A good mentoring relationship is identified by the willingness and capability of both parties to ask questions, challenge assumptions and disagree.
I value mentoring as an essential function of our society, but also believe it is fundamentally a priority practice of any good leader—to be both a mentor and mentee. Upon reading the above point made by Debbie Zmorenski, it reminds me and reinforces the importance of leadership as a two-way street and the role of leadership in fostering the growth of our next generation of leaders and to continually grow throughout one’s career. Because the most successful mentoring relationships are often organic, unstructured, and based upon a strong relationship, I wanted to expand on my observations of the most beneficial attributes of a strong mentoring relationship and how it helps leaders to grow and continue to influence those positively around them.
I believe the three key points to a positive mentoring relationship are trust, open communication, and continued growth of both the mentor and mentee:
Trust: Trust is an essential element of any strong relationship, and it builds organically and gradually over time as both parties build reliability, credibility, and intimacy (professional intimacy) while building awareness of self-orientation in the navigation of a variety of daily situations. You may recognize these attributes from the Trusted Advisor trust equation (www.trustedadvisor.com). As a leader, the mentoring relationship is an avenue to practice the art of both being trusted and trusting others as you are a springboard and safe place to share challenges and exciting ideas to continue professional development. This trust is earned over time through reciprocity of appreciation and investment from both a mentor and mentee in how they view the mentoring relationship.
Open Communication: In line with trust, being direct and open in communication while practicing active listening is absolutely critical to the mentoring relationship and being a strong leader. As a mentor and mentee, we continue to learn and practice giving praise and understanding how much positive impact it can have, providing feedback during sometimes difficult situations, learning how to receive sometimes-hard-to-hear feedback, and I cannot emphasize enough the role of listening. Specifically in the mentoring relationship, knowing when it is the right time to listen just to listen versus listening to find a solution pays off tremendously in building up the relationship and translates to all situations that require strong leadership.
Continued Growth: A mentoring relationship is a two-way street. While the focus of growth is on the mentee more directly, both sides should feel like they are continually growing in their professional skills throughout a successful relationship. The mentor grows through awareness of obstacles across the organization that their colleagues may face that the mentor potentially does not face and can immediately become engaged in solution finding. The mentor also grows in the capacity of advocating their mentees and ultimately seeing the world through a different lens and fresh perspective. This awareness and connection derived from the mentoring relationship to the different layers of personnel are essential to continuously building and living strong leadership and ultimately maintaining a thriving organization.
Trust, open communication, and continued growth are essential to the mentoring relationship and also core to successful organizations that have thriving teams and strong leadership. In a sense, the mentoring relationship can be viewed and assessed as a micro-system for the state of an organization. If there are thriving mentoring relationships building up and supporting the development of mentees while connecting different perspectives, it is very likely this will directly translate to the macro level across the organization with personnel that are consistently growing, thriving, and dedicated to their organization and leadership.
What other attributes are essential to a successful mentoring relationship?
In what ways do you believe mentoring and being mentored is an essential part of leadership?
Image via http://teamconnections.org/getting-ready-to-lead-in-direct-sales/
Is your organization struggling to find its way? Does it feel like employees aren’t as motivated as they used to be, or there seems to be a lack of direction from leadership? Every workplace experiences these symptoms at some point, and they can have a serious impact on your organization’s ability to achieve long-term goals. No matter the cause, the best way to address this kind of organizational malaise is to improve communication across the board. We naturally look for guidance from those around us during times of uncertainty, so it’s important to ensure that the right messages reach your stakeholders, staff, and leadership team when they start asking questions. Here are three successful communication practices that can help your organization stay focused on its mission:
1. Leadership provides consistent messaging to employees.
Each organization has its own approach to management—some are more hierarchical while others allow managers greater flexibility in overseeing their staff. No matter the structure, it is essential that all members of the leadership team be consistent in their communications with employees. Everyone should receive the same information, so they’re operating from the same level of understanding. Consistent and regular messaging also builds trust and allows people to prepare appropriately in case there’s bad news on the horizon. When the entire organization is on the same page, each component can coordinate effectively to get back on track and work towards achieving the shared mission.
2. Employees have official channels for providing feedback and input.
Taking the time to listen to staff shows that leadership is interested in what employees have to say and values their opinions. It’s important to cultivate opportunities for staff to communicate with leadership; feeling valued at work leads to increased productivity and more motivated employees, which can go a long way in getting people to focus on the organization’s mission. The tricky part is determining how your staff feel most comfortable providing input—some people value informal in-person conversations, while others prefer an anonymous method via email or a suggestion box. Given that there’s usually a mix of preferences among employees, it’s best to have policies on a couple different feedback channels so that everyone feels like they have the opportunity to communicate with leadership.
3. The organization speaks with one voice to its stakeholders.
No matter how hard we try, we don’t always come across how we’d like to when communicating with others. Sometimes you’ll tell your audience one thing, only to discover their takeaway turns out to be something completely different. Mission confusion can be both a contributing factor and a result of sending mixed messages to your stakeholders. This is why it’s a good idea to make sure that your organization’s outreach efforts are coordinated and focused on sharing the same message. If there are multiple divisions or offices that speak to different customers, make sure that the same point is being driven home across the board. Ask each stakeholder group what they think your organization’s mission and goals are to see what message is really being shared. Then, take the time to adjust outreach policies or update long-term goals. In addition to fostering more focused outreach efforts, the process of ensuring that your organization is speaking with one voice will help re-align leadership and staff with the overall mission.
Each of the three approaches can be implemented in a variety of ways depending on the organization, and the tactics you choose may evolve over time. The important thing to remember is that devoting time and energy to improving communications is a necessary step to getting back on track when your organization has veered away from its mission and strategic goals.
Tell us—how does your organization implement these communication practices?
Image via http://images.flatworldknowledge.com/wrench/wrench-fig01_x006.jpg
Federal clients often come to us with questions about whether and how they should develop a strategic plan for their office or agency. I usually find they don’t really want one, but instead feel like they should. Maybe they think they need one for their boss, or as a marketing document, or just because that’s what you do. A few even want them so they can drive change in their organization. Although I’d say this last reason is, to steal a term from Seth Godin, the purple cow. You just don’t see it that often.
So here are the problems I’ve seen with strategic plans:
1. The paper they are written on isn’t worth anything. The actual plans themselves with all the great graphics are relatively useless in my mind. No one really reads them or uses them to do anything.
2. They are too expensive. Lots of clients outsource the creation of their strategic plans to consultants who go hog-wild billing hours for something they know the client will never use. If you use internal staff time, it can be the same story. You just don’t have to write the check, but the cost is the same.
3. They breed cynicism. If you’ve been through the strategic planning process a bunch of times, you just lose faith that time and resources spent are worthwhile. That creates a gap in trust with leadership in the organization.
So what to do? I’d say there are two options:
1. Check the box. If you just need a plan so you have something to pull out of the drawer when someone asks, you can keep it simple. Wikipedia has all the buzzwords and frameworks you need. Pick one and then just fill it in with the key content off the top of your head. If you want it to look more impressive, aka longer, have an intern go write it up to a suitable length. Another option is to copy the format of the plan of the organization above you. That works just as well. This might sound facetious, but if you need to check the box, this is probably the best way to do it.
2. Commit to make choices and do something differently. This is a much harder option. It means focusing on real change and forgetting about paper artifacts and showpieces. You need to fundamentally challenge your thinking and the results have to be in your performance management system, on your website, in your recruiting process, in the way you train people, in the process of how you do your work, etc. They have to be the heart of your organization and not in a neat plan.
If you aren’t committed, alternative one is a lot more cost effective. But it’s obvious I favor alternative two if you are committed. You can call it a strategic planning process but the output isn’t a strategic plan or at least that isn’t the important output. The agreements and processes you set up for making decisions are the important outcomes.
For example, at my company, we used to try to do formal strategic plans and they just sat and did nothing. It wasn’t until we adopted a set of values that we use to guide decision-making and a governance group that meets regularly to make adjustments, respond to challenges, and take on new opportunities that we saw results. We made those values a part of our hiring process, our training process, and a part of every decision we make. What were the results: we doubled in size in the year or so after and we’ve built a far stronger culture. That’s a lot better than a pile of paper.
Image via http://www.sacfcu.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/wealth-management-graphs.jpg
Summer is over, and I don’t know anyone who isn’t faced with short-term fiscal year deadlines or long-term 2015 planning decisions. The amount of internal and external communications issued this time of year is at a peak. As we prepare one-pagers, presentations, and other communications, too often we find ourselves pressed for time, writing to colleagues saying, “Send me a few bullets” or “Just send me the link.” When you’re trying to communicate time sensitive or complex information, where you need actions or responses, this mindset is one you want to avoid.
The following steps, taken from a Corner Alliance best practice, will help you write short, clean, and easy-to-understand communications.
|Know your Audience||
|Answer Two Questions||1) Is your communication intended for a small number of people or wide distribution?2) Are you trying to reach voices with strong subject expertise, those who are looking for quick facts or audiences with general interests and/or limited situational awareness?|
|Remember: Your Reader’s Time is Limited||1) Make your primary point first. Answer the question: “Why should I care?”2) Clarify what is most important with supporting detail. Explain the problem, impact, and/or options. Can a table or chart illustrate your point? For me, adopting more of an informal tone helps me be direct and concise.
3) Summarize your take-away and ask for an action or response.
|Make it “Scannable”||
|Check, Edit, and Get Feedback||
This fall I’ll be blogging about communicating with videos and how these products, along with smart devices, are changing the way we receive and exchange information. If you’re interested in future collaboration on this topic, please contact me at email@example.com leave a comment on our blog. Until next time, zoom zoom and best wishes for continued success!
Image via http://wallpapers.free-review.net/23_~_Windows_7_-_Keyboard.htm
Like fantasy football, achieving federal goals in your organization starts with a draft. The success of your mission depends on hiring the right employees, creating an intentional strategy, and knowing when to trade. A weak team will lower productivity and end an otherwise promising fiscal season. But, how do you build a team that will put points on the board? These four fantasy football lessons will guide your organization to an elite dream team:
Training and Research – Drafting a team takes strategy and is not as easy as it looks. Even with hundreds of Sunday night football games under your belt, every season should start with asking questions and gathering research. First and foremost, get some serious coaching from your competition. What successful organization doesn’t look to mentors, other business models, and varying sector best practices to improve? Absorb as much data as possible about your environment. Now analyze. How does your team compare? Who are you competing against? Will your receivers be playing in cold, outdoor stadiums in December? A little training and research will help develop your strategy, target valuable players, and mitigate team injuries.
Identify Potential Partnerships – You wouldn’t think something as competitive as fantasy football would require collaboration, but it is actually an essential element. It is the well-balanced team that can compensate for individual players’ weaknesses that are the most successful. Last year someone in my league thought a talented running back could succeed alone. They were wrong. Too often in my work I’ve seen teams rely too heavily on their future Hall of Famer. Even top caliber players need great partners, so it is important to draft them, too. What is Drew Brees without Jimmy Graham? Bench individuals behind your star who are just as, if not smarter, than your best performer. With no contingency plan, you could be left scrambling to cover your losses, just as my friend scrambled to find a viable running back. Create a cohesive team and do not bank on one person to hold up your organization.
Know Your Sleepers – Fantasy owners spend much of the offseason predicting the most undervalued players for the upcoming season. The same should apply to federal hiring. Everyone in your sector is targeting “top” players, meaning they’ll be snatched up quickly in the draft. To ensure the best talent possible ends up on your roster, you need a winning strategy to keep you ahead of your competition. The key is to know the future leaders (or sleepers). Select the players who will develop into top performers and don’t rely too heavily on stats. Look for individuals who play multiple positions, have an innate ability to read the competition, and get along with your existing team.
Recalculating – Knowing who is on the way out is just as important as spotting a future valuable employee. The federal government tends to play in a keeper league, holding onto players from one season to the next. When it comes down to it, you need players on your fantasy team that are going to score. It’s as simple as that. You can’t win a game without scoring points. We’ve all had investments that look great on paper, but for some unknown reason go wrong. Stay on top of your team each week to see who is performing and who needs to be benched; otherwise you could risk missing out on some big points.
The strategies and complexities in fantasy football don’t come close those experienced in the government sector. The stakes are much higher; nevertheless, the lessons are applicable and you may be surprised what a learning experience it can be. Know of any other fantasy football tips applicable to the government? Or think you have what it takes to be in my league? I’d love to hear from you below in the comments.
Safety often comes from many sources; to the surprise of many, one source is the Postal Service.
Say there was a serious public health crisis; how else could the United States potentially mail a vaccination to every address in the United States? The Postal Service could reach every address in about three days and has distribution centers across the country.
The Postal Service is also here in emergencies. Before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, the Postal Service began diverting mail to Houston. It joined other agencies, including the Social Security Administration to continue to deliver necessary goods including prescriptions, checks, and other critical mail. In some cases, only the mail carrier remembered destroyed property lines.
Finally, Postal carriers act as a neighborhood watch. They drive the same streets at the same times every day. They know what cars and people belong to a neighborhood and which ones do not. Postal carriers are very often there in cases of emergency. The Postal Service has training to help carriers deal with emergencies along their route.
The Postal Service is often a forgotten, but critical, player in emergencies both large and small. What do you think? Are there other forgotten players in emergencies?
There is a revolution happening in the private sector that is about to disrupt federal communications, outreach, public relations and stakeholder relations. In the private sector, traditional marketing, advertising and public relations are making room for a new player at the table: inbound marketing. Inbound is lowering marketing costs, improving the ability to measure impact and creating new expectations from customers. Government needs to adopt many of these best practices to keep up with citizens and stakeholders. It’s what we at Corner Alliance call inbound for government.
First some background. In the traditional model, marketers pushed out content and messages: think advertising, tradeshows, press releases, etc. Government largely followed suit adapting private sector marketing practices and calling them outreach, communications and public affairs.
In the new model, the rise of Google, blogging, YouTube, social media and the Internet in general has changed the way people buy products and find information. Today people don’t read sales brochures (at least not at first); instead they search Google or Yelp for helpful information and recommendations. The goal of inbound and content marketers is to attract you to their content as a way to begin a relationship. Essentially the message has changed from what you want to say as a marketer to what the customer or citizen wants to know. So why should government adopt this model? We see three main reasons:
- You get better results: If your goal is citizen education, adoption of some government product or service or to simply raising awareness, then inbound has to be a part of your arsenal as a government leader. People want short, targeted and mobile-ready content across a variety of platforms.
- The tools are low cost: Blogging is an extremely cost effective way to get out information. Shooting quick video on an iPhone doesn’t cost anything and posting to social media sites is about as easy as it gets. Instead of spending millions on conferences and workshops, you can now reach many more people with blogs and podcasts and get better engagement to boot.
- It’s measurable: We have tools to manage and track engagement like Hootsuite and Sumall to name just two. Now we can test which messages attract the right set of stakeholders. Now we can measure the impact of a government product or service.
In some sense inbound for government is nothing new. Producing good content that is relevant to citizens and stakeholders is just good communications, and lots of government agencies use social media. Inbound for government is more of a change in mindset to a more citizen-centric communications and stakeholder model. We also need to be mindful that government has some goals that are different from those of a commercial marketer. While there is much to be learned from those commercial marketers, we need to adapt inbound to a government appropriate context.
Now it’s your turn. Do you think inbound will make an impact in government?
Image courtesy of Pi.1415926535
Do you ever find yourself wanting to know what’s really going on with your stakeholders? You’ve sent them e-mails and surveys, even conducted phone calls, and you still don’t feel like you have your finger on the pulse of what your stakeholders really want and struggle with. Sometimes, information is best-sought the old fashioned way: through an actual face-to-face, honest-to-goodness visit so you can see for yourself. Below are three observations on engaging your stakeholders through a visit:
1. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a visit is worth a thousand phone calls.
Don’t view the visit as a burden but as an opportunity to get to know your stakeholders on a more personal level and make your program that much more effective. While you may talk to your stakeholders regularly – once a week, once a month, or quarterly – you aren’t getting the full picture until you meet them where they are, on their own terms.
This could be for a number of reasons. Maybe it’s just human nature to feel more comfortable on one’s “home turf.” Or, maybe seeing your stakeholders in the context of their environment – political, geographic, or personal – helps you to understand them more completely.
2. People just want to be heard.
I’ve always loved the TV show, Frasier. On the popular 1990s sitcom, the title character, a psychiatrist-turned-radio talk show host, would open each of his segments with the phrase, “I’m listening.” Program managers should take a cue from Frasier and avoid falling into the habit of thinking that they know what their stakeholders need more than the stakeholders themselves. No one likes to be “talked at,” so be sure to give your stakeholders a chance to be heard, even if they’re telling you things you already know or aren’t immediately relevant to your domain.
For instance, even though you may already know about the damage that hurricanes, strong winds, and tsunamis can do to the tropical parts of the U.S., allow your stakeholders to detail what these challenges mean to build trust and provide you with insights that you probably would not have gleaned on your own.
A visit, whether formal or informal, is a perfect opportunity to actively listen to your stakeholders. You may still come with a robust set of questions you need answered, but don’t forget to build in time to let your stakeholders lead a discussion on what they believe their biggest challenges to be, how they hope to address these challenges, and any limitations on proposed remedies. This will allow them to expound on any political struggles they are facing.
3. Once you meet your stakeholders where they are, you start to see them more as partners.
Once you meet someone face-to-face, it’s a lot easier to remember his or her name, right? The same concept applies to your relationship with your stakeholders. If your position requires you to frequently interact with stakeholders – whether they are working group participants, grant recipients, engineers/scientists or executive-level decision-makers – use this time to really get to know them. Casual conversations over coffee or lunch can tell you so much more about your stakeholders’ points of pride, fears, and goals than an hour in a stale conference room. You will deepen your own investment and interest in what your stakeholders are doing. By getting to know your stakeholders both in the context of your program and as people, you will cement your partnership with them.
I have been fortunate to participate in grant program site visits from one end of the United States to the other. On the long transcontinental flight home, I found myself thinking about these three trends as they apply to grants monitoring. Formal site visits allow grant administrators to learn more about the context in which recipients are working, providing a more nuanced understanding of their successes and challenges. They also provide an ideal forum for allowing recipients to discuss their implementation of the program in their own words, which in turn increases their trust in you as the administrator. Finally, physically spending time with recipients often strengthens administrators’ communication with their recipients so that they are more than a voice on a phone call.
What methods have you used to engage your stakeholders in a more meaningful way?
Raise your hand if this feels familiar: you’re completely overwhelmed, frantic, and stressed to the max. You have a never-ending task list and not enough hours in the day. Inadvertently, you end up either burdening yourself to a breaking point resulting in poor work-product and even more stress or barking orders at your team further perpetuating the tension and negativity.
Unfortunately, many of us have been there more often than we’d like. It’s times like these when we have to take extra care not to let our stress adversely affect our team. When we radiate negativity, it’s bad for everyone. Instead of letting that happen, here are a few tips for handling your stress and maintaining a positive team attitude in crazy-busy times.
First, take time to plan and prioritize. It may seem counter-productive at the time, but sitting down and mapping out all of your tasks and their priority levels will save you countless freak-out moments down the road. Use a “Task List” tool, whether it be on your calendar, phone, email client or good old pen and paper to capture everything currently on your plate. Leave no task un-captured, no matter how trivial; this will help you avoid unplanned or unaccounted for work time. This is also a good time to identify other people on your team that would be able to execute certain tasks. Next, prioritize all of your tasks. You can do this by importance/impact level or due date; use any method you prefer that results in a prioritized list. Last, assign realistic timeframes to each task. Will that memo take 15 minutes to draft or will it really take an hour? By assigning time frames to your tasks, you’ll know if you need to delegate a task or communicate to management if something is going to slip.
Second, ask for and accept help. When you’ve moving a million miles an hour, it seems impossible to slow down and ask for help. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking “It will take me longer to explain how to do this than to just do it myself.” This is a mistake that we all make, and it’s easy to avoid. Be clear on your expectations and take the time necessary to explain the task in detail. By trying to do everything yourself, you are conveying to your team that you don’t think they are capable of helping or you don’t trust them enough to ask. This results in a toxic, unconstructive work environment. Learning how to delegate effectively is a life-changing skill that leaders should continuously work toward.
Third, communicate. Don’t keep your team in the dark about how overwhelmed you are. Chances are, they already know and will appreciate your transparency. In fact, they will likely be eager to help where they can; take advantage of these opportunities to build trust and respect amongst your team.
While no “how to” blog will ever make your work stress magically disappear, these tips can at least help you avoid creating a poisonous work environment while managing that unmanageable to-do list.
Image courtesy of jesadaphorn/freedigitalphotos.net
Many of our federal customers are confronted with managing programs in a rapidly changing technology climate without a set of rapidly changing capabilities. Staffing, contracting, regulations, etc. all move slowly regardless of how quickly the outside world and technology in particular iterates. At Corner Alliance, we’ve seen our customers sprinting to keep up. Federal leaders need to know where to put their resources and how to adapt their programs to recognize these realities.
One way to try to stay ahead of that curve is to engage in technology road mapping. A structured road mapping process is a way to make informed guesses about where to invest based on what the future may hold. It’s an attempt to make a little order out of chaos. Obviously no one can predict the next disruptive innovation or disaster that reshuffles the deck but you can get a sense of the context in which you operate and what your priorities are. We recommend doing at least three things:
- Use Scenarios: No one knows what the future holds and by looking at several different scenarios that are relevant to your world; you improve your ability to visualize the landscape in which you are operating. Think about how you and others would respond to different outcomes. What actions would you take? Your stakeholders? Industry? Scenarios can help you uncover some of the assumptions you are making and get you into a more open mindset.
- Set Criteria: Criteria are the parameters by which you judge the value of any investment. They are the factors that make one outcome more or less desirable to you and your organization. In essence, they are what you and your organization value. These criteria might change slightly over time, but they are likely to change much less than the technology itself.
- Look for Leverage: No matter what you do, things will change. An investment made today may be irrelevant tomorrow. There’s no avoiding that, but you can try to minimize it. Look for leverage points where some investment will make an impact on multiple areas and in multiple scenarios. If your investment impacts multiple areas, it is far more likely to look like a good bet in the long term.
No one and no program can insulate themselves from change. The best we can do is to plan actively, change, and adapt. By using scenarios, setting criteria, and looking for leverage, programs can develop a strategy for navigating their environment. How do you approach planning in a time of rapid technologic innovation?