One of the unfortunate byproducts of the serial changes of the last two years has been fragmentation across organizations. Such division is the result of things like varying beliefs about how much flexibility workers should have in terms of where and when they work, as well as abrupt shifts in business models. And that’s on top of the physical isolation people are feeling due to remote work. Some research from Microsoft suggests that collaboration across the organization went down by 25% during the pandemic.
One of the most divisive factors has been the mass exodus of employees from the workplace, alongside a significant amount of hiring to bring on new ones. Relational dynamics have been torn without the opportunity to re-stich the seams between new connections. So, companies are left with numerous camps of “we’s” and “they’s.” As one leader at an organization I’ve consulted with put it, “The proverbial ‘old guard’ and ‘new guard’ are at war with each other.”
During seasons of disruptive change, it’s natural for people to retreat into ideological enclaves that unite them. Whether they share a common enemy (“Our boss is such a jerk” or “Those people in accounting don’t get it”) or tenure (“These new people have no clue…” or “I can’t believe how old school they still do things here”), people hunker together to feel safer and saner. The problem is: They’re neither. In actuality, they’ve parsed the story they tell themselves to include only the parts they like and clung to allies who share their views. That creates one of the most dangerous organizational places to be — making decisions from a place of estrangement based on incomplete information built on partial truths.
I consulted with one company for which the pandemic was especially damaging. We had to take a very careful approach to reintegrating a disintegrated organization. Egos are fragile, people are exhausted, and deeply held biases are especially resistant to change. Restoring trust and a widened sense of unity required a sensitive, deliberate approach. As one leader in our assessment told us: “We’ve just stopped listening to each other. We’ve damaged trust by making one another the enemy. I haven’t even met half the leaders hired into my department who show up announcing new changes by the day, and I’m just expected to salute.”
If your organization has been divided over the last two years, there are ways you can start putting the pieces back together and reuniting people. Here are some places to begin.
What All Leaders Can Do
Own your biases and eliminate labels.
Fragmented organizations more readily “other” people, pigeonholing them into categories that justify ostracizing them. In the organization discussed above, the salespeople were convinced that marketing was prioritizing certain customer segments because the pandemic had slowed down agency production. This made the salespeople’s job harder. Meanwhile, marketers were certain the salespeople only wanted collaterals for prospects with the highest possible margins to elevate their commissions, given the negative impact Covid had on revenues. Of course, neither story was true. But until we got them into a room to share their biases, the labels of “lazy” and “greedy” couldn’t be removed.
Think about those in your organization whom you refer to with a contemptuous “they.” What conclusions have you drawn about “them” that may be unfounded and based on faulty data? Replace your certainty with curiosity and seek out more information. Engage them with empathy rather than scorn, and you’ll learn more about what’s behind their choices and motives you’re convinced are bad.
Restore relationships where trust has been broken.
In some cases, the strain on relationships over the last two years may have damaged trust. Missed commitments, conflicting priorities, and excessive anxiety have been standard fare, fraying nerves and patience. Finding someone to blame has become a natural default. If the stresses of the last two years have caused you to withdraw trust from critical relationships, consider reaching out and repairing those connections. Even if there were legitimate mistakes that made things difficult, forgiveness is more productive long-term than holding a grudge. It’s also likely that you bear some responsibility for things breaking down.
In another organization I’ve worked with, we brought leaders from across the organization into workshops aimed at restoring lost trust. In a series of round-robin conversations, leaders met in pairs to address and resolve tensions, acknowledge strained trust, and recommit to strengthening relationships between their teams. While it’s easy to assume that things will “work themselves out” over time, that’s rarely the case. Relational dynamics like trust need to be addressed apart from the work so that leaders can’t hide behind the work during the conversation.
What Tenured Leaders Can Do
Be welcoming instead of threatened.
The arrival of new faces can be unsettling, especially if those people are in positions of authority or replacing longtime colleagues. And it’s worsened by remote work that makes getting to know them challenging. Isolation makes it easier to be suspicious of new leaders as they try to get traction in an unfamiliar culture. Rather than seeing their arrival as a threat, reach out and welcome them and offer to help them through the confusion of onboarding. If your organization’s onboarding process is weak to begin with, redouble your efforts to create a robust process that spans at least six to nine months.
In my client organization, one leader privately confided her fear: “We’ve always promoted from within, so when they filled my old boss’s job with an external candidate, I was certain they were going to replace me. I was bitter, so I wasn’t interested in helping her be successful.” As it turns out, the organization had hired her new boss with the express purpose of helping to mentor her and prepare her for a broader assignment. Had she been more hospitable, she wouldn’t have wasted energy trying to stymie her new boss.
Minimize resistance to new ideas.
One of the greatest frustrations of newly arriving leaders is opposition to their ideas. The proverbial “not invented here” mentality causes people to instinctively reject ideas new leaders believe they were hired to bring. Those rejections are often met with the common refrains of “We’ve tried that before, and it didn’t work” or “You don’t really understand how we do things here.”
But rather than interpreting new thinking as a critique of how you’ve done things, view it as an opportunity to learn and stretch. This becomes especially important if you’re in a role for which new technologies and approaches have rendered your legacy approaches obsolete. While your equipment, processes, or technologies may be outmoded, that doesn’t mean you are outmoded. Show your enthusiasm and support for new ways of doing things, especially those that can help your company be more competitive. When new leaders are struggling to contextualize their ideas in an unknown environment, offer suggestions to help them succeed rather than standing by while they flounder.
What New Leaders Can Do
Ensure your diagnosis doesn’t turn into an indictment.
You may believe you were hired with an unspoken (or expressed) mandate to change things. And your ideas may well be exactly what the organization needs. But until you build sufficient credibility, you need to pace how you introduce new thinking. You’ll inevitably uncover harsher realities than you were aware of prior to being hired. And when you do, your frustrations over how bad things are can signal an indictment of those around you. Before pointing out how things can be improved, you must honor the successes that came before you.
In my client organization, new leaders were introducing massive changes each week while harshly criticizing a culture of otherwise very proud employees. One leader was heard mocking, “The ‘90s called, and they want their technology back.” The leader who’d introduced the technology he was chiding overheard him and was demoralized. The company had planned a major technology upgrade, but the pandemic simply made that investment impossible.
Rather than taking a condescending tone about what you’re discovering, honor the good work of tenured leaders and invite them to help make your ideas successful by sharing their insights. (And please stop talking about how you did things at your last company.)
Ask seasoned employees for help learning the culture and context.
While you may feel obligated to prove your worth by hitting the ground running, you’re better off hitting the ground learning. Asking lots of questions will show respect for the culture you’ve arrived in. Avoid taking inventory of all the cultural anomalies that you feel need changing, and instead become a student of the culture that shaped the organization for years prior to your arrival.
Ask veteran employees for coaching when you confront norms, acronyms, or idiosyncrasies you don’t understand. Further, ask them what they’re most proud of and what their hopes are for the future. Regulate any feelings of judgment you have toward behaviors you find strange or unproductive. You can say: “I’ve never approached budgeting this way before — it’s new to me. Can you help me understand how it’s benefitted the organization?” What may seem like (and indeed, may be) bizarre ways of doing things are perfectly normal to those who’ve been around for a while.
Demonstrate your willingness to adapt before asking the organization to consider adapting to your ideas. In doing so, you set an example of learning and humility — the very things you’ll be asking of the organization when introducing change.
Seasons of disruptive change can fracture an organization’s sense of solidarity. To counteract the centrifugal force of such divisiveness, bring sources of centripetal force that unite the organization around a common future that, regardless of how long you’ve been around, is one people will be proud to create.
To Get Results, the Best Leaders Both Push and Pull Their Teams
Over the past year, there has been a call for leaders to be less demanding and more empathetic toward individual employees. To get results, managers needed to rely on “pull” — giving employees a say in how they carry a task out and using inspiration and motivation to get them going. But an analysis of thousands of 360-degree assessments showed that the most effective leaders also know how to “push” — drive for results by telling people what to do and holding them accountable. The takeaway? Your efforts to increase empathy shouldn’t diminish your ability to, on occasion, push when needed. The data shows that it can be a strong force that builds confidence among employees. The key is to know when to use which approach, depending on the task, the timing, and the people.
When you see a task that needs to be accomplished by your team, do you “push” them to get it done or do you “pull” them in, giving them a say in how they carry it out and using inspiration and motivation to get them going? These are two very different approaches to reach a goal, and the latter is often the best one, but knowing how to combine these two paths is an important skill for managers and leaders.
Take this example from a client of ours. There had been an ongoing discussion about the company’s policies around the environment and sustainability. The CEO had allowed debate and encouraged everyone to weigh in. The CEO strongly supported the need for change but allowed time for ample discussion (using the pull approach). However, two members of the executive team were naysayers and dragged their feet on enacting any of the proposed initiatives. After two months of inaction, the CEO announced to the team that the company was going to implement two initiatives and stated that everyone needed to get on board (moving to the push approach). One of the executives balked at this and made clear he wouldn’t support the initiatives. The CEO terminated him by the end of the week (using the ultimate push approach).
Leaders who are willing to try hard with pulling but ultimately resort to a strong push provide a good example of the power of the combination of these two approaches. Pushing too hard can erode satisfaction but, at times, is needed, especially when pulling just doesn’t work.
In our research, my colleague Jack Zenger and I identified two leadership behaviors directed at the same end goal but utilizing opposite approaches. We call one behavior “driving for results” (push), and the other “inspiring and motivating others” (pull). Let me define what I mean.
Defining Pushing and Pulling
When a leader identifies a goal that they want to accomplish, there are two distinct paths to get there.
Pushing involves giving direction, telling people what to do, establishing a deadline, and generally holding others accountable. It is on the “authoritarian” end of the leadership style spectrum.
Pulling, on the other hand, involves describing to a direct report a needed task, explaining the underlying reason for it, seeing what ideas they might have on how to best accomplish it, and asking if they are willing to take it on. The leader can further enhance the pull by describing what this project might do for the employee’s development. Ideally, the leader’s energy and enthusiasm for the goal are contagious.
Gathering data from over 100,000 leaders through our 360-degree assessments, we measured both push and pull and found that 76% of the leaders were rated by their peers as more competent at pushing than pulling. Only 22% of the leaders were rated as better at pulling, and a mere 2% were rated as equal on both skills.
We also asked the people rating those leaders (over 1.6 million people) which skill was more important for a leader to do well to be successful in their current job. Pulling (inspiring others) was rated as the most important, while pushing (driving for results) was rated as fifth most important.
Understanding What People Want and Need
While our data is clear that most leaders could benefit from improving their ability to pull or inspire others, our research revealed that leaders who were effective at both pushing and pulling were ultimately the most effective.
We gathered 360-degree assessment data on 3,875 leaders in the pandemic. In this analysis, we did the following:
- The direct reports rated the leader’s effectiveness on both pushing (driving for results) and pulling (inspiring and motivating others).
- The direct reports were also asked to rate their confidence that the organization would achieve its strategic goals and their satisfaction with their organization as a place to work.
- We ranked leaders’ data on pushing and pulling into quartiles and identified those who were low (bottom quartile) and high (top quartile).
The results are captured in the chart below. When both push and pull are in the bottom quartile, both confidence and satisfaction of direct reports are low. When push is high and pull is low, both confidence and satisfaction increase. When pull is high, satisfaction increases to a level substantially above confidence. When both are high, then you see the most significant increase. (Note: High confidence and satisfaction were measured by the percentage of people who marked 5 on a 5-point scale. This is a very high bar for satisfaction.)
Bringing Push and Pull Together
As many leaders across the globe grapple with retention and how to prevent their employees from joining the Great Resignation, they’re asking themselves hard questions. How do you motivate people to stay? How do you encourage them to increase their efforts? What is it they really want and need from their work environments?
Over the past few years, there has been a call for leaders to be less demanding and more empathetic toward individual employees. More pull, less push seemed to be what’s needed to retain talented employees. While I agree with this sentiment, this data also offers a clear warning. Your efforts to increase empathy shouldn’t diminish your ability to, on occasion, push when needed. As our data shows that it can be a strong force that builds confidence.
In fact, your influence as a leader comes from your ability to know when to use which approach, depending on the task, the timing, and the people. So next time you’re trying to accomplish a significant goal, consider whether your team really needs a good push, a big pull, or perhaps both.
How to Respond When an Employee Quits
Someone giving notice doesn’t have to be the end of the world or the end of a relationship. In this article, the author offers advice for how to respond in a constructive and professional way when someone says they’re quitting. First, take a moment to digest the news. It’s okay to show you’re surprised or to say something like, “Wow, I wasn’t expecting that.” The last thing you want to do is react impulsively and say something you might regret that would leave the individual with a negative impression of you and the organization. Notice and manage any in-the-moment reactions and depersonalize the news. It’s also important to show your support and genuine interest in why they’re leaving and what they’re going to do next. And make sure to get alignment on what they need and what you need from them before they leave to ensure a smooth transition. It may involve some give and take and could include finishing a specific project or set of tasks, training others to take over these responsibilities to minimize disruption, or even hiring their replacement. Using these strategies can help all parties move on in a positive way.
With over four million people quitting their jobs each month during the first quarter of 2022 and 44% of workers currently looking for new jobs, it’s entirely possible that someone on your team could leave in the near term. And it may not be the person you thought it would be — or hoped it would be. It could come as a total surprise to you and be a key contributor on your team, someone with whom you really enjoy working and who has great potential in your organization. So, how do you respond when this person gives their notice?
While there are several things you should not do — like take it personally, belittle their new opportunity, or give them a guilt trip (among others) — there are six key elements to ensuring that you respond in a constructive and professional manner while processing the surprising news.
Take a beat
First, take a moment to digest the news. It’s okay to show you’re surprised or to say something like, “Wow, I wasn’t expecting that.” The last thing you want to do is react impulsively and say something you might regret that would leave the individual with a negative impression of you and the organization.
Notice and manage any in-the-moment reactions
During this momentary pause, take a breath and try to discern precisely what it is that you’re feeling. Susan David, author of Emotional Agility, shares that naming our emotions is the first step in dealing with them. Try to be as specific as possible. In addition to being surprised, you may feel frustrated, discouraged, hurt, deflated, betrayed, angry, miffed, irked, or deeply disappointed or just plain sad. There are many subtle flavors of negative emotions, and parsing out the specific emotion you’re feeling will help you create greater self-awareness and enable you to process your feelings more effectively and respond more constructively.
It’s when we’re not conscious of these negative emotions that they can unexpectedly emerge from below the surface, triggering unconstructive, reflexive comments or behaviors that you may later regret, such as lashing out or making a sarcastic jab or snide remark. It’s ill advised to share that you feel betrayed or angry, even if that’s the case — here, discretion is the better part of valor. However, if you’re sad or disappointed, it’s okay to say, “I’m so sad you’re leaving, but it sounds like a great opportunity. We’re going to miss you.”
Depersonalize the news
When we feel hurt or betrayed by such departures, it’s because we take the news personally. Even if you could stand to improve as a manager (let’s face it, we can all find ways in which we can do better), their departure is not a statement about your personal worth or how good you are as a person, so it’s best to put your ego to the side and rise above any strong or harsh feelings you may have. The individual might be leaving for a better opportunity, better compensation, personal reasons, or all of the above. The best career development path for them may be to leave the organization and get experience elsewhere. It is their career, so respect that they made the best choice for themselves, their career, and/or their family, which is the same anyone would expect you to do for yourself. They are showing loyalty to themselves — not disloyalty to you.
Be curious and show a growth mindset
Show genuine interest and curiosity to learn why they’re leaving and what they’re going to do next. What can you learn that would benefit you, the organization, and other employees for the future? You might ask, “What could we do to entice you to stay?” At that point in time, the answer may be nothing since they’ve likely accepted another position. But one client of mine let her boss know, when giving her notice, that a competitor was willing to bring her on at a more senior level with much higher compensation — something her organization had been dragging their feet on and had been noncommittal about for quite some time. Unexpectedly, within a few days, they came back with an even better offer that ultimately did convince her to stay.
While this scenario might be the exception, it’s still important to ask the question above, which might also be phrased as, “What else could we have done to keep you?” or “What appeals to you or excites you most about this new job?” Their response may be related to better work/life balance, the ability to work remotely, a more inclusive culture, a new and exciting challenge with more responsibility, or being more empowered to make decisions. This is all useful feedback for you and the organization so that these areas can be addressed for remaining and future employees, even if it’s too late to do anything about it for this individual.
Show your support
Maintaining positive working relationships with departing employees is important, well beyond the time that you actually work together, so show your support for their decision and enable them to leave on a good note. After all, you may need a positive reference from them one day.
Further, as a former employee, they are still a brand ambassador for the company and may be a future customer, client, or referral source for business and other employees. And by showing support and enthusiasm for their new opportunity, as disappointed as you may be, you are more likely to keep the door open for them to potentially return to the organization one day. So, celebrate their contributions and next endeavor, and ask them how you can be helpful to them as they start their new role.
Ask for what you need
When an individual gives notice, they likely have a desired end date in mind. After all, they will want to take a break before diving into a new job. Get alignment on what they need and what you need from them before they leave to ensure a smooth transition. It may involve some give and take and could include finishing a specific project or set of tasks, training others to take over these responsibilities to minimize disruption, or even hiring their replacement.
. . .
Someone giving notice doesn’t have to be the end of the world or the end of a relationship. As surprised as you may be, using the six strategies above can help you respond in a constructive way that builds the relationship and helps all parties move on in a positive way.
How to Help an Employee Who Struggles with Time Management
If you have direct report struggling with time management, it can be challenging to know how to address the issue. Fortunately, there are ways that you, as their manager, can help. Before you get frustrated or deliver a harsh feedback in an unproductive way, first consider yourself. Identify the emotions you’re feeling and why, and assess where there might be times you’ve contributed to the problem. Then, pinpoint the stress and communicate your needs to your direct report in a calm manner. Help them prioritize work, setting milestones, requesting daily updates, and so on. Be sure to celebrate progress — especially at the beginning. Finally, if it looks like they need it, consider getting them outside support from a coach.
The tell-tale signs are there: Tasks done at the last minute, completed late, or even forgotten. Tardiness at meetings. No response to e-mails or replies at weird times, like 2 a.m. And more explanation of why items aren’t done than action to finish them.
You’ve got a direct report struggling with time management. As a manager, it can be challenging to know how to address the issue. On the one hand, you need them to get things done, and your natural tendency can be to respond in obvious annoyance at the lack of follow through or even to consider writing them up. On the other hand, you want to develop your team members. You may have truly brilliant individuals who you know have the potential to be exceptional contributors if they could only figure out how to use their time effectively.
As a time management coach, I talk with people who struggle in this area every day. I know how their brains work, and I help them to move into a place of higher levels of productivity.
If you’re a manager unsure of how to help, here are some practical steps you can take to improve the situation, starting today.
Acknowledge your own emotions.
If you’ve been managing this person for a long time, you’ve likely experienced a broad range of emotions ranging from mild irritation to outright infuriation. Your feelings will vary depending on how severe the issues have been, the stakes involved, your personality, your expectations, and your stress levels.
Before you give feedback to your employee, acknowledge your own emotions. Write out anything you might be thinking or feeling in a free-flow manner. Do not share your raw thoughts (via email or otherwise) with your colleague. This exercise is so you can become aware of your own internal state.
Process what you’re feeling on your own or with a trusted person and honestly assess why you’re so upset. Is it a lack of control? Fear? Embarrassment? Stress?
This process helps you to release pent up negative emotions before you give feedback so that you’re not overly harsh with your direct report and do more harm than good.
Assess your part.
Your direct report may very well have poor time management. But you might want to consider whether you also have poor time management skills and in which ways, if any, you’re contributing to the problem.
If you send over assignments last minute, don’t give clear direction, refuse to set priorities, have no follow-up system, or forget to give feedback, then your actions could be playing a role in the situation. If you also expect your employees to be constantly available through email, chat, or other channels, so they can’t set boundaries to complete focused work, you’re also partially at fault for the struggles they face.
By identifying these issues in advance of the feedback conversation, you can go in acknowledging where you could also have done better.
Pinpoint the stress.
Earlier this year, I had a situation I found very stressful with an outside contractor. There was a large project that I needed them to complete, and they were very delayed. One day as I was thinking about it, I realized that within the larger project, there were just a couple of distinct items that mattered most. Once those were done, my stress would dramatically decrease, and the other parts could take more time.
By clarifying my most important needs, I felt much less stressed and could communicate what I needed to get back most urgently, even if the whole project wasn’t done.
Take the time to think through exactly what’s causing issues for you with your direct report’s lack of time management: Do you not have what you need for important update meetings or presentations? Are you experiencing stress from them asking you to review things last minute? Are their actions costing you time or money? Do you feel anxious when there’s not good communication on status? Once you know this, it will help focus your feedback discussions.
Communicate what you need.
Once you know exactly what’s bothering you, calmly communicate exactly what you need, when you need it, and why you need it. You can also ask them what they need from you to help them be successful.
Although you may feel tempted to unload all of your frustration on your direct report about the stress they’ve caused you and the issues they’ve had, a harsh approach will typically backfire. They’ll be so overwhelmed by your anger and shut down or become defensive and stonewall. Take deep breathes, and try to remember that they likely mean well but simply struggle in this area.
Help at the start.
In some situations, simply giving feedback about what you need or want can improve the situation. But in others, you’ll need to do more to help things move forward.
To get your direct report started, consider taking these actions with them:
- Work with them to prioritize the work
- Brainstorm the direction to take
- Talk through the smaller parts
- Set up intermediate milestones
- Do some of the work with them in a meeting
- Team them up with colleagues
- Request daily updates on what they planned to do and what they’ve accomplished
Structuring the situation so that they can get and keep momentum can make a world of difference.
When you start noticing movement in the right direction, show appreciation for each step forward. You may feel concerned that giving positive feedback too quickly when they haven’t done everything yet will cause them to slack off. But the opposite is usually true. Positive feedback helps to build their confidence, positivity, and motivation and can propel them toward better and better outcomes.
Your direct report likely knows they have really bad time management and may feel worse about it than you do. Laying into them is counterproductive; increased negative emotions about their work usually causes more delays, not less. Remember that you’re on the same team. Instead of tearing them down, build them up each step of the way.
Get outside support.
Sometimes you’re too close to a situation. No matter how hard you try, you can’t provide objective, calm feedback. Or your direct report may not be able to be honest with you about what’s truly going on, such as wasting hours each day scrolling on their phone or a situation at home that may be distracting them.
In these situations, it can be helpful to connect your employee with outside resources such as time management training, an internal coach, or an external coach who can help them to develop these skills. Someone with experience in helping people overcome these challenges and who is more emotionally distant from the situation can often be more effective than someone with a history of frustration.
As a manager, you can’t force anyone to improve their time management. But your communication and actions can make a huge difference in your direct report’s ability to overcome their struggles and increase their productivity.