“When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.” Dalai Lama
Before everyone's eyes glaze over let me set the context for this. What I mean is that you should be listening in the active or intentional sense.
I believe that those closest to the action are best able to identify the issues and opportunities. People want to do a good job and nothing is as frustrating as seeing a potential issue or opportunity and not having a structure in place to share it. As humans, we want to contribute and to help out. If you have been implementing the Hu element then by this point, you have staff measuring performance, you are touching base with them through micro-meetings and you are holding them accountable for tracking and improving that performance. The next key part of that journey is to listen to what they are telling you and if necessary be an advocate for their ideas.
Listening is NOT Chasing Opinions
Let's be clear managers and leaders deal with "suggestions" all the time and much of the time the "suggestions" fall into the "in my opinion" category. An opinion is something that is unsubstantiated and so using up time to listen to one is frustrating. However, by this time your team is tracking performance metrics and discussing findings. They should now have data to back up what they are seeing, whether it is a potential problem or an opportunity. Too often we allow ourselves to chase opinions without having the "numbers" or the data to back it up. This should not be the case with your team. They will be able to make a pretty compelling argument using the data they have collected so don't let that go to waste.
Listening IS Providing A Structure for Input
Often this aspect of your listening will begin with something brought up in a micro-meeting or when you are having staff share performance measures with you. These are the venues that are "gold" with regard to listening. It is an opportunity for you to affirm the work of your staff and to provide direction too. If, for example, someone presents a thought regarding a process that looks promising but still lacks data to validate it then you have a perfect chance to give direction about what sorts of numbers you want that would provide you with the comfort to make the change or take it to the next level. They will chase those numbers down because they are now invested in making sure they can provide support for their idea. This also becomes an affirmation that they are a part of the team and whether the idea sees the light of day or not they got a chance to contribute. That matters!
Listening IS Intentional
Often in my discussions with leaders, they tend to take a casual approach to this issue. We all think we spend a lot of time listening to our staff. The difference is that you need to be intentional. There are several reasons for this but let me share just a couple.
We Don't Listen As Much As We Think We Do
In several studies conducted on the issue of communication, a group of managers and leaders were asked to rate their level of communication with their staff. In addition, they were asked to list the various ways that they communicate and how many times they communicate regarding an issue. Managers felt that they were good at this skill and many cited emails and meetings as the primary tools for communicating. In this study, their staff too were given surveys on how well they viewed their manager's communication skills and the results were interesting. Where most managers used on average two or three methods to communicate a piece of important information it was found that to do this effectively they needed to layer their communication at least 7-10 different ways or times! The kicker though was that most managers emphasized communication as the dissemination of information to staff and staff put more emphasis on communication as the dissemination of information from staff to management. On this issue, they were miles apart! It was far more important to staff that they be able to communicate easily and openly with leadership than those leaders had realized.
If You Don't Track It, It Won't Happen
The other reason for being intentional about your communication is that in the rush of day to day activities it is easy to let things slide on the listening side. You need to make a list or set a schedule that you hold so that you "know" you are getting out and listening to your staff. It is too easy to get caught up in administratia and come to the end of a day a realize you haven't really seen anybody.
You want a team that is engaged and performing and if you have provided some key pieces to make that happen through tracking, accountability, and micro-meetings, then giving them a structure that provides an opportunity to share with you and contribute to team goals is a natural outgrowth of that process. If you don't provide it the result will be the same as starving a fire of air. You can provide fuel and heat but without air, it won't last. Take the time to listen. It is truly a key component to ramping up the "Hu" element on your team. Performance Leadership - Think About It!
"Accountability is the glue that ties commitment to the result." Bob Proctor
The most challenging behavior to master with regard to harnessing the human element is getting you and your team to embrace accountability. This has several layers of meaning that need to be extracted so that you understand what I mean by accountability. Certainly, it means monitoring and holding your people accountable for their KPIs or performance objectives but it also means being vulnerable as a leader as well as getting your team to be vulnerable around behavior dealing with team performance such as admitting mistakes, needing help, or just saying sorry.
Accountability is Hard!
It is not by accident that embracing accountability is not often written about. I won’t sugar coat it, this is the hardest behavior to master. In fact, statistically, this is the biggest challenge that leaders face over all the other behaviors that they need to develop. We all tend to get uncomfortable with the idea of calling someone out for a behavior or a performance issue.
If you are like most of us (and I mean most of us) you are not going to want to hold that team member accountable for negative or non-productive behavior. Rather you will probably make note of it during your meetings or say something in passing to others on the team or in your department. Regardless of how you try to spin it this is indicative of a lack of respect as there is nothing respectful about withholding information from a peer that could help them improve their performance.
Accountability is Affirming
The biggest affirmation you can give your team or staff is to hold them accountable. If you think about it from a personal perspective wouldn’t you want to be told that something you were doing or not doing was not only noted by your peers but was impacting their ability to do their jobs as well?
This will date me a little, but concerning walking in that mutual vulnerable trust let me use this old adage – “Only your friend will tell you when your fly is open or your slip is showing.” As difficult as it may seem, the idea of holding each other accountable for behavior that impacts the team has to be done and is one of those indicators of a strong and cohesive team.
Accountability is Respectful
Once you have your team tracking their own metrics around their performance you must hold them accountable. What that does NOT mean is walking up and looking at their charts tracking their metrics and tearing them "a new one." What is does mean is asking them to show you how they are doing, getting them to explain the highs and the lows (something they will want to do given a safe environment), and by asking them what their plan is to improve the problem areas they have identified. You can also keep the door open to them should they decide they need help - but let them tackle their issues first. A healthy team will come to understand that truth and embracing accountability will come easier as they practice it. It is ultimately the highest form of respect.
No, it never gets easy, just easier, and once you have experienced working on a team that is cohesive and healthy and that practices embracing accountability you will wonder how you ever managed to get things done any other way. And what’s more, it will be rewarding, enriching, and fun! It's all about tapping into that "Hu" element. How accountable are you and your team? Performance Leadership – Think About It!
“One way to keep momentum going is to have constantly greater goals.” —Michael Korda
If you want to change something you have to track it. Don't believe me try improving your golf game or your bowling score without tracking the score! Setting goals and rising to a challenge is a key part of our wiring as humans. For example, 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 don't lose weight I lose 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 stinkers! I have learned that these calories are important and I need to track them.
Pick Something To Track
The same is true with your team. Each of them has a role to play and things to do that either advance the team's pursuit of its overall goals or inhibit that pursuit. You will have a pretty good idea of what you want each member of your team to set as goals and what to track. Key in this discussion is that each of them has to make that determination on their own and they have to see the need for them. 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, COO's fully briefed and ready for each meeting. However, you need them to see the importance of tracking hits and misses on that metric and you need to create the climate for your team to experiment and honestly track those things.
You may guide the conversation but they should own the metric they want to track. Using the above example, the easiest metric would be to simply count the number of successful meeting preps vs 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. The failed meetings serve as a platform for them to drill down to discover why they failed and come up with solutions to try for the next meeting. If they are afraid to admit failure to you and hide it, you all lose. You have to give them the comfort to say they failed and also the accountability to come up with a solution. What is wonderful about this process is what amazing things will get discovered in those "post" meeting analysis and the solutions they will come up with to ensure success.
Don't 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 very large site. Golf carts don't go that 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 in construction the upper management, who were 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 particularly bright engineer suggested they ask the crews what might be done about this issue. Guess what 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 one-month suspension of cart use (that’s a lot of walking) for every incident. Because it was "their" idea the crews owned it and safety incidents all but disappeared. This was the crew's goal and they took it on and completed it.
Success Breeds Success
Regardless of what your team does whether it be front line operations or something in the corporate or office setting there are goals that they can be setting and pursuing. Once they do they will succeed and nothing breeds success like success. If it is important to the progress of your team measure it and set some goals. Setting goals and overcoming the challenge is a key human characteristic. Performance Leadership - Think About It!
"The greatest complement that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer." Henry David Thoreau
Ramping up team engagement (a “Hu” element indicator) is one of those activities that many talk about but few know how to start. That is because developing employee engagement is one of those "soft" skills that they don't tell you about when you move into a leadership role. It is a big area of concern because the research and data on this topic are alarming. According to Gallup global employee engagement sits at 18% and North American engagement sits at 33%! Think of it this way, at best you get one to two days’ worth of real engagement from your staff each week. Does that put it in a more tangible context for you? This issue is similar to the research that tells us that as humans we really only use about 10% of our brain's capacity. Decades of study have been put into trying to figure out how to tap into that other 90%. The good news is that with employee engagement there are answers that are fairly straight forward and easy to put into place that will see your team's engagement soar!
Micro Meetings Starting At The End
Micro meetings are really an example of using many of the upcoming engagement tips we are going to discuss, all at once. I am going to take a counter-intuitive approach with this set of articles and start with this rather than end with it. Why? Because it is something that every manager can start doing now without even knowing what the other techniques are. What will become apparent though, is that as you learn some of these techniques you will see how easily they can be inserted into a micro-meeting.
This is also counter-intuitive in that adding another meeting to a schedule that is probably jam-packed with meetings seems like a bad idea. I have consulted in companies where I added up my meeting hours and out of a 40 hour week I had close to 28 hours booked with meetings - and that was the norm! So I get it - adding a meeting seems like a bad idea.
What IS Micro-meeting?
A micro-meeting is not your typical meeting. It is in reality a touchpoint during the day and not much more than that. Many places I have consulted they actually have micro-meetings although they don't call them that and don't even view them as meetings - they are and that this the beauty of it! In one place the operations guys would meet outside the shop first thing in the morning for a "smoke" break. This is a routine they had done for years. They visit, joke, talk about sports or family AND talk about what is happening in the shop. They share problems and discuss solutions, plan for the day, and then go to work. This is not formal, it is not planned and it usually lasts between 3-5 minutes! What is interesting is that the moment someone suggested a formal meeting at the start of each day the team balked at it as a waste of time - lol!
So a micro-meeting is exactly what these guys were doing - informally. Visiting, touching base, providing some social affirmation that they were part of the team (I wanted to throw some psychology in there to give that some weight!) and yes, discussing issues and brainstorming solutions. This should be organic and should flow naturally. Of course, introducing the idea of a micro-meeting to the team is going to sound formal and anything but organic so here are some options.
Looking For The Setting
Look for times during the workday where part or most of your team tends to congregate. It could be a break around the water cooler, or for a smoke break or at the coffee shop/breakroom - you get the picture. If you are already doing this informally and did not realize it then great, if not then start and for the first while at least, just listen. Soon enough you will be invited to provide feedback on something I guarantee it. Again this is not about being sneaky but it is about avoiding "formality" and building a relationship (remember that “Hu” element?). Look for when folks take a break and take a break with them. If you haven't figured this out yet you may need to do this a couple of times during your day just to make sure you have touched base with everyone on your team. In some cases what happens too is that people find out the "boss" is hanging with the group in the coffee room and eventually everyone wants to be there because it is an opportunity to have the "bosses" ear. Taking the time to just visit and listen is valuable on its own merit so if it stays at that level initially don't worry about it.
Take The Direct Approach
If those types of gatherings are not happening or don't lend themselves well to your situation don’t worry. It is okay to take the direct approach. Work with your team to come up with a time that would work for a daily micro-meeting. Give them the biggest say on this as you will need their buy-in and assure them it will never be more than a few minutes, 5-10 tops. Use it as a touchpoint but remember to also let your team visit a bit and do what you can to keep things as organic as possible. What you want from this micro-meeting are two things; first, build relationship and second take the pulse for what is happening on the team. Listen to what they are sharing and facilitate getting them to come up with solutions when issues arise. Where you can, support those decisions. Keep it short, be supportive, and it's okay to provide some direction too when needed.
Keep it Short
I know I keep stressing to keep it short because it can get away on you. With one group when they started their meetings ran usually less than two minutes - I know because I timed them! But as the team and the manager became comfortable and they began to see the value in the meeting it got to the point where it ran almost 45 minutes (their choice). You will be tempted to go longer because everyone is going to be invested but you can now harness that investment at the more formal regular team meetings.
You may be thinking to yourself can 5 to 10 minutes really make that kind of difference in engagement? It does! We are going to look at how this fits into the other tips for effective engagement in the next few articles. You are going to find that your team is going to blossom with the attention and you are going to start getting information that lets you stay in front of issues rather than chasing them down with a fire hose. You will be amazed at how accounting for the “Hu” element on your team can make such a difference! Performance Leadership - Think About It!
"The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place." - George Bernard Shaw
What you say matters
One of the biggest challenges that I see business leaders face is the issue of "what" and "how much" information to share with their team and with their clients. For most who move into leadership because of their skills on the team, this is particularly true. Those folks you once complained with and vented with, are now "your" team and suddenly that type of activity could not only be counter-productive but very much a CLM (Career Limiting Move)!
What’s more, is suddenly you may also see what you communicate up the line to be something more problematic than it used to be. Do you share the issues you are dealing with and risk looking like a weak leader? Do you say nothing and hope you can resolve the issues on their own or better yet hope that those issues will simply go away? I always wondered why communication was considered a soft skill - lol!
Who do you emulate?
If you are in a healthy company or organization you will have a good pool of leaders to watch and emulate which in most places is how the art of communication is passed on. Open communication built on trust and vulnerability makes this skill so much easier to master. By that, I mean those types of groups where you can ask your question and not feel awkward. No one expects perfection just improvement and that comes with being transparent about the issues at play.
If you are in a company or group that is not healthy you will still have a pool of leaders to watch and emulate it's just that the things they pass along may not enhance your skills in this area.
These are the leaders who never really transitioned to a full understanding of their new role. They will share information and vent with their team much more than they should. The reason for this will be varied but typically they feel that it keeps the team on side with them. It may be an effective short term solution but upper management may see it as a negative.
Some leaders will be information hoarders who see this as a commodity and use it to advance their career or group goals. They become the informal conduits of information. This can clog up the flow of needed communication and certainly is a performance inhibiter.
Some will be the "keep your head down and mouth shut" type of leader who will strive to stay out of the limelight (good or bad). They take the approach that as long as the team doesn't lag behind the others and doesn't draw attention to themselves they can't get into trouble. Not bad per se just not performance.
And some leaders will be what I call the plumbers; delivering solid waste down and solid waste up. They think that leadership consists of berating and driving performance through threats and criticism. They think too that communicating the deficiencies of certain people on their crew up the line is a great way to demonstrate that they are "on top of things". It is a fear-driven approach to communication that is premised at some deep level upon the idea that as long as they are doing the shoveling of the solid waste none will land on them.
Right Is Not Always Easy
The question I am sure that has crossed your mind is how do you perform as an open and transparent leader in an organization that is not known for that? In one company that I worked with I had a group of young leaders that I was coaching in Operational Excellence. Of that group, a couple had decided they wanted to embrace my approach wholeheartedly. They were the newest leaders in the bunch and were at the bottom of the totem pole so to speak. And yes, this company was not an open and transparent communication type of company.
While some of the older leaders in that group had become practiced at being "plumbers" these two new leaders went the other way. In each case, I saw transformational changes on their teams as they took to the new approach. It garnered a lot of criticism among some of their leadership peers but what could not be argued with was the improved results that they achieved. They upheld the company goals and explained them to the team in terms that related to them and how their work was relevant. They upheld their teams to upper management in terms of how they were striving to meet company goals and advance the bottom line. The result was remarkable and within a short span of time, they were rewarded with more senior positions. It only took two (and often it only takes one) to be willing to step out of their comfort zone to get others to take a new look at how they communicate. It wasn't easy but it was right.
Whether you have been in leadership for a while or are just moving into it examine how your company communicates, how you communicate and make sure you understand how to make your communication work for you and for your team. The need to be in sync with the company and the team and to know you are contributing is at the core of good communication and a key part of the "Human" (Hu) factor for improving workplace culture. Performance Leadership - Think About It!
There is an old Chinese proverb that states “May you be cursed to live in interesting times.” Well to say we live in interesting times would be an understatement. Whether it be COVID, the growing divide in society - literally everywhere, the breakdown of trust in our governments, in our media, the failing economy, climate concerns, and growing “tribalism” around any number of issues, I think it would be fair to say we are faced today with a myriad of problems that no other generation has encountered.
Most of us used to simply shrug our shoulders, put our heads down and keep moving forward. After all, if things didn’t really impact us, didn’t touch us why worry? Not so anymore. And to educate ourselves, to stay informed to find the information to stay anchored in these uncertain times we have found too that information is harder to find, and harder to verify as even in this realm everything has been divided into competing camps of “fake news.” Certainly, in Canada and much of the Western World trust in the MSM is at an all-time low as all pretense of objectivity has been tossed out the window and trying to find the “truth” in all the noise is getting harder to do. (Not to mention the Orwellian tendencies currently of “redefining” terms and phrases that once had a common understanding into something that has become foreign and double-speak to most.)
So let’s see if we can break things down into something much simpler to understand. First, society can be divided into two groups – those who build and those who tear down. One is really hard to do and the other we do all the time with ease. (You don't have to learn to tear something down.) No one ever says they are for destruction (except for Marxists and anarchists – but that is for another time) and everyone likes to say they are for progress and growth. The words are said, but do the actions align with them? My advice then is when examining the validity of something look at the actions that go with that group, are they building or are they tearing down?
Second, let’s examine a second filter, truth-telling. This on the face of it may seem a difficult if not impossible task but with some careful examination is actually pretty easy to do. Truth-telling is revealed in what I call the internal consistency of one's actions. Like building or tearing down, actions often betray a lie (internal inconsistency). For example, if they say they are for women’s rights but have actions that betray that statement then are a liar and not a truth-teller. If you have a group that claims they are for tolerance and understanding but have actions that demonstrate intolerance even toward one group, then they fall into the “non-truth telling” category and their words should be viewed with skepticism.
We all have an internal consistency where our actions will inevitably reveal our true attitude and perspective. This is not a new concept and so, for example, generations of people were encouraged to have long engagements so that those contemplating a life together could ascertain through their partner's actions whether their “talk and walk” lined up.
These are just two simple ways to remove some of the noise that can get in the way of figuring things out. Of understanding what is happening in the world around us. And, who or what group is actually building and truth-telling? You may not agree with them but at least you will know you are getting the straight goods from them, and that's a start.
There are so many definitions of operational excellence out there. They share common traits such as bringing a sustainable culture that brings process and results all together to align operations with company goals and objectives to give the company a competitive advantage. In my training that is broken down into coherence (culture), challenge (measures & processes), and continuity (sustainability). What many don't have though is the missing link that pulls it all together - behavior.
Operational Excellence as a Habit
One of my favorite quotes concerning excellence is from Aristotle. “We are what we do repeatedly. Excellence then is not an act but a habit.” I find this to be a very true statement. Habits are powerful sets or sequences of behavior that either inhibit or enhance performance. Our habits inform so much of our daily living that we often do them without even the smallest thought. We see that played out when we seek to go outside of our daily routine. If, for instance, I need to do an errand that requires me to drive somewhere other than my regular route to work I find from time to time that I have taken my work route instead of the new route simply out of habit.
If Aristotle is right, and I believe he is, then as leaders we need to examine what our staff does in terms of habits that impact performance. What that means is we need to break down what they do into a series of behaviors that, together, produce the action or product we are looking for. These can include what we used to refer to as "intangibles" (they are not) such as things like teamwork or work ethic or they can include very specific actions that relate to production such as work on a production line or in a plant.
These habits can enhance performance but, in many cases, these habits can also inhibit performance. In his excellent analysis of the London King’s Cross Underground subway fire Charles Duhigg in his book “The Power of Habit” takes apart the behaviors and habits that had formed on the teams responsible for ensuring safety in the subway system. What he discovered was that over the course of time, policies and habits came into play that prevented the teams from being able to respond rapidly to an emergency and in this case to a fire. Those habits prevented the team from appreciating the scope of the emergency and many died as a result.
Two things came out of the findings; first the need to transform the culture of the staff that worked on the subway and two the need to come up with a better process that would allow them to be much more agile in responding to a crisis. Operational Excellence is what is used to help operations leaders transform their team culture and TARP is one tool that can be used to ensure agile and quick responses to issues when they arise.
Cues, Reinforcement & TARP
Habits and the behaviors that make them up revolve around a "cue" and a "result" or "reinforcement." The cue prompts the habit and the result of reinforcement ensures that the habit will happen again. Tony Dungy one of the most successful NFL coaches created Super Bowl-winning teams through the development of key habits and the behaviors that went with them. He identified the "cues" that he wanted his linemen to key on, the behaviors that followed the "cue" and how that would lead to the result he wanted. He wanted these habits ingrained much like the way we don't think about the route we take going to work, so his players wouldn't "think" about what to do when a "cue" happened they would just "do" the behavior they needed to. In a game where milliseconds matter that approach gave his team a decided edge and produced spectacular results.
This approach is commonly used for folks involved in high-risk activities such as the military, first responders, pilots, and safety personnel. If you saw the recent movie "Sully" you would have witnessed how actions in the cockpit are governed by habits and the behaviors they drive that is so ingrained that even in a dire emergency (in fact "because" of the emergency - a cue) habits kick into gear and they quickly go through a long list of things to do. Many involved in the world of Safety and Accident Prevention are now using this technique through what they call the TARP method. TARP is an acronym for Trigger Action Response Plan and essentially what it encompasses is identifying a series of ‘triggers’ and actions that should happen automatically as part of a preconceived response plan to the event. We do it all the time with fire drills where the fire is the trigger and the actions are pulling the alarm, evacuate the team, and call 911. We plan and practice this so that as a behavior it becomes a habit.
This is where Operational Excellence and TARP complement each other. Creating a continuous improvement culture on your team gives them the freedom to explore new and better processes and equips them to work together to create TARPs that work. The more eyes on the issue the better. To go to our Seniors Facilities title an OE culture and TARP process would have equipped seniors care teams to consider things like highlighting staff who worked across various facilities as a potential gap in safety, looking at processes that could be COVID transmittal conduits or by evaluating how resident safety could be impacted by bringing seniors from the community into the facility as a precaution. More than anything a robust TARP process would have given each team a clear mandate and plan for dealing with an infectious outbreak and what to do about it going forward.
You cannot predict all the things that your team may encounter but you can create a culture that gives everyone permission to speak into the process and provide them with the training and habits to successfully deal with it. Performance Leadership - Think About It!
As we head into the roaring ’20s two trends are emerging in leadership and business; one trend says that people are assets that can be added or subtracted from the company balance sheet depending on the needs of the shareholders or executive team. The other trend sees people as valued partners in the business and key components to its success.
If you are in the first category stop reading, I am not interested in talking with you. The practices that you use are what contribute to so much of the cyclical nature of our market. It devalues people and in a world with a shrinking labor supply is a “short game” mentality. You will lose your best talent, constantly struggle to keep afloat and in the end, the word will get out and no one will want to work in your organization. Harsh words I know but true.
If you are in the second category you are also facing these challenging times. How do you keep your team intact, weather the storm and come out stronger on the other side? You recognize that people are what are going to make your company successful and you are taking the “long game” approach. By fostering loyalty and engagement on your team you have attracted top talent to your company. The word is out that your company is a quality place to work and you never lack for people knocking at your door looking to join your team – even in a “thin” labor market. You are the kind of leader I want to talk with. There are options for dealing with the current market and there is a way to do this. Let me give you a short example.
In the 1980s a family-run mid-west manufacturing company found themselves facing a severe market downturn. They were confronted with the harsh reality of making major cuts to stay solvent and ride out the storm. They wrestled with the option of cutting staff, many of whom had worked with the company for their entire working lives. They went back and forth looking for any kind of solution and finally, loyalty to their team prevailed.
Rather than embark on a series of lay-offs and downsizing, they went to their employees. They brought in the key mid and front-line leadership explained the issue and where they were and how they wanted to keep staff. They worked with their staff and after several weeks of discussion and research the staff came back with a solution; they would all take voluntary (temporary) pay cuts and longer extended vacations (without pay) as long as everyone (executive included) would participate.
It was a risk, but it was the solution they went with. What was most interesting about this approach was because the leadership bore the burden with the team, the team stepped up in amazing ways! Those who could afford more unpaid time off traded with those who say had young families and could not. They also identified ways to produce operational cost savings. Lastly and most interesting it opened the lines of communication up and down the organization and several astute observations from line staff produced new revenue streams for the company. This not only got them through the storm but enabled them to be in a much stronger position afterward.
None of those things would have happened if they had taken the first approach. Let me state this again, if you are one of those leaders looking to take the second approach please reach out to me, I would love to talk with you!
I recall a few years ago when my in-laws ranch was inundated by the flooding Red Deer river. This was a full fledged cattle ranch and everything of value was located perilously close to the river bank. We came down to help move equipment and livestock and whatever we could do. Folks from the nearby town of Trochu and surrounding area showed up with trucks and equipment to make earth berms and so on. Over all it was pretty impressive.
While I was thinking about it one comment stood out and it was about how folks stepped up because of the circumstances and the urgency of the need. The word that caught my attention was "urgency".
How many times have we faced challenges in our work or business and found those gems among our staff who stepped up and met the challenge head on? Those folks who operated with a sense urgency and who revealed the depth of their character through trying circumstances. It makes me wonder too why it takes something like an emergency or a challenge to bring this out in people? How would your business look if your people all operated with a sense of urgency with regard to their roles and tasks?
Why Wait For An Emergency?
Finding people who have that sense of urgency already wired into their make up is the ideal but what about those you already have on staff how do you develop that behavior? You can't create emergencies to drive this kind of behavior but you can create a challenge.
The most powerful group at creating challenges by far is the electronic gaming industry and therein lies the clue to how to do this. I have seen folks devote hours of spare time on a game on their phone or on their computer just develop the skills to "move to the next level". The challenges in the game create that sense of urgency ($16B worth of urgency last year alone!) and players work to develop skills and get instant and immediate feedback on whether that skill has been enhanced.
You may not be able to "game" the scenarios at work but you can use the same principle - metrics. Helping someone to identify and develop metrics around their role and the activities associated with it is a powerful tool for creating a challenge and in helping to develop a sense of urgency. The key to this is that metrics are used to inform that person on their performance on a day to day basis. They aren't competing against others but rather against how they did yesterday. It is the same principle whether you are playing Candy Crush or tracking response times to client requests.
Does your team exhibit that sense of urgency? If not, how are you helping them to develop it? Performance Leadership - Think About It!
I attended a Gallup presentation the other day that explored data on who are the happiest people in the world? There were some really interesting things that came out of that discussion. For example it is Latin American countries that are leading this index occupying the majority of the top spots. What was really interesting as they drilled down into the data for most first world nations was that happiness seemed to be tied to median income and their take on this was that this was not tied so much to money as to purpose. In looking closer at this they concluded most of us see our purpose as connected to our work hence the strong tie to income.
Do We Find Purpose In Our Work?
This got me thinking; is this a true statement? Do we find our purpose in work? Do we get to the end of our life and say "I wish I had worked more?" I don't think so but I do think that there are clues found in this research that point to some things that may reveal a bit more about the work/purpose connection.
Building Personal Life Around Work Is Not The Answer
When we first start out, work carries a different meaning for us because that is where we forge our first professional friendships and those are important and certainly become part of our social life as well as professional life. As you progress though, you discover that friends and work colleagues move on to other companies and often those relationships fall by the wayside. You realize that building a personal life around work can be frustrating and at times unrewarding.
However A Happy Work Life = Happy Home Life
A good example is the recent research revealing that millennials a far more willing to move to companies where they feel part of a team, a social network and where they feel appreciated and are doing something vital. They often will give preference to those issues over salary considerations. It is not that they are building their life around work but that in finding purpose in their work they enhance their home life. In fact, new studies have turned on its head the idea that work/life balance which at one point suggested happy homes (life) created happier workers. In fact research shows it is the opposite where happy workers tend to be happier at home and enjoy life much more as a result. The question becomes then, how do we make happy workers?
This challenge really has always been with us. If you work in the "patch" or any other industry sector you know that when people move, often they will have a cohort of friends or colleagues move with them. Success was the purpose and some refined this to an art; buying start ups, bringing in their teams, building the company and selling for profit and then doing it all over again. Succeeding at this sort of challenge for a group of friends can be a powerful purpose.
That sort of purpose still happens but in today's labor market those circle of friends may have other causes or issues that they rally around and work becomes a place that enables them to pursue these interests either through salary earned or in some cases through giving staff the freedom to support these causes through company sponsored programs or purpose projects. It may not be the work itself that provides purpose but simply is a means to an end. Either way these are powerful elements of a persons life.
We Need To Be Part Of Something Bigger Than Us
Here is the core of the issue; no one wants to work for someone who does not acknowledge them as people first. People of all stripes want to be part of something bigger than themselves. Maybe it is the work and the challenge of creating success or maybe you work for a company that shares your passion for the homeless or the environment. The purpose can be intrinsic (internal) or extrinsic (external) but giving someone a chance to express that purpose is really about acknowledging them as people.
Help Your Team Forge Their Own Purpose
If you own a company, or are leading a team of people this is a crucial truth for you to understand; people won't care about your credentials or your leadership until they know you care about them as people and are committed to their growth (discovering and achieving their purpose). When you stop and think about it doesn't that give you some added purpose as a leader? Yes, challenge your team to hit the targets you have set for them, after-all that is why you are all there, but never do it at the cost of their humanity or rob them of the chance forge their own purpose. Performance Leadership - Think About It!
Do We Really Understand What This Means?
I was reading a news article this weekend regarding an Oil & Gas company's earnings report. In the article the company leadership indicated that they were done cutting jobs and were now going to be consolidating and looking at getting more done with less. As I pondered that statement I wondered if anyone really understands what doing more with less really means?
An Admission of Failure
I have talked about this many times in the past and at the risk of sounding like a broken record I will say it again; we go through this boom-bust cycle where when prices are high companies bloat to fulfill all of their staffing wish lists and things they have been hoping and dreaming for. When prices drop they jettison those things and consolidate and start doing more with less. In this case what that means is that there is an understanding that they really didn't "need" all of those things to begin with and are now back to making due with what worked for them from the start. To me it is like a corporate weight loss program - we were overweight but now we are in trim and fighting condition. It may look like a declaration of intent but it is also an admission of failure.
How Do You Spot Those Who "Get It?"
Show me the company that has not had to drastically cut staff and operations in those down times and I will show you a company that was already "doing more with less" and who are positioned both culturally and operationally to weather these types of storms. In short, a successful company.
Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Alabama underwent a company transformation when they moved to an Operational Excellence/Continuous Improvement model. They were struggling the same way many companies were in that industry and they knew they were in trouble. Out of desperation they adopted a new approach that focused on their people and teaching their leadership at all levels how to drive performance with their teams. It took a while but they built an operational excellence and continuous improvement culture that created high levels of employee engagement and satisfaction and a mentality that "everyone" owned the company bottom line. Within a year or two they became "the" company to work for and were recognized as being leaders in their industry. What’s more is that they have steadfastly maintained their operational excellence approach and have been one of those companies that has weathered countless up/down cycles with hardly a ripple.
They are an example of doing more with less because everyone is involved in keeping the company competitive and in the black. While others were cutting staff, their staff were coming up with cost savings and improvement of the customer experience; ideas that allowed them to hold onto their most valuable asset, their employees. They didn't bloat in the "up times" and they didn't cut in the down and they are still one of the companies of choice for folks in that region.
So my question for my colleagues in any industry is this; will this down turn produce more of the same old same old or are you seriously going to explore what doing more with less really means? Performance Leadership - Think About It!
The Curse of The Performance Review
Every year people across the globe go through the process of creating and giving performance reviews. These are meant to be tools to drive performance and measure progress. Regardless of the name we give them leaders and managers hunker down with staff to discuss Personal Growth Indicators, Key Performance Indicators, Stretch Goals - you get the picture. Everyone does this in one form or another, regardless of the pain and awkwardness of it all. What’s more is that we all know that the process is significantly flawed and that rather than driving performance in many cases it inhibits it.
Performance Reviews Inhibit Performance
Don't believe me? Well let’s look at just one simple example and see if it resonates with you. The majority of personnel performance evaluations involve a scale typically between 1 and 4. (There are many scales out there but this will serve well for our example) One is the danger zone and is bad news. Two is usually needs improvement in a number of areas. Three is meets expectations and usually involves a healthy discussion around just exactly what those expectations were and four is the “no go” zone that only those rare (and I mean rare) individuals get. It is understood by all that “4” never happens. Sound familiar?
The Law Of Unintended Consequences
Here is the problem, approaching performance from this perspective does two things; it frustrates the high performers who know that they will never break that ceiling past a “3” and it comforts the under achievers who know that unless they are truly catastrophic in their work they will always get between a two and a three. Additionally, depending upon the company, these get done once or twice a year and those are the only times performance gets examined in any detail. In all cases performance is inhibited.
The Question Is; What Are You Looking For?
A big reason this happens is that we typically like to evaluate people based on the actions or activities that make up a role. Often the KPI’s are simply a breakout of the job description. Sometimes these describe behavior most often they simply describe a role.
What Behaviors Predict High Performance/Engagement?
This is where the distinction between role and behavior become paramount. Behavior is something you can observe and can count. An example of a behavior related to engagement would be arriving to work on time and leaving on time. Or as a case in point only just yesterday a major health provider was in hot water around the issue of paid sick leave. This concern focused on the idea that managers and above seemed to max out their sick days every year. It is a “behavior” that points either to high levels of engagement or high levels of disengagement. (I will let you decide which it is in this case.)
Another example of a behavior related to engagement would be tracking contributions to the advancement of the department through input of ideas and suggestions for process or client experience improvement. You can count the number of times someone submits an idea or makes a suggestion for positive change. Not only can you count it but if you have identified that as something you want your staff to do you can recognize it when you see it happening and reinforce that behavior. The key to success then is that you have to identify the behaviors you want (or don’t want), track them and reinforce or extinguish them as the case may be.
You Need To Know What You Want
Performance Leadership is rooted in understanding what behaviors you want from your staff. The other part of that process is being there to recognize and acknowledge that behavior when it is happening. This is a deliberate and methodical process and is a habit that needs to be developed. Once it is though you will find yourself marveling at why you never did it sooner. Performance Leadership - Think About It!
Our Progress Has Not Solved This Challenge
For all of our advances in technology the one area that still lags behind all the rest is the issue of developing leadership that can deliver high performance. Recent Gallup research highlights the very issue that brought Performance Leadership into being. Germany has an 84% disengagement rate among workers and of that group 49% considered quitting because of their boss. Don’t feel too smug because engagement rates are not much better in Canada and North America.
Performance Leadership - A Competitive Edge?
Why is employee engagement and effective leadership important? To quote the Gallup article by Marc Nink, "work units in the top quartile of employee engagement outperformed bottom-quartile units by 10% on customer ratings, 22% in profitability and 21% in productivity. Work units in the top quartile also saw significantly lower turnover (25% in high-turnover organizations, 65% in low-turnover organizations), shrinkage (28%) and absenteeism (37%). These work units also saw fewer safety incidents (48%), patient safety incidents (41%) and quality defects (41%)." Marc Nink, Gallup, April 15, 2016. When you stop and consider the impact of these numbers it is not hard to see that leadership needs to change in order to drive employee engagement and for a whole number of reasons.
Employees Don't Leave Companies, They Leave Bad Bosses
When this data was examined in more detail they found that almost one quarter of all employees had at some point left a job to get away from a bad manager in order to improve their overall life. When employees feel miserable at work that comes home in the form or stress and burnout.
Most Bosses Think They Are Doing A Good Job
Yet most mangers (95%) said they believe they are doing a good job, most did not see a need for change and over half had never participated in any training to improve their work with their employees. Many managers receive no formal training about employee engagement and how to drive employee engagement.
The Numbers Are Not In Your Favour
In our neck of the woods this is now being compounded by the fact that the Baby Boomer demographic is now leaving the work place in high numbers (perhaps aided by the recent events in the oil and gas industry). New people are having to move into those leadership roles with a.) fewer role models to emulate and b.) a loss of a huge amount of "tribal knowledge" around company functions and nuances. Add to this the reality that these leaders are going to have to "do more with less" than their predecessors and we have a recipe for some real hardship in leadership in the coming months and years.
But it does not have to be that way. Performance Leadership is designed to equip new and current leadership with the skills and approaches that specifically address employee engagement and performance. Using the science of behavior and performance metrics managers can approach individual and group performance with a renewed sense of confidence and certainty. It will also give them the means to collect and disseminate the vast array of "tribal knowledge" that exists within their groups and use that to drive improvement as well.
As we move into that new era to having to "do more with less" cogent, effective leadership is going to be crucial. What are you doing to ensure your enterprise, company or team benefit from great leadership? Performance Leadership - Think About It!