A few summers ago, I watched a father coaxing his daughter to jump into the pool. It brought back memories of me doing the same thing with my daughter years before.
She was adamantly refusing to leap. He was frustrated. And then something happened. He sweetened the offer with a promise of a grape popsicle.
She was in the water before I even knew what happened.
That little incentive was a nudge. Motivation at its best.
I first became aware of nudge theory from the book, Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein. The authors highlighted how we think and make choices. Others had written about it previously, most notably James Wilk before 1995.
Since then, I am more conscious looking for how others are trying to influence my behavior. I also use nudges to help me meet my own goals. Putting healthy food within reach and making it harder to reach unhealthy snacks falls in this category.
It’s the focus of every leader. It’s the aspiration of those who seek to make a mark.
How to achieve organizational excellence is the subject of a new book by David Mattson, CEO of Sandler Training. THE ROAD TO EXCELLENCE: 6 Leadership Strategies To Build A Bulletproof Business is the result of his research and experience as a CEO of a global organization. I asked him to share some of his leadership insights as well as some blind spots that can catch business leaders off guard with potentially disastrous consequences.
“Effective leaders are always in recruiting mode, not just when an opening appears.” -David Mattson
The first part of your book spotlights the blind spots that many have in building a culture of excellence. Of these 14, what blind spots do you see leaders making most often when it comes to leadership excellence?
The most common mistake – and it seems to be universal across all industries – is the failure to make recruiting the very best people an ongoing, continuous priority. Effective leaders are always in recruiting mode, not just when an opening appears. They build up a bench of talent, so that when there’s an unexpected departure by a key person, there’s no crisis that threatens the entire organization. If you look at the top-performing companies that dominate, you almost always find that they’re the ones that have made recruiting the very best people an ongoing organizational priority. You are always, always looking for the best talent.
“All who have accomplished great things have had a great aim, have fixed their gaze on a goal which was high, one which sometimes seemed impossible.” -Orison Sweet Marden
In more posts than I can count, I have written, discussed, and interviewed authors on the importance of organizational culture. A powerful culture fuels an organization to achieve greatness. When a new book by Chris Dyer titled The Power of Company Culture: How any business can build a culture that improves productivity, performance and profits hit my desk, I was interested to see the author’s view of culture and his interpretation of the latest research. Chris didn’t disappoint. The book takes the reader on a thoughtful overview of culture and shows the practical steps to take to improve yours in record time.
I recently spoke with Chris about his work on company culture.
“Culture is the bedrock of business success.” -Mark Goulston
Transparency. You share some great ways to increase transparency. Is it ever possible to be too transparent?
Of course! Take any example, and a case can be made that too much of a good thing can be bad for you. Each company needs to decide how transparent they should be with employees, customers, and vendors. InThe Power of Company Culture, I present evidence that more transparency is usually better. Regulations, privacy concerns, and competitive advantages aside, transparency is really about writing—and playing by—the rules of the game.
When companies take charge and share information about their financial health, successes, failures, goals, and dreams, they then control their own narrative. As humans, we can only use the information we already have to explain something new we don’t understand. By providing more information to those impacting our companies, we help them arrive at the correct conclusions and outcomes.
Any company looking to improve their transparency should start in a few key areas. First, ask: Does everyone in the company know what goals have been set by senior management? Overall company goals, department goals, and even team goals should not be a secret.
Second: Does everyone know and understand the financial health status of the organization? For public companies, this information is available to everyone. But most companies are not public. Decide how far you are willing to go, and share the numbers that you can.
Third: Do teams, departments, and employees understand what is expected of them by senior leadership? Nine times out of ten, when a department or person is not measuring up to what is expected, there is a disconnect as to what they believe is expected.
“Transparency is both a business ethic and a cultural element in the workplace.” -Chris Dyer
There are lots of ways to infuse positivity into an organization. I suggest a deep dive into the Appreciative Inquiry and Positive Leadership working models, via books and interactive workshops.
Before you do that, consider where your business falls on the positivity scale. Do your people ask, “What went right?” or, “What did we do well?” Or do they just focus on solving “problems”? Often, we forget to ask and identify what is working, and consider that the place for us to do more.
Positivity also entails identifying who does what, well. In a team, it is common for some people to excel in one area, and others somewhere else. Aligning tasks and goals around strengths, and minimizing weaknesses, is more positive than working on what’s not working.
Additionally, look at the language used by people in your company to find potential tweaks for positivity. Instead of addressing troublesome issues as “problem solving,” which is a negative concept, start calling them “opportunities to improve.”
All leaders must make courageous decisions. It goes with the job. You understand that in certain situations, some difficult and timely decisions must be made in the best interests of the entire organization. Such decisions require a firmness, authority, and finality that will not please everyone.
ADVICE: HOW TO BE DECISIVE
“I think everybody who creates something is doing something audacious. Because the most difficult time is when you are starting from scratch with no financial backing—just an idea. So true audaciousness comes about with just those people who have the pluck and the courage to say, ‘Screw it; let’s do it.’” -Richard Branson, Virgin Group chairman
There are a few truths when it comes to decision making, according to Anna Johansson, a business consultant:
Logical decisions tend to trump emotional ones. Since emotions can sometimes make us biased or see things in an inaccurate light, basing a decision on logic, rather than on a current emotional state, usually gives you more objective information to make the final call.
Thought-out decisions tend to trump impulsive ones. Because you’ve spent more time on the problem, you’ll understand it more thoroughly and be better versed in the variables that might arise from any possible route.
Flexible decisions tend to trump concrete ones. Things change frequently, so making a decision that allows for some eventual degree of flexibility usually offers more adaptable options than a decision that’s absolute or concrete.
These aren’t absolute rules, however. For example, many entrepreneurs trust their gut when making decisions—and indeed, instinct can sometimes beat over-analytical thinking.
“Fortune does favor the bold and you’ll never know what you’re capable of if you don’t try.” -Sheryl Sandberg
Here are some strategies you can use in almost any decision making process to ensure that you make the best choice, according to Johansson:
Step Away From the Problem
Scientific research suggests that distancing yourself from a problem can help you face it in a more objective way. For example, let’s say you’re trying to choose between two different opportunities, and you can’t tell which one is better for you. Instead of remaining in your own frame of mind, consider yourself as an outside observer, such as a mentor giving advice or a fly on the wall. Removing yourself in this way helps you filter out some of your cognitive biases and lean you toward a more rational decision.
Research: distancing yourself from a problem allows you to face it objectively.
Most of us end up being lousy decision makers when we try to force a decision in a moment, or push through to a final choice after first learning about a situation. In some high-pressure environments, this is a must, but it isn’t the most effective or rewarding way to do things. Instead, accuracy and reliability in decision making tends to increase if you first give yourself some time to decompress and collect yourself—even if it’s just a few minutes. This may also help you remove yourself from the problem, knocking out two of these strategies in one fell swoop.
Know That There Is No Right Answer
You can stress yourself out trying to pin down the answer that’s objectively correct, if you believe one such answer exists. Instead, remind yourself that there’s almost never an objectively correct answer. “All you can do is make the decision that’s the best for you at the time, and it’s probably going to work out okay either way,” Johansson says.
Remember the lessons you’ve learned from the past, but don’t let your past experiences affect what you choose in the present. For example, if you’ve paid a hundred dollars a month for a service that isn’t getting you anywhere, you may be tempted to continue simply for the reason that you’ve already spent thousands of dollars. This skewed line of reasoning is an example of an escalation bias, in which you’re hesitant to cut your losses. You can’t change the past, so instead, look to the present and future.
Leadership Tip: don’t let your past experiences affect what you choose in the present.
You can overanalyze a problem as much as you like, but it probably isn’t going to help anything. It’s just going to bring up new complications, force you to second-guess yourself, and possibly double back on a decision you’ve already made. All of these will make the process more excruciating and will make you unsatisfied with whatever decision you land on. Instead, pick an option early and fully commit to it.
There’s no perfect way to make a decision, and there are very few situations in which a decision is ever “right.” However, with these strategies in tow, you’ll be well-equipped to make more rational, complete, and best of all, satisfying decisions in your life.
Part of my daily gratitude practice reminds me of the wonderful people in my life, who encourage and influence me to greater heights each year. One of the most extraordinarily positive and influential people is my friend Bob Burg.
Long before my book, The Book of Mistakes, was published this year, Bob not only read it and endorsed it, but was the very first to interview me about it for his popular Go-Giver podcast. After the recording of that podcast was turned off, Bob was still giving me praise for the book and a double-dose of encouragement. That’s the way he is.
In my life, he’s a person of genuine influence.
You may know him from one of his many books. If you’re super-fortunate, you may have seen him speak live. And, if you don’t know him, well, today is a great day for you!
In Bob Burg terms, what does it mean to be a person of genuine influence?
Skip, influence itself – on a very basic level – can be defined simply as the ability to move a person(s) to a desired action, usually within the context of a specific goal. That’s its definition but not its essence. The essence of influence is “pull.” This as opposed to “push” (i.e., how far can you push a rope?). People with genuine influence don’t have a lot of push with people but rather a lot of pull. That’s because influence is really an attraction.
Great influencers, genuine influencers, attract people first to themselves and only then to their ideas. And they do this through discovering what that other person wants, needs, desires, and values. And they ask themselves questions to ensure that that is their focus.
They don’t do this as a form of manipulation, in order to self-centeredly get people to do their will, but rather as a way to build and serve everyone in the process.
Genuine influence itself is really then the ability to attain the results you want when working with or dealing with others but in such a way that everyone comes away from the situation far better off than they were before—and just as importantly, that all parties feel good about the results, about each other, and about themselves.
“Your influence is determined by how abundantly you place other people’s interests first.” -Bob Burg & John David Mann
The story is one that starts with adversarial negotiations between two characters. Was this negotiation based on a real one?
While not based on one specific event, it was indeed based on the many, many similar scenarios that occur every day. The interesting thing in this case is that both characters had exactly what the other wanted and needed. So, it should have been a marriage made in heaven, right? Yet, it was anything but that. Instead, each conversation resulted in their being even further apart. And…neither one understood what the other person was thinking, never mind what would most likely result in their being agreeable to a solution. This leads into your next question.
“Retrain yourself to respond to conflict and disagreement by unruffling your feelings. Make calm your default setting.” -Bob Burg & John David Mann