I know of nothing that will solidify a leader's standing with their team than for the team to see and know that she or he is actively advocating on their behalf. Advocacy is a term we don't hear much about anymore. I suspect that there is going to be a resurgence of interest in it as leaders seek to develop an understanding of just what being an advocate is.
I want to share two leadership stories. Both deal with advocacy. Both are different from each other. Yet both had the same powerful and lasting effect on the relationship between the leader and their team.
The crew and the leadership team were tense and anxious as they prepared for the upcoming shift. This was a high performing oil and gas completions team. Their reward was the chance to pioneer an entirely new and risky approach to completions. Everyone knew their role; everyone knew how important this was. The first day was a dud. Formation challenges notwithstanding, one particular operator on the crew seemed to be missing the mark early and often. When the client called a stop so that they could reassess what the issues were, the team leader brought that operator into the van and informed him he was being taken off that piece of equipment and being sent back to the shop for the day. The disappointment was evident and sent a pretty strong message to the rest of the crew.
In a spare moment alone, I asked the leader about this decision, and the response was actually quite surprising. He shared that it was clear to him that this person was not having a good day, and to leave him in place might lead to further issues that would be catastrophic for him. He took him off the crew that day, not because he was mad at him but because he did not want him getting into any further hot water.
The rest of the day, the crew sorted out the issues with the client, and they agreed upon a fresh start the next day. The following morning, to everyone's surprise, that crew member was back. It was noted by the client, and now the leader of that crew stepped up and assured the client that this was an excellent operator and yesterday was an anomaly, that today would be better. He shared that he had spoken with that individual, and he was confident things were back on track.
It must have worked because the day went flawlessly, and they performed a completion that they had never done before. Needless to say, the client was ecstatic, and so was the crew. They were clearly pleased with their success, but even more so (and this came out in their post-shift de-brief) they knew that their leader had "gone to bat" for one of them and had put his own reputation on the line as a result. They respected that he had held the operator accountable but were really pleased that he had also advocated for this person and the crew.
Sometimes the most powerful form of advocacy is to be a buffer for your team from the issues happening further up the line. This may seem at odds with maintaining open lines of communication and expectations, but sometimes the best way to advocate for your team is to protect them from unwarranted negativity.
In one instance, an area manager came onto a lease on a "surprise visit." This happened after almost two weeks of perfect daily completions. As such, the leaders for this crew assumed it was to congratulate them for the outstanding work. It should have been, but it wasn't. Instead of focusing on the success of the crew, the area manager spent time with the leaders' nitpicking over small and trivial issues. The leaders of those crews had a choice; to walk out and shovel the same manure or to bring a different report and shield them from undue negativity. They chose to advocate for their teams and simply exclude the negative aspects of the conversation with the area manager and only report those things that they felt were relevant to improving performance.
Did their teams know that there had been more to this discussion than what they were being told? Absolutely! Did they appreciate that their leaders had chosen not to "let the s**t continue to flow downhill" to them? You bet! Did these crews ramp up their performance for their leaders who had done this for them? Well - you know the answer to that.
These are only two instances of how a good leader is an advocate for their team. There are many others, including things like making sure they are providing for people's career aspirations or giving them opportunities to do special projects in areas of interest and strength. A staff confident that their leaders are advocating for them are 4x more likely to be engaged in their work. Are you practicing advocacy for your team? Hu Centered Leadership - Think About It!
As a leader, you have established coherence and are doing well in interpreting the company to your staff. You have created a climate that is safe and incubates innovation and growth. You have allowed staff to set challenges to meet team and company goals. At this point, your team truly has been transformed. They are clear about what is expected of them, they are collaborating and looking for new ways to improve performance, and people are really pumped about the work. So what is left?
Acknowledge and Celebrate!
The last step to creating permanence for your Hu centered culture is to create an expectation that this work is going to be acknowledged and that each victory is an opportunity for celebration. Sounds easy enough, but the majority of change initiatives that fail will often fail around this principle. How many times have you seen processes or methods implemented only to note months later that things have gone back to the way they were before?
Like breathing, a celebration should be organic and not contrived. I suspect that this is where most of us tend to overthink things, and in making celebration too onerous, we eventually fall out of the practice of it.
Look for the Daily Wins
In applying this approach, you will have created an environment that is rich with things to celebrate. Every team member is tracking metrics, and you have a clear idea of the behaviors you want to see happening on the team. Make it a daily practice to look for those things and celebrate them with your people.
This does not have to be complicated. In one company, I worked with a supervisor to create a schedule to review the team metrics being posted. He would walk out to the metrics board once a day and read the results and just leave his initials on the sheet. No big deal, right? One day after I saw him do this, I did an informal check with the team and asked them if they knew whether he had seen their results? To a person, they said he had. I know each of them had not gone up to the board to check, but it was so crucial to the team that when one person saw it, they would tell the rest! It may not seem like folks are noticing, but they are, and for them, that kind of acknowledgment is a celebration!
Spend Time with Your Team
If that seemed simple, let's take it a step further. When you get out from behind your desk and take the time to simply go and see what your team is doing, it's a celebration. This truth has been borne out by countless observations, and if you have risen through the ranks, you know this to be true - every person on a team can tell you which leaders spend time with the team and which don't. Sadly too often, the perception is that the higher you go, the less time you need to invest in the people who report to you.
Aim for the 90 percent - it's a bigger target!
The goal with this process is to reverse for leadership what I call the 90/10 principle. Most leaders will tell you that they spend 90% of their time dealing with 10% of their staff who are underperforming. There are lots of reasons for that, but most of them fall under the false belief that we must be doing something right if we are spending time working to fix these things. But stop and think about that for a moment. What is happening with the other 90% who are doing their job? Typically nothing. Hu centered leadership shifts your focus as a leader from diving into the weeds with the 10% group to celebrating and driving performance with the 90% group. Where do you think you will see the most improvement?
The Human Element (Hu) science behind this is interesting. We get hits of dopamine when we succeed. From checking something off of our to-do list to finishing that project, all of these types of activities give us a dopamine hit. Here is what is really interesting; it doesn't just happen when we do it. When we see others succeed or when we see others do a good job, we get a hit of that dopamine as well. But here is the neat thing, we also get a dose of oxytocin. This is a bonding hormone. When someone on our team achieves something, and we celebrate, the whole team gets closer. You have heard that everyone wants to be on a winning team, well this is the physiological reason for that!
Most importantly, a celebration is crucial to sustaining your team's performance because nothing kills performance quicker than lack of recognition. We think that because someone is doing a good job, we can let that slide, but nothing could be further from the truth. Don't wait to make the celebration something big and cumbersome. Doing something as simple as a pat on the back, a word of thanks, or even just asking how someone is doing, can be a celebration. Don't wait, celebrate! Hu Centered Leadership - Think About It!
Once you have established Coherence in your leadership, knowing who you are, how you want to lead, and what you want to accomplish, the next step is coming to understand and harness the “fuel” for performance. This “fuel” is inherent in each of us, and as leaders, we can use it to drive not only our own growth but to foster a culture that allows our teams to do the same.
Challenge is the fuel that drives performance. We are wired to rise to and overcome challenges. Challenge is THE ingredient for growth and innovation, both personally and corporately. One of my favorite sayings (okay, I have a LOT of favorite sayings) is that “necessity is the mother of invention.” This is really another way of saying our challenges lead to innovation.
We Are Hard-Wired For It
It is not hard to find this in our DNA. How many activities did we do as kids, whether they were challenges or not, that we turned into challenges? The games we played, the sports we participated in, and yes, even the work we do. How many things do we turn into challenges because it makes the “doing” of that thing more fun and rewarding? We have corporate challenges, volunteer challenges, food bank challenges, read-a-thons, jump-a-thons, and the list goes on and on.
We don’t have to just compete against others either to create a challenge. Personal performance or goals form a large part of how we grow. Intrinsically we will measure our growth over time, whether it is in our academics, our height, our weight, our skills, and even our status. Things like when we completed high school, got our license, got a car, started dating, started a family, bought a house, got that raise or promotion, and well, you get the picture. Psychologists call this resilience, biologists call it adaptation, but whatever the label, it is fundamental to growth and performance.
For those of us familiar with farm life or who have witnessed this at school as part of a project, you know that when you are hatching chicks or ducklings, you cannot help the chick or duckling out of its shell. The struggle to free themselves is a necessary first step to survival.
Discovering Our Strengths
It is through meeting challenges in our lives that we come to understand our strengths and abilities. It is the reason that a good education will expose us to many experiences so that through the process of experimenting with these things, we find our natural abilities. Our understanding of those abilities will ultimately (hopefully) lead us to professions that give us an environment to express and run in those strengths. You have them as a leader, and you must recognize and foster those strengths on your team as well.
Rage Against The Norm
All businesses and organizations are based on the concept of challenge. Yet despite that reality, often that is not translated down or out through the companies various components. This results in teams of employees who are not challenged and, as such, not engaged. In case you are wondering – this is actually the norm. (See, we all want to know where we stand against the competition.) Gallup gauges engagement in North America at around 33%. And no, this is not performance, and leaders should rage against that norm.
How Do I Create Challenge?
Now you may be a leader or are going to be a leader, and I am sure at this point you are wondering; “how do I tap into that natural bent that responds to challenge?” This is what we are going to explore next. Hu centered leadership – think about it!
Over the next few articles, we are going to explore four simple Human Element (Hu) principles for performance that those leading teams, groups, and companies can easily remember and apply. They are Coherence, Climate, Challenge, and Celebrate. Today we begin with the first principle, coherence, which is really the foundation for the others.
Coherence is an all-encompassing word that covers a multitude of daily practices and activities. It is at once both broad and minute in its application. It is crucial at every level of leadership and work. It could be confused as just communication, but it is so much more than this. It involves not only the transmission of purpose, task, and outcome, but it also provides for everyone in the group meaning and context for how things are done, why things are done the way they are, and how all the things the team does fit together. It provides a perspective that the leadership and group have concerning the value and role of its members.
Coherence by Example
Let me share an informal but good example of how leaders can provide coherence. I did some work with an oil and gas service company and spent time meeting with various folks getting an idea of the culture and goals of the company. What was truly fascinating was the number of stories retold to me about the founder and owner. People could relate to me why certain brands of trucks were bought over others because they were the first truck supplier to take a chance with the then-new company. They know who they used for tires, again because a local manager of a tire company came out personally at two in the morning to change a tire on a large rig. And most of all they could tell you how much staff were valued by the owner. Folks would come to work in the morning and find this old guy working under a unit and chat with him only to find out later he owned the company. He would show up in the shop and work alongside the crews, and he told them they were valued. He would take great pains to speak with them about their salary and bonus policy and how it was structured to allow the company to keep as many working during downturns so that folks would not need to be laid off.
How did he provide coherence? First, he provided by example, the importance of loyalty and appreciation - remember the trucks and the tires? He communicated the value he placed in his staff and demonstrated that with policies that upheld that commitment. He provided an example of a way of doing things that they all emulated. To say that the company was a reflection of his attitude and approach would be an understatement.
Clarify the "Why"
We don't expect all leaders to provide this type of example, but the principle nonetheless is valid. Starting with the Owner, President, CEO, and right down to the front line leadership, it is the leader's task to communicate why we exist, how we behave, how we do what we do, what success looks like, what is the focus right now and who does what. The top leadership team should be absolutely clear about the answers to those issues, and they, in turn, provide clarity to their direct reports and ensure that information is passed down the line accurately and clearly. When that is done well, there is no confusion around expectations, goals, and outcomes.
Why is this important? Let me highlight this with two different companies, two identical operations positions, and two very different approaches. In the first company, the operator has no clue about those issues or an understanding of the answers and how they fit into the big picture. They do their part of the work, collect a paycheck, and have a minimal investment in the company. The second company operator has had these things communicated to them. They understand the overarching direction and approach of the company and their role in it. They don't just see themselves as a small cog in a big machine but see themselves as a part of a team whose goal is to outclass the competition. They can tell you how downtime hurts the company, and they are always looking for ways to improve their part of the company. One operator has coherence with their company, and the other doesn't.
You Interpret the Company to Your Team
As a leader at any level, there is an expectation that you provide coherence. You interpret the company to your team, you communicate the context for how what they do is relevant, and you set them free to pursue adding value to the group and company. After-all everyone wants to be part of a winning team. That is what Hu centered leadership is all about.
I am at that stage in life where I am fighting an uphill battle against calories. Up until the time I turned 30, I never gave a calorie a second thought as my metabolism allowed me to consume as many as I wanted with little impact upon my weight. Now, however, that is not the case, and in my war with calories, I have discovered that if I don't track it - I lose - the battle that is. I lack the feedback that I need to win the battle where it is most important, in those moment by moment decisions, where the data on my calorie intake is crucial to maintain a stranglehold on those little buggers! I have learned that these calories need to be tracked.
Pick Something To Track
It is the same with your team. Each has a role to play. Everyone on the team has things to do that either help or take away from the teams' goals. You will have a pretty good idea of what you want each member of your team to set as goals and what to track. But the key in this discussion is that each of them has to make that determination on their own. They have to see it as something crucial for their success, personally.
If you run a team of Executive Assistants, for example, you may want them to be proactive and set as a goal that they should always have their VP or CEO, CFO, COOs fully briefed and ready for each meeting. However, you need them to see the importance of tracking hits and misses on that metric. You need to give them the latitude to experiment and track those metrics honestly without getting chewed out! You may guide the conversation, but they should own the metric they want to watch. In this case, the logical metric would be to simply count the number of successful meeting preps versus the number of unsuccessful meeting preps. If they come up with that idea and decide to track it, they will own it. From there, setting goals becomes easy.
Make Failure A Stepping Stone To Success
The key to all of this is to allow your staff to dive into the failed meetings. It is not about how many failed meetings there are, as long as they can look at those failures and drill down to why they failed, and come up with solutions to try going forward. If they are afraid to admit they failed and hide it, you all lose. You have to give them a safe environment to talk about that failure while providing accountability and support to allow them to come up with a solution. The value of this process is what will get discovered in those post-meeting analysis and the solutions they will come up with to ensure success.
Do Not Manage The Process, Let Them Do It!
You have to avoid the temptation to manage or engineer the process. In one LNG plant, there were issues with safety around the use of the golf carts that were used to get around the site. Golf carts are not fast, but this site was built in a Louisiana swamp, and so all the roadways were raised to alleviate issues around flooding and groundwater levels. Crews were being careless and rolling carts when doing things like backing up and so on. Since this plant was still under construction, the upper management, all engineers (bless them all!), decided to engineer a solution. Seat belts were installed, governors were put on to regulate speed, and yellow safety lines were painted on all the roadways that the carts used.
Guess what happened? Nothing - incidents continued at the same rate. Finally, one bright engineer suggested they ask the crews what might be done about this issue. And what did they found out? Most of the safety incidents were the result of two individuals who were notoriously poor drivers. They suggested assigning mentors to drive with those individuals for one month and to implement a policy of a one-month suspension from cart use (a lot of walking) for every incident. Because it was their idea, the crews owned it, and those incidents all but disappeared. This was the crew's goal, and they took it on and completed it.
Wired To Respond To Tracking
Here is where the Hu part of this all comes together. Research has shown that tracking and achieving goals releases dopamine. It is what lets us get stuff done. While it is highly addictive, it is only released when tangible goals are reached. Helping your team set and achieve goals is actually tapping into our human physiology and utilizing it to drive performance.
Success Breeds Success
On top of that release of dopamine, another aspect of Hu is that when we succeed or see others on our team do well, we get a hit of serotonin, which creates a sense of pride, confidence, a feeling of increased status, and a boost in our leadership capacity. So our success or the team's success actually creates a win/win cycle.
Regardless of what your team does, whether it be virtual, front-line operations or, something in the corporate or office setting, there are goals that each can be setting and pursuing. Once they do, they will succeed, and nothing breeds success like success. If something is key to the progress of your team, measure it, and set some goals. Performance Leadership - Think About It!
We have been exploring an excellent article by Jeff Haden on the traits of what makes an exceptional employee. He outlined eight traits of exceptional employees, and I believe he hit the nail on the head in his article. What I have been looking at with you is the question; can you, as a leader, create exceptional employees?
My contention is that this is entirely possible, and in fact, I have seen it done many times. Let me focus on one particular trait for our study today.
They are always exploring.
Some people are rarely satisfied (I mean that positively) and are usually tinkering with something: reworking a timeline, adjusting a process, tweaking a workflow.
Good employees follow processes. Great employees tweak processes. Exceptional employees find ways to reinvent processes, not just because they are expected to...but because they just cannot help themselves. Jeff Haden, 8 signs an Employee Is Exceptional (Which Never Appear on Performance Evaluations)
We could call this natural curiosity or creativity, but either way, it is vital to develop this trait on your team. My contention is that everyone wants to exercise this trait, but often culture and insecurity stand in the way of this being fulfilled.
Your role then as a leader is to create an environment that welcomes and nurtures this creativity. You provide a safe place to explore new ideas, and you provide a structure for this to happen. While these two concepts may seem at odds, you must create the framework to unleash your team’s creativity.
What do I mean by this? Creativity without a basis in facts is opinion. Creativity borne from a set of facts and data is an opportunity. Teach your team to collect the metrics and data around an idea, and you will have shown them how to bridge the gap between gut and reality. When they know how to look for and collect the metrics and data they need to validate an idea, then you have unleashed that creative trait!
Time is money
One group I worked with had already become conversant with the structure of using metrics and collecting data. They measured all operations as a time = money equation either in terms of making money or losing money. Many large pieces of equipment were needed as part of the service they provided and equipment failure equated to lost time and money. For one piece of equipment located in the middle of the operation, this was particularly true.
Because they had been collecting data, they knew how long it took to replace this machine, and they came up with a plan that would decrease the time needed to do this. There would need to be an outlay of funds to create the solution, but their data demonstrated significant time and millions of dollars in cost savings.
This may look like a home run, but it was really an outcome of an environment that was already allowing for creativity on a small scale every day. Taking the step to something bigger was natural. Performance Leadership - Think About It!
I am going to take a different approach to my blogging over the next few weeks. I will still do my three short blogs on Hu – The Human Element of Organizational Effectiveness, but I am also going to do one detailed article on the approach that the Performance Leadership Institute takes to helping leaders and teams tap into and use the key element to successful teams, and organizations. The reality is simply this; all the programs and approaches, data, and analytics that companies employ to increase effectiveness are simply window dressing if this element is not factored in – our humanity (Hu)! There is that song that was popular not that long ago that goes, we are only human after all. I do not see that as a limiting statement; I see it as a declaration of what turns out to be a pretty incredible design!
Over the next few weeks and months, we are going to explore the work of many experts in this field, many of whom you will recognize. Simon Sinek, Aubrey Daniels, John Maxwell, Patrick Lencioni, and Michael Lewis, all of whom have contributed in some way to our understanding of who we are as humans, not just esoterically, but fundamentally, from our physiology to our psychology. You cannot achieve your full potential as a leader without acknowledging the Hu element to leading your team and getting the most from them.
Hu is not just about getting better but about getting better and loving every moment of the journey! Hu is not about reward and recognition but about being the kind of leader who sees their people, honors their unique contribution, and celebrates that contribution. Hu is not about figuring out which switches to flip in your people, but rather it is about acknowledging them AS people and all that comes with that reality – family, history, strengths, weaknesses, doubts, dreams, and ambitions. It is about setting them free from doubt, letting them contribute and step out of the box, fail, and, most of all, succeed.
When you successfully apply Hu, you will be part of something that will be cutting edge. You will lead a group that will never again see challenges as boundaries that hold them in but see them instead as something to be conquered and overcome.
Coherence is what every leader must create. Some leaders do it by accident, some not at all, and a rare few, by design. In a nutshell, coherence is the ability of a leader to create an environment for their team that consistently interprets the objectives of the company to the team, reinforces their role, and reinforces what they do to achieve those objectives. Coherence creates a safe environment where everyone knows what is expected of them, where the boundaries are, and what they can or cannot do within those boundaries.
Safe can mean “nobody moves, nobody gets hurt,” or it can be like a game of soccer, hockey, football, or basketball game where everyone knows the rules and the boundaries but how each team executes within that framework is limitless. Coherence tilts to the latter definition.
Setting your team free - A tale of two cultures
Here is a quick comparison of two corporate cultures and the outcomes that came as a result.
London’s famous subway system is known world-wide for keeping its trains on time. Staff and policies all align with machine-like precision to ensure that those times are always maintained. There is strong leadership but also a tendency to clump into silos. Staff is driven to follow protocol, and little tolerance is given to anyone who steps out of bounds. Highly regimented is equated with highly efficient. You are not paid to think but are paid to do and follow protocol. This is all well and good when things are going well, but it may become an Achilles heel when things do not go well.
Such was the case with the Kings Cross Station fire. In a nutshell, the people who noticed something was amiss had been conditioned to focus on their tasks and let the “team responsible for those things” look into it. As things would unfold, the team that was to check into hazards, such as fires, had not been made aware there was an issue, and the errors cascaded down the line. Someone noticed, but it was not their job, so it was never reported. The net result was 31 fatalities and over 100 injured.
On the other side of the coin was SouthWest airlines, an industry leader headed by Herb Kelleher, an aviation disrupter in his own right. Where Kings Cross and the London Subway were regimented and siloed, SouthWest was the opposite. In 1994 Kelleher was named the best American CEO, and his airline was the only consistently profitable airline in the industry. When asked the secret of his success, he simply noted that you can duplicate the aircraft, the computer programs, the gate facilities, and so on, but you can’t replicate the intangibles. What he meant by intangibles are the employees.
Kelleher had a coherent framework that he insisted define the company. That framework was founded on the values of humor, independence, and respect. He loved and respected his employees, and in turn, they worked hard to never let him down. His focus was on hiring good people and setting them free to achieve beyond what even he could imagine. In an industry that is in a high state of flux, this approach was his competitive edge.
When a rival airline went out of business on a Friday afternoon in 1991, by the end of that same day, SouthWest staff from Dallas had flown to Chicago and taken control of every airport gate of that rival shuttered company. Airport gates are hard to get and crucial to maintaining an advantage over your competitors. He did not even know that his staff had done this until the next day. They had the freedom to act, and as it turned out, they kept all those gates.
Both groups needed to maintain tight control and schedules, yet one lapsed where the other thrived. What was the difference? Coherence. *(It should be noted that the London Subway learned from this tragedy and implemented a different approach (coherence) that allowed staff to be much more involved in delivering daily operations.)
Setting your team free!
Coherence then is about creating the atmosphere or milieu that provides a safe environment for employees to experiment, innovate, fail but also succeed. If you can think back to what you were like when you first came into a role or job can you recall looking around and asking questions like, why do they do that? Or, if they just did it this way, it would work so much better. We have all done this, your staff is no different. We are social creatures, and part of our wiring is that we all want to contribute. It is part of group survival. Everyone wants to have an impact, to do a good job. Do you set them free to do that?
As a leader, you can squash that impetus and simply move toward getting compliance from your team, and many leaders do just that. You may have a well-oiled machine, but it will never achieve its full potential. Smooth and steady is good until the competition runs you over.
If, on the other hand, you invite your team into the work, show them how they contribute, give them some space to try new things and to fail, you will not only get a well-oiled machine – admittedly, perhaps it might take a bit longer than the compliance model – but one that will build upon success, attract those who share that vision and create innovation and a team culture that will have others wondering how you did it. You see, we are only human, after all, lol!
This is part of a series on exploring how to create exceptional employees on your team. There is a lot of discussion around the concepts I want to explore today. The first is that every organization is a reflection of its leadership. Not just those at the top, but the leaders right down to those immediate supervisors who are responsible for the smallest teams in the organization, reflect its culture.
Who Has Influence To Create Change?
This is not a new concept, and admittedly one that I think finds general acceptance. I cut my teeth on leadership in the armed forces, and this idea is something I have seen time and time again. Where I may differ from some is in my belief that while senior leadership bears responsibility for the culture of a company and often that will be reflected with junior leaders, it doesn't always have to be that way.
Most change management research will tell you that the leaders with the most influence are those who are your direct reports. These individuals have far more impact on their team than they realize. They actually have the potential superpower to create exceptional employees.
This brings me to the second concept (and potential superpower); praise. In an excellent article, 8 Signs an Employee Is Exceptional (Which Never Appear on Performance Evaluations), Jeff Haden lists one of the signs of an exceptional employee as someone who praises in public. Those are the folks who don't hesitate to congratulate teammates who have done something well for the team. They tend to be those folks who carry a lot of influence with the group.
Let's go back to point one; if you have the most influence over the people who report to you directly, then practicing praise with your team is something that will "rub off on them." You can create that culture in your group by practicing what you want them to do - praise. That is your potential superpower!
Let's be clear, you need to know what to praise and when. It has to be genuine, and it should be connected with performance or behavior that you know is relevant to the aims of the team. Like the analogy of the geese flying in formation, each bird takes turns leading, but each bird also makes sure to "honk" praise to encourage the bird in the lead.
To sum it up. If staff is influenced by you and excellent staff practice praising others, then you practicing that same skill should get your team feeling comfortable praising each other as well. There is more to come regarding creating exceptional employees, but this is certainly something to think about. By the way, "thank you" for taking the time to read these short blogs. It is a real encouragement to me, and I appreciate it! Performance Leadership - Think About It!
This is going to be one of those discussions that you will either get or it will irritate you. The number one secret to creating an exceptional employee is to treat them with respect. I can almost hear the eyes rolling! Of course, you are thinking to yourself, I always treat my staff with respect. Let me push back on that thought a bit by defining what I mean.
There is the now-famous picture of President Obama stopping to chat with the janitor in the Whitehouse. The meme typically goes something along the lines of, "You can always judge the character of a leader by how well they treat the janitor." Stopping to say hi and asking about how they are doing is polite but not necessarily the kind of respect that will create an exceptional employee.
Cog or Contributor
A manufacturing company in Sweden were struggling with how to improve processes on the plant floor. Initially, management wrestled with it and could not find a solution. As a result, they called everyone in the plant together for a meeting so that collectively they might find a solution. (A good start.) Again as a group, they went back and forth and could not come up with a solution.
Finally, in the back of the room, the janitor put up his hand. Everyone stopped to look, and they went quiet after all, what could he offer? He explained that each night as he mopped the floor, he knew the path that each machinist took to either get parts or move an item down the line - just from the tracks they made. He had figured out that there was an awful lot of time being wasted doing these walking activities. After carefully explaining what he thought might be a better arrangement for the production equipment and the location of the supplies, they realized he had come up with the solution.
How Do You Define Respect
It may have been desperation that led the leadership in that company to bring everyone together, but by giving everyone a voice and a chance to participate in finding a solution, they actually hit on a vital lesson. Everyone wants to contribute and help. Show them respect by giving them a safe place to contribute, and they will rise to the occasion. They will become exceptional employees.
I would go a bit further than that meme; "You can always judge the true character of a leader by how they show respect for their people by allowing them a chance to contribute." This kind of respect goes a long way in creating exceptional employees. Performance Leadership - Think About it.
"Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren't used to an environment where excellence is expected." Steve Jobs
I was reading an article by Jeff Haden (Contributing Editor at Inc.) on the 8 Signs an Employee Is Exceptional (Which Never Appear on Performance Evaluations). It was a fascinating list and included, among other things; They think beyond the job description, they are not afraid to ask questions, like to prove others wrong, and they are always exploring.
Can Exceptional Be Created?
It got me thinking, as he accurately pointed out those things that make for an exceptional employee and how to identify them. What I wondered is, was it possible to "create" this type of employee? What would a team of these types of employees look like?
I believe you can create them, and in fact, human-centered leadership is predicated upon that belief. In combining a potent mix of operational excellence, continuous improvement, and behavioral science, the goal is to create employees who will practice what we call "discretionary behaviors." These are the types of behaviors that have been highlighted on so many WestJet commercials where staff go out of their way to provide industry leading client experiences. (Looking forward to seeing what they do this Christmas, for example!)
After all, if one were to define the term "discretionary behavior," wouldn't that include going beyond the job description, asking the hard questions to know the need better, proving others wrong by performing beyond what was thought possible, and always exploring better ways to get things done? Of course, it is!
Turning Lead Into Gold!
Finding an exceptional employee is like finding a diamond in the rough but creating a whole team of this type of employee is really the equivalent of the ancient alchemy of turning lead into gold! And it is possible! I know because I have witnessed it first-hand.
I will give you a bit of a teaser. It starts with you. You must believe and function as a leader who believes that each member of your team "wants" to be exceptional! You must identify what in your current culture inhibits that possibility and figure out what must be done to promote it. That is the first goal of human-centered performance leadership. Performance Leadership - Think About It!
Recognition is one of the most underused tools in a leader's repertoire. It is one of the easiest ways to drive performance, and yet companies and leaders struggle to use it effectively. I believe this is due to several factors leaders get bogged down in the "tyranny of the urgent" with paperwork, reports, meetings, and so on. And there is what I call the 90/10 rule.
The 90/10 Rule
The 90/10 rule is the idea that leaders will spend 90% of their time dealing with 10% of their staff. Every time I discuss this with clients, it resonates. It is an easy habit to fall into as those staff often demand attention in one form or another. But here is what that really means; spending the majority of your time with underachieving staff members means that you are NOT spending time with the majority of your staff who ARE doing their job or who are excelling at it!
That 90% group is where performance is happening! This is where the application of recognition can do amazing things to drive performance even higher. The research around this is abundant, and the international polling organization Gallup places recognition as one of the leading factors in driving engagement on high performing teams.
Not Recognizing Has The Same Effect As Negative Recognition
Teams with high levels of recognition consistently perform in the top percentile at about 70% better than those with a low recognition environment. Understand that negative feedback and the absence of recognition produces the same results. (Ignoring behavior is one of the fastest ways to extinguish it.) Low engagement results in higher absenteeism, lower quality of output or client experience, higher turnover, and more safety incidents.
Reward And Recognition Are Not The Same
Often recognition is confused with reward, and they are not the same. This can be as simple as a pat on the back or a "good job" from the boss. Most importantly, it should be genuine and consistent. Create a recognition rich environment and encourage your team to give each other a nod when something good is done.
Here is an interesting tidbit from Gallup, women managers tend to do better at engaging their teams than male managers. One reason for this is a higher tendency toward recognition. Don't wait to recognize, look for the behaviors you want, set a daily schedule for yourself, and start focusing on that 90% group! Performance Leadership - Think About It!
We are social creatures, and communication is one of the important things that set us apart from other species. This is one of the reasons that none of us want to be treated like mushrooms, kept in the dark, and fed manure! If we agree with the concept that your people want to do a good job and are looking to find connection and meaning, then providing regular and clear communication is vital to helping those things happen.
No News Is Not Good News
The lack of needed communication is something I see frequently. We all feel that we do a good job communicating with our teams and with each other. The best advice I ever received was that if I believed I was communicating well, then take those efforts and multiply by ten. Then I would be getting close to effective communication.
Some companies have done an excellent job of addressing part of this by providing mentor programs. While this helps new staff learn the company culture (hopefully the one you want them to know), it does not replace the things that you as their leader need to provide them.
Setting Staff Up For Failure
No one wants to bump into a policy or expectation they did not know about. (Remember everyone, wants to do a good job.) And nothing is as disheartening as when that happens. I recall many times walking onto a site, shop floor, or office to find someone frustrated and paralyzed to inactivity because they were not sure what they were supposed to do next. They did not want to do the wrong thing, and they also did not want to "pester" the boss. It's like the old safety joke - nobody moves, nobody gets hurt.
Clarity Of Expectation – Vital To Performance
Research shows that leaders can drive up employee engagement through regular communication of expectations. According to Gallup - "Employees whose managers hold regular meetings with them are almost three times as likely to be engaged as employees whose managers do not hold regular meetings with them. As well, engagement is highest among employees who have some form (face to face, phone, or digital) of daily communication with their managers. In their Q12 research, Gallup has discovered that clarity of expectations is perhaps the most basic of employee needs and is vital to performance. Helping employees understand their responsibilities may seem like "management 101," but employees need more than a written job description to fully grasp their role. Great managers don't just tell employees what's expected of them and leave it at that; instead, they frequently talk with employees about their responsibilities and progress. They don't save those critical conversations for once-a-year performance reviews." Jim Harter, Ph.D. - Gallup
A Little Time – A Big Return
The bottom line is that as a leader, you must be intentional about providing regular and clear guidance to your team. It is something that produces far better benefits with the investment of a bit of your time. In fact, I read one study that said a ten-minute investment communicating with a staff member can drive up their engagement and performance for up to 80 hours! Don't you think that is a pretty good return on investment? Performance Leadership - Think About It!
When we look at how we harness the human element of our organizations, we know that providing purpose is crucial. How does that look in a work setting? Let me share an example through an anecdote by John Girard, who points to this at an individual level and its implication for leadership.
What do you do?
On a foggy autumn day nearly 800 years ago, a traveler happened upon a large group of workers adjacent to the River Avon. Despite being tardy for an important rendezvous, curiosity convinced the traveler that he should inquire about their work. With a slight detour, he moved toward the first of the three tradesmen and asked, My dear fellow, what is it that you are doing? The man continued his work and grumbled I am cutting stones. Realizing that the mason did not wish to engage in a conversation, the traveler moved toward the second of the three and repeated the question. To the travelers' delight, this man stopped his work, ever so briefly, and stated that he was a stone cutter. He then added I came to Salisbury from the north to work, and as soon as I earn ten quid, I will return home. The traveler thanked the second mason, wished him a safe journey home, and began to head to the third of the trio.
When he reached the third worker, he once again asked the original question. This time the worker paused, glanced at the traveler until they made eye contact, and then looked skyward, drawing the traveler eyes upward. The third mason replied, I am a mason, and I am building a cathedral. He continued, I have journeyed many miles to be part of the team that is constructing this magnificent cathedral. I have spent many months away from my family, and I miss them dearly. However, I know how important Salisbury Cathedral will be one day. I also know how many people will find sanctuary and solace here. I know this because the Bishop once told me his vision for this work. He described how people would come from all parts of England to worship here. He also told me that the cathedral would not be completed in our days but that the future promise of this building depends on our hard work. He paused and then said, So I am prepared to be away from my family because I know it is the right thing to do. I hope that one day my son will continue in my footsteps and perhaps even his son if need be.
The Power of Purpose
In this example, we immediately take note of the difference between the first worker who had no purpose for what they did beyond the immediate task, and we are drawn to the account of the third stonemason who demonstrated a grander vision that gave purpose to his work. This speaks to something that I believe resides in all of us. We desire purpose, not only in our personal lives and relationships but also in our work. This is crucial, particularly when it comes to performance. After all, which mason would you hire?
This last worker was gifted with an understanding of his purpose, but where did he get that meaning? The Bishop. Many of us will not readily see meaning in the work we do, it is something good leaders must provide. Some leaders will create the connection between our work and the greater good - for example, Starbucks does not "just" sell coffee they offer a social experience - a place for people to gather. Other companies tie the work to philanthropy by directing some of the profits to charity or providing time for staff to volunteer toward causes of their choosing.
Purpose and Worth
As leaders, we do this because we value our people. You communicate value when you take the time to create a purpose for the work being done.
Know Your Purpose
You will find that it helps to know your own purpose for what you do. For example, I do what I do because I believe that leadership is amazing. It is an experience that need not be terrifying or mundane. Leadership can be larger than us and can be enjoyed. The more we embrace it, the more those we lead will benefit.
Have you created purpose for your team? If not, why not? Performance Leadership - Think About It!
“I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”
― Brené Brown
The biggest key in creating connection on your team is communication. Now before everyone tells me that this is too obvious, let me define what I mean by connecting through communication.
Communication is the sum total of the effort you make as a leader to be sure your team knows what you expect from them, what their role is, how that fits in with the company objectives and how well they are meeting those objectives. However, it also includes things like honesty, openness, and transparency.
Openness & Honesty
If you want your staff to truly be connected, you must show them how what they are doing drives the progress of the company. You must also, as far as possible, hold them accountable for their work (honesty) and keep your team informed of things that may impact them and the work they do (openness).
This last issue almost exclusively lies at the core of where staff and leadership struggle for unity. Often what happens is that openness erodes either as leaders become busy and distracted or as silos begin to form within a company. In the first instance, openness erodes by omission in the second by commission - that is, deliberate withholding of information necessary to be productive.
"I just want to be treated like a mushroom at work; kept in the dark and fed B.S.," said no one ever! This statement is most often the biggest complaint I get when working with new groups. I was brought into a company where one of the issues was the management wanted staff to provide more detail and information on daily reports. In an initial discussion with staff about what they felt should be on the daily log, they were in complete alignment with management? It seems that no one had told them what they wanted!
The Destructive Impact of Silos and Secrets
This goes beyond the simple issue of managers being too busy to be open. Silos (or as I call them - secret societies) do more to create disconnection than anything else I know of. It could be the leadership team or the one department that holds vital information to itself or even where a team keeps information from one of its members regarding their performance or status with the team. Secrets are divisive by nature and inhibit connection. Someone is outside the "circle," and others are in it.
I am not saying that openness requires full disclosure of all things, but certainly, it should include how folks are doing or what things are happening further up or down the line that could or will have an impact on them.
A newspaper in the U.S. asked readers to send in statements regarding why they loved the company they worked for. Almost universally, they involved issues around connection and meaning. To quote one individual, "Leadership is excellent - always transparent and willing to give you the details on decisions being made in the company or being discussed." Open, transparent, and relevant communication, one key to connection. Performance Leadership - Think About It!
This is the first of a series of short articles on leading through factoring in the "Hu" Human Element as it relates to operational excellence and its impact on employee satisfaction and engagement. The first concept that we are going to explore is the role of the leader in engaging new and seasoned employees. To do this, we are going to look at the principles of connection and meaning.
Tapping Into That Desire To Do Well
What is evident in our current work climate is that people generally want to do a good job. Looking at the hoops that a typical person will have to go through to get a position, you know they are going to be committed to the job. So what happens after they get that job? Do you take advantage of that commitment and excitement to - get them to work?
Research shows that despite these people coming to a new job with a high level of zeal, very quickly, they will slide into that 33% range of engagement (Gallup, 2016) that the majority of employees wind up at. Why is that?
The Importance Of The Leader
In a word, leadership. The number one factor impacting employee engagement and satisfaction is their immediate leader. Close to 50% of employees who leave a position or company do so because of their immediate supervisor.
Connection & Meaning
We know that people are social by nature and that connecting at work forms a big part of that. We are also driven by those things that provide meaning. If you, as a leader, do not provide connection and, meaning then you are already losing the engagement battle.
The responsibility of a leader is to create a team (connection) and then show them how what they do contributes to the company goals and objectives (meaning). Let your team contribute to improving the work and recognize that contribution, and you will have employees that will be engaged at unheard-of levels!
To quote Winston Churchill. "We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give." What we will explore next is what you can do to provide connection and meaning for your team. Performance Leadership - Think About It!