5 Takeaways for Managers from ATD 2019

Posted 25 June 2019 by
Melissa Summer

Oprah’s opening keynote – every day is a new day

Oprah Winfrey’s keynote at ATD had the conference venue packed. Attendees got in line as early as 4AM to get front-row seats for her 8:30AM keynote. One story she shared that stuck with us was about the blackout curtains in her bedroom. What made the story especially great is it applies to everyone, no matter our role at work. 

Oprah shared that she has blackout curtains in her bedroom controlled from a bedside remote (fancy, we know). Every morning when she wakes up, she presses the button to raise the curtains to see a new day.  She called this her “reset button” as a reminder that every day we can begin anew and do something great for someone, for many people, and for the world. It’s a simple lesson, but easy to forget when things in the office get crazy.  

Self-awareness is the performance superfood

Self-awareness is understanding why you think, feel and act the way you do across situations, and understanding that other people don’t always think, feel and act the same way you do. \
Dr. Rich Thompson, Senior Director of Research at The Myers-Briggs Company, shared in his session about why self-awareness matters for performance. 

What are the advantages of being self-aware? 

You better understand reactions and motivations of yourself and others. Because of that understanding, you can to manage yourself and others better. In addition, being self-aware allows you not just to react to a situation but gives you a chance to adapt your behavior based on that situation. Lastly, self-awareness improves relationships (which is important because that increases workplace well-being! See last takeaway below). 

How do you go about increasing your self-awareness? Their self-awareness survey asked 1,000 people how they developed their own self-awareness, and they said: 

1. Feedback from peers (82%) 
2. Completing personality assessments (68%)
3. Feedback from manager (66%)
4. Feedback from family (66%)
5. Feedback from clients (51%)

The importance of psychological safety

A panel discussion on the importance of Psychological Safety (PS) at work was another excellent session we attended. Psychological safety is (in essence) the trust in your team and leadership that you won’t be punished when you make a mistake. 

It was a great reminder for all leaders to create an environment that not only accepts PS but embraces it as a critical aspect of the culture.  The panel included Mike Arauz (August Public Inc.), Debra France, Ed.D. (W.L. Gore & Associates), Amy Edmondson (Professor of Leadership at Harvard Business School) and Rachel Mendelowitz (The Rivington Group).  

We particularly liked what Debra shared about her work at Gore. She heads up their Leadership Development and shared how the need for PS has grown in the company as they have become more global. They’re always creating on a global scale with greater uncertainty in the world.  

Both Debra and Amy mentioned the greater the uncertainty is in the organization or the project, the greater the need for psychological safety on the team in order to be successful.  

Harvard Business Review has a great article on Psychological Safety

Google also shared their research on their two-year study on high performance teams (which includes psychological safety).

Learning by doing makes the learning stick

Sherrie Haynie and Dr. Rachel Cubas Wilkinson, Principal Organizational Consultants at The Myers-Briggs Company, dove into the topic of experiential learning during their session at ATD. Session attendees got a special mission from the presenters, and then had to solve multiple puzzles in groups to recover a flash drive and save a secret agent. Most people in these ‘secret mission groups’ had never worked together and were from different organizations, but more than half said afterwards that they learned something about someone in their group during the 8 minute exercise that they probably wouldn’t have learned in months working with that person. 

That’s the power of experiential learning. 

Dr. Cubas-Wilkinson said experiential learning flips the script to traditional learning. It places people in a problem-solving, hands-on environment where you’re challenged together, and then debrief to figure out what behaviors arose. Then you can layer on theory, frameworks and models next. (In contrast to traditional learning where you teach the theory or framework first, and then get to the hands-on portion).  This helps people participating directly connect their experiences with the teaching during the debrief session after the activity. 

Haynie asked attendees, “what one word would you use to describe this experience from your vantage point?” 

Responses included engaging, stressful, invigorating, problem-solving, energizing. 

Then she asked participants for one word that would describe their own behavior. Responses included determination, thoughtful, focused, involved, purposeful, confidence, collaboration and more. 

They showed how an experiential learning session only 8 minutes long connected to the world of work better than half-day or even full-day sessions. 

“With the debrief after the activity, you get into almost a meta-analysis of behaviors and that’s when you get to the really good stuff,” said Dr. Cubas-Wilkinson. 

Want higher well-being among employees? Workplace relationships are key

People who have a good day at work at 28% more likely to be productive, 31% more creative and 70% more likely to recommend their organizations as a place to work. 
Oh, and don’t forget all the studies that show that higher well-being means better job performance. 
But how do you improve the well-being of your direct reports?

Dr. Thompson shared in a second session the findings of three years of research (over 10,000 participants) on workplace well-being. 

What was the biggest takeaway?

Relationships at work have the biggest impact on workplace well-being. 

How can managers use this information? Here are three tips:

Foster relationships with your direct reports

You don’t have to be your employee’s best friend, but when you’re having your 1-on-1 meetings with your direct reports, start with asking them how they’re doing. 

And then really listen to the answer. 

If they assume your asking as a formality and respond “fine” or “good”, try to remember something specific you can ask them about. Maybe their last vacation or a vacation they have planned? Or if they have pets or children, ask how they’re doing. 

Even if it’s five minutes out of the meeting, fostering a good relationship with your employee by showing that you care about things besides their projects and performance goes a long way to establishing trust. 

Don’t forget team get-togethers 

Sometimes teams are great at getting together on their own, but offering a time and a place doesn’t hurt. And it doesn’t mean you have to spend any budget on it (though it’s a nice gesture if you can). 

If the weather is nice, consider a BYO lunch outside the office in a park or green space. Or suggest a time for happy hour. Or even an afternoon break to play a game of 20 questions. Small gestures of facilitating get togethers can make a big difference. 

Don’t let FOMO get the best of you 

This may be more relevant to new managers but when you see your direct reports getting together without you, don’t let FOMO (fear of missing out) get the best of you. Just as your relationship with them is important to foster, it’s equally important for your people to be able to bond with other employees without the presence of a manager. Sometimes it’s to let off steam or to vent. Sometimes it’s just social. 

As a manager, you can still be friends with your direct reports but also remember that the relationships they foster with their coworkers are just as important to their well-being. 

Read more about the research on workplace well-being here.