We have been exploring the Hu (Human Element) or how we function as humans and leaders in a digital environment. We have places that make people work like machines. We have companies that have machines replacing people – witness the rise of digital order takers at various fast-food chains. But how do you get people to work and perform to their full potential as people? And why is this important?
In a word - demographics. Boomers are heading into retirement, Xers, Nexters, and Millennials are moving into the workplace, and the reality is that these demographic groups are much smaller than the boomers. What this means is that there will be increasing stress on companies to attract and retain good employees. Business competitiveness will now be as much of a function of staffing as it is about strategic or financial acumen.
Who is Looking?
Gallup’s latest offering, “The State of the American Workplace,” highlights both the problems and solutions that come with this new reality. At a time when the labor market is going to become increasingly competitive, research is showing that over 51% of people are actively looking for new jobs. Let that sink in for a minute.
What do you need to do to retain your staff? You need to engage them. Here is a quick snapshot from the Gallup findings; the top-quartile companies in terms of employee engagement see up to 59% lower turnover than their counterparts. They also have 70% fewer safety incidents, 17% higher productivity, 20% higher sales, and 21% higher profits. That is what engagement gets you.
So what does this new demographic want? What will keep them with you? They want work that lets them work in their areas of strength. They want more flexibility in the workplace in terms of things like flex time, working from home, and pursuit of professional and personal growth. And they want an authentic workplace and leadership that is willing to coach them.
Making Technology Work For You
In short, Millennials have decided to make technology work for them, not the other way around. They want to use technology to give them flexibility around work-life balance. They have to be connected during off-hours or on vacation, then why not take that a step further and actually work from home or other places away from the office?
One neat thing that Millennials are looking for is paid time to work independently on a project of their choosing. Remember our discussion around the satisfaction of accomplishment? This is one way this group chooses to deal with it; work on a project (that could be related to a company need or just a social need the company supports) in which they get to experience the satisfaction that comes with creating something meaningful in a Hu way.
Tapping Into A Different Mindset
There are several issues that Gallup has identified that really differentiate Millennials from the other demographic groupings, and I want to explore that in the next few blogs. Let me leave you with a teaser about what ramping up engagement can mean to your bottom line.
When looking at total Earned value Per Share (EPS) when comparing results from 2011-2013 and 2014-2015, here is what Gallup found.
-Publicly traded organizations that received the Gallup Great
Workplace Award experienced 115% growth in EPS, while their
competitors experienced a 27% growth over the same period.
-The actual EPS of the best-practice organizations grew at a rate
that was 4.3 times greater than that of their competitors.
-The best-practice organizations in the study had 11 engaged employees for every one actively disengaged employee. At the start of their engagement journey, these organizations had an average of two engaged employees for every one actively disengaged employee. Gallup – “State of the American Work Place” 2017
What are the pieces that leaders need to understand to drive this kind of engagement and these kinds of results? We will look at this more closely in the next blog. Hu Centered Leadership – Think About It!
Perhaps the best motivator for success is the satisfaction that comes with achievement. A sense of accomplishment is an analog experience and something that can be elusive in this digital age. When we think of how we experience a sense of accomplishment, we see this reflected in advertising and other media as the pride a craftsman gets from creating a well-made piece of furniture, knitting that sweater, and so on. To capture that feeling, we often harken back to pre-industrial times, where satisfaction and accomplishment came from what we created with our hands and skills.
Finding Our Way
I use commercials a lot in my coaching because I believe they are a reflection of what is prevalent in our society or what is longed for. One of my favorites had a potent combination of images and music where a song was being sung that spoke about finding my way home. Along with it were images of a woman manning a loom, a mechanic standing at his bench, a woman in front of her tractor, a boy skateboarding, and a girl skipping rope, all meant to convey a sense of accomplishment. It was a brilliant commercial, and I believe it tapped into a deep-seated need.
Are We Repeating The Same Mistakes?
Is it possible that we are repeating the excesses of the industrial revolution in the digital era? Much of the hardship of the industrial revolution was about the move from craftsmanship to the assembly line. From a pastoral setting and pace to the hectic race to keep up with the machines. Workers, often entire families – women and children included – lived a stone's throw from the factory that owned their house, provided their food, and kept them at work often 18 hours a day! Those conditions were brought about by an idea that the worker had to keep up with what the machine could do.
Gone was the sense of accomplishment and the satisfaction that came with it. People were simply parts of the assembly line that pumped out products that they could neither appreciate nor afford.
Rise Of The Machines
Much like the industrial era, the digital revolution has created an environment where we must keep pace with the machines. What are the issues we are grappling with today? Should you turn your phone off when you are not at work? Do you have time to take a vacation? (Yes, statistics show that holidays are on the decline.) Even more alarming is that when you do take time off, you are still connected to work!
Ask someone what they do, and they will give you a job title, but few can point to a product. Is it any wonder then that we long for the experience of accomplishment and the satisfaction that comes with it? Are we any less constrained by the digital machines than we were by the iron ones?
Can Millennials Lead The Way?
Next blog, we will look at how the Millennials have come up with some solutions to this need and how we, as leaders, can help our teams tap into that sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. Yes, these things are not only possible but are vital components of the Hu element of organizational effectiveness. Hu centered leadership - think about it.
How we perceive.
When you look at those two lines, you see them as having different lengths. The one on top is longer, and the one on the bottom as being shorter. The reality is that both are exactly the same length. You can measure them, and your mind will still tell you they are not the same. The measures don't lie, but often our minds will trick us. One of the most fascinating aspects of the work I do is the interplay between the role of metrics in driving performance improvement and the role of Hu (Human Elements) in terms of culture, upbringing, and intuition in fighting against it.
Our wiring may inhibit us.
Sometimes these perspectives are so ingrained that we don't even think about it when we are doing it. In one case, I recall a crew in the oil and gas industry who were setting records with performance. In 30 days of operation, they had 17 perfect days in a row! No downtime, no equipment failures, no safety incidents, no issues at all. This had never happened in the history of that company or the history of the client company. Yet, the area manager continued to operate from a traditional perspective that told her that crews needed to be ridden, criticized, and scrutinized.
She moved up the hard way, and her experience and training told her there was the only way to get crews to perform. Every visit to the site required that she find some kind of fault, some issue, so she could "rip them a new one." I pointed out the performance data, but it was as if she could not trust the metrics that were telling her the story, that her experience could not allow for what she was seeing. Fortunately, she eventually came around and became a great practitioner of performance management, and fortunately, too, she had crew leaders who were able to shield the crews from the negativity until she did.
We all do it.
This happens in every industry and every sector, from operations to the C - Suites. It does not have to be a negative outlook; it can involve things like making choices for new hires or promotions. Companies develop exhaustive sets of metrics to try and tease out the best candidates, but often, at those crucial moments when the metrics tell you to go one way, you go the other. In the movie money ball, the scouts for the baseball club looked at things like how good-looking the player's girlfriend was to measure confidence. The influence of the "halo effect" and "confirmation bias" is starting to be explored and factored into our decision making, but our minds and the way we make choices still complicate issues.
Recognize and Trust
Two things to take away from this short analysis is this; knowing that you will bring bias into your decisions and developing a robust set of metrics to guide you are two excellent ways to avoid running contrary to what the numbers are telling you. If you don't trust your analytics, change them so that you do. Understand the tendency to bring bias into decision making and look for ways to combat it, like having hiring teams who are allowed to speak freely and make a case for or against choices presented.
Instinct or Numbers
I have done this a long time, and trust me when I say that having established metrics around the things you need for making decisions, you are going to be confronted at times with results that run totally contrary to what your instincts are telling you. Will you go with the numbers or with your gut? Hu centered leadership - think about it.
Let's review what we have explored in this discussion so far. A leader's role is to create coherence, to provide meaning and context for their company. Arising out of that is creating a climate of consistency and safety so that staff can experiment and innovate. You will notice incredible changes on your team by this point, but now the work of "setting" this performance in place as a permanent feature of your company begins.
You must create a culture for tackling challenges as the first phase of making continuous improvement sustainable. We all want to do good work, and we want to know where we stand with our peers, our boss, and the competition. We are competitive creatures by nature. You don't have to look too far to see evidence of this. A good portion of our leisure time (and for some of us not so leisure - lol!) involves activities around either participating in or watching sports or games of some type. Have you ever gone out for an evening of bowling and not kept score? How about golf or hockey? Competitiveness is woven into the fabric of what makes us human.
As a leader, you need to tap into that wiring to compete. Let me add a quick caution here before going on. You cannot skip coherence and climate and jump straight to challenge. Too many well-meaning leaders have torn the fabric of their companies or groups to shreds with misguided competitions that actually inhibit performance rather than drive it. Once you have created the context for the team and ensured a safe climate to pursue innovation, then you can look at using challenge.
Whose Metric Is It Anyway?
Where does that start? It begins with you, but it is initiated with each and every staff member. What does that mean? By this point, you should have a pretty good idea of what you need each of your staff doing to promote and achieve the goals of the group or company. The way you confirm that is to get them to set their own metrics for performance. Getting your staff to set their own metrics is vital for several reasons. First, it will confirm to you that everyone is on the same page and align with your goals or the company goals. If they aren't, you get the opportunity to guide those staff through a "coarse adjustment" so that their metrics come into alignment with your goals, and they see how they fit.
Second and more importantly, having staff develop their own metrics will allow you to tap into that competitive nature we all have. You can give them metrics to be sure, but they will be "your" metrics and not theirs. Let them develop their own metrics (under your discrete guidance), and they will "own" them.
Keep It Simple
Keep a couple of things in mind. Metrics should be simple, measurable, and tied to achieving group or company goals, and they must be personal. That is to say that each staff should be tracking their metrics but ensure they know they are competing against themselves and not others on the team.
Be There But Listen, Don't Talk
When I have walked leaders through this, I tell them to develop the habit of visiting staff daily and getting them to explain their metrics and how they are tracking them. I instruct them to let their employees do the talking. When folks show their metrics (and you have created the right climate), they will be eager to discuss their performance. Also, they are now driving their own improvement, and you only need to provide encouragement.
This phase must be allowed to grow organically. Don't push it, but let staff become comfortable with the metrics. Eventually, a team conversation will start regarding those metrics. That's when the magic will really begin to happen.
The next step toward this sustainability is about using the information that your staff has been collecting. This really becomes a milestone in the process of establishing continuous improvement. While there may be many ways of achieving this, I have found that the most successful approach can be broken into two pieces.
Build It Into The Schedule
First, establish regular meetings with your staff around performance. If you are in operations, that will most likely take the form of pre or post-shift meetings. If you are corporate, it could be in the form of weekly or bi-weekly sessions. In each case, time must be made for staff to report on performance in their area and discuss with peers overall group performance.
Focus On Goals Not People
I cannot overstate the crucial role you and your leaders will have in this process! The nature of these meetings must be focused on group goals and performance in a frank and non-judgmental spirit. Demeaning or negative comments directed at specific individuals must be avoided at all costs as your goal is to solidify that safe climate. Your access to this crucial information is very much incumbent on making sure it is safe for staff to share it.
You will need to be patient, as this may seem awkward at first. I have timed some of these initial meetings where a group of 20 operators took a grand total of one minute and forty seconds to cover all the areas of operations! Yet within short order, with the patient guidance of their supervisor, those meetings grew into very detailed, 30-minute sessions where everyone left everyone informed and ready to perform.
As this sharing of information begins to take shape, the second and equally important piece is the development of an opportunities list. Your group or team will start to share information, and often as one expresses frustration over one area, another will have experience and knowledge to share concerning possible solutions. I call it tribal knowledge - that collective wisdom that is dormant in the group and generally untapped.
The "Gold" Of Opportunity Lists
A lot of this sharing of ideas will be informal, but you will find as the group matures that more solutions will be generated for improving processes or performance. Those need to go onto an opportunities list. This list will become a metric in its own right as you and your team move through addressing and exploring these ideas for improvement.
This list, and what you do with it, is the "gold" that you have been carefully cultivating on your team. It is the heart of continuous improvement, and each and every idea regardless of how small it may seem has an actual dollar value attached to it. This can be done in small groups, or it can be done across entire companies. There is no limit to what can be achieved, as long as you and your leaders remember to provide coherence, a safe climate, and a challenge to overcome. Hu centered leadership - think about it.
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!