Nancy Duarte on Storytelling in Business

I created a series of sketch notes for Tiffani Bova’s “What’s Next” podcast where she meets brilliant people to discuss customer experience, growth and innovation. Tiffani Bova is a Global Customer Growth and Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce. I will post sketchnote versions of selected podcast episodes that enlightened me.


When driving large scale change, leaders often fall in trap of presenting the current reality and future state in form of data, numbers and charts. Data and information may provide clarity to people, in itself, they fail to connect people emotionally to ideas.

That is an area where modern advancements like AI with all its information generating capabilities, will still not fill the human need to connect emotionally.

For that, leaders need an ability to empathize with current realities of people, tell stories that resonate, in a way that inspire thinking and provokes meaningful change in how people operate on a day to day basis.

In this episode of What’s Next podcast, Nancy Duarte, a communications and persuasion expert discusses ideas on how to use storytelling and emotional connection to engage people/customers better. Do check it out.

While I present the sketchnote summary of this excellent podcast conversation, I also encourage you to watch Nancy’s famous TED Talk, The Secret Structure of Great Talks, which is viewed over a million times.

NancyDuarte


Related Reading at QAspire:

Insights on High-Tech and High-Touch Customer Experience

I created a series of sketch notes for Tiffani Bova’s “What’s Next” podcast where she meets brilliant people to discuss customer experience, growth and innovation. Tiffani Bova is a Global Customer Growth and Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce. I will post sketchnote versions of selected podcast episodes that enlightened me.


Common perception is that people who face the customers are accountable for customer experience. Larger organizations often fall in the trap of defining customer experience KPI’s only to executive teams, sales, marketing and customer services teams.
 
What about those who build the products? And those who recruit people? And those in backend operations? And how all of them collaborate to achieve business outcomes?
 
We see things in parts and therefore, fix things in parts. And even when parts are (sub) optimized, the whole may not have improved.
 
This equation gets even more complex in an AI driven world where customers expect personalized services.
 
In this episode of Whats Next! podcast, Tamara McCleary (CEO at Thulium.co) shares some useful insights on how technology advancements like AI and machine learning can enable companies to learn rapidly about the customers and personalize the experience at scale. This is critical because marketers think about selling to ‘customer segments’ where as customers expect personalized services based on their individual preferences.
 
Companies have to leverage “high-tech” to achieve “high-touch”
 
For everyone to own customer experience within a company, leaders have to start with a vision of what amazing customer experience looks like, build a culture of leadership at all levels, define systemic metrics (like Net Promoter Score) that everyone can strive for and finally incentivize people for their contributions to customer experience.
 
When leaders look at the whole, they provide a way for all departments to work towards the same outcomes and for everyone to clearly know that their work impacts customer experience.
 
Here is a visual summary of insights from the podcast episode, which you can listen here.
 
tamara-mccleary

 


Related Reading at QAspire:

Mindful Leadership: Productivity and Presence

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On a beautiful morning recently, I was in a park working out. I found myself distracted. While my feet raced in one direction, the mind took another route clogged with thoughts of that meeting in the evening and the numbers that I needed to crunch.

I stopped and it took me a mindful pause to bring myself back into the present moment and acknowledge the blessing that the beautiful morning was!

How often does this happen at work? Leaders falter when they are not able to receive full signals from their surroundings because they are either too distracted or thinking about other things as they listen. Sometimes we are too judgmental and try to read between the lines while missing the actual thing being conveyed. It derails our leadership, intent and outcomes. Technology and endless notifications on our devices make it even worse.

‘Leadership presence’ is often correlated with personality and charisma of a leader. But I think that leadership presence is way more than physical appearance.

‘Leadership presence’ is about:

  • Ability to listen deeply to conversations with openness without judging or reading too much between the lines. (In my experience, deep listening is only the solution people actually need sometimes.)
  • Ability to think through in a systematic way exploring all the facets of solutions, ideas and tasks.
  • Communicating right, using right words and expression to get your messages through in a meaningful way enabling you to build emotional connect.
  • Being fully available, present, attentive and engaged in present moment, conversations, tasks and challenges.
  • Being able to effectively choose the response to the triggers in a way that brings you closer to your intent and goals.
  • Execute with deep focus on the task.
  • Ability to take time to disconnect, reflect and learn.
  • Ability to let go of our “autopilot” ways of working and unconscious biases to question and challenge why we do what we do, and how we do it. Presence enables us to remain curious and ask right questions.
  • Ability to consume multiple and relevant inputs and pay attention to connect the dots – make sense of it all.

Leading organizations, teams and initiatives is all about producing tangible outcomes. Cultivating presence and eliminating distractions boosts leadership performance both in terms of tangible outcomes and intangible outcomes.

How you produce an outcome is as vital as what you produce and why you produce it.

What do you think? 


Also Read at QAspire:


In the Photo: Norbulingka Monastery, Dharamsala, India

Seth Godin on The Human Side of Business

I created a series of sketch notes for Tiffani Bova’s “What’s Next” podcast where she meets brilliant people to discuss customer experience, growth and innovation. Tiffani Bova is a Global Customer Growth and Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce. I will post sketchnote versions of selected podcast episodes that enlightened me.


Seth Godin’s work has influenced me a LOT. In fact, his book “Linchpin” transformed the way I saw my work as a leader and change maker. I have interacted with Seth twice on this blog before when I reviewed his books.

Here is an insight from the podcast episode that resonated the most with me:

“Great marketers do service. They say, “How do I serve this group of people?How do I educate them? How do I open the door for them?”

I think that great leaders share the same traits as great marketers because they exist to serve, raise the bar, initiate change and open new possibilities – and they do this consistently.

Ultimately, the experience we deliver to our people is as important as the results we deliver. Experience is the product, whatever your business may be.

I also loved the emphasis Seth puts on taking responsibility and sharing the credits. Most people stuck in mediocrity approach it the other way around – they want the credit without taking responsibility. Authority is elusive when you explicitly chase it. It is, in fact, a by-product of focusing on delivering value.

Listen to the podcast for these and more brilliant insights, and read this post by Tiffani Bova on HuffPost.

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Also Read:

Storytelling: Begin With The End in Mind

Stories and narratives that touch us emotionally have power to transform us. When hearing a moving speech, story or talk, we feel that it is delivered effortlessly but we know it doesn’t happen on its own.

I have learned that:

A performance that feels effortless is often the peak point of great preparation behind the scenes.

As leaders, our ability to tell stories that resonate at an emotional level with others is at the heart of elevating aspirations and sparking change.

Bernadette Jiwa is one of my favorite bloggers because she packs a lot of substance in a few words. She recently wrote a short post on “How to Craft a Powerful Message” which outlines three steps to create a story that resonates.

Most speakers focus on what they want to/have to share. But great storytelling starts with an understanding of the audience, aligning your message to needs of the context and then delivering it in a way that creates impact.

Here is a quick visual summary of the post:

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Related posts at QAspire:

Three Levels of Trust in Relationships

A lot of people I meet use the expression, “Trust me…” or “Believe me…” in an attempt to build confidence. Do we trust them, just because they are asking us to?

Trust is not something you demand, it is something that you have to earn through clarity of intent (why), actions that support that intent (what) and most importantly take those actions with utmost integrity and human connection (how). And we have to do this consistently because trust is built one step at a time.

And unless people trust us, they would not care about our competence. Therefore, leaders have to truly connect before they can lead.

We commonly use the word ‘trust’ in business environment but how often do we care about what kind of trust we are expecting from others? I learned about three levels of trust through this excellent post by Randy Conley.

Also Read: Employee Engagement: 4 Basic Human Needs (by Randy Conley)

Let’s say, a new member joins your team and during induction process, the new team member understands the governing processes, explicit policies and implicit expectations while also being aware of the consequences. Through processes, we know that new member will not be able to violate the essentials. Conley defines this as deterrence based trust.

As we work with the new team member through a longer period, seeing them deliver the outcomes, we build our experience with them. At this point we know that they are aligned to the same intent and we have sufficient knowledge about their behavior and reactions. Conley defines this as knowledge based trust.

But most intimate level of trust is what Conley defines as “Identity” based trust. This is way deeper than just knowing a person. This is about having deep connection with intrinsic motivations of an individual. We understand them at a level of their hopes, aspirations and fears. And yet, we don’t misuse them. We give them the space to be their most authentic selves.

Most effective mentoring relationships I have seen – whether they are between parents and their kids, teachers and their students or between professionals – have this depth of trust.

Conley argues that this kind of trust is reserved for most important people in life, but with right boundaries, building this trust at workplace unlocks creativity and productivity.

Here is a quick sketchnote of ideas presented in Conley’s post.

So, next time you end up using the word “Trust”, do a quick check on what level of trust you are referring to.

88_trustRelated Resources at QAspire

Being Conscious About Our Unconscious Biases

I attended a very interesting workshop a few weeks ago on the topic of “Unconscious Bias” facilitated by Smita Tharoor. I was interested in this topic because I explored the intersection of critical thinking and leadership a few years ago. This was a good opportunity to get back to the topic and add to my understanding.

What is Unconscious Bias

The term ‘cognitive bias’ was coined by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman in 1972 which quite simply means “our tendency to filter information, process facts and arrive at judgments based on our past experiences, likes/dislikes and automatic influences.”

How do these biases show up in Leadership?

A lot of leadership is about taking decisions involving group of people. Instinctive leaders often tend to decide quickly based on limited information or experience they have at hand. The result is that they end up taking wrong decisions (which may have worked for them in past but may not work in a different context), or discriminating with people of a certain color, race, sex or nationality based on their past experiences with similar people.  At work, biases (or the perception of bias) is the biggest contributor to people disengagement and cost of disengagement is huge. Lack of critical thinking also leads to short-termism where decisions are taken for immediate gains and solutions of today become thorny problems of tomorrow.

Some Ways to Deal with Unconscious Bias

Get Conscious. Be more aware about unconscious cognitive biases. Knowing that they exist is the first important step to tackling them. And they exist in plenty. Here is a list of all unconscious biases and what they really mean.

Ask questions, often. When considering a decision, ask questions that elicit understanding and clarify details. When you ask questions, you extend an opportunity to others to really express them. You are extending an opportunity to yourself to understand their thinking more closely. Encourage a culture where asking questions is valued.

Look for Patterns. Data over a period of time reveals patterns. Looking for patterns from the results of past decision can lead to important insights and learning. Sometimes data can blind us unless we learn to look at the pattern and story behind the data.

Look for the contrary. It helps playing a devil’s advocate and taking a contrarian view of things. It not only challenges others to think harder but also helps you in really understanding if they are just defending their own biases.

Embrace Diversity. This starts with hiring decisions. Don’t hire people whose beliefs are compliant with yours. You will tap into diverse ideas and viewpoints only when you have people with diverse thinking patterns on your team.

Attend to data and evidences. When you ask your people to bring data, evidences and trends, it does not mean lack of trust. It only means that you are intentional about serving them better by taking the right decisions.

Communicate clearly. Clear and accurate communication is a leader’s tool #1. Avoid using generic terms to describe people, situations and things. Biases are most commonly visible in how a leader communicates. Being mindful about our words is critical to thinking and communicating objectively.

Here is a sketchnote summary of the discussions during the workshop.

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Also Read at QAspire:

Leaders Who Create the Future

At the heart of great leadership is the ability to critically assess current state, envision the future state and take actions to bridge the gap. Execution is effectively governed by learning and adapting the approaches along the way.

The fall of Nokia is a classic example of what happens when leaders cling to ideas that worked for them in the past without recognizing (or creating) the demands of the future.

According to Bill Taylor at Harvard Business Review, there are four kinds of leaders who create the future. The post emphasizes on a leader’s ability to learn constantly, willingness to disrupt the self when required, optimism about the future and the spirit of experimentation (and comfort with ambiguity and failures) to find new ideas that work.

Please read the full post and here is a quick sketch note summary of the post.

P.S.

Last weekend, I bought a new iPad Pro with Apple Pencil to explore digital ways of creating sketch notes. Like a kid who gets excited about her new toy, I got excited too. Spent some time over the weekend to get comfortable with Apple Pencil, get ideas about possible uses, explore different tools and finally, I zeroed in on Procreate as the tool of my choice. The result of this hustle is this first sketch note that I created digitally. As much as I love my old fashioned approach of paper and pen, I am excited about new possibilities that this digital tools bring on the table. More than anything else, I am excited about new learning that keeps me going.

4 Skills Great Innovators Share by Greg Satell

If creativity is about having unique ideas and new ways to do things, innovation is all about making those ideas happen.

In that sense, the bridge between creativity and innovation is made from the bricks of execution. That is when the rubber meets the road.

One of the key characteristics of someone who innovates is that they run small pilots to test their hypothesis. When they encounter ideas (or interesting intersections of already existing ideas), they tinker with the idea, execute in small chunks and learn along the way to adapt. They understand that to make a few things work, they have to try, fail and learn from many other things. They have to collaborate and network with others. They have to be comfortable with ambiguity and chaos when they experiment.

In this context, I read a brilliant post (with some great examples) from Greg Satell about 4 skills that all great innovators share. I highly recommend you read the full post and here is a quick sketch note summary of key skills. Greg supports these skills in his post with excellent examples to make sense of it all.

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Working Out Loud: Relationships and Legacy

Last week was celebrated as International Working Out Loud Week.

For those of you who are new to this, Working Out Loud is a practice of sharing your work/work in progress with a relevant community to enable learning and collaboration.

It is about being vulnerable and putting yourself, your lessons out there in communities for others to contribute and consume. It is a great way to leverage wisdom of community to improve your own work, contribute to a community that shares your purpose and build relationships based on ideas.

I started this blog in April 2006 to simply document my lessons in leading people, projects and improvement initiatives. Along the journey, I learned that if I want people to read and share their comments, I will have to do the same. And that’s how this cycle of creation, curation and contribution started. My practice of sharing what I learn along the way for last 11 years has served me (and hopefully others) well.

This journey has allowed me to live some of the five elements of working out loud: being visible, connected, generous, curious and purposeful. And all the amazing folks I interact with, communities that feed my thinking and opportunities that come my way are only happy by-products of this journey.

When introducing November 2017 #WOLWeek, Simon Terry wrote a post about how working out loud is a way to deepen relationships and create a legacy. Here is a quick sketch note version with key ideas from his post.

I encourage you to visit wolweek.com for amazing insights and resources to inspire you to work out loud.

BONUS:

Here’s a sketchnote on five elements of working out loud with insights by John Stepper:

The 9 Rules of Innovation by Greg Satell

Innovation is perhaps the most used word in corporate boardrooms today. Start ups are organized around a brand new idea but they often stumble when it comes to execution. Big companies have all the required resources, but also a lot of red-tape and resistance to change.

Add to this, the challenges of hyper-competitive landscape, organization cultures, shortage of talent and agility to move swiftly and the challenge of innovation compounds.

Moreover, innovation is not as simple as having fresh ideas and executing them well. It actually stems from having a deep and wide understanding of problem and domain at hand and it takes years to get to that understanding. Also, innovation doesn’t always mean a flashy new idea. Innovation can take many forms from operational innovation to business models and creating platforms.

In 2016, I had read an excellent article by Greg Satell that outlined “The 9 Rules of Innovation”. The post provides a rich context to the topic of how to innovate.

Here is a snippet from the post that underlines the fact that innovation requires us to pursue width of understanding and not just depth:

Darwin’s theory of natural selection borrowed ideas from Thomas Malthus, an economist and Charles Lyell, a geologist. Watson and Crick’s discovery of DNA was not achieved by simply plowing away at the lab, but by incorporating discoveries in biology, chemistry and x-ray diffraction to inform their model building.

Great innovation almost never occurs within one field of expertise, but is almost invariably the product of synthesis across domains.

Greg cites example of Google to outline the 70/20/10 rule which I so agree with. He says,

The premise of the rule is simple. Focus 70% of your resources in improving existing technology (i.e. search), 20% toward adjacent markets (i.e. Gmail, Google Drive, etc.) and 10% on completely new markets (i.e. self-driving cars).

And finally, a nugget of wisdom that outlines the path to success in a networked world:

In a networked world, the surest path to success is not acquiring and controlling assets, but widening and deepening connections.

I encourage you to read Greg’s post and here is my sketch note synthesis of key ideas from the post. The post also has a wonderful sketchnote drawn my Mauro Toselli, who has been an inspiration in my own sketchnote journey:

Also Read at QAspire.com

Three Pillars of Great Branding (and Leadership)

One thing that truly defines great leaders is that they “create an expectation”. Not just meeting the expectation (that’s management), but setting an expectation. Leaders paint a vivid picture of a future state and promise positive change. That is the starting point of leadership irrespective of whether you are leading an organization or improving a small process to ease execution. People want to know where you are taking them along.

But creating an expectation means delivering on that expectation. Leaders deliver a meaningful experience to match the expectation. Not just the outcome, but an experience with touch of humanity. The way outcome is delivered, the mindset and intent behind how it was all put together is a key leadership differentiator. This journey may have its peaks and lows – times when tough calls have to be made and times where difficult conversations have to be made. It only leading others was easy. But, the point of delivering an experience is staying completely true to the intent. Actions become powerful when driven with intent.

And when outcome is delivered with right mindset and intent, it resonates with others. The experience of delivering the outcome is as important as the outcome itself. When the experience resonates with people, it builds an emotional connection and people would want to work with leaders to repeat that experience.

This post is inspired by an excellent post on three pillars of branding by Bernadette Jiwa. When I read it, I found parallels between the essentials of branding and essentials of great leadership.

Here is a quick sketch on three pillars of great branding (and leadership too).

Make More Art

Make more art.

Art that is not only confined to traditional understanding, but doing things in a way that changes others and ecosystem for better. In that sense, each one of us has a possibility to be an artist.

A project delivered successfully that enables a customer in a big way, a conversation that moves a needle for someone, generously sharing to build a community, a quick post that inspires someone, an improved process that eases life of your colleague, a talk that provokes thinking, a nudge for someone to raise the bar, a small handwritten note of gratitude to someone, thinking differently to challenge the status quo, learning something all the time, creating a piece of work that moves the conversation forward, initiating and delivering – it is all art if it makes world a better place. In fact, that’s also what real leadership looks like.

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” ― Edgar Degas

It is as much about small things as it is about big things. Being an artist is about raising the bar. Just when the world settles into a definition for an artist, the artist raises the bar, delivers a surprising outcome or an expected outcome in a surprising way.

To be an artist at work means pursuing craftsman spirit.

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost.” ― Martha Graham

In this context, I loved a quote from Robert Twigger’s book “Micromastery” by Andy Warhol. I included that quote in my visual book review of Micromastery, but the quote is so inspiring that it deserved a separate visual.

Related Reading at QAspire

Peter Drucker on The Effective Executive

Ultimately, leadership is all about ability to act on the ideas. In that sense, anyone who thinks of the self as a leader has to be good at executing things. Probably a reason why top leaders in organizations are referred to as executives – the one who executes, not just someone with a fancy title and corner office.

Leadership is a very broad term and leaders in organizations come in all shapes and sizes – from introverted to extraverted, charismatic to simple, people oriented versus task oriented and the differentiation goes on.

But Peter Drucker, whose work has played a defining role in my own growth as a manager and leader, identified eight practices of effective executive based on his observations over 65 years of his consulting career.

The June 2004 article by Peter Drucker in Harvard Business titled “What Makes an Effective Executive” is a must read, if you are a student  of leadership.

Here’s a short snippet of 8 characteristics along with a quick sketch note.

What made them all effective is that they followed the same eight practices:

  • They asked, “What needs to be done?”
  • They asked, “What is right for the enterprise?”
  • They developed action plans.
  • They took responsibility for decisions.
  • They took responsibility for communicating.
  • They were focused on opportunities rather than problems.
  • They ran productive meetings.
  • They thought and said “we” rather than “I.”

The first two practices gave them the knowledge they needed. The next four helped them convert this knowledge into effective action. The last two ensured that the whole organization felt responsible and accountable.

– Peter Drucker, What Makes an Effective Executive

Related posts at QAspire

Future of Work: Ways to Prepare

At #SocialNow conference recently, Luis Suarez shared a slide by Thierry de Baillon on ways to prepare for the dark side of technology. I loved the ideas and decided to sketch the approach.

Once again these ideas reinforced my belief that leading organizations and self in the future is all about the stuff like connections, empathy, flow, learning and thinking differently. It is clear that these implicit and human/social elements of work are the real antidote to onslaught of technology.

The sooner organizations embrace these elements into their culture, the sooner they will start adapting. That is the way to ride the wave of technology changes rather than getting crushed under it. 

Related Visual Posts at QAspire.com

In 100 Words: Boundary

We get too bogged down by our self-imposed boundaries.

Boss won’t allow.

That is not our process.

I’ve never been told!

Not my job.

They need to do it!

And it goes on. But what if we cross that boundary and get into the realm of:

What can I do?

Who can I influence?

How can we make it better?

How can I elicit their commitment for this?

It’s a different conversation that requires great deal of emotional labor. As Seth Godin says in Poke the Box, boundaries are in our heads, not anywhere else.


Related Posts at QAspire.com

Future of Work: Four Shifts Leaders Must Focus on

Talking about the impending shifts like automation, robotics, disruptions and uncertainties in our world of work is almost clichéd.

What seems like a problem is also an opportunity to do the thing that makes us human – to change our attitudes and fixed beliefs about how we have traditionally experienced work. It is this shift in how we see the world around us that truly enables us to deal with it constructively.

In this context, I read an excellent post by Kenneth Mikkelsen titled “Seeing the World with Fresh Eyes” at Drucker Forum blog. Here is a snippet from the post:

Leaders, like anyone else, are habitual beings that protect their worldview and the meaning they derive from it. Peter Drucker understood that better than most people. In Innovation and Entrepreneurship he dedicated a chapter to incongruities, the mental gaps between perception and reality. Drucker saw these gaps as an invitation to innovate. At its core, entrepreneurship is at about exploring such opportunity spaces to create something new, something different.

The post further outlines four shifts leaders must focus on to deal with slides and shifts around us. Here is a sketch note version of ideas presented in the post.

Related Posts at QAspire:

The Spark of Initiative

There are people who coast along, go with the flow and do as directed. And then, there are those who strive to add value, raise the bar and make a difference.

If you belong to the latter, Seth Godin has some simple (yet profound) guidance for you. He wrote about three ways to add value – by doing things, by taking decisions and by initiating. Our education system trains us to do things efficiently. Our experience may lead us to a point where we can decide effectively what’s best for ourselves, our team, project and organization.

But we need to learn the art of initiating things ourselves; by having new ideas, starting small experiments, taking tiny risks, caring enough, exerting emotional labor, doing the right thing when no one is watching, learning along the way, adapting our approaches and then hopefully, see our ideas come to life.

“There are two mistakes one can make along the road to truth.

Not going all the way, and not starting.”

– Siddhartha Gautama

In his book “Poke the Box” Seth Godin wrote,

“The world is changing too fast. Without the spark of initiative, you have no choice but to simply react to the world. Without the ability to instigate and experiment, you are stuck, adrift, waiting to be shoved.”

In a future that is increasingly getting automated, it is this spark of initiative that is and would remain our real competitive advantage.

Sketchnote: What Rebels Want From Their Boss

At the heart of a meaningful change is someone who thought beyond the boundaries. Someone who challenged the status quo. Someone who exerted emotional labor to pursue, fight for their ideas and convince others. And then they bring about change. You can call them rebels or change makers and they are inevitable for growth and positive change.

Rebels may not be a very popular lot and many bosses I’ve seen work overtime to subdue the rebels. But great leadership is about providing right channels to direct this energy, nurturing a mindset of continuous improvement and supporting people as they execute their experiments and ideas. That’s what rebels expect from their bosses.

“…it’s just another one of those things I don’t understand: everyone impresses upon you how unique you are, encouraging you to cultivate your individuality while at the same time trying to squish you and everyone else into the same ridiculous mould. It’s an artist’s right to rebel against the world’s stupidity.”
E.A. Bucchianeri, Brushstrokes of a Gadfly

In this context, I love the work that Lois Kelly and Carmen medina do at Rebels at Work community. I have sketched their ideas here before and here’s a quick sketchnote of their recent blog post “What Rebels Want From Their Bosses”.

This may help you as a leader if you really intend to support rebels in your teams.

Related Sketchnotes/Posts at QAspire.com

Social Mindset: A Key to Engaging People

It is more than obvious now that the way people feel about their workplace has direct material impact on performance of the business. This simple equation gets even more complex when we think of forces that are fundamentally changing how we work. Our workplace conversations today are dominated by topics like increasing globalization, economic uncertainties, automation, disruptive innovations, social technologies, generational shifts, mobility, people analytics, gig economy and such.

Newer generations at workplace demand different experiences and therefore, organizations are challenged constantly to move beyond traditional engagement programs and think of engagement more holistically. There is plenty of conversation happening today around moving from employee engagement to employee experience, role of design thinking in driving people experiences and creating a differentiating employer brand experience.

These are all worthy topics to take the conversation of talent engagement forward but I think that none of this will be effective in engaging talent unless we address something very fundamental underlying all of these ideas. We live in social, hyper-connected and super-transparent world and therefore, adopting a “social mindset” is and will remain a killer app for engaging people.

Social mindset is about focusing on people more than focusing on process and having a belief that magic happens when:

  • We create ecosystems where good people can thrive
  • People are aligned to purpose and are clear about how their work contributes to larger objectives
  • People have tools and communities to learn what they want to learn and when they want to learn
  • Leaders play an active role in building ecosystems for high performance

Real engagement happens when we focus, not on generating engagement, but doing right things that increase human engagement.

To be able to adopt a social mindset, leaders need to be equipped with deep understanding of how social, networked and self-evolving structures work. Only then can organizational leaders facilitate effective engagement of talent to meet organizational objectives. This is conversation that goes way beyond HR teams focusing narrowly on “employee engagement programs”. This is a more holistic conversation, and one that really engages talent by integrating work design, culture, rewards, learning and career development to deliver superior employee experience. Let us take a deeper look at how social mindset enables each of these and what it means in practical terms:

Work Design: People need a conducive space to perform and how work really gets done is a key driver for engagement. Technology advances have transformed how work is performed and designing work in a way that engages people is a real challenge and opportunity. Organizations have to relentlessly clarify purpose, how an individual’s work enables achievement of purpose and provide autonomy to team members to execute their ideas. People derive sense of control when they have space to do the work in their own unique way and execute their ideas. Social mindset plays a huge role in enabling people to perform. Traditional “once-a-year” feedback mechanisms only disable people. Real enablement happens when people get frequent feedbacks and support throughout the year. Enablement is also about involving people in collaborative problem solving, making goals transparent, seeking their feedback and most importantly, acting on that feedback. The design of organization and work should enable and encourage people to pursue non-linear career paths. Reducing organizational layers, building small teams and empowering them to self-organize go a long way in engaging talent on a longer run.

Alignment and Clarity: In an information intensive world, real empowerment to people is all about seamless communication across different clusters of organizational network. When communication channels are open, people have greater opportunity to clarify their concerns, know the strategic direction and align their local decision making accordingly. Organizations are increasingly using enterprise social networks like Yammer, Microsoft Skype for Teams and Slack to facilitate these critical conversations. Using social tools to not just broadcast but engage in a dialogue is a great way to also build a compelling employer brand. Communication and clarity across the board works like grease to reduce friction, enable clarity and therefore, improve engagement.

Social Learning: People who get the required support to do their work better tend to be better engaged. We have moved beyond traditional one-way forms of training (learning events) to continuous streams of on-demand learning (learning journey) that combine synchronous and asynchronous forms of learning. People don’t go to classrooms when they want to learn – they go to corporate learning management systems, micro-learning platforms like Twitter, Enterprise social networks like Yammer and so on. Enabling social learning is about encouraging people to share their work, get feedback, align their practices and learn from these experiences. It is about building communities of practice and encouraging people to work out loud. For this to happen, leaders have to set the right example and become engaged social learners themselves. When organizations get this right, they build a solid employer brand (reputation) while engaging with their prospective talent pools on external social networks.

Creating Ecosystems of High Performance: Real engagement happens when people are able to play to their potential and deliver superior performances. Effective leadership that works hard to build trust, respects people, engages in seamless conversations and treats people as colleagues and not as “resources” goes a long way in building a performance culture. Social mindset and leadership is about building a fabric of relationships between clusters of networks in organization to facilitate collaboration and performance. It is therefore so vital for leaders to walk an extra mile to clarify goals, communicate, build relationships, foster trust, deliver feedback early and often and set right examples.

Social mindset has existed in our societies and communities since ages but often forgotten in the maze of organizational layers, tight bound hierarchies, complex processes and boxed responsibilities that inhibit shared understanding and learning.

Human beings are fundamentally social and therefore, understanding of how social structures work is easy. It is all around us.

It is often in doing things we know that we stumble the most!


This article originally appeared as Cover Story in PeopleMatters Magazine April 2017 Edition


Also check out: Happy to have contributed a sketchnote to the re-published version of “The Best Leaders are Constant Learners” by Kenneth Mikkelsen and Harold Jarche at HBRAscend.in – a Harvard Business Review publication.