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. 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 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 and high performing teams.
Not Recognizing Has The Same Effect As Negative Recognition
Teams with high levels of recognition consistently perform in the top percentile and about 70% better than teams with a negative recognition environment. Understand that negative recognition and 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 care, higher turnover and more safety incidents. Remember that 10% group?
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!
This key is connected back 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 guidance is key to helping that happen.
No News Is Not Good News
The lack of this needed guidance 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. Performance Leadership - Think About It!
When looking at connection 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.
"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 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.”
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 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."
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.
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!
There are a lot of ways to characterize this concept. Inspect the expect, actions speak louder than words, if it is important make it a priority; are all ways of describing how leaders can foster connection on their teams.
How Do You Demonstrate Value?
In this case if you tell your people that open communication is important how do you show that? The best way I know of is to make it a priority with your staff. Carve out time during the shift, or week to allow for a safe place for you to keep staff up to speed on things affecting them or the company and to let them have input as well.
We talk about how budgets actually reflect the character of a company as priorities found in those plans reflect what is really important to that group. The same holds true in the way we "budget" our time. If we allocate a set time for keeping lines of communication open, we are communicating that this is important.
The Accidental Communicators
One group I worked with discovered this by accident. The front line leadership were working to drive the behaviour of collecting metrics with each of the members on the team. In order to underscore its importance and to hold the team accountable they set a meeting for the start of each shift. Each crew member reported on the previous shifts results and they would go around the table until all had reported.
What began to happen was that as folks reported on results and issues other members of the team began to offer support and advice. Tribal knowledge began to bubble up in these meetings and they became not only a reporting venue but a planning and communication opportunity at the start of each shift. It became so important to the team that some even suggested coming in 15 minutes early to make sure the meeting would not be cut short.
Leadership made communication a priority and the staff responded accordingly. What grew out of it was stronger connections on the team and between the team and leadership. (And no-one was ever late for these meetings either!) Making communication a priority is at its root a sign of the respect you hold for your team. 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 issues 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 Performance Leadership 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 get work 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 work. 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 work will form a big part of that. They are also driven by those things that give them 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 them 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 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).
On a team of operators at an LNG plant the head operator typically stays in the control room to monitor the panels. We 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. I asked the head operator how often he got out each shift to see his crew? He thought about it and admitted never.
Upon further discussion he decided that his assistant operator would man the panels 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 and 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!
We left off yesterday with a question regarding reinforcement. If reinforcement needs to happen as close to the desired behaviour as possible who is going to be in the best position to offer it? The obvious answer is the immediate supervisor or in my case yesterday with my bad grammar it was my peers. (Thanks by the way!)
Immediate Supervisor or Leader
Interestingly enough many companies tend to move that activity higher up the ladder without realizing it. Leaders who are responsible for small teams will often defer to their bosses when it comes to driving performance. This is not unusual as they are typically the least experienced leaders in the chain of command. If you step back and think about that for a minute you will see the conundrum. The least experienced leaders have the greatest opportunity to drive performance in a company.
You might see this as a problem but I see it as an opportunity. People who have just moved into leadership roles are often very keen to do a good job and (hopefully) have not developed any bad leadership habits. They are open to new ideas that will help them be more effective and often I tell them to run with a new idea before someone tells them it’s not possible.
Do It Before Someone Tells You It’s Not Possible
In one case crews working on a well-site completion were looking at ways to reduce maintenance intervals. There were several new leaders on those crews that we had trained in operational excellence. When someone suggested that perhaps they could start maintenance as soon as a zone was finished (a potential safety hazard) they took a fresh look at the issue. Regulations called for a minimum of 2 layers of valve separation from the wellhead so opening up pumps for maintenance might cross that boundary. But if they rigged in a 3rd layer of valves that would address that safety concern. Maintenance could be started sooner and they would be ready for the next zone when it opened up with no need for a maintenance interval at all!
Let me be clear, they were not running with their "gut." They had teams that had already been collecting a lot of data on maintenance times and rig-in times and they knew that time spent rigging in one more layer of valves would be more than made up in time saved in removing maintenance intervals. And yes the upper management had reservations - it had never been done that way before - but with their metrics and a solid plan they made a compelling argument. It wasn't just successful it was transformative. The client, who is at the pinnacle of the industry, had never seen a crew that could run 24 hours a day without maintenance intervals.
Turning Problems Into Opportunities
The newest leaders, driving high performing behaviours and achieving industry changing innovation! What some senior leadership might be tempted to look at as a problem turned out to be a huge opportunity. That is what operational excellence is all about! Performance Leadership Think About It!
Let me put this out there and let's see what happens. Recognition "Programs" don't work. Now that a bunch of you have jumped up to shout your indignation (especially if you are the ones that authorized the expenditure of funds for these programs) let me explain. Recognition works. Recognition Programs rarely do.
Intention & Timing
What is the difference? Two things; intention and timing. Most "programs" have some form of intention like safety for example. Safety is the behaviour they want to recognize. But I have stood in my fair share of town hall or staff meetings where a major safety recognition award was being handed out literally months after it was achieved. Usually between the time it was achieved and the time it was given out a safety "event" occurred the clock was reset in any case. Needless to say the impact was negligible.
Timing is crucial for reinforcing and driving a desired behaviour like safety or any other performance related behaviour. A reinforcer (in this case a simple acknowledgement of a "good job") should happen as close to the desired behaviour as possible. The further away from the desired behaviour the weaker the reinforcement. It is weaker because of timing but it is also weaker because it has to be contingent on a specific behaviour (intention). The longer the timeline for recognition the less clear the behaviour is in the mind of the person receiving the recognition.
Removing the Lag Time
Recognition is always going to be a lagging reinforcer. The greater the lag the less effective the reinforcement. You may have figured out that for immediate reinforcement to happen you need to know what you are looking to enforce and you need to be there to see the behaviour happen. So who should be the primary reinforcer? More about that in our next blog. Performance Leadership - Think About It!
Remember excellence is a habit that once built will serve you forever! Performance Leadership - Think About It!