Wednesday, May 28, 2014

How BP's Employees Became More Efficient in 5 Hours

Effective work planning —how workers divide their workday among the steady stream of incoming requests for their time— is paramount to individual and ultimately, organizational performance. No one knows this better than Shelley Steffek-Pernot, Global Capability Manager for multinational oil and gas company BP. Her solution: an innovative in-house training program, Effective Planning, featuring Discovery Learning’s proven business simulation, Paper Planes, Inc.

“While most companies use Paper Planes to improve teamwork collaboration and customer service, BP is using the simulation in a very innovative way,” says Chris Musselwhite, President of Discovery Learning. “Recognizing how clearly the simulation demonstrates the value of challenging assumptions about work, BP is using Paper Planes to show workers the benefit of using a disciplined workday planning process across the entire organization.”

According to Steffek-Pernot, getting people comfortable with challenging assumptions about work on a daily basis is a primary learning objective of Effective Planning. Paper Planes is designed so that if no questions are asked about the work and the individual roles as presented, the initial production runs are usually surprisingly ineffective at meeting the customer’s seemingly achievable specifications.

“Most of us assume we have no option but to complete work as it’s given to us, when actually we have multiple options: we can do it, defer it, delegate it, drop it, or re-design it,” says Steffek-Pernot. “Paper Planes provides a very realistic experience that drives home the benefit of constantly challenging expectations about work and redesigning it if doing so will provide more value to the company.”

Steffek-Pernot knows how important this is in a constantly changing business environment. “Work that was a valuable use of time yesterday may be irrelevant today due to a change in business needs.”

This reality becomes clear after one run of Paper Planes, when participants immediately see the need to challenge assumptions and redesign the work process in order to come up with better results. It becomes clear again when customer interventions further complicate the process. Often, the difference in results once a team begins to ask questions and make improvements is so significant that the impact is felt by everyone in the room.

“While the information provided in the classroom lectures is great, the real learning happens during the simulation,” says Steffek-Pernot. “Paper Planes works because participants get to experience firsthand the value in constantly challenging assumptions and optimizing work processes. It’s this internalization of the learning that makes it much more likely that participants will apply it in the workplace right away and actually change their work habits – which is the goal of any training we do.” Steffek-Pernot recognizes that the skills necessary for effective workday planning will continue to be essential capabilities for workers in highly interconnected and dynamic workplaces like BP.

“We know that our people will continue to face competing demands on their time. Based on what we’ve seen to date, we believe that Paper Planes will continue to be an effective tool to help our employees learn the critical skills necessary for effective workday planning for years to come.”

Monday, May 19, 2014

Talk Less, Listen More: Why You Should Be Asking Questions

What if you could develop a leadership skill that was simple, inexpensive and enabled you to get more done by doing less? Would you be interested? The ability to ask good questions is quite possibly one of the most effective and under-utilized leadership competencies. This seemingly simple but surprisingly difficult skill will not only help you become more effective at managing and developing others, it can contribute to improved problem solving, better decision making and increased capacity for organizational learning—all of which add to increased organizational agility.

Like many leadership competencies, asking good questions is harder than it sounds. Why? It’s likely that your problem-solving ability and business expertise have propelled you upward in your career. You have been rewarded for providing answers and scoring wins for your organization. One of the toughest developmental challenges for someone advancing up the organization is to shift from being the “go-to person” to getting things done through others.

In fact, one of the most frequent complaints I encounter comes from managers who are frustrated by employees who constantly come to them for help with problems that they believe the employee should be able to handle on their own. A common refrain goes like this, “I have no time to get my work done. He constantly comes to me with problems that he should be able to solve. That’s why I gave him this job. What am I paying him for anyway?”

Generally, there’s a fairly obvious reason this happens. When you always provide answers you teach people to come to you for help. Other than the consideration of your available time, there’s a bigger reason you should be concerned about this. In an expanded managerial role you must learn to transition from star problem solver into a coach and a developer of others. Problem solving is a management skill, while getting things done through others is a leadership skill.

Knowing you need to ask questions is just the beginning. How you ask questions is crucial. If your questioning makes others feel confronted rather than supported, you won’t get the promised end result. What we’re addressing here is intention. Intention is the difference between coaching and coercing. Behind the coaching process is the simple but essential belief that while each of us has an inner wisdom that can give us the guidance and understanding we need, it is often obscured by inner and outer interference. Good coaching helps individuals work through this interference.

To become an effective coach, you have to make sure your intentions are not coercive. You must:
  • Remember you’re trying to help the person being coached to understand the situation, not fix it for them.
  • Make sure you’re not just trying to make yourself look good. Good coaches never forget that the goal is for the team (the organization) to win, not to be the star player.
  • Make sure you’re not trying to make the person being coached understand your perception of the problem. As the coach, you must keep in mind that your job is to ask the questions; their job is to come up with the answers.
  • Be open to questioning your own assumptions and beliefs.
  • Recognize when a question is not a question but advice or suggestion disguised as a question. Ask clarifying not leading questions.

While it may be difficult, learning the art of asking good questions is definitely worth the effort required. Mastering this highly under-utilized leadership skill will not only help you become more effective at managing and developing others. The biggest payoff may be the new time you find now that your employees can solve problems and make decisions without you holding their hand. 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Expert Interview with Craig Runde: How to Handle Conflict in the Workplace

Change is inevitable. When change is poorly managed it breeds conflict in both teams and individuals. We spoke with Craig Runde, an expert in conflict management in the workplace, to better understand the unique relationship between conflict and change.

Craig Runde is the Director of the Center for Conflict Dynamics at Eckerd College where he oversees training on the Conflict Dynamics Profile (CDP) assessment. He graduated from Harvard University, earned his law degree from Duke University, and holds a library science degree from the University of Denver. Craig took a moment to speak with me about the CDP and talk about how you can handle conflict in the workplace.

Lindsey Sprague: Can you tell us a little about the CDP assessment?

Craig Runde: The Conflict Dynamics Profile assessment looks at how people respond to workplace conflict. It measures behavior patterns they use typically. Faced with conflict in the workplace it also measures triggers or behaviors in others that would upset them, we call those “hot buttons.” And when you’re upset as the result of somebody else’s actions you become more prone to defaulting into ineffective, destructive types of behavioral responses. The model underlying the CDP suggests that conflict is inevitable, how you behave has a great deal to do with what you get out of the conflict, some behaviors are constructive and tend to result in better outcomes, some are destructive and tend to escalate or prolong the conflict.

Lindsey Sprague: How would you say that one’s awareness of their own approach to conflict affects their ability to lead a team?

Craig Runde: First of all, conflict is inevitable and pretty much anyone you talk to on any team will agree to that. Yet, when we ask people on teams whether they have a plan for dealing with conflict, the answer is almost always no. Therefore, they wind up defaulting to their auto-pilot type of responses to conflict and generally that means that people are operating in a reactive mode, because most people have never learned how to deal with conflict well. We as human beings are built to respond to conflict but it’s typically life threatening conflict and our fight or flight instincts work quite well in those kinds of cases. The problem is that the same instincts arise when we sense differences with someone else that are not of a life threatening nature. As a consequence, the type of reactions that are built in for survival are what we typically depend on and those fight or flight type of  responses don’t work well in the context of modern life. To be able to get angry and lash out at the other person (fight) or drawing back and avoiding the other person (flight) just don’t work well when you’re in situations where the conflict involves interdependent people who are going to need to continue to work. So if you’re not aware of how you’re responding, typically these are the ways that people respond. And if you just go on doing it, it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll get bad outcomes.

You know, when you go through an interaction with people and you ask them whether or not they believe conflict is inevitable, almost everyone says, “Yeah, it’s inevitable.” When you ask them to think about words to describe it, generally they come up with negative words. And when you asked them, "How do you usually deal with it?" the dominant answer is, “I avoid it.” Then you come back to them and say, “You have this inevitable thing that you see as negative, and you avoid it, how well does that work?” and they laugh! Because it doesn’t work, and they know it doesn’t work. So the question becomes, "What are you going to do with this inevitable thing?" Because you’re going to have it. Our idea is that you might as well try to find ways to get something more positive out of this because if you ask people, “Have you ever in your life had a positive outcome from a conflict?” they almost always say yes. You ask them what happened in those cases, and usually they will describe either better outcomes or improved relationships. They will talk about, in effect, the way they got there was by using some of the constructive behaviors that are measured in the CDP.

Lindsey Sprague: Have you observed any correlation between a person’s approach to conflict and their approach to change?

Craig Runde: That’s an interesting question, because we’ve certainly used the Change Style Indicator. I would say that in some respects, some aspects of conflict resolution are easier for people who would be more on the originator side, and that’s because they’re a little more comfortable with change. Certainly they can come up with new ideas and so forth. For people more on the conserver side, change is a little more challenging for them. They don’t like to do it for change’s sake, that’s fine, but sometimes they don’t even want to do it when it probably needs to be done. And I think a lot of time conflict arises around change. As a consequence our suggestion for people who are more on the Originator side of things, is to really take the time to try to understand where the other person is coming from not only factually but emotionally. Because change is scary and it’s important to understand why that’s happening and how that will affect them. 

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