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From Fear to Trust

The human spirit is incredible. This COVID-19 crisis is testing the best of our humanity. Yet, we see amazing examples of humanness, innovation, unity, and sacrifice. We continue to take care of each other, educate, and engage people. Recall a question I asked in part one of this series. When we get beyond the peak, imagine that your leadership, your humanness is on trial. Will you be convicted?

When a colleague appears grumpy on a video call or sends you a sharp email, let compassion be your response habit. It is likely that what they are feeling has nothing to do with you but instead their personal stresses and fears. We all have different experiences shaping our ability to deal with these stresses. We all have coping skills, some more developed, some less. Many may be feeling overwhelmed. Let your high human skills of empathy, kindness, and trust be your guide as you lead through this crisis.

The chances are that by now, we all know someone who has been affected by COVID-19. It has created fear in people. That fear flows to families, communities, and workplaces. This crisis thrust leaders, middle managers, and employees into distributed work environments almost overnight. While adapting to our new circumstances, these fears grew to unusually large proportions. Whether in a crisis or not, fear creates a narrowing of the mental aperture and makes you feel like you are looking through a soda-straw as individuals and as an organization. This paralysis makes us forget our established priorities, our habits, our caring for one another. When a crisis sets in, fear is its friend. Fear short-circuits our healthy support systems of family, friends, and work. Trust is the counterbalance to fear and helps open our mental aperture, see opportunities, and be more collaborative. Trust creates psychological safety and can be an incredible inoculant when bad things happen to good people and good organizations.

Trust can make you feel in the most positive and profound ways. In our closest relationships, it creates confidence, happiness, and peace. Think about your work environment though. When you meet new employees, how does the trust conversation go? “Welcome to the team, be on time, work hard, and you will earn our trust,” or something along those lines? The prevailing idea for most is that people must earn trust, but why? Why is trust not automatically given based solely on mutual understanding and expectations?

My colleague John O’Grady, who spurred much of the thought for this article, creates an insightful trust paradox. Imagine that you must travel for a work assignment. The Uber driver arrives at your house, and you get in the car with your luggage. You arrive at the airport, drop your bags with a skycap, greet the flight attendant, and say hello to the pilot. You settle in for a flight, having granted trust to people you likely have never met—the driver, skycap, pilot. Do you know who did the maintenance checks on the plane? We trust these people with our lives and often those of our families, without a second thought. Yet, in our most important and intimate relationships, we withhold trust. With our work colleagues, those whom we inherently rely on for success, we say to them, “you must earn my trust.”

Why?

Perhaps the socialization of trust has been wrong. What if we granted the same level of trust to the people closest to us as we do to the drivers and pilots in our lives? Imagine having high trust relationships that start with “you have my trust, and it can only be eroded or lost,” rather than earned. The buy-in and responsibility felt by the newly trusted employee go through the roof! So, too, does their commitment to maintaining that trust.

Instead of only talking about trust at the beginning of a relationship and then again only if it is broken or lost, make trust part of your team’s everyday conversations. Use the space in between to talk about how employees are demonstrating behavior that aligns with your expectations. And when you think there may be a trust issue arising, approach it from a position of authentic curiosity instead of being accusatory. Find the underlying reasons and collaboratively address them. Maintain trust behaviors and a trusted environment before it becomes broken. Be proactive!

Cultivating a culture of trust is like any leader’s action; it is a choice. To create work environments where trust flourishes, we need to understand how it works, the ways it is given, built, maintained, and how it becomes lost or broken. We can then teach ourselves how to act and react in ways that help cultivate trust, even in the most challenging situations.

Talking at the Speed of Trust

When you are asked a question and are uncertain of the answer, frustrated, or with little time, how do you respond? We all have short-circuited answers that allow us to respond and move on. Or so we think.  These so-called default answers such as let’s talk; we’ll have an answer soon; don’t ask, just get it done along with many others can damage the trust between leaders and employees. While these defaults might allow the leader to get an answer out quickly, they can unintentionally send signals of uncertainty and mistrust to the receiver. Put yourself on the receiving end of these defaults and consider the feelings and anxiety they may create:

  1. Let’s talk – uncertainty; is this positive or negative? How should the employee prepare?
  2. We’ll have an answer soon – ambiguous, soon next week or soon in a month?
  3. Don’t ask, just get it done! – lack of confidence, trust, and value in the employee.

Provide context and drive meaning to motivate people. Experts say it takes 500 milliseconds, or half a second, for sensory information from the outside world to incorporate into conscious experience. So, we can still get an answer out quickly, but if we take a few extra seconds to be more transparent, we can change the meaning of these defaults and bring clarity, understanding, and commitment to our work. Consider how the three defaults from above, but now with context, change the feeling:

  • Let’s talk about this at 4 pm. I like your idea of involving the staff because it gives them ownership of the process.  You specify why you like the idea, you set the expectation for time, and the employee feels valued.
  • We have not decided yet but will by the end of the day, Wednesday.  You are honest about not having decided and set expectations; the employee likely will feel—okay, Wednesday, got it.
  • Here is what we thought when we made the decision…  The employee is going to understand why and will likely give their best work because they feel like they are part of the team, trusted, and valued.

Trust comes from words and actions, but it must be felt by others to resonate. Take the few extra seconds to be transparent, honest, and only promise what you can deliver. Think about the work environments this crisis has created with back to back virtual meetings, online overload, and how these conditions are impacting your organization. Monitor your people for the signs of fatigue. Do what you can to remove uncertainty. Invest those few seconds to help your people feel, help them FEEL THE TRUST as you lead them through this crisis. Stay well, healthy, and safe!

Overcommunicate is a terrible term, because it’s imprecise, confusing, and can lead to all sorts of goofy outcomes.

What, exactly, does overcommunicate mean: talk more, have more meetings, speculate out loud?

We have seen the outcomes of these kinds of practices. Some teams have tried cyber-micromanagement – keeping their people on an open video line all day.

Others have ramped up the frequency of meetings – many that have no clear agenda or outcomes.

We have seen the fear, anxiety, and confusion that comes from leaders speculating out loud, ruminating about internal deliberations, and providing fact-free timelines and promises.

Stop overcommunicating.

Start communicating clearly and building confidence that you’ve got the judgment to lead your team through the COVID crisis and into the recovery.

Here are some practical tips for doing that.

1. Set your cadence. Your rhythm of meetings and routines needs to be purposeful and predictable. These become your team’s handrails through the uncertainty as you cross the COVID-chasm below.

2.  Open channels. Make informal town-halls part of your cadence. Take questions from people during the session. Stick to the facts as you know them. Feel free to say, “I don’t know” and “We’re still discussing that and haven’t made a decision. I’m very interested in your ideas, too.” Make sure these are sessions where people feel safe to voice ideas, opinions, and concerns.

3. Get moving. Put together three-to-five simple scenario plans. What are the common elements? Once you identify those you can start moving forward. Identify the forks down the road and the information you need to know to decide which path to take.  

4. Keep everyone engaged. Let people know the what and the why as you get moving. Empower them to figure out how. This simple practice lowers the chaos, boosts confidence, and increases your command of the situation.

5. Watch, Listen and Learn. You’ve got two ears, two eyes, and one mouth. Watch and listen at least four times more than you speak. Ask questions and get people thinking and solving problems.

You got it. Five tips to stop the babble and build confidence in success. Bam!

How well are these tips working for you?  Send me a message and let me know.

The Secret to Owning a Successful Business:

LEADERSHIP

The Secret to Owning a Successful Business: LEADERSHIP

SUSTAINABLE GROWTH

Sustainable Growth, the cornerstone of any successful restaurant or business, rests on the shoulders of three profound elements: Leadership, Culture, and Strategy.

In this article, we’ll focus on Leadership.

LEADERSHIP

What is Leadership?

Countless volumes of books, articles, podcasts, blogs, and conferences do their best to help leaders every day to get better at this thing we call Leadership. I always like to go simple and start with a definition from one of my best friends, Merriam. Webster, of course.

The dictionary defines Leadership (noun): as a person who guides or directs a group; Leadership (verb): to guide on a way especially by going in advance or to direct on a course or in a direction.

NOT EVERYONE IS A LEADER

Contrary to some contemporary thought, not everyone is a leader. Leadership is about more than influence. While there certainly is a special essence of influencing those who are being led, there is also a clear depiction by the definition of guiding and directing while also going in advance of those who are led.

Admittedly, in every organization, there are far more people that should assume Leadership that don’t and to paraphrase something Pat Lencioni shared in a recent conference I attended, there are probably a lot of people leading that should not.

WHAT DOES LEADERSHIP MEAN TO YOUR ORGANIZATION?

Now that we understand the essence of Leadership and leading, what does that mean to your organization?

Can we look at any organization with the same lenses?  Yes…and no.

Sustainable Growth rests squarely on the shoulders of Leadership, and the balance of that Leadership is dependent upon the context of your business, and your organizational dynamics.

LEADER DEVELOPMENT AND DIVERSITY

When analyzing influence in your restaurant or business, you should begin with two concepts:   leader development and leader diversity.

LEADER DEVELOPMENT

Sustainable Growth best occurs when there is more than one leader. There must be depth as well as a breadth of Leadership.

If you are reading this as a restaurateur or even a small business leader, ask may yourself, “Am I the only leader on my team?” The only excuse for answering that with a “yes” is if you are the ONLY person in your organization (even then, a Sustainable Growth MindsetTM ensures you don’t stay that way for long)!

Over time, hiring and investing in middle-level leaders and helping them take the initiative to improve their leadership skills will pay considerable dividends: for them, for you, and most tangibly, your organization.

LEADER DIVERSITY

Think about what type of leaders you have in your organization. Certain leader types may be more effective than others in your space.

Some leaders love details! Details energize and make them tick. Surely you know somebody like this?

There are still some that are exceptional at helping everyone see the BIG picture, visionary and inspiring as they articulate the 30,000-foot view as few others can.

Additionally, there are those of us energized when surrounded by people–the team we work with, a robust audience, or countless customers and clients.

Lastly, there are those empowered by the closing of a door, finding themselves alone in peaceful solitude with their ideas.

Which of these is good?  Is one worse than another? Can there be a “good” or “bad”?

DETERMINE YOUR LEADERSHIP TYPE?

Are you a Maverick or Pioneer? An Operator or Reconciler?

What about those on your team?

In the fast-paced restaurant industry, where the customer’s desire is instant gratification, Leadership is critical, details matter, and self-awareness is the beginning of a leader’s growth journey. Your team’s future growth depends on it!

Take our short, quick persona quizzes (click here) or have your whole organization figure out where they are on the spectrum. It will help you and your team see yourselves in a different way, and improve, regardless of where you are.

3 QUICK-ACTION STEPS TO SUSTAINABLE GROWTH

Here are three actionable tasks that may serve you well in your endeavor to bring out the best in your business through Leadership:

  1. Assess yourself and your team’s personas. Send SLA’s Leader-persona quiz (FREE!). This exercise alone will increase self-awareness and learning.
  1. Bring the team together—in whole or in parts—and share personas. What do you see? Any surprises? Any trends or fresh observations?
  1. Lastly, ask yourself, “Are we balanced?” Do you have gaps? Blind spots? If so, generate some options that will improve your team’s balance.

LET’S GET OUT THERE AND DO IT!

Why Help the Restaurateur?

Why Help the Restaurateur?

Serving those who serve

Why am I passionate about helping the restauranteur?  After serving in the military for 23 years, why would I now choose to work with restaurateurs and quick-service franchisees?  The answer is quite simple: I want to continue to serve by serving those who serve!  Can you think back to some quick-service restaurant that broke the monotony of your day-to-day?  What fast-casual dining restaurant answers the age-old question of “what’s for dinner?”  Food remains integral to building relationships, our country’s economy, our culture, and our way of life. The restaurant industry is one of the most dynamic, cut-throat, and often unappreciated sectors in today’s marketplace. 

GUTS – Radical Courage

It is no easy road to be an entrepreneur entering such a demanding industry.  It takes real GUTSradical courage—to join such a space.  Food expenses are rising.  Operating costs, to include the rising cost of wages, are a challenge. The increasing price of leased real estate is a looming foe.  In addition to these costs, the complex nature of marketing, sales, and communication make running a restaurant no easy task. Never mind trying to infuse a level of sustainable growth.  

Key Trends

In the NRA’s 2019 State of the Industry Report, they highlighted five key trends that continue to be at the forefront of the challenge:

  1. A competitive business environment.
  2. Staffing as a top challenge.
  3. Pent-up [customer] demand remains elevated. 
  4. Technology incorporation continues.
  5. Food preferences continue their rapid evolution.

Past performance does not dictate future success

Unfortunately, these trends do not soften the statistics of the past two decades either.  As you often hear it said, past performance does not dictate future success, but hindsight makes it clear that it is a significant challenge to be a successful restaurateur in today’s environment.   The numbers are staggering, with no relief in sight. Research has estimated some 60% of restaurants don’t survive their first year; Anywhere from 70-85% of restaurants either change the owner’s hands or go out of business in the first five years according to a 2005 study.  And personnel turn-over within the restaurant space is commonly observed to be as high as 70% annually. There is much to be gained as a restaurateur. However, it takes something special to not only survive but grow. 

How can I serve you best?

I have spent the past six months transitioning from my career in the Army and thinking about this VERY blog.  My aspiration: how can I serve YOU best?  I have visited a countless number of quick-serve and fast-casual dining restaurants.   I have watched and spoken to the men and women who are doing it, day-in and day-out, and my hats off to you! 

Three action steps

Here are three small things that may serve you well in your endeavor to be the best in your business:  

  1. Take deliberate time to reflect on this year’s five trends, and rate your restaurant? How are you doing in those challenge areas?
  2. Rank order them. Which presents you with the most formidable challenge? Is it staffing? Are you meeting customer demands? Are you integrating the newest tech? Is it staying food-relevant? Rank-order them, one to five.
  3. Do ONE thing about the top three. You can’t fix everything, but you certainly can do one to three tangible tasks to make your business better today.

You can do IT!

Don’t know where to start? Please feel free to reach out. You can do IT. Whatever IT is.

Are Expert Board Members Killing Your Nonprofit?

Expert Board Members could be Killing your Nonprofit

So, you or someone you know are starting a nonprofit or looking to bring new members to your existing board of directors.

Seeking subject matter experts seems to be the right way to go. After all, shouldn’t any nonprofit want the top academics, advocates, and expats from the areas you serve to guide the organization?

But here’s a surprise.  Often, the answer is no.

Certainly, many expert board members take their governance responsibilities seriously. But others, with the best of intentions, carry their own agendas and pet projects into the nonprofit. This can result in significant conflicts of interest, decision-making paralysis, wasted resources, and bickering and back-biting. These problems undermine the integrity of the board and the impact the nonprofit seeks to make.

The purpose of a board of directors is to govern the nonprofit.

Governance responsibilities fall into three categories: Strategy, Oversight, and Policy. Strategy determines how the nonprofit aims to pursue its mission and vision with the greatest possible impact. Oversight deals with stewardship of donor dollars, transparency in spending, and adherence to acceptable accounting practices. Policy addresses matters such as by-laws, hiring and evaluating the executive director, and selecting and maintaining a competent board that governs according to sound rules.

Unfortunately, being a subject matter expert, academic, advocate, or expat does not necessarily help board members fulfill their primary responsibilities. Superb thought leaders or people with important lived experiences who have little to no training or experience with governance can damage your organization, usually inadvertently, by drowning meetings in esoteric debate and scrimmaging to fund pet projects.

These problems create internal revenue bleeding. Decision-making paralysis forces the organization to tread water. Shifting priorities lurch the efforts of your team from one initiative to another. This burns the time and energy of your team. You cannot create and sustain momentum or generate the kind of productivity that comes from consistency. Your employees get frustrated, which lowers their levels of engagement. You spend endless hours dealing with drama, interpersonal disputes, and sometimes even subterfuge, rather than growing the organization. Many nonprofits detect the damage too late and never recover.

To add to the problem, experts may be less likely to donate to your nonprofit. Many rationalize that their academic work and volunteer support for the board is sufficient skin-in-the-game. This is an understandable sentiment, but it could hurt your organization. Nonprofit watchdogs and grant-makers want to know if each member of your board is a donor. When board members do not donate, watchdogs and grant-makers perceive that significant internal problems must exist.

What to do

  1. Hire board members with governance experience who agree to donate to the organization. The amount of the donation does not matter.
    Create a board of advisers for subject matter experts. They can give you the benefits of their research and experience and not be put in a position to damage your organization.
  2. Develop conflict of interest policies that prevent board members from participating in discussions in which they have a vested personal, financial or professional interest.
  3. Conduct governance training as a part of your board development process.

French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau famously remarked that war is too important to be left to the generals. Like generals, subject matter experts can be helpful to your nonprofit with their research, experiences, and professional backgrounds. Exercise great caution before letting them run the show.