Early Career – Development Priorities

It’s that time of year for budget reviews and planning as a new year begins to take shape. And as companies consider priorities and corporate strategies, it’s a good time to also align individual’s growth and priorities.

Early Career Development Priorities is part 3 of our 3-part series focusing on trends, priorities, and insights to help align personal growth with business priorities for the year ahead.
Read Part 1 – Peak Career Development Priorities here.
Read Part 2 – Mid-Career Development Priorities here.


Today’s young professionals are setting a new way of working and shifting the thinking from work as a place we go, to work as a thing we do. This group of employees entered the workforce with savvy technical skills and solid educational backgrounds that seem destined for success. And the current labor shortage has given them more opportunities to choose from.

As the newest players in the workforce, they’re negotiating flexibility as well as compensation. They’re outspoken about where they want to work and how they want to work. And that’s exciting when you’re young and feel like you can set your own lifestyle and balance work alongside other interests. But there is another view of that flexibility that most early career employees don’t see.

They’ve traded off visibility for flexibility. And that may be a short-sighted advantage with long-term consequences. We’re seeing some early signs of that. Many companies saw phenomenal growth coming out of the pandemic, but it was not sustainable growth. And they’re resetting to a more modified growth track. That meant some workforce reduction that will continue as we head into 2023.

Reduction is never easy across teams, but it’s easier when we don’t really feel connected to an employee. If you joined a company and have worked virtually for the duration of employment, there’s not the same loyalty to you as others on the team. You haven’t had the visibility to leaders and therefore you don’t have the same support team when the tough decisions have to be made.

And if you allow flexibility to be the only motivation of your early career decisions, you may find that you’re stepping from one company to another without really moving up from one role to the next. The first decade is an important time to set a career path and make smart choices in order to leverage opportunities for more than a flexible schedule.

As we’ve worked with early career professionals and managers, we’ve focused on three priorities to strengthen their visibility and impact.

 

Career Runway

Jobs feel a little like window shopping right now. It’s fun to see so many choices, and the window dressing makes every opportunity look exciting. But buyer beware! Shop for more than the package wrapped up for you. Look at the company, the culture and the advancement opportunities. Are you considering the long-term as well as the short-term as you evaluate a role? Did you meet the co-workers and the hiring manager? Is this a good fit or just a good paycheck?

In addition to finding a role that meets the way you want to work, consider the role that will help you get to the next one. Resumes are shaped in the first decade of work. Hiring managers like to see that someone took an interest in you and helped you gain skills and additional responsibility. When the career path doesn’t show that, it’s a red flag.

We can help. Many data points prove out that early career employees will change jobs much more frequently than others which means framing up your experience more often. Our book, Disrupted! How to Reset Your Brand & Your Career focuses on how to position yourself and your experience. It also links to your personal brand and impressions. We developed a course to support it and can help you prepare for an interview or an internal, introductory meeting to help others get to know you and your interests. It makes all the difference in finding the next opportunity and positioning yourself for it.

 

Brand Awareness

Your personal brand is how people think about you and talk about you when you’re not around. It’s a reflection of someone’s impressions of you that take shape over time.

The savvy professional takes note of impressions and makes choices about how to come across as confident and credible. Impressions of confidence are why certain people get heard when they speak up. Confidence isn’t just a skill for leaders; it’s a differentiator that strengthens any employee’s personal brand and impact in an organization.

But it’s rarely an instinctive skill. It’s more about awareness of how people see you and hear you and focus on what it takes to really connect with a group. And it’s harder if you aren’t in an office often to be seen and heard. Early career professionals need to think about impact and add intention to visibility moments and their opportunity to be visible and involved in key initiatives.

We can help. Our workshop, Strengthening Personal Brand & Impressions, is offered internally for working teams or quarterly as an open-enrollment workshop. The program raises awareness of brand impressions and guides the discovery of professional presence and a confident communication style.

 

Manager Exposure

Everybody needs a champion. And in today’s shifting work environment, most people are going to need more than one. A champion is someone who knows your work and is willing to speak up on your behalf. It may be your manager, but it could also be your manager’s peers or others that you’ve worked with on projects. Champions start the process of a network within a company, and they are critical to bigger opportunities and advancement.

We used to build relationships as we met people in the corporate gym or cafeteria. It was easier to evolve relationships over time because we saw people often and had informal interaction and a chance to get to know each other. That’s a consequence of hybrid and virtual work models. It isn’t happening by happenstance. It takes an intentional plan to meet with someone and plan for those interactions, and early career professionals are going to have to work harder to get these connections.

Companies are trying to help with development programs and opportunities to connect with managers. Take advantage of all of these opportunities. When your company hosts a lunch, be there. When they set up a volunteer opportunity, be there. It’s going to take intention to start a network, and managers notice who’s taking an interest in it and who’s not.

We can help. Both programs described above include an element of building champions. We can also help you think through your own plan in 1:1 coaching and map out a conversation to gain insights and input from a potential champion in your organization.

 

Flexibility is a wonderful addition to career paths, and it’s an advantage that seems to have taken hold. But don’t make it the only factor in your early career decisions. Leverage the current role you have to build your brand and find the managers who will champion your skills. While it may take a little more in-office time, it will be the difference in your career advancement in the long run.

As always, we’re here when you need us.

Want a free 15-minute consultation with us to see how we can help you or your leaders? Book a call now!

Sally Williamson & Associates

Mid-Career – Development Priorities

It’s that time of year for budget reviews and planning as a new year begins to take shape. And as companies consider priorities and corporate strategies, it’s a good time to also align individual’s growth and priorities.

Mid-Career Development Priorities is part 2 of our 3-part series focusing on trends, priorities, and insights to help align personal growth with business priorities for the year ahead.
Read Part 1 – Peak Career Development Priorities here.
Read Part 3 – Early Career Development Priorities here.


For some time, I’ve referred to managers in their mid-career years as the Mighty Middle. And I can’t think of a time when the phrase has been better suited to middle managers than today. I’m just not sure if the significance is more about the Mighty or about being in the Middle…because both are true!

Middle managers have always been a mighty muscle and influencer in companies. In the last two years, we’ve strained that muscle by expanding their roles and asking them to manage everything from mental health to physical health and well-being. They were given very little training to do it, but they did it. And many developed a whole new skill set in the process.

Then, we began to reset work structures. And as hybrid models emerged, managers were stuck in the middle. They’ve been squeezed between top leaders who want some semblance of an office setting to return, and most employees who want to keep their blended style of working and managing life on a flexible schedule. The friction intensified with the great resignation, and most of these managers picked up the slack, shifted the work and altered the way their teams would function.

They are the unsung heroes of the last three years. But the looming question is whether the last few years were energizing or exhausting to them? Are they motivated to continue growing as people leaders or are they likely to step away to avoid additional pressure? Companies have leadership gaps, and there is great opportunity for advancement. But it doesn’t feel great to step up to something you don’t feel qualified to do.

When you ask middle managers how they think about it, they talk about skill sets and development. While they like increased responsibility, they want to feel as if they have the support and experience to step up to new challenges. And the last few years haven’t provided a lot of time for that to happen. Companies have the desire to do it, but many are still focused on reset steps and culture that we identified in last week’s newsletter.

Middle managers need to take ownership for their own development and ensure that they feel qualified for the opportunities that are sure to come their way.

There are three priorities where we encourage middle managers to invest their time. Here’s a look at each priority with thoughts on how we’re supporting them.

 

The first priority is Skills.

Every day, companies look at a manager and decide whether the manager has the skills they need in a role. They can decide to develop a manager to expand the skill set or they can bring in a candidate from the outside who already has the skills. It depends on the momentum and pace at which a company needs to move. The shortage of candidates worked in favor of the internal managers, but it is shifting a bit.

We talked about learning and development priorities in our fourth book, Disrupted: How to Reset Your Brand and Your Career. Those priorities haven’t changed. The L&D team focuses on training needed to deliver top goals within a company. If you’re tied to the top goals, you may be a top priority for development. But if you’re working on a goal that’s lower on the list, you may not be the focus of the year.

You can take ownership by asking for development. Pay attention to shifts in company direction. Pay attention to who is managing some of the projects and the skill sets they have. You can gain experience without being in a role, and you can develop skills without waiting for the company to tell you that you need them.

We can help. If your skill gap is less about technical skills and more about influence and team dynamics, we can help. Last year, we introduced a workshop called Manager to Leader to focus on the skill sets needed to manage a bigger team and a broader responsibility. It sets the right foundation to help a new leader feel confident quickly and creates coaching circles that give the manager some bandwidth for input as they settle into a new role.

And our foundational programs can build confidence around increased visibility by providing skills to Lead Executive Conversations and Master Executive Presence within an organization.

 

The second priority is Relationships.

One of the benefits of leadership development programs within a company is the relationships built with peers. Over the last few years, companies have tried to continue the programs virtually, and the relationship aspect suffered. It’s harder to get to know people when you don’t have the downtime and social interaction together. And many companies are resetting to an in-person format to bring the relationship opportunities back.

But it isn’t just the relationships with peers that middle managers need to focus on. It’s relationships across the company that will make the difference in new opportunities. And that’s harder than it’s ever been. Because while people are returning, it isn’t an everyday, consistent schedule that brings easy interaction.

Leaders, a key group for most middle managers to interact with, aren’t as willing to connect as they have been in the past. And that’s because they’ve developed their own habits. They’re not around as much, so it’s harder to find 15 minutes to stop by. Every interaction takes a set appointment, and that’s a bigger commitment that’s harder to manage.

Today, it takes a lot of intention to build a network. In fact, it takes a plan to think about champions within a company and find creative ways to build relationships if the hallway conversations are limited.

We can help. We can help middle managers build plans for networking and gaining visibility across a company. In fact, we often do this with small groups of managers to ensure the leaders feel the investment works. There’s impact in numbers and bringing small groups of colleagues together helps a leader see value in the touchpoint as well.

 

And that leads to the third priority…Coaching.

We’ve seen tremendous growth in our coaching business and a lot of that has to do with a company’s attitude towards coaching. Coaching has become a great retention tool, and it’s the fastest way to help a manager gain confidence and support while taking on expanded responsibilities. Visibility leads to liability, and middle managers want to feel that they have the right tools and support to be successful in an expanded role.

Coaching can also offer feedback on a brand and help a middle manager understand how they’re seen within a company today. As a new leader, a manager can leverage a new opportunity to strengthen a brand or reset misconceptions.

We can help. In fact, in the last few years, we’ve doubled our resources to meet the added demand. If you’re a middle manager expanding responsibilities quickly, ask for coaching. It builds confidence and provides confidentiality with an objective partner who can talk through decision-making and offer a support system to build new tools and skills. And with SW&A, it’s access to the tools we know you’ll need.

 

The opportunities for middle managers have never been greater. But so are the risks. Experiences haven’t prepared most managers for those opportunities, and those who are succeeding got a little help along the way. It’s an exciting time to be a future leader. Take advantage of the opportunity and ask for the support you’ll need to be successful.

As always, we’re here when you need us.

Want a free 15-minute consultation with us to see how we can help you or your leaders? Book a call now!

Sally Williamson & Associates

Peak Career – Development Priorities

It’s that time of year for budget reviews and planning as a new year begins to take shape. And as companies consider priorities and corporate strategies, it’s a good time to also align individual’s growth and priorities.

Peak Career Development Priorities is part 1 of our 3-part series focusing on trends, priorities, and insights to help align personal growth with business priorities for the year ahead.

Read Part 2 – Mid-Career Development Priorities here.
Read Part 3 – Early Career Development Priorities here.


It’s hard to get a senior leader’s attention on their own personal development. They believe that the last two and a half years have put more demand on their skills than at any other point in their careers. And they’ve enriched their skills under fire and close scrutiny. Peak career leaders have dealt with more issues in the last two and a half years than they’ve probably seen over a 30+ year career span.

Many would say ‘if I’m still sitting here after all the tough spots and decisions, I should have the skills I need to weather almost anything.’ And to some degree, they’d be right. The last few years have developed and defined new expectations for leaders.

But the work isn’t done.

There are three burning priorities in front of senior leaders, and they will each take innovative thinking and a new approach to resolve. Here’s a look at what we’re hearing from leaders and how we’re supporting the priorities they see ahead of them.

 

The first priority is Culture.

Companies are still all over the board trying to reset the company culture within a new way of working. Many are still testing out the new working model from fully virtual to some form of a hybrid model. And regardless of where it lands on that spectrum, leaders know it will impact the culture. It already has.

The office environment is part of culture. From the physical space to amenities in the space, many companies illustrated their intent with employees through their location. And they created situations that drew people together to feel a part of the culture.

Virtual interaction is not the same as in-person interaction. Leaders have seen it in the last year and often talk about losing the connective tissue of an organization because people aren’t together. The environment contributes to the illustration of values, and it makes it harder when people are rarely together for the culture to take hold organically.

The great debate on senior leadership teams is: who sets the culture?

Do we define it at the top of the organization or do we build it from the bottom of the organization?

It’s both.

Culture starts with intention from the top. Leaders have to buy into the culture and agree on what to create and how to lead it. Then, the employee base will reinforce it as they make it their own.

In our current work setting, even the best of cultures feel as if they’re losing a bit of their identity. Leaders see some of their best employees walk out the door because they’re not as connected as they once were. And they see bad behaviors gain momentum in ways they never have before.

Leaders say it’s harder to reinforce culture when they can’t walk the halls and find a personal connection to employees. There’s more pressure on a few moments rather than every moment. And it’s going to take an intentional plan to rethink how employees experience culture going forward.

We can help. Over the last year, we’ve worked with leadership teams to consider a new way of embedding culture into companies. It’s a shift from culture showing up in every little thing to making sure it’s integrated into the big things as well. Managers can own the little things, but leaders have to rethink how culture and values are reinforced in everything they say and do. We’re involved because it takes a communication plan that can integrate culture elements into town halls, strategy reveals and company goals.

 

The second priority is Communication.

Communication will be essential to reset the culture and almost everything else ahead for senior leaders. A new way of working has created fragmented visibility. Leaders are running town halls, but they don’t have full participation or focus as employees dial-in to view it or listen to a recording a few days after it

Every situation counts. Communication is the skill and the tool that helps you bring clarity and conviction to the direction of the company. Employees aren’t engaged in the same way as they consider work more a thing they do vs. a place they go. Live, in-person energy and connection has returned to most parts of our lives, and that’s what a company leader is competing with.

Leaders need to find ways to breakthrough with messaging. They can’t push it on employees. Instead, they’re going to have to be intentional about how they draw employees in. Many leaders developed bad habits during their own virtual work. They felt virtual required less preparation, so they relied on notes and a more casual way of talking to employees. It has to get focused again. It’s going to take conviction and connection to get employees’ attention and drive actions from ideas.

Leaders are resetting their own barometers to speak a little less about what’s happening in the world and a little more about the direction of their companies. Communication has to shift back to big vision, and for leaders that means a reset on messaging, a reset on skills and higher expectations for impact.

We can help. Developing compelling communicators is our passion. And with senior leaders, we’re helping rethink the brand and impact needed within an organization. Often, we combine the culture work with communication coaching to make sure they align and work together.

The input we give every leader is this: From board members to customers and employees, your key audiences haven’t changed. And the way they assess your style and impact hasn’t changed either. It all matters, and if you haven’t refreshed and reset your communication skills, it may be the most important thing you do in the year ahead.

 

The third priority is Succession.

I’ve talked to many leaders about how their teams have fared over the last few years. I get a mixed report on who’s retained direct reports and who’s swapped them out. But I get a consistent report about future leaders and succession.

All say the development of leaders behind the current team has stalled. One reason is the senior leaders themselves love hybrid work models. It’s given them the flexibility they never expected to see until retirement, and they’ve built a pretty strong case for why they don’t need to be in the office all the time. They have all the tools and connections they need to do their job well anywhere.

But the consequence is they don’t spend as much informal time with future leaders. They don’t realize that building visibility for future leaders isn’t happening organically, and it’s even a little awkward when it happens with intention. Planning for lunch or coffee together takes a fair amount of coordination just to run into each other on the same day.

Senior leaders see it as they begin talent review meetings. They notice in these conversations that they know people less than they once did. And they aren’t hearing the cross-functional support for future leaders the way they used to in these discussions. Those are red flags to a company that wants bench strength.

Senior teams need to get actively involved in future leader development. It’s more fragmented than it once was, and companies need to get innovative in how they reinvent it. Learning teams can sharpen the skills, but they can’t impose the relationship component that is equally important.

We can help. As we’ve heard companies talk about this trend, we’ve responded with programming built to transition someone from a manager to a leader, and coaching circles that can add exposure and guidance for senior leaders. We’ve also led discussions with senior teams to rethink the way they support future leaders and to find better ways to accelerate visibility, responsibility and trust.

 

The demands on peak career leaders haven’t subsided. Every company has to get out of reset mode and reimagine how people fit together. The priorities of culture, communication and succession should be top of mind, and those who excel at it will redefine what leadership really means.

And we’ll ensure that you’re one of those leaders.

As always, we’re here when you need us.

Want a free 15-minute consultation with us to see how we can help you or your leaders? Book a call now!

Sally Williamson & Associates

Slack Me Your Brand

As a new way of working has settled in for companies, Slack, Microsoft Teams, WhatsApp, Viber, Lark and dozens of instant messaging (IM) channels have taken hold as an easy and efficient way of communicating with each other throughout the day. And that’s why we’re often asked:

Can your personal brand take shape on an IM channel?

The simple answer is yes, and I think it’s happened over and over again as managers have become more dependent on the channels.

  • Similar to meetings, people who monopolize a channel can seem like “know it all’s” and come across as arrogant.
  • Similar to meetings, people who don’t contribute and remain silent can come across as uninvolved or unsure.

People who offer guidance seem helpful. People who are long-winded seem scattered. There’s a lot of similarity between in-person impressions and IM impressions.

If you’ve doubled your use of it, then you’ve probably also raised your awareness of what people like in this format and what they don’t. Cut and pasting information vs a link is frowned upon because it takes up a lot of space. Short sound bites are valued, keeping the chat informal and to the point.

But the flow of communication is more transactional. It’s tied to task and inputs and less to connection and touch points. As we’ve asked people about their experiences with IM channels, some say that they notice wit and humor in co-workers’ personalities as they add a little levity to a stream of inputs. And in many cases, it‘s a few personalities that come through an uneven representation of all personalities in the chat.

And that’s when the question should really become: Are IM channels enough of an impression? And that answer is probably not. Chat and short form conversations are best used as a supplement to live conversations, not a replacement for them.

Here’s why.

True connection requires a response from someone. People have found some connections with each other on IM channels, but they tend to align with people who think just like them or agree with them, rather than a different perspective or different approach.

It’s harder to work through differences without true connection and non-verbal signals from each other. Engagement is still about give and take and that means a live conversation with a view of the other person.

And when engagement hasn’t really occurred, we don’t get as vested in each other. And that may mean we don’t promote each other as much as we could. We’re not as likely to call out someone’s effort or even fully notice it. And we’re already seeing some consequences from the limited communication channel.

The biggest consequence is employees and managers don’t know each other very well. Future opportunities come from expanded conversations and a more relaxed connection with a manager.

An employee can become somewhat invisible if they don’t have a regular cadence of face-to-face connections. When relationships are limited, trust can’t develop as it has in the past.

So, what do you do to strengthen your brand in this new way of working?

If you’re trying to establish your brand in a company, make sure that you encourage face-to-face communication at least once a week. It doesn’t have to be in-person; it can be over a virtual network. But make sure that you become a visible presence with your manager. To succeed in a company, you’re going to need a champion. Opportunities are created by people, and managers recommend people that they know and trust. You need to make sure you’re building a relationship with a manager, more than one is even better, and not just a transactional conversation.

If you’re managing people in a virtual setting, remember that people tend to stay at organizations because of their connection to other people. If you allow a team to work too independently, they never truly engage with co-workers and they seek connection somewhere else. Impose the face-to-face interaction among the team. If they never get together in the same location, you’ll have to work harder to initiate relationships across the group. You can do this with small group projects, pairing team members together for new ideas or solutions, and adding intention to discussions and virtual meetings so that everyone gets heard across your team.

Impressions take shape in all formats, so your brand does take shape across IM channels. But it’s not enough to build relationships that will lead to opportunities.

There’s a reason that leaders at most companies are saying “come back in the office” and “we miss seeing you around here.” They know that those virtual impressions only take connection so far. And as we’re all working to find the right balance of virtual, in-person and hybrid working, it will take a little more intention on the connection side to make sure that trust continues to grow with managers and teams.

If you’re trying to strengthen the connection and value within your team, we can help. Through team building experiences or work on personal brands, we’ve helped many groups reset and rethink how they work together. And we’d welcome the opportunity to explore what your team might need.

As always, call us when you need us.

Want a free 15-minute consultation with us to see how we can help you or your leaders? Book a call now!

Sally Williamson & Associates

Are You Being Cautious with Feedback?

If your answer is yes, you’re in line with many managers who say they’re trying to avoid conflict and more disruption on their teams. And it’s no wonder. Last week’s US Chamber of Commerce reported 10 million job openings in the US. On many teams, managers are missing resources, and they worry that giving direct and honest feedback may make an employee want to quit.

They’ve decided that an average or a below-average employee is better than another unfilled position. Some say the bar is lower on expectations to keep people in roles. And they’ve made a lot of concessions to keep employees happy. So, they’re cautious with feedback and they allow missed deadlines, missed meetings and a host of other behaviors to take place.

It’s a short-term action…with long-term side effects.

Every manager who has done this knows it isn’t a great solution. But few understand the deeper impact of allowing a team member to “just get by” or to take advantage of a tight job market.

The side effects start with the impact on everyone else. Other team members often pick up the slack when someone isn’t doing their job well. They’re also observing a manager who isn’t willing to have tough conversations. And it’s demotivating to high performers to see that doing well doesn’t really matter since it’s OK not to do well. Unintentionally, managers lower the bar for everyone when they allow even one to slide under the bar.

And there’s a tremendous side effect on the managers themselves. In our feedback workshops, we calculate how much time a manager spends on an underperforming employee. It’s a lot. In some cases, managers are spending twice as much time on these employees as everyone else. In other cases, they’re literally doing the work themselves to avoid conflict. And in both cases, it’s not the best use of the manager’s time if the employee’s work isn’t improving.

The lack of feedback can also have side effects on the employee themselves. When managers don’t give honest feedback, they’re setting a precedent that someone else will have to undo in the employee’s next role.

Here’s the real question: How bad would it be if an underperforming employee decided to quit?

Overnight, managers would go from one unfilled position to two. And depending on the size of the team that may cause projects to be realigned or deadlines to be pushed out. But the side effects also go away. Managers immediately notice the ease of the burden. And other team members feel it as it validates that you do value hard work because you weren’t willing to allow the lack of it.

Feedback is essential. Everyone on a team needs it. But it isn’t always easy. It can be a challenging conversation, and because many managers dread it, they often miss a few steps that would make feedback a better experience from both perspectives.

Here are a few of our coaching steps to manage feedback conversations.

Uncover the WHY – Managers are stretched and rushed. And because they’re rushed trying to fix problems, they jump into these conversations and focus on literally what happened and how to resolve it. They often miss the WHY behind a problem. And when you don’t know why something happened, you can never be sure that you’ve improved on it or solved a challenge.

Assess Skills Vs Behaviors – Managers often approach every challenge as if it’s a skill gap. Someone didn’t understand how to do something or doesn’t feel confident in the way they’re going about it. But that isn’t always the case. Sometimes, employees choose to not do things well or let things drop because they don’t see the value or don’t like the toll of the work. And it’s happening more often because some employees have come back to the workforce simply for a paycheck.

If the conversation begins with discovery behind the why, managers can quickly assess whether the problem occurred because of a skill gap or a behavior choice. It’s an important distinction in order to get to the right actions.

And unfortunately, a virtual work setting makes it easier to disguise some of the behavior choices. So, managers need to invest the time to prepare for these conversations in order to get honest responses and reactions from an employee.

Listen More, Talk Less – Talk less as a manager. The more a manager talks, the more they’re owning the problem. A feedback discussion reveals insights that can help an employee get to better outcomes. But it can’t be prescriptive. If a manager tells an employee how to solve something, the manager is giving direction more than feedback. Allow the employee to participate in the solution and define the action that changes it.

Move Beyond It. The fear of losing employees is real. And it may be less about the conversation itself and more about the impact it has on the emotions of an individual afterward. Everyone on the team observes that. The manager has the power to reset interaction and move an employee and a team beyond it. Don’t allow awkwardness or distance between you and the employee. Show interest in them personally and reset the group to an engaging and warm environment. Every employee watches the manager to gauge temperature. When a manager illustrates that they’re not holding onto emotion or frustration toward an employee, even when there is a gap or challenge with their work, the team exhales and moves beyond it.

 

Feedback is a gift. Assume best intentions from everyone on your team. Listen for the WHY at the start of the conversation and adjust the conversation to involve the employee in working through a solution. Set parameters, timing and a check-in to get to a resolution.

And if you’re a manager who feels a little cautious with feedback, call us and we’ll give you the tools to prepare for the tougher conversations.

We’re here when you need us!

 

Looking for a hands-on approach to learning how to give better feedback? Save your seat in Delivering Effective Feedback!

 

Want a free 15-minute consultation with us to see how we can help you or your leaders? Book a call now!

Sally Williamson & Associates

Solving the Communication Gap: Supply Chain

The conversations that we’ve had with supply chain leaders this year remind me of conversations we had five years ago with CISOs and last year with CHROs. It’s when communication shifts from updates on major initiatives to being the major initiative that dominates every update. And as the lead communicator, you feel as if you’ve shifted from the expert to the fall guy. Because there are more questions than answers, and more uncertainty than resolution. It feels like you’re always sitting in the hot seat!

One supply chain leader described it well last week: “I leave one update only to start preparing for the next one. And I never seem to be able to instill confidence about where we are and what we’re doing. It’s more playing defense on why things have occurred and what might happen next. I don’t feel like I’m bringing clarity to communication.”

Another supply chain leader said: “I feel like supply chain has shifted from a playbook to a chess game. We deliver results with a proven playbook. And we have contingency plans for road bumps along the way. But the current environment is like watching a chessboard and wondering what the next move will be.”

And it’s no wonder that they feel like they’re sitting in the hot seat. Last month, McKinsey reported that global container shipping rates have quadrupled in three years, and schedule delays have tripled in the same timeframe. Whether it’s demand or limited capacity, all companies are feeling the slug as they try to keep their own goods and services moving.

The supply chain pressure is felt all through the company as sales leaders want to know what to tell customers, product leaders want to know how to schedule releases and purchasing teams are trying to track materials. And the supply chain leader has been pushed forward to communicate all of it…with very little information to go on.

By instinct, most supply chain leaders are problem solvers. They’re really good at thinking through end-to-end process and keeping many steps moving forward. They can solve bottlenecks and delays with a different route or a different raw material. But they can’t solve a problem that isn’t clear in their view. And they’re finding that they can’t communicate that murkiness effectively to senior teams.

So, if you’re in the hot seat, here are three concepts that we’ve shared with other supply chain leaders to bring clarity to unresolved challenges and consistency to on-going communication.

Establish a plan to communicate up and down the supply chain.

The supply chain leader hasn’t been a constant in senior team meetings until now. They showed up occasionally with updates on transformative initiatives, and they never brought information forward until they were ready to give an update. The shift in when you communicate has blind-sided them.

They can no longer wait until they have the answer. There isn’t an answer for most of the challenges they’re facing. Communication is no longer driven by their timing; it’s set by leadership needs and an urgency to manage risks. And they’re learning to be proactive about a communication plan and process. They’re learning that when they don’t communicate, someone else does. And the biggest problem they’re managing is misinformation. So very quickly, we’ve helped these leaders put process in place for communication itself. It takes a cross-functional team and a process for looping in sales to keep customers informed, purchasing to bring insights from suppliers and logistics to bring insights from carriers and freight.

Define a three-dimensional view.

For problem solvers, the message is always “here’s the problem, and here’s what we’re doing about it.” But that approach to communication can make a supply chain leader seem very reactive. And in today’s environment, it can seem as if you’re only reacting to what’s happening versus trying to anticipate and manage around what’s ahead.

The three-dimensional view helps a leader set a storyline that includes:

• the macro-view of insights in the marketplace…what’s happening around us
• the current view of what we’re dealing with today and the impact we expect from it
• and the future view of what’s ahead and options we’re considering.

In all instances, we’re finding that leadership teams need some help understanding the big elements of supply chain and the levers that a leader can adjust or manage to minimize the impact. Most supply chain leaders didn’t have a strong storyline in place when the crisis hit, so they’re playing catch-up to simplify the supply chain view in conjunction with explaining where the risks are greatest and what they can do about it. And it’s making communication too complex.

Set the broader picture so that you can come back to it consistently. This helps everyone get on the same page and begin to listen for the same components.

Close the loop with follow-up answers.

Back to the hot seat. Most supply chain leaders would like to slide out of it. And we’re pushing them to lean forward in it. Here’s why. Because there’s so much visibility for supply chain, there’s also a lot of internal misinformation. And that can feel like a game of “whack-a-mole” as leaders try to deliver the accurate message and diffuse the wrong ones. It helps to add a follow-up loop to all communication so that the right messages take hold and shut down some of the noise.

Think of it as a press secretary who can capture what was said and asked and keep the right messages in circulation. Some supply chain leaders have designated a person to manage this. Others have done it themselves by sending out a short note after senior meetings to reinforce the information shared. You have to reset the expert seat and keep your perspective and your response front and center.

And if you’re not a supply chain leader? Take note of what they’re dealing with and be proactive in learning how to lead communication of a long-term challenge with a senior team. Because if security leaders have managed it, HR leaders have managed it, and now supply chain leaders are navigating it, it’s only a matter of time before every function area will feel a little heat in the hot seat.

We’re here when you need us!

Want a free 15-minute consultation with us to see how we can help you or your leaders? Book a call now!

Sally Williamson & Associates

The Complexity of Hybrid Engagement

The concept of a hybrid work model gained momentum about 18 months ago.

And as companies began to explore it, the buzz from HR teams was this is going to get complicated. And they were right. At this point, very few managers have “mastered” it, and many employees are saying it’s clunky and not resetting the culture the way leaders hoped it would. And it’s still one of the top Google searches this year.

There’s a clear delineation between why one model was easy and the other is more difficult. The virtual model solved for individuals. There wasn’t a choice about the virtual setting as a way of working. Everyone was in it, and everyone adjusted to it. Interestingly, most companies said it worked. They gained efficiencies and felt that they were able to leverage individuals effectively. What most managers now say is that the team aspect suffered in a virtual setting. It was just harder, and in some cases not feasible, to keep employees connected to each other and leveraging the skills of each other. So, high productivity from individuals but much less collaboration across teams.

And that’s the shift with the hybrid model. Companies want to bring back the collaboration that helps processes evolve and improve as they moved forward. The complexity is that when companies opened their doors, few acknowledged the objective and the shift from individual focus to team focus. And companies didn’t give managers a lot of guidance on how to build team contracts. And managers need it. They learned so much in the last two years about managing to individual needs, and now they aren’t sure how to balance individual needs against team priorities. In order for hybrid models to work, the priorities of the team have to come first.

In our workshops, we talk about the difference in engagement of the work and engagement of individuals. Both are a part of setting the hybrid model, but the approach may differ between the work and the people.

To reset the engagement of teamwork, we coach managers to define the work of the team first. Build a visual representation of what the team does and the connection points that the team needs to integrate the work and deliver outcomes. The manager defines the connection points and the vehicle used to collaborate on work. Over the last two years, managers have jumped back into details to keep processes going. While managers had good connection to most employees, the employees didn’t have consistent and essential connection to each other. It’s time to pull out and let team members own the processes.

The manager sets the date, the time, the cadence and the process of teamwork. The employees drive the connection that comes from it. It’s the engagement of teamwork that allows us to learn from each other, build trust with each other and ultimately, leverage each other toward better outcomes.

Managers have to be unapologetic about putting the team first in the hybrid model and having new norms that are requirements for being on a team. If the team needs to meet in person on Mondays, then the team has to meet in person on Mondays. Interestingly, as we’ve worked with managers on defining the “team contract,” they aren’t getting the resistance that they thought they would. That’s because we don’t need to reset to how we worked two years ago, and most people welcome the connection back to the team. Employees are adjusting to new expectations, and many admit that the shift to hybrid wasn’t as dramatic as they feared.

But will the culture reset if different teams have different contracts? How can managers continue to drive personal connection with employees that they don’t see regularly? The connection part is proving to be the toughest part of the hybrid model. It was the toughest part of the virtual model, and it remains amongst groups that don’t get together regularly.

Managers sure tried. From virtual games, to wine tastings, competitions and hobby huddles, they did it all. It’s just hard to accept that looking at a screen can deliver the same energy and engagement as sitting across from someone. It worked for a while when life was virtual, and the screen connection was the only connection we had. But life has reset. People are out in restaurants, seeing friends and family in person. Ironically, for many employees, the work group is the only one they don’t see regularly. Managers who try to set virtual connection points are competing with the in-person connections that have returned to all other parts of life.

To reset engagement with people, we need to acknowledge that virtual connection isn’t as good. We get energy from being with people, and while different people like different doses of that energy, a virtual connection doesn’t deliver the same thing. Managers have to find ways to build connection into a team contract.

In-person connection fits easily in a local teamwork model because people are in the same location and getting meals together or planning events together comes easily. Many companies are returning to in-person meetings which creates an opportunity for those who aren’t in the same location to plan for touchpoints throughout the year. It’s an essential part of strengthening a culture, and if your team doesn’t have the opportunity to get together, you need to create it. Even global teams that are very far apart are finding ways to bring employees who live in the same country together so that everyone has the opportunity to reset, re-energize or begin relationships.

As managers and leaders ask for guidance on retaining employees, I often say that people leave companies as individuals. If their work environment and setting is always individual, the culture doesn’t have much of an impact on them. But they tend to stay with companies when they belong to a team or have friendships where they work. The company culture comes through in the people they know and the leaders they like to work with. We talked about this on a recent podcast, Resetting & Reducing Social Distance.

The hybrid model has more complexity, and to work well, it has to focus on the work of the team and the connection of individuals to each other.

If you’re interested in improving your team’s model, we can help through our group workshops or 1:1 coaching to build a tailored plan for your team.

We’re here when you need us!

Want a free 15-minute consultation with us to see how we can help you or your leaders? Book a call now!

Sally Williamson & Associates

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