Do you have a perception problem?

Yesterday, I attended a program at Central Exchange on Personal Branding. Kim Yates shared her applied principles from the iconic consumer brands she has worked on to our personal brands. She spoke about the importance of understanding how others see us and whether it is aligned with not only how we see ourselves but what we want for our lives.

A conversation after the event prompted me to dig a little about perceptions. Another participant asked Kim (and me, by proximity) how to step away from the perception others have had of her for a long time. She said she wants to loosen up in this new career phase, but some people who have known her a long time still rely on her old formal ways.

Here are my questions: How do other’s impressions of us impact us? How do our impressions of others impact our behaviors? How do our perceptions of ourselves impact our performance?

If anyone reading this has a perception problem, what I learned and pondered might help you too.

The psychology gurus are pretty set on the definition of perception: it is the process by which we translate our environment into our view of the world. Of course, our view affects our behaviors and behaviors lead to success or failure with work and people.

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Take a look at the photo. How old is the woman you see?

The way you see the woman will impact how you treat her, if she were a real person in front of you. Or, perhaps you see something else entirely?

 A colleague told me a story recently. The story was about selling shoes in India. As the story goes, an Indian leader wanted to set up a shoe business in a specific region, so he sent an ambassador there to do some recon work. The elder ambassador spent little time in the region and told the leader that selling shoes in that region would be a waste of time because the people don’t even wear shoes.

 In the meantime, an enterprising young man met the leader. The young man was eager to prove himself worthy of a position with the leader, so he offered to go to the same region to assess the shoe business potential. He spent time in the region, interacted with the people, noted their interests and needs. When he returned to the leader, he was excited about the potential shoe business. There was great potential because the people don’t wear shoes! Turns out, the young man was right and the shoe business prospered.

Perception affects behavior, and behavior affects success with work and people.

Heighten your awareness of these three common perception issues to ensure you see things as they are and act accordingly.

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1) Self-fulfilling prophecy: Believing something is true causes it to come true. The best example I can think of for this is “parking karma.” I believe in such karma and it almost always works for me. When people in the car doubt or make fun of it, it always works. Right when a passenger laughs off my parking prayer (“Hail Mary full of grace, help me find a parking space”), someone pulls out of the front spot. Another common example is when searching for a lost item. It is better to say, “I will remember to print the report” instead of “I hope I don’t forget to print the report.”

I read a statistic a long time ago that said 70%-90% of what we say to ourselves is negative. Pay attention to how you talk to, and about, yourself to see if that number could be taken down a notch or two. (Here is an article with more ways to stop the negative self-talk.)

2) Self-sabotage: Self-sabotage goes deeper than self-talk. Sometimes people procrastinate or do mediocre work as a way to sabotage themselves. A technique that helps self-sabotagers is Stop-Challenge-Focus. (SOURCE: Turn Self-Sabotage Into Success By Geoffrey James on www.inc.com)

When you avoid taking an action that would help you reach your goals, use the three steps:

  1. STOP. Identify the belief that's causing you to feel emotions that aren't helping you succeed.

  2. CHALLENGE. Question the validity of that belief and find reasons why it's not really true or not true in this case.

  3. FOCUS. Create a specific inner dialog that supports your goals and then take action immediately.

3) Fundamental attribution error: This is when we give positive explanations for our results and negative ones for others. For example, I got the “A” on the exam because I studied hard, while Joey got the “A” because he was lucky. At work, this might relate to positions, promotions, evaluations, or project assignments. A flawed sense of oneself leads to career stagnation or failure. It is difficult for others to give feedback when our vision of ourselves differs from how others view us, so watch for it yourself.

One of the great philosophers of our day, Stephen Colbert summed this issue up nicely, “It used to be, everyone was entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. But that's not the case anymore. Facts matter not at all. Perception is everything.”

Whether we are with friends, colleagues, or customers, perception is everything. Remember, that includes your perception of others and of yourself, not just their perception of you.

The one thing leaders must do to fuel innovation

A few months ago, Boston Consulting Group’s annual report of the world’s most innovative companies put Alphabet/Google in the top spot for 2019. Alphabet took over #1 from Apple for the first time in the thirteen years of the report. Obviously both companies are innovative, and we can learn from them.

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Google shared the results of a two-year internal study on their teams so we can all learn about high-performance. After looking at more than 180 of their teams, one common trait stood out above all others: psychological safety.

It turns out, psychological safety matters more than the talent composition of the team. No matter how nice or talented teammates are, people will resist looking uninformed or ill-prepared with coworkers. Most also have an aversion to risk-taking when they fear their manager will dismiss their ideas.

They have reason to fear being overlooked. Just three in ten U.S. workers strongly agree that their opinions count at work, according to Gallup. Gallup’s research also says that by doubling that ratio to six in ten, organizations could realize a 27% reduction in turnover, a 40% reduction in safety incidents and a 12% increase in productivity. All factors that affect innovation.

Organization leaders need to move that ratio, but it will not move without psychological safety.

Harvard Business Review defines psychological safety as the belief that you won’t be punished when you make a mistake. Employees who are afraid of being punished, mocked, or ostracized for their idea or question will not speak up. They will not risk getting their head chopped off if they stick their neck out.

Would you?

Even the most clever big thinkers will stick their necks out only a few times before giving up.

Why bother being innovative, they will think, if it’s going to take fifty miles of red tape to get approval for a minor investment? Why bother bringing up an idea if someone else is going to get to work on it because they aren’t as busy? Why bother bringing up ideas if the execs are just going to shut down everything I offer? Why bother pointing out an issue when the last guy who did that got axed?

Leaders have to encourage innovation through psychological safety first. Here are five ways you can foster psychological safety:

  1.  Lead by example. Model behavior you desire to stimulate. Take risks yourself and adapt when they don’t work out, just as you want your colleagues to do. Be the safety net for your employees when they speak up or try something new, rather than someone they fear will demean them.

  2. Say “yes” first. Welcome new ways of thinking and encourage your direct reports to behave the same way. Challenge your team to say “yes” before “no.” Let encouragement be the first reaction and save rejection for after an idea is thought through. Literally, you might say, “Tell me more about that idea,” instead of, “That won’t work here.” Quick rejection stifles innovation.

  3. Learn fast. Encourage your employees to experiment with different solutions, learn what works or doesn’t, and share the results so others learn too. Celebrate the knowledge gained and build on it, rather than criticize or reprimand every time something doesn’t work.  

  4. Encourage feedback loops. Use internal and external feedback to create a better work environment, product, or service standard. When integrated into projects, and not a surprise, feedback loops are an important part of psychological safety because they help people understand what they are doing well and what can be improved. The loops can help you develop trust throughout the workplace. 

  5. Encourage curiosity. Inspire your team by encouraging exploration. When a solution to a problem is not readily available, encourage your team to seek solutions. Don’t tell people how to solve every problem but let them find their own way. People will learn even more through exploring their own ideas.

When you need to fuel innovation to give your company a competitive advantage, help retain highly skilled people, or solidify a leadership place in your market, start with psychological safety. Stop the psychological danger zone.

3 Shrewd Ways Leaders can Improve Financial Results

It’s trendy to talk about company culture these days. The trend might make people think today’s leadership focus should be on hugs over financial performance. Not true. At Voyage Consulting Group, we help leaders connect company culture with the financial results (among other things).

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Think about the best leader you’ve worked for and how they impacted you and the company.

Some benefits of effective leaders you may have noted include: positive morale of their team, consistent high performance—their own and their team, focus on results, effective response to change, and more. Effective leaders can transform work environments and push their teams to accomplish feats that wouldn’t be possible without their involvement.

Leadership is the most influential characteristic of a company’s finances and here are three ways leadership shrewdly impacts financials:

 1. Effective Leadership Reduces Turnover

Data regarding employee turnover rates due to poor management was published in our whitepaper, Leadership Now: How to capitalize on the complexity of business. Bad managers are the number one cause of employee’s decisions to leave their employer in search of new opportunities.

Replacing those employees is expensive. Employee Benefit News revealed in a 2017 study that it costs employers 33% of a worker's annual salary to hire a replacement if that worker leaves. Think about the extensive human and financial capital required to hire new employees, onboard them, and speed up their contribution to your company. Such important tasks consume a significant amount of a company’s finite resources, but this burden can be lessened significantly by reducing turnover.

 2. Effective Leadership Faces the Facts

Effective leaders need to possess self-awareness if they are to be a financial asset to the company. An effective leader will be able to ask, “How am I doing?” Being honest about company and individual performance helps their company set reasonable benchmarks, gauge current performance, envision the future, and rally their team to reach for the vision.

When leaders are in denial and not dealing in facts, people around them focus on them instead of on the facts. Effective leaders see the truth, which enables a faster, more relevant response than denial.

 3. Effective Leadership Creates Brand Excitement

Organization leaders are visible representatives of their company brand. Stakeholders from employees to customers to investors watch leaders to determine how the company is doing, and they take their cues from those leaders. Leaders with an energized sense of enthusiasm create excitement for the brand, which converts into income for the company.

Sir Richard Branson is an example of creating brand excitement. He has been an effective leader who has improved the financial results of nearly 400 different companies. His passion, determination, and positivity have yielded tremendous success for the Virgin Group, and his example as a brand ambassador is one worth modeling.

Set an example you personally would like to follow, and you will intentionally influence your company’s success and financial performance.

The intention of this post is to help inspire organization leaders to be excited, passionate even, about their leadership role. Don’t underestimate the impact your leadership has on those around you. Recognize your influence, and you can shrewdly impact your company’s performance beyond the obvious ways.