Category Archives: Engagement & Motivation

Millennials Are Bums, So What?

144618-20140729If you are paying attention, or even if you aren’t, you’ve probably heard the workplace chatter about the millennial generation. They are:

  • lazy
  • incompetent
  • glued to their “phones,” and
  • need constant stroking.

So what?

Remember Who You Were?

If you are a Baby Boomer – a hippie, turned me generation, turned soccer mom, your generation ushered in free-love, drugs, the broken family, and Wall Street excess. You also integrated the workforce – giving women and minorities a step on the corporate ladder. If you are a Gen X – a latchkey kid, turned MTV fan, turned slacker, turned free agent, your generation gave the word “cynical” a whole new face, established the grunge culture, and wore the mullet. You also introduced work-life balance, turned our focus to business results rather than time and tenure, and renewed the country’s entrepreneurial spirit. Who you were isn’t who you turned out to be. In fact, you were never fully who others thought you were. So let’s give our successors a break. What do you say? Maybe they aren’t exactly like us – nor are they entirely who people say they are. Instead, let’s have a productive conversation about engaging them in the important work of our organizations. After all, that’s exactly what we all want.

Millennials are GemsGem stone

Do you believe that you are a gemstone? What about everyone around you – do you believe that they are also gems? No matter what generation you belong to, you are a brilliant jewel. You were formed and cut by mighty forces: the events and pressures of your era – war, prosperity, depression, family structure, layoffs, technological booms, terrorism, etc. A gem is a precious stone no matter when, where, or how it was created. All rubies share the same essential characteristics. The same is true of people. Generations tend to be driven by a common set of values and needs. Chief among them are:

♦ Autonomy/Choice ♦ Learning/Growth ♦ Challenge
♦ Meaningful Work ♦ Relationships ♦ Accomplishment

These drivers are like the facets of a gem: they reflect the light brilliantly or dully depending on where the light hits the stone. Each generation tends to value some work conditions more than other generations and will shine brightly when the light hits their best facets. Millennials tend to place a relatively higher value on relationships, personal growth, and meaningful work than their predecessors. As a result, they sparkle brightly when they:

  • work socially – on cohesive teams that are focused on important work
  • have the freedom to work wherever they choose
  • have access to leaders so they can engage, learn, and get feedback
  • see real opportunity to grow and progress.

So What?

So what if they need more feedback than their predecessors? That’s how people learn. The dearth of feedback from leaders is the main reason why employees and results stagnate. If prior generations sought and gave less of it, perhaps it was because they were less savvy learners and more fearful about looking stupid than their younger counterparts. So what if Millennials think it is crazy to be tied to a cubicle to get work done or to put in face time just to appear committed? It’s crazy! People are more productive when they have the freedom to complete work in a way that suits them. Besides, they have been working from “wherever” their whole lives. So what if Millennials want to see a future for themselves and refuse to put the company in the driver seat of their careers? They learned well from their parents who, through layoffs and pay freezes, discovered that you can’t tie your future to the company. Instead, you have to make it yourself.

So, what is the Gen X or Boomer manager to do? In this light, the answer is apparent. Shine the light on what makes Millennials sparkle brilliantly. This generation will comprise 50% of the workforce in six short years (2020) and you will need to know how to work with them – as your employee, or as your boss.

Sparkling Light

As it turns out, the practices you need to help Millennials shine work well for your whole team:

  • Invite them into conversations about business challenges, and give honest feedback on their ideas about those challenges.
  • Build automated and personal feedback loops into work processes so they always know how well they are doing.
  • Learn the language of mentoring.
  • Restructure work processes to make them more team-oriented. Include experienced people on the team as role models for the less experienced folks.
  • Call a meeting to talk with your team about a flexible work schedule. Explain that you want to give them all the flexibility they want, as long as all of your business needs continue to be met. Then, define your business needs as team, and ask them to come up with scheduling guidelines or a team schedule.
  • Invite them to offer technology solutions for making the work environment more flexible and efficient.

Any jeweler will tell you to shine the light on a gem’s best facets. The same is true for people. Shine the light on what makes them sparkle rather than what makes you sparkle.

My Fianceé is Engaged, But I’m Not!

Although organizations consistently talk-up employee engagement, we know that only three in ten employees are engaged. That leaves another seven in ten people withholding the best of their energy, ideas, and talent from their employer. This trend persists despite the commonplace knowledge that engaged workers produce more, are happier, and drive profitability skyward.

I think I know one big reason why…

It’s because (some) managers talk like they want a fianceé but act like they are unwilling to be engaged to her! They want, even expect, employees to give their all, but they don’t make a reciprocal investment! Just think about it. What do engaged lovers do and engaged employees do?

Engaged lover Engaged employee
  • gives her all
  • focuses her attention on the relationship
  • put her partner’s interests first
  • make plans for the future with her man
  • spends a lot of time with her man
  • goes over and above what is required
  • applies talents, time, energy on work
  • is mission focused
  • pursues the organization’s long-term interest
  • spends spare time on work

Reciprocation Required

An engaged lover expects her partner to reciprocate. When he does, they remain engaged. An engaged employee wants, and needs, the reciprocity from their manager—the person who represents the company to him/her. But when that doesn’t happen, she will “fall-out” of engagement. It’s a perfectly reasonable and healthy response, don’t you think?

Boundaries Keep us Healthy

Healthy people have boundaries—they don’t over-invest in people that don’t give back. In contrast, it’s unhealthy and unreasonable for a manager to expect employees to engage at work without engaging them personally.

Employees give more than they have to when they:

  • are connected with other people doing important work,
  • are free to use their talents creatively,
  • feel appreciated by people who are important to them,
  • know that they are making progress, and
  • are being challenged to learn and grow.

The Manager’s Job

The most significant relationship an employee has in the workplace is with his manager. Approval and appreciation from the boss is five times more important than from peers. As important as peers are, it’s the boss’s job to:

  • connect people using their talents for the same cause,
  • communicate genuine & personal appreciation,
  • ensure that people make progress and can see it, and
  • stretch people beyond themselves.

This all takes time, thought, and energy, which many managers don’t have because they are busy preparing reports, reading emails, and responding to their boss, etc. In other words, managers are often engaged to people and things that take a higher priority than their team members. (We have a name for that in marriage—it’s called cheating.) And if that is the case, who is engaging team members? No one, that’s who.

Is it any wonder that 70% of people are not engaged at work?

Managers Embody Company Culture

To be fair, we can’t “lay all the blame” on managers, because it truly is a culture thing. Managers are the face of the company to the employee, and I speak of them here as representatives of the company. More than anyone, managers do what is expected of them. They fulfill the priorities of their bosses. Their bosses do the same, and on and on. It’s a conspiracy of company culture—the values, beliefs, and habits shared by people in an organization.

But…it’s people who invent, obey, and enforce culture.

And…if we invent culture, then we can reinvent it.

And…if we can reinvent, then someone—a leader—must get it started.

What if, you decided right now to be the fiancé to your fianceé. What if you decided to stop cheating and engage the people on your team? How would you do that?

Dancing with a Bear

Stepping on Toes

The giant man rose to his feet displaying his 6’8”, 400-pound frame, reached for his coat as if ready to walk out, and asked me “Do you want to know what I think of that?” We had already danced around the room quite a bit, so I bit. “Yeah,” I said. “That’s good, that’s real good. You’re good,” he replied, and then he sat back down and settled in for the rest of the class. It wasn’t exactly music to my ears, but it was close.

As a trainer I had just allowed myself to travel too far down the path, dancing with this bear of a man about his issue with his boss. On several occasions the boss told him, “You are a big guy; that can be intimidating.” But what could he do about it? “I am big,” he told me, “I can’t change that. Do I have to act like a sissy? Why should I have to change? Do you expect me to change?”

Leading the Dance

“Yes, I do expect you to change.” I exclaimed, looking right into his eyes. Then I looked around the room to the other participants. “Yes! Yes, I expect all of you to change. That is why I am here. I am a trainer. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t expect you to change. I am offering you better ways of working and relating with people in your life. You don’t have to adopt them: that is your choice. But if you want better outcomes, then I suggest you consider trying them.” And when I said that, the dance was over. My bear, and the other participants, sat back and listened more intently and ready to learn. The dance was over and our work had finally begun in earnest.

The Magic of the Moment

My words weren’t magic. I certainly didn’t intimidate the man. I didn’t say anything that he, and the others, didn’t already know at some level. So what changed? I believe that it was the simple respect of talking straight and offering choice. He expected me to dance with him, somehow avoiding any intimation that he should change. That would somehow invade his “right to be me.” He challenged me to be truthful. He wouldn’t respect cowardice, nor tolerate an absurd denial that people must change. I spoke an obvious truth, which earned his respect and his ear. If only more people would make this choice.

The Teddy Bear

After the class, the dancing bear talked with me for awhile about his dilemma. He “got real,” and we talked through different conversations he could have with his boss about the real issue. He was a great guy—a teddy bear really (which I pretty much knew all along – despite his pretense). We parted friends, and I look forward to working with this bear of a man again.

The Zombie Chronicles

In my last post I shared four things you can do to create a zombie workforce. If you have a tribe of zombies but would rather have a team of zealots, this post is for you. Never fear; it can be done – there are a few things you can do to transform the most listless employees into motivated, engaged employees. But I warn you, patience is required since the transition back to life can take a while.

Part 2: From Zombies to Zealots

 

Promote Emotionally Intelligent People into Leadership

Leadership is all about influencing people. To do that you must first master your own demons and have empathy for other people. With that strong foundation a person is able to motivate him/herself as well as navigate the turbulent waters of others’ emotions and the politics of moving teams. Spotting emotionally intelligent people in your organization isn’t usually difficult. Here are a few signs of such people. They:

  • express their feelings – productively,
  • recover from let-downs relatively quickly,
  • listen intently to others,
  • attract people to themselves,
  • confront conflict directly,
  • find ways to use talents, and.
  • are adaptable.

Spotting emotionally intelligent job applicants is more difficult, but it can be done with the aid of well-structured job interviews combined with personality assessments. Though this requires support from a professional, the return on your investment is well worth the up-front cost.

Drive Progress

Nothing motivates a person as much as achieving something worthwhile, and sometimes anything whatsoever can be good enough to make a person’s day!  Sports fans know this:  a big play can ignite a team with a fresh “zealotry” and turn a certain defeat into victory. The keys to progress are:

  • a clear goal,
  • a clear path for achieving the goal,
  • competence, and
  • persistence.

Emotionally intelligent leaders know that progress is sometimes a matter of perspective and that persistence can be manufactured. Saying “we are already one-quarter there” encourages whereas saying “we have a long way to go” overwhelms. Strategies for persistence can be taught, and rewarding people for small accomplishments keeps them chugging along. No one can jump over a tall building in a single bound, but most everyone can walk to the top (and back) step by step. The emotionally intelligent leader encourages people to take one step at a time and cheers when they complete each flight of stairs.

Make Work Meaningful

Live people have a relentless desire to matter – to do things that make a difference to others.

Zealots will tell you that they are doing important work – work that helps people, creates value, and contributes to society. But they don’t stop there. Zealots will also tell you how they are using their talents, how they are challenged to solve problems, and how they are learning. Cynics will tell you that you have to hire people like this and that you can’t manufacture them, but they are wrong.

It’s the leader’s responsibility to design jobs that challenge people and to continually communicate the importance of each person’s role. It’s true: many jobs can become mundane over time. Knowing this, some wise leaders at GE introduced manufacturing employees to their customers and showed them the ultimate outcome of their labor. Without realizing the meaning of their work, people easily succumb to the daily trials it entails. They also lose focus, make poor decisions, and their energy seeps out of them. Finally, quality fails to remain important when people do not see the purpose in their work.

Feedback

Feedback has the power to give people much of what they need to thrive. It’s the breakfast of champions. In fact, it has so many essential vitamins that it alone may have the power to transform a zombie into a zealot. The power comes from communicating:

  • what actually matters to you,
  • how to perform successfully,
  • that you care about the person’s success,
  • interest and approval, and
  • connection.

Silence communicates just the opposite. It’s not necessary for leaders to provide all of the feedback a healthy zealot needs. Instead, the leader’s job is to ensure the zealot gets what he needs. This is done by building feedback loops into the workflow so people get timely feedback on the outcomes of their efforts. These days, surgeons monitor patients’ vital signs as they operate, but that wasn’t always the case. As a result of the timely feedback surgeons get, more patients stick around to express their approval to surgeons for a job well done. That’s a good thing because I am sure surgeons prefer zealous recommendations to raids by vengeful zombies.

~~~

I am continually changing the TV channel to protect my children from images of horrifying zombies. If you share my aversion, perhaps we could work together to grow the population of zealots. It’s not complicated work, but it does take a measure of courage and mindfulness to promote emotionally intelligent leaders, drive progress, make work meaningful, and give people useful feedback. Will you join me in this effort?

The Zombie Chronicles

Zombies are all the rage these days. They are all over the movies, TV, and video games. This macabre fascination disturbs me, but at last I think I have uncovered the source of this unholy preoccupation.  Could it be that the battles acted out on the screen provide people some hope for overcoming the zombies growing within?  I’ve met many people who are losing this battle–and I have seen organizations unwittingly drive their employees into the zombie zone.

I have never had a client who actually instructed their employees to wander aimlessly around the office, respond listlessly, and turn out lackluster work products.  I have, however, worked with several who encouraged it, and one or two who seemed to have designed their organizations to make armies of zombie clones.

So, for the benefit of those who want to transform their zealous employees into zombies, and for those who want to revive the zealots buried inside their zombies, I’ve come up with a few of the best ways to foster the transformation.  In this post, I will share how you can turn your zealous employees into zombies.  Next time, I will let you know how to revive Zombies to their natural God given state – zealousness.

Part 1: From Zealots to Zombies

 

Let Tyrant Bosses Roam Freely

When I visit underperforming organizations, I frequently encounter a tyrant boss.  Tyrants often:

  • Pressure their employees to meet high, vague and poorly understood performance standards.
  • Behave as though their ideas are superior and that others “don’t quite get it.”
  • Use their power to punish people who don’t bow to them.

These managers press people to perform but are dumb-stricken when asked to define their standard or to show employees how to achieve the desired results themselves.  These things, they believe, are self-evident to competent people.

Block Progress

It’s depressing to work without seeing any progress. Imagine giving a broom to a custodian in the Sahara desert and then ordering up a sandstorm.  Now transfer that idea to your workplace. If you are having a hard time imagining how to do it, let me share a few techniques I have seen:

  • Change your priorities on a regular basis.
  • Make everything a top priority.
  • Talk about improving, but don’t invest the time and resources.
  • Set goals that can’t be met.
  • Make yourself unavailable to answer questions.

Make Work Seem Completely Meaningless

Require people to do things that have no apparent importance to them. For example, make them enter codes into a computer but don’t let them know what the code means, how it’s used, or how it will impact the bottom line.

If you can convey that their brains are unnecessary, you will do even better in your quest to turn zealous employees into zombies by saying things like:

  • You’re not paid to think.
  • That is above your pay grade.
  • It’s technical.

Give them the Silent Treatment

Never go out of your way to let someone know what you think about them. If you do, they might get the impression that you care!  If you show interest in a person’s work, they may start believing the two of you are somehow connected in accomplishing something important.  Besides, if you give feedback, they would certainly be able to accomplish something, and that violates the “no progress rule.”

So that’s it! If you follow this advice, you will have your own personal tribe of zombies. You will know that you have arrived when you hear them groan these things like:

  • I just work here.
  • The only reason I work is for the paycheck.
  • I just do what I am told to do.
  • It doesn’t matter what we do; nothing changes.

 

 

A Formula for Courage

A Formula for Courage

I recently read Breaking the Fear Barrier by Tom Rieiger of Gallup Consulting.  In it, he makes the case that parochialism, territorialism, and bureaucracy grow from fear.  Managers fear losing the ability to control their outcomes so they build organizational barriers, e.g., unnecessary or self-serving rules and policies, to protect their interests.  Ultimately, those barriers do more than protect parochial interests: they protect the organization from succeeding.  Rieger also offers sound medicine for organizations that are wrapped up in fear and bureaucracy.

Rieger Sets a Low Bar

His advice is good, but he sets an awfully low bar for people.  He seems to accept that people will not be courageous and recommends methods for breaking barriers erected out of fear. Rather than treating the nasty symptoms – the barriers of bureaucracy – we should aspire to overcome the fear that gives rise to it.  Cowardice succumbs to fear whereas courage overcomes it.  I don’t know about you, but I would rather overcome than succumb.  Courage is a virtue; cowardice is a vice.

We fear failure, we fear looking silly, we fear seeming inferior to others, and we fear losing what we have.  Fear stops us from voicing a dissenting opinion, changing jobs, confronting poor behavior, facing problems, and so on.

It’s plain to me that people need a formula for courage more than they need a medicine for dealing with the symptoms of cowardice.

Life Calls for a High Bar

I would like to offer my addendum to Breaking the Fear Barrier.  I’ll call it “A Formula for Courage.”  Everyone should learn this formula by heart because courage is an essential element of a virtuous character.

Ingredients:

  • Moral Compass
  • Worthy Goal
  • Humility
  • Self Sacrifice

* Note: Some formulas call for a measure of love.

I confess that I don’t know the proper portions, but I am confident that each is needed.

Moral Compass

A moral compass is the first ingredient because you must want to be virtuous and know what virtue looks like in order to pursue it.  Your moral compass also gives you a clear vision to see where the trials of today are headed and to know what to do about them.  Today’s small transgressions often lead to grave consequences tomorrow.  A strong moral compass provides you with that foresight and the wisdom to face trials now.

Worthy Goal

Why would anyone stare down a giant, risk failure, or endure personal harm?  Because the cause is worth it!  Of course, if you haven’t set out to accomplish anything or set your mind on being a certain kind of person, then you have no reason to take a risk.  When I am coaching people, I’ve learned that they need to be reminded of their values and goals when they are facing tough situations.  Often, all it takes for people to move to action is a simple reminder of who they are striving to be.

Humility

Have you seen the t-shirts proclaiming “It’s all about me,” “Queen Bee,” or “I’m with stupid”?  Don’t wear them.  Courage requires a clear understanding that “it” is not all about you.  Instead, it’s about putting a transcendent goal above your personal interests, and courageous leadership means placing that goal and other people before you.  The Apostle Paul counsels Christians in Philippi as follows:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others more important than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)

I’ve noticed that humble people are generally trusted and admired.  I’ve also noticed that the same people who esteem others for their humility often bristle at the notion that they should submit to others or truly serve people.  It feels demeaning, and perhaps it is, but true humility and submission are hard to separate.

Self-Sacrifice

The ultimate act of valor is to give one’s life for another person or cause.  Boys, even grown men, fantasize about being the hero who rescues another person from imminent bodily harm.  In real life self-sacrifice comes in smaller increments – kind of like Chinese water torture.  The little opportunities for self-sacrifice can seem like occasions to erode dignity one annoying drop at a time. Instead of the drama of life or death, the stakes we face are things like approval from others, a chance at a promotion, bonuses, inconvenience, and our fragile egos.  This type of self-sacrifice is a bit less glamorous and a lot harder to choose.

That’s it – that is my formula for courage.  I don’t expect Mr. Rieger to include it in his second edition, but one never knows!

What do you think of my formula? Will you try it?  Would you change it a little and make it your own?