Few companies have found the holy grail of management: High Employee Engagement. In the average company, about 32 percent of employees are actively engaged in their work, and about 20 percent actively disrupt operations. But for those who figure it out, the rewards are unmistakable. Companies who score Continue reading
Christmas and the end of the fiscal year are fast approaching. That has a lot of people thinking about “employee appreciation.” Visions of parties, bonuses, promotions and sugar plum fairies are dancing through senior managers’ heads.
Parties can be a lot of fun, especially when people already feel good about each other and the company. Bonuses and promotions are fantastic, but they can be as elusive as sugar plum fairies as well. That’s okay because while parties, bonuses, and promotions are nice, they don’t always speak “I value you,” as much as you might think.
So, what can a manager give to show appreciation?
Managers, or anyone for that matter, can always give the gift of SUVS. It doesn’t cost much, if anything, at all. In honor of Employee Appreciation Day 2015, the Kronos Workforce Institute commissioned a survey of U.S employees. They found that what most people want in their workplace stocking is recognition for what they do. More than anything else people want others to see and appreciate that they are: 1) doing a good job like 90+ percent of the time, and 2) that their valued talents are contributing to the company’s success.
The Key to SUVs is to See, Understand, and Value People
See the people around you notice how they are made and what they contribute to the work community. This is easier said than done. The busyness of work and preoccupation with our own wants are formidable barriers to noticing others.
Understand: Study people to learn their motives, values, talents, and their Languages of Appreciation. Be curious about what you notice and explore it rather than glossing over it.
Value: Many of us are inclined to critique others, especially when they are not like us. Since there are about 7.3 billion people in the world, this is an inherently flawed approach. We have generational differences, gender differences, personality differences and dozens of different differences! While there are most certainly things that are morally right and wrong, good and bad, better and worse, many of us confuse our likeness as the standard. It is far wiser to look for the beauty in those differences.
Savor people like a fine wine. Just like fine wine, I am told, people are complex. There is much to enjoy about them if you take the time to dwell on their fine qualities.
The great thing about SUVS is that you can’t give it just at the Christmas party or just on Employee Appreciation Day. It takes time to See, Understand, Value and Savor people, and when you do gratitude will flow naturally from you. Hopefully, you will be able express it in a Language of Appreciation that people understand!
- glued to their “phones,” and
- need constant stroking.
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.
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:
|♦ Meaningful Work
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 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.
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 a 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.
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?
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?
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.
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
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 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
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?
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.
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.