Everything You Need To Know About Management You Learned In Psych 101

As a student, you almost certainly spent more time dreading general education courses than actually paying attention to them, and following the final, you quickly forgot the material altogether. After all, you’re never going to use calculus again, right?

Psychology 101, however, is one course that does play a pivotal role in business operations — particularly team management. Reacquaint yourself with the basic principles of psychology to boost your leadership, your team’s motivation, and your company’s success.


Six Leadership Lessons From “The Walking Dead”

Zombies aren’t typically my thing, but “The Walking Dead” series has caught my attention. My interest isn’t so much related to the zombies as it is the leadership lessons that are embedded within. That’s right – leadership lessons. A lot can be learned by watching this small group of survivors struggle to prosper in a post-apocalyptic world infested with the living dead.

Here is proof that leaders can find guidance in the least expected places.

  1. Ditch the Script When the gates fail and you are being overrun, as happens in business and during the apocalypse, the rulebook should be thrown out the window. Leaders who are able to break from the script and quickly adapt to changing conditions are those who will survive. Those who stick to the plan no matter what’s happening around them risk being mauled.
  2. You don’t have to have all the answers Just because life as you know it has ceased to exist and you find yourself leading your group in unfamiliar territory, you aren’t expected to have all the answers. When hordes of undead are knocking at your door, effective leadership may call for decisive, top-down authority. But don’t forget that team members on the sidelines may hold key information that will help inform your decisions.
  3. The Stockdale Paradox The people who succumb to the mere thought of the biting and clawing undead always seem to be those who either lose all hope and quit or who fail to realize their dire situation. The Stockdale Paradox proposes that leaders must ensure that their teams are honest with themselves about the reality of their situation while always keeping hope that things will improve. Those who don’t keep a balance between the two are much more apt to lose their focus and become lunch.
  4. North Star Having a guiding “north star” provides clarity and creates a collective direction. Supporting the Stockdale Paradox, leaders need to articulate a vision for the future that inspires people to weather the storm. This becomes especially critical when the going gets rough and people are called to task in ways that push them to their limits.
  5. Empower your people Micromanaging doesn’t work in the office, and it certainly doesn’t get you very far during a zombie attack. Empowerment involves people making some mistakes, but that’s a great way for them to learn. Authoritarian and hierarchical structures enable dependence and mindless followership rather than creativity and proactive behavior. The worst you can do as a leader, in most cases, is to breed a team of zombies.
  6. Stick together It happens in every time. The person who splits from the group inevitably ends up stumbling around with a glazed look destined to become a future threat. When the odds are against you, working together becomes especially critical. One reason team members split off from the group is that they are misaligned in terms of who the real “enemy” is. As leaders, we must keep the group together and focused in the direction of that North Star. Misalignment can be disastrous in a business context in terms of lost productivity and team effectiveness. In “The Walking Dead,” it can mean the difference between life and death.

Though the obstacles we’re facing in our own businesses hopefully don’t match the intensity of “The Walking Dead,” we can certainly take a page out of the book of the brave survivors navigating the ultimate leadership challenge.

Well-Being & The Bottom Line

Remember the time when that boy in your fourth-period class made fun of your glasses and it totally ruined your day? Fifth and sixth periods offered up tons of new knowledge but you were too busy swimming in a sea of four-eyed misery to notice?

Maybe it wasn’t your nerdy specs, but we’ve all suffered similar affronts to our self-image. It’s amazing how negative experiences and the emotions they elicit can hijack our brains. And what might have once been fodder for teenage drama actually continues into our professional adult lives. Research on emotions and cognition suggests personal wellness has real implications for your company’s bottom line. In a fast-paced knowledge economy where we must innovate more quickly and more often to get ahead, leaders can’t afford, literally, to ignore the well-being of their employees.

A recent meta-analysis examining research into the relationship between employee well-being and business outcomes showed that business performance improves as employee engagement goes up (Harter, Schmidt, & Keyes, 2002). This is not news but rarely does this idea get linked to the bottom line. Consider perhaps the most obvious outcome of employee engagement: retention and turnover. If your company replaces its employees to the tune of $30,000 per person, it makes good sense to fight to retain your talent. This is not to mention less immediately quantifiable outcomes of engagement such as productivity, creativity and collaboration – just the stuff your company needs to reach optimal performance.

To avoid perpetuating those brain-hijacking negative emotions in the workplace, leaders need to make employee wellness a priority. But before you gather everyone in the conference room for a soothing kumbaya or attempt to win hearts and minds by starting up a Taco Tuesday tradition, here are a few quick questions to gauge if you are building the right environment for employee actualization:

  • Do your employees know what’s expected of them? While autonomy is important, at the end of the day employees need to know what they’re expected to achieve. More importantly, however, is making sure they understand the value of their contributions to the organization’s work.
  • Is your rewards system oriented toward the long-term? It’s imperative that employee’s basic needs like fair compensation and appropriate resources are readily available. But the best leaders look to the long term by considering how rewards and opportunities can benefit all aspects of employee health. Giving someone a raise might make her happy in the short term, but employees need emotional and intellectual fulfillment to commit for the longer haul.
  • Are you all in this together? The well-known cliché that we spend more time with our coworkers than our loved ones shouldn’t necessarily be a sad commentary on our lives. Work provides us with a casual social outlet, but research shows that when an employee feels a strong sense of belonging at work, well-being goes up. Feeling that someone in the organization cares about him can not only increase the chances he’ll stay there but has also shown to increase productivity and even the quality of service that he then passes on to customers.
  • Do you know what your employees love to do? Perhaps the best things leaders can do is understand not just their employees’ strengths but also what they love to do. You might ask, “If you could focus on just one part of your job all day long, what would it be?” Studies show that business outcomes and long-term retention rates improve when employers give employees space to indulge and grow their most beloved talents.

gothamCulture recently worked with a client who closely considered these questions. To explore how they could invest in the not just the physical but also emotional, intellectual and social health of its employees, they asked us to design a program for some of its senior team focused on employee well-being both in and outside of work. What was clear to them, and to us, is that organizations that want to move beyond surviving to thriving in the marketplace need to pay more attention to employees’ “higher level” needs.

From Where Do You Lead?

The Army teaches officers to “lead from the front”, creating visions of a sabre-wielding leader in Union blue followed by legions of men and a cacophony of battle cries as he charges the enemy. This style of leadership makes a lot of sense on the battlefield. During times of crisis that are oftentimes associated with combat, there isn’t time for group input. Decisions must be made on limited information, and leaders must show their followers that they are not going ask of them anything they are not willing to do themselves.

Thinking about leadership more deeply, I began to ask myself – is this always the most effective form of leadership?

As a civilian leader and entrepreneur, I have found myself leading from various places in order to drive performance. At times, I’ve certainly had to lead from the front, providing a foundation for the team by setting the example in times of crisis. In less critical moments, I’ve held back encouraging my people to push themselves, make mistakes and learn from those mistakes. On a rare occasion or two, I’ve had to lead from the back by nudging people to get things where they needed to be. And there have been instances where it makes sense to lead from the middle, serving in a facilitator role rather than one of positional leadership power.

To me, this speaks of the theory of situational leadership – adapting our leadership style and behaviors to the context of the situation and the capabilities of the team in order to get the best from our people.

So, my question to you is, “From where do you lead?”

The Best Business Mistakes I’ve Ever Made

Recently, I have been taking stock of my journey as an entrepreneur. I’ve realized that I had learned quite a bit the hard way. Making mistakes and learning from them, as an individual leader or as a team, is enormously beneficial. Now, I’m not advocating for making mistakes to make them, but I am suggesting that we don’t let a good mistake go to waste.

Making mistakes is part of leading. They are part of life. If we fear failure and bash those who make the occasional mistake, we stifle people’s ability to take risks and innovate and may find our competition leaving us in the dust.

In reflection on some of my most colossal blunders over the years, I came up with a list of key learnings that have helped me both professionally and personally.

#1. Bad decisions don’t get better with time. Decisiveness is critical in helping you move faster than the competition, but it also means sometimes having to make decisions without the benefit of reams of data to back them up. We all make poor decisions sometimes. The real shame is when we don’t admit the blunder and try to ride it out in hopes that things will get better. Being able to identify a misstep quickly and being decisive enough to course correct is critical to success.

#2. You’re not always the smartest person in the room. As an entrepreneur and leader of a team, I felt intense pressure to have all the answers. Looking back, I recognize my faulty assumption. I may have started the company, but I’m certainly not the only one with all the answers. We have a smart and creative team that analyzes things in very different ways than I do. This is an enormous source of strength for us as we discuss and debate business topics before making decisions. This diversity of thought helps keep me honest.

#3. Hope is not a plan. We started our business on a hope and a dream. What we quickly realized is that hope is not a plan. As our organization matured and we became more established leaders in our industry, we took tangible steps to be intentional about who we are, where we’re headed, and how we plan on getting there. With the assembly of our Board of Advisors, our market repositioning, our all-hands strategic planning processes and reviews, we developed a planning cadence that focuses our work effort throughout the year.

#4. Don’t be afraid to fail. Starting a new business was a terrifying experience. What I realized quickly, however, is that fully experiencing life is about taking risk. Now, I don’t mean a constant Vegas-style gamble, but I am an advocate for putting yourself out there in an uncomfortable situation where you very well may fail. Assess the situation and mitigate as much risk as possible to stack the deck in your favor, then execute with everything you’ve got and don’t stop until you’ve succeeded in your endeavors.

Theodore Roosevelt made a speech at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France on April 23rd, 1910. I’ve memorized and carried part of this speech with me throughout my business endeavors:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

There is no great effort without some level of error and shortcoming. And when you make a mistake, don’t get so caught up in wringing your hands that you don’t capitalize on the learning opportunity.

Why Do We Do What We Do?

“That’s just the way we do it” – Something I’ve heard countless times from leaders and their reports in response to my question, “Why do you [fill in the blank]?”. I am surprised by how little careful thought we tend to give to why we do the things we do in the workplace.

This led me to wonder – why? If an organization’s culture is a collection of lessons that helped it grow and survive, it is only sensible that members of the group would look to past successful behavior for future guidance. Over time, provided these behaviors yield positive results, management develops processes to ensure that these effective behaviors occur and that positive outcomes are achieved in more and more consistent ways. Eventually, people aren’t consciously thinking about why they do what they do. They do what they’ve always done because it seems to have worked for them in the past.

Adding to the potential risk of this work on autopilot is the “noise” of the day-to-day. As people scramble to tackle to-do’s, they oftentimes don’t feel they have the luxury to think critically about why it is they do what they do.

This, in and of itself, wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing…if we worked in a bubble where our environment didn’t change. But when behaviors that have historically yielded success cease to do so, people start to ask themselves why they are doing what they do. Unfortunately, by then, it may be too late.

Truly exceptional leaders are those who constantly ask the question, “Why?”. Effective leaders are those who push others to examine why they do things the way they do them and inspire them to understand the marketplace and question the efficacy of their behavior.

When is the last time you stopped and asked the question, “Why do I do the things I do?”. The answer may surprise you.

I Didn’t Get to that Email

In our ongoing effort to share some of our lessons learned over the years, we thought that it would be interesting to ask some of our closest partners for their insight on topics that are most relevant to our readers. Rob O’Sullivan, Executive Producer, Director, and Founder of Main Gate Productions, supports our client work by providing end-to-end video production services to support large-scale change efforts and to support training and development initiatives.

Chris Cancialosi: How do folks in the field leverage video production services to enhance their communications efforts while managing tight budgets?

Rob O’Sullivan: When I first took over the Advanced Services group at Comcast, I was full of excitement and ideas. A five-year veteran of an organization that had gone through numerous mergers, acquisitions, and restructuring, I was ready to execute the vision of our corporate leadership and transform the way Comcast developed, implemented, and supported new products. It didn’t take long to understand that immediate change was no easy task.

Being a part of an organization of almost 100,000 employees, and having responsibility for implementing standards across 20% of that population, made the need for quick and effective communications through each tier of the organization critical to our success. The Comcast executive team did a great job in communicating key business objectives to the employee base on a quarterly basis through corporate broadcast events, but once that hour was over, the effect of those communications would often become fragmented. Email became the primary communication tool, and with most people receiving over a hundred emails per meeting-filled day, it wasn’t surprising to hear someone say, “I didn’t get to that email.”

Email isn’t the only way to facilitate internal communications, and it’s certainly not the most effective. Unfortunately, it seems to have become the norm. Organizations must leverage other media to reach their employee base real-time.

How? Video.

Effective change management execution is about storytelling. To capitalize on the most impactful aspects of the change narrative, the use of video to communicate the key points of that story has become a necessity. Video evokes emotion and provides real-world examples that written communications just can’t accomplish. Video communications through web and mobile platforms afford management teams the unique opportunity to communicate important messages in real-time. In today’s busy work environment, you can only expect short windows of attention. Video allows you to develop 30-60 second snapshots that will get a message out, tell a quick story, or provide a key update. It also provides a much more dynamic and emotive synopsis of a large change initiative that can be archived and viewed for years to come.

To effectively break down the communications walls, there are a few things organizations can adopt to quickly see an impact.

  1. Use mobile video: Smartphones, tablets, and mobile computing are modern realities of business communications, and time is becoming more precious. The ability to reach your employees where they are – on the train, waiting for a meeting to start, at their desks, or on the move – maximizing those precious seconds in a way that has the greatest impact is the challenge. Video snippets of executive sound bites, examples of values in action in the workplace, communication of business goals and priorities, and involving front line employees executing priorities and initiatives through the use of video is a tangible, compelling communication strategy that can be viewed anytime, anywhere.
  2. Rapid competitive response: The competitive landscape changes daily. Organizations need to be able to quickly react and communicate in order to stay ahead of the competition. The ability to quickly promote new initiatives, showcase new products, or strengthen confidence can be made that much more effective by leveraging video for internal and external communications.
  3. Cut costs while increasing reach: With corporate purse strings tightening, the ability to fly employees to a central location for training or meetings is becoming cost prohibitive. However, the ability to stream a video of an executive meeting, sales conference, or other event and archive that footage for reference has never been easier. These days everyone in your organization can participate in a conference real time, then quickly return, respond, and enact the corporate strategy.

Business is not going to slow down, and the need for effective communication vehicles will only increase. Now is the time to adopt video into your messaging strategy.

Little Victories: How Big Change Really Occurs

As the saying goes, even the longest journey starts with just one step.

Over the years, we have engaged with many clients who are dedicated to creating large-scale, significant, and sustainable changes in their organizations in an effort to drive success. Unfortunately, many of these well-intentioned executives believe that there is a silver bullet, or some grand gesture of change, that will accomplish their goals.

While significant changes can and do drive sustainable performance improvements, in my experiences, truly transformational change results from a few elusively simple things.

#1. Greater than the sum of its parts.

Large change is comprised of MANY small changes, or what I call little victories.

Think of any truly transformational change in society that has sustained the test of time, and I will show you a series of seemingly small steps that built upon each other toward the final outcome; events that very often inspired others to create little victories of their own. Those instances challenge the underlying beliefs and assumptions that people hold to be true about the current state.

#2. It takes a village.

One person can rarely create and sustain organizational change that is truly transformational. It takes dialogue that creates a spark in people to step up and do something differently themselves. Engaging everyone in not only having a voice but in having a responsibility to drive small change at their level helps to build momentum and sustainability of what could be.

#3. Shout it from the rooftops.

Find ways to communicate the little victories to the masses. Let the positive change go viral throughout your organization. Transformational change achieves terminal velocity through the stories that people tell. These stories bring change to life; if they are capitalized on, they reinforce the desired behavior change.

At the end of the day, silver bullets are just about as rare as werewolves. Real, transformational change takes careful forethought, the investment of time and energy, and the willingness to let people take ownership of it.

What’s your little victory?

Changing Organizational Culture

One of the most common questions we are asked about organizational culture change is:

Should it be top down or bottom up?

The answer is: Yes.

Decades of leadership development research and common sense tells us that individuals at the highest levels in organizations have the most influence on the organization, as a whole, in the shortest time. But what about the tens, hundreds, or thousands of employees that keep the organization moving forward each and every day? Are they able to influence culture based on sheer number and longevity?

Influence works in both directions, so alignment of energy moving up and down the organization is key to culture change. A strategy that emerged from an initiative with one of gothamCulture’s clients is “top-down, bottom-up” (to be clear, the goal of this approach is to create an open organizational culture that values employees’ opinions and closes the distance between the frontline and executives). The trick to carrying out this strategy is to do both in concert.

It isn’t enough to set leadership loose with a plan to communicate the strategy of the organization and hope that everyone follows. This can result in leaders excitedly running up the metaphorical mountain of change and looking back to realize that no one is following. By the same token, it isn’t enough to provide a survey to engage employees without leaders taking action to address survey results.

Here are some “top-down, bottom-up” lessons we’ve learned over the years:

* Communicate strategically to inform everyone of happenings around the organization. Designate a small team to act as the nucleus to drive communication efforts and translate information coming from the top and bottom. A dynamic communication system is critical to a lean and nimble organization that can compete in today’s business environment.

* Ask employees how to move the organization forward and carry out the initiatives worth pursuing. They are closest to the issues that may derail your plans.

* Provide “face time” for the frontline to meet executives and share concerns and ideas. This doesn’t mean a token executive appearance at a ‘town hall’; we’re talking about creating space for these groups to roll up their sleeves and work together.

* Listen to the workforce with sincerity and empathy. Today’s employees expect their jobs to be fulfilling, challenging, and worth investing time into (which is often more important to retention than compensation packages).

Five Keys to Building a Healthy and Productive Virtual Culture

gothamCulture is a truly virtual work environment. With a team that is separated by geography and time zones, it is imperative to learn how to best work together in ways that help us live our value of Authentic Community. Here are a few of the tricks we’ve learned along the way

1. Use technology to your advantage

This seems like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised how challenging it can be to break people’s old habits to get folks to adopt new ways of using technology to get things done. We make a concerted effort to utilize chat and videoconferencing technology on a daily basis to help maintain and foster effective working relationships with staff and associates. Every effort is made to minimize the “space” between people.

2. Keep the team “up to speed”

In a fast-paced small business like ours, with team members who may be in a different city each night, it’s easy to get caught up in our own little worlds- working feverishly to provide top quality services to our clients. Based on feedback we received from our staff, we instituted structured, weekly team meetings where team members log into a Google Hangout from wherever in the world they may be to connect with the rest of the team. Everyone contributes to the weekly team meeting. We not only get a chance to give the team a feeling for the bigger picture, we are also able to identify areas of risk and reallocate resources in the short-term to ensure that all of our client engagements are executed flawlessly.

Typical weekly meeting at gothamCulture.

3. Set rules of engagement for virtual work

In order to help expedite effective working relationships virtually, we recommend setting clear rules of engagement up front that team members can agree upon and to which they can hold each other mutually accountable. These norms may evolve over time as you refine the ways in which you interact virtually, but we’ve found that setting some ground rules at the beginning really helped us to bake virtual work into our culture in an effective way.

4. Be crystal clear about your purpose, mission, and values

We can’t overstate this enough. When all else fails, we know that our team members will know exactly where to spend their time and attention and how best to prioritize their workload. By ensuring clarity of purpose and alignment around what is truly most important to us as an organization, all team members can manage themselves to be most productive – even in the absence of direct and timely supervision. If you aren’t clear about who you are and where you’re going, how can you expect your employees to know where to focus their energies?

5. Find ways to encourage collaboration on project work

At gothamCulture, we are deliberate about structuring work in ways that force team members to collaborate across great distances. Not only does it result in higher work quality, but it also creates reasons for team members to interact in ways that they might not have otherwise done. These long-distance collaborations give newer members of the team a chance to learn from our more seasoned experts.