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How Unhappy Are Your Employees?

unhappy-employeesWorkers in America are an unhappy lot. The Conference Board reports that only 45 percent of workers are satisfied with their work, continuing a two-decade trend of increasing dissatisfaction. Research tells us that there is often a link between dissatisfaction and people not doing their best at work. Think about that. Nearly six out of ten people in our organizations may not be bringing anywhere near their best to work

Those types of numbers can lead unwelcome scenarios for your organization. For example, people who are dissatisfied in their jobs will leave — either physically, or sometimes worse, mentally. Usually, the best performers are the first to go when they are dissatisfied. They are highly marketable, and they know it. On the other end of the spectrum, poor performers will often not leave but simply continue to be dissatisfied. The bulk of the dissatisfied workforce will stay. That is, they won’t be the first out the door, but they will begin mentally shutting down. They will begin to only do what absolutely needs to be done or only what will impact their merit increase. They will come in at 8:00 a.m. and walk out precisely at 5:00 p.m. And once they see top performers leaving, they too begin to look toward the door.

As a leader, you need to retain and engage the strong performers on your team. Here are some things to think about:

    • Look at your team. Who’s a flight risk? Whose departure would significantly impact the business or the team? Who’s not going anywhere but at the same time is not as fully engaged as they once were? Create re-engagement strategies and contingency plans to implement if a performer leaves.
    • Look at yourself. How satisfied are you? Does your performance reflect your satisfaction? As a leader, your team takes direction from you.
    • What vision have you developed and communicated for your organization? Does it make people say, “I want to be part of this.”
    • As you set goals with your team, how meaningful are those goals? Will the person have a sense of progress? People are satisfied when they perceive they
      are doing something meaningful, have a choice in their work activities, feel they are performing competently, and are making progress.
    • Are you giving people a choice in how they run their business or manage their work?
    • Are you helping them build their capacity through coaching? Do they have the skills and knowledge to perform competently? Are they able to use their strengths?
    • Have you spoken with people about how they perceive their current work and working environment. How do they feel about it? What interests them about it? What frustrates them? Have a conversation and create a plan together to build on what’s good and to address what can be changed.
    • Don’t throw money at something, unless that is the real issue. In the same way, avoid contests, employee of the month programs, one-time bonuses. These things do create motivating environments for a short period of time—until the momentary glow wears off. Money will not work long term. You need to think about the real motivators. Authors Thomas and Tyman refer to real motivators as meaning, autonomy, progress, and competence. Dan Pink, in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, talks about autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
    • Finally, on the chance that a poor performer leaves, how attractive is it for a strong performer to join your team?

The Journey to Excellence

Tom PetersBack in 1982, Tom Peters went In Search of Excellence and profiled 40+ companies who were examples of excellence.  If we look back at that book some of the companies are gone now or are not what we would hold up as examples of excellence.  That’s because excellence is not an end state.  It’s an organizational state of being that’s characterized by continuous movement in pursuit of ever-higher achievement.  In a culture of excellence, you are never done or…you never quite arrive.

The drive for excellence — for continually improving on even our most outstanding achievement —  when paired with the compelling clarity I spoke about in my last newsletter sets the stage for achieving or even exceeding the goals defined in the strategy.  The question is how do you create a culture of excellence and performance?

Excellence is about self reflection:  Without knowing who and where you are in your journey, it is difficult to continually pursue ever higher levels of personal or organizational achievement.  What values are of core importance to me?  How do I add value? What values are core to the organization?  How do we add value for our customers? Am I clear where I am taking my organization?  Am I communicating a standard of excellence?

Excellence is about continual, personal growth: Without professional growth, our performance, and that of our organization, will not be characterized by excellence.  Leaders need to be a role model for their teams.  They should ask “how can I use my strengths more fully to achieve the results we need to be successful?” It’s equally important to ask yourself and others,  “what do I, as a leader, not know and need to learn?  What skill do I need to develop and how should I apply them?”

Excellence is about setting the expectation for excellence: In environments that achieve excellence, the standard for it is communicated broadly throughout the organization.  The communication isn’t just verbal.  It’s communicated in goals and objectives.  It’s communicated in everyday actions.  It’s communicated in the quality of anything that’s produced, from emails and meeting agendas to products and services. It’s communicated in processes that focus on continual improvement.

Excellence is about creating a culture that looks at behaviors and results: Cultures that only look at results can become toxic.  It can be too easy to turn a blind eye to unacceptable behavior because “hey, he/she gets results.”  Leaders need to be as concerned with how people achieve results as with the results they are achieving. How do we meet our customer’s expectations, meet our business goals and behave ethically and with excellence? What behavior do we hold up as the gold standard in the pursuit of results?  What behaviors are completely unacceptable?

Excellence is about tapping into each person’s drive for excellence: The neuroscience of excellence tells us that higher and higher performance comes from the need to direct our own lives, to create new things and to improve ourselves and our world.  In his book, Drive, Daniel Pink talks about tapping into the third drive — the drive produced from engagement in the task itself when the task allows us to experience autonomy, mastery and purpose. Too many of our organizations are using what Pink calls the second drive – the carrot and the stick – to try to create higher levels of achievement. What we know is that this only takes achievement to the level of what one needs to do to get a reward and to avoid a negative consequence.  It doesn’t lead us to excellence.

Excellence is about improving those around you and managing performance: As the saying goes, the tide lifts all boats.  In order to instill a culture of excellence, leaders need to manage performance and development proactively by praising excellence and having the difficult discussions that are needed to improve performance.  Too often we short circuit the ability to achieve excellence because we are unable to give the difficult feedback that allows others to build their capacity to contribute.  Unfortunately, many of our performance management practices also drive a trend towards mediocrity by relying too much on the carrot and stick.

As Tom Peters did almost 30 years ago, go in search of excellence in your organization.  Model it, practice it, celebrate it and watch the impact on performance

Why Should I Follow The Leader?

Earlier in my career, I was interviewing with the SVP, the chief people officer, for a senior role in a large organization.  He was still fresh to the company, having been there about 6 months.  I asked him where the firm was going and what made him get up in the morning and go to work.  He looked at me and with a shrug said, “Edith, it’s insurance,” like it was the craziest question in the world.  How silly to expect that a senior leader, six months into his job would be able to articulate a compelling picture of the place he worked.  He had a golden opportunity to communicate his vision of what this organization was about and where it was going and he came up with nothing. There was no second interview.

This story is not meant to reflect badly on the insurance company. I know plenty of executives in insurance companies who would answer that question very differently.

This SVP obviously wasn’t able to communicate a vision. Over the past 18 months, many of our organizations have been lacking in “the vision thing.” We’ve been focused on a lot of things that were important but  that people perceive as negative — cutting costs, losing sales and revenues, reducing headcount.  But as the recovery starts, we need to think about where we want to go from here, because it won’t be where we were before 2008.

Whether you are hiring to rebuild your team, developing employees, or trying to retain or more fully engage your talent, the first step for taking performance to the next level and creating competitive advantage is to develop Compelling Clarity. Compelling Clarity is about creating a vision and expectations that are so clear it is difficult to say ‘where are we going?’ or ‘what should I be doing?’and so compelling no one needs to ask ‘why am I doing this?’ Instead, they say ‘I need to be a part of this.’

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Where does my organization (or division or group or…) need to go?
  • Why are we going in that direction?
  • What will we look like a year from now?
  • What top priorities will get us there?
  • How will we know we’re successful?
  • Why do I want to be a part of this?  Why would someone else want to be a part of this?

If your answer is “I don’t know” to any of these you’re going to be less able to attract or retain top talent as you move forward. You’ll be appealing to people who want a job but not attractive to people who want to make an impact.  Without a sense of where they’re going, you’re people can’t perform at the high levels you need.

Be ready to talk about your vision.  Gauge the reactions to it.  After all, you don’t want to find yourself saying, with a shrug, “Edith it’s…”

 

Just for a Moment…Listen

Active ListeningI listened to a TED Talk yesterday while I was on the elliptical (got to keep up with that New Year’s resolution). It was about how we are losing our ability to listen. As leaders or business owners we spend a lot of time talking. We are giving direction or input to our employees. We’re talking with customers. We’re talking with people at networking events. We spend a lot of time working on getting our story out there. This talk reminded me of how critical listening is for those of us who are leading others.

This week try to spend more time listening. Here are some ideas how to do that:

1. Open every conversation by asking the other person a question. This question should not be a perfunctory ‘how are you?”. Make it a question that is really about something. Focus on listening to the answer, not waiting for the other person to be done so you can get on to your real agenda.

2. When you have listened to what someone has to say, reflect or summarize. Anyone who has taken an active listening course knows that this is a technique to show the other person you are listening. I’m not suggesting it for that reason. Rather, by verbally saying what you’ve heard out loud, you are hearing it again and increasing the likelihood that you are actually listening to the words meaning.

3. Institute the ‘no multitasking’ rule during conversations. More and more I attend meetings where people think it is perfectly okay to have a laptop or smartphone in front of them so that they can multitask. This may sound efficient, but in reality it completely undermines the ability to listen and engage in what is going on. The human brain doesn’t work that way. It needs to be focused on what is being said. When you are visually looking at something, the sound becomes background noise. Most of the time, the person sending the text or email can wait for your reply.

4. Create listening posts. Create opportunities for others to have your undivided attention. Establish a regular time when you’ll be available for an individual or group to speak with you when you will give them complete, undivided attention. Make it immutable.

At the end of the week, assess the impact of your listening on your decision making, your relationships with your team and your awareness of what is happening in your organization.

Love vs. Fear, Making It Great and a Sense of Purpose

leadership and relationships
August is upon us, and our New England summer is winding down…

I decided to share other people’s thinking with you this week. Check these out:

Connect, then Lead. Stop leading with your strength. A growing body of research shows that influence — which is the heart of leadership — starts with warmth. Without trust, emphasizing strength leads to fear and compliance not engaged followership. For additional tips on establishing trust, check out my blog article on the trust equation.

7 Ways to Make the Rest of 2013 Amazing. Kevin Baum shares some additional thoughts on Finishing Strong in his blog for Inc.

‘Culture of Purpose’ Is Key To Success According To New Research From Deloitte. A new study from Deloitte shows that a culture of purpose is key to strong financial performance and…Companies aren’t doing enough to create a shared sense of purpose. Take a look at the full article on Forbes.com.

Are You Really a Team?

Are You Really a Team?The word and idea of a team gets used a lot in corporate America. Managers talk about their teams. Teams are pulled together to solve business issues. Teamwork is touted as the best way to achieve results.

I’m often asked to work with teams who are not performing as well as they should be. Some are outright dysfunctional. And, sometimes, the group is not a team at all. They are a group of people who report to a particular manager or who serve a particular client group. Usually, the person who brought me into the organization thinks they are or should be a team, but in reality, they aren’t or don’t need to be.
 

There are four reasons why what is often called a team is not a team at all:

  • Lack of common purpose: A team needs to have a common purpose that can only be achieved by the members of the team working together. If the purpose can be achieved without that kind of collaboration or if the only commonality is that we have the same boss, it’s not a team.
     
  • Individual, not shared, goals: Teams have shared goals and accountabilities. If each individual only has individual goals and there is no need for shared goals, then what is it we are all trying to achieve together?
     
  • Team members aren’t bought into the cause. If the team members don’t find the purpose of the team to be compelling and can’t really see how they add value, there is no team. Team members need to believe that the work being done by the team is important. They need to be committed and motivated to achieving the results.
     
  • They only get together to share information. Many of us have been in team meetings where the sole purpose is for each team member is to update the other team members and this is the only interaction the team members have with each other. Teams exist to take action against a shared purpose and goals. If we do not work collaboratively to generate ideas, to make decisions or to execute specific actions, then the “team,” is really a very labor-intensive communication vehicle. The “team” is a distribution channel. It’s not really adding any value, just getting information from one point to another.


Issues 2012: Retention and Engagement

Workers in America are an unhappy lot. In 2010 The Conference Board reported that only 45% of workers are satisfied with their work, continuing a two-decade trend of increasing dissatisfaction. Think about that. Nearly six out of ten people in our organizations are not bringing anywhere near their best to work.

This statistic tells me that our #1 leadership issue in 2012 needs to be retention and engagement.

Wait a minute. You’re thinking, “In this economy, no one is going anywhere.” Maybe not in the current situation, but it’s beginning to turn around and soon resumes will be hitting the streets. What you do now will impact how many resumes from your team will be in the mix.

What we know about people who are dissatisfied in their jobs is that they will leave — either physically or sometimes worse, mentally. Usually, our best performers are the first to go when they are dissatisfied. They are highly marketable and they know it. On the other end of the spectrum, our poor performers will often not leave but simply continue to be dissatisfied. The bulk of our workforce won’t be the first out the door but will begin mentally shutting down. They will begin to only do what absolutely needs to be done or only what will impact their merit increase. They will come in at 8:00 and walk out precisely at 5:00. And once they see top performers leaving, they too will begin to look toward the door.

As a leader, your new year’s resolution should be to retain and engage the performers on your team. Here are some things to think about: 

      • Look at your team. Who’s a flight risk? Whose departure would significantly impact the business or the team? Who’s not going anywhere but at the same time not as fully engaged as they once were? Create re-engagement strategies and contingency plans if a performer leaves.
         
      • On the chance that a poor performer leaves, how attractive is it for a strong performer to join your team?
         
      • Look at yourself. How satisfied are you? As a leader, your team takes direction from you.
         
      • What vision have you developed and communicated for your organization? Does it make people say “I want to be part of this?”
         
      • People are satisfied when they perceive they are doing something meaningful, have a choice in their work activities, feel they are performing competently, and are making progress. As you set 2012 goals with your team, how meaningful are they? Will the person have a sense of progress?
         
      • Are you giving people a choice in how they run their business or manage their work?
         
      • Do they have the skills and knowledge to perform competently? Are they able to use their strengths? Are you helping them build their capacity through coaching?
         
      • Have you spoken with people about how they perceive their current work and working environment. What interests them about it? What frustrates them? Have a conversation and create a plan together to build on what’s good and address what can be changed.
         
      • Finally, don’t throw money at it, unless that is the real issue. Money will only work in the short term. Meaningfulness, choice, competence and progress will motivate people in the long term.

Why Are You A Leader?

Why Are You A Leader?

 
I recently receive the following as part of a longer post from the Human Capital Institute and it instantly caught my attention:

 

“In the context of an organization where people ideally share purpose, the power of knowing “why” each of us chooses our role helps us be more productive. “It’s often difficult to do something well if we don’t know the reasons we’re doing it to begin with,” says Dan Pink, adding, “People at work are thirsting for context.” As a leader one of the most powerful things you can do is provide that context; instead of monitoring what, where, when and how, encourage people to consider why they’re in their roles-every day, and listen to what they have to say.”

I’ve referred to our Leadership in the Next Decade research quite a bit lately. When I read this, it reinforced the wisdom that our respondents shared with us about where leaders need to focus to build success and business results in the coming years. One of the top leadership abilities respondents identified as critical was ‘creating a compelling vision and strategy’, in other words providing context, helping people understand why. Pink’s quote brings home the other side of the equation — listening to why others are in their roles. By listening to what people throughout the organization have to say, we will be able to understand why they have chosen to be part of this larger organization and to build alignment of purpose for an ever larger part of our organizations.

As leaders can you answer these questions:

    • Why am I in this role? What makes you get up in the morning and come to work? Have you shared that story with others in your organization? 
       
    • Why are other people in their roles? Do you have any idea why the people on your team choose to be there? What about your peers? Your boss?
       
    • Why does our organization exist? What is our compelling purpose? I would argue that if you can only come up with “to provide shareholder value” you are going to come up short in the eyes of many people. Many people don’t think that the main reason they come to work is to drive up stock prices for investors. That may be an outcome of the work that is done and the value the organization creates but it’s not really the context people are thirsting for.
       
    • How do these 3 whys align? We may have different reasons for being in our roles and still be aligned around a common purpose. How does our collection of why’s build the tapestry that delivers value to our customers, shareholders, employees, and communities?

 

Reconnecting with Purpose

Reconnecting with PurposeI’m preparing to engage with a group coaching cadre for a new client.  For those of you not familiar with group coaching, it is coaching that occurs in and among a group of peers where the professional coach and the other members of the group drive discovery and learning.  Our initial focus is about the importance of purpose in leadership, especially leadership in the face of adversity. As I’ve been preparing for our first coaching call, I’m reminded of the importance of asking “what is my purpose?”

This question often feels like one of those grandiose, navel-gazing questions that we don’t really have time for in our resource-constrained, time-strapped, multi-tasking world of work where we seem to face new adversity everyday.  However, when you give it more thought, it actually may have some benefit in helping us deal with our resource-constrained, time-strapped, multi-tasking lives.

You see, purpose should serve as the focus for our activities.  It should help us decide what’s important, what needs doing, and what doesn’t have to be done or can be done later.

Purpose is multi-faceted.  We may have a singular purpose that is manifested in multiple ways.  Or we may have different purposes, all of which have deep meaning for us.

As leaders, by returning to our purpose, we can prioritize and evaluate what is asked of us daily.  If your purpose is to serve customers, you should ask yourself how you are leading your team to achieve that result? If your purpose is driven by the core values of competence and collaboration, how are you creating an environment where that can occur?

As leaders it’s also important to understand not just your own but also each team member’s purpose and to help create an alignment between that and what you are asking them to do.

So, take a few minutes of solitude and ask yourself ‘what’s my purpose at work?”  Then go through your to do list and look at it through the lens of your answer.  You may be surprise at what happens.

How Can I Take My Performance to the Next Level?

I woke up yesterday morning and the calendar said it was almost July.  July!  How can it already be half way through the year?  This realization made me think about the goals I had set at the beginning of the year and where I stood against those goals.  I asked myself, ‘How can I take my performance to the next level?”  At this time of year, especially in companies that have mid-year check-ins as part of their performance management process, you and your people may have this same question.

What do I need to do to get to the next level?

When our people ask this question, they are usually looking for us to help them navigate the performance or career development waters and give them the answer for where they should be taking their performance or career.  When asked this question, use the GOAL Development Conversation Framework to guide the conversation.

First, determine the individual’s Goals. Review where the individual is in his or her current role.  Are they ready for a move?  What are the individual’s personal and career goals?

Second, gain the individual’s Observations on what he or she does well, areas of interest and development needs. Ask for examples.

Third, add your Assessment and the assessment of others, if you know them for a fact.  If your team member is interested in moving to another role, what skills and competencies does someone need to be successful in that role?  How does this person compare to that profile right now?  What do they need to develop?  How does it align (or not align) with their interests?

Finally, create a Learning plan.  What more do you or your team member need to learn about the role in which he or she is interested?  What skills or competencies do they need to develop?  How do they need to better showcase strengths?