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!
Let me review what we have learned so far. Effective reinforcement or recognition has to occur as close to the desired behavior 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 behaviors, and provide recognition when those behaviors happen. So what is missing in this cycle?
Presence. It should be obvious, by now, that a person leading a team of people who are looking to reinforce a set of behaviors around performance needs to - be there - to catch those behaviors 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 behaviors 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 staff? He thought about it and had to admit rarely, if ever.
Upon further discussion, he decided that his assistant operator would take over the panel a few times each shift so that he could go out to see the crew and provide some recognition for the behaviors 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, they became used to his presence, and he was able to provide the recognition he wanted to his team. And yes, performance went up. What is 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!
"Hu" The Human Element of Organizational Effectiveness - Who is Best Positioned to Drive Performance?
We left off with a question regarding reinforcement; If reinforcement needs to happen as close to the desired behavior as possible, who is going to be in the best position to offer it? The obvious answer is the immediate supervisor.
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 challenge. The least experienced leaders are given the most immediate 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 is not possible.
Do It Before Someone Tells You It Is 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 I 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 that 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. Therefore they could start with their maintenance sooner and would be ready for the next zone 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 more than make 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. They were breaking new ground in that industry!
Turning Problems Into Opportunities
The newest leaders, driving high performing behaviors 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 organizational excellence is all about! Performance Leadership -Think About It!
Let me put this out there and see what happens. Recognition "Programs" don't work. Now that a bunch of you have jumped up to shout in protest, 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 intent like safety. Safety is the behavior they want to recognize. Yet, I have stood in my fair share of town hall or staff meetings where a safety recognition award was being handed out, literally months after it was achieved. Usually, in that gap between the time it was done and, the time it was given out, another safety "event" occurred, and the clock was reset. Needless to say, the impact is negligible.
Timing is crucial for reinforcing and driving a desired behavior like safety or any other performance-related behavior. A reinforcer (in this case, a simple acknowledgment of a "good job") should happen as close to the desired activity as possible. The further away from the desired behavior, the weaker the reinforcement. It is weak because of extended timing, but it is also weaker because it has to be connected to the specific action (intention). The longer the timeline for recognition, the less clear the desired behavior is in the mind of the person receiving the reinforcement.
Removing the Lag Time
Recognition programs are typically lagging reinforcers, and with longer lag times, the less effective becomes the reinforcement. To really have recognition drive performance, you need two things; you need to know what action you are looking to enforce, and you need to be there to catch them when they are doing it.
Food for thought, who should be the primary reinforcer? More about that in our next blog. Performance Leadership - Think About It!
In the process that I coach for Operational Excellence my favorite phase is when crews start to report and share results from their metrics. Many ask me why it is important to report results from the data the crew is collecting and there are many reasons but two big ones stand out. The first is that the act of reporting results continues to embed "ownership" of those results in the person reporting. Second, and this is particularly true if the group or team are all reporting at once, the reporter gets a clearer picture of how what they do fits into the overall company process and goals. They no longer see their results in isolation but rather as part of the bigger picture.
Boost Employee Engagement
From an engagement perspective, the first point is gold. Getting employees to own their results is a huge leap forward in terms of driving performance. Ramping up engagement beyond the average of 33% will already reap you big rewards that impact your bottom line.
Super Charge Innovation
However, this process gets "super-charged" when reporting happens in the larger team or group setting. A frac group I worked with hit this phase in full stride. Daily meetings went from two minutes to thirty minutes almost overnight. As results were shared members of the group began to make connections between what everyone was doing. Suddenly ideas to improve process or maintenance and downtime started coming out of these meetings. When a job was completed all the crews would meet for a post-frac review and they started developing opportunity lists from the things that had come up during the job. Everything from improvements to safety, processes, maintenance, and communication and even creating new pieces of equipment went on that list. With the support of the data collected within the team front line leadership were able to implement innovative new approaches to each of these areas.
The result was staggering. Performance burst into the 90% plus range and operational costs and times went down. One crew presented a request for a new piece of equipment that they could prove would save the company over $3M in one year alone! The biggest take away was the response of the clients. One client sent their VP of Operations to congratulate these crews on their outstanding performance and how they had been able to add 25% more wells to their completion cycle that year because of it. New clients heard about them and came knocking to sign them up. But the response that the crews valued the most came in the form of an observation made by one of the operations consultants for a client. He said, and I quote, "In over 30 years of work in this industry I have never seen a team operate at such a high level. You guys are absolutely the pointy tip of the spear concerning setting new standards of performance for what you do." High praise coming from an industry veteran - and you know in the "patch" those don't come easily!
Tap Into Your Tribal Knowledge
You better believe that this commentary circulated like wildfire around the crew and they approached every new job with a sense of enthusiasm and vigor. The reality is that there is a lot of useful knowledge (I call it tribal knowledge) circulating around a company. The ability to get your team to develop, track, and report on their metrics and tie that to company goals is key to finding and using that knowledge. Metrics move to tracking, which moves to reporting and on to innovating and developing new metrics, that how this cycle should fit together. Reporting is key to innovation, don't miss out on that part of your Operational Excellence cycle. Performance Leadership - Think About It!
"Hu" The Human Element of Organizational Effectiveness - Helping Your Team Create Meaningful Metrics
In my many years of providing mentoring and consulting I have come to learn one very important fact; The more steps, you require someone to learn in a new process the less likely you are to succeed. Implementing Organizational Effectiveness has a higher chance to succeed if the steps are limited, simple, and easy. Another way to put it is that complexity works against implementation.
What to Measure?
This is usually the first sticking point in the implementation process. Most people will have a hard time describing how what they do contributes to the success of the team or company. Even crew members who operate machinery vital to a process will have a hard time making this connection. Identifying high performing behaviors are a good place to start.
What You Can See And Count
With one crew I worked with there was a lot of specialized machinery and many specialized roles. To keep it simple they came up with measuring how many times maintenance was done each shift by the crews for each piece of equipment. Downtime was a big issue so counting the amount of times maintenance was done seemed a good place to start. Doing maintenance is a behavior that can be seen and counted. The expectation was that maintenance was happening and as it turned out - not so much. However, once they started tracking it they discovered that downtime began to drop. Why? Because tracking that behavior communicated its importance and how it related to the success of the crew. Tracking this behavior elevated it to a higher level of visibility with the crew and helped them grasp that they were accountable for that part of the success of the team.
In one restaurant the manager and staff decided to track smiles at the drive-through window. Their reasoning was that every encounter was an opportunity to boost client satisfaction (one of the restaurant goals). Smiles were recorded as checks on a napkin! (Remember the "simple is best" rule.)
One executive office support group tracked the number of times their client (VP, EVP, CFO, COO or CEO, etc.) asked for material for a meeting that had been set. They took the attitude that it was their job to have all materials prepared and in the hands of their boss before each meeting. They believed that if their boss was not constrained by these delays before meetings they would be more effective for the company. If a boss asked for something then the EA's regarded that as a missed opportunity to serve their client effectively.
With metrics, KPI's, or measures it is the same. The more user-friendly the reporting mechanism the easier it is to implement. How easy you ask? In most cases, it begins with hand-drawn graphs. Once staff, crew, or plant operators have an idea about what they want to measure I get them to make their own graphs to track it from shift to shift. These eventually move to a spreadsheet but the key is that each person creates their own tracking system (graph) that makes sense to them and is easy to input information into. It doesn't have to be high tech.
All that is left then is for you as a leader to allow them to report their results. This could be one on one as you spend time touching base with them. It could be at the start or end of shift meetings or regular staff meetings. Getting staff to report their results ties them clearly to what they are tracking and they "own" it much more quickly. The point is that these things don't need to be complicated. In fact, you should make sure they are not complicated. Once you do these things watch and see how your team will transform. Performance Leadership - Think About It!
Metrics are a powerful tool. As someone who has explored the use of metrics across a wide scope of industries and settings I can tell you that setting the environment for the use of metrics is key to giving them meaning and effectiveness. This is important for two reasons; first, you need the collectors of those metrics to view them as their own. Second, you need to provide a safe place for those metrics to happen.
Your Metrics or Their Metrics
Getting your staff or team to own their metrics is key to giving power to those measures. This is important for a number of reasons; one reason is it creates a linkage between crew or team metrics with the company or unit goals - they see how they contribute to the overall success of the group. When that takes place staff can now see themselves in the larger picture and understand better how they contribute. It also gives them a better sense of "team" where they can communicate better with regard to needs and issues. A good example of this was a group of plant operators who after going through a process review were challenged to come up with key pieces of information that they needed to do their job better. Once everyone knew where they fit into the bigger picture it was easier for them to say "I need x, y, and z from you so that I can be more effective on my shift.” What it translated into was a clear set of expectations and talking points for each cross shift meeting so that better communication enhanced overall performance.
Getting staff to "own" their metrics is the other part of making a metric a tool to drive performance. In one plant two crews took different approaches to this. The Plant Manager wanted more leadership from his floor leaders so that they spent less time "doing" tasks and more time "teaching" tasks. The challenge was presented to the supervisors and each was to come up with solutions. One supervisor went in and told his floor leaders that he wanted them to do more mentoring and he was going to be checking for that on a regular basis. He outlined the need and established a metric that they report back on the number of times they spent showing staff how to do things on each shift. It was hit or miss as the supervisor had to constantly remind his team about the metric but as soon as he left the floor things went back to the old way.
The other supervisor met with her team and brainstormed what a good metric would be for this challenge. They concluded that often the temptation was to do the task for an operator rather than a mentor because it was quicker. Because the floor leaders had been promoted through the ranks it was easy to just fall back into "doing" rather than teaching. They came up with an ingenious metric - bums! Every time a floor leader was spotted "head down and bum up" doing an operator job either a fellow floor leader or operator had the right to call them on it and the tally was totaled at the end of each shift. Because they had come up with this as a team and because it was the floor leader’s idea they really ran with it. Discussions that revolved around this were collegial and non-threatening and soon they were doing way more supervision and mentoring and the crew performance was also on an up curve! On a side note, those floor leaders moved to the front of the line for a promotion as well.
Let's be clear, these were both great crews and leadership but what was the difference? With the first crew the supervisor "owned" the metric and with the second crew the crew "owned" it. It was their idea and they were invested in making sure it succeeded. But what if the supervisors or the plant manager had been a couple of hard-nosed tyrants? Could either of those two scenarios have taken place? The short answer is no.
Making It Safe For Metrics To Work
The single biggest obstacle I face in my work with Operational Excellence is overcoming the residue from toxic work environments. Even when there is complete agreement at all levels about the need for the changes being undertaken it is hard to overcome some of the distrust that has been created in the past. The first question I typically get is "will the management be doing this too?" Asking someone to create and track a measure related to their performance is asking them to take a big risk. They know there will be good days but they also know there will be bad days. What happens on those bad days? Are the measures they are collecting going to be used against them?
In addition to teaching leaders how to get crews to develop their own metrics I also spend a lot of time teaching them how to respond to those metrics. The temptation is always to lead the discussion around a metric and fix whatever issue is at hand - wrong. Getting that crew member to explain their results (good, bad, or otherwise) and getting them to come up with a plan to improve a result is key to their success. If they ask by all means offer input but for the most part, let them report and run with it - that is part of getting them to own it.
When crews take these first steps one of the things leaders will come to me with is "the metric is too soft or too safe", that it doesn't give them the information they need. This is normal and again here is where a certain amount of poise and patience is needed. Crews will figure out on their own that their measure isn't giving them what they need. They will learn that metrics are dynamic. That is to say, they ought to be constantly evaluating in order to adjust to new challenges and needs. In addition, once a safe environment for measuring performance has been established you will find that the next move to fostering "innovation" will be much more seamless. Creating opportunities and potential innovations get easier when they lead with solid data and when they feel safe enough to contribute.
Get Your Metrics To Work For You
Metrics can be a powerful tool. I have seen them transform the way crews perform and in that transformation change entire processes for production. It is not easy and it does involve a time commitment at the front end of the process. However, when everything falls into place you will be amazed and how much of your time is freed up. Metrics don't just have to be a speedometer that measures how fast you are going right now but can be used as a motivator to get crews to aspire to break the next barrier to performance. What do your metrics do right now? Performance Leadership - Think About It!