen with the project and it helped us choose our work better. Simply seeing and sharing in the uncertainty can really help.
- It let Dan and Laura buy-in and take ownership.
By having a hand in planning, Dan and Laura felt bought in. There was actually a pretty narrow band of outcomes to choose from in this case. But still, when you have a chance to participate, you naturally feel more bought in.
The simple act of planning work together, sharing in the ambiguity, and sharing buy-in goes amazingly far in uniting the teams together.
So What Happened?
Sure enough, the project did get canceled. But because we had planned together and scoped out a suitable initial phase and knew it was an initial phase, any disappointment was just that – just a little disappointment. It wasn’t a judgment about management in general, or any person (ahem… me!), or anyone or anything else.
People just want some form of certainty, even if it’s certainty manufactured from solid, respectful communication.