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Strengthen Leadership

How to Strengthen Your Manager’s Leadership Practices and Why It’s Crucial to Enhance Employee Engagement

You know it, and I know it: The key to improving employee engagement and culture is through strengthening management’s leadership practices and capabilities. Being good at management isn’t enough. Today, more than ever, managers need to practice great leadership to manage change effectively and to seriously help others grow. Doing so results in higher employee engagement and motivation, and higher engagement ultimately improves productivity and the overall health of the organization.

Why You Need Great Leadership

If you ever need to convince others about the need to motivate and engage managers, just show them a copy of Gallup’s State of the American Manager. After years of studying data from millions of managers and employees from just under 200 countries, Gallup reports some insightful data including these highlights from their 2017 report:

  1. Managers account for at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores across business units…just 30% of U.S. workers are engaged, demonstrating a clear link between poor managing and a nation of “checked out” employees.
  2. One in two employees have left their job to get away from their manager at some point in their career.
  3. 35% of managers are engaged, 51% are not engaged and 14% are actively disengaged.
  4. Managers who are not engaged or who are actively disengaged cost the U.S. economy $319 billion to $398 billion annually.
  5. Employees who are supervised by highly engaged managers are 59% more likely to be engaged than those supervised by actively disengaged managers.

How to Strengthen Management’s Leadership Practices

Have you ever worked at an organization where HR distributes copies of leadership books and articles to managers? This happened a lot when I worked at Lowe’s. At Ceridian, my VP gave all her managers a copy of Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. When I was at Lowe’s, our leadership development team would bring in nationally known speakers such as Ken Blanchard and Liz Wiseman. While giving managers books and bringing in speakers is helpful for raising awareness about leadership, more needs to be done to help managers shift from knowing to practicing leadership.

In my book, Nine Practices of 21st Century Leadership, I share what I call the 21st Century Leadership Development Roadmap. The roadmap has four stages. At Stage Two, many managers realize that the old ways of managing are ineffective at engaging and building team culture, but managers fall short of putting leadership into practice. Something blocks them from reaching the third stage.

Leadership Is a Skill

To move to the Roadmap’s third stage, managers need to develop leadership the same as with any skill. Here’s what I mean:

Imagine that Player A and Player B want to get better at racquetball. They tried this by spending a week practicing for five-hours per day. During that week, they played against better opponents, and at night, they read articles about how they could improve their game.

Here’s one difference: Player A had a coach. Periodically during that week, the coach stopped the game, gave feedback, showed ways to improve form, and then gave more feedback. After a week, guess who improved more? Player A did.

In The Servant, James Hunter explains that leadership needs to be developed through practice, feedback, and follow-up. When managers just read books or attend leadership talks, their effort isn’t enough. He writes:

“Has anyone ever learned to swim reading a book? Has anyone ever become an accomplished pianist studying piano history? Has anyone ever become a great golfer watching Tiger Woods DVDs?…I have met many people over the years who know all about leadership but don’t know leadership.” (pp. xxiii-xxiv) – James C. Hunter

To get managers to adopt leadership practices sincerely, Hunter recommends a three-phased approach: Foundation, Feedback, and Friction. Foundation is acquiring leadership knowledge. This helps managers advance to the Roadmap’s Stage Two. To advance further, you need feedback and friction.

Without Feedback, You’re Left in the Dark

If you’ve ever administered 360-feedback reviews, you know that managers can act surprised by the feedback’s revelations about their behavior. Sometimes these discoveries hurt and aren’t easy to receive. But without knowing their blind spots, managers won’t know what or how to improve.

In Marshall Goldsmith’s book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, feedback is how he learns what his clients should focus on. He writes:

“I wish I had the power to snap my fingers and make these people immediately see the need to change…But I can’t and I don’t. Instead, I show these people what their colleagues at work really think of them. It’s called feedback. It’s the only tool I need to show people, “You Are Here.” (p. 8) – Marshall Goldsmith

From feedback, managers might identify several things to improve, and if they’re Type A people, they may want to attempt to resolve all behavioral issues at once. While admirable, that’s not good. If you’re administering the feedback, help managers focus on one or two behaviors that can have the most impact.

Friction: The Process for Making Sustainable Change

Getting managers to accept their feedback is one thing, but it’s another to get them to act upon the feedback effectively. Fortunately, you can guide managers by using a structure that Hunter and Goldsmith advocate. Here are the high-level steps for what you should guide managers to do:

  1. Acknowledge and apologize to those affected by their faulty behavior.
  2. Ask the affected people to help them get better. This could include calling them out when managers revert back to old habits.
  3. Advertise to others that they are trying to get better at a specific behavior. Goldsmith explains that if you don’t, people won’t notice.
  4. Rigorously follow up monthly with people affected and find out how well they’re doing. Employees and others affected by past behaviors need to realize how serious the managers are at trying to improve.

Call to Action: Guide Managers through Feedback and Friction

It’s easy to read books and attend leadership talks, but It’s not easy for managers to receive critical feedback. It’s even harder getting them to commit to the friction phase and doing the steps, especially the follow-up. In Triggers, Goldsmith writes, “People don’t get better without follow-up. So let’s get better at following up with our people.”

Guiding your managers through this process will change the dynamics and health of their teams. Fixing key behaviors could have a chain reaction to improve other behaviors, and managers modeling the drive to change will have a cascading affect upon their people. When managers get better at leadership practices, everyone on the team gets better and healthier!

Two More Things…

In addition to the Foundation/Follow-up/Friction approach, you might want to try Goldsmith’s feedforward process. His free article, Try Feedforward Instead of Feedback, is worth reading and introducing to your managers. Managers who read this will learn a positive way to change future behavior without dwelling on the past.

There are other ways to help managers, especially those in middle management. For several insights and tips, check out the eBook The Secret Weapon to Driving Employee Success.

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About Gary A. DePaul
Gary DePaul
Gary DePaul is a speaker, author, and leadership curator. He provides performance consulting services to help organizations identify gaps between what executives expect managers to do (in the current and future states) and what managers actually do. He has more than twenty years of professional and scholarly experience and has worked for companies such as Lowe’s, Ceridian, Fidelity Information Services, Johnson Controls, and Arthur Andersen. Gary welcomes inquiries and the sharing of ideas. You can reach him at gary@garyadepaul.com.

 

 

 

 

managerial tips

5 Ways Managers Can Transform Themselves into Leaders

A quick search on Amazon.com indicates that there are more than 187,000 books with “leadership” or related words in the title. That’s a lot of content written on a single topic.

However,  the word “leader” has been applied to so many different areas of activity that it has become meaningless. Apart from political and military leaders, we have business leaders, market leaders, industry leaders, thought leaders, and so on.

The concept has become so overused that we’ve lost a true understanding of exactly what leadership is. As a result, today’s employees don’t trust their leaders like they used to. And because of this, many areas of the business might suffer, like employee engagement and employee retention.

That said, earning the title of “manager” is one of the greatest professional milestones a contributor can achieve. It means you’ve been deemed capable enough in your current job to be directing others to do it.

Even though this is a leadership role, actually being seen as a leader is no easy task. It takes a great deal of devotion, stamina, and determination.

A manager is someone who keeps operations running smoothly and ensures tasks are completed to meet the defined criteria. A leader, on the other hand, pushes the envelope and drives innovation.

“A genuine leader is not a searcher of consensus, but a molder of consensus.” – Martin Luther King

Make no mistake, both managerial and leadership roles are essential in business. However, leaders are the ones who tend to be remembered and cement their legacies in the history (and self-help) books. Here is what you can do to be one of the crème de la crème…

1. Exhibit Emotional Intelligence

An emotionally intelligent leader can be defined by five major components:

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Self-regulation
  3. Motivation/passion
  4. Empathy
  5. Social skills

Plain and simple, business is about people, both internally and externally. A good leader is well-aware of this and uses these components to pick up on the sensitivities of those around them. They can see the big picture and acknowledge opinions in the correct context of how they fit into it. Even more, they can anticipate reactions and proceed appropriately on instinct.

In terms of emotional intelligence, perhaps the most valuable trait of effective leaders is their ability to listen critically and observe neutrally. In addition to understanding what others are saying, they also take mental notes of the emotions behind the words. In many cases, these are much more important than the words themselves.

Leaders are visionaries. They know how to work with what they are given and inspire others to collectively achieve long-term goals. Speaking of vision . . .

2. Commit to Your Vision

Managers are committed to an organization and its goals. Their loyalty is to the company, and they have the reliability and inflexibility typical of the “good soldier” in that commitment. They’ll ask staff to push ahead, chasing the company’s aims. But their primary duty is to the organization.

By contrast, leaders are committed to their vision. We hear a lot about how leadership goes hand-in-hand with disruption, but unless you’ve worked with a true leader you don’t necessarily realize that disruption starts at home – in the leader’s own organization. Managers want to keep the show on the road. Leaders ask if it’s the right road, the right show, the right cast. Richard Hackman, the Edgar Pierce Professor of Social and Organizational Psychology at Harvard University and a leading expert on teams and teamwork, has this to say:

“Every team needs a deviant, someone who can help the team by challenging the tendency to want too much homogeneity, which can stifle creativity and learning.”

While managers want each day and each operation to run smoothly on well-understood lines toward predefined goals, deviants are the ones who stand back and say, “Well, wait a minute, why are we even doing this at all? What if we looked at the thing backwards or turned it inside out?”

When the Hackman deviant is just another team member, not a leader, they can be shouted down or frozen out, especially by over-organizing managers. But when they’re the one in charge, the whole team is moving toward innovation.

If you want to be a great leader, expect – and cause – the ground to shift under your feet in ways no manager would ever want. Change your vision of commitment before you commit to your vision.

3. Get Your Hands Dirty

Most great leaders have a common trait: their subordinates trust them and demonstrate unflinching loyalty to their cause. To achieve this, you must prove that you are willing to put yourself in the trenches and not delegate any task that you wouldn’t do yourself.

In other words, you must practice what you preach and not be afraid to jump into the thick of things. Working side-by-side with your subordinates will give you a better idea of exactly how things run on the ground level as well as working knowledge of the tools and methodologies your team uses to complete their tasks and streamline job management.

At the end of the day, demanding respect won’t give you the results you want. To actually earn it from those around you, one of the best things you can do is exhibit an all-for-one and one-for-all attitude.

4. Build People Up

When looking at the concept of people management, there are two major theories to consider.

The first one is Theory X. Managers who fall under the purview of Theory X are more pessimistic and generally assume subordinates do not like their job, avoid responsibility, and must be constantly controlled. These managers are typically known for stifling ideas and not focusing on the unique value each person offers. When this is the case, employees can easily lose motivation, resulting in a high turnover rate. In fact, a study by Gallup found that the odds of an employee being engaged are only 9% under such circumstances.

On the contrary, Theory Y is the one most often adopted by respected leaders. These managers live under the assumption that their subordinates are self-motivated and can work on their own initiative. When the work environment of an organization assumes and provides for such a culture, employees feel fulfilled both personally and professionally, and are motivated to do their best work.

Ultimately, it’s much harder for an organization to develop when managers tend to hold people back. A good leader encourages others to speak up and be meaningfully involved in completing the mission, rather than just following orders. Essentially, leaders coach and mentor, managers give commands.

The key to becoming a “Theory Y Leader” is by promoting transparency in the workplace. Make it a point to encourage open communication. Ask for honest feedback and value everyone’s opinions. This is how company cultures evolve and employees feel more engaged.

5. Challenge the Status Quo

As previously stated, managers keep operations running per usual. Leaders are known to break the mold and take risks. Bill Gates dropped out of college to start Microsoft. Alexander the Great marched a tired but undefeated army on and on. The best leaders are not remembered for playing it safe when opportunity arose.

To establish yourself as a leader, you must be willing to step out of your comfort zone, without being intimidated by the idea of failure. While you should always take appropriate precautions and “manage” risk, remember that leaders embrace change, even if there is nothing wrong with the current status quo. Great breakthroughs don’t happen without a significant risk factor.

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” – George Bernard Shaw

Leadership is about finding new and innovative ways to improve the norm. When you take risks, you are not judged by the extent of your success or failure. You are defined by the thought process underlying your approach, how you reacted throughout the execution, and what you did with the outcome.

Over to You

It’s important to note that leadership and management are not mutually exclusive roles. Leaders are managers by nature, and vice versa, in many instances. There will always be a need for someone to keep operations going steady. But for a business to see significant growth and development, managers must strive to push boundaries and claim new territory. The impact of a true leader is profound and influences the way people work and live. Ultimately, true leaders are those who make the world a better place.

Check out The Ultimate Guide to Employee Recognition to see how leaders can effectively engage, align, and set their employees up for success.

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About the Author
Lori Wagoner is a market research consultant. She advises small businesses on new ways to find local and national business. She’s an avid blogger and writes for sites such as Small Business Can, Tweak Your Biz and Customer Think. You can catch her on Twitter @loridwagoner.

 

Strengthen Leadership

What Does a Self-Aware Leader Look Like at Your Organization?

Although most organizations spend much of their training budget on technical skills, a large percentage of leaders do not have the necessary skills and emotional competencies to manage the demands of the new economy.

In Dan Goleman’s book, Working with Emotional Intelligence, his research shows that emotional intelligence (EI) is twice the indicator of leadership success as IQ and technical skills combined. He further explains that once people leave school and enter the workforce, IQ and technical skills are often equal among those climbing the professional ladder. The differentiator is emotional intelligence (hear Goleman discuss his research in this video on YouTube).

Mr. Goleman has written several books and articles about how stellar career performance requires a leader to have a combination of business strategy knowledge and interpersonal skills. Many leaders don’t have the qualifications to mentor, lead, adapt, inspire, and manage others on their team.

Drawing from decades of analysis of great companies, Mr. Goleman has identified that powerful leaders excel by connecting with others using emotional intelligence (EI) competencies like mindfulness, self-awareness and empathy. These skill sets exist outside the domain of technical skills or IQ.

The idea of emotional intelligence is rooted in psychology and neuroscience. It suggests that when the emotional part of our brain, the amygdala, feels threatened it triggers a fight-or-flight response that can cause people to act irrationally.

Acting in an emotionally intelligent way, one that is self-aware and aware of the emotions and motives of others, can help rewire our physiological responses in times of stress and crisis. Providing tools to leaders on how to self-manage and successfully communicate with others is highly effective in times of tension and complexity. We need more leaders who can deliver a difficult message in an authentic way, creating a trusting environment without hidden agendas.

What can you do to start to build on your own EI skills?

It starts with self-awareness. How do you respond in high-pressure moments? Are you able to understand and recognize your strengths and areas of challenge? Is there a voice in your head that is saying you are not good enough?

To become a self-aware leader, it takes time, guts, vulnerability, and experiencing failure. One of my favorite quotes from Michael Jordan is “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.”

Here are some things you can do to become a more self-aware leader:

  1. Test yourself or take assessments:
    Participate in a 360-Assessment, StrengthFinders, Disk, Myers-Briggs or Color Code. There are several assessments, and each one offers a great opportunity to learn more about yourself. Know your strengths and areas of challenge and get to know your peers and team members. Understand what ignites you and what triggers you.
  2. Ask for feedback
    Do you know how your emotions impact behaviors, and can you recognize when you have impacted someone else negatively? Ask your circle of influence how you are doing and what can you do to improve. Sometimes the best advice comes from others on your team. Find a mentor – someone who can offer constructive feedback without you becoming defensive.
  3. Identify patterns in your own decision making and behaviors
    Write down why you made a buying decision or why you hired or fired someone. Did it turn out as you expected? Understand your own emotional needs and what causes you to be triggered. Understand how you respond during pressure moments and move away from bad habits that sabotage your best performance. Identify things that have happened in your past that may not be serving your present or future.
  4. Learn from your setbacks or failures
    Don’t let a failure define you. Optimist view failure as a short-term setback. Are you willing to do something different and have you changed your game? Be willing to take a risk or be vulnerable to grow as a leader. Look at opportunities to balance intuition with reason and logic when taking risks.

Effective self-awareness cannot be thought of as a soft science or new age meditation. It is vital to your leadership growth. As a business coach, I find many leaders are not aware enough to admit they have a problem or opportunity for growth. Often, awareness does not come to them until they experience a significant setback. Don’t wait – work on your self-awareness right now and see the impact on your Emotional Intelligence, and then see how Emotional Intelligence will change the way you work and live.

If you would like to learn more about EI, check out the Southwest Institute for Emotional Intelligence.

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About the Author
Bobi Seredich Headshot
Bobi Seredich is the co-founder of the Southwest Institute for Emotional Intelligence in Phoenix, Arizona.  She can be reached at bobi@swiei.com.

 

 

 

 

 

First-Time Managers Guide

Leading the Team: Tips for First-Time Managers

Congratulations, you’ve been promoted! Your hard work, enthusiasm, and initiative has finally paid off and you’ve been tasked with leading a team of your own. But how? Now that you find yourself standing in front of a sea of expectant faces, are you supposed to do that?

Transitioning into a first-time manager can be a very stressful experience and the importance of effective management has never been clearer. According to Gallup, the odds of an employee being engaged are a dismal 1 in 11 (9%), and when an organization’s leadership focuses on the strengths of its employees, the odds soar to almost 3 in 4 (73%). Now is the time to seize your new opportunity as a first-time manager and develop into a strong and influential leader for your team.

With that in mind, I’d like to offer up some handy tips for all you first-time managers to help you get off to the right start and put those leadership skills of yours to good use.

But first…

A Word of Warning About Management Styles

We all have bosses, managers, and influential people in our lives who we admire and strive to be like. Nobody forgets a great leader, so it’s only natural that we should want to imitate their style.

There’s nothing wrong with taking a step back and asking yourself, “What would my favorite manager do?” when you encounter a tricky situation. However, trying too hard to do things your management idol’s way will only limit your own potential in the long run.

Committing to a leadership style before you’ve begun to lead might be comforting, but it makes as much sense as deciding to dress for summer all year-round just because you’re a fan of warm weather—as well as looking spectacularly out of place most of the time, you’ll probably end up doing yourself more harm than good!

So by all means, be aware of the most common management styles in your industry, but don’t be too hasty to pigeonhole yourself. After all, you were hired for being you, not your ability to mimic someone else.

With that out of the way, let’s move on to those all-important management dos and don’ts.

Don’t:

Lay Down the Law

It can be tempting to try to exert your authority early on by adopting a tough, no-nonsense persona in the workplace.

By going out of your way to establish yourself as authoritative, however, you’ll inevitably end up overreacting at some point and respond to a situation inappropriately.

Come down too hard on your team and you’ll cause them to question your leadership abilities, not to mention make them reluctant to come to you in times of need. Keep calm, keep it real, and be yourself.

Shake Things Up Too Early

If this is your first management role, you’re probably itching to show the people at the top that they backed the right horse when they chose you for the job. However, you should hold off on making any drastic changes to your department until you’ve been in your new position for at least a month.

It’s perfectly natural to want to make your mark on your team, and you’ll undoubtedly have targets to hit, but the people you’re managing already have one major new thing to get used to: you. Don’t complicate matters further by making any drastic changes until you have a solid understanding of what works and have earned your team’s trust.

Try to Be Everyone’s Buddy

In some situations, employees get along well with their managers. Their personalities gel, and with so little friction in the workplace, they come to forget all about the boss-employee dynamic that exists beneath the surface.

Sadly, situations like these are rarer than we might like to think.

Trying to be everybody’s buddy at the same time as overseeing their work can eventually run into problems and in some cases, be met with suspicion from your team, who’ll interpret your attempts to befriend them as insincere.

By all means, extend the hand of friendship to the people you work with, but don’t be surprised (or offended!) if they’re reluctant to take it right away.

Be a Control Freak

Nobody likes working under a manager who over-delegates. On the flipside, though, you should be careful not to keep your staff on too short a rein.

A good manager knows how and when to delegate, trusting the members of their team to follow instructions and carry out work unsupervised. By trying to take on the bulk of the work yourself, you not only risk burnout, but your team will come to resent you and will start looking for more challenging positions elsewhere.

Besides, how will you ever know what your team are really capable of if you don’t give them the freedom to do their thing?

Take the Credit for Your Team’s Work

Be careful not to take the credit for the work that those on your team have done in your quest to show your skill as a new leader.

You might wish that you’d been the one who came up with that great new idea for a product or way to cut costs, but don’t forget that as a manager, you’re there to bring out the best in your people and for your ability to spot a good idea when it’s floated.

Embrace your role and celebrate your individual team members when they achieve something great—if you do, your team will embrace you in return as their manager.

Do:

Be the Employee You Want Your Employees to Be

Nobody likes working for a boss with double standards. It’s no fun when your manager rolls into work late, misses their own deadlines and spends the morning chatting by the watercooler, only to berate anyone on their team who behaves similarly.

A team is only as good as its manager, and if you want your team to commit to their roles, then you need to be a living, breathing example for them to follow, every single day.

That means showing up on time, sticking to your own deadlines, keeping your promises, and resisting the temptation to take those extended lunch breaks under the guise of “business meetings”.

It’s not all about working hard though—your team will also be taking cues from you on how to strike a healthy work-life balance. Be sure to impress upon them the need to step away from their desks at lunchtime. Take regular breaks to refresh yourself during work hours. Book your vacation time well in advance and encourage them to do the same.

Get Yourself a Manager Buddy

No matter how strong your team is, it’s only a matter of time before you find yourself having to handle a difficult or awkward situation in your new position as manager. Often, you’ll have to rely on your gut feeling, but it’s a good idea to reach out to a fellow manager so that you can ask their advice and share your experiences.

Your manager buddy needn’t be someone that you have contact with every day, but it’s helpful to have someone within your company that you can confide in and ask for guidance.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help—you might have been promoted based on your aptitude for leadership, but that doesn’t mean that you have to work everything out on your own 100 percent of the time.

Show Humility

“Fake it till you make it” might work in the world of show business, but as a new manager you should never be tempted to bluff your way through a tricky situation just to save face.

Your team will be watching you very closely during your first few weeks, trying to work out what kind of boss you’ll be and whether they can rely on you. There’s nothing wrong with feigning confidence if you’re nervous, but if your team catches on to the fact that you’re making things up just to avoid embarrassment, they’ll immediately lose faith in you.

It’s far better to show a little humility in your work and admit it when you need to go and check something before making a decision. Sure, your pride will take a hit, and you’ll look slightly less infallible, but being straight with your team will make you much more likeable, and your staff will appreciate your honesty.

Look for Opportunities, Not Weaknesses

It can be tempting to prove your worth as a manager by immediately highlighting any obvious weak links within your team upon your arrival, but keep in mind that it’s your job to bring out the best in people, not point out their faults.

Try to think of yourself as a sports coach who has been brought in to train an existing squad. Every member of your team, having been recruited by your talent scout, is there for a reason. They’re up to the task. What you’re there for is to nurture their abilities and get them working as a unit.

Talk to them individually. Identify the areas where they can improve and look for ways that you can play to their strengths. Your end goal is to grow your team to the point that its members can one day go off and become managers themselves.

Take Responsibility

There are few things worse than a manager who deflects responsibility onto their team when things go wrong.

Being promoted to the rank of leader might grant you additional perks and higher pay, but it also strengthens, rather than weakens, your connection to the team you’re managing. Therefore, when a member of your team drops the ball, you should consider it your fumble just as much as it is theirs—you don’t get to join the other managers on the sideline, shaking your head.

Take responsibility for your team’s missteps and show solidarity with your players—it’s the only way to win their full support and prove that your “we’re all in this together” mantra isn’t just corporate lip-service.

Embrace Your New Opportunity

Being promoted to the rank of manager can be scary, but it’s also a hugely exciting time in anyone’s career.

Instead of obsessing over the need to prove your worth, focus on getting on with the task at hand. People will judge you on how you conduct yourself, your willingness to succeed, and the change you ultimately effect. What they won’t do is applaud you for adopting a realistic managerial persona and the amount of time you spent stressing about acting the part.

Now that I’ve wrapped up a quick guide for you on how to get started as a first-time manager, it’s time to embrace your new role. Good luck!

To learn more about how to be an effective leader, check out Achievers’ blog 5 Pillars of Great Leadership.

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About the Author
Phil KendallPhilip Kendall is the digital marketing and social media executive at RotaCloud, a UK-based startup that provides cloud-based staff scheduling solutions for small and medium-sized businesses. A writer, blogger and lifelong tech nerd, Phil is never far away from a keyboard, and has worked as everything from a freelance food writer to managing a team of writers for a Tokyo-based news and entertainment site.

 

 

great communicator

Voice, Value, Feedback – The “Must Try” Communication Tool Driving Employee Engagement

Does anyone truly look forward to their annual performance review?  Leaders don’t enjoy preparing them and employees dread attending them.  According to HR analyst and industry thought leader Josh Bersin, “More than 70% of all organizations dislike the process they have, and I have yet to talk with an employee or manager who likes it at all (one client calls it a ‘soul-crushing’ exercise).” That’s why many leading organizations such as Accenture, Adobe, Gap, GE, Goldman Sachs and Microsoft all recently announced that they are remodeling this “soul-crushing exercise” and moving to something altogether new.

The most important adjustments to the classic performance review cycle are an increasing emphasis on constant feedback and a concerted effort to frame constructive feedback in more human terms.  According to a SHRM article by Dana Wilkie, “Among the changes: eliminating all numeric scales; doing away with “forced” or “stacked” rankings that create competition among employees; and replacing the once-a-year appraisal with ongoing feedback on a worker’s performance throughout the year.” This philosophical shift in the way criticism is dispensed wasn’t conjured up out of thin air. There is a practical reason behind the need for immediate feedback (and praise). As stated in an article in the March 2017 issue of Fortune magazine, “One big reason for the shift: Today’s companies now change strategy so often that annual performance reviews can be moot by the time they’ve completed them.”

Although many companies are moving away from the annual performance review, there will always be a need for direct reports to measure how they are succeeding and growing in their current roles. To ensure success, employers must set clear performance expectations while providing feedback and encouragement. In fact, research shows that team members desire to feel valued, heard and even “loved.”

According to a Gallup article by Jim Harter and Amy Adkins “Managers account for up to 70% of variance in engagement and consistent communication is connected to higher engagement.” But given that no two people communicate alike, it should not be surprising that less than 1/3 of Americans are fully engaged in their work.

George Shaw

The real challenge is that most managers think they are great communicators, when in fact, most are not. This has helped create a notable communication gap between leaders and direct reports, leading to confusion and disengagement.

Dr. JP Pawliw- Fry of the Institute for Health and Human Potential explains this gap as, “A distinct pattern we see over and over again in the leadership development training programs we run: when leaders face a difficult conversation, a feedback conversation or a performance review, most cover 85, 90 or 92% of the content of what they want to say in the conversation, but a funny thing happens when they get to the more difficult part, what we call the Last 8%. When they hit this part of the conversation – where there are consequences to what they are saying – they start to notice that the other person is becoming more anxious and (because emotions are infectious) they themselves become more anxious.”

This research goes on to explain that when the employee being coached starts to feel nervous and becomes defensive, their leader reflects those feelings, and starts to doubt their own intuition regarding the employee participating in the performance review. This is typically the moment the leader hesitates when offering uninhibited feedback. While seemingly innocuous, the real problem is that the leader might believe they have offered genuine feedback when really, they probably failed to address the issues most critical to both the employee and company alike. The failure to explain the Last 8% leaves the other person unclear on expectations. It’s not surprising then that the employee makes the same mistake several months later, with the leader becoming more disappointed and frustrated.

If managers and leaders are fearful when addressing critical business issues with their direct reports, how can we facilitate a complete constructive feedback conversation, including the Last 8%? From a brain science perspective and utilizing emotional intelligence – EI– we can learn to communicate in a way that doesn’t stimulate the “fight or flight” response typical of defensive behavior.

The first step in effective communication is listening to the other person and validating his or her feelings, because they are valid, even if they are not obvious. This level of empathy is an absolute necessity if the other person is going to be open to receiving your constructive feedback. If you start giving feedback before they are ready, their response will likely be defensive, making them unwilling to receive it. When a person’s fight or flight mechanism is activated, research shows that there are real physiological effects. Perhaps they might not hear you because their heart rate is increasing and oxygen is flowing to larger muscles, away from the thinking brain.

When a person is confronted with criticism in a performance review, it can cause an automatic negative response. “This neural response is the same type of “brain hijack” that occurs when there is an imminent physical threat like a confrontation with a wild animal. It primes people for rapid reaction and aggressive movement. But it is ill-suited for the kind of thoughtful, reflective conversation that allows people to learn from a performance review. According to an article in Strategy + Business magazine titled “Kill Your Performance Rating” by David Rock, Josh Davis, and Beth Jones

Thankfully, there is an excellent constructive communication tool that can help us all avoid the automatic “fight or flight” response. It is called the Voice, Value, Feedback (VVF) Tool, and it provides a framework for a complete, courageous, feedback conversation that even includes the Last 8%.

  1. Give the other person a Voice – share why you are having this discussion. Clarify your intention for the meeting. Seek contribution not blame – “I realize I may have not communicated clearly…” then let them share their feelings for a  few minutes.
  2. Value the person you are having this discussion with and empathize with the difficulties your employees deal with on a daily basis. Phrases such as ”I understand it’s been tough. I don’t blame you for feeling that way”, can go a long way in showing your employee that you care what they have to say, and value their perspective when addressing issues.
  3. Offer your Feedback – “I appreciate you and here is what we need from you moving forward.“ Be specific about the behaviours you would like your direct report to exhibit and focus on the actual impact they have made on your organziation, not on intentions. If necessary, share instances of past and current behaviors that are not acceptable and hope they will address moving forward. State clearly what you want from them, so there is no question as to how they can improve in the future. Use  phrases such as “We need you to…” “We expect you to..” “This organization relies on you to. . .”
  4. End the conversation by reminding this person how you feel about their contributions to your team. Recognizing an employee for their loyalty, the value they have created, and their impact on the organization can reinforce their belief that they have the skills necessary to improve on perceived shortcomings mentioned during the review.

Currently, I am coaching several leaders who have incorporated the Voice, Value, Feedback communication tool into their culture, and the benefits are real. It is critical that leaders are fearlessly proactive in the difficult conversations that are required in order to keep their direct reports engaged and at their most productive. Most importantly, as leaders, we need to ask ourselves, “Are we really having the Last 8% of that constructive feedback conversation?”

For more information on the benefits of effective feedback, and more insight on the debate over real-time feedback versus annual reviews, check out: “Real-time feedback vs. annual reviews: A showdown”.

And if you’d like to learn more about measuring employee engagement, the How’s and the Why’s, download the eBook, Employee Engagement: Four Places to Start Measuring What Matters.

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About the Author
Bobi Seredich Headshot
Bobi Seredich is a recognized speaker, author, trainer and successful entrepreneur specializing in leadership development. She has spent over 20 years of her career dedicated to creating, directing, writing and presenting leadership programs for top companies in the U.S. and around the world.

Bobi is the co-founder of the Southwest Institute for Emotional Intelligence and Managing Partner of EQ Inspirations. In 2001, she founded Equanimity, Inc. also known as EQ Speakers – a speakers’ bureau and leadership training company. It fast became a top speaker bureau that booked hundreds of speakers with large Fortune 500 clients. EQ Speakers was sold in 2012 and continues to be a leader in the industry.

Her book, Courage Does Not Always Roar – Ordinary Women with Extraordinary Courage, was published by Simple Truths in the spring of 2010. The book is a collection of her experiences and stories of women who have had the courage to overcome very difficult life events.

Her passion is to guide individuals and organizations to a higher performance level through her own business knowledge, inspirational stories and leadership emotional intelligence training. Bobi lives in Phoenix, AZ with her husband and 4-year old twins, Alex and Gia.

 

the value of coaching

Why Millennials Want Coaches, Not Managers

Your workforce is increasingly made up of millennials; this is unsurprising – they’re the ones with the most contemporary skills, and with each passing year they become a larger percentage of the working world. With close to 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day, millennials now represent the largest subset of America’s workforce. Approaching these younger workers with the attitude and expectations of a coach, rather than the antiquated characteristics of a traditional “boss,” is key to maintaining their engagement. Here’s how a coaching style differs from the approach of a traditional manager, along with a few insights about why this shift in managerial style is so important.

Coaching responds to failure with empowerment

A manager who behaves in the classic “boss” tradition is likely to take a disciplinary tone after an employee fails or does a poor job on a project. Getting “chewed out” by the boss is a familiar trope in the stereotypical work environment. Coaching, on the other hand, takes an entirely different approach. If a player on a sports team does badly, the coach may feel frustrated, but he or she is well aware that scolding and criticizing the player is not likely to yield better results in the future. Instead, a coach views failure as a sign that the player needs more training, support, and encouragement.

Harvard Business Review (HBR) describes the behavior of award-winning college coach Mike Krzyzewski after a player’s carelessness caused his team to lose. He took the whole team out for an ice cream sundae party, emphasizing encouragement and team-building, and then he held an extra practice to help everyone come together again.

Millennials want more frequent feedback

When you picture a coach guiding a team to victory, you probably imagine lots of feedback was involved. The coach is on the sidelines, shaping the choices that the players make and shouting encouragement or suggestions. After the event, the coach probably holds a video session and works together with players to identify areas that need improvement. It’s all very hands-on.

Now, contrast that leadership style with the annual employment evaluation that typifies an old-school manager’s pattern. An employee is called in to the boss’s office and given an evaluation containing praise and criticism that might be outdated, perhaps even a year old. A coach wouldn’t have a successful team if he or she only gave feedback once a year.

Furthermore, millennials want the high-touch guidance of a coaching culture. A global survey finds that overall, millennials want feedback 50 percent more often than older employees, with most of them preferring feedback on a weekly or monthly basis.

Employee success depends on rewards and recognition

While frequent feedback is a proven method for increasing employee engagement, the quality of that feedback is equally important. An effective coaching approach is based on recognizing each person’s individual strengths. Best practices include creating a company culture that emphasizes positive feedback and employee appreciation. Positivity is necessary in every workplace, but it’s especially crucial when you’re leading a team of millennials.

A recent Gallup report noted, “Only 19 percent of millennials say they receive routine feedback. An even smaller percentage of millennials (17 percent) say the feedback they do receive is meaningful.” This same report states that fewer than 15 percent of millennials ask for the feedback they really want; so it’s up to leadership to establish these employee recognition best practices.

Managers are an important source of professional learning and development

Forbes states that most millennials identify their manager as their main source for learning and developing skills, but only 46 percent of those surveyed believe their deliver on this hope. These numbers are helpful because they indicate a direction you can take with your management style. One millennial worker quoted in the HBR article states, “It’s very important to be in touch with my manager, constantly getting coaching and feedback from him so that I can be more efficient and proficient.” And to further illustrate how much millennials crave learning and development, it’s been reported that 62 percent of executives say millennials will consider leaving their jobs because of a lack of learning and development opportunities.

Coaching takes the whole person into account

Though today’s cutting-edge companies invest serious effort into making sure their employees have a good work-life balance, they also realize that this new approach looks at employees as whole people, not just a drone carrying out a task with little to no thought. A great deal of research has gone into the psychology of coaching and the need to consider the “inner game,” but this mindset is still very new to the corporate world.

As more managers realize that helping their employees to maintain a healthy work-life balance will result in more highly engaged employee, they will likely change their style of supervision to emphasize encouragement. It’s all part of a more holistic approach to talent management; a recognition of workers’ inherent humanity and a step away from viewing them only as cogs in the wheel of a production assembly line.

It’s all about performance

Of course you want to treat your employees well for their own sake, but you also want to be an effective business person. You want to manage your team in such a way that productivity increases, both now and in the future. This often means understanding the unique needs of your millennial workers.

A coaching approach, versus a top-down “I’m-the-boss” approach gives you an incredibly powerful tool for increasing employee engagement among your younger team members. These workers will respond with higher performance and greater loyalty, bringing sustainable growth to your bottom line.

To learn more about how you can effectively introduce employee recognition to your millennial team, download our white paper, “Sink or Swim: How to Engage Millennials to Ensure the Future of your Business.”

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Who’s Your OGO?

A paradigm shift is happening in today’s workforce with the balance of power shifting from the employer to the employee. In response to this shifting playing field, employers are starting to register the power of recognition to boost engagement levels and increase productivity among their employees. But we still have a ways to go. According to a recent survey by KRC Research, workers say that an average of 50 days (nearly two months) pass between moments of recognition, while nearly 9 in 10 (87%) middle management employees feel unrecognized by their supervisors. 88% also feel unrecognized by their coworkers. With the shift to an employee-centric workplace, these recognition “droughts” should be a thing of the past. But although a greater emphasis on engagement and recognition has been underway for some time, it still feels as though we’re at the dawning of a new day.

As an Account Executive for an industry leader in the employee engagement space, getting to play a role in helping to bring about this shift is personally rewarding. But let me take a step back and tell you a little about how I ended up here and why the idea of recognition is so personally significant to me.

It’s Fall of 2009, and my soon to be wife, Anne, and I are sitting down for pre-marital counseling before we seal the deal (I know this is a Human Resources blog; but bear with me, I have a point, I promise). Something that has stuck with me since those counseling sessions, besides my wildly understanding, compassionate, and beautiful wife of seven years, is the topic of love languages. I had never given any thought as to what my “love language” might be until I was challenged to do so in those counseling sessions. Lo and behold, mine is “Words of Affirmation”. According to the assessment: Give me a little appreciation and recognition for a job well done and I’m good to go. How delightfully ironic (or perhaps not!) that I now work for a company whose mission it is to enable recognition and employee appreciation to happen anytime, anywhere in the world; and in so doing, change the way the world works.

Given my penchant for learning and a desire to know as much about the field of employee recognition as possible, it’s no surprise I was drawn to a book titled O Great One!, A Little Story About the Awesome Power of Recognition. “O Great One,” or OGO for short, was a nickname coined by the book’s author, David Novak, who: “Thought being called Grandpa, Poppy (or any similar title by his grandchildren) made him feel old before his time. Taking a cue from his father-in-law ‘Great Jack,’ he decreed his grandchildren should address him by his new moniker “O Great One” or “OGO” for short.” O Great One! (http://www.ogothebook.com/) is about the awesome power of recognition and how we can all play a part in attacking the world’s recognition deficit.

In the book, Mr. Novak tells how his interest in the idea of recognition grew from a personal experience of his – specifically, a birthday. On this particular birthday, his family gave him a gift in the form of a jar filled with strips of paper with moments of appreciation and expressions of love inscribed on them. This act had such a powerful effect on Novak that it provided the impetus for him to start a movement to attack “the global recognition deficit” – and to write a book, OGO, about the awesome power of recognition.

The importance of timely, frequent recognition is further emphasized within OGO as Novak recounts the experience of “Jeff,” who recognized a problem within his grandfather’s company after taking over as CEO.  The problem was a critical lack of employee recognition. With a few reluctant leaders on his team and skeptical board members, Jeff embarked on a mission to change the way his company works.

Being the former CEO of YUM! Brands (you know… KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut), Mr. Novak has a ton a of experience with employee recognition and the importance of making employees feel valued for their work. In leadership roles for many years, he witnessed first hand the tremendous success that comes with aligning employees to company values and business goals. Syntehsizing all of this experience into actionable insights, Novak lays out 10 guiding principles of recognition for employers and individuals alike:

  1. People won’t care about you if you don’t care about them
    You need to show people you care about them before you can expect anything from them.
  1. The best way to show people you care is to listen to them
    We have two ears and one mouth for a reason. We need to remember that there’s always someone who knows something we don’t.
  1. A great idea can come from anywhere
    Great ideas are essential to a company’s success, so view everyone as a potential source of inspiration.
  1. Recognize great work and great ideas whenever and wherever you see them
    It is the visibility and velocity of recognition that drives engagement results.
  1. Make recognition a catalyst for results
    What gets recognized gets repeated. Tie recognition to company goals and values.
  1. Make it fun
    Make the recognition moments fun and enjoyable. Let’s not take ourselves too seriously!
  1. Make it personal
    Recognition should be meaningful and should resonate on a personal level.
  1. Recognition is universal
    The power of recognition does not discriminate, and all of us, no matter who we are, love to be recognized and should feel included.
  1. Giving recognition is a privilege
    And the act of giving recognition is its own reward.
  1. Say thank you every chance you get
    Saying “thank you” is free, so let’s start saying it lot more.

This book is about the awesome power of recognition and how we can all play a part in attacking the world’s recognition deficit. It feels great to be recognized and to give recognition. If more organizations focused their efforts on fostering cultures of recognition, both employees and employers stand to benefit in the form of incrased engagement, reduced attrition, and improved customer satisfaction. What I’ve realized after reading this book and working with Achievers and its customers, is that we truly can change the way the world works, one OGO at a time.

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About the Author
Chris Jacobsen
Chris Jacobsen’s passion for sales and HR software began in Southern California where he worked with ADP. He and his wife of seven years moved to Montreal in 2010 and now reside in New York’s Hudson Valley with their 5 yr old daughter and 3 yr old son. Having worked in large and small corporations Chris is keenly aware of the power of recognition and showing appreciation for great work. Outside of helping organizations reimagine how they recognize their employees, Chris enjoys cooking, building couch forts with his kids, and running. Connect with Chris on LinkedIn.