The Power of Strategic Alignment
No matter what the goal and what the strategy to reach it, the better you and your team are aligned and working together, the more likely you will succeed.  We call this the power of strategic alignment and it accounts for 31% of the difference between high and low performing teams in terms of revenue growth, profitability, customer satisfaction and employee engagement.

The group of trekkers pictured above follows the lead in almost perfect synchrony.  Each one carries their own pack, each must take steps on their own and each understands the power of the team effort in reaching their destination.  They are aligned in plan, skills and abilities, and behaviors.

Ideally…
Ideally, leaders set and communicate a clear, believable and implementable plan and then select team members with the right skills who commit to the goal and the way to get there in a way that makes sense.  Right?

But in the real world less than half of corporate organizations make it to the “top.”  Indeed, IBM found that less than 10% of well formulated strategies are effectively executed.  Our research found that team members are half as clear as their leaders about the team’s goals, roles, success metrics and operating norms.  And this high level of misalignment causes churn, dysfunction and underperformance.

The Organizational Alignment Research
We believed from experience that aligned companies and teams consistently achieve higher performance – and the data supports us. Our strategy, culture and talent alignment research, based upon 410 companies across eight industries, showed that highly aligned companies grow 58% faster and are 72% more profitable than unaligned companies.  To significantly outperform your peers, companies and teams need to align their culture (how the work gets done) and talent (the needed skills in the right positions) with their strategy (the overall plan.)

The First Critical Step – Strategic Alignment
But first you must create the power of strategic alignment by having a direction and plan that is clear and compelling, understood and agreed upon, and believed to be achievable in your specific situation.  Only then can your strategy for success gain the commitment and resolve you need for it to be translated into actionable items and effectively implemented across the organization.

How to Measure the Power of Strategic Alignment
You will know your strategy is clear enough, believable enough and implementable enough when your key stakeholders agree that they:

  • Clearly understand the overall strategy
  • Can articulate how their work directly contributes to the strategy
  • Believe the strategy will lead to successful results
  • Feel the strategy provides clear direction to their work
  • See employees implementing the strategy successfully across the company
  • Trust the leaders to commit to the agreed upon priorities across the company

The Bottom Line
You must begin the path to success with a clear and implementable strategy.  Typically that strategy must include your own version of the big strategic drivers (e.g. mission, vision, purpose, values) combined with the critical few optimizing strategies required to succeed (e.g. goals, roles, processes, relationships and success metrics).  Once you have harnessed the power of strategic alignment, you can then focus on lining up your culture and your talent to perform at your peak.

To learn more about avoiding the traps associated with unclear business strategies, download 7 Ways to Stress Test Your Strategic Clarity

Manager Recognition Matters for Employee Engagement and Retention
With the tenure of knowledge workers reported to be less than three years at a single company, the importance of engaging and retaining high-performers continues to grow. Beyond the feel-good part about recognition that confirms that you were noticed and appreciated, the link between manager recognition and engagement encourages future discretionary effort and increases employees’ intent to stay longer at their company.

The Research
Recognition matters a great deal to the recipient, but it also benefits the organization as a whole.  Our recent survey of over half a million employees from more than 8,000 organizations revealed that recognition is one of the top five drivers of employee engagement.  Yet less than half of those surveyed felt satisfied or encouraged by recognition from their superiors.

Employees really want to hear from their managers when they have done well. Why don’t more managers understand the link between manager recognition and engagement?

Managers, Why the Silence?
It wasn’t until we dug deeper that we began to understand why managers weren’t consistently praising their employees when they delivered above and beyond.  There are basically three reasons.

1. Managers Did Not Appreciate the Value of Recognition
Many managers do not have a clue as to how much their recognition matters to their employees. Some are so buried in their own work and so focused on reaching their goals that they forget about the link between manager recognition and engagement and how much even a simple pat on the back can mean.

Secondly, while effort is typically spent on teaching managers how to deliver negative feedback, managers are rarely taught how to use positive feedback as a necessary and important component of performance management.  Managers with highly engaged teams let their employees know they are watching and how much they appreciate extraordinary work.

2. Managers Did Not See Recognition as Valued by Their Superiors
Because they do not receive consistent or meaningful recognition themselves, many managers do not believe that recognition is something that company executives believe makes a difference. Smart executives measure their managers by their employees’ level of engagement and know that employee recognition is a fundamental component to increasing employee engagement.

3. Managers Did Not Have Easy Ways to Show Their Appreciation
Managers admitted to not knowing just how to best recognize their best employees. While it may seem simple, there is an art to giving meaningful, proportionate and authentic recognition.  Make it easy for managers by setting up systems and processes that will point out who deserves special appreciation and then provide ideas for how to reward employees in a way that is meaningful and aligns with your corporate culture.

The Bottom Line
All organizations want to improve performance. The ones that count on their people for success want to improve employee engagement and retention.  One powerful way to do both is to provide meaningful, appropriate and timely rewards and recognition.

Make sure your managers understand the value of recognition to the individual employee and to the organization.  Then provide the resources and tools for them to consistently deliver that value.

If you want to learn about research-backed ways to improve employee engagement, download The Top 10 Most Powerful Ways To Boost Engagement

When the News Is Bad
No one likes to receive bad news.  But it sometimes seems harder to deliver than to receive it.  If you do not know how to deliver bad news as a manager, it is time you learn before it is too late.  Unfortunately, too many new or inexperienced managers find it so difficult that they tend to avoid sharing bad news altogether.

How to Deliver Bad News as a Manager
By following a few simple rules of advice from experienced leaders, however, you can learn how to deliver bad news as a manager as effectively and painlessly as possible.

1. Whenever Possible, Deliver Bad News in Person
The first rule is that you should try whenever you can to give bad news in person. Why?  Because an attitude and body language of being supportive rather than accusatory can lessen the blow and can help assure the receiver that it’s not personal.

Have you ever received a “Dear John” letter?  It hurts not only because the relationship is over but also because your partner did not care enough (or have enough guts) to tell you in person.

2. Don’t Sugar Coat Bad News
The tendency is to try to soften the bad news with other good news or positive feedback. But what often happens is that you either come across as insincere or the negative message is lost in the positive.  Employee feedback is clear – they would prefer to have a straightforward conversation rather than a manager’s skirting or downplaying the issues.

3. Show Understanding
Don’t pretend that the conversation will not be difficult. Acknowledge that what you have to say will be hard to hear but that you want to be clear and truthful.

Perhaps an employee’s performance is not up to the standards you have set.  Be clear about where and how they need to improve and work on a plan together that will raise the level of performance in an acceptable time period.

Maybe the company has hit a rough spot and salaries need to be reduced across the board.  Be clear about why the cuts are necessary, how it will help, your strategy for a turnaround and how you expect to make up for the reduction within a certain time frame.

Bad news is a reality of business, but you can you can deliver bad news as a manager with authenticity and caring.

4. Be Open with Bad News
Invite questions and answer them honestly. If the recipient is not ready to discuss the bad news further at this time, schedule an opportunity to talk again.  Your willingness to share what you know and how it might be addressed will go far to build trust in your employees and make the news easier to accept.

The Bottom Line
The way the message is delivered does make a difference.  You need to learn how to deliver bad news as a manager. A little preparation can go a long way.  Be sure you are clear, direct, understanding and open.  You may find that, handled well and with empathy, a difficult conversation can become an opportunity to build a stronger relationship with an employee and improve their performance.

To learn more about how to conduct difficult conversations, download Effective Communication Skills – The Essential Ingredient in Any Interaction

 

How to Sell Change
When you have determined that change is needed at your organization, you have taken only the first step on the journey.  If you are committed to succeeding at change, it helps to understand how a bit of salesmanship can support and bolster your plan.  Successful change leaders know the effective ways to sell change to their stakeholders.

4 Effective Ways to Sell Change
We have learned that what works in sales can work with change initiatives.  And just like any sales situation, there are effective ways to sell change and there are ineffective ways to sell change.  Here are some steps, borrowed from a typical sales cycle, that can be translated into effective ways to sell change:

1. Know Your Clients
The best salespeople understand how important it is to know their clients – their business, their priorities, their challenges, their personal and professional ambitions. They learn all they can about those that they need to influence so they can empathize with their situation and more effectively present their case to help them be successful.

It behooves change leaders also to know their stakeholders, including employees, influencers, customers, and even naysayers.  When you know what your various stakeholders care most about and why, you can more easily understand how to best work with them.  This allows you to enroll friends as supporters and to identify how to overcome obstacles with those who are not yet on board.

2. Paint a Clear and Compelling Picture
Smart sellers know how to paint a clear and compelling picture of what it would look like when the client’s problem is solved. They understand that if they create a vision for the client of the desired future, the client is much more likely to buy into the solution.

Change leaders can use the same approach to help employees envision how the proposed change will make things better personally and professionally.  The more clearly they can define that future, the more persuaded their stakeholders will be.  The message should be easy to understand and it should include why the change is necessary as well as how it will affect the business and individual employees.

3. Build the Relationship
Just as trust is the basis for winning long-term sales partnerships, it is also the foundation of successful change. Every interaction should emphasize the message and its importance.  Your constituents need to believe that you are being straightforward and honest in your dealings with them, that you are actually capable of pulling this change plan off, that you have the backing of those that matter (executives and influencers), and that you are in it for the long haul.

4. Follow Through
The best sellers don’t walk away once the deal is sealed. Their focus is on building customer loyalty, satisfaction and success.  They do this by staying connected and monitoring the solution’s effectiveness.

So, too, must change leaders continue to track the results of the change initiative and stay in touch with their employees to make sure all is going as planned.  If not, they should be prepared to explore what is going wrong and figure out what needs to be adjusted.

The Bottom Line
The process of change has much in common with the sales process.  Both require an intimate knowledge of the players, an ability to inspire with a vision of the future, a relationship built on integrity, and consistent follow through.

To learn more about how to look at change from different perspectives, download The 5 New Lenses of Change Leadership

Employee Behaviors and Your Workplace Environment Are Linked
Does your work environment promote the right behaviors?  To answer this question, some argue that workplace cultures are created by the specific actions people take.  Others argue that people change when their environmental circumstances change.

We believe that both are true and that people’s behavior and the environment in which they live and work are inextricably linked.  In fact, employees tell us that behaviors and their work environment affect each other so profoundly that they cannot easily be separated.

Think of behavior as the “way” we conduct ourselves and think of the environment as the “context” in which the behavior occurs.  For example, most people behave differently at a party with close friends than when on a job interview.  This is a simple example of the environment shaping our behavior.

An Interesting Experiment on Work Environment
Our country’s distress at the opioid epidemic has fostered all kinds of innovative ways of trying to deal with this tragic situation.  But here’s one that was new and interesting to us.  Retailers in some of the hardest hit areas were at a loss as to how to prevent users from shooting up in their rest rooms, endangering themselves and others.

Turkey Hill Minit Markets, a 260-store chain based in Pennsylvania, changed the environment.  They installed blue lights in their bathrooms.  How does it work?  The blue lights make it difficult for users to find their veins.  They are forced to go elsewhere to shoot up.

And, like most environmental changes, it seems to be changing behaviors.  In blue light stores, there are far fewer needles or overdoses.  How can you learn from this experiment?

How We Define the Work Environment
Let’s start with how we define the work environment.  We believe it is a leader’s job to create the circumstances to consistently get the most out of their people in a way that fits with the organization’s core values, behaviors and strategies. Does your work environment promote the right behaviors?  Based upon this assumption, we have found that high performance environments have three attributes in common:

1. Clarity
High performance environments provide crystal clear direction as to where people should focus. Everyone knows the actions that must be taken, the expected outcomes of those actions, and how success will be measured.

2. Transparency
High performance environments use clear, credible and fair methods to consistently let teams and individuals know where they stand compared to performance standards in terms of Doing (generating desired results) and Being (achieving them in the right way).

3. Meaning
High performance environments create motivation by providing compelling reasons for people to stay, strive to perform and commit to continuously improve.

The Bottom Line
While blue lights in the bathrooms may not be your ticket to improved performance, your work environment has a direct impact on employee behavior.  Consider your work environment as not only the physical surroundings but the levels of clarity, transparency and meaning that help shape your culture.  Then tweak and adjust so that the context in which your employees work supports the desired behaviors.

Does your work environment promote the right behaviors?  To learn more, download The 3 Hidden Levels of a High Performance Culture

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