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's focus on one particular trait for our study today.
They're constantly exploring.
Some people are rarely satisfied (I mean that in a good way) and are constantly 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 can't 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 a tremendous trait to develop on your team. My contention is that everyone on your team "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 a structure to unleash your team’s creativity.
What do I mean by this? Creativity without a foundation on 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 truly 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 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!
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 the leadership at the top but the leadership right down to those immediate supervisors who are responsible for the smallest teams in the organization.
Who Has Influence To Create Change?
This is not a new concept and admittedly one that I think finds general acceptance. Having cut my teeth on leadership in the armed forces 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 bear 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 by far the leaders with the most influence are those who are your direct reports. These individuals have far more influence 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 his 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 team mates 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 an exceptional culture in your group by practicing exactly 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 behaviour 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 are influenced by you and excellent staff practice praising others then you practicing that same skill should get your staff to feel comfortable praising each other as well. There is more to come on creating exceptional employees but this is certainly something to think about. By the way "thank you" for taking 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 either will 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 by respect.
There is the now famous picture of President Obama stopping to chat with the janitor in the Whitehouse. The meme typically goes something like "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
In a manufacturing company in Sweden they 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 the room 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 and after carefully explaining what he though 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 lead 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 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.
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 an interesting list and included among other things; They think beyond the job description, they are not afraid to ask questions, they like to prove others wrong and they are constantly exploring.
Can Exceptional Be Created?
What got me thinking was that while he accurately pointed out those things that make for an exceptional employee and therefore how to look for them, 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 Performance Leadership is predicated upon that belief. In combining a potent mix of operational excellence, continuous improvement and behavioural science the goal is to create employees who will practice what we call "discretionary behaviours." These types of behaviours have been highlighted on so many WestJet commercials where staff go out of their way to provide industry leading client experiences. (Looking forward to see what they do this Christmas for example!)
After all, if one were to define "discretionary behaviours" 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 team of this type of employees 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 won't go into all the details in today’s post but 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 identify what must be done to promote it. That is the first goal of 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 leadership 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 in fact 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 teams with a negative recognition environment. Understand that negative recognition and the absence of recognition produce the same results. (Ignoring a behaviour 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. Recognition 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 behaviours 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. As well this is connected to that idea 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 that happen.
No News Is Not Good News
The lack of this 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 we felt we were doing a good job of communicating then take those efforts and multiply by ten and you 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 in particular learn the company culture (hopefully the one you want them to learn) 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 they all want 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 greater 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 investment? Performance Leadership - Think About It!
When looking at putting humanity back into our work 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 which 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 said “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 traveler delight this time the 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 but 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 and I know how many people will find sanctuary and solace here. I know this because the Bishop once told me his vision for this great place. He described how people would come from all parts to worship here. He also told 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 stone mason 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 worker was gifted with an understanding of the purpose of his work but where did he get that meaning? The Bishop. Many of us will not readily see purpose in the work we do so it is something that good leaders must provide for their team. Some leaders will create the connection between the work and a greater good - for example Starbucks does not "just" sell coffee, they provide a social experience; a place for people to gather. Some companies tie the work with philanthropy by directing some of the profits to charity and/or providing time for staff to volunteer toward causes of their choosing such as "Habitat for Humanity" or the "United Way."
Purpose and Worth
As leaders we do this because we value our people. You communicate worth when you take the time to create 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 can be an amazing experience that need not be terrifying or mundane. That leadership can be bigger than us and can be enjoyed and the more we enjoy it the more those we lead and work with will benefit.
Have you created purpose for your team? If not, why not? Performance Leadership - Think About It!
The biggest key in creating connection on your team is communication. Now before everyone roles their eyes and tells me that is too obvious let me define what I mean by communication in this instance.
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 the 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 BS;" 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 issues was the management wanted staff to provide more detail and information on daily reports. In discussing with the staff what they felt should be on the reports they were in complete alignment with management? No one in management had told them what they wanted!
The Destructive Impact of Silos and Secrets
This goes beyond simple issue of managers being too busy to be open. Silo's (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 place on 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 articles on leading with humanity 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 today's work climate is that people who work 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 to work?"
Research shows that in spite of 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 the 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 don't provide those two things; connection and meaning, then you are already losing the engagement battle.
A leader’s responsibility is to create a team (connection) and then show how what they do contributes to company goals and objectives (meaning). Let your team contribute to improving the work and recognize that contribution and you will have a team of 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 you can do to provide connection and meaning are what we will explore next. Performance Leadership - Think About It!
Let me review what we have learned so far. Effective reinforcement or recognition has to occur as close to the desired behaviour as possible. The person typically best able to provide that recognition is the immediate supervisor due to proximity and role. In short, they help the team to set the goals, identify the desired behaviours and provide recognition when those behaviours happen. So what is missing in this cycle?
Presence. It should be obvious by now that a person leading a team of people who is looking to reinforce a set of behaviours around performance needs to "be there" to catch those behaviours and provide recognition. I call this active supervision.
Active supervision should be organic, intentional and habitual. (How’s that for a mouthful?) The supervisor needs to create a habit of getting around to where the team is. They need to decide what behaviours they are going to recognize (intention) and they need to do it often enough so that it does not seem out of place (organic).
At an LNG plant the head operator typically stays in the control room to monitor the panels. These head operators and I were having a discussion one evening about how their supervisors who sit literally across the hall never get out to see the crew and are for all intent, absent. So I asked one head operator how often he got out each shift to see his crew? He thought about it and had to admit rarely, if ever.
Upon further discussion he decided that his assistant operator would man the panel a few times each shift so that he could go out to see the crew and provide some recognition for the behaviours he wanted. It seemed strange to them at first because this had never happened and so things were a bit stilted. But as they got used to seeing him around it became normal and he was able to provide the recognition he wanted to his team. And yes, performance went up. What’s more he felt he had a better grasp of what was happening on his team.
Too often we get in the habit of what the Army calls leading from the rear. There is no replacement for "being there.” It is the only way to look for those things that you want to reinforce. Performance Leadership - Think About It!