Emotional Safety® – 3 rules for knowing when to fight (at work)

I was backstage about to give a speech to a large group of CLO’s who are seeking new ways to engage top talent while improving organizational performance…a difficult balance to achieve.

I spoke about how to keep high performers happy, largely through giving them a collaborative environment in which the best ideas often win. This gives your organization a Competitive Advantage.

Unfortunately and as humans, we are not wired to let the best ideas win. As humans, we are emotional first and rational second. This means that we usually fight when we feel like fighting, even if that is not the right time and/or person to be fighting with. Another way for you to think about this is to remember that we often fight because of how we feel, not because fighting may lead to the best outcome for the team.

You have a process for most things you do at work. Think of this is a 3-step filter for knowing when to and also, when not to fight.

We’ve got clients in more than 80 countries so let’s focus on a sign that all of us know, the traffic light. Red means stop, yellow means slow down, and green means go. In the context of fighting and in the spirit of leaving the room with the best idea, please use the traffic light in the following way:

  • If what you want to fight about is someone’s personality, you are in the red, Stop. Don’t have the argument. Wait until you can approach this type of issue, someone’s behavior for when you can be strategic and objective. This is about them, the most personal type of issue, and the most likely to make someone defensive.
  • If instead, you and others disagree on a process or a policy, you are in the yellow. This means Proceed with Caution and also with a time limit. For example, say something like, “we will dedicate the next 90 minutes to arrive at a conclusion. The first hour will be spent hearing everyone present their perspectives, and challenge one another. The last half hour will be deciding which option we will go with”
  • Finally, if what you disagree about is a strategy or an action plan, you are in the green, Argue all Day. Argue until you get what 80% or more of your people agree is an 80% (or better) solution. If you are the boss and this is your decision to make, still present the opportunity for people to fight for their ideas, and then make the call.
  • In short, know when fighting will serve you and also, potentially hurt you by following our traffic light process.

    The concepts we published in our Amazon Top 10 book, Step Up Lead in Six Moments that Matter have been covered by Forbes, Fast Company, Inc., the Washington Post and others.

    Today I’m talking about when to fight, make sure you check out our other blog called “Get Angry, Not Stupid” so you know HOW to fight.

    As always, we appreciate your time. For additional ideas, follow me on twitter:@HenryJEvans

    Emotional Safety® – Tell Me What I Don’t Want To Hear

    There’s an old saying that what you don’t know can’t hurt you. I don’t know about you, but in my experience, nothing could be further from the truth.

    When I deliver keynotes to leaders explaining why Emotional Safety® is the key to making smart decisions, I point out that if people don’t feel safe bringing you bad and/or challenging news, they won’t do it.

    Now, on the surface, that might sound pretty nice. You only have to hear about the good stuff. But let me challenge you to think about it another way: You can only make decisions based on the information you have. If people aren’t bringing you the truth about what is happening in the organization, it means you are making decisions with extremely limited information.

    Your perspective alone is almost always incomplete.

    Getting people to feel “just okay” bringing you “bad” information puts you at a below-average level. You have to strive for more than that. You need people to have the Emotional Safety® to bring you any and all information that could affect your decision-making process.

    In our book Step Up, Lead in Six Moments That Matter, we outline the steps to achieving Emotional Safety®. Let’s take a look at how you could put into practice one of the first steps, which is to give the people around you the gift of your invitation.

    You might say something like this:

    In the past, I may have acted in a way that made you feel I was resistant to bad news — and you know what? Maybe I was. That may have led you to think you should just tell me what I want to hear. Moving forward, please tell me what you think I don’t want to hear. It could be about a customer or vendor problem, an internal issue, or maybe you need to openly challenge a decision or offer feedback on my leadership style. I rely on you to be a second set of eyes and ears for me as I make decisions. So, going forward, please make it a habit of telling me what you think I don’t want to hear.

    The more consistently and frequently you ask people to tell you what they think you don’t want to hear, the more they will be willing to try. Make them feel rewarded for doing it, and they will generate a constant flow of what you need to make smart decisions: the truth.

    Try giving the people around you the gift of your invitation in one of your next conversations with your team members. Because the reality is, it’s what you don’t know that will usually come back around to hurt you.

    If you want to learn more about the value of building Emotional Safety®, check out our post, “Get Angry, Not Stupid™.” You can also take the complimentary “Step-Up Assessment” at dynamicresults.com. For even more practical tools and a deeper dive, consider enrolling in our Emotional Safety® eSchool.

    Permissive Approach

    3 ways to engage difficult people and build collaboration.

    Think of a discussion that you know is important to have and that you have been avoiding. Perhaps you have given up on it because you don’t feel listened to. Maybe you are not addressing the issue because, in the past, you have had a bad experience with the person you need to speak to.

    Sometimes bringing up an issue, challenge, or offering constructive feedback to your another is a sensitive task and requires a thoughtful approach. With your boss, it can be outright dangerous, or something we call a CLM, a “career limiting move”.

    How do you do it? In our Amazon Top-10 business book, Step Up Lead In Six Moments That Matter, we talked about using a “permissive approach”.

    This means that you ask the boss (or challenging co-worker) to tell you what time and place would be good to have a discussion. Here are three approaches for you to consider.

    Find the one that works for you;

    1. If I had a topic that I thought was important for you to hear, and may also be difficult for you to hear, what would be the right time and place to offer my observation?

    2. I know I may be completely wrong and still, I think we have a roadblock and would like to brainstorm a solution with you. What could be the right time and place?

    3. I’m hearing a buzz that may be of interest to you. It involves the way some people perceive you. If you are interested in hearing more about it, what would be the right time and place?

    For all of these options, don’t suspend your intuition when using this approach. Remember what Einstein said, good decisions are a combination of head and heart. When approaching this person, if your intuition tells you that the time they picked is not a good one, believe your gut and reschedule. For example, if you said “when would you want to talk about this and they aggressively said “right now is GREAT”, clearly, this is not the right time.

    If this happens, try saying something like, “thanks for being so flexible. I actually didn’t organize my information yet and would like to. What time tomorrow or the day after might work?” You could also say, “wow, you’re fast, thank you. Let me go collect some more information and how does tomorrow look on your calendar?”

    Mostly we want you to avoid the suckers’ choice of thinking, “should or shouldn’t I have this discussion?”. Instead and using the techniques we just gave you. We would rather hear you ask, “what is the most intelligent way for me to have this discussion?” or “what is the right approach to having this discussion in a successful way?”

    The best leaders rise above the anxiety of having a difficult discussion and practice ways of doing so effectively. We hope that today, you picked up at least one approach that works for you.

    Become A Metrics Medalist

    What makes the highest performing organizations better than the rest?

    When I’m giving keynotes or working with some of the world’s leading companies, I’m often asked that question. The answer is way too big for a short video and I don’t proclaim to have all the answers.

    With that said, our clients achieve extraordinary results by driving Accountability and Emotional Safety® into their interactions and the way they measure and communicate their results.

    Competition is like the Olympics: you see levels of performance from some individuals and teams that simply outperform their competition. Culture is a complex and primary ingredient of success. Today, let’s focus on this one aspect of culture and performance, the creation and communication of good metrics.

    I see a lot of “thought leaders” trying to sound impressive with complex explanations, let’s keep ours simple.

    If you don’t have metrics and use language like “let’s do better” or “let’s try harder”, you simply don’t get a medal.

  • A Bronze Medal means that you have established a metric, where one did not exist before. This is often not enough to ensure success and…..it does show you are starting your success journey. It is usually binary like “as of today, we have a launch plan for our new product, complete with milestones”. It might be as simple as a basic timeline.
  • A Silver Medal means you have a way to measure your milestones along the success journey. For example, if having a prototype is one of your major milestones, having a prototype alone, may not earn you a medal. Having a metric on the milestone puts you at the Olympic level. Is having a prototype enough? Not for me. We hold our clients to a higher standard – how about “by December 12th, we have a prototype which has been tested to a reliability rate of 98% or higher”. Or “By December 12th, we have 1000 pre-orders for our new product”.
  • A Gold Medal means you have arrived at the destination of your success journey and like bronze and silver, in a way which is quantified. For example, “we have achieved a sales target of €300 million” OR “we have a 2-point lift in our NPS score” or “92% of our clients feel that our pizza is “very good” or “excellent”.
  • Please note that this last metric is subjective, and subjectivity is something I see many leadership teams resist. The fact is, in most industries, the consumer experience is your most important metric and….it is often completely subjective.

    Gold medalists embrace this subjectivity and they take a stand, applying specific measurements to subjectively measured achievements. Gold medalists have the courage to commit, even when an outcome is uncertain.

    Your success journey will need all three kinds of medalist experiences, Bronze to get started, with Silver and Gold as you go. Using this formula, our clients implement their strategies at 8x the rate of most organizations, something we hope you will do too.

    Should you Focus on Metrics or Culture?

    Do you focus on results or culture? Yes.

    Do you feel a tension between the pursuit of a healthy culture vs. the achievement of results? If your answer is yes, you are having a very common experience, one that most organizations share.

    If your answer is no, experience tells me that you are in one of two scenarios, 1) your organization has successfully found the right balancing point between the two OR, 2) your organization is stuck in this tension and you don’t realize it.

    We have conscious and unconscious pursuits to balance between the need to cultivate culture and achieve results. Working with some of the world’s highest performing organizations, we see that they struggle to find the balance too.

    It is complicated. A healthy, innovative culture (one that has Accountability and Emotional Safety®) tends to generate better business results. By the same token, many organizations that achieve great results find that associate engagement is a natural by-product. People feel better about an organization when they are celebrating success.

    It’s the traditional yin yang. Good performance is usually one of the primary ingredients of good culture and a good culture tends to drive high performance.

    Performance + Culture = Performance Culture

    Here are 3 tips to find the balance point between performance and culture in order to generate a high-performance culture in your organization:

    1) Tell the truth when recruiting. If your organization is riding a success wave, if you are growing and profitable, recruit accordingly and screen for people who have already contributed to a growing and successful team. If on the other hand, your organization is in crisis and you need firefighters, tell the truth about that too. Screen for people with excellent crisis management behaviors like “staying cool under pressure”

    2) Measure everything – objective or subjective, decide on, publish, and regularly check in on your metrics. Objective measurements like having a 5% reduction in delivery errors is easy to measure and communicate. When subjective, like “how much do our customers like our pizza?”, you have to take a bold stand and knowing you won’t be perfect. You say something like “85% of our customers rate our pizza as “very good” or “excellent” on a five-point Likert scale”.

    3) Celebrate and Standardize your successes. You get the behavior you incentivize. When you are achieving success after following steps one “telling the truth about your culture” and two- “have clearly communicated metrics”, it is time to both celebrate and processize. (If processize isn’t a word, I’m making it one now). This means that you give rewards and recognition to your star players. Extra PTO, cash, or recognition within the organization. One way of measuring a star player is their direct contribution to an achievement. Another is holding people to a standard; namely studying your successes for repeatable process improvements. This is what we mean by processize.

    These are just 3 ways to find the sweet spot between culture and performance. Check out our other blogs and/or any of our best-selling books for other ways to outperform your competition.

    Go First – The Secret Sauce Of Gaining A Competitive Advantage

    Go first. That was one of the mantras I learned from my coaches when I was a competitive martial artist.

    Whatever your current position, leader, individual contributor, employed or not – you are in a constant state of competition. You compete against other organizations for business, your peers if you are trying to get promoted, or other candidates if you are currently job seeking.

    When I was competing, and hearing my coaches encouraging me to “go first”, they meant strike first, make the first move, play offense, or in other words, get out ahead of my competitor. This meant taking control of the physical space we were competing in, it meant controlling the momentum between me and my opponent, namely, get them playing defense and catch up. In a competitive match, I had to figure out how to do this, even when the match was not going according to plan. In other words, based on what was happening around me, I had to maintain high awareness, in the moment, and change as needed.

    How does this apply to you?

    Let’s focus on decision making. It used to be that markets and competitors moved so slowly, the playing field was so stable, that having a near perfect 10-year plan was a good recipe for success. We’ve facilitated thousands of hours of strategic planning and implementation sessions with executive teams and our clients execute th­­eir strategies at almost 8x the rate of most organizations. In this market, one where the earth is constantly shaking and disruptions are always happening, we don’t even take a client if they want to write more than a 2-year plan. A 10-year plan is obsolete, as is the company that tries to write one. Simply put, whatever plan you write will have less and less of a relationship to what you actually do as more time progresses. This too shall change.

    We encourage our clients to decide and execute faster than their competitors. This means there are two things we want you to take away today for a competitive advantage;

  • If you have 60-70% of the information you need to decide, make a decision and begin executing. Don’t wait for 100%, adjust as you go. McDonald’s has shrinking market share because they can take up to 30 months to introduce a new food product. Starbucks is growing because they can bring a new food product to market in as little as 16 weeks. McDonald’s tries to make it perfect before introduction. Starbucks gets it mostly right, puts it in all stores, and makes rapid adjustments based on customer feedback.
  • Focus your resources on knowing when you as a person and/or the organization needs to change and do this faster than your competitors. Once you know a change is needed, change faster than your competitors. In short, you need to recognize the signals that you need to change. These can be things like; lower NPS, profit margin, or sales, when you see them, change rapidly to reverse your negative trend. If you recognize the case for change and change faster than your competitors, you will outperform them.
  • To wrap up, there are no perfect plans and even if you had one, your environment would change forcing you to change the plan anyway. So, gather as much information as you can, we recommend 60-70% and begin executing.

    When executing and as markets or the behaviors of competitors change, you must undo some of your past decisions to remain competitive in the current conditions.

    Lastly, realize both the case for change and change faster than your competitors. For decision making (and in most business cases) speed won’t kill. In fact, it will give you a competitive advantage.

    If you want more information on how to make better decisions, read the chapter Decide Already, Chapter 3, page 65, from our Amazon top-10 business book, Step Up, Lead In Six Moments That Matter.

    The Do’s and Don’ts of Receiving Feedback Like a Pro

    Recently, I received the results from a 360 leadership feedback assessment. If you’ve participated in a 360 before, you’ll know that this means I, in an anonymous way, asked for feedback. It was aggregated and shared with me to increase self-awareness and for the purpose of my development. It was easy to ask for input, but hard to receive it – hard because it contained some constructive feedback that I did not want to hear. I can’t say it was a surprise – but it was challenging. After receiving it, I had a choice – accept and learn from this feedback or throw it aside saying, “these people do not know what they’re talking about.”

    If like me, you’ve been lucky enough to receive comprehensive feedback – like in a 360 or some other way – you have received a huge gift. You asked your colleagues, friends, and family members to give input for your own learning. They invested their valuable time and took – what for many people feels like – a significant personal risk to give it to you. Upon receiving it, you had the same choice I did – to learn from their feedback or to waste it. Sounds like an easy choice, but we all know accepting feedback gracefully, is easier said than done. It’s intellectually simple and behaviorally complex; especially when you don’t agree with the feedback you’re being given.

    The first challenge is simply accepting the feedback that is being offered to you as the reality or the lens through which other people view you. People deal with you based on how they perceive you, not on the way you think they should. If you accept their constructive criticism or critical feedback with that in mind, you will be starting to deal with your actual reality and not the reality you wish you had. This will give you a realistic platform to begin developing yourself.

    An often missed component of a 360 is how you respond to the people who gave you feedback. I suggest the following do’s and don’ts:

    Do say thank you. You asked your community for feedback and they gave it to you. Say thank you.

    When you’ve taken some time to metabolize all the feedback and decided what you’re going to work on, Do follow up with the people who gave you feedback. Let them know what one or two things you’re going to be working on from all the feedback you received. It might sound something like this: “Based on all of the feedback I received, I’m going to be working on managing my own defensiveness.”

    Do invite them into your self-development. It should be totally at their discretion, but a heartfelt ask can go a long way. This might sound like, “While I’m working on managing my own defensiveness I would love if you would tell me when you think I hit or miss an opportunity to demonstrate my new behaviors.

    Don’t ever go back and try and figure out who said what. Doing so will not help you and it jeopardizes the very nature of confidential feedback for everyone. Said another way, if you harass people who give feedback, they won’t be willing to give it to you or others in the future.

    Don’t defend yourself by pointing out where the feedback you received might be wrong. If ever there were a situation to approach with complete lack of defensiveness, this is it. This feedback is purely for your learning, just accept it. You don’t have to agree with it, but accept that this is how others view you.

    Over time, you’ll have the opportunity to change how others view you. Like many things in life, only time, dedication, and hard work will help them see you differently.

    3 Steps to Succeed in the Age of Agile Leadership

    Change your mind and the best will follow you; 3 steps to demonstrate agile thinking, in a way that makes people want to follow.

    If you are in a leadership role, you have a problem. Your people want you to communicate consistently and you are also expected to be agile in your decision making to keep up with the ever-increasing speed of business. This creates a paradox. On one hand, your people want you to be consistent and always do what you said you would do in the past. The company requires you to change what you think and say, based on the current needs. You and your people, and the company want the best possible outcomes in the future.

    When you are agile in your thinking, perhaps based on new information, it is likely that some of your people will say things like “that isn’t what you said two weeks ago” or “I thought you said we were going the other way”. This can cost you credibility if you don’t manage it correctly; here is how to do that.

    The top incentive plan consultants say that when you roll out a plan, you must set (and maintain) the expectation that the plan will change. They clearly state that, and include, “as we learn and/or market conditions change, if we feel that the plan has become unfair to employees and/or the company, we will change it. Expect changes 1-2 times per year”.

    I think this is good advice.

    Leaders are asked to provide reliability and consistency in what they say. This is great from a values perspective and may also be great for making the decisions that will best serve the organizations current needs. Like in our blog entitled, “3 Steps to Making Things Right After You’ve Made a Bad Decision”, we suggest that making the right decision isn’t always easy.

    Please consider the following steps to follow when you are making and announcing decisions.

  • Stand by your decision. Tell people something like, “I’ve thought this through with you and others. We have many different opinions and a few weeks ago, mine was the opposite of where I stand today. I’m not sure this is the right decision and here is what we are going to do….”. Or, “I know that I used to argue that we should pursue option one. Based on new information, I’ve changed my mind and we are pursuing option two…Sometimes there is no decision that is “obviously right”. If you are dealing with one of these, be transparent.
  • Seek understanding, even if you don’t get agreement. Try saying, “I know you think we should have made a different decision and I respect that. I’m not asking you to wake up tomorrow and agree that this decision is the right one, I am asking you to understand that right or wrong, this is what we will be doing.”. Don’t apologize for the decision, stand in it with both feet.
  • Ask for commitment. Try saying something like, “Knowing that if you had been responsible for this decision, you would have made a different one, I’m asking if we can still have your full commitment and effort. I value the excellent work that you do and I’m asking that you bring your best effort and full capability to this work. We need your talent on this project and I’m asking if you will bring your best to it?”
  • In short, be consistent in what you say when it comes to your values. Change what you say when market conditions and/or your thinking changes around decisions. The agile leader knows that changing their mind is part of staying current and your best people know that.

    3 Steps to Make Things Right After You’ve Made a Bad Decision

    Hi, I’m Henry and I make bad decisions sometimes. I’m guessing you do too.

    Have you ever noticed that when you are collecting opinions before you make a decision, some people are giving you their opinions with disclaimers? They say things like, “I may be wrong and consider this…” or “I’m glad I’m not making this decision and if I was, I would….”. These people may seem afraid to make a decision and they may also be wise. The fact is that until you experience the outcome of your decision, you don’t know if it is right or not. As they say, time will tell.

    Other times, people have strong opinions and say things like, “you should do…” or “the only choice is to…”. These people may sound more confident and, at the time the decision is being made, they don’t know any more than the first group. They might be right and again, time will tell.

    Once some time passes and resources are spent, you find out if you were right or not. When you were, you feel like a hero and when you weren’t, you feel like a zero.

    You can leverage the situation for improved performance in the future. To do so, try these steps:

  • Be vulnerable and admit your mistake. You were wrong, trying to cover it up with excuses will lose you additional credibility. Instead, try saying something like, “I thought this was the right decision at the time and clearly, I was wrong.” Or “At the time I made this decision, I was sure it was the right thing to do and well, clearly it wasn’t”.
  • Don’t make it a bigger deal than it has to be, and move on. Put another way, sometimes, things are as big of a deal as you make of them. Try saying something like, “now that we’ve clearly established that this was the wrong decision, who will join me to help identify what we’ve learned and as a result, will do differently next time?”. It is a powerful leadership move to reverse the momentum of the discussion when everyone is focused on a problem.
  • Share the learning; You have taken the first two steps in admitting you made the mistake, the final is take a lesson from it. Identify the stakeholders who may have been affected and communicate your learning and/or new plan of action to them. Make a list of who needs to know about it and use the following framework for communication.
  • It might sound something like this:

  • Be vulnerable, admit your mistake: “Hi, you probably heard by now that I made the wrong call on how to lower our inventory levels”.
  • Don’t make it a bigger deal than it has to be, and move on: “I spoke with some advisors and we learned that the software platform we used does not do a good job of tracking inventory levels while you are operating the facility you are counting in”.
  • Share the learning: “As a result of our learning, we are instituting ½ day shutdowns of any facility we are counting inventory in, and only during the time we are counting. I thought you would want to know. Is there anyone else we should let know”?
  • Everyone makes mistakes, not everyone learns from them. As one of my martial arts coaches used to say “a loss is not a failure if you learn from it”. When you make a mistake, you have a chance to turn your loss into a lesson.

    3 Steps for Mastering Diversity at Work

    Simply put, diversity in the workplace might make you struggle with others.

    Most of us like the idea of diversity in the workplace. Our research shows that you are likely to support the idea that having diverse thinking will “help the organization”. You may feel diversity helps drive better decisions and makes each day more interesting.

    If you are like most people, you are lucky enough to work with some percentage of people that you like. At the same time, you are likely to work with some people you don’t like. This is the reality of working with others; some we like and some we don’t.

    What makes us like some people and not others? One way we decide is by listening to, and then quickly judging people by how we interpret their ideas. For example, if you meet someone who votes for the same candidate you like, you believe you must be talking to a smart person, one you feel you will “like”. If you meet someone voting for the opposing candidate, you may dislike them on some level.

    Simply put, people believe that others who think like they do, are smart. This means, a big reason why you like some of the people you work with, is that you like their ideas.

    Let’s re-think diversity. Your day to day work-life might be easier if everyone at work thought like you did. It might also be painfully boring and limit your ability to grow yourself or contribute to the growth of others. A lack of diversity will also limit the competitiveness of your organization. On the other hand, a little healthy drama when discussing ideas will help you produce better results and make life more interesting.

    Real diversity in the workplace means we rise above “tolerating” other people’s opinions. When we hear an idea we don’t like, we replace our judgment with curiosity. Instead of thinking, “that’s a bad idea” we ask, “would you tell me more about how you arrived at your opinion?”.

    Here are 3 steps for inviting and leveraging diversity in thinking;

  • Invite someone who thinks differently than you to join a brainstorming discussion. When they offer a contrarian idea, thank them, “It is exactly this type of thinking that made me want to invite you to this discussion, thank you for saying that”
  • Re-state or paraphrase the ideas of others, before inserting your own (conflicting) opinion. In short, say, “what I hear you saying is that we should reduce inventory levels in order to increase cash flow” instead of saying, “I think we need to increase inventory levels”
  • Invite someone who thinks differently to challenge a specific idea. This sounds like, “I think it makes sense for us to have people work overtime this week to finish our product launch. What do you think I might be missing and why might this not be a good idea?”
  • Think of this as a real-world test of your values around diversity. If you like to tell people you believe in Diversity, show them that you live this value by inviting and appreciating the input of others. This will harness the power of diverse thinking for your organization.

    For more on this concept, you can read chapter two of our Amazon Top-10 Business Book, “Step Up-Lead in Six Moments that Matter”. If you want to learn more about living your values, watch our blog entitled “Values, Would you go to Jail For Yours?”