Milestone Blog

"Keep the Door Open, Please"

Posted by Milestone Leadership on Jun 13, 2019 11:05:00 AM

Are people actually walking through your open door? As leaders we have a tendency to say our doors are always open—and our organizations may even go so far as to officially tout an open door policy that theoretically reaches all the way to the top. But how many frontline employees in your workplace feel truly empowered to approach leaders at various levels with challenges or input?

The truth is, team members have a lot of opinions. They’re the ones charged with actually implementing an organization’s strategies, keeping abreast of competitors, and producing, implementing or promoting products and services. They have distinct thoughts about the culture of the workplace and how they and their peers feel about showing up to work each day. They know how customers feel about their company and they can tell you where the gaps in service lie. Team members can pinpoint the strengths of the organization and are no strangers to the not-so-pretty aspects that may be negatively impacting productivity or even losing clients.

When an organization describes itself as having an open door policy, it’s issuing a blanket statement about its culture that may—or more often may not—reflect the reality of how team dynamics and sharing of information actually functions. Leaders who say their offices are always open are really only meeting their team members a fraction of the way, and they are likely missing out on some enormously valuable input and innovative ideas.

At Milestone Leadership, we know leaders worth following take a proactive approach. Here are three ways to actually make good on an open door assertion and start hearing more from your team:

  • Walk straight through your own door, out of your office and meet your team members where they are. Make a commitment to regularly approach employees about what they’re experiencing, where they’re struggling and what they’re proud of. Initial conversations may not result in people feeling comfortable with sharing much information, but with consistency and a clearly demonstrated open mind that builds trust, feedback and ideas will start to flow both ways. Come prepared with questions that help to get people talking, and ask about specific topics you’re challenged by.
  • Don’t assume the information actually shared with you paints the entire picture. Human nature dictates that people tend to be more vocal with complaints or problems—a good example is online reviews where people feel the need to get negative experiences off of their chests, but may never take the time to leave praise or offer constructive suggestions. Similarly, leaders may hear about what people are upset about but they don’t have employees coming to them with fresh ideas or possible innovations. By reinforcing a culture of ongoing communication that encourages sharing all types of information, the likelihood of getting a broader view increases exponentially.
  • Think and interact with strategy in mind. As a leader, you have responsibility for the definition, communication and execution of your organization’s strategy. Many employees have roles that are more narrowly defined and they don’t necessarily think about big-picture views or overarching objectives every day. When talking with team members, reinforce the company’s strategy and how their work supports that. As they better see where their work fits into the grand scheme of things, they will become more proactive about suggesting ways to improve processes or even positively disrupt status quo.

Make sure your door really IS open—and make the sure the path goes both ways!

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Topics: Professional Development, Productivity, Initiative, Candor, Living Your Values, Employee Engagement, Leadership, Honesty, Candidness, Tone at the Top, Advice, Management, Empowerment, Effectiveness, Values, Feedback, Boss, Organization, Company Culture, Tips, innovation, Success, Intentionality, Workplace, Idea Generation, Teams, Milestone, Team Health, Problem Solving, High Performance, High Performing Teams, Transparency, Challenge, Strategy, Criticism, Learning, Powerful Influencers, Relationships, Values & Ethics, Employee Development, Personal Development, Creating Culture, Leader Worth Following, Communication

Teachers in the Trenches: A Brief Look at Receiving the Gift of Feedback

Posted by Milestone Leadership on Apr 15, 2019 2:08:03 PM

 

For this installment of “Teachers in the Trenches: A Brief Look at Real Leadership Stories,” we share with you a quote about the power of hearing and accepting input from others and the way one leader has been able to both teach and inspire his followers through a consistent, positive message.

“A number of years ago I was a newbie at P&G, and my leader at the time was Mike Graen, director of Information Technology. He had a huge impact on my career for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that he demonstrated what it is to be a true servant leader—always willing and ready to get in the trenches with his team. He had a wonderful way of empowering us to find solutions to complex issues. Mike taught me to push beyond the obvious, and his encouraging way of doing that, and his confidence in my abilities to do so, has given me lasting confidence.

“Mike had an impactful phrase he used, which has become somewhat of a mantra for me, ‘Feedback is a gift.’ Those words I’ve repeated many times, and the meaning is something I’ve taken to heart. That simple phrase taught me that hearing feedback can be incredibly valuable and critical to success. We have to own what we hear from others about the work we do—and we have an obligation to ask questions to gain clarity about that feedback. We must listen without defensiveness and learn to take action based upon what others share with us. Receiving feedback in the right spirit helps us build our toolkits and improve our work.”

-Suzanne Herzog Owens, Chief Product Officer, WhyteSpyder

Leaders worth following know how to provide constructive feedback that is actually motivating and beneficial to their team members—and they have to be open to receiving feedback, as well. Some of the best lessons that leaders can hope to receive come from their followers and peers. It is critical to internalize and act upon this feedback in the spirit it is intended.

Whether you’re leading or following (or both), here are some ways to graciously accept and use feedback as the gift it is meant to be:

  • As you’re hearing feedback, take a second to remind yourself that you’re gaining insight for ways you can improve your effectiveness or make something you’re working on better.
  • Listen fully and try not to let your brain race to the point that you’re not hearing what is being said. Once the person has shared their thoughts, restate what you believe you were told to make sure you’re on the same page.
  • Don’t go on the defensive. Don’t argue. Stop, listen and acknowledge what you’ve been told.
  • Ask clarifying questions and inquire about possible solutions for addressing any issues.
  • Thank the person who has taken the time to share feedback with you. It might not have been easy for them, but by acknowledging politely and sincerely, you are showing your respect for their assessment—even if you may not fully agree.
  • Afterwards, consciously look for examples of your behavior or activities that relate to the criticism and actively address them. If you find ways to improve and take specific action to do so, it’s great to follow up with the person who provided feedback to demonstrate your progress.  

 

At Milestone Leadership, we recognize feedback is a necessity, and like all communication, it’s best when it flows both directions. Building a culture that embraces and cultivates feedback invites trust and meaningful interaction among team members—which leads to innovation, productivity and loyalty.

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Topics: Productivity, Growth, Candor, Living Your Values, Employee Engagement, Leadership, Honesty, Authenticity, Candidness, Tone at the Top, Advice, Humility, Management, Empowerment, Effectiveness, Reflection, Values, Feedback, Passion, Organization, Company Culture, Tips, Success, Intentionality, Experience, Workplace, Teams, Milestone, Truth, Team Health, Top Down Leadership, High Performance, Purpose, High Performing Teams, Recognition, Learning, Relationships, Values & Ethics, Personal Development, Creating Culture, Leader Worth Following, Communication

Teachers in the Trenches: A Brief Look at Real Leadership Stories

Posted by Milestone Leadership on Apr 4, 2019 9:09:42 AM

 

No matter where we are in life or how we arrived at that point, from start to finish there are always people along our path who teach or influence us—especially when we are open to learning and embracing a bit of healthy introspection. Sometimes lessons are conveyed very intentionally, and at other times we learn by simply observing someone’s behavior, demeanor or direct actions. This article is the first in a series of blogs where we will share a quote from someone who describes a real-life instance of something their current or past leader said or did that has impacted their own leadership journey.

“My first full time boss was an old Army Sergeant who has served in Vietnam. Warm and cuddly he was not, but he knew how to GSD (get stuff done.) He sat me down when I became a leader for him (dispatcher) and told me that the company we worked for ran long before I got there and will run long after I leave...so don't think that I can't be replaced if I screw up or didn't work as much as it took to get the job done.

“That was shocking to a 19-year old, but really stuck. Though it was meant to be a threat (veiled or otherwise) and I'm no longer with that company...which is no longer in business...I've taken that nugget and made it my own. I now encourage my people to take care of themselves and use that same phrase to show them that though they feel like what they are working on is the most important thing right now, it will all still be here when they get back and are rested.” 

-Zac McCool, Senior Manager of Engineering and Technology, J.B. Hunt

The leadership lesson gained from this originally negative comment took on a valuable meaning as the person’s career progressed. Encouraging team members to take time to occasionally refuel both mind and body has enormous benefits for overall long-term productivity. It’s true—the work and the organization will still be there when someone returns from vacation or takes time to recover from an illness—but the reward is increased creativity, enhanced focus, more energy and greater loyalty to the team. Encouraging team members to balance their time and work load to take care of themselves and their families is a small price to pay for attracting and retaining top talent in a tight labor market. 

If you have a leadership example you would like us to consider featuring, we would sincerely love to hear it! Please respond in the comments of this post, and we’ll reach out to hear your story. At Milestone Leadership, we understand that teachers and mentors come to us in all sorts of ways, both formally and informally. We also know leadership lessons are best shared so we can all grow together—and the most effective way for us to become better leaders is to clearly understand and embrace what influences and inspires our followers. Who inspired you? What is your leader worth following story?

 

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Topics: Productivity, Growth, Living Your Values, Employee Engagement, Leadership, Tone at the Top, Advice, Management, Empowerment, Effectiveness, Reflection, Values, Passion, Organization, Company Culture, Success, Intentionality, Experience, Workplace, Teams, Milestone, Truth, Team Health, Top Down Leadership, High Performance, Purpose, High Performing Teams, Recognition, Learning, Relationships, Values & Ethics, Personal Development, Creating Culture, Leader Worth Following, Communication

Tell Me a Story

Posted by Milestone Leadership on Mar 29, 2019 9:55:59 AM

 

Ask any group of leaders what robs them of sleep, and you’ll likely eventually hear something about challenges related to connecting with their team or peers—and struggles with how to more gracefully guide others through the stresses of change that are inevitable and inherent to any organization. Successfully managing through these issues requires finesse and acknowledgement of the importance of possessing some of the more intangible soft skills. One of those capabilities may seem insignificant on its face, but when appropriately used can actually wield enormous influence: Storytelling.

For many of us, our long-ago childhood bedtime rituals frequently included a story to coax us into our dreams. We revelled in the cozy simplicity of the voice of a parent or loved one reading aloud, making up a tall tale or sharing a treasured vignette about when they were once small themselves. Everything else would become still, and we listened intently—our minds filling with images and ideas that would usually last well beyond the telling.

Fast-forward to now, and it’s likely you still love a great story. We get pulled into them in spite of ourselves—on social media, television, movies or perhaps just overhearing someone while waiting in line at the DMV. National Public Radio even names their best, most captivating stories Driveway Moments because they’re so interesting we stay in our cars to listen to the end after we’ve already arrived at our destinations.

Work environments are no different, and leaders who are good storytellers have a real edge when striving to be relatable to team members and peers. The right story at the right time can be extraordinarily powerful. It has the potential to generate emotion, energy and establish a personal connection. Well-executed stories can frame up what needs to be learned or achieved by allowing listeners to create a relevant vision in their own minds that is memorable and relatable to a broader subject.

“Good stories surprise us. They make us think and feel. They stick in our minds and help us remember ideas and concepts in a way that a PowerPoint crammed with bar graphs never can.”      - Joe Lazauskas and Shane Snow, The Storytelling Edge: How to Transform Your Business, Stop Screaming into the Void, and Make People Love You

Not everyone is a natural storyteller, but leaders worth following know a great story has the potential to jog memories well into the future and can influence behavior and actions in a positive way—or even reinforce the organization’s vision and values. With practice and intention, there are several techniques that can help almost anyone craft good stories:

  1. Every story needs an identifiable beginning, middle and end—and the best stories bring it all home by tying the end back to the beginning in some form of resolution or connection. Open the story with a bit of context so people understand why it’s being told.
  2. Make sure the subject of the story is identifiable to the audience—and it shouldn’t always be about you. If you do talk about yourself, a bit of self-effacing humor can help curb what might otherwise been seen as egotistical or self-promoting.
  3. Stories about failures overcome are highly relatable. We’ve all felt the crush of defeat or embarrassment and it’s commonly accepted that people learn more from mistakes than successes.
  4. Appeal to emotion when appropriate. Not only does this connect the storyteller to the audience, people tend to remember how someone or something made them feel.
  5. When done telling a story, allow a moment for it to sink in. (Just like brief silence in a negotiation is a powerful tool, so is a moment of reflection after a story.)

At Milestone Leadership, we know people never outgrow a great story, whether it be around a campfire or on a long road trip—a sermon or a podcast—or simply in the breakroom over coffee. We hope you’ll tell yours.

“A well-told Story is a gift to the reader/listener/viewer because it teaches them how to confront their own discomforts.”  - Shawn Coyne, The Story Grid

 

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Topics: Productivity, Growth, Living Your Values, Employee Engagement, Leadership, Tone at the Top, Advice, Management, Empowerment, Effectiveness, Reflection, Values, Passion, Organization, Company Culture, Success, Intentionality, Experience, Workplace, Teams, Milestone, Truth, Team Health, Top Down Leadership, High Performance, Purpose, High Performing Teams, Recognition, Learning, Relationships, Values & Ethics, Personal Development, Creating Culture, Leader Worth Following, Communication

How a Hotel Chain Snagged a 96% Employee Approval Rating

Posted by Milestone Leadership on Mar 22, 2019 9:44:15 AM

 

There’s a list any company would be proud to find its name topping—the annual ranking of Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For. This year’s list is full of variety, representing everything from tech companies to grocery chains, financial firms to telecoms. In the number one spot for 2019 is Hilton, rising considerably from #33 in 2018.

At Milestone Leadership, we know that defining and constantly reinforcing an organizational culture which embraces values that benefit both customers and team members is fundamental to a company’s success. To see a well-known company in the highly competitive hospitality industry (known for an annual turnover rate topping 70%) manage to consistently land on Fortune’s annual list, it made us stop to wonder what values Hilton’s leadership has instilled to cause a whopping 96% of its employees to report “this is a great place to work.

Hilton has made it easy for team members to remember the company’s values—in fact, they actually spell it out in the form of an acronym:

H        Hospitality       We’re passionate about delivering exceptional guest experiences.

I          Integrity           We do the right thing, all the time.

L         Leadership      We’re leaders in our industry and in our communities.

T         Teamwork       We’re team players in everything we do.

O         Ownership      We’re the owners of our actions and decisions.

N         Now                  We operate with sense of urgency and discipline.

Much could be said about any one of these solid core values, but because Hilton was ranked as the best place to work largely based upon what employees reported in a 60-question survey, we wondered what they were so positive about with regard to their work experience. This is what they reported:

98%   When you join the company, you are made to feel welcome.

97%   I’m proud to tell others I work here.

96%   I am treated as a full member here regardless of my position.

96%   When I look at what I accomplish, I feel a sense of pride.

96%   I feel good about the ways we contribute to the community.

So, what’s the secret sauce? Simply put, the company has committed fully to finding tangible ways over the past decade to treat every team member—regardless of role or pay level—as well as they treat the guests at their properties. The results are clear: team members bring their best selves to their jobs, which means improved service, growing profits and rising stock values for Hilton even as the overall hotel industry is experiencing increased competition from Airbnb and other short-term rental options.

One way Hilton has shown employees they’re valued has been to implement programs that directly benefit team members at every level. Back-of-house spaces like break rooms have been renovated to look and feel as special as the spaces designed for guests. Hilton also allows employees to stay at its properties around the world at steeply discounted prices, a benefit that is coveted by team members and has allowed many to fulfill lifelong dreams. Yet, the company recognizes that beautiful facilities and travel accommodations can feel pretty empty unless there is a constant commitment to hiring managers who can inspire the best from their teams every day. Hilton seeks to find leadership talent who treat direct reports as equal peers; the expectation is that this degree of positive interaction and support starts in the C-suites and cascades outward.

Ultimately, Hilton recognizes the importance of building and retaining a network of leaders worth following who are empowered to act in accordance with the company’s stated values. The result is loyal, engaged people who are recognizing their greatest potential on the job.

It surely feels good to be #1.

 

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Topics: Productivity, Growth, Living Your Values, Employee Engagement, Leadership, Tone at the Top, Advice, Management, Empowerment, Effectiveness, Reflection, Values, Self Awareness, Passion, Organization, Company Culture, Success, Intentionality, Experience, Workplace, Teams, Milestone, Truth, Team Health, Top Down Leadership, High Performance, Purpose, High Performing Teams, Recognition, Learning, Relationships, Values & Ethics, Personal Development, Creating Culture, Leader Worth Following, Communication

Unvacationing: Don't Lead by Example

Posted by Milestone Leadership on Mar 14, 2019 11:55:46 AM

 

You started dreaming more than a year ago. You read a ton of blogs and began planning the perfect vacation. You saved up and then secured all the travel arrangements. You packed for every possible scenario.

You’ve arrived in your version of paradise, and the accommodations you booked are just what you’d hoped. You’ve scouted the perfect restaurants and excursions to enjoy. Everything is just what you anticipated—maybe even better—and you’re so ready to truly relax so it can all sink in….

EXCEPT YOU DON’T.

You check work email. You look at your phone again and again, making sure more texts aren’t coming in from your department. You promise yourself you’ll keep your responses short and only when necessary—but back at the office, because they saw you responded even when your out-of-office reply said you were unavailable, you’ve clearly indicated things are still “game on” for you. And the emails don’t let up. A few voice messages trickle in, usually starting something like, “Heyyyyy, I know you’re on vacation, BUT…” 

How do you feel when you read this? Does this sound too familiar, perhaps your own behavior or something you see regularly from your team members?

There is ever-growing scientific evidence indicating preoccupation with work and the inability to unplug is detrimental to productivity. Pushing ourselves constantly to do one more (and one more) task, to send just a few more emails, and to make a couple of last quick calls until we don’t remember where the time went…ultimately causes our brains to rebel against us. We find our usual creativity to be lacking, our quick thinking to have slowed and words start to escape us. We become irritable and listless, distracted and more easily frustrated.

According to a report by the U.S. Travel Association’s Project: Time Off Coalition’s report “The Tethered Vacation,” only 27% of U.S. employees actually unplug from work during their vacations and 78% say they are more comfortable taking time off if they know they can access work. More than a fourth of employees say they check back in hourly or several times a day. Employees who maintain more frequent contact with the office during vacation generally fear work will pile up and no one else can handle their responsibilities—and the fear of taking time off only increases as they advance professionally. Fifty-one percent of those who check in frequently report stress in their home life, compared to the 36% who actually unplug on vacation. Those stress levels ramp up substantially more at work.

Organizations have the ability to create cultures that support unplugging, and the benefits are very real. The fact is that employees in supportive environments are significantly more engaged. 69% feel valued for their contributions, 64% feel their employer cares for them as a person inside and outside of the office, and 73% feel their jobs are important to the company’s mission. Engaged employees who are able to unplug on vacation are the same ones who are willing to put in the extra time later under tough deadlines or when a project necessitates.

As a leader, you may wonder how much you can truly influence the culture of your organization when it comes to unplugging.  Research cited in “The Tethered Vacation” indicates managers and their behaviors have an enormous influence over direct reports’ time—actually more than their own families. The fact is that managers who don’t disconnect when on vacation (86%) are frequently putting pressure on direct reports to do the same. In the end, the push for continuous productivity and constant connection ultimately results in an opposite effect: employees who feel their leader places pressure on them to stay connected to work are generally less likely to be truly engaged. In other words, they’re present…but they’re not really there. And not only are they not really there, 40% of employees in unsupportive cultures are planning or already looking for new jobs.

Leaders worth following set the tone within their organizations. When leaders actively model behaviors they expect to see in team members and establish rules of engagement that benefit everyone, the outcome is overwhelmingly positive. Through proactive planning and shared responsibility, it is possible to establish work environments that allow all employees the opportunity to take time needed to recharge and refresh—and in so doing actually increase productivity while building loyalty.

Time to dust off that passport and turn off those mobile phone notifications for a few days—be the change!

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Topics: Professional Development, Unplug, Technology, Growth, Balance, Living Your Values, Employee Engagement, Leadership, Advice, Fun, Empowerment, Effectiveness, Reflection, Values, Organization, Company Culture, Success, Intentionality, Experience, Workplace, Burnout, Teams, Milestone, Truth, Team Health, Change, Top Down Leadership, Team Dysfunction, High Performance, Dsyfunction, Role Models, Learning, Relationships, Values & Ethics, Personal Development, Creating Culture, Leader Worth Following, Vacation

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