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Are You Sending The Wrong Signals To Your Team?

This article was based on episode 115 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio and Stitcher. Get the chance to win a free coaching call with Kit Krugman when you become a member at by September 1, 2020.

There’s often a large gap between what organizations say about their values and the actual reality. Nice sentiments on the About Us page of the company website and posters on a wall espousing the team’s values do not automatically translate into the lived experience of an employee.

Kit Krugman, head of Organization and Culture Design at co:collective, warns that having a mission, vision, and core values are not enough. For teams and organizations to succeed, they need to think through what that means in action. While many organizations focus on “storytelling” - telling a story about their product/service to their consumers/employees - Kit and co:collective go further, focusing their methodology on “story-doing”; thinking about what actions need to follow the narrative being told. Kit leads us through ways in which managers can implement story-doing, and common ways they unknowingly send the wrong messages to their teams.


As humans, we constantly learn by observing others’ behavior. That's why leadership modeling is so powerful. We look at signals and behaviors from those in authority positions and we model our behavior unconsciously or consciously after them. Managers need to ask themselves, “What are the signals I am sending to support a desired value or behavior?”

When a manager tells her team she wants them to take ownership, but then mercilessly micromanages and criticizes everything they bring back to her, she creates a disconnect on the micro-level that compounds and shows up on the macro-level.

A powerful example of signaling through modeling is vacation time. When senior leaders of an organization don’t take time off, they send signals to their employees that taking vacation time is not a priority, or worse, somehow implies a lack of commitment to the organization. Employees observe, sense, interpret and internalize these messages which guide their own choices.

Kit also offers the devastating example of Boeing Airlines, which had multiple planes crash due to malfunctioning problems in recent years. While safety was certainly one of Boeing’s stated core values, people in the organization got signals from management that profits, even more than safety, was the number one concern. The overarching culture that resulted from those signals put pressure on employees to focus elsewhere, causing heartbreaking results.


Kit suggests there are two ways to investigate if you are modeling behavior correctly. One option is to ask yourself, “Am I myself doing the behavior, or am I willing to do it?” For example, when thinking about returning to the office during COVID19, if you tell your team that health and safety are of critical importance, but then require them to return to the office while you remain working from home, what are you really saying?

Another option is to directly ask your team members rather than dictate to them. By engaging them, they have choice and ownership. Following the same example, instead of informing people that they must return to the office, inquire about safety (and other) concerns they have about returning. Ask for their reflections on the return to work plans and what barriers they see.

From that honest feedback, you can then think about if your core values are consistently aligning with your actions.


In order for engagement to work, your team members must feel safe to share their honest opinion, especially if it is different from what would likely be considered acceptable. Psychological safety is the underpinning of authentic conversation. In order to enhance psychological safety in the workplace, managers need to both ask for negative feedback and then be prepared to receive it. If a manager reacts poorly to negative feedback, they send the signal to their team that sharing dissenting information is not welcomed.

To prepare yourself for negative feedback or dissenting perspectives, Kit recommends the following:

1. Know yourself. What makes you defensive?

From a rational, objective point of view, we should be incentivized to hear negative feedback because it helps us ultimately succeed. But from an emotional standpoint, negative feedback can elicit a defensive response. Introspect about what makes you defensive. Do you feel like you are trying really hard and your efforts aren't being appreciated? Is it because the organization, project, or piece of work is your baby and you built it? What is motivating your strong reaction?

2. Plan your response. Pause or engage.

To reduce the initial inclination to be defensive, be prepared for that feeling to arise and not to give into it. After receiving the feedback, take a moment to pause and focus on letting go of any defensive instincts. Let your employee know you appreciate the feedback and will think about it and respond shortly. If you feel ready to engage in problem-solving, ask for input by responding, “Thank you for sharing that. Have you spent any time thinking about how I/we can address it?”


In this moment of isolation and physical distancing, managers need to invest in strengthening a sense of community in the remote workplace. To do this, Kit suggests that managers over communicate, over check-in, run more weekly group check-ins, and share back repeatedly. If you want to hear from your team, they need to hear from you.

Additionally, employees want to hear from leadership, now even more than usual. If you don't create the narrative, employees will create their own. The narratives we create by ourselves are often centered on the challenges, problems and difficulties. Humans tend to generate the worst case interpretations, rather than the most positive.

To elucidate this need, Kit offers the metaphor of flying on a plane. When you hit turbulence, your brain instantly creates a terrified narrative of what's happening. It’s not until the pilot comes on the loudspeaker and tells you that it's okay do you truly relax again. That, says Kit, is the role of leaders and managers in this moment: to continue to communicate, and inform and inspire their employees about what their organization is doing.

Understanding the company or team’s mission, vision, and values certainly is important. Communicating that story to our team is crucial. But if managers don’t go further into story-doing, analyzing how they can ‘walk the walk’, the signals they send to their teams will result in a large gap between intention and reality.

Regardless of whether or not employees feel obligated to remain at their job during this time of uncertainty, when people are engaged, they are more invested in delivering better results. If employees trust their organization’s integrity and enjoy strong, meaningful relationships within their work community, they will feel inspired to show up and deliver emotionally and physically.


Twitter: @kitkrugman

Instagram: @24hrkitness

Be entered to win a free coaching call with Kit Krugman when you become a member of the Modern Manager community at by September 1, 2020.

This article was based on episode 115 The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.




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