Instilling Loyalty in the Workplace
How do you motivate employees to dedicate themselves to high quality work? How do you create a work setting in which loyalty is a natural byproduct? Does it sound difficult? Well, it’s not impossible and the solutions have nothing to do with wishful thinking. To instill loyalty in the workplace, you must follow a few hard and fast rules.
Effective Facilitation – Interpersonal Radar
During risk assessment facilitation training sessions, people often ask me: “Do I have what it takes to be a good facilitator?” This is an important question, and it applies to managers or anyone who runs meetings and gives presentations. The response is actually simple; for just a moment, throw out all the models, the facilitation techniques, and the psychological tests. Knowing who you are, your strengths and weaknesses, and using them to your advantage is the key behind being an effective facilitator.
Learning to facilitate can be anxiety provoking, because it calls on so many internal and external faculties that must be used simultaneously. Facilitating can be equated to a juggling act; one must listen to ideas being offered, animate quiet people, contain dominant participants, and think about what question should be asked next—all at the same time!
When asked, I offer this comprehensive definition of what it means to be an effective facilitator: “A great facilitator weaves overriding strategies with specific facilitation tools, while monitoring the group process using interpersonal radar.” “Fortunately, you don’t have to do it perfectly to do it well!”
The idea in this last sentence usually provokes a reaction. Most people argue: “If I’m going to the trouble of standing in front of a group of people, I need to do it perfectly!” In fact, this sentiment often echoes inside the heads of new facilitators during the workshop process: “You idiot! Why did you ask them that question?” and “Oh no! No one is talking! What should I do?” That mean little voice can be quite effective at letting us know when we are performing at a less than “perfect” standard.
Perfect vs. Effective
Perfection in facilitation isn’t necessarily the same thing as effective facilitation, however. As a result, one of the first major factors in becoming an effective facilitator may simply be to learn how to ignore that negative voice, the voice that demands some vague standard of perfection in facilitation. Effective facilitators develop techniques and strategies for making that inner voice work for them instead of against them.
No standardized test consistently determines who will or will not be an effective facilitator. The answer lies in how you interact with people; your willingness to keep practicing, make mistakes, continue practicing; and your ability to trust yourself, as well as the people you are facilitating. Taken together, proficiency in these areas will create effective facilitators. What psychological and other inventories can help you with is achieving greater understanding of your personal facilitation style—your own unique approach to working with others, effectively infusing all of who you are into the facilitation.
But I’m Too Introverted to be a Good Facilitator!
For example, there are tests that can determine if you are more introverted or extroverted. A person who is introverted by nature is one who becomes energized through his or her own ideas. The extroverted person, on the other hand, gains energy from interaction with other people.
Based on this simple distinction, it appears at first glance that the extroverted person would be the better facilitator. After all, one of the ““golden rules” of facilitation is to demonstrate good interpersonal skills. An extroverted person would tend to focus more on the group participants and listen more closely to what they have to say, instead of retreating inside themselves to their own thoughts. Although this theory may be true, it has never been proven; there is no data to suggest that introverts can’t also be exceptional facilitators.
Indeed, a person who is too extroverted may not be a good listener at all. They might make a good keynote speaker, but that requires a very different skills set (some of which are used in facilitation) in order to be successful.
The Unlikely Facilitator
One of the best facilitators I ever observed—
someone who originally thought she could never be a good facilitator—was a quiet, introverted young woman I will call “Carol.” When facilitating, Carol would position herself between the flipchart easel and the group, a “cardinal sin” of facilitation. She would ask the group a few intelligent, provocative questions to get them started and then simply record the discussion on the flipchart as the participants took off on her creative questions.
She would also sense when the discussion on a topic began to wane. Politely, in a quiet voice, Carol would jump in and ask the next question, once again eliciting a round of responses from the group. She would then turn around to the flipchart, writing with her back to the group, instead of maintaining eye contact with the participants. Once again, Carol broke another important facilitation rule: always maintain good eye contact. Interestingly, Carol’s tactic had the effect of forcing the group to talk to each other, which was needed at this particular point in the meeting. As she wrote with her back to them,
Carol would continuously nod her head as they made pertinent points, occasionally turning to the group to interject a question or clarification. She did this just often enough to let them know she was still present. It was the combination of both turning her back while still maintaining contact in these other, subtle ways that made her facilitation so effective.
At the end of a ten-minute session, she turned away from the flipchart and back to the group, showing them what she had captured from their discussion. The group was astounded at the amount of information she had collected in such a short period of time. In addition, she had been so unobtrusive that after a while they almost forgot she was present during their discussion.
When the group is so involved in carrying out the task that the facilitator exists almost solely to capture their ideas, it represents facilitation at the highest level. At these moments, the whole group experiences a synergy that feels energizing, highly creative, and purposeful. To the facilitator, it feels effortless.
What we are witnessing in scenarios like this one is the ability of a person to take a potential liability or “imperfection” for facilitating—Carol’s introverted nature—and turn it around for everyone’s benefit. In other words, Carol used her interpersonal radar to detect what would and wouldn’t work in the facilitation. Her innate talent for creative thinking framed ideas and questions that kept the conversation on track. She took advantage of her quiet, less social nature basically to stay out of the group’s way, maintain her neutrality, and act as a conduit between the group’s ideas and the flipchart.
There was yet a third obstacle that Carol used to her advantage. Carol is very short in stature, and research suggests that short people command less power and authority in managing a group’s dynamics than their taller counterparts. Once again Carol broke the “rules” using her height to her advantage. Because she was so short, she was able to pull the flipchart very close to the group to hear them better in the slightly noisy room. Later, when her proximity to the group was brought to their attention, group members either did not notice it; or if they did, they did not feel that it was obtrusive. In fact, they felt a closer bond to her, because it seemed to balance her otherwise more distant nature.
The Effective Facilitator
Instead of trying to present herself as something she was not, Carol decided to use all of herself in the facilitation to as much advantage as possible. She broke some rules, but because she trusted that her group had the knowledge to provide the needed information, she was able to latch onto the value of their ideas instead of her own. This was not easy for her to do; it took a concerted effort to focus outward. Because she focused on the group’s ideas, however, it became easier and easier as time went on. By the end of the facilitation course, she was beginning to develop an effective facilitation style that was uniquely hers.
A week later, Carol’s director called me to express his surprise. He had sent Carol to the course because he knew she was an excellent auditor, despite her reluctance toward presenting information to groups. The director noted that since her return, Carol had co-facilitated a portion of a company-wide audit conference to rave reviews. I last heard that she and other co-workers who attended the training were taking turns facilitating the department staff meetings to keep their skills fresh.
While it appears that this is an isolated example and a unique event, the fact is that it could hold true for any other facilitator. Carol was bitten by what I call the “facilitation bug,” and she definitely isn’t the first. Many technical professionals become quite dedicated and skilled at facilitation and begin applying its principles to many areas of their lives.
In my opinion, these people are effective because they are committed to developing and refining their facilitation skills. They practice, practice, and practice. Effective facilitators are also supportive co-facilitators, who do whatever they can to make their partners look good and make their partner’s job easier when they work together.
Effective facilitators are risk-takers, willing to stretch as they apply their facilitation skills and previous experience to a variety of group situations. For example, a number of organizations that have been running facilitation workshops are beginning to facilitate all types of meetings in their organizations, often at higher levels.
Many facilitators find that as they broaden their endeavors, they need to increase their understanding of organizational culture and dynamics to handle the more challenging situations they encounter. Facilitation requires practitioners to use all dimensions of their personalities. As the situations become more challenging, growth must occur to meet new opportunities.
Anyone—introvert or extrovert—may have what it takes to be an effective facilitator. It is more an issue of personal interest, dedication, and willingness to meet a substantial challenge. It doesn’t always require extensive technology, though knowledge of technological options is always useful. It doesn’t take an advanced degree. Effective facilitators believe in the value of facilitating and, most importantly, they have fun with it
Originally published in the association magazine of the Institute of Internal Auditors.
© 2019 JPA-International
Succession planning – walking a tightrope
For over a year I’ve been working with a not-for-profit organization on its board-level governance and related issues. As with many organizations, its board has been weak, and needs to be strengthened. An additional challenge with this NFP is that it operates more like a family business than a typical NFP. This brings succession planning into mind – something with which we have great concern.
The organization was founded in the late 1940s by an individual for the benefit of a particular ethnic community. The founder managed the operation until his death in the late 1970s, when his protégé and the protégé’s wife took over the operation. At this point, the husband (CEO) is nearing 90 years-old and the wife (administrator) is in her later 70s. They are reticent to turn anything over to someone else because they can’t tolerate losing control; strategy is not their forte and they have missed the boat on a number of opportunities; they have also been weak in protecting the revenue stream. They’ve enjoyed good health, and have an incredible work ethic and dedication to the organization. Their only child, a son in his 50s, has no interest in the organization in the full-time sense, but he is very dedicated to it and would likely be willing to take responsibility for an aspect of overall management. However, many in the organization are not comfortable with his competencies, and his wife, who exerts a lot of influence over him, is toxic to the organization.
The wife/administrator has a huge role in the organization, wearing (too) many hats. I expect no one in their right mind would be willing to take over her role as it currently exists, but there are a few folks in the organization that might take on 2 or 3 of her various roles – some are actually chomping at the bit to do so. Coaxing her to see these people as successors, and having her give them responsibility, accountability, and coaching has been difficult.
The struggle is getting the wife/administrator to accept the need to plan for succession. Trust is a big issue; for one thing, I must be careful not to push too hard or she will lose trust, AND she needs to trust the people that might take over her various roles. As with many NFPs, there isn’t a lot of money to pay people so the idea of attracting people from outside likely won’t work. The people that will take on these roles do so out of love for the organization.
This is where succession planning is as much about psychology as it is about good business. In this case, whomever is leading the effort has to tiptoe around the incumbents, while also ensuring that the successors are developing appropriately. It’s further complicated when the incumbents are not open to change because only they know best. And we need to be mindful that the incumbents will still be around after they retire and could undermine (even unknowingly) the new leaders.
I continue to tread carefully here, taking opportunities to make points about succession whenever I can. Following are some key messages from JPA Board Governance that are important for the board and management to act on:
- It is absolutely vital to have a succession plan to ensure continuity of an organization.
- The board should hold management accountable to have regular succession conversations. Maybe it’s as simple as an annual touchpoint with management. Maybe a semi-annual discussion. Frequency will depend on the organization, but it should be done on some regular basis. If succession planning is embedded in the organization’s way of doing business, the “threatening” part of the discussion goes away and everyone becomes more comfortable with the topic.
- Cross-training supports succession planning. Cross-training keeps colleagues educated, interested, and able to cover for each other when needed. The same could be said for collaborative management – developing a team by sharing challenges and seeking their input into solutions.
- It’s important to make succession a process, not an event. When someone takes on a new role, give them time to get comfortable with the role, and then coach them to think about their succession. Make succession something people address regularly. At JPA Board Governance, we teach that succession planning begins when you develop the job description, right through recruitment, hiring, performance management, development, goals, etc., to ensure on-going job fit.
- If controlled/owned by a family, the family element needs to be addressed. Family leaders should have regular, open conversations with family members about succession. To avoid doing so will cause business as well as family problems.
- Think beyond the immediate successor. At the NFP I expect the husband’s successor will be in his 50s or 60s, so I am thinking they also need to recruit someone in his 30s to be the successor after that. In the meantime, the 30-something can be learning all facets of the NFP, and develop strong relationships in the community served. This will help the 30-something be a strong and trusted leader when the time comes.
- Patience. Many people can talk about succession planning but few actually do it. Whether it’s facing their own mortality, or believing no one else can do what they do (or as well as they do it), or maybe they feel threatened by a rising star – succession is hard for an incumbent to address. Relatively speaking, being the consultant is easy (except for the being patient part).
Succession planning has long been a hot button of mine, and I am continually perplexed at how companies ignore it. This is especially true of public companies, and I fault the boards for not holding management accountable for the need to plan succession. By not having such a plan CEOs are derelict in their duties because that’s not in the long-term best interest of the company. And while I can accept the need for confidentiality, I cannot accept boards (some of them at very large companies) that don’t have a succession plan for the CEO – they too are derelict in their duties.
The Board Governance Services team @ JPA is ready to help you manage through all board assessment challenges. You can reach us through our website, through LinkedIn, or by calling John Morrow on 908/432-0576.
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C’mon Nom & Gov Committee – Get with the Program!
During my career working on board-level corporate governance, I had the opportunity to observe companies, mostly large, consider and apply corporate governance rules and leading practices in their companies. Rules often come through the SEC, while leading practices are often driven by investors and proxy advisory firms.
Over the years, I saw scrutiny of the audit committee ramped up through the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, and the Compensation Committee under pressure from the Dodd-Frank Act. But one of the mandatory committees (at least for public companies) that has so far avoided scrutiny is the Nominating and Governance Committee. While I don’t mean to pick on Nom & Gov, I’ll share my observations about this committee and its role in board functionality.
It’s important to recognize that the Nom & Gov is largely responsible for who is on the board. It is this committee that identifies and vets candidates for the board, makes recommendation about director policies including tenure and retirement, oversees board organization, oversees director orientation and performance assessment, oversees CEO succession planning, among other responsibilities. In spite of its responsibilities for the overall functionality of the board, I question whether the committee is “on board” with improvements in governance. I’d like to see this committee step up its game – get with the program if you will.
In recent years, I’ve heard talk about director term limits and mandatory retirement. I’ve also heard some horror stories about directors needing to be retired from a board for one reason or another, but no one on the board having the chops to make it happen. When I think about the responsibilities of a board, I cringe at the thought of dysfunction around that table – because there’s so much at stake.
Here’s some thoughts on how the Nom & Gov Committee can get with the program:
- Clearly define the experiences, skills and attributes that are needed on the board, and re-examine this list periodically (maybe every 3 years or so). There might be a period when the board needs someone with merger and acquisition experience, a marketing executive, an expert in organizational change and development, or to increase the number of directors that are gender or ethnically diverse. Maybe the board needs a seasoned CEO to mentor a new/younger CEO. Whatever the need, define it and re-think it regularly.
- Set expectations for director terms. Not necessarily mandatory retirement or term limits (though these may be appropriate for a particular board), but make it clear to directors why they are on the board, and that when things change on either side (board needs or director circumstances), they will be expected to submit a resignation for consideration. I’m not suggesting the resignation has to be accepted, but it should be considered. That said, think about the implications if you don’t accept the resignation… will that put pressure on the committee to not accept every future resignation letter?
- If a director needs to retire, make it happen. I understand that the board is a “genteel” body, but if a director needs to go, accept the fact, make it happen and move on. It’s a lot easier to retire a director these days with annual elections, but let’s face it, sometimes directors are still on the board even after they can no longer make a meaningful contribution. I was once at a board meeting where the Chairman fell asleep. A few of the directors motioned for me to lower my voice so I wouldn’t wake him. REALLY? I understand he was the founder but this was a public company! Rotating a director off the board can be done with respect and understanding of the director’s situation, so for crying out loud – DO IT! Maybe making this person a “director emeritus” is a way to ease into their retirement, or if it’s a founder, name a conference room after him/her.
- Observe the trends in governance and be realistic about their impact on the board. Take proxy access for example. Many boards resisted adopting the proxy access at their company, and then had to deal with a shareholder proposal to put it up for a vote. If Nom & Gov had been leaders may they would get in front of these issues, address it, make a recommendation to the board so the board could take the action before it is embarrassed by a shareholder vote. What’s the downside? Do you really expect to have a flood of shareholders filing director nominations under these terms? And if you do, maybe the shareholders (dare I say OWNERS) have a point. I think recent history has proven that the risk is low.
Advising and counseling management, addressing strategic issues, and making tough decisions is not easy but it is rewarding. Hard decisions must be made, and directors need to be willing to make those hard decisions whether they impact senior management, or their colleagues around the board table. If the board can’t reach a consensus, they should have conflict resolution policies in place to help guide them to a conclusion.
Directors get their positions largely because they’ve distinguished themselves in some way: they’ve founded companies; led organizations, many through troubled times; developed a particular area of expertise where they’ve made some significant contribution. What I don’t understand is when I hear that a board was weak when the going got tough. How is it that they could not draw on their experience, recognize their obligation to act in the best interest of the company, make tough decision and see it through? Surely over their careers they’ve faced crossroads, had to make tough decisions, and sometimes deliver bad news. It’s not easy to do, but it comes with the territory. A board that can’t do this is weak, and Nom & Gov needs to take its share of responsibility for that.
Nom & Gov has responsibility to identify and select for consideration board candidates that have the backbone to get going when the going is tough. Selecting new director candidates requires investigation, robust interviews, and being sure that director candidates will work well with the existing board. When a candidate is elected to the board, Nom & Gov must orient the new director to the board and how it operates. It’s likely that the new director will be appointed to a committee, so Nom & Gov must ensure there is an appropriate orientation for the committee’s work as well.
Sometimes it will be necessary to rotate a director off the board – maybe even when the director did not expect to be rotated off (this action is usually taken with the blessing and participation of the board chair). This is part of the territory too, so the Nom & Gov Comm can’t be weak here either. And if you are the director on the receiving end of such action, accept your responsibility to put the board’s needs before your own, accept the situation graciously and move on.
The Board Governance Services team @ JPA can help. Reach out to us via our website or LinkedIn, or call John Morrow on 908/432-0576.
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 Proxy access is when long-term shareholders meeting certain requirements are able to include their own candidates for director into the company’s proxy statement for voting by the shareholders. If a company does not allow proxy access, shareholders would have to publish their own proxy statement with the opposing directors at significant cost to the long-term directors.