Monthly Archives: September 2013

Positive Discussions Encourage Creativity

By Lou Quinto
Executive Coach and Speaker

In the past several years I have worked with the IT departments for several Fortune 500 companies. With each company I have encountered depressing stories about unproductive and highly negative interactions that have taken place in their “post implementation review” meetings – known in the IT vernacular as a PIR. A PIR is conducted at the conclusion of the implementation of an IT project for continuous improvement purposes. The objectives of these meetings include identifying areas where improvements can be made to the implementation process for the next project. The agenda usually includes three focal points 1) discuss the outcome of the most recent project, 2) identify successes and opportunities, and, 3) brainstorm potential improvements when planning the organization’s next big initiative.

Seems innocuous enough, right; maybe even productive.

But the actual meeting can be anything but productive. In a room full of high-achievers, people shine the light on all of the trouble spots and create a laundry list of things that went wrong. Brainstorming soon morphs into “Blame Storming”. Everyone leaves the meeting bruised and battered.

On the surface, our focus on problems and trouble spots seems to be in keeping with the spirit of continuous improvement. Unfortunately, when the meeting focuses just on what went wrong, it destroys your ability to be productive.

In his groundbreaking research on group dynamics, researcher Marcial Losada identified 15 high performing teams based on profitability, customer satisfaction, and peer reviews. He then recorded their interactions during planning meetings, contrasting their communications with 26 mid and low performing teams. He found that the mean “positivity ratio” of the high performers was three positive comments to every negative comment. For the low performing teams, the ratio was 0.4 to 1. He also observed that following bouts of negativity, teams lost their ability to flex their behaviors and to question appropriately. Team members simply devolved into an endless loop of self-absorbed advocacy for their own positions.

So what’s the learning for us? In order to encourage high levels of critical thinking in your team meetings, do the following:

1. Start with the positives: Unless we acknowledge that there are many strengths we can leverage, there is a danger that we will focus only on our weakness, closing the door to innovation. You want to remember and reinforce everything that went well so you can build on your success.
2. Spontaneously appreciate: When people are challenged, their natural response is to go into fight or flight mode. To keep people in the collaborative mindset necessary for effective problem solving, first identify the positives of all ideas before offering concerns.
3. Be generous: It’s hard to overdo it. Further research by Barbara Fredrickson at the University of Michigan found there to be an “upper limit” to positivity, but it doesn’t kick in until you reach a ratio of 11:1. But, make sure your appreciation is genuine, as a lack of sincerity in discussing strengths can do more harm than good.

Employ these tactics consistently at your next series of team meetings, and I am “positive” you will see improved results in your critical thinking.

Lou Quinto has been working with companies and their associates internationally for over the past 25 years primarily in the area of critical thinking and communication skills. He is a Master Coach and Keynote Speaker for Action Management Associates in Plano, TX and a Senior Consultant on the Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness team for Executive Development Associates in Oklahoma City, OK. You can read more of his insights on his blog Metacognition or you can contact him at louquinto@gmail.com. Originally from New Jersey, today Lou resides in Indianapolis, IN.

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September 10, 2013 · 8:49 am

Implementing Change During Times of Adversity

If the recent string of cruise ship problems over the last year has you changing your vacation plans, you’re not alone. Four Carnival cruise ships have experienced trouble at sea ranging from power outages to steering problems. The long-term impact to Carnival’s business depends largely on their response to this crisis.

It’s situations like this that have business leaders wondering how their company would respond in a time of crisis or adversity. Perhaps you don’t have responsibility for such visible crises but what about the “everyday” crises you experience with your sales force, teams and departments? Crises such as losing an important client, losing to the competition, or losing market share? It’s important to recognize that managing people and processes in a crisis is the same as managing them under normal circumstances. However, what’s distinctive in a crisis situation is the urgency, focus and potential negative consequences that highlight the inadequacies that were already present. The way to address the crisis is to first establish solid problem solving practices and a common language for non-crisis situations – and this may require changing the culture of your organization. Second, create a strategic plan to guide you through the current adverse situation.

In working with many large organizations over the years I have found that the following are distinctive traits in those organizations that are successful in changing their problem solving culture. These unique traits are relevant for any culture shift:

Understand why the shift is vital and communicate: Identify and clearly articulate the reason for the culture shift. Identify what would happen if no shift occurred. Identify the expected result and benefit when the shift does occur. And, of course, couch all change actions with a focus on “what’s-in-it-for-me” for each audience.
Overall management commitment: Key organizational management understands and articulates the reason for the shift. Management is “on-board” with the need for the change and the process that was used to achieve the shift.
Key stakeholders and drivers: Often there is a person or small group that is passionate about the need for the culture shift and they have the ability to adjust priorities (including financial) to bring about the needed changes.
Consistent message and support: Messages are communicated clearly and frequently. These messages are also supported in the actions of management. Expectations for change are consistently coached and encouraged by managers. Everyone in the company must understand that the current culture took a long time to develop and it will take time to change the culture. During times of change people push back because they focus on what will be lost. Your message must focus on all of the good things that will be gained.
Common language and processes: Through training and other communication, a common language and set of processes for addressing problems was established. The common language was reinforced through statements, personal actions and coaching of individuals at every opportunity.
Effective interdepartmental communication: Departments must interact well with one another and use the common language and processes that have been established.
Celebrate the “wins”: Organizations find it helpful to point to examples of success that give people a visible example of achievement and benefit. They make a “big deal” about the success so that others are encouraged and motivated to accomplish the same.

In short, crisis management is all about managing change in a culture with which people are comfortable. Shifting the culture of your organization will cause discomfort and push back will hinder your successful implementation. It takes strategic planning and effort to change a culture to one that is resilient in times of crises and adversity.
____________________________________
Action Management Associates

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Filed under Problem Solving, Strategic Thinking

Assure Your Next Decision is a Good Decision

This past weekend I watched Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. In one of the last scenes of the movie, the evil archeologist who is pursuing Indiana Jones finds himself confronted with a decision; Which chalice is the “Holy Grail?” Assuming that Jesus would only drink from a rich, spectacular looking chalice at the Last Supper the archeologist chooses an ornate, gold, Vatican-quality chalice from the many displayed in front of him. When he drinks from the chalice he has chosen he turns to dust before our eyes. At which point the centuries old Templar Knight who has been guarding the “Holy Grail says, “He chose… poorly!” (Thank you Mr. Obvious!)

While you won’t turn to dust if you make a poor decision, success in business – and in life – is predicated on the quality of decisions you make. Each day you are faced with many opportunities to make decisions, both large or small. In fact, making good decisions is part of being a great leader. While most of us will occasionally make bad decisions, there are things you can do to help improve your decision making skills so you can better analyze each situation and choose the best option to move you, and your company, forward.

Avoid Procrastination
It’s tempting to procrastinate on making a decision on account of fear. Fear of making the wrong decision. Fear of what other people might think. Or, fear of losing money. This is particularly true when the decision is a difficult one, or it involves significant risk to you or your company. Emotionally, it can seem easier to put off the decision. However, procrastinating increases the chance you will make the wrong decision. This is because putting it off for later reduces the time you have to review all the relevant information, identify different alternatives, and solicit advice from trusted advisors. Here’s a link to an excellent article from Psychology Today on understanding procrastination.

Seek Feedback and Input
Being in a leadership role does not mean you must make all decisions by yourself, and if you only rely on your own knowledge, you could miss critical information that would help you make a better decision. Identify a small group of trusted advisors, either within or outside of your company, who can help you objectively review the situation, identify alternatives and potential solutions, and choose the best one. Cyrus the Great said “Diversity in counsel, unity in command” and that certainly applies to decision making.

Use a Process
Processes are important to ensure that every step is covered. When you begin without a process outlined, you can easily miss steps along the way that could lead to a less-than-optimal decision or outcome. In addition, a good process gives you the ability to identify the most important criteria for your decision and weight those criteria according to their value, which will help you objectively evaluate the alternatives.

Implement the Decision Well
Even the best decisions, without a good plan for how to implement them, will fail. When you identify the direction you intend to take, stop and outline how the decision will be carried out. Who are the key individuals that must be involved? What is your timeline? Most importantly, identify things that could go wrong with the implementation and how you will prevent or minimize the impact. Most people do not distinguish between a good decision and good implementation. It’s important to have both.

Whether it is in business or life in general, success is often a result of making good decisions. Focusing on improving the process can help make each decision, regardless of how big or small, a bit easier.

____________________
Action Management and Associates

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Filed under Decision Making

Breaking Through Groupthink with Simple Questions

By Lou Quinto, Executive Coach and Speaker

How many times have you been in a meeting and have been afraid to say something because you believed it went against what the group was thinking? Or, worse yet, nobody in the meeting spoke up because everyone believed it’s not what the “authority” in the meeting (or residing in Mahogany Hall) desired.

It’s common place and happens far too often. In fact, it can set an organization up for failure or be an impediment to complete success.

This phenomenon is known as Groupthink. The group dynamic syndrome was identified and explained by social psychologist, Irving Janis in 1972. In his book, Victims of Groupthink, Janis outlines what he calls “Eight Symptoms of Groupthink.” In the situations described above, two of those symptoms are occurring. First, Self-Censorship. This is where an individual(s) withhold any doubts and deviations from what is believed to be the group’s perceived consensus. The second symptom is Direct Pressure on Dissenters. This is where members of the group believe that they are under pressure (both real and perceived) not to express arguments against any of the group’s or organization’s views.

In my work assisting clients to resolve problems, to make decisions and to develop strategy, I have personally witnessed bona fide “subject matter experts” sit quietly while they knew that the group’s final solution, decision or strategy was either extremely risky, or downright wrong. We are social creatures and one of our biggest fears is losing favor amongst our peers or being seen as someone that causes trouble or creates conflict. Therefore, our individual need for acceptance many times trumps what we know is best for the group or are keys necessary for its success. We protect our status by simply providing no opinion at all.

People who lead groups or facilitate meetings need to be keenly aware of this group dynamic. As I always tell my clients, you can’t judge a meeting by how few differences and conflicts the group had, but instead by how many a group had and most importantly how they dealt with or resolved the conflicts. If you had differences and conflicts then you had a great meeting. If you had none, then I suggest you look in a mirror because you have been blind to potential risks and failures.

The prescription to Groupthink that I offer my clients is a process that I have adapted from several different facilitation techniques. I call it the “PIVOTS Maneuver.” I coined the phrase from a debating tactic. During a debate a participant might clarify a question or stated position by “pivoting.” This involves listening to others’ opinions, understanding their position, and then finding a common goal in that opinion and convincing them that your solution to achieving the goal is the best by offering facts that are not present or were not considered by the other person.

PIVOTS is an acronym for a series of questions that permit individuals in the group to explore a solution, decision, or strategy from several different perspectives. By asking these questions you are “giving permission” to everyone to explore and offer answers to those questions in a “safe environment.” The key phrases in the previous sentence are “giving permission” and “safe environment.” When people believe that they have “permission” to speak up and that there will be no retribution or consequences, only then will they know the environment is “safe” to offer up differing opinions or contradicting facts.

Here are the PIVOTS questions:

PWhat are the Positives that can result from our solution, decision or strategy?

IWhat additional Ideas do you have regarding this solution, decision or strategy?

VWhat Vulnerabilities do you believe the group might face on account of this solution, decision or strategy?

OWhat Opinions – feelings or hunches – does this solution, decision or strategy conjure up in your mind?

T What Truths — facts — do we know that will support the solution, decision or strategy we are recommending?

SIn moving forward with this solution, decision or strategy; what are our potential next Steps or required actions?

Next time you’re leading a meeting and you detect Groupthink to be setting in, call time out and lead the group through these questions one-by-one and record every answer on a whiteboard or a flip chart so that everyone can see them. By “pivoting,” the symptoms of Groupthink will evaporate because you have encouraged the group members to turn over every stone and to explore every objection, fact or opinion. This facilitation technique can be successful to help “neutralize the intimidator” in the room and to also crack away at a silo-like or authoritarian culture that might exist throughout the entire organization.

Lou Quinto has been working with companies and their associates internationally for over the past 25 years primarily in the area of critical thinking and communication skills. He is a Master Coach and Keynote Speaker for Action Management Associates in Plano, TX and a Senior Consultant on the Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness team for Executive Development Associates in Oklahoma City, OK. You can read more of his insights on his blog Metacognition or you can contact him at louquinto@gmail.com. Originally from New Jersey, today Lou resides in Indianapolis, IN.

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Filed under Critical Thinking Tools, Group Effectiveness

The Last Words They Should Hear Are Yours!

By Lou Quinto, Executive Coach and Speaker

I’ve sat through literally hundreds of presentations. I know what you’re thinking: nobody should have to endure hundreds of business presentations in one lifetime. Alas, I have. Through all of them, I’ve observed that most presenters miss a great opportunity to ensure that the last impression or message with which their audience leaves is theirs. Instead, most presenters make the mistake by ending their presentation with the phrase, “Are there any questions?”

If I may, let me scream …. “WRONG!”

Let me offer some advice: NEVER end a presentation with questions. If you do, you’re leaving too much to chance. You’re allowing someone in your audience with an alternative or opposite point of view to hijack your presentation by challenging your position during what you assumed would be a harmless “Q&A session.”

I’ve seen great sales presentations die painful deaths during a question and answer session. Time after time, I have seen salespeople deliver convincing sales presentations. The buying signals are there. People in the audience are nodding their heads in agreement. They’re smiling and whispering to people next to them. Seeing this, the salesperson brings the presentation to a moving crescendo with a well-prepared conclusion that includes why the prospective client can’t live without the product or service he or she is selling. Then, while basking in all of the positive signs that indicate the sale is within reach, the salesperson does the unthinkable… by asking, “Are there any questions?”

Instantly, one or two people in the audience who have serious objections – or who favor the competition – see the opportunity and pounce with negative comments disguised as questions. The salesperson is now back-peddling with unrehearsed and unprepared answers. Suddenly, the other people, who just minutes earlier were prepared to make the deal, are scratching their heads and thinking maybe this isn’t the perfect answer to satisfy their need. Suddenly, the salesperson is looking in his or her rear-view mirror at the great sales opportunity that got away.

How can this be prevented in the future?

Actually, it’s easy… Call for questions BEFORE you make the concluding remarks you spent time preparing. This way, the last thing that your audience hears is what YOU want them to remember.

It is a simple and proven technique that professional speakers employ. Before concluding, simply ask, “Now, BEFORE I conclude, are there any questions?”

At that point, take questions. Then, when there are no more questions, say, “OK, if there are no more questions, let me conclude by reminding you….” Then, launch into your well-prepared, well-rehearsed, deal-solidifying, concise conclusion that reviews your product’s finer points and its strategic competitive advantage.

It’s a proven fact that people tend to remember the last thing they hear. Take advantage of this knowledge. “Rethink” your next presentation and wrap it up with a well-prepared (and well-practiced) memorable conclusion. By doing this, you are helping to ensure that your audience will remember YOUR message and not the message of someone who may want to see you fail.

This technique works well, not only in a sales presentation but in any presentation where your goal is to leave an important and convincing message. So at your next presentation try this technique. It will help to distinguish you as a polished veteran presenter, thus adding to your credibility and increasing your chance to succeed!

BLOGGER’S NOTE: From time to time I will post a blog that is off the critical thinking topic. But I promise you it will be related to your personal and professional development.

Lou Quinto has been working with companies and their associates internationally for over the past 25 years primarily in the area of critical thinking and communication skills. He is a Master Coach and Keynote Speaker for Action Management Associates in Plano, TX and a Senior Consultant on the Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness team for Executive Development Associates in Oklahoma City, OK. You can read more of his insights on his blog Metacognition or you can contact him at louquinto@gmail.com. Originally from New Jersey, today Lou resides in Indianapolis, IN.

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Filed under Public Speaking

It’s a Business Presentation, Not a Bedtime Story!

By Lou Quinto, Executive Coach and Speaker

During the past few weeks, I have found myself consulting with three different clients and sitting through multiple presentations. Regardless of the name on the front of the building, I noticed more similarities between the presentations and the presenters rather than distinctions. I believe this insight might be helpful to anyone who has an opportunity to make a presentation and wants to improve his or her public speaking skills.

One similarity I noticed was that each presenter felt compelled to read to us directly from the PowerPoint® slides. No matter what their “rank” was in the company; how well they knew their subject matter — or tenure — each presenter read to us. And we wonder why people hate sitting through a business presentation!

One of the presenters who knew that I make my living speaking to people came up to me after his presentation and asked for some feedback. Immediately I cringed because after 25 years of teaching public speaking at the corporate level, I know that most people don’t react well to feedback. (And the fact that he was responsible for bringing me in to consult with his company played heavily in my mind as well.) But after some quick thinking I gave him the feedback I hope he desired….

I began by complementing him on his confidence and the deep range of knowledge he demonstrated. (I find that accentuating positives helps open up people’s minds and makes them more accepting of feedback on areas in which they can improve.) After I saw him smiling at this feedback, I asked him, “Why did you have to read every slide word-for-word?” His first reaction was, “Did I?”

I had to laugh to myself because most people don’t realize they are reading to their audience. But they do. I have sat through some presentations where I felt I should be wearing my pajamas and pair of fuzzy slippers because it were as if I was being read a bedtime story! And, like when when I was a child and my Mom would read me a bedtime story, I knew before the presenter got to the end I would be fast asleep.

So here are some tips to help you “rethink” your next presentation and avoid reading to your audience.

1. Remember, your PowerPoint® slides are your “notes” for the presentation. They are not the prepared text for a formal speech.

2. Practice your presentation at least three times before you actually give it. This will help you to become familiar what is on every slide and the order of the slides. This will allow you to just glance at the slide to prompt your mind as to what comes next. If you don’t practice each slide will be like a lifeboat and you will read every word on the slide.

3. Keep your eyes on your audience! Eye contact is most important in relaying a high level of confidence and enthusiasm as you make personal connections with each person in the room. If you are focusing on maintaining good eye contact with your audience members, you won’t have a lot of time to read your slides.

4. Keep your slides short. In other words, don’t use sentences…. Use key words! Also, turn words and numbers into charts and graphs. The point is, the fewer words there are on a slide, the less you will be tempted to read.

5. Your PowerPoint® slides are there to complement your presentation, not TO BE your presentation. YOU should always be the center of attention when you are presenting. You have been invited to speak because you are the subject matter expert. Be and act like the subject matter expert! Every time you turn and read your slides, you are sharing the stage and credibility with printed words on a screen.

BLOGGER’S NOTE: From time to time I will post a blog that is off the critical thinking topic. But I promise you it will be related to your personal and professional development.

Lou Quinto has been working with companies and their associates internationally for over the past 25 years primarily in the area of critical thinking and communication skills. He is a Master Coach and Keynote Speaker for Action Management Associates in Plano, TX and a Senior Consultant on the Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness team for Executive Development Associates in Oklahoma City, OK. You can read more of his insights on his blog Metacognition or you can contact him at louquinto@gmail.com. Originally from New Jersey, today Lou resides in Indianapolis, IN.

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Are You Wasting Time in Meetings?

Does the following statement sound familiar? “When the meeting breaks up, people leave and complain to themselves about another waste of valuable time.” If so, you are not alone. That sentiment is echoed in every office building multiple times a day. In 2003, Marakon Associates completed a survey of top management in 187 large companies worldwide and found that senior managers spend less than three hours a month on strategic issues and too much time discussing issues that have little or no direct impact on company value.

The results of the survey were published in a Harvard Business Review article titled Stop Wasting Valuable Time. To understand whether you will benefit from reading this article, consider whether your organization’s top management deals with any of the following:

Top management spends little time together. The survey shows that management spends less than 10% of their time together. Therefore, their time together must be used wisely.

Setting the agenda is unfocused and undisciplined. Less than 5% of companies have a disciplined process for focusing on the most important issues during the meeting. Therefore, the urgent crowds out the important.

Too little attention is paid to strategy. Managers estimate that almost 80% of the time is spent on issues that account for only 20% of the long-term value to the organization.

Meetings aren’t structured to produce real decisions. Only 12% of managers believed that their meetings consistently produced decisions on important or strategic issues.
___________
Action Management and Associates

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Filed under Meetings, Strategic Thinking