Karen Mishra shares five key learnings from Starbucks

Howard Schultz talks a lot about trust… | Total Trust

Karen Mishra sat in on Howard Schultz's webcast today and pulled five great points from the Starbucks experience that can serve as a guide for each of us. This one struck me:

5) Customers want to buy from companies whose values are like their own, so customers will buy from Starbucks because they appreciate that Starbucks gives their employees health benefits and that they buy coffee beans at a fair price.  This also builds trust with customers.

The same holds true for all our team transactions, doesn't it? We want to work with -- and perform for -- those for whom we have respect and trust. That relationship is key, and something hard-won. The lessons that come from recent Starbucks leadership experience illustrate a terrific way to set goals and drive toward adoption of new processes and procedures with buy-in. Case in point: baristas have a daily goal: enhance someone's day. If there was ever a focused and appropriate objective for frontline customer service personnel, that's it!

A great (and quick!) read from Mishra to start your day today!

Canary in the Coal Mine: When your teams aren’t functioning

This week, we sat down to record an episode of Navigating Change which addresses a topic that has become critically important in the work that I do with my clients. Across the higher education space, teams have been tasked to work differently, to face up to new challenges and obstacles, and to deliver results under conditions they have never encountered before. And while the obvious challenges that come with working in complex teams are plenty, those that can hurt the team the most tend to be hiding right under the surface. To sum it up:

As a manager, you are probably not aware of what is going wrong on your team.

Your first task as a manager or department leader is to deliver results. As such, we have established a cultural bias against sharing bad news, anything that doesn’t directly relate to delivering those results. When a staff member levels a concern of this nature, they risk being labeled a complainer, and so the routine continues. The result? A self-perpetuating culture of ignorance to the more insidious issues that may be occuring on your teams.

A leader needs to be willing to recognize that people will not be willing to share information that will potentially make them look bad unless they are confident that it won’t be pinned on them. In an environment of fear and blame, hiding the bad news trumps candor every time.

There is good news: you can change it.

First, understand that a mature, high-performing team does not have to agree 100% of the time. In fact, the best, most productive teams may not even have team members that like one another. But what you will see in every case of teams working well together across functions and projects is an environment of respect. As a leader, your job is to implement this key rule for interpersonal relationships: You may not like your colleagues, but respect them for the work they do.

Second, be a role model for open communication. Your teams will build their cultural habits based on cues they receive from you. If you are able to muster the strength to deliver news — the good and the bad — to your teams regularly, quickly, and succinctly, you will begin to see the same sort of respect for you.

Finally, take every mistake and use it as a visible opportunity for continuous improvement. Show that bad news does not equate to blame, but is a platform for conversation, learning, and new directions.

There is certainly more to be said here. I invite you to subscribe to Navigating Change (iTunes) and listen to the entire episode. Then, share your comments below and bring the discussion online.

The Key To Getting Through This Economic Crisis

The economic crisis has jump-started a long-standing conversation among senior leaders in Higher Education. How can we best deliver services to our core stakeholders while finding ways to positively impact our financial condition? Since the economy tumbled in September 2008, actions taken by universities run the spectrum of “wait and see” to rethinking how to deliver services and programs, all while keeping the academic and administrative trains running. Like its corporate partners, colleges and universities are now publicly embracing the “bottom-line” as the core enabler of its mission. For institutions that have embarked on broad organizational change, one thing’s for sure. Staff and faculty are anxious. While the most prevalent anxiety spoken is “Will I still have a job on the other side of this crisis?”, it's not always about losing one’s job. The underlying fear is uncertainty.

It's not so much that we're afraid of change or so in love with the old ways, but it's that place in between… It's like being between trapezes. It's Linus when his blanket is in the dryer. There's nothing to hold on to. Marilyn Feguson Author and Public Speaker

In this period of change, institution leaders have two primary concerns: What if our planned restructuring to address the financial crisis evoke a sufficient negative reaction that cause it to fail? Even worse, what if the changes put in place are not enough?

On the other hand, if you ask staff doing the work what they fear, it's the uncertainty of how they're jobs may change or worse, go away.  The power of uncertainty can have great control over our lives.

The Power Of Uncertainty

Take this example from a study conducted at Emory University:

A team at Emory University examined what happened when people waited for an impending electric shock. Some people dreaded the shock so deeply that they chose to receive a more powerful shock earlier rather than waiting for a lesser shock to arrive at a later, random time. David Eagleman NY times Op-Ed, December 3, 2009

Why would someone choose this counter-intuitive behavior?  Simple.  It's more stressful to wait for something negative to happen than get it over with now.  Knowing what's coming has tremendous influence over our ability to focus.  When changes like possible layoffs or organizational restructuring are anticipated, people's anxiety levels are raised and strong emotions  are evoked - from anger and fear for some to enthusiasm and excitement for the lucky few.  The majority react to anticipated change assuming it will be bad for them.  This, in itself is an irrational reaction.

Shifting One's Focus

If we’re serious about transforming Higher Education, we need leaders to make tough decisions that position our institutions in a fiscally sound direction. These changes will not come all at once and require thoughtful analysis before implementing. There is no getting around that in this period of analysis, anxiety will be heightened because not all the answers will be clear.  Institutional leaders need to help their most important assets, people, get through this period of accelerating change.

But it's ultimately up to the individual to decide whether the coming changes are something to avoid or an opportunity to take advantage of.

Those who maintain a positive attitude through these challenging times are not free of fear or anxiety; they just choose to put their energy elsewhere.  How can I improve my value or get more involved?  What opportunities may come out of these changes that I can take advantage of?  Are there things I can be learning that will help me get through this better?  These questions are at the heart of shifting one's point of view from "Why is this happening to me?" to "How can I best get through this?"

The key to getting through this economic crisis is to build a business culture that helps people learn to make positive choices in the face of uncertainty.  It's a partnership between management needing to focus on the big picture and the individual choosing to be part of the solution.  This is true change management, transforming fear that breeds inaction to optimism that promotes opportunity and personal growth.

Communicating Bad News

Breaking down communication barriers is no easy task, and it opens the classic question of what comes first, the chicken or the egg? Management is waiting to hear what’s really going on while staff is waiting to hear it’s ok to communicate breakdowns or bad news. (This, by the way, is not the same as complaining, which is communicating bad news with no commitment to action.) Organizations are often left with the “blame game” being played out over every missed deadline or poorly rolled out deliverable.  Here's what management needs to realize - your staff will not take the step of communicating bad news unless you explicitly demand it of them. For staff - you may never get explicit permission from management to stop filtering bad news.  The good and bad news?   Regardless of your role, the ball is in your court.

The Elephant in the Room

Last week, I asked the question: "What's it going to take to stop avoiding and start dealing with the lack of trust in our organizations?" It's a big question, and in most companies, it's the elephant in the room. But there are practical skills we can all develop to stop dancing around the elephant and learn to love change. For management, it’s about getting to the heart of the matter “Why am I not getting greater productivity from my people?” For staff it’s “What’s it going to take for management to understand the real problems that keep us from getting our jobs done?”

Too often these questions are posed rhetorically and we muddle through process change poised as answers, truly afraid of what we might hear if we addressed them head-on. If we’re truly going to move our business from good to great, or through these difficult financial times, a paradigm shift needs to happen in the way we communicate and listen. True communication is not about slick tools, faster internet access or even clear speaking. It’s about raising consciousness of what we put out and how we listen, being more interested in results, not the reasons for our failure.

We have to take our communication to the next level.

  1. We have to solve team problems by focusing on issues and results rather than personalities and blame. 
  2. We have to motivate our people to do the right things at the right time, not because they have to but because they want to. 
  3. We have to reward team success in spite of  living and working in a culture that focuses on individual accomplishments. 
  4. We have to develop a workforce that takes responsibility for their actions versus looking for reasons things don’t get done. 
  5. We have to create departmental goals that are achievable and are understood by everyone.
  6. We have to develop our workforce to embrace mistakes as an opportunity to learn, versus something to avoid.

Applying these principles builds trust in a business culture of change and uncertainty. Just try taking on one of these strategies in your own work. See if you don't  discover a renewed connection with individuals, teams and your entire organization in a way that makes your career more purposeful, productive and satisfying.

Broadening the Definition of "The Bottom Line"

I don’t like change. If you say you do, there is a good chance you are either a masochist, a consultant, or just plain lying. Sure, there are a lot of benefits to change—it can even be inspiring, but do you really seek it out? Or is it just that you are adept at responding to it? Love it or hate it there is no denying that change is disruptive, plain and simple. In business, you’re constantly faced with change - new markets, economic forces, staffing issues, software upgrades, the list goes on. The work of the 21st century business leader is to evaluate how to deal with this endless list of opportunities and challenges, and filter it through the “bottom-line” – financial measures that reflect the health of the organization.

Besides financial measures, what else should leaders take into account in making strategic decisions? How about “Trust Equity”, or how well you and your people operate transparently with each other.

Do you not say your most important assets are those you surround yourself with? Ideally, this core group of bright, articulate and entrepreneurial individuals operate as your eyes and ears, evaluating economic, market and technology changes.

Does it matter if your financials are solid but there’s tension across department? Should you care if your staff isn’t operating to their potential but you’re still making money or expenses are under control? How often do we honestly step back from the fires we are dealing with and ask the broader question “If we were a really solid team, how much more could we do?”

Face it. You really don’t know what’s going on. Your direct reports will do everything in their power to show how well and on target they are, while avoiding news that may concern or upset you. This should come as no surprise. It’s human nature to look out for ones security.

This is a core benefit of building trust equity. Trust is the means to an end, the most important end is knowing what’s going on around you. Although we often operate by the principle “No news is good news”, it’s “What you don’t know that will kill you!” Building trust allows you to manage down in a way that encourages people to uncover issues they don’t think you want to hear.

An Historical Perspective on Trust

A very interesting perspective on this topic was written by the London Professor Geoffrey Hosking. It's called: Why We Need a History of Trust. In it he speaks to trust in the context of “joint responsibility” going back to traditional Russian society. Households would collectively share the responsibility of taxes and providing recruits for the army. If one household was unable to carry their weight, another one would step up. As Professor Hosking explains “all members of a village community had an interest in ensuring every household enjoyed a basic level of subsistence, enough to pay its dues and bring up healthy young men”. This approach both served the rulers of the time and laid the groundwork for the concept of mutual aid in times of adversity.

Why care about this? Simple. Shared responsibility is how we take care of each other. No one group (family, community, society) forever enjoys continuous fortune without periodic adversity. It’s the act of providing help to others in those times of need that allow for mutual trust to develop. This applies to the world scale as well as how we approach getting work done from 9-5. We can learn a lot from bringing “collective responsibility” to the workplace.

Where Trust Begins

The more I work with organizations, the more I discover what it takes to be great.  A great organization is made up of exceptional individuals.  And individuals bring the following attribute to the table - trustworthiness.  Ask yourself this question.  "Am I trustworthy"?  Not, do I think people trust me but do I trust myself and my actions?  This question taps into something deeper, something we know when we see it but don't often talk about - personal integrity. 

Integrity and trustworthiness go hand-in-hand.  At one extreme there are those we collectively agree have little integrity (think Kenneth Lay from Enron) while many of us would agree that Mother Teresa had high integrity.  We trust people who we think serve the common good.  And then there is this huge middle ground of those some believe are trustworthy while others consider manipulative. (Think political figures or religious leaders - there's two groups where it's so dependent on your world view). 

Regardless, a great team, department, or organization starts with personal trustworthiness.  "Can I be trusted to do the right thing?" Everything builds on that.  Once you've decided on the answer, look around at those in your circle.  It should be no surprise who you find are attracted to you.