Manager as Coach

August 16, 2018

Making progress at something personally meaningful is the most powerful and motivating condition you can have at work. As a manager in charge of others, you should develop your coaching skills in order to help them experience this progress.

According to research, the single most important managerial competency that separates highly effective managers from average ones is coaching. And all managers—like directors and senior executives—are now expected to coach their direct reports.

However, while 73 percent of managers had some form of coaching training, according to research in 2006 from the leadership development firm BlessingWhite, only 23 percent of those being coached thought that the coaching had a significant impact on their performance or job satisfaction. Ten percent stated that the coaching they were getting was actually having a negative effect.

Clearly there’s a need to improve the quality of coaching training if managers want their coaching of others to be effective.

Managers may think they are coaching when they are simply teaching and advising. Or they may use the term “coaching” loosely, such as in describing any interaction with employees.

Coaching skills that are directive include teaching, providing feedback and offering suggestions. Non-directive coaching skills are about asking the right questions and listening. This non-directive approach with coaching is more challenging because it is about helping the individual solve his or her own problem.

Busy managers may find it hard to use non-directive skills as it takes longer and requires more patience. However, effective coaching requires exactly this in order to help employees develop the self-confidence and ability to solve problems on their own.

Another essential element to coaching is adopting a different mindset. Rather than be the natural problem solver that you are to get things done quickly, it’s important to let go of your assumptions, slow down and seek to understand the other’s perspective.

Ask probing questions that encourage your employee to explain the situation, the desired outcome and the potential steps for getting there. Learn to listen really well so you can encourage him or her and ask clarifying questions at the right time. Because when you ask good questions, your employee is empowered to believe he or she has the ability to find the answer. In addition, this employee will be more committed to the solution and more likely to fully implement it.

GROW

The GROW Model can be an effective and simple framework for structuring a coaching conversation. This model was originally developed in the 1980s by business coaches Graham Alexander, Alan Fine and Sir John Whitmore. The GROW acronym stands for:

 

  • Goal – Determine a SMART Goal that your employee is looking to develop. Ask probing questions to help determine if this is in fact the right goal for this person at this time.
  • Current Reality – Ask your employee to describe the situation. Questions can include: What is happening now (who, what, when, how)? What steps have you taken so far?
  • Options (or Obstacles) – Explore what to do next, but let him or her speak before offering your ideas. Ask: What else could you do? What are the pros and cons of that?
  • Will (or Way Forward) – This is about motivation, commitment and accountability. Ask: How will you remain motivated? When can we review your progress?

 

It’s important to follow these in succession in order for the model to be most effective. And remember to maintain this as a conversation so you can continue to build trust and learning is most likely to take place.

Finally, coaching should be done as a normal part of your interactions with direct reports. Look for coaching opportunities when he or she comes to you with an issue or problem to be solved. Instead of helping to solve the problem, help the individual learn to solve it on their own as way towards making progress on something meaningful to them.

Developing the non-directive skills of asking the right questions and listening well, altering your mindset and using the GROW Model will help you build your coaching skills as a manager.

The Gift of Being Heard

March 1, 2018

In this age of extraordinary technological advances and accelerating change, our ability to effectively communicate has diminished severely. This is partly because we are not equally focused on sending and receiving messages. And we don’t listen in a way that demonstrates that the other is being heard.

Despite the many powerful ways we have to connect, our ability to do this well has suffered. Think about how often you text when you really should talk. Or you choose email when you should call because your message requires some back and forth discussion.

Every new technology has to find its ideal purpose and this usually takes some trial and error. Remember when people faxed in their pizza orders? Just because we can text or email, doesn’t mean we should use them constantly and expect success in our communication.

As I wrote in a previous post, these “asynchronous communication vehicles have become the default way for far too many of us to interact with others.” Texting, emailing, and tweeting are all very effective for sending information. But when it comes to topics that are sensitive, require establishing trust or back-and-forth discussion, using the phone or meeting face-to-face is best.

We have become so focused on sending our perspectives, thoughts, feelings, selfies and the latest emojis that we are no longer as receptive to the other side of the communication equation: receiving. While we may feel confident that the content of our message was received, perhaps not the full sentiment.

However, when we can equally focus on the receiving end of a message, we can begin to engage in meaningful dialogue. We can enable true reciprocity. We can immediately see and/or hear the impact our message had on the receiver. And we can immediately respond in a way that effectively continues to move the conversation forward.

When you experience a communication breakdown in a message you initiate, it could be due to the receiver being confused or misunderstanding your intention because you’ve chosen the incorrect medium. If the receiver of your message can’t accurately interpret what you intended, the communication can fail—often miserably.

One reason is that we make a lot of assumptions in our interactions with others, and these assumptions often get in the way of successful communication. With texting and emailing, assumptions are more challenging to combat due to the fact that verifying them requires more back and forth that can seem to slow down the conversation. The nuance of effective communication—even for the most gifted writers—is often missing in text-only communication.

Being a good receiver in communication means you provide the sender with the gift of being heard—very difficult to do via text and email.  And this gift is all too rare these days. If you are able to give it to others, you will be appreciated and likely gain respect from your colleagues and affection from your family and friends.

One of the benefits of calling or talking face-to-face is you can immediately check on assumptions in order to eliminate any anxiety or confusion. You are also likely to pick up non-verbal clues based on tone of voice, facial expressions and body language that can help you determine whether there is congruence between what is being said and how they look and act when saying it.

Don’t underestimate your intuitive power of reading the sender of the message. You are able to pick up many things above and beyond the words. And this is missing in your texts and emails—no matter how many emojis and photo attachments may be included.

Communicating better requires you to become a better listener. This means really focusing on what the other person is trying to communicate. Whenever possible, ensure discussions that warrant it are face-to-face or by phone, and then provide the other person the gift of being heard.

Success in Difficult Conversations

February 8, 2018

In our work lives as in our personal lives we encounter situations that demand initiating a difficult conversation. These conversations are not easy, but shouldn’t be avoided because that can often make things worse.

As much as the conflict avoider in us may want to run in the other direction, those who are able to courageously confront the situation are likely to push through the discomfort and grow from it. In addition, the relationship that is demanding the difficult conversation will most likely move forward.

A difficult conversation results when two or more people have: 1) a difference of opinion, perspective, needs or wants; 2) feelings or emotions are strong; 3) consequences or the stakes are high for at least one person. When you’re in a difficult conversation, you may find:

  • There is little safety between participants
  • Emotions are defining the conversation
  • Very little listening is taking place
  • Participants are aiming for a win/lose scenario
  • Participants may be playing a role: victim, aggressor, martyr, etc.

Obviously, this can result in a highly stressful environment. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Use the following steps to be at your best when initiating a difficult conversation:

Stay Calm
Breathe. Try to be present of what you are feeling and what it is you want. If possible, try to determine what the other person may be feeling and wanting. And when you begin the conversation, be certain to communicate your intent up front in order to provide safety for the other person.

Shift Your Perspective
Rather than focus on how difficult the conversation is going to be, try to think of it as a constructive conversation. By initiating this constructive conversation, you are demonstrating the value the relationship has for you. Keep in mind that this is an investment of your time and emotional energy that will benefit you as well as the relationship.

Make a Plan
Have a clear idea of the points you want to make, but don’t write out a script. You should be able to summarize both your perspective as well as the other’s. If you are uncertain of the former, you need to figure it out before initiating the conversation. If you are uncertain of the latter, you should provide ample opportunity at the beginning of the conversation to better understand this. Be careful of assumptions you are making as these can so often derail any conversation, and are especially dangerous when emotions are high.

Prepare to Actively Listen
This means listening to the other person in a way that ensures he or she feels heard. Being an active listener means you make a conscious effort to truly hear what the other person is saying—in their words as well as their body language. Practice holding off thinking about how to respond or interrupting until you have thoroughly heard what they are saying.

Be Compassionate and Demonstrate Empathy
Consider how it may feel to be on the other end of this conversation. Be respectful while they take in what may be very difficult for them to hear. Convey in your words, tone and body language that you truly care for how the other person feels about what it is you are saying. Try to get comfortable with the awkward silence that may result.

Seek a Win-Win Conclusion When Possible
In most cases a successful difficult conversation doesn’t result in a winner and a loser. Therefore, seek out an amicable resolution to the conflict in a way that is satisfying to both parties. This is not always possible, of course, but even when you have to convey bad news such as a job dismissal, see if there is a way to soften the news. Perhaps it is simply providing information about out-placement services, severance package, a solid reference, etc.

Reflect & Learn
When the conversation is over, take a moment to reflect on what went well and what not so well. What could you have said better or differently? There are certainly things outside of your control in a heated conversation and you will need to maintain your boundaries. Don’t take on guilt for the other person’s negative reaction to your news. This requires courage and you will likely be fortified the next time you need to have a difficult conversation.

In order to have a constructive difficult conversation, the steps above should help you navigate them more successfully. In most cases, your efforts are likely to improve the relationship and build your skill at navigating future difficult conversations.

“Twenty years of research involving more than 100,000 people reveals that the key skill of effective leaders, teammates, parents and loved ones is the capacity to skillfully address emotionally and politically risky issues,” according to the authors of Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High.

Start by rethinking your difficult conversation as more of a constructive conversation. Remember that whether it is with your family members, friends or co-workers you are directly confronting an issue that has stifled the relationship. Though it is not easy to do, the result of your efforts—in most cases—will move the relationship forward and build-up a powerful skill in you as a leader.

More (Positive) Feedback Please

January 11, 2018

Feedback. We all want it and perhaps those in the Millennial generation crave it more than most. But is anything less than positive feedback really appreciated and effective at bringing out our best performance?

Years ago I wrote a blog post titled Six Tips to Successfully Deliver Employee Feedback where I suggested “. . . if we are doing something not so well, we want to know what this is and especially how to correct it. Don’t underestimate a person’s level of resilience because such feedback loops are vital to their continued growth.”

But in the current issue of the Harvard Business Review, an article titled Negative Feedback Rarely Leads to Improvement by Paul Green, a doctoral candidate at Harvard Business School, found that critical feedback from coworkers drove employees to adjust their roles to be around people who would provide more positive reviews. That is, when feedback was what they term “disconfirming,” the test subjects would seek others to provide “confirming feedback.”

Further, he found that when the relationship was discretionary—people didn’t have to work together—the person getting the negative feedback would just move away from that person or group. When the employees had to work together, however, the recipient of the negative feedback would look to connect with other people in the company in what they termed “shopping for confirmation.”

Negative feedback doesn’t provide the sustenance we need to enable us to maintain a positive view of ourselves, according to Green.

“The idea behind performance appraisals, and feedback in general, is that to grow and improve, we must have a light shined on the things we can’t see about ourselves,” says Green. “There’s an assumption that what motivates people to improve is the realization that they’re not as good as they think they are. But in fact, it just makes them go find people who will not shine that light on them. It may not be having the intended effect at all.”

What it comes down to is whether when receiving this critical feedback, the employee feels valued or not. Delivering the feedback sandwich of “here’s what you do well, here’s what you do not so well and keep up the good work” isn’t necessarily helpful. Instead, it should be about ensuring that employees first and foremost feel secure knowing that they provide value and their contributions are generally positive. Then the employee is able to hear and respond appropriately to the critical information.

In my work as a consultant and leadership coach, I find so often it is not the salary, job title, or other external expressions of worth, but whether or not the person feels they are valued by their manager, by their peers and by the company as a whole. And, ironically, conveying this appreciation of value to an employee costs the company nothing.

In some ways, this seems to further the argument that we should focus on maximizing strengths rather than minimizing weaknesses. But I think that would be short-sighted and reduce our ability to continue to grow and learn as we advance in our careers.

Regularly acknowledging and emphasizing the value employees provide means they may be much more open to hearing critical feedback. They may then be able to separate their job performance from who they are as individuals. Then they will be able to act on the feedback with a foundation of security that enables the courage to make necessary changes.

Workplace Loyalty: A New Paradigm

August 3, 2017

Once there was a time when companies provided their employees with the security of lifetime employment. There was also a time when employees remained on the job despite opportunities to go elsewhere.

That relational dynamic has certainly changed as many employers moved towards outsourcing, automation, and—for all too many—a focus on increasing shareholder value over employee engagement and customer satisfaction. Many employers are no longer loyal to their workforce so it should come as little surprise that employees are not loyal to their companies.

Maybe it’s time for a new paradigm with regard to workplace loyalty. This is one where both employee and employer do their part to encourage greater loyalty. Employees should first and foremost be loyal to themselves, and employers should recognize that company loyalty can and should remain long after an employee leaves.

“Loyalty to self and company need not be either bound by employment or mutually exclusive,” writes Lee Caraher, author of The Boomerang Principle: Inspire Lifetime Loyalty from Your Employees. “Loyalty is a two-way street, and unless a company can prove to employees that it deserves their loyalty, it isn’t coming. Frankly, the business world has taught us all that we need to be loyal to ourselves first if we don’t want to be caught on the wrong side of a downsizing.”

This reminds me of the flight attendant’s advice before take-off: “Be sure to place your own oxygen mask on before assisting others.” To be your best self for others, you must first be your best self for yourself. And to truly love another person, you must first love yourself.

An example of this loyalty to self in the workplace can be simply recognizing when you are no longer fully engaged in your work and doing something about it. Options may include: 1) Determine and act upon what is within your power to change in order to become more engaged; 2) Have a discussion with your supervisor to determine what he or she can do to enable your higher engagement; 3) Seek other opportunities inside or outside the company where you can bring your best self to be fully engaged.

This self-loyalty has to do with being accountable for your part in the lower engagement you may be experiencing, and doing what is necessary in order to raise it. You are much more likely to be loyal to your company if you feel engaged in your work, and you can impact this.

At the same time, employers need to recognize that employee loyalty must be earned rather than assumed. Employers need to encourage workers by doing what they can to enable their full engagement.

And Caraher says employers need to let go of the old workplace loyalty notion and replace it with a mindset that employees can be loyal throughout their lives, whether they continue to be employed at the company or not.

The idea is that even ex-employees can be important ambassadors for your company and become partners, clients, customers, and referrals for all of those as well as potential new employees. Perhaps most importantly, if your former employees feel they were treated well while employed at your company and especially during their exit from it, they may very well end up coming back to work there again.

As the notion of workplace loyalty continues to evolve, it’s important that both employees and employers do their part to make it work. Loyalty should not be assumed or taken for granted, and it requires effort on both parties to continue.

Working Smarter in the Age of Distraction

July 19, 2017

We live in a world of constant distraction. The internet, text messaging and social media all play a part in this distraction and yet we willingly choose to let these interruptions keep us from fully engaging in our lives.

This is true not only in our free time, but in our workday as well. Employees are often getting sidetracked from the task at hand thereby undermining overall productivity.

According to a 2012 survey by Salary.com, one of the biggest culprits is internet surfing. The survey interviewed 3,200 people and found that more than two-thirds of employees regularly spend time surfing websites unrelated to work.

Specifically, 64 percent of employees say they visit non-work related websites every day. Of this group, 39 percent spend an hour or less per week, 29 percent two hours per week, 21 percent five hours per week, and three percent said they waste 10 or more hours each week doing activities online that are unrelated to their job.

Unsurprisingly, social media is the biggest destination for this distraction as the most off-task websites were Facebook (41 percent) and LinkedIn (37 percent). A full 25 percent admitted to shopping on Amazon during work hours.

While this is disturbing, it’s important to remember that not so long ago employees were mindlessly playing Solitaire as a way to escape and avoid working. Before that, personal calls, extended cigarette breaks, long lunches, and water cooler gossip kept employees from being optimally productive.

Respondents from the survey said the number one reason for this slacking at work was that they don’t feel challenged enough in their job. This was followed by they work too many hours, the company doesn’t give sufficient incentive to work harder, they are unsatisfied with their career (might explain why they are on LinkedIn), and they’re just bored.

Based on these justifications for internet surfing, it seems both employers and employees need to find ways to reduce this distraction and begin working smarter. So let’s take a look at each of the reasons individually.

  • Employees don’t feel challenged enough in their jobs. Underutilized resources are a problem that employers need to recognize and quickly correct. Granted some tasks are not very challenging and perhaps boring, but every job should also have opportunities for learning and developing new skills that can be stimulating and help raise employee engagement. Employees should make known where their interest and aptitude match an unmet need within the scope of their current position, and employers should provide opportunities for every employee to grow beyond the current position.
  • Employees are working too many hours. This seems like a lame excuse as if just being in the office means you are “working” too much. If employees can work smarter by being more productive during the workday and avoid distractions, it won’t be necessary to work too many hours. Employers need to own their part as well by implementing ROWE (Results Only Work Environment) as a way to measure productivity by results rather than simply the time employees are seated in their cubicles.
  • Company doesn’t provide enough incentive to work harder. The word “incentive’ may be code for an extrinsic reward in the form of compensation. While this could be the case, employees should take responsibility by demonstrating greater value in order to receive a promotion or raise. Employers should also find ways to incentivize employees with both intrinsic (corporate values, teamwork, etc.) and extrinsic (recognition, bonuses, etc.) forms of engagement.
  • Employees are unsatisfied with their career. The distraction of internet surfing during work hours should be a sign that you as an employee should take ownership of your situation and do something about it. If you are unsatisfied in your current position, you might consider applying for another opportunity either inside or outside of your organization. This may require further training or perhaps informational interviews about an entirely different career. Employers should also be on the lookout for dissatisfaction among employees by checking in regularly and providing them with the direction and support needed to keep them engaged.
  • Employees are bored. This also is about engagement as a fully engaged employee is not likely to be bored. Employees need to apply themselves and take ownership of what they can do within the scope of their job to make it interesting. Employers can also ensure that boring tasks are distributed among all employees so no one person is stuck doing something boring all day and every day.

The distractions are not going away and I suspect if the same survey were done today we would see an increase in all of these numbers. How we respond to these distractions is what matters.

Working smarter means employees take responsibility for optimizing their time at work and not wasting it being unproductive. Working smarter means employers provide the opportunities and support so their people feel appreciated, stimulated, and adequately incentivized to give their best.

While there will always be opportunities to escape from the task at hand, it is up to both employees and employers to find ways to encourage higher engagement so that distractions are less enticing to begin with.

Personality Assessments Best for Existing Employees

February 8, 2017

In my work as a leadership coach I often use personality assessments to better understand my clients, especially with regard to how they show up behaviorally in the workplace. This gives me a different lens from which I can often view their blind spots and leadership potential.

Placing people into one segment of a four-square grid or attaching a label to them is not necessarily informative on its own, yet such assessments can be instructive in understanding how an individual interacts with others. When used in conjunction with feedback from co-workers, supervisors, direct reports as well as in-depth conversations with the individual client, I am able to assess where they are and what they may need to work on.

These assessments can add a great deal of value in workplace communication, improving teamwork, overall leadership development and other areas with existing employees. However, when they are used in the hiring process, they can often be counter-productive.

With more than 2,500 different personality tests available and up to 60 percent of workers now taking them, this is a huge industry—estimates of up to $500 million and growing as much as 15 percent annually. And these assessments are subject to very little regulation, in part because they measure intangible concepts with hard-to-calculate qualitative evidence.

While the majority of these assessments are used for career development, about 22 percent of organizations now use them to evaluate job candidates, according a 2014 survey of 344 Society for Human Resource Management members.

Many of these personality tests purport to show an individual’s tendencies, but not an absolute truth. And this is where making decisions on who to hire based on such tests can be especially troublesome. Let’s say, for example, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (or MBTI) determines that a job applicant is an introvert and you’re looking to fulfill a sales position. Would you look only at extroverted candidates or would you accept the fact that introverts can also be very successful at sales, though they may go about it differently?

When compared to other hiring selection practices, personality assessments are among the least effective in predicting job performance, according to by Frank Schmidt, a management and organizations professor emeritus at the University of Iowa. Schmidt says these tests are useful only when combined with other measures such as cognitive ability or integrity tests that have a higher predictive validity.

In fact, personality tests were found to be only one-third as predictive as cognitive exams and far below reference checks with regard to whether an applicant will be a successful employee.

Nevertheless, McDonald’s uses an assessment and asks prospective workers to choose which of the following best describes them:

“It is difficult to be cheerful when there are many problems to take care of” or “Sometimes, I need to push to get started on my work.”

The Wall Street Journal asked industrial psychologist Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic to analyze questions such as these. He said the first item captured “individual differences in neuroticism and conscientiousness.” The second captured “low ambition and drive.” A prospective worker is then pleading guilty to being either high-strung or lazy. Which is McDonald’s looking to hire?

Kroger’s questions were far simpler: “Which adjective best describes you at work: unique or orderly?” By answering “unique,” said Chamorro-Premuzic suggests “high self-concept, openness and narcissism,” and “orderly” expresses “conscientiousness and self-control.” Kindergarten teachers emphasize to children that they are all unique in an attempt to boost their self-esteem. Twelve years later, when that student chooses “unique” on a personality test while applying for a minimum wage job, the program might read the answers as a red flag because nobody wants a workforce filled with narcissists.

According to a 2014 Aberdeen study, just 14% of organizations had data to prove the positive business impact of their assessment strategy when it comes to hiring.

Using any assessment, the hiring manager should determine whether the results of the test will be predictive of future job performance. If there is not a clear affirmation, then focusing on other more important elements of hiring should be considered.

Personality assessments have enormous potential when deployed to existing employees as they can provide self-discovery, improved communication, team building, and other benefits. With regard to hiring, however, such tests have little predictive validity, low reliability over time, and fail to measure what is important in doing a specific job.

Thriving in the Workplace

October 28, 2016

We live at a time when employee engagement is especially low. Employees are dissatisfied, discouraged and disinclined to be optimally productive. This is bad for both employers and employees.

According to Gallop’s 2012 State of the American Workplace, 70% of American workers said they feel they are not engaged at work. This comes at a time when competitive pressures and the technological rate of change are ever increasing.

Engaged employees are those who work with passion and feel a connection to the work and their company. They have a positive relationship with the people they work around and to the work itself. They are also vastly more productive than those who are not engaged.

Disengaged employees may show up to work, but they lack the enthusiasm and energy necessary to thrive. Disengaged employees are pervasive yet most are not actively disengaged, which can be especially harmful to an organization. Nevertheless, it is this lack of engagement that really hinders organizations.

It also impacts the ability for employees to thrive. And without thriving employees, organizations can’t bring about the innovation and creative problem solving required to be competitive in the 21st century.

The solution is for employers to provide an environment suitable to engage employees and for employees to do their part to be engaged. This second part is just as important as no amount of incentives will raise engagement without the employee’s own involvement.

While it is possible to find and hire employees who are naturally inclined to thrive regardless of where they work, the workplace environment can certainly accelerate or hinder this.

Gretchen Spreitzer and Christine Porat along with their research partners at the Ross School of Business’s Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship found that thriving employees are those who are not just satisfied and productive, but also engaged in creating the future—the company’s and their own.

In their research regarding what enables sustainable individual and organizational performance, they found that thriving employees were 32% more committed to their organization and 46% more satisfied with their jobs. Not surprising, these employees were also less likely to miss work.

In order for employees to thrive, Spreitzer and Porat identified two components: vitality and learning. Vitality is the sense of being passionate and excited, which can spark energy in themselves and those around them. Learning is in the growth that comes from gaining new knowledge and skills, such as developing expertise in a certain area.

It’s the combination of the two components that is required because learning without vitality can result in burnout, and vitality without learning leads to work that is too repetitious and boring. It is also the partnership of the employer and employee to be actively involved.

To encourage vitality, employers should provide an environment that generates a sense that what employees do for them really makes a difference.

Employees should seek out organizations for whom they can get passionate and excited about as well as put forth the effort to actively participate. Vitality cannot come from outside the individual because it is intrinsic and, although it can be supported by the opportunities inside the organization, it must bubble up from within the individual employee.

With regard to learning, employers need to provide opportunities for employees to obtain new knowledge and skills. And employees need to maintain a growth mindset and choose to continue learning while on the job. No amount of teaching will lead to learning without a willing student who is ready and interested in gaining new knowledge.

Spreitzer and Porat further identified four mechanisms that can help create the condition for thriving employees. They are:

  • Providing decision-making discretion
  • Sharing information
  • Minimizing incivility
  • Offering performance feedback

This makes sense as these mechanisms are necessary for employees to feel empowered, knowledgeable, comfortable and self-aware.

And organizations can either encourage or discourage these mechanisms. To encourage them, they need to be more than HR policies or corporate value statements because it is a part of the corporate culture. To fully embrace these four mechanisms means everyone in the organization needs to adhere to them and they need to be reinforced each and every day.

Thriving employees need to feel that their contribution is making a positive difference, they are able to directly influence the results, they are free to speak openly even when they disagree with the status quo, and they are able to continue learning and growing in their career

A thriving workplace is one where both organizations and their employees take responsibility. This partnership is mutually beneficial. Organizations can attract and retain top talent while increasing profitability, and employees are more satisfied, encouraged, and inclined to be optimally productive. A thriving workplace is a win-win.

Employee Appreciation & Gratitude

March 3, 2016

Happy Employee Appreciation Day! It’s now the third month of the new year and if you have not yet recognized the impact and value of your employees, do something about it today.

This annual holiday—celebrated the first Friday in March—is meant to remind companies to thank employees for their hard work and effort throughout the year. It is also meant to strengthen the bond between employer and employee.

Perhaps we need Employee Appreciation Day now more than ever because a recent survey found that 40 percent of employees say they had not been recognized at all in the past year. Recognizing employees is probably the most important step in raising employee engagement because it makes them feel more proud and happy with their jobs.

This is according to a new survey conducted by Globoforce last November. The survey, composed of 828 randomly-selected fully employed persons in the United States (aged 18 or older), had a margin of error of +/- 3.9 percentage points at a 95 percent level of confidence.

They also found that two-thirds of workers who were recognized in the last month felt more than twice as engaged at work than those employees who had not been recognized.

This strong correlation between high engagement and recognition means employees who are well-recognized have more drive and determination, better working relationships, improved personal standing and stronger connections to their company.

As I wrote about previously, organizations should give thanks to their employees through a well designed, fully implemented and on-going social recognition program. It’s good for engagement, retention and the bottom-line.

And while cash or gift cards are easy and generally appreciated at least in the short term, they don’t deliver the more important long term results. You can show appreciation to employees in many ways, but be sure it is sincerely presented and meaningful to the individual.

Here are some suggestions:

Be Specific
Rather than simply “great job on that report,” you might say, for example, “I really appreciate that you included the metrics on XYZ in order to emphasize the impact our products will have on the client’s account.”  The more you can tie your praise directly to the individual’s specific contribution, the more impact your appreciation will have.

Consider Giving Time
Perhaps our most precious commodity today is time. When possible, give your employee the gift of taking off the afternoon, a day, or several days to pursue a hobby, spend time with loved ones, or simply to rest and recharge.

Encourage Employees to Appreciate Each Other
Don’t relegate showing appreciation only to the boss. With apps like YouEarnedIt, Bonusly or TINYpulse, you can enable all employees to regularly provide kudos to each other in real time. This will create a more positive and healthy workplace where everyone participates in providing and receiving appreciation.

Express Gratitude
Sometimes it is not the tangible reward that makes us feel appreciated, but the simple verbal or written expression of thanks. And if you tell someone how much you appreciate them, you will likely find that you feel better having done so. That’s because showing gratitude acts like a hug: in the same way you can’t hug someone without receiving a hug in return, expressing gratitude works similarly.

Feelings associated with gratitude impact the dopamine in your brain, which functions as a reward neurotransmitter. Like a drug, experiencing gratitude results in a dopamine hit that makes you feel better.

This gratitude creates positive feelings, good memories, higher self-esteem, and a more relaxed and optimistic mindset. When taken together, these emotions can then create a “pay it forward” and “we’re all in this together” mentality throughout the workplace.

Gratitude makes people feel appreciated, it doesn’t cost anything, and it doesn’t require any special training to implement. All it takes is sincerity and a willingness to show appreciation to others.

Showing appreciation and gratitude for employees creates a better working environment, promotes more engagement and delivers better bottom-line results.

 

Managing Millennials

February 17, 2016

The largest generation in the U.S. workforce today is composed of people born after 1980, and they represent Generation Y or Millennials. These 54 million workers are often called digital natives because they do not know of a world without computers and the Internet.

And while they may not fully appreciate that FAX machines and interoffice memos were once essential, it’s important to see the value of their unique perspectives and contributions.

Millennials were educated working in groups and therefore may be more accepting and effective in work teams than others. They are likely to be more technically savvy and connected. And while they may want regular feedback acknowledging their contribution, they also want to be challenged in the work they do.

Previously I wrote about Millennials as Managers with regard to how these younger workers show up as leaders and how they can best manage others. In this post, I’d like to address how those of older generations can best manage Millennials.

The generations are roughly sorted as: Traditionalists (1927-1945), Baby Boomers (1946-1963), Generation X (1964-1979) and Millennials (1980-1999). The values and work ethic of each can vary immensely, and this impacts how to best manage them.

One methodology for managing will not necessarily work for an entire generation of people, of course. Workers are individuals and a method that works for one person, won’t necessarily work for another—even if they happen to be born within a similar timeframe.

Nevertheless, there are some common characteristics Millennials may share due to the timeframe in which they were raised, and it is therefore useful to consider how this shared perspective may require managing them differently than those who were born earlier.

Millennial workers may be misunderstood by those of other generations. According to research discussed in their book Managing the Millennials, authors Chip Espinoza, Mick Ukleja and Craig Rusch found the perceptions managers have working with Millennial employees can also be viewed as the Millennial’s intrinsic values. For example:

Manager’s Perception Millennial’s Intrinsic Value
Autonomous Work-life fusion – It’s about getting work done; not punching a clock to satisfy office processes.
Entitled Reward – Being recognized and rewarded for their contribution; Millennials want more than just an opportunity. They want a guarantee their performance will count for something.
Imaginative Self-expression – Offering a fresh perspective that they want to be heard and their ideas taken into consideration.
Self-absorbed Attention – In search of trust, encouragement and praise for how they individually are contributing to the whole of the group.
Defensive Achievement – They are more interested in how to focus on building their strengths than having their weaknesses pointed out.
Abrasive Informality – Though their behavior may be interpreted as disrespectful, their casual communication style is simply how they grew up learning to express themselves.
Myopic Simplicity – They may see their own individual task as essential without fully appreciating other tasks around it.
Unfocused Multitasking – If they have always juggled several tasks at a time, they may find it difficult to really appreciate the benefit of full focused attention on one thing at a time.
Indifferent Meaning – They can’t care about their contribution unless they know the meaning behind it.

This difference between a manager’s perception and the Millennial worker’s intrinsic values can lead to a great deal of conflict unless the manager is aware of it. This doesn’t mean managers should abdicate all responsibility from workers because they hold these intrinsic values. Instead, they could seek to find mutual understanding in the difference.

Ideally, this would take place in the normal course of working together and not held off until that dreaded and often detrimental annual performance review. By then, it is often too late.

Authors Espinoza, Ukleja and Rusch further outlined nine managerial competencies that can be essential to managing Millennials effectively. These competencies may both reduce tension and create an environment in which both the manager and the employee can thrive.

  1. Be Flexible – to enable the autonomous, work-life fusion
  2. Create the Right Rewards – to engage them; often simply through verbal recognition
  3. Put Their Imagination to Work – allow for their self-expression to be incorporated
  4. Build a Relationship – listen to what they have to say and encourage their development
  5. Be Positive When Correcting – focus on strengths to build up their confidence
  6. Don’t Take Things Personally – don’t mistake their informality as an affront to you
  7. Show the Big Picture – help them see how their contribution connects to others
  8. Include the Details – spell out expectations until you are certain they are clear
  9. Make it Matter to Them – connect their aspirations to the organization’s objectives

None of these are necessarily revolutionary nor would they be less useful when managing Gen Xers or Boomers. However, it is important to consider that the Millennial worker may be especially predisposed to function at a higher level when working in an environment where these competencies are demonstrated by those who manage them.

And managers who seek to fully appreciate their workers’ unique perspectives will find a way to engage them and bring out their best.

Millennials as Managers

February 4, 2016

Millennials now represent the largest generation in the U.S. workforce. These digital natives are often described as confident and tolerant as well as entitled and narcissistic. What does this mean in terms of their effectiveness as managers in the workplace?

Stereotypes of the 54 million working Millennials include: lack of experience, immaturity, no long-term vision, too focused on their next career step, and they struggle with people skills. These were no doubt similar to the stereotypes associated with Generation X, Baby Boomers and even Traditionalists when they first entered the workforce.

People born into each generation are roughly sorted as: Traditionalists or Silent Generation (1927-1945), Baby Boomers (1946-1963), Generation X (1964-1979) and Millennials or Generation Y (1980-1999). The values and work ethic of each can vary immensely.

Every generation seems to have an opinion about those who follow or preceded them. Baby Boomers were born at a time when the economy was booming after World War II. No surprise then that those of Generation X often describe Baby Boomers as optimistic and workaholics. And Boomers describe Gen Xers as skeptical and self-reliant.

Typically, the previous generation believes the up and coming generation has it so much easier than they did, though it could be argued just the opposite.

The reality is that the members of each generation continue to evolve both as individuals and as a group. And all the generations need to learn to coexist—rather than discount each others’ differences, find ways to complement these unique perspectives.

Like the generations that preceded them, Millennials face challenges in being seen as competent managers of other people. In their book Millennials Who Manage, Chip Espinoza and Joel Schwarzbart conducted research to determine the biggest challenges Millennials face in the workplace. These challenges are listed from most to least frequently mentioned.

  • Lack of experience
  • Not being taken seriously
  • Not getting respect
  • Being perceived as “entitled”
  • Lack of patience
  • Getting helpful feedback
  • Understanding expectations
  • Miscommunication with older workers
  • Rigid processes
  • Proving value
  • Understanding corporate culture

Though this is a long list, it hasn’t prohibited Millennials from becoming competent workers and effective managers. In fact, as the Traditionalist and Baby Boomer generations move further into retirement, Millennials will be taking on more and more management opportunities.

So what can Millennials do to further overcome these challenges and become better at managing people older and more experienced than themselves?

Espinoza and Schwarzbart provide a number of recommendations. Though I can see all of these being useful in any management scenario, they may be especially suitable for Millennials managing workers who are older and more experienced. When managing workers older than themselves, Millennials should:

  • Know What They Don’t Like
    Demotivating factors are not necessarily the opposite of motivating factors. For example, a demotivating factor could be a manager who micromanages others, which may very well trump a number of motivating factors meant to encourage engagement.
  • Understand What Does Motivate Them
    Though it’s dangerous to link everyone within a certain generational category, keep in mind that what motivates one employee is not true for all others. For instance, a Gen X employee may more likely have an independent streak and be not nearly as interested in team building events as Baby Boomers or Millennials.
  • Seek Their Input, Learn from Them, and Encourage Mentoring
    The lack of experience in Millennial managers can be offset somewhat by showing reverence to the wisdom of other generations. This doesn’t mean capitulating authority as the boss, but simply encouraging a dialogue for you to learn and others to feel respected and valued in their respective roles.
  • Communicate
    An open channel for communication is essential in any successful business. Though Millennials may seek more frequent feedback than other generations, it is important to maintain a regular practice of give and take rather than await the dreaded and oftentimes detrimental annual performance review.
  • Be a Leader, but Don’t Overdo the “Boss” Thing
    Just because you have the job title, doesn’t mean you can bully others or force your employees to do their work effectively. True leadership is your ability to inspire and influence others so people you manage choose to follow your direction.

A multigenerational workplace has many challenges, and yet every generation seems to be especially challenged by both effectively listening and sharing information. Perhaps these two areas are where the focus for growth and learning can be best accomplished.

And when you think about listening and sharing information, it’s clear that trust is inherent in both. Perhaps building trust among the generations will see the widest and most effective intervention for helping them all to work together better.

As a Millennial manager, you have the opportunity to effectively lead your team by making a concerted effort to foster trusting relationships where listening and sharing information is both modeled and rewarded. Appeal to all the generations and be the change agent to lead us in the 21st Century.

Narcissism in Leadership

January 22, 2016

Can a narcissist be a good leader? This is the question that comes up for me when I contemplate the possibility of a President Trump.

The Mayo Clinic defines narcissistic personality disorder as “a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others.” Characteristics include arrogance, dominance and hostility.

According to psychologist and Harvard professor Howard Gardener, Donald Trump is a “textbook” narcissist. And while healthy narcissism can be valuable in leaders, unhealthy narcissism can be extremely destructive.

Though many famous productive and healthy narcissists come to mind in the corporate world (e.g., Bill Gates, Jack Welch, Larry Ellison), it’s a bit more difficult to think of narcissistic world leaders that aren’t viewed as dictators (e.g., Muammar Qaddafi, Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot.)

However, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton all displayed many healthy narcissistic qualities while in power. These healthy narcissistic qualities include: self confidence that is in line with reality, a genuine concern for others and their ideas, and the ability to follow through on plans based on their values.

Conversely, unhealthy narcissistic qualities include: self-confidence that is grandiose, devaluing and exploiting others without remorse, and an inability to follow a consistent path because it is not grounded in values.

Healthy and productive narcissists can be visionaries with creative strategies, who are able to find meaning in the challenges of a changing world. Narcissists are not only risk takers, but also charmers who can convert the masses with their rhetoric.

Sigmund Freud named narcissism after the mythical figure Narcissus, who died because of his pathological preoccupation with himself. Freud said that narcissists are emotionally isolated and highly distrustful. They are typically overly sensitive to criticism, poor listeners and—though emotionally clever—they tend towards exploitation rather than empathy.

“Companies need leaders who do not try to anticipate the future so much as create it,” wrote Michael Maccoby in a 2004 Harvard Business Review article titled Narcissistic Leaders: The Incredible Pros, the Inevitable Cons. “But narcissistic leaders—even the most productive of them—can self-destruct and lead their organizations terribly astray. For companies whose narcissistic leaders recognize their limitations, these will be the best of times. For other companies, these could turn out to be the worst.”

Narcissists can turn unproductive when, due to their lack of self-awareness and restraint, they become unrealistic dreamers, says Maccoby. They nurture grand schemes and harbor the illusion where only circumstances or enemies are blocking their success.

They listen only for the kind of information they are seeking. They don’t learn from others, nor do they like to teach. Instead, they indoctrinate others and make speeches. Rather than search for the best solutions among others, they dominate meetings with their own agenda.

Paradoxically, they are extraordinarily sensitive yet they avoid emotions. And in this age of teamwork and collaboration, the narcissistic leader is emotionally isolated.

Many narcissistic leaders become more confident as they increase the number of followers, and very often this leads to flagrant risk-taking, which inevitably results in their downfall. See Bill Clinton with Monica Lewinsky.

For the narcissistic CEO, Maccoby recommends three ways to avoid the traps of their own personality. Let’s look at these and how they might apply to Trump in a governing setting.

  1. Find a trusted sidekick. This is someone who can keep the narcissist grounded. Don Quixote had Sancho Panza just as Bill Gates had Steve Ballmer. Would Donald Trump choose a Vice President or Chief of Staff who could provide adequate counsel to avoid disaster? I have not yet heard or read that he has such a person at his side now.
  2. Indoctrinate the organization. The narcissistic leader wants all subordinates to think the way he or she thinks. Jack Welch had a personal ideology he indoctrinated into GE managers through speeches, memos and confrontations. Rather than create a dialogue, he made pronouncements. Donald Trump may have great difficulty doing this given the divisiveness of a divided congress, not to mention the need for diplomacy on the world stage.
  3. Get into analysis. Though a narcissistic leader is more interested in controlling others than in knowing and disciplining him or herself, this could prove especially useful to uncover and correct vital character flaws. The best narcissistic corporate leaders will do this to become more self-aware and learn humility. Donald Trump, like any politician, would likely hide this even if he were courageous enough to take it on.

Perhaps what at least partially explains Donald Trump’s current lead in the polls is that he has convinced many Republican voters that they should be very afraid because these are chaotic times. Fearful chaotic times are when narcissists most often thrive.

Whether in a corporate or government setting, healthy productive narcissistic leaders can go a long way towards rallying support needed in order to bring about sustainable change and progress. It typically requires gaining some self-awareness and becoming more grounded.

However, unhealthy unproductive narcissistic leaders in either setting can bring about greater divisiveness, reckless planning and execution, and a total lack of concern for others. This type of narcissistic leader would prove detrimental to any company or country.

Thanks Giving to Employees

November 19, 2015

Aside from the Thanksgiving meal, football games and holiday shopping, this is the time of year when we are thankful. We pause to remember that it is really the people in our lives who make living so precious, and we ought to show our appreciation.

While this is certainly important in our personal lives, it should not be ignored in the workplace. As I’ve written about previously, thanking employees is one of the easiest, cheapest and most beneficial ways to raise engagement. Yet it isn’t done nearly enough.

Employees are still leaving jobs as often for not being appreciated as they do for higher compensation.

And though many managers may believe their employees should be happy with a paycheck, those companies using social recognition programs are making measurable impact on employee engagement and retention. And social recognition is really more about the praise than it is the prize.

That’s because recognition is more than incentives. While incentives focus on the expected reward for achieving desired results, recognition is more about the surprising reward due to the outstanding effort to achieve results. Incentives are typically an extrinsic reward while recognition is more often an intrinsic reward.

Employees can spot empty gestures and these may even be counterproductive. However, when social recognition includes genuine gestures that take into account employees’ specific needs and perspectives, those employees will thrive providing bottom line results.

“Recognition can and should be planned and executed in a company like any other management practice with the potential to drive bottom-line results, and therein lies the opportunity for competitive advantage,” write Eric Mosley and Derek Irvine in their book The Power of Thanks. “When you elevate recognition to the level of other strategic practices, you create a fresh competitive advantage, one that is uniquely tailored to your company’s culture, goals, and strategy.”

Social recognition earns the support of executives because it engages them where they live: the realms of competitive advantage, high performance and profits.

According to a 2007-2008 Global Workforce Study, Towers Watson found that a 15 percent improvement in employee engagement correlates with a 2 percent improvement in operating margin. Further, Aon Hewitt’s 2013 study showed that for every percentage point increase in employee engagement drives a 0.6 percent growth in sales.

These are tangible bottom-line results from the intangible benefits of social recognition programs. But that doesn’t mean it comes without a financial investment. According to studies such as WorldatWork’s Trends in Employee Recognition, the budget for social recognition programs is typically between 1 and 2 percent of payroll.

Therefore, adequately funding such a program may require companies to reallocate dollars from merit increases, annual bonus pool, or even those individual department dinners and ad hoc events. But pooling this money to fully fund a well-planned and well-executed recognition program will pay bigger dividends beyond the usual high achieving individuals.

In their book, authors Mosley and Irvine provide a blueprint for initiating a successful social recognition program that include the following essential elements:

Sponsorship – All top executives must commit to the social recognition implementation because it elevates the program to a strategic status. This means it gets the constant attention and support in messaging, applying resources, and keeping it at the forefront of all company initiatives.

Design – Like every strategic initiative, the design of social recognition programs must include clear goals and objectives, metrics for measuring effectiveness, and stakeholder feedback. You must keep everyone informed as you rollout and adapt the program as needed.

Reach – Social recognition programs need to be integrated with other HR and company goals, involve as many people as possible, and ensure you calibrate awards to match achievement. Don’t limit your recognition to the same 10% who are over achievers already; instead, find ways to raise the engagement of the middle 70% of your employees with more frequent and meaningful rewards.

Adoption – The effectiveness of any strategic initiative requires quick and mass adoption throughout the organization. To do this means ensuring you educate, engage and excite when launching your social recognition program. Give it the care and attention it deserves to launch and stay relevant.

Rewards – Make the rewards as unique as the people they represent. While cash is always nice, consider gift cards because they are more likely to be remembered and used for something other than paying bills. And provide your people with a choice to make rewards most effective to each individual.

Thanksgiving is the time of year when we should be thankful. This year, remember to give thanks to your employees through a well designed, fully implemented and on-going social recognition program. It’s good for engagement, retention and the bottom-line. It will also make them feel appreciated.

Raise Employee Engagement via Encouragement

September 8, 2015

Despite his best efforts, your employee misses a critical deadline and an important business outcome is in doubt. How do you respond?

This situation is something every manager or leader faces at some point.

Will your response depend on the individual employee or on how well you have been informed throughout the process?

Obviously, many factors weigh into your response, but your gut reaction is to either attack the person or attack the problem. And these two reactions can result in very different outcomes.

Those who attack the person may find that this employee can never adequately escape from your perspective that he has let you down. And this can be detrimental to both the employee and the organization.

Those who attack the problem may find that this can keep the employee from taking it personally and hopefully learn from the experience. It can also nurture the relationship you have with the employee and likely raise his engagement going forward.

Encouragement can raise employee engagement like nothing else. I’m not suggesting you say only nice things, but you can choose to encourage the positive and let the negative speak for itself.

Throughout much of business, there tends to be a laser focus on problem solving, which is to seek out what is wrong and find a way to fix it. A counter notion is appreciative inquiry, which is about focusing on what the organization is doing well in certain areas and find a way to replicate it in others.

Too many organizations focus exclusively on problem fixing that never relieve the employee or the organization from creating the problems. That’s because it is all too easy to find problems and fix them without really changing anything to keep them from happening in the first place.

Appreciative inquiry, on the other hand, is about recognizing what results in positive outcomes and spreading it around the organization. Often used to bring about strategic change, appreciative inquiry offers an alternative perspective that encourages rather than discourages, that builds up rather than knocks down, that spreads rather than eliminates.

In a recent front page New York Times article, this notion of positivity was focused on the Seattle Seahawks. Led by head coach Pete Carroll, the football team is having a great deal of success in part because he encourages his players rather than beats them up over miscues.

Remaining positive despite interceptions, dropped passes, missed tackles and even game losses has been instrumental to getting the most out of so many of the Seahawks’ late round draft picks and undrafted players. It has certainly played a part in their back-to-back Super Bowl appearances and expectations for returning again this year.

In the same way this positive philosophy is rare in the National Football League, it is also rare in business. That needs to change if an organization wants to be about collaboration, innovation, continual learning and success.

Collaboration requires trust that an individual will not be attacked for doing his or her best—unless, of course, this becomes a pattern rather than an exception. Collaboration requires taking risks and making ourselves vulnerable. That cannot happen if we’re running scared of making mistakes for fear of reprisals.

Innovation means trying new things and coloring outside the lines in order to find solutions. This won’t happen if we are avoiding experimentation for fear of personal repercussions. Out-of-the-box thinking can’t be based on fear, but requires a nurturing atmosphere to foster creativity.

Continual learning is required for organizations to thrive in the 21st century. This means constantly attacking what (not who) is wrong and find ways to fix or do it better. It requires allowing for mistakes, miscues and failures in order to find the best sustainable solutions.

Success is a road paved with failure goes the old saying. There can be no success if we don’t acknowledge our failures, learn from them, and move forward. Acknowledging these failures can be done in a positive light that encourages participants to own up to their part or negative where people hide or blame others.

Author and management consultant Peter Drucker once said: “The task of leadership is to create an alignment of strengths in ways the make the system’s weaknesses irrelevant.”

If this is not focusing on positive rather than negative, I don’t know what is.

Next time your employee makes a mistake, misses a deadline, or falls short despite his or her best efforts, use encouragement. You will find that, in the long run, this will bring about better performance and raise overall engagement.

Futility in Infrequent Feedback

July 16, 2015

Most annual reviews are dreaded both by those giving and those receiving them, yet they are a mainstay in the corporate world. This is because annual reviews can help people stay on track to meet individual, workgroup and corporate goals.

One of the problems is that annual reviews often feel contrived. Typically too much is riding on them because the feedback is focused on past failures, shortcomings and mistakes rather than corrective actions, training opportunities and future success.

As a result, it’s difficult to deliver constructive feedback on performance without the recipient taking it personally.

In many cases, an annual review is the only communication between a supervisor and an employee specifically related to performance. There in lies the problem. Communication about performance should be given much more often, and it should be given in ways that are supportive and instructive.

Feedback in the form of a 360 report can be helpful as it provides a more balanced perspective that includes the boss but other leaders, peers, direct reports and sometimes clients or customers. The sum of this report can make it easier to receive feedback because it represents how you show up in the workplace.

The great leadership coach and best-selling author Marshall Goldsmith in his book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There suggests getting four commitments from those providing feedback for a 360 report. These four commitments are:

  1. Let go of the past
  2. Tell the truth
  3. Be supportive and helpful—not cynical or negative
  4. Pick something to improve yourself—so everyone is focused more on “improving” than “judging”

When these commitments are kept, 360 results provide an accurate and objective perspective of the individual from which he or she can use as a guide to confidently continue doing what they do well and initiate behavioral change where necessary.

The biggest problem with feedback, however, is that it focuses on the past and rarely on the present or future.

In addition to feedback, we should also provide feedforward to encourage a more positive and dynamic focus on performance improvement. Feedforward is different from feedback in the following ways:

Feedback                                                      Feedforward
Past                                                                Future
Revisit failure                                                Envision success
Who you are (or were)                                 Who you can become
Can be difficult to give                                 Easier and satisfying to offer
Often taken personally                                 Received as supportive and instructive

Goldsmith offered many leaders the opportunity to participate in feedforward sessions where they were asked to play two roles: one who provides feedforward and one who receives feedforward. This was an experiential exercise where the participants did not even need to know each other because it was based on specific behaviors all of us can relate to.

Here’s how his Feedforward Sessions work:

  • Pick one behavior you would like to change, a change that will make a significant and positive difference in your life.
  • Describe the behavior to a fellow participant. This is done face-to-face. Example: “I want to become a better listener.”
  • Ask the participant for feedforward. Specifically, two ideas to help you achieve the change you seek in your behavior. (If participant knows you, he or she should not give any feedback about the past. It should be focused entirely on the future.)
  • Your job is to then listen attentively and take notes. Do not comment on, critique or even praise the suggestions in any way. Just pay attention.
  • Thank the participant no matter how good, bad, redundant or unhelpful the suggestions may be.
  • Ask the other participant what he or she would like to change. Repeat the process with you now providing feedforward suggestions.
  • Repeat this process with as many others as possible.

Participants report this exercise to be very positive and even fun. What’s truly great about it is that people feel as if everyone is in service of helping everyone else. It is not competitive, but truly collaborative. Goldsmith describes feedforward and the value of it in this article.

A similar idea is in clearness committees from the Quaker tradition, which provide a process of discernment whereby members assist one who has a difficult concern or dilemma by simply asking honest and open-ended questions. These questions are not leading questions or meant to challenge assumptions, but simply to help the individual find clarity in his or her own answers from within.

It can be difficult to ask such simple questions because we are wired to focus on offering advice and solutions. However, what we often need is simply someone to truly listen and help us in finding our own answers.

Feedforward sessions like clearness committees offer the opportunity for active listening and truly supportive attention. They provide a safe and helpful setting in which people can often gain insight into what they want to change or answer.

Regardless of the process, don’t wait for an annual review to best manage your direct reports. While feedback can be helpful, be mindful of the fact that focusing on the past and on failures or mistakes can only go so far. And don’t save it all up for a once a year opportunity.

Don’t let the futility of infrequent feedback undermine your ability to help your employees improve their performance.

Instead, help them achieve performance goals by being more proactive: take corrective action in the moment, catch them doing things well and acknowledge it, support them as they take on new challenges, and regularly communicate with them to ensure there are no surprises at the annual review.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/13657368@N00/1752089487″>Success is ours!! :-)</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a>

Values-Based Recognition for Employee Retention

July 2, 2015

Retaining the best employees is difficult, especially when the economy is on the rise and new opportunities are opening up all around. But keeping your talent is essential if you want to remain competitive.

In the 2015 Employee Recognition Report published by SHRM and Globoforce, employee turnover/retention is the biggest challenge now facing HR leaders. Not surprisingly, employee engagement is a close second. Some 40 percent of all companies surveyed said the loss of personnel was a top concern. Another 29 percent were stressed about finding replacement talent.

Why do employees leave companies: higher salary, better benefits, a shorter commute? There’s a saying that people join a company due to its reputation, but they leave because of their manager.

Perhaps it’s the rise of the notion of free-agent nation with each of us looking out only for ourselves rather than the company as a whole. Maybe it’s generational as there are now more Millennials in the workforce than Generation Xers or Baby Boomers.

Research conducted by Marshall Goldsmith for Accenture found that when high potential leaders were asked why they would stay in their own company versus taking a better offer elsewhere, the answers were never about money. They were always about happiness, relationships, following dreams, and meaning.

I’ve worked for some successful start-ups that had a laser focus on customers, with employees coming in a very close second. Once these companies went public, however, shareholders took over the second if not the first spot. And the top two were the only ones that got attention.

According to the SHRM/Globoforce report, lack of recognition at work is one of the most cited reasons why employees leave their jobs. Employees feel their contribution in achieving the company’s goals are not valued by their peers or manager.

Why don’t we celebrate success? Why don’t we congratulate our peers and our direct reports for their work? The simple act of saying “thank you” or “great job” has somehow become difficult to get out of our mouths.

Many companies are taking steps to address this more formally by implementing specific recognition programs because frequent and immediate recognition have been found to increase employee engagement and reduce turnover.

However, unless these recognition programs are aligned with a company’s values, they will have little effect. Values-based recognition seems to make employees feel they are valued and their contributions are fully appreciated.

And while more than 80% of large companies offer some kind of formal recognition, values-based recognition is still practiced by only a little more than 50% of these companies—though it is on the rise. And with good reason.

In the SHRM/Globoforce report, recognition was perceived to positively impact engagement for 90 percent of respondents practicing values-based recognition versus just 67 percent for non-values-based programs. Retention was also directly affected with 68 percent of values-based programs perceived with a positive impact versus just 41 percent for non-values-based programs.

With your company’s values as a guide, link your recognition programs directly to them in order to reinforce their importance and encourage employees to practice behavior that you want your company to represent.

This will not only enable you to hold on to your best and brightest employees, but also make everyone more engaged, which can boost productivity. Values-based recognition will also attract new job candidates looking for companies that demonstrate their core values in the way they treat employees.

So consider skipping bagel Fridays, the monthly pizza party or generic birthday cupcake each month in favor of specific, timely and frequent recognition that is deeply tied to your company’s core values. This will encourage your employees to stay and be more engaged than just about anything.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/61166346@N06/5954679540″>Retention and Engagement</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a>

5 Ways to Motivate Employees

May 6, 2015

Navigating one’s career has as much to do with managing a boss as it does with being productive and getting results. Anyone who has ever had to manage their boss knows this is difficult yet important for job security and career advancement.

The boss has a responsibility in this too. In fact, more and more managers are now judged as much on how they manage downwards as how they manage across and upwards throughout an organization.

There’s a saying that people join a company due to its reputation and they leave because of a manager. The manager who leaves a wake of high attrition is bad for business, since experts claim it can cost companies up to twice an employee’s annual salary to find and train a replacement.

So how can managers become better bosses? It means a manager who invests time and energy in helping their employees grow and prosper. And a manager people want to work for because they feel valued and have an opportunity to be successful.

The best managers are those who hold their people accountable for the work, but they connect with the humanity we share. They demonstrate true concern for their people and connect by being present.

Being present means in regular one-on-one meetings, they actively listen and focus on how they can help. They are there to serve the best interests of helping their employee perform the job. They are there as a guide, a confidant, an advisor and a motivator.

Nothing can raise employee engagement more than an engaged and present boss. That’s because people feel valued when the person responsible for their success is regularly involved. This means more not less contact, but the quality of the contact is what is most important.

Top Five Ways to Motivate Employees

  • Communicate (listen) – Stop using email to communicate whenever possible. Your people will be motivated more by hearing the words come out of your mouth than reading them on a computer screen. And be sure you actively listen rather than do all the talking. Let them know they are being heard.
  • Take a genuine interest in their career – All of us want to know that our boss is looking out for us. Don’t wait for that annual review to tell them what they did well and where they need to improve. Make this a routine conversation to help you understand them and reach their individual career goals.
  • Empower them – None of us can grow and become a stronger leader if we are not empowered to make decisions at our level. Enable your employees to determine how to best accomplish their tasks, yet hold them responsible for the results. Trust that they will find the best solution to problems until you find evidence to the contrary.
  • Be a role model – Nothing speaks louder than the actions you take as you conduct your business. Your words will mean little if they contradict your actions. Hold yourself accountable to the same standard you hold them.
  • Seek to inspire rather than micro-manage – In order to thrive, employees are best inspired by a vision for what is to be accomplished. This means presenting a goal that is more than a simple date on a calendar or dollar amount on a spreadsheet. Make the value appeal to their intrinsic interests.

Motivating employees is perhaps one of the most important and challenging aspects of managing others. It is not taught in business school, yet every manager can become better with practice.

All it takes is attention to being the best boss you can be. If you do this well, you may find your boss taking note and becoming better too.

photo credit: N03/9045254666″>Business man shows success abstract flow chart via photopin (license)

Hiring Well is More Important Than Ever

March 7, 2015

It used to be when hiring someone you needed to determine whether the person could do the job (skills and experience) and whether he or she wants to do the job (motivation). But that didn’t always result in getting the best people.

We now know there’s a lot more required to succeed in today’s workplace than your expertise and attitude. Experience, knowledge, skills, behaviors and attitudes are all important yet not easily distilled from current resumes, job applications, interviews and reference checks.

Most companies are looking for a particular set of skills and experience to fill a given need at the current time. But how can companies ensure whether a candidate can do the critical thinking necessary to resolve tomorrow’s challenges?

The white collar workplace has changed a lot in the last twenty years. It’s a lot less formal and much more collaborative. There are more demands, but also more freedom for how and where the work gets done. And technology has dramatically accelerated the pace of change.

Communication skills, critical thinking, collaboration, adaptability, creativity, emotional intelligence and the ability to continue learning are all critical to success. But these abilities are not easily distilled in the usual way we go about securing the right people.

Seek to understand which interpersonal behaviors will complement or combust in your existing culture. Determine whether a given candidate is right for the organization, but also whether the organization is right for him or her.

In How Google Works by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg, the Google executive authors explain how in the Internet Century the best method for hiring people is not the model used in corporate America, but in academia. Universities rarely lay off professors because they invest so much time in getting the right faculty by using committees.

Google doesn’t leave hiring people to the hiring manager, but instead charge this to more objective peer-based committees to determine whether the candidate is ultimately the right fit for the role and for the company.

In order to hire a “smart creative” at Google, everything about each candidate must be contained in a packet that committee members can digest in a matter of 120 seconds. Along with a resume and other documents, this packet contains reviewer comments and the “yea” or “nay” decision from the four to five Googlers who interviewed the person.

At Google, finding the right people is everyone’s job. Recruiters are there to manage the process, but every employee is responsible for recruiting.

Google’s Hiring Dos and Don’ts

  • Hire people who are smarter and more knowledgeable than you are.
  • Don’t hire people you can’t learn from or be challenged by.
  • Hire people who will add value to the product and our culture.
  • Don’t hire people who won’t contribute well to both.
  • Hire people who get things done.
  • Don’t hire people who just think about problems.
  • Hire people who are enthusiastic, self-motivated, and passionate.
  • Don’t hire people who just want a job.
  • Hire people who inspire and work well with others.
  • Don’t hire people who prefer to work alone.
  • Hire people who will grow with your team and with the company.
  • Don’t hire people with narrow skill sets or interests.
  • Hire people who are well rounded, with unique interests and talents.
  • Don’t hire people who only live to work.
  • Hire people who are ethical and who communicate openly.
  • Don’t hire people who are political or manipulative.
  • Hire only when you’ve found a great candidate.
  • Don’t settle for anything less.

A lot more should be done on the front end to clearly define what you’re looking for, so take the time to determine the ideal traits for the position. And widen the net beyond the usual channels to enable the candidate to find you.

“I will only hire someone to work directly for me if I would work for that person,” Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg recently told the audience at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. “It’s a pretty good test and I think this rule has served me well.”

Experience, knowledge, skills, behaviors and attitudes are all important and it is therefore vital to critically assess how the candidate measures up in each of these. And don’t restrict finding the best people to human resources or recruiters. Make hiring well the most important element in your organization to achieve optimal success.

photo credit: Needle In A Haystack via photopin (license)

Better Group Decision-Making without Groupthink

February 6, 2015

As social beings, throughout human history, we make things happen primarily in groups rather than as individuals. Whether inside a business, government agency, school board, religious organization or any other group, you most likely interact with others in order to decide what to do.

There is good reason for this: groups can often make better decisions than individuals on their own. A collective wisdom results when people work together to find the best solution to a problem.

However, we all know and have been part of a group where the decision turned out badly. This is often the result of groupthink, where the desire for harmony or conformity results in irrational or dysfunctional decision-making.

Under certain conditions, determining a solution via statistical methodology may be preferable than through deliberation. James Surowiecki, in his book The Wisdom of Crowds, found that the average answer is often accurate, where accuracy is measured by reference to objective facts.

The average of a group of people judging the number of beans in a jar, for example, is almost always better than the judgments of the individuals alone. In one experiment, a group of 56 students were asked about a jar that held 850 beans. The group estimate was 871, and was more accurate than all but one of the students.

According to Cass R. Sunstein and Reid Hassie in their new book Wiser: Getting Beyond Groupthink to Make Groups Smarter, group decisions can go wrong for many reasons because they can:

  • Amplify rather than correct individual errors in judgment;
  • Fall victim to cascade effects with members following what others say or do;
  • Become polarized by adopting more extreme positions than the ones they started with;
  • Emphasize what everybody knows instead of focusing on critical information that only a few people know.

One of the central themes of their book is the importance of diversity, not in terms demographics, but with ideas and perspectives. This cognitive diversity can come about only when leaders choose to create the right kind of culture and hire the right kind of people.

Group decision-making often fails to produce good results because leaders tend to mix the divergent function (diversity of ideas) and consensus-seeking function. Both divergent and consensus functions are necessary, but are best when implemented separately. Sunstein and Hassie recommend eight potential approaches that can reduce the failure of group decision-making:

  1. Inquisitive and self-silencing. This requires leaders to listen to everyone before revealing their own perspective. The leader should be inquisitive and allow the opportunity for new ideas to emerge instead of seeking confirmation on where they stand.
  2. Priming critical thinking. This priming is about triggering some association or thought in a way to affect people’s choices and behaviors. When people are motivated to arrive at the right solution through critical thinking, they are far more likely to reveal what they know rather than guard this information until they have the complete solution. Leaders can help by simply saying: “Okay, now tell me something I need to know.”
  3. Rewarding group success. When people are rewarded only when the group is right, they are far more likely to reveal what they know. Restructure incentives so the group truly functions collaboratively. Identification with the group’s success means people are more likely to reveal their ideas regardless of whether this fits the party line.
  4. The role of roles. Having specialists representing diverse areas of expertise can be helpful because they each feel empowered to speak up. In government, “equities,” which, when working well, can result in people providing important information and perspectives that reflect their own role. Whether in the public or private sector, leaders should ensure people are assigned different tasks and roles in order to improve group decision-making.
  5. Perspective changing. Sometimes when a group ends up going down a path that doesn’t seem so good, it may be worth asking: “If we were to bring in new leadership, what would it do?” This simple question can sometimes break through the traps that keep groups from moving in the right direction.
  6. Speak of the devil. By deliberately assigning someone the role to play devil’s advocate, a leader can count on this person to challenge the status quo. In addition, the one assuming this role is then able to avoid the pressure that comes from rejecting the dominant position with the group, since they are being asked to do exactly that.
  7. Red Teaming. This is a contrarian team that operates similarly to devil’s advocates in that they attempt to poke holes in the primary team’s idea. They can be used to test worst-case scenarios and are common in the military and government. Private sector companies may outsource this function to “white-hat hackers,” who are paid to penetrate corporate firewalls or hack into security systems. Law firms use them with mock juries before going to trial.
  8. The Delphi Method. This is a formal process for aggregating the views of group members, and can be viewed as a version of averaging that enlists social learning. It’s beneficial because a) it ensures initial anonymity of all members, b) they are each given an opportunity to offer feedback on each other’s views, and c) the judgments of members are gathered again with statistical aggregation. The anonymity both in the beginning and end helps minimize the reputational pressure and reduces self-silencing.

Each of these has its merits, but none would be used in every scenario. The point is to look beyond the way your group currently makes decisions to determine which of the above might used to modify your deliberation in order to ensure better outcomes.

Appreciation for a Job Well Done

August 21, 2014

Employee engagement is by far the single most important HR challenge for organizations because it impacts recruitment, retention, absenteeism and productivity.

In fact, according to a 2011 Gallup poll, the annual cost of lost productivity on the U.S. economy due to actively disengaged employees is $370 billion!

And finding a way to improve employee engagement can be as simple as showing appreciation for a job well done.

According to a 2013 survey of 803 human resource employees by the Society of Human Resource Management and Globoforce, direct supervisors have a great deal of power over employee engagement. Here are the responses from this question:

“In your professional opinion, which of the following items have the most impact on employee engagement at your organization?”

  • Appreciation by direct supervisor                                                  71%
  • Opportunity to advance                                                                  41%
  • Salary and bonus                                                                            36%
  • Ability to be effective in one’s job                                                   35%
  • Company’s care for employees’ well-being                                    30%
  • Confidence in executive leadership                                                29%
  • Relationship with peers                                                                   22%
  • Belief in company’s mission                                                            18%
  • Appreciation by peers                                                                      11%
  • Job title                                                                                               4%
  • Other                                                                                                  2%

 

The same survey found that only 26% of employees are satisfied with the level of recognition they receive for doing a good job at work.

One of the reasons for this is that all too often it is only during an annual performance review that we acknowledge the contributions of our employees. This is short sighted.

Annual performance reviews are too infrequent to be useful for giving valuable feedback—both positive and negative. Giving specific praise and actionable criticism is often far removed from the examples it may point to. In addition, these reviews are often limited to the perspective of an immediate supervisor rather than involve feedback from peers and other employees.

Most employees and their supervisors dislike the entire annual review process so much that they are usually late and are completed only after continual hounding by human resource departments.

As a result, these reviews serve primarily as an opportunity to negotiate promotions and raises rather than a constructive learning and trust-building opportunity.

More that half (51%) of the HR people surveyed say their organization’s existing performance review process needs to be completely overhauled.

Obviously, there is a need to change the way we are seeking to engage our employees. With that in mind, here are three suggestions for raising employee engagement through showing greater appreciation: 

  • Give specific genuine praise every time it’s warranted. Don’t let an opportunity go by without thanking your employee for the extra effort or extraordinary results they achieve. It’s not just about the money.
  • Celebrate individual contributions. Don’t think that by singling out individuals you are slighting others. Every time someone on your team does something special, be sure to acknowledge it publicly in your meetings.
  • Change performance reviews so they are a continual process rather than once a year event. Use every one-on-one interaction to deliver direct and specific feedback on performance so there are no surprises. Acknowledge recent accomplishments and set new

While I’m not suggesting you’ll be able to turn an actively disengaged employee into a fully engaged employee using these suggestions, I do believe you will raise overall engagement so that your people will feel their contributions are appreciated.

Greater appreciation will stir motivation and that will lead to greater engagement. Showing appreciation may be the most cost-effective means of increasing employee engagement.

Should a Good Leader also be a Good Manager?

November 18, 2013

President Obama’s leadership has recently come into question due to the Affordable Care Act’s website challenges. The Economist magazine recently suggested that even Obama’s supporters are now concerned that he is a terrible manager.

It begs the question: Does good leadership require good management?

Warren Bennis famously wrote “good managers do things right, while good leaders do the right things.” This is more than a play on words.

While some may argue that creating the Affordable Care Act in the first place was not the right thing, executing what was created and passed into law should be up to those responsible for managing things right.

Leaders should be about creating strategy and managers should be about executing strategy.

In Obama’s apology to the American people for the technical problems surrounding the website, he defended Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services. “Ultimately, the buck stops with me,” he said. “You know, I’m the president. This is my team. If it’s not working, it’s my job to get it fixed.”

Taking responsibility for the failures of those reporting to him is a sign of good leadership. Years to come, President Obama knows the ultimate success or failure of Obamacare will be attached to him regardless of how many other people work on it.

This responsibility is a huge component of leadership. That’s why business leaders and sports coaches get huge salary increases with the success of their companies or teams, and why they get fired if these companies or teams fail.

In my experience, good managers don’t necessarily make good leaders. Some of them, however, do become great managers. And we can’t have too many of them. Great managers get results, execute strategy and fulfill the mission.

Great leaders, on the other hand, create and communicate a compelling vision others want to follow. They also ensure the right people are in the right place, and they engage them to bring out their best.

And perhaps somewhat surprisingly, great leaders don’t necessarily make great managers. That’s because they require a different set of skills.

The best leaders are focused on strategy and looking at the big picture without getting mired in the execution of that strategy.

Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer will soon step down from the CEO job because as he stated they needed to break a pattern and he’s a pattern. His management style included requiring direct reports to provide a massive amount of data and details before decision making, an environment with corporate silos where colleagues competed with each other for resources, and the recently dropped rank order performance-appraisal practice that pitted people against each other for personal gain rather than encouraged collaboration and cooperation for the good of Microsoft.

While Ballmer tripled Microsoft’s revenue during his 13 years at the helm, this came from their existing markets and the company missed huge opportunities in Web-search engine advertising and the overall shift of consumers to mobile devices and social media.

Ultimately, Ballmer admitted he had created an environment where managers were so focused on trees instead of the forest that it was impossible for him to change their thinking. Trees, of course, should be the primary focus for managers and forests the primary focus of leaders. But neither can lose sight of the other.

Managers should be laser-focused on day-to-day execution. They should be concerned with ensuring the strategy is executed as planned.

Is it therefore really possible for anyone to be far-sighted for strategy and at the same time near-sighted for execution?

In my work as an executive coach, I try to help middle managers and directors build leadership skills so they can become more effective and advance their careers. I help them focus on competency areas that will enable them to grow their leadership capacity. But this doesn’t mean they will all become great leaders.

Some of us are better suited for vision, while others are more suited for process. Some more concerned with asking why and others with asking how.

Being able to shift back and forth between seeing the future vision and the day-to-day reality is extremely valuable, but there is a natural tendency to have a dominant perspective.

Ballmer’s successor may very well need to be more a visionary like Bill Gates if Microsoft is to transition back to the dominate player it was previously.

If Obama is to be successful with the Affordable Care Act, he will ultimately need to ensure he does in fact have the right people in place to execute his vision. He will also need to do a better job communicating not only to these people, but also to the American people.

Any leader can only be as great as the quality of the managers he or she leads.

Evolving Role of the Middle Manager

August 9, 2013
“I would rather have a first-class manager running a second-rate business than a second-rate manager running a first-rate business.” — Jack E. Reichert

Middle managers are essential to business, but their role is being questioned in this new business era.

Last year nearly 11 million employees identified themselves as middle managers. This represents 7.6% of the total U.S. workforce, which has recently been on the rise but may begin to slow in the future.

The Wall Street Journal recently did a series called “Managing in the Middle” on the role middle managers serve in organizations—a role that is evolving to meet the challenges of the faster pace of change, technology and a new work ethic.

They profiled a high tech company with nearly 40 employees, who only recently promoted an employee to become their first manager. As reported in this article, “. . . at startups, where speed and autonomy are prized above all else, managers are often dismissed as archaic, or worse, dead weight.” Some firms dislike the term “manager” so much that they instead refer to them as “leader” or “person primarily responsible” (PPR).

This lack of respect for managers may be due to an evolving work ethic inspired by the Millennial generation of workers. Rather than be managed by someone else, these young, digital natives like to be empowered to get things done without a chain of command or corporate bureaucracy standing the way.

Some might argue that unregulated individual contributors cannot possibly know all the different ways decisions on elements of a project may negatively impact the project as a whole, other projects or the entire organization. And there can be no cost consolidation or process innovation if someone isn’t looking at the intimate details of how projects can work together better.

Middle managers now need to do more of the work as well as supervising others. In many cases, it is the supervising part of the manager’s job that is least likely to be measured and evaluated, and as a result this gets the least attention.

Supervising others has always been a complex task requiring many so-called “soft skills” that enable one to effectively lead others while also navigating the political environment within the organization. This includes being able to effectively manage not only downward, but also upwards and across the organization.

The challenge is that middle managers are not always given the tools needed to succeed as most are promoted to management positions based on their work as individual contributors. In many cases they achieved some technical expertise and this gave way to a promotion that didn’t always include management training or mentoring on the additional skills managers need.

Some common responsibilities for middle managers across industries are:

  • managing day to day operations
  • firefighting and troubleshooting
  • addressing ill-defined problems
  • developing others (as well as themselves)
  • championing innovation and facilitating change

All of these things still matter, but how has the manager’s role changed over the years? Here are a few examples:

It used to be that the middle manager position was the only pathway to career advancement. A middle manager learned to take on greater responsibility and supervise other people because this is how he or she could demonstrate leadership qualities while delivering quality products or services.

Employees now demonstrate their skills and abilities as individual contributors while working collaboratively with others. They need to take on a more strategic perspective to see beyond their own scope of work and how this impacts others and the organization as a whole.

In the past a middle manager needed to hold individual employees responsible for completing quality work on time. This was done through various forms of direction and measurements, and then communicated at annual performance reviews if at all.

Now individual employees need to hold themselves accountable for their part on the project, and to communicate with other team members to ensure the work is done well and delivered in the right timeframe.

It used to be that middle managers were Baby Boomers or Generation Xers who managed others in their generation or younger folks. This maintained a hierarchy and made it clear who was in charge with deeply-held respect for this authority.

Now in many organizations, middle managers are just as likely to be of the Millennial generation and managing those their own age as well as those older than themselves. Respect is something that is assumed equally up, down and across the organization in a more casual environment.

The role of the middle manager will continue to evolve. And it’s up to those in these positions to embrace these changes in order to thrive. This means continual learning, collaborating, communicating, mentoring and accepting the ambiguity of the position.

Though this quote is attributed anonymously, I think it is particularly poignant. “If you want to manage somebody, manage yourself. Do that well and you’ll be ready to stop managing and start leading.” Exactly!

Six Tips to Successfully Deliver Employee Feedback

June 28, 2013

Leadership involves many interpersonal skills and for some of us the ability to deliver effective feedback can be the most challenging.

Everyone who supervises other people is expected to provide feedback—both positive and negative—and yet it is often put off until annual performance reviews, which makes it even more stressful to both because of the context it’s given in.

For some reason the workplace is a difficult place for many people to regularly speak openly and honestly about the work that’s being performed. Perhaps the formality of many places makes a genuine compliment or complaint much more difficult to convey. Or maybe it’s simply the emotions it can stir up.

Whenever you say something nice or not so nice to someone, it is likely to be met with an emotional response. This can make you and the other person feel awkward, uncomfortable, or embarrassed in the workplace setting. And that alone can be reason enough to make you avoid saying anything at all.

But the more you exercise giving genuine feedback to others, the more comfortable you will become with it and this can benefit both you and your organization.

That’s because we all seek recognition and acknowledgement for what we are doing, whether we are willing to admit it or not. We want to know that what we do matters and that others are aware of it. Additionally, if we are doing something not so well, we want to know what this is and especially how to correct it. Don’t underestimate a person’s level of resilience because such feedback loops are vital to their continued growth.

When you deliver effective feedback to others, you are also seen as someone who is observant and concerned. Others see and feel this, which enables them to respond to it either by basking in the glow of recognition of a job well done or by taking corrective action to improve their performance.

If you find yourself avoiding giving face-to-face feedback to those you supervise, these six suggestions may provide a more comfortable approach.

  1. Deliver feedback (good & bad) all the time. Catch people doing things well and make a point to notice and compliment them right then and there. By the same token, when someone is doing something not particularly well, let them know it immediately. Don’t wait until an annual performance review to tell an employee they did something wrong nine months earlier.
  2. Make it specific and focused on behavior. Meaningful feedback needs to be about something specific in order for a change to result. This is also why it is so important to give it when you see it. And keep feedback about the behavior or the work. Remember to attack the problem not the person.
  3. Be direct and use a measured tone. Speak to him or her in a straight-forward manner so there can be no ambiguity. Keep your voice poised and calm. Give the listener an opportunity to ask questions or seek clarification. Maintain eye contact but don’t glare. Be patient and look for genuine understanding.
  4. Praise publicly and criticize privately. When you want to give someone a compliment on something done well, be sure and do this in a public forum whenever possible. Be sensitive to those who may be uncomfortable with this, however. And when you need to admonish someone, do this in a private meeting so you don’t humiliate or create resentment in the person.
  5. Offer support with constructive feedback. Don’t simply tell the individual what they did wrong and demand it gets fixed. Instead, offer a genuine desire to help through your support. This might be recommending a class or training, a mentor (including yourself), or perhaps a leadership coach. Sometimes it could just mean providing an open door for them in the future.
  6. Make clear your expectations. If you expect to see more of the same from the person you are complimenting, go ahead and say “keep up the good work.” By the same token, if you expect a change from someone you are criticizing, ensure that you make it clear that this is unacceptable and you expect to see what specific change and by when.

Providing meaningful feedback is not necessarily difficult, but it is a skill and like any other skill it needs practice to master. Start out small by offering compliments to one or two individuals for a couple of weeks. Then expand your feedback beyond them.

Make all your feedback constructive rather than destructive. Remember that the reason for feedback is for continual performance improvement. Focusing on this will ensure that others see the value of all your comments and respond accordingly.

The more regularly you can give feedback the more it will foster greater trust and strengthen overall employee engagement. And that’s important for everyone.

Rethinking the Role of Manager

December 4, 2012

Does your boss often get in the way of helping you be more productive? This is not entirely his or her fault as many organizational structures are based on an outdated incentive mentality that can actually be detrimental in today’s workplace.

The workplace has changed dramatically over the past 50 years. Secretaries are scarce, the metallic sound of office machinery is replaced by electronic tones of pagers and cell phones, and—rather than conversing around the water cooler—we are more likely to be texting or using social networks as a way to interact with others.

How we manage other people, however, has remained the same.

The role of manager varies depending on the industry and nature of the work, but when it comes to supervising others, there is very often conflict and disharmony.

In a recent working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research titled “The Value of Bosses” by Edward P. Lazear, Kathryn L. Shaw and Christopher T. Stanton, supervisors were found to have an enormous impact—good or bad—on productivity.

Among their findings, nearly 75% of all employees say their boss is the worst and most stressful part of their job. And 65% of employees say they would take a new boss over a pay raise.

The same study determined it is not what these bosses do, but what they don’t do that makes them so bad. This includes 1) failing to inspire; 2) accepting mediocrity; 3) lacking clear vision and direction; 4) inability to be collaborate and be a team player; 5) failing to walk the talk.

It turns out that the best bosses are actually teachers, and the report stated that teaching accounts for 67% of a boss’s effect on employees’ productivity.

What if your manager was focused on teaching and encouraging your intrinsic motivation to enable you to be more productive and happier in the process?

Too often motivation throughout many companies is based on the carrot and stick approach. For all but a very few types of manufacturing jobs or those requiring mechanical skills, however, this approach has been scientifically proven not to work. In fact, it can actually be detrimental to productivity.

So why is there so much time and money spent on extrinsic incentives in order to get employees to work harder? Extrinsic incentives include things like a high salary, bonus, stock options, and generous benefits, which are often what attract employees in the first place. However, it is the intrinsic incentives such as interesting work, flexible time on when and where to do the work, ROWE or results only work ethic, 20% time to follow interests, etc. that keep employees motivated and highly productive.

According to author Daniel Pink, intrinsic motivation is absolutely required and his model includes three essential elements: autonomy, mastery and purpose. Autonomy is the urge to direct our own lives; mastery is the desire to get better and better at something that matters; and purpose is the yearning to do what we do in service of something larger than ourselves.

Workers today face challenges that require right-brained, creative, and/or conceptual thinking. This “outside the box” thinking cannot be incentivized through conventional external means, but instead requires internal motivation.

Intrinsic nature means the job’s core responsibilities and you’re being paid to do something you find satisfying, says Timothy Judge, Mendoza’s Franklin D. Schurz Professor of Management.

After conducting a hundred job-satisfaction studies, Judge says he’s never found one where the intrinsic nature of the work itself wasn’t the most important predictor of overall job satisfaction.

So what if a manager’s role was not to incentivize, scold, or threaten those he or she manages, but instead to teach, inspire, and support the employee’s need for autonomy, mastery and purpose? This new role for manager would look a lot more like a coach, mentor or teacher who is in service of raising the level of productivity of others.

In this way the workplace could be less hostile and more cooperative, less competitive and more collaborative. Managers could contribute to the workplace environment in a way that creates higher employee engagement and greater productivity. And that would be good for any organization.