Should You Quit Your Job?

August 24th, 2015 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Change Leadership, Professional Development No Comments »

JumpingShipAs we head into back-to-school season, many professionals find themselves thinking about changing employers to progress farther, faster, or just differently in their careers.

There’s certainly no shortage of opportunity at the moment, but that doesn’t mean a change is right for you. Maybe it is; maybe it isn’t.

The biggest mistake most professionals make is to inadvertently focus on near-term discomfort (frustration, boredom, overwhelm – take your pick) at the expense of long-term strategy.

I made this mistake myself when I was in my mid-twenties, and so exhausted from my demanding (yet remarkably boring) job that I pounced on the first unsolicited offer that came my way. I wound up in the backwaters of a company that would have been perfect for the movie Office Space.

This is a big decision, so here are four tips to help you make the right one, not just for today, but also for your success and happiness in the coming years.

Is the company growing?

Companies that are stagnating are full of employees with nowhere to go. This doesn’t bode well for you, unless you love your role and don’t want anything to change, in which case, you’re probably not reading this article, anyway.

On the other hand, some companies are exciting because they are failing, which always makes for a certain amount of drama. A failing company is only a good place to stay if you want to take a stab at honing your turnaround skills or find the financial incentives to be utterly irresistible.

The sweet spot for many people is a company that’s in rapid growth after a strong market position has been established, with the exception of those of us with a more entrepreneurial bent. Even if you consider yourself “not a businessperson,” take some time to learn about your employer’s market position in order to understand the bigger picture.

Are you still learning something that will be useful to you five years down the road?

Believe me, I hated working for a global accounting firm in my first job, but as a liberal arts grad, I learned the nuts and bolts of business and how to do detailed, accurate analysis of business problems. If I had quit too soon, I wouldn’t have had the knowledge to land a much better job down the line.

If you don’t know the answer to this question, ask several people who are already doing what you want to be doing in 3 – 5 years. Sometimes it’s worth sticking it out a little longer to master a skill or acquire essential knowledge that will be hard to get elsewhere.

Often this advice is stereotyped as applying only to young professionals, but with careers now spanning almost five decades, I encourage all professionals to view their current role through this lens.

Are you in a company that promotes on merit or are there a few too many signs of favoritism?

“Bro culture” is real thing, for example, and if a woman is getting consistent indirect messages that her career isn’t going to go anywhere, she should consider taking her skills to a company with less cultural bias. Companies that have less bias overall perform better, too, providing more interesting and exciting opportunities for their employees.

Bias exists in more benign forms as well, such as when the founders of a small family business provide more opportunities to their own children than to other employees because they want to pass the business on to their kids some day. Whether you agree with that choice or not, it’s theirs to make, and you are very, very unlikely to talk them out of it. If their business can’t provide the opportunities you want, it’s time to let go and move on.

Be careful to check your ego when reflecting on the very touchy subject of bias. It exists in many forms, but it’s not always at play as a powerful driving force.

For example, I have seen people utterly furious that someone else was promoted, when in fact the other person had performed far, far better in the role and voluntarily taken on many additional responsibilities. Yet, the furious coworker remained convinced that it was entirely due to bias.

I’ve also been in painful conversations in which I had to break the news that the individual who wanted to be promoted was not responding to the coaching and feedback that would bring him or her up to the standard for the current role, let alone the desired role.

It’s easy to look at someone else and ask how he or she could be so delusional, and to assume that you’re not that way, but to some extent we’re all at risk of being a little delusional. The only process that consistently prevents delusions is to seek out feedback and listen to it carefully. It can help you balance out your own perspective when you hear the perspectives of others.

Have you been job-hopping far more than your peers?

It’s worth taking a look around to see how your job-hopping track record compares to others who are in your profession and age group. If you’re on the far end of the bell curve, it’s time to ask yourself why you are quitting so often, and what impression this may leave with the best potential employers.

By the time a professional is in his or her late 20’s, most employers want to see more stability, at least 2 – 3 years each at two or more employers. Recruiting, hiring, and training are expensive processes. They don’t want to hire someone who seems to have a hair trigger as soon as the honeymoon is over.

A resume with several short stints during rough economic times, however, or during a significant transition, will not send up a red flag. Most employers understand that if your employer went under in 2009, six months after you started, those two events are unrelated.

In short, examine the current and potential growth of your employer, assess the long-term relevance of the skills and knowledge you’re amassing there, look for signs of bias in yourself and others, and get the tempo right for changing jobs, and you’ll be in a great position to confidently make the best choice for your needs.

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Five Steps to a Better Off-Site

April 3rd, 2014 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Communication, Professional Development 2 Comments »

0347Getting your leadership team out of the office for focused discussion, debate, and planning is one of the best tools to build your organization’s competency and improve performance.

But far too often, inexperienced leaders try to copy what someone else did in a different organization, and when they return to the office – if they are honest – they have to admit that they didn’t get much of an outcome at all.

There’s a lot involved in getting an off-site right. Here are five steps that are often overlooked, and that can make the difference between success and failure.

  1. Define the exact outcome that you want. Note that I didn’t say “outcomes.” This is intentionally singular, because one outcome must dominate over all others.Think about the one thing you must achieve at this off-site, above all else. That determines what you have to do at the off-site, and everything else must be categorized as nice to do.This lack of willingness to put a stake in the ground and hold firm leads to more mediocre off-sites than all other issues combined. That’s how you wind up with an off-site that crams in too much, with no depth to any of it, and delivers no value to the organization. At that point, the value actually turns negative, since the organization has just invested money in the off-site along with the very high value of a management team’s time. We’ve all attended off-sites like this. Don’t be the guy or gal who leads off-sites like this.
  2. Require non-negotiable pre-work for everyone. If your outcome is a cross-functional plan to execute your roadmaps, it is a massive, wasteful time suck to ask each business owner to present a short deck of his or her roadmap, followed by Q&A. Yet, time and again, leaders tee this up as their off-site design.If they’ve all created roadmaps, they’re all perfectly capable of reading and critiquing one another’s roadmaps on their own. Require everyone to share in advance what they most want help with on their roadmaps and who their key stakeholders are. Then require them to read all of the roadmaps and prepare their questions, criticisms, and any gaps, overlaps, or misalignments they see between the roadmaps.This way, everyone comes prepared to get to work, which leads me to the next step…
  3. Get to work fast, and don’t let up. I’m not saying to skip icebreakers or warm-up activities. In fact, you should start with one. However, continuing with our example, if your off-site outcome is going to be a cross-functional execution plan, you need to split quickly into interdependent work groups and dive into each plan, using the pre-work as the jumping off point.
  4. From time to time, remind everyone of the outcome. Everything else is gravy, but many people like gravy more than potatoes, so expect them to veer in the direction of spending too much time on secondary outcomes. It’s probably the first time they’ve all been together in six months, so it’s easy to start discussing things that have little to do with the outcome you want to achieve.If you’ve set your scope properly, though, you will need most or all of the off-site time to achieve your outcome. Until you feel very confident that you’ll hit that target, you need to keep them focused on it. After that, sure, give them space to tackle secondary outcomes.
  5. I admit this is a little soft, but do not let the off-site end without doing something blatantly celebratory. I bring little statues that look like Oscars, and my clients decide what to award them for. We make a big deal out of it, with a ceremony and pictures. Unless your business is circling the drain, I’d also strongly advise you to take everyone out for dinner on the company’s dime, and make that event celebratory, too.

And because I can’t resist0393 adding a bonus tip, here it is: Use the 30-second check-in technique at the end of each day. Sounds corny, but it’s actually very serious. Stand in a circle. Tell everyone they have 30 seconds to share anything at all with the whole group.

Your facilitator should keep track of the time and interrupt with a polite, “thank you!” if anyone is still talking at his or her 30-second mark. This activity must stay on time.

Use what people say to help make any adjustments or even substantial changes to your Day 2 agenda and your post-off-site follow-up plan.

What are your thoughts about improving off-sites? Let me know at www.jenniferselbylong.com.

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The #1 Change to Make in 2013

January 12th, 2013 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Communication, Listening Challenge, Management, Professional Development 3 Comments »

O.k., Everybody – Listen Up!

Actually, I mean it. It’s the #1 change you can make in 2013 to dramatically improve in any area of your life that involves other people.

Think about it. There are only four ways to communicate that involve language: writing, reading, speaking, and listening.

How much education did you receive on how to write? A lot.

How much education did you receive on how to read? A lot.

What about speaking? I bet you received least some education – the dreaded Speech Communication 101 class in college.

Now think back and remember how much education you received on listening. For most leaders, it’s a big goose egg and, not surprisingly, most of us are lousy listeners most of the time.

Yet it’s only through effective listening that we understand where another person is coming from, and stop our own assumptions from twisting and distorting what he or she is saying to fit our preconceived notions. In fact, I will go so far as to assert that you are incapable of maintaining a decent level of objectivity unless you listen. After all, how can you be objective if you’re not hearing data?

Think of your ears as being like flabby muscles. They’re fully capable of doing the job. They just need to get in better shape. Take it in baby steps, and you’ll become a fit and strong listener.

Here are my 12 favorite techniques to become a better listener, one for each month of 2013:

January: Minimize distractions. Turn off the phone, put the laptop in sleep mode, turn off the ringer on your phone, and put the tablet in a drawer if you can’t stop looking at it.

February: Welcome the other person. You don’t need to do this formally, though you can if it suits you. Smile (even if it’s a phone meeting), stop what you are doing, and if it’s an in-person meeting, ask him or her to sit down.

March: Focus. Look at the speaker, or imagine the speaker’s face if you are on the phone. Maintain eye contact. Concentrate on what he or she is saying.

April: Suspend judgment.Don’t think about whether you agree or disagree while the person is still talking. This leads to thinking about what you will say in response while the other person is talking, which is the opposite of listening.  If you feel your mind formulating a response while he or she is still talking, bring your attention back and say, “Could you repeat that?”

May: Ask questions to draw out observable data. Observable data is exactly as it sounds – data that is concrete and can be observed. This does not include interpretations or opinions.

June: Ask questions to understand his or her logic and reasoning. Two people often look at the same data and draw different conclusions. Poor listeners don’t bother to draw out the other person’s logic and reasoning. They just argue. Great listeners seek to understand the other person’s logic and reasoning as a means to constantly test and develop their own logic and reasoning.

July: Listen for the subjective elements. Subjective data includes interpretation, hunches, values, and even feelings. Don’t confuse the need to make data-driven decisions with refusing to hear subjective data. Leaders are often required make decisions for which you will never have all the objective data you need. The ability to combine the subjective with the objective to inform an excellent decision is called good judgment, and it’s what you’re getting paid for. Don’t turn the subjective into a villain. Invite it in to every conversation.

August: Remain silent for a few seconds longer than is comfortable.I confess that I’m working on this one myself! It’s probably a bigger challenge for Extraverts, but it’s worth doing, because silence often encourages the other person to continue sharing.

September: Repeat the last word or main point as a question. If the other person says, “The gross margin demands are unreasonable” then say, “Unreasonable?” and nothing more. It’s an easy technique to practice, and a simple way to invite the other person to share both subjective and objective data.

October: Use clean inquiries. Let’s say your team has made a strategic decision to end production of several custom products after the current contracts are honored, because the margins are too low and the products aren’t aligned with your long-term strategy. A month later, a team member furrows her brow and says, “We have a lot of idle machines this month. Do you think I should approach the buyer on this account to see if he wants to do one more run?” An unclean inquiry would be, “I THOUGHT we agreed to DISCONTINUE this custom product, didn’t we?” It’s an accusation thinly disguised as a question, which is a filthy dirty inquiry. A clean inquiry would be, “I’m concerned because that seems to me to go against our decision. What’s behind your thinking on this?” Clean inquiries are valuable beyond measure when you feel your emotions start to rise.

November: Confirm understanding. Also known as paraphrasing, this technique ensures that you really do understand what the other person has been trying to tell you. You can keep it simple by just paraphrasing. For example, “So you believe that we can accrue goodwill points by running one more low-margin order while we’re negotiating with them for the order that’s aligned with our long-term strategy. Is that correct?” Alternately, you can introduce your paraphrasing using phrases such as, “So the main point you’d like me to understand is…” Confirming understanding will save you hundreds of hours of wasted time due to hidden misalignments and misinterpretations.

December: Close the conversation. All of the effort to really hear what the other person is saying will not pay off if you forget to share your perspectives, confirm areas of agreement or disagreement, and decide on next steps.

Remember to take it in baby steps, adding one technique to your listening arsenal every month. By 2014, you’ll be one of the best listeners in your organization, and you’ll reap the rewards of better collaboration, higher trust, and improved teamwork.

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A Better Way to Plan for 2013

December 7th, 2012 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Business, Management, Professional Development No Comments »

It’s that time of year! I don’t mean the many holidays celebrated this month. I mean the annual personal planning process that gears up in December. It can be a real crunch to execute at year-end while also planning for the coming year. Still, it’s on your mind regardless of whether you’re using a structured process or just daydreaming about what you’ll achieve in 2013.  Would you like to try a relatively simple, rewarding, and productive approach?

Most advice for annual personal planning begins with getting out of the box to envision the incredible possibilities for the year, but that’s not how most lives work. By the time you’re doing your 2013 plan, you probably already have dozens of commitments for the year, yet it’s suggested that you ignore all of these to have your beautiful, glorious strategic visioning moment.

This tension between the greatest possibilities and managing reality is healthy and it occurs naturally in the psyche. In fact, if you didn’t feel this tension, it would be a sign that there’s something important you’re ignoring. It’s so important that it’s one of the topics I’m focusing on in my upcoming book, Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: How to Remove the Invisible Barriers to Extraordinary Leadership.

Instead of assuming you must begin by visioning, try starting with the reality of your whole life (not just work), so you know how much time you will really have to pursue the more radical possibilities.

Here’s the process I personally use, step-by-step.

1. Begin with a large blank wall calendar. There is something grand about seeing the whole year laid out in one physical – not virtual – place. It will take very little time to transfer into Outlook when you are ready. Here’s the calendar I use.

2. Mark in any known critical dates in your job and/or business. For example, if you are a finance director in a publically-traded company, you’ll almost certainly be working long hours during the first and last two weeks of each quarter. If you’re in Sales, even if annual sales events haven’t been scheduled, you should know roughly when they are occurring, because they don’t change much from year to year. For consultants, write in every speech and webinar you’ve already committed to do, any face-to-face work that is committed or reasonably close to being committed, and any professional development you know you will do, particularly if it requires travel or real-time webinars.

3. Now for the fun part. Block out vacation time, including at least one long weekend each quarter and at least one vacation that lasts 10 calendar days, inclusive of weekends. If you don’t, you’ll miss the mental and emotional renewal that keeps you intellectually at your best. Your stakeholders need your best thinking and enthusiasm far more than they need whatever you would have personally produced in those days. Even if you’re not 100% sure of the exact dates, block them out on the calendar in a dotted line so you can at least get a visual image of how much time you’ve allocated.

4. Next, add in any family travel. Many of us live in a different city or country than our families, and while it may be difficult to pinpoint exactly when you will see them, you can hold some dates as a starting point. I list this separately from Step 3 because I believe it’s important to designate both time with your loved ones and vacations that focus on relaxation or new adventures.

5. Now – this may seem silly — block out time for the things you will need to do that nobody remembers to put in their calendar, such as dental and medical check-ups. Particularly for those of us with both N and P in our four-letter MBTI code, it can be easy to completely forget about this and then get annoyed later in the year when we “don’t have time for this annoying stuff.”

6. For small business owners, be sure to include a chunk of time each quarter to discuss your revenues, expenses, and tax situation with your accountant and bookkeeper. No business owner should ever be surprised by how much time their finances take quarterly and at year end. If you’ve allocated the time, you won’t be caught off guard. This is true whether you have a finance person or not. You are accountable for all of the finances of the business, and need to personally be on top of this.

7. What now remains is the time you have available for your personal goals, some of which will be work-related and some of which, I certainly hope, will not. Now you can begin the more familiar planning steps:

a) explore possibilities

b) narrow them to what you really want

c) identify how far you can get toward each goal with the time you have available

d) designate time for each of the activities that help you achieve the goal

I’ve honed this process over several years and it has made a world of difference in the accomplishment of my goals and in my personal satisfaction. It’s a hybrid containing the best of each process I’ve learned along the way, and it keeps both sides of the dynamic tension in balance. I hope you enjoy it, and I wish you a very happy and prosperous 2013!

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The Surprising Reasons People Resist Being Empowered

October 5th, 2012 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Communication, Management, MBTI, Professional Development No Comments »

It seems so obvious, like such a no-brainer: your business has reached the stage at which you’ve stabilized the core and you must scale. Meanwhile, your market demands that you grow while getting even more nimble and flexible. The answer is obvious, right? Drive decision-making down in the organization. Stop holding on to it. Empower people to act quickly in the customer’s and the company’s best interest.

When you announce that you’re going to do this, heads nod. Who could disagree with being more trusted? More empowered? Less oppressed? Philosophically, it all seems to line up, but when it comes to execution, it nearly always falls apart. Last month, we looked at three contributing factors to this failure: a poorly defined end state, no mid-level guiding coalition, and assuming that empowerment has to happen in a linear, top-down sequence (http://jenniferselbylong.com/?p=536). Let’s say that over this month you’ve addressed all three, yet people still expect you to make decisions you’ve told them you want them to make.  Why?

There are several reasons that could apply to anyone, but often align with particular personality types. If you understand this, you can begin to address this reluctance through a more personal and compassionate lens. Compassion is frequently a bit of a  blind spot for leaders, but those who can open their minds to understanding why people act the way they do build far more engagement and alignment than those who look at these challenges only in terms of business systems and metrics.

Resistance to empowerment might be better described as reluctance rather than resistance. Your people have concerns – and fear is the emotion underlying concern. It may sometimes look like anger but think about it, when you have been angry, what drove the anger? It was fear of losing something, or that something would happen that would have a negative consequence.

Likewise, your people aren’t fools. They know there could be very negative consequences for them personally if they embrace empowerment.

Let’s look at how this can play out when viewed through the lens of personality type. There are many aspects of personality type that can influence how an employee feels about being empowered. Today I will divide the personality types according to those that share the same dominant cognitive process, or mental function.

Jung equated the dominant cognitive process to the captain of a ship. He believed that it is the most conscious process, and that your other cognitive processes act in support of the dominant process. We unconsciously see our dominant process as a hero, and feel most heroic when using it.

Apply this insight to understanding reluctance to become empowered, and what do you see?  Empowerment might mean that we won’t get to use our heroic mental function nearly as often, and that we’ll be demanded to spend much time using our less conscious functions. No wonder we hold back!

Put another way, each type often has concerns that, if expressed and taken seriously, will reveal gaps, flaws, inefficiencies, and other issues with the empowerment plan. By recognizing and discussing these, you can not only compassionately engage employees, you can also improve the power and effectiveness of your empowerment efforts.

There are no personality types that are inherently more or less threatened by empowerment. That’s a complete myth. Some aspect of empowerment is likely to be concerning for each type, as indicated below.

MBTI® Codes ESTJ and ENTJ

  • Most conscious function plans, organizes, and measures progress
  • Most likely concern is that empowerment will force them to lose control over outcomes due to a less structured environment,  greater reliance on incompetent coworkers, or poorly defined criteria for performance

MBTI® Codes INTJ and INFJ

  • Most conscious function gains deep, long-term insights and realizations
  • Most likely concern is that empowerment will force them to manage unfamiliar, complex, multiple details previously managed by the boss, or interact constantly with teammates doing group planning and decision-making (particularly concerning if they view their teammates as incompetent)

MBTI® Codes ISTJ and ISFJ

  • Most conscious function verifies and stabilizes
  • Most likely concern is that empowerment will create too many unpredictable and unmanaged variables, making it more difficult to create repeatable success, or that working in an empowered way will be inefficient or ineffective compared with the current way of working

MBTI® Codes ESFJ and ENFJ

  • Most conscious function nurtures trust and demonstrates care
  • Most likely concern is that empowerment will cause peer conflict to drag on and become toxic instead of being quickly discussed and resolved, or that the team will not be able to develop the deep level of trust required to make excellent decisions

MBTI® Codes ENTP and ENFP

  • Most conscious function envisions possibilities and emerging patterns
  • Most likely concern is that empowerment will require them to reach closure too soon on too many decisions, choking off the creative process which produces their best ideas, or that they will have to deal with dense bureaucracies that the boss previously navigated on their behalf

MBTI® Codes ESTP and ESFP

  • Most conscious function experiences the tangible present
  • Most likely concern is that empowerment will cause them to be pinned down by too many commitments, with all spontaneity choked off and too much structured, scheduled team activity

MBTI® Codes ISTP and INTP

  • Most conscious function precisely defines within a framework, theory, or principle
  • Most likely concern is that empowerment will require them to deal with the illogical or incompetent people that their bosses previously handled, or that they will have to constantly collaborate too closely with others and no longer have time to work alone

MBTI® Codes ISFP and INFP

  • Most conscious function assigns a value or degree of importance and provides a moral compass
  • Most likely concern is that empowerment will force them to give up deeply valued work responsibilities in order to take on these new decision-making responsibilities, or that their most trusted relationships will be damaged by this new distribution of power

Warning! The worst thing you can do with this knowledge is play amateur psychologist, approaching each employee and saying, “I read a blog that tells me what you’re afraid of, and I just want to tell you that there’s nothing to worry about.” It’s a terrible idea for several reasons:

  • You may not actually know the employee’s type, even though you think you do.
  • The “most likely concern” is exactly that – likely, but not certain, and not comprehensive. Other factors may come into play.
  • It’s annoying! Your employees will want to smack you, not follow your lead to the land of empowerment.

A better approach is to explore these concerns first alone or with a trusted advisor, and then with your team.

Here are some questions to get the conversations going:

  • What are everyone’s individual concerns about being more empowered? How accurately does the Selby Group list reflect your concerns?
  • What has led to these concerns – is it truly about individual personal needs or is it something else?
  • Is the leader’s greatest concern about empowerment different from the greatest concerns of each of the employees on the team?
  • Are we so “type-alike” as a group that we have only addressed the concerns of one or two types?
  • If so, did that leave the valid concerns of “minority types” out of the equation? What did we miss? Was the quality of our solution compromised by these missing perspectives?
  • How can we address any concerns that were not previously surfaced?

See what insights you gain from the discussion that will help you all move forward toward your goal with greater confidence and ease.

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Why Empowerment Initiatives Run Out of Gas

September 7th, 2012 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Communication, Management, Professional Development No Comments »

How many times have you told your managers to empower their people in order to improve engagement, accelerate innovation, or build a stronger succession pipeline? And how often did it stick?

Levels of empowerment rarely change to any significant degree. In fact, in our practice we often enter an organization after empowerment efforts have stalled out, faded away, or – most ironically – run out of energy before they could break through dense bureaucracy.

Why do attempts to empower a workforce fail? I frequently see three contributing factors:

1. Poorly defined end state, which naturally leads to vague goals that aren’t aligned with the business, which leads to weak metrics. This also results in “empowerment work” competing with “real work.” An initiative that is perceived as not directly aligned with the business and competing with “real work” will not ever be prioritized, no matter how much people believe in it at a philosophical level.

2. No mid-level guiding coalition to translate the ideals into pragmatic actions and facilitate frequent, ongoing, multi-directional communication.

3. Assuming empowerment has to happen in a top-down sequence. Empowerment is a significant organizational change, so it’s never as tidy and sequential as that. While it’s true that an empowerment initiative needs a tenacious executive sponsor and an aligned senior team, it’s not true that the entire executive team must somehow all become the ultimate role models before anyone else can do anything. Empowerment is a multi-directional transition. Plenty of workforces have been empowered through a mix of assertive individual contributors and managers who are willing to speak up and take risks, a strong and committed mid-level guiding coalition, and a powerful executive sponsor who nudges (o.k., shoves) the rest of the senior team forward when they begin to fall behind in their own progress toward empowering the organization.   

 Today, I’ll focus on defining your end state.

This is a strategic decision across the organization, not an individual decision. The senior team must choose the level of empowerment that best supports your business strategy. The entire senior team must be aligned on this end state, not just on the general direction of “increasing empowerment.” Without this alignment, you won’t be able to set clear goals, and metrics will be weak or non-existent. The initiative will run out of gas.

Did you know there are four levels of empowerment? Says who? Says Jennifer. No level is inherently superior to the others. You have to target the level that best supports your business strategy. They are:

1. Minimal empowerment. The key characteristic of this level is authority, generally exercised by managers on up.

2. Intermediate empowerment. The key characteristic of this level is delegation of decision-making authority. The focus here in on the individual, not on the team. The popular empowerment delegation continuum is an example of intermediate empowerment. The strategy at the intermediate level does not include making organizational or operating model changes. It is primarily focused on driving decision-making down to a lower, more appropriate level: executive to director, director to manager, manager to individual contributor.

3. High empowerment. The key characteristic at this level is the self-directed work team. At this level, entirely self-directed teams take over nearly all of the decisions previously made by their managers. They decide how the work will be done between them, they manage their own budget, they hire and fire, they change processes, they manage their own issues, and they expect their manager to step up in a very substantial way as a facilitator and coach for their professional development.

4. Leading edge. The key characteristic at this level is fluidity. Often there are few or no bosses, and teams form and reform as demands and ideas arise. No one has a boss. Leaders emerge by definition of the fact that others choose to follow them.

In order to target the appropriate level, your senior team must consider your willingness to make changes to the organizational structure, the level of decision-making you are willing to delegate, the role you want your managers to play, how broadly you are willing to define roles and responsibilities, the nature of escalations, the degree and expanse of skills you are willing to develop in your workforce, and your fundamental viewpoint on accountability and risk. This is all in addition to the fundamental question of how effectively each level would support your business strategy.

I anticipate an uptick in the number of organizations focusing attention on empowerment in the coming 2 – 3 years. Most will fail, because most leaders never clearly define their destination. Their empowerment efforts run out of gas, just the way your car would run out of gas if you started driving across the desert toward an undefined destination and just kept on going.

Do the hard work to clearly define your destination now, and you will arrive on time and feeling great, while your competitors stumble along the side of the road, sweating in the unrelenting heat, gas can in hand.

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Bride of MBTI

August 3rd, 2012 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Business, Communication, Management, MBTI, Professional Development No Comments »

 

Do you remember how the Frankenstein movies started with just Frankenstein, and then there was Bride of Frankenstein, Son of Frankenstein, and classics of cinema like Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster?

Well, we’ve got our own sequel here at Selby Group because last month’s column about the popular Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® instrument prompted many more questions. Ever eager to please our readers, I give you more burning questions and answers in our sequel…Bride of MBTI. Be afraid. Be very afraid….

My personality has changed so much over the years, but I’ve taken this instrument three times and it always comes out with the same four letters. Does this mean it’s wrong or that it’s trying to tell me I haven’t changed?

I don’t know if this will make you feel better or worse, but it’s not telling you either of these things. The tool isn’t designed to tell you the ways you may have changed over the years. It’s definitely not going to argue with you that you have or haven’t changed.

It just indicates what mental functions you probably find more energizing and therefore prefer to use more often. What your brain prefers in this most general regard is probably hard-wired in the womb, but that doesn’t mean you don’t grow and change, and it’s also true that no instrument can accurately figure out the preferences of every person so sometimes it just gets it wrong.

Here’s some information you can use in your exploration to determine the type code that fits you best, regardless of what the form says.

The MBTI is based on Carl Jung’s theory of the personality, which holds that we’re all born with the same mental functions in our brains, and that each individual is more energized by the use of some of those mental functions than others. As we mature, many people gain greater ease using their non-preferred mental functions and also become more confident of what their preferences really are. These things happen simultaneously over the decades and are among the benefits of not being a kid anymore.

Is it possible that your preferences really are the type code that keeps coming up and that you’re getting more at ease with your non-preferences, which is why you feel you’ve changed? That sounds to me like the natural process of maturing.

Is it possible that you’re answering the way you think you’re supposed to be at work because you’re taking the tool at work? It happens all too often. One of my clients did not get an accurate MBTI result until he was in his 50’s. By the time his kids were grown up, he no longer felt the financial pressure that had led to conformance pressure and he could finally feel safe answering as himself.

Is it possible that you’re asking a little too much of the tool? The four-letter type code doesn’t have to fit you like a glove. At the basic level (Form M, for those of you familiar with the various versions), all seven billion residents of earth could be sorted into 16 type preference codes, so many people find that their “best fit” type really is just that – a best fit, not a perfect fit.

While some people immediately resonate with the results in their reports, others find they need more interpretation and self-reflection to determine the best-fit type code. This is the limitation of any tool, and I give the late Isabelle Briggs and Katherine Myers credit for their frankness about this fact.

Be sure to talk with your certified interpreter for more help interpreting confusing or conflicting results. That’s what we’re here for.

I’m a Thinking person because I don’t care about people’s feelings, right?

Alas, if our personalities were that simple, the MBTI would be a free quiz in Glamour magazine.

So let’s straighten out this common misperception. There are two Thinking functions, one defines and the other organizes and measures progress. We all have both functions, along with two other mental functions that play a role in decision-making. One of these other functions is focused on harmony between people.

If you have a preference for one of the thinking functions, it means that defining or organizing/measuring is probably energizing for you and you probably use it more consciously. Defining and measuring don’t generally involve people’s feelings. If your mental function that cares about people’s feelings is unconscious to you because defining or measuring is taking up a lot of your conscious awareness, it stands to reason that you would believe you don’t even have this function, but you do.

With this function residing more in your unconscious, it’s not that you don’t care about people’s feelings. It’s that your mental function that handles this aspect of decision-making resides mostly in your unconscious mind. Functions that live mostly in our unconscious mind very heavily influence our decision-making. We just don’t know it until someone else points it out, because it’s unconscious for us.

Trippy stuff, huh? To me, though, the dynamic nature of personality is infinitely more interesting and useful than the cheery, sunny, and rather static personality type descriptions that make people happy when they read them. Wonderful personal growth comes through deepening our understanding of our whole selves, including the conscious and unconscious parts of our personalities that we bring to work with us — and that everyone else has to deal with all day.

I swear my colleague prefers ENTP but he says it’s ENFP. How can I convince him of this?

You can’t, because only the individual can determine his or her best fit type code.

If a person is uncertain, the ENTP/ENFP question can be one of the more challenging ones to resolve. These two types share the same dominant mental function. Jung called the dominant function the captain of your ship because he said every other mental function is used in service of the dominant function.

The ENFP/ENTP similarities are so great that we can be almost indistinguishable from one another to casual observers, particularly in environments in which we’re the minority and are adapting our style to the majority. The similarities are so strong that my own Myers-Briggs results are ENTP about half of the time and ENFP the other half.

If you and your colleague are interested in exploring further, you might enjoy three books which would give you a more in-depth perspective on the similarities and differences. The first is very popular and the other two are more what I would call specialty publications for practitioners, but still quite readable for the enthusiast: David Kiersey’s Please Understand Me II, Dario Nardi’s The Neuroscience of Personality, and Susan Nash’s Let’s Split the Difference. Enjoy!

Can you please change those stupid four-letter type codes into regular words? I can’t ever remember mine.

Sorry, but I cannot. I didn’t create them, so I don’t get to change them. Isabelle Briggs felt strongly that the names should not box people in with a label that implied a stereotype or judgment (as all words do), so she intentionally made them bland sets of letters instead of words.

I respect her point of view, and I also fully acknowledge that it makes it harder to remember. For my own clients, I don’t believe it’s critical that they remember their letters because they have a PDF and a print-out of their results should they ever want to look it up.

Most of the time, it’s more important that you remember what you have learned about yourself and others than that you remember the letters. For practitioners, I encourage you to work in common language when discussing the functions and attitudes in addition to the technically accurate terms.

Do you have more burning questions? If so, please send in your request at lighten@selbygroup.com, and I’ll include it in, of course, MBTI Meets the Space Monster.

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Five Essential Tips for a Successful Leadership Transition

June 14th, 2012 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Business, Change Leadership, Communication, Management, Professional Development No Comments »

Leadership transitions are key inflection points in any enterprise. A well-executed transition will influence everything from customer retention to your employees’ morale and confidence in you, so this is one internal process you want to get right.

Passing the torchSo let the transitions begin! They’re going to happen whether you plan well or not, so take the bull by the horns and follow these tips to make them successful.

1. Discuss the transition with your spouse or life partner if you have one. It’s essential to have support from the most important people in your life because the transition is going to take a fair amount of your time as you move out of the role and support your successor moving into it. If you are also moving into a bigger role, regardless of how much you’ve prepared for it, you will find yourself stretched and likely spending more time at work for a while.

2. Discuss the goals of the transitioning leader and of the successor. This is usually not one conversation, but several. The goal is to truly understand one another’s goals rather than working on potentially false assumptions about one another’s goals.

So many transitions have wound up as explosions or no transition at all, due to false, unspoken assumptions about goals. A distant cousin of mine hired a young man who assumed he was being groomed as the successor. Thirty years later, the “successor” retired, while my cousin continued to run the business until well in his 80’s.

While this is a comically extreme example, it does illustrate the importance of moving from vague visions (“I’d like to move on to a new challenge in the next few years”) to tangible goals.

This is too important to crank out in one sitting. You need time to reflect. You may find that simply hearing the other leader’s goals gives you another perspective, and influences your own goals. Give yourselves the time you need. You may find that you create a slightly (or massively) different role for the successor than you have had.

3. Privately share your successor’s name with each of your direct reports before communicating to the rest of the organization. Several years ago, the Harvard Business Review wrote an article on challenges in succession planning. One of the findings that stuck with me was how many people live under the illusion that they personally are the chosen successor when in fact they have never been considered for promotion at any point in time.

Sometimes senior leaders manipulate conversations, which is a rotten thing to do. In many cases, though, I’ve seen that there is no manipulation. The senior leader’s words carry so much weight, and the individual wants that promotion so badly, he or she reads meaning into statements that simply wasn’t there.

Once you know who your successor is, and the two of you have had your conversations, do your direct reports the courtesy of sharing your decision personally and privately. Don’t assume you know who will be disappointed. Many leaders have read these tea leaves wrong, and are shocked at some of the people who thought they were next in line.

4. Create and communicate a shared vision that will be realized after the transition. Leadership transitions can be nerve-wracking for everyone involved. H-P is just the latest example of multiple failed leadership transitions and vision drift. People remember these events from the news and often from their own bad experiences, so they have every reason to be nervous if you create no vision for the future beyond the time when you are in charge. It will feel like the organization is going to fall off of a cliff once you leave. A solid vision, combined with a good plan, will go a long way toward inspiring faith.

5. Determine the path. Make a plan and work the plan. Treat it as a project that is every bit as important as your biggest customer projects. Unless the transition is prompted by a sudden event, you should ensure that the successor assumes more of your responsibilities each quarter or every six months, with a full transition of decision-making accountability and authority, too. Put dates on your plan, and target how often you will revisit the plan to check progress and make adjustments. It’s not unusual for these plans to have a few adjustments along the way, so don’t let that bother you.

And a free bonus tip: if you can afford to slow down the pace of other organizational changes during this time without negatively impacting the business, do it. For example, it is unwise for the current senior leader to make new hires unless this can’t be avoided. The incoming leader needs the opportunity to build his or her own team, and employees generally do not like being hired by one person, only to be told a few short months later that they’re now working for someone else.

For more information on managing a key leadership transition, contact us at lighten@selbygroup.com.

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Is Now the Best Time or the Worst Time to Invest in Executive Coaching?

May 4th, 2012 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Business, Communication, Management, Professional Development No Comments »

Executive coaching is a one-on-one process dedicated to the development of the leader. Its popularity has grown exponentially since I coached my first client in 1994.

The pattern of investment has also shifted, in my observation. Ninety-seven percent of Selby Group’s executive coaching services are sponsored by the leader’s employer, however the opposite is true for the general population of professionals, with 97% of all coaches hired by the individual, generally without the knowledge of his or her supervisor.

In some regards then, now is the best time to invest in coaching because if you’re not coaching your go-getters, someone else is, and the more they invest in their own careers with their own funds, the less likely they are to envision your organization in their futures.

Inside organizations today, the name executive coaching is actually a misnomer in many cases, as more and more executives invest in their directors and managers years in advance of promotion to the executive level. If this is your strategy, now is a great time to begin, since most companies are back on a growth track and thinking about the future. It’s a savvy investment, as it allows the budding leader to take current performance to a new level while preparing for executive responsibilities, and smoothing the transition to a much larger role. It’s also an outstanding retention tool.

In some cases, though, now is the worst time to invest in coaching. To determine if now is the best time or the worst time for you to invest in executive coaching, consider the questions below.

Considerations for Investment in Executive Coaching:

1. What will this individual’s growth allow you to do that you can’t do now?
  Examples:
  • gain new sales
  • turn him loose with the investment community to raise three times the funds he is raising now
  • reduce my direct involvement in her team and focus my efforts on new business
  • improve morale and decrease attrition of our highest-paid and hardest to replace professional staff
2. What is the value of this change? How will your condition be improved if the leader hits or exceeds his or her development goals?
  Examples:
  • We can reduce rate of manufacturing errors at least 30%, which totals $2.4 million over five years and finally brings our costs in line with our competitors
  • We can leverage her C-level relationships to build new business and take key accounts from our top competitor
  • Once this person can take the reins, I can move on and move up
3. What is at risk if you don’t develop this leader?
  Examples:
  • Lost opportunity; our competitors are already ahead of us on 12 fronts
  • Loss of key accounts; decision-makers want a more senior-level discussion from our Client Services VP; our key competitor has just landed a seasoned VP and is going after our accounts
  • Lost revenue
4. Which outcomes are most important to you?
   
5. How will you know the leader has achieved success? Put in more traditional terms, how will you measure progress toward the outcomes?
  Examples:
  • Steady increase in case value
  • Steady reduction in turnover in Engineering
  • Fewer new hires let go in first six months due to poor performance
6. Why now?
  Examples:
  • Pending promotion
  • Unique opportunity in the competitive environment; if we don’t leverage it now, it will be gone
  • Realized we have a huge gap in succession planning for VP of Marketing
  • Losing our best people and want to invest in remaining top performers to show we’re serious about providing opportunities for growth at our firm
  • Excellent track record in bringing in revenues, but a recent blip in performance, want to get him back on track and develop his potential to double revenues
  • Individual is a star in own field, but has lost 50% of team members because they can’t stand working with her big ego, and we can’t convince others to transfer into her department for the same reason
7. If you want a particular coach, why do you want this particular coach? What are you looking for? Experience? Credentials? Leadership? Empathy? Support? Willingness and finesse in delivering tough feedback?
   
8. Why coaching? Coaching alone is not the best solution to challenges involving more than one person. Team development, restructuring and realignment, staffing changes, or change management are some of the many powerful alternatives that can be used with or without coaching to address more complex challenges.
   
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What Does Gumby Have to Do With Leadership?

March 2nd, 2012 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Business, Communication, Management, Professional Development No Comments »

There’s been a trend lately toward business leaders beginning to promote and recruit more flexible leaders to serve in their organizations and be placed decisively in the succession plan. These flexible leaders have broader strategic and influence skills that apply across the enterprise, even though they may not be the very best performer in any one area.

One example would be engineering VP’s who are not better engineers than the directors who report to them. This trend even has a buzzword: “horizontal skills,” posed in contrast to the deep domain expertise that historically has been more highly valued all the way up the organizational food chain.

However, it’s not all wine and roses for those of us who hold these newly-valued broad, horizontal skills. There’s a downside we must navigate in order to leverage this trend for all it’s worth and minimize the downside risk. I first wrote about this risk three years ago, but upon reflection, realized I was too early, so I’m bringing it back into the spotlight today.

GumbyIf you pride yourself on how well you "lead with flexibility" or "adapt to whatever is needed of me," you’re at risk of a malady I’ve dubbed "Gumby-itis." Gumby is a children’s toy that can be bent and stretched considerably without breaking. In fact, that’s about all you can do with Gumby. If a child wants or needs anything but flexibility, Gumby gets left on the floor, abandoned for a toy with a more interesting purpose.

The Gumby character, who had a television show for many years, always wants to do what’s right and what’s good. He wants to be helpful. His heart is in the right place.

Highly flexible, broadly-skilled leaders can become a lot like Gumby. Sometimes that’s advantageous, but the biggest mistake flexible people can make is to adopt the strategy of staying so flexible that no decision-maker really knows what you want.

When internal competition increases — as it now has in nearly every company — it’s easy to innocently make this one big mistake, but it will leave you unfulfilled and no better off.

I know I’m working with someone who suffers from Gumby-itis when the people above him or her in the organization say, "I’d like to give more constructive feedback and suggestions, but I can’t figure out what he wants" or "She has a lot of talent and has been successful in several parts of the company, but I can’t help her get where she’s going if she won’t tell me where that is."

If this is you, you must do one thing differently, starting today: Claim Your Space. Claim it!
There’s something you must understand here in order to see why this is so important: the majority of leaders suffer from the opposite of Gumby-itis, which might be termed, "Will of Steel-itis." They decide what they want, they claim it, and they charge forward until it’s theirs.

They love direction and they love a clearly defined goal in any aspect of their lives. It gives them shivers up and down their spines. When you tell them "I’m staying flexible in these demanding business conditions and I’ll happily fill any key gap," it drives them nuts. They don’t know what to do with that. It’s not a goal. It’s a wishy-washy statement.

So when an opportunity comes along that you really want, they don’t even realize you want it because you haven’t told them, and they plug in someone who has claimed that space instead of you. You’ll get what’s left over, which is usually not a role that excites you.

Don’t blame the boss. Maybe he or she didn’t make enough time to recognize your talent, but a boss is busy looking in a lot of directions and doesn’t always have the time to figure out what you’re not telling him or her.

You’ve got to claim that space if you want it to be yours.

What if you can’t decide which space to claim? As someone who’s struggled with "entrepreneurial ADD" my whole life, believe me: I feel your pain! But that doesn’t change the fundamental fact that we flexible folks get farther and have more satisfaction by making a choice and claiming our space. Survey the territory you occupy and then pick something that interests you, benefits the company, and is aligned with key priorities.

Define your ideal role within the context of the company, its business, its current challenges, and its long-term strategy. It’s possible that this role doesn’t yet exist, and it may never exist, but at least it gives decision-makers something that more closely resembles a goal.

Make it known that you would like to be considered for similar roles as the need arises, or better yet, offer to take on some responsibilities in this area, in addition to your current job. Most importantly, ask for their feedback as to how you can focus your own development efforts to become the best possible candidate for such a role.

Give those goal-loving "Will of Steel" folks what they need in order to help you reach your highest potential. Claim your space!

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