Monday, December 22, 2014

Yes, And Principle - An Improv Technique at Work

Improvisational comedy troops use a number of techniques to help them work together seamlessly, building instantly upon each others ideas, able to adapt readily to any changes in direction and content that are thrown at them.

One technique I invite you to steal, and use as your own, is the Yes, And Principle.  This technique provides you with a structured way of thinking and responding to other people's thoughts and ideas. All too often we barely listen to what the other party is saying, preparing instead our rebuttal. The Yes, And technique begins from a position of requiring you to have listened fully to what the other party was sharing. You can't possibly know how to respond if you haven't heard what was said.

When we follow someones comments immediately with our own, without there being any connection between their comments and our own, it can sound as though we are dismissing, disinterested in, or disagree with, their thoughts.  It can sound like we are saying 'no', serving to negate the perceived value of what they were sharing.

Beginning our response with Yes, And... serves to build upon their ideas rather than negate them. While an immediate 'no' shows you have not been open to ever exploring their idea further, the 'Yes' shows an openness to and acceptance of the idea they offered. It is supportive and open, demonstrating that you trust and value their opinion.

The 'And' then builds upon the ideas already brought forth, rather than starting over or tearing down the previous ideas.  It helps the team continue to remain open to exploring new and different ideas, all of which serve to enhance the end result.

In business, there are two areas in which the Yes, And Principle can immediately be implemented, to positive benefit...

  1. Brainstorming.  This is a great tool to use in developing and building ideas because it leaves all paths open.  Closing ideas off too soon can limit the directions available to you, while keeping ideas open allows you to circle back, in ways you might not have been able to imagine previously, enabling you to create something bigger and better.  In brainstorming the 'Yes' serves to acknowledge and accept others' ideas, while the 'And' allows for an elaboration of the idea, building and extending upon it.  In Apple you might have heard...
      • I think we should consider making a 'better' phone...
      • Yes, and... wouldn't it be great if it took pictures...
      • Yes, and... we could create games and apps that let people use it like a mini computer
      • Yes, and...
  2. Feedback.  When providing people with constructive criticism and feedback on their ideas, we often mistakenly jump immediately to areas that require improvement or additional thought.  In essence, we highlight the flaws in their thinking. This can end up sounding negative, which may shut the other person down.  Instead, begin with Yes, And.  The yes immediately creates a supportive dialogue, which leads the other party to remain open to listening further. It creates a powerful attitude of affirmation that helps inspire trust. You can then follow with what is good about their idea highlighting what works, before then sharing how you think it could be better, offering your suggested improvements.  
Improvisational comedians are masters at listening to and building upon others ideas.  To create a seamless and unified experience for the audience, they must be prepared to abandon their 'vision' as being the one true vision, and be prepared to accept whatever any of the other team members present, viewing it as a gift. Rather than tossing it aside, they hold onto it, adding to it with their own ideas, enabling the skit to grow and develop.  Without the openness and willingness to accept what comes before 'you' will create a skit that is disjointed and disconnected.  The power of the Yes, And technique can serve you in much the same way, allowing those around you to feel valued, while still enabling you to have an impact on the direction taken. That's what building a team is all about.  

Monday, December 15, 2014

Healthy or Intelligent? Which Leader Would You Choose?

When choosing a leader, if you are only given an option between choosing someone that looked healthy or someone that looked intelligent... which would you choose?

I think that most of us, consciously, would say intelligent. Don't we all want our leaders to have the intellect to understand the challenges we face, to navigate through the tough political waters, to have the knowledge needed to create strategies that assure us success?  Our logical, rational minds respond 'Yes, of course'.

However, a recent Dutch study, published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience,  found that, when given a choice between a leader that looked 'healthy' and one looking 'intelligent', almost 70% of all respondents selected the healthier looking leader.  In fact, both leaders they viewed were the same individual, each photo simply being a digitally altered version designed to portray more healthy or intelligent characteristics.
"Here we show that it always pays for aspiring leaders to look healthy, which explains why politicians and executives often put great effort, time and money in their appearance," study lead author Brian Spisak, assistant professor at the department of management and organization at VU University Amsterdam in the Netherlands
Although our conscious mind may use rational thinking in making its decisions, it appears that we are still more influenced by our reptilian brain than we may like to believe.  Our reptilian brain is the most primitive part of the human brain, the part that handles our instinctive responses and reflexes, some of which are millions of years old.  It is the part of our brain that is essential to, and focused on, our basic survival, overseeing functions like breathing and heart rate, but also driving your desire for food or sex and responding to perceived threats and rewards.

It's this most primitive part of our brains that receives information first, making it our primary behavioural driver. This means, when considering the Dutch study above, that participants viewing the two potential leaders are influenced first by the reptilian part of their brain which wants to follow the healthier looking specimen... because that is a key trait necessary for survival.

From an evolutionary perspective this would make sense.  In the early days of man you couldn't afford to get sick, there was no medicine. You needed to be able to run down your prey and out run any predators. You needed to be strong to be seen as necessary to the 'group'; strong enough to be Alpha or be seen as useful to one.

We may have come a long way but our reptilian brains are still wired to respond in ways that served us, and saved us, in the past.  These responses still continue to influence choices that we make, in ways that we don't always control or recognise.  The conscious and more logical parts of our brains simply form reasonable explanations for the actions and decisions that our reptilian brain makes.

I have long coached my clients on the need to project a positive energy through their body language.  To be able to convince someone that you are not just willing but able to take action and see a project through, you must demonstrate it through your body.  It is through the subtle cues of the body that your credibility is established, that people will believe and trust in your ability to deliver.  Try selling someone on your ability to take action from a slumped position!  Your reptilian brain is wired to pick up on the subtle cues derived from body language and will respond according to what it perceives.  Conveying a strong, positive energy appeals to the survivalist mentality of your primitive brain.

Looking 'healthy' is a visible source of that positive energy.  People are instinctively attracted to it.  If you want to get ahead then research has provided yet another reason for you to get healthy.  Break out the walking shoes, learn to love kale... they might just be the best things you do for your career.

Monday, December 8, 2014

5 Tips for Getting More Feedback

We would all love to get feedback on our performance more regularly than we do. Regular feedback is an important way for us to improve our performance at work. However, it is not unusual for many in the workplace to receive feedback only during their annual performance review. The feedback they receive is not timely enough and likely not specific enough to prove truly helpful in positively impacting performance.

Given that many of us have managers who dread having to complete an annual review, let alone sitting down for performance dialogues more regularly, how might we arrange to get the feedback we need, when we need it, to help us improve our performance faster?

1.  Ask.  This may seem like an obvious point to start with but that doesn't make it any less effective.  And, despite its obvious nature, it doesn't tend to be something that people do consistently, if at all.  Don't sit complacently by, assuming that no news is good news.  Ask people how you are doing.  If you feel this is a little too self-directed then ask people what you might have done differently or better to have met their needs. People will not only open up about your performance, but will offer suggestions you can use to please them better in future. It's your choice as to whether you fulfill those needs or not, but it will tell you a great deal about not only how best to serve others, but about what motivates them also.

2.  Question.  Don't simply take the first response you get.  We often interpret someone's feedback through our own personal filters which may lead us off the track they were highlighting.  Before you invest your time and effort in improving in a direction you believe they wanted, ensure you take the time to clarify what they shared.  Get a clear picture and specific suggestions before you begin to take action.

3.  Listen.  People give you feedback continuously, whether you ask for it or not.  However, we are typically too caught up in our own thoughts, wants and needs to pay attention to it.  Even when others are venting about a project, or the direction it has taken, they might be sharing some feedback for you regarding your role in it.  And, it should go without saying, that if you've asked for feedback then you need to listen to what people share with an open mind.  Don't rationalize the feedback, don't become defensive and don't shut down.  This is information you need to improve; accept it graciously and decide later what value it brings you.

4.  Observe.  Pay attention to the reactions and behaviours of those around you.  You can gain a tremendous amount of feedback just by taking the time to focus on and observe others.  Are people looking away and yawning when you are delivering a speech?  Are you being sought out for your advice and help or are others being sought out instead?  Do people share confidences with you or only talk about the weather? People's actions and behaviours around us tell us a great deal about what they think of us, how we make them feel, what their level of trust is.  Take the time to observe others for trends that are trying to tell you something.

5.  Learn.  Learn from your successes.  Learn from your failures.  Learn from your observations.  Learn from the observations of others.  Your experiences provide you with some of the best feedback that there is, but you need to take the time to assess the messages, learn from them and alter your approaches and behaviours accordingly.

Our performance is our responsibility and is our ticket to more.  Waiting for a once-a-year performance discussion, to ascertain how you are doing, is not going to enable you to improve as quickly as you could if you were receiving feedback in a more timely manner.  Certainly seek more frequent feedback from your manager, but don't limit yourself to their insights.  Broadening the scope of the feedback will provide you not only with more feedback, but will enable you to understand which actions would positively impact more people and therefore more opportunities.  Take charge of your personal improvement plan by taking a more active role in getting the information you need to improve.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Overlooked for Promotion Again? Top 5 Reasons Why

Most of of us have likely experienced a time in our careers in which we did not receive a much desired and
anticipated promotion.  Typically, we are left wondering why.  Looking to the individual who did get promoted sometimes leaves us with more questions rather than the answers we seek.  Over the course of my Coaching and Consulting career I have dealt with numerous highly talented individuals who have been seemingly left behind, yet again, without a clear direction for moving forward and gaining that coveted promotion.

In my experience, there are typically 5 main reasons why people fail to secure a promotion, each of which I share with you below in the hopes that you are able to see yourself in one (or more) and begin taking the steps necessary to eliminate this roadblock to your success.

1.  Your focus is on your current Performance and not on your future Potential.  Granted you want to be performing at your best, but that demonstrates you are capable of delivering at the level you are now.  It is important to couple this with a demonstration of your ability to do more.  And by more I mean 'other', not just simply more of what you are currently doing.  You need to understand what competencies are required, by those succeeding at the next level, and find opportunities to display those abilities.  People get promoted because of their perceived potential to take on more and greater responsibility.  Showcase the breadth of skills you currently possess while highlighting your ability to 'learn' new ones.

2.  No Bragging Campaign.  Doing great work is one thing; ensuring that people know about it is another. You cannot simply put your head down, work harder than anyone else, and expect it to get noticed.  Likely it will just get you more of the same work, not a promotion.  You need to promote yourself to get promoted. I know that introverts reading this are cringing right now - or jumping to the next point - but becoming proficient at Bragging is a necessity in today's business world.  People are far too busy to keep track of 'who' is doing what, they need reminding.  This needn't be a big brash obnoxious recitation of your accomplishments.  It can be small little tidbits, updates and reminders casually dropped into conversations. Crafting your campaign means that you are crafting the messages that others receive.  By understanding what competencies are required at a higher level you can use your Brag Bite moments to highlight your skills in those areas, building the perception of potential they need to see.

3.  Poor Internal Network.  This point is linked to your Bragging Campaign, but it is an important element in and of itself.  If you do not have a strong network, who do you have to brag to?  You need to have your campaign reach as far and wide throughout the organization as you can.  Therefore, you need a well developed sphere of influence, which includes those in decision-making roles. Who knows you? Who knows of you?  What do they know?    Getting your name onto the Succession Planning list means getting known by those managing the list.  Extend your network to ensure that these people are included.  If they don't know who you are, they aren't going to be in a position to add your name to the list.

4.  Lack of Accountability.  It all comes down to Reasons and Results.  You can have reasons why you didn't accomplish something, why it wasn't your fault, why it was out of your control... or you can have results.  Organizations tend to promote those who get things done, who make things happen.  The more that you are able to demonstrate the tenacity and determination needed to move through obstacles, the more the organization will be willing to invest more in your future.  Excuses and reasons don't cut it.  They may sound reasonable but the bottom line is simply... you didn't add to the bottom line.

5.  Lack of Initiative.  If you see a problem, fix it.  Find a solution.  Don't leave it for someone else to find.  Don't bemoan the extra work that it means for you.  Don't walk away with your hands in the air claiming 'it's not my job'.  If you want that promotion then you need to be prepared to demonstrate your commitment to the success in the organization, not just your commitment to your own.  They should be linked.  Taking initiative by stepping up to the plate and assuming responsibility for something outside of your direct 'job' demonstrates a willingness to take on new challenges.  It shows a sense of ownership that is looked for in those moving up.  Note also that every new initiative that you take on becomes one more brag-bite that you get to share, strengthening your campaign and message.

Promotions are not just 'givens'.  Showing up at work and doing your job are not the sole prerequisites for moving up.  You need to demonstrate your ability to take on more, to learn, to grow, to assume responsibility, to commit.  Develop your promotional plan and then work it.  If you want greater opportunities in the future then you need to be prepared to take actions beyond what you have done to get where you are.  If you aren't prepared to do more, then you will be required to step aside for those that are.