New coaching clients often expect me to offer clear strategies on how to change their behavior. My response is almost always the same, "The greatest gift I can give you is to help you shift your mindset. Once you do that, the behavior shifts (and results) will follow." I recognize that "shifting your mindset" may sound daunting or too abstract. So, I thought I'd share a concrete example at the organizational level and also highlight a powerful "flipping" technique from the book, "Conversations Worth Having."
Here's an example of how one flip in mindset changed an organization. There was a company that was growing rapidly—and was expected to double in size in five years. With the majority of staff working on job sites full time, many never stepped foot in HQ. Proud of the work they did for their clients, employees identified with their clients’ missions. But just as fast as they were growing, they were losing people at the same rate due to a disconnection between employees and their managers. In fact, there were many stories of staff not knowing who to deliver their resignation letters to! (Irony of ironies!) .
In attempting to address this issue of disconnection, HR started driving company-wide efforts to reinforce expectations and roles of managers. They were asked to spend time on the job site, walk the halls, and have career conversations with their staff. Only one issue: they had jobs to do, too! Who had time to walk the halls on a job site for a client they’re not even involved with! Needless to say, that didn’t work. Other ideas were implemented too, including new organizational alignments and time-reporting policies. These efforts felt like layers of bureaucracy and more guidelines for managers. All of these actions were to address the fact that staff were leaving and managers were feeling disconnected...but attrition and engagement surveys showed the efforts were not working.
One Executive’s Secret to Engagement
One executive leader, however, took a different approach. He flipped the problem. Instead of focusing on those managers who were disconnected, he focused on the few managers who were making connections. He began tracking how many times they engaged with their staff. He met with the managers, asked specific questions of how they were able to manage their time focusing on their work and connecting with and supporting others. Creative solutions emerged such as assigning “job site mentors” who could look out for their employees when they couldn’t physically be there or another solution of offering team lunches and inviting clients to share in successful accomplishments. The ideas were innovative and most importantly, they worked! The managers of those teams showed little to no turnover and the satisfaction levels were among the highest in the division. After learning about these great success stories, he simply asked his team of leaders to figure out how to repeat this for all teams. Together, they built off of the positive energy and momentum and they ended up with an entire division of engaged employees. They developed metrics and didn’t view this as another HR initiative, but rather a system to develop staff and become more productive as a team.
Flipping It, and Moving toward a Solution
At this month’s CBODN book club meeting, authors Cheri Torres and Jackie Stavros co-facilitated a discussion of their recently published book, Conversations Worth Having. They spoke about an Appreciative Inquiry (AI) technique to problem solving that they call “flipping it.” From the book’s Executive Summary:
“Flipping [can] help you take any problem or challenge and create a positive frame. This is a simple three-step approach to move from a negative, deficit-based frame to a positive frame, allowing you to work towards solutions by engaging in conversations worth having. The three steps are:
At the organization I described, they were trying to help build connection with leaders and their staff. As it turned out, there were already pockets of leaders who had highly engaged staff. Instead of focusing on “low engagement” across the board, they showcased the exceptional example as a best practice and got curious about exactly what was working well—and why it was working. The “flip” from thinking “Everyone around here is so dis-engaged” to “Wow! Look at this team! How do we replicate this?” turned out to be the secret to their success.