Holly's Blog

Go “Soft” To Win



kindergarden1It never ceases to amaze me how the so-called “soft” leadership skills always get the short end of the stick in organizations.

I’m talking about essential interpersonal skills, sometimes referred to as “people skills”,  like building relationships, solving problems, communicating effectively and resolving conflict. Learning to listen and really hear what others say. Encouraging and appreciating diverse points of view.

We all know they’re important for winning in today’s interconnected business world. Yet, most companies invest little time or energy in making sure they exist within the organization. Granted, today’s leaders have very full plates. But if we can’t effectively communicate and resolve problems within our organizations and our ecosystems (suppliers, vendors, investors, etc.), then we stand very little chance of winning.

The good news is that I recently ran across a free program that does a superb job of teaching people these skills in a fun, interactive way. The bad news is that it’s only available in elementary schools.

If you haven’t heard of the Sanford Harmony Program <www.sanfordharmony.org>, you might want to look into it, especially if you’re a parent with children in kindergarten through 6th grade. Developed by researchers at Arizona State University and completely funded by philanthropist Denny Sanford, the nonprofit program is designed to make a difference in how elementary school students think about and treat each other. By helping build positive relationships between students, the program promotes respect of others while teaching children communication and relationship skills that will last a lifetime.

Specifically, the program teaches kids how to:

  • Work cooperatively and collaboratively with others
  • Embrace diversity
  • Develop an increased sense of connection and social responsibility
  • Learn interpersonal relationship skills that promote self-confidence and respect for others
  • Develop positive communication and conflict resolution skills
  • Build healthy relationships free from stereotyping, teasing, harassment and bullying

A Familiar Approach

Teaching children these relationship skills produces remarkable results. Classrooms are more harmonious. Children become more engaged in learning. Academic performance goes up. And when students are empowered to solve problems and work out conflicts on their own, their teachers can focus more on doing what they do best – teaching!

What I find really interesting about the program is that it starts with teachers guiding their students through the process of setting goals about how they want to treat each other in the classroom. Teachers don’t impose their goals upon the students. Instead, they guide the process to ensure the goals are positive and support achieving the program’s objectives. Once agreed upon, the goals are prominently posted in the classroom and used to guide student behavior.

Sound familiar?

In business, we call this setting the organization values, which involves defining who we are, how we do what we do, and how we will treat each other. Many companies go through this important process. Where most fall short is in the execution. The values get set, they go up on the wall, and then people don’t hold each other accountable for living them.

Where Do You Stand?

Imagine for a moment what your management team could accomplish if you spent less time managing personal conflicts and underperforming employees and more time focusing on customers, strategy and building a culture of ongoing innovation. The possibilities are endless! But it’s not likely to happen when employees constantly get bogged down due to poor communication skills and interpersonal conflicts.

I’m not recommending you apply the Sanford Harmony program to your organization. After all, the lessons and activities are designed for young children (although I’ve seen organizations where kindergarten-level activities would not have been out of place). What I’m suggesting is to pause for a moment and ask some hard questions, such as:

  • Do we have clearly defined organizational values?
  • Do we communicate them on a regular basis?
  • Do employees understand them?
  • Do our values support our vision of winning?
  • Does senior management role model the values and behaviors?
  • Do we hold ourselves and others accountable to living our values every day?

Then identify where a lack of communication and relationship skills negatively impacts your organization. For example, do people avoid bringing up certain subjects because they fear conflict? In meetings, do people attack each other rather than the issues? Do employees hesitate to propose new ideas because they contradict the status quo?

One way or another, every organization ends up with guiding values. Create them with intention and you’re far more likely to end up with an “all for one and one for all” culture. Let it happen on its own and you are leaving a critical component of a winning team to chance!

Click here <http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/2015/mar/06/schools-social-emotional-learning-teaching/> to read more about the Sanford Harmony program.

Call to action: Identify one area of your business that could benefit from better communication and take action to improve it.

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