Let’s put it to a vote

August 27th, 2015

CRANIUM Point: Interaction not micromanagement
Honor team input. Leverage their experience. Gain loyalty through allowing a choice and a voice.

Last week we spoke about how useful surveys can be.  Holding elections can have the same effect of empowering others and giving them voice. While a survey can afford anonymity and potentially more honesty, gathering everyone for elections can lead to richer interactions, more creativity and even fun.

Hold an election to gain input on changes, decisions, challenges, and so forth. Make it fun by adding something novel to the ballot or offering an incentive for voting.  Serve food, wear costumes, decorate, there’s a ton of ways to make it interesting.

If you have to take on topics that are divisive, establishing ground rules and doing team-building exercises first help you get to a better outcome.  Make pro and con lists as a group first will create inclusion and maybe open a few minds.

Tone down your PowerPoint

August 24th, 2015

CRANIUM Point: Novelty not boring routine
Do the unexpected. Seek and reward innovation. Celebrate veering from conventional methods.

Normally our novelty posts are a little whacky to emphasize breaking from convention.  PowerPoint presentations are a good place to depart from this as they are often so bad. Why? Most often it’s just an opportunity to be creative and people go overboard.  Channeling all that creativity into clean, simple and clear graphics is not that hard if you follow some simple guidelines.

The brain gravitates towards clean, easy-to-read communication. Uncluttered communication with a clear message and supporting visual is more appealing than heavy text and competing visuals. Clean. Simple. Clear.

  • Black text on a white background is the gold standard for readability.
  • Use 3 colors or less and use them sparingly.
  • Graphics should be the centerpiece of your slides.
  • Simple, conventional fonts (Times, Georgia, Arial, Helvetica) are easiest to read.
  • Save some information for the accompanying talk.


How to get effective input from surveys

August 6th, 2015

CRANIUM Point: Interaction not micromanagement
Honor team input. Leverage others experience. Gain loyalty through allowing a choice and a voice.

They probably land in your inbox all of the time. Most of them are just noise but if done correctly surveys can be phenomenally useful for fleshing out weaknesses or targeting strengths to build on. Whether paper or electronic, there are two keys to surveys in general: incentives and anonymity.

Offer total anonymity to get input on changes, decisions, challenges, and so forth. Sure a joker or two may not take it seriously and send non-serious feedback. The rest, however, will be much more forthcoming with their feedback. This is easier to achieve with electronic web-based surveys such as Survey Monkey. You’ll have to take some extra steps to make sure a paper survey is truly anonymous. First, answers should only be multiple-choice bubbles or check boxes so no one needs to use their handwriting. Alternatively, you can send a pdf to be filled out digitally and then printed.  It can also help to appoint someone lower on the organizational ladder to be in charge of collecting the surveys anonymously.

It is sometimes difficult to pull people’s attention from their normal duties so an incentive for returning the survey can boost participation.  Make it something everyone will want to really get their attention.  Those ones that are working the hardest will be the most difficult to pull from their work for a survey but they will also often have the best feedback.  Offer a raffle for something really attractive such as a vacation day.  You might also get a catered lunch for those who participate.  There are many possibilities,  be creative.  Just make sure you’re using surveys and your getting the best feedback you can.

How to lead effectively by delegating effectively

July 22nd, 2015

CRANIUM Point: Interaction not micromanagement
Honor team input. Leverage others experience. Gain loyalty through allowing a choice and a voice.

Delegate.  It can be a euphemism for bossing others around or shirking responsibility.  It can also be a powerful tool for building trust and broadening others’ skill sets.  Effective leaders see delegating as an opportunity to develop others. They delegate intentionally and purposefully by matching tasks with others’ interests.

You can just pick any number a project, meeting, task, or responsibility to delegate and assign someone with an interest in the job.  That last clause is very important, find someone with an interest.  If you don’t you’re just a manager, not a leader.  If you don’t you’re losing the opportunity to help someone feel more empowered, more valuable and more loyal.

Another great thing to do is actively seek people ready for new responsibility simply by asking them.  Ask them if they have any skills you might not know about, if there is anything they think they could improve that they’re not currently responsible for.  Even if you don’t discover anything new about this person right away you’re planting a seed.  By letting them know that you are supportive of their growth you aren’t just making them feel better.  In the future they’ll be more likely to be on the look out for ways they can step up.

Do you get enough feedback?

July 6th, 2015

gold star

CRANIUM Point: Interaction not micromanagement
Honor team input. Leverage others experience. Gain loyalty through allowing a choice and a voice.

You’re not a mindreader and neither is your team.  There are many things you could be doing better but you might not know what they are if you don’t ask.  People withhold constructive criticism for many reasons but usually to spare your feelings or theirs.  This is a barrier to progress that must be constantly whittled down.

It takes time to build a culture of constructive feedback, both positive and negative.  Since this can be a sensitive area start small and in the safest way possible.  Begin with two or three people whom you trust and be the feedback guinea pig.  Ask each to describe how your behavior has impacted them in the last day or week. Ask each to tell you one thing they would like for you to continue and one thing they would like for you to stop.

A little preparation will go a long way to make this outreach successful.  Be prepared for a little sting; the feedback might hurt your feelings.  Have a canned response ready in mind for this situation such as:

  • “thanks, I’ll think about that” or,
  • “that’s interesting, I’ll think about that,” or even
  • “okay, I’ll think about that.”

Do you see a pattern here? Even if your non-verbals tell them you’re seething inside you’re at least giving them a verbal cue that you’ve got the message and that the ball is in your court.  You can always come back and finish up if your blood is running a little hot in the moment.  You haven’t made any commitments or said anything defensive.  All you’ve done is acknowledge the feedback, a good thing, and promise to ponder it, also a good thing.

If you want to go a step further do a quick training on nonviolent communication.  There’s a load of psychological reasons for this specific method but, in general, if you just follow the basic steps it can really take the edge off an otherwise difficult conversation:

  • Observe: Just say what happened, “I heard you say _____,” or, “I saw you do _____,” are solid examples.
  • Feeling: Say how it felt, “When that happen I felt _____.”
  • Need: Now transform the feeling into what you need, “I felt _____ because I need _____.”
  • Request: Make that need a formal request to the other person, ” Will you please do _____ for me.”

With a little bit of practice these four steps can be magical.  There are many more resources available at the fabulously helpful Center for Nonviolent Communication.

Give a little back today

June 25th, 2015

Kids washing the dishes in the kitchen

So often it feels like we come back to Kindergarten lessons (keep your hands to yourself). I don’t know that it’s that our pace of life is so much faster. I doubt homesteaders on the prairie had shorter days than us. Perhaps it’s all of the electronic distractions (email, apps, texting, etc.) that keeps us from remembering to do the little things. Today, let’s get back to basics and just help someone important to us.

We’ve all heard that you’ve got to give in order to receive. Identify someone important to you. Ask this person to tell you three ways you can help him or her: empty the trash, change the printer cartridges, set up a room, wash the car, feed the dog, lead a meeting, copy materials.

We are all leaders whether we’re marshaling a sales force, leading by example or just herding children. One of the best ways to compliance and cooperation is to give back. They’ll feel seen and heard and loyal. Those little favors you do today aren’t just money in the future favor bank collecting interest for a rainy day. Acts of service are one of the main languages by which we let others know that they are cared for.