Success in Working Remotely

August 31, 2023

Now that fulltime and hybrid remote work will continue as the new normal for many employees, it’s important to make this is successful for both workers and employers. This means adopting best practices for maximizing productivity and engagement, without sacrificing health and wellbeing.

Ever since the pandemic began there’s been lots of advice about how to set up a home office to make remote work most effective. Adopting the right technology was paramount as was carving out a quiet space in your home.

A study by the Harvard Business Review found that remote workers are actually more productive than their office workers because they are less likely to take time off and quit. Another study found that employees who work remotely save up to $4,500 annually on commuting costs.

However, one of the challenges in working remotely has to do with the loneliness or alienation that comes from no longer being around colleagues. This should not be minimized as two important elements of job satisfaction have to do with a positive relationship with your boss and whether you have a best friend at work. These relationships are maintained and strengthened when you’re interacting in person. Whenever you are in the office, you should maximize face time with these important relationships.

Here are other best practices for success when working remotely:

  • Discipline – Maintain a routine and act as if you are in the office to maintain consistency in your productivity. Although you have greater flexibility, demonstrate that you can be relied upon at the times when your boss and colleagues expect you to be.
  • Boundaries – Intentionally separate work from the rest of your life as much as possible by clarifying with family or housemates when you are working and when you are not. Maintain those boundaries and perhaps take a walk after work to help you transition.
  • Communication – Be more intentional and frequent in your communication with colleagues to ensure you are continually aligned with them. And use the right medium for your messages depending on what works best.
  • Professionalism – Dress appropriately for your workplace and practice online meeting etiquette to ensure your online presence demonstrates you are in work mode. Limit distractions so you can stay focused whether you are on camera or not.
  • Accountability – Ensure that you deliver what you are charged with delivering. And continually seek clarity around what is your responsibility as well as your priorities.
  • Health & Wellbeing – Since you are not commuting, you are likely not moving around as much and you may need to be more intentional about your health. Schedule time at the gym, go for a walk with a friend, eat and sleep right. Be intentional about keeping your mind and body fit.
  • Feedback Loop – Since you’re not in the office as much, it’s vital to know if your virtual presence is demonstrating your value. Continually check in with those you work with directly as well as your boss to ensure you are meeting their expectations.

As a manager of remote workers, you should also seek feedback from your direct reports to ensure they are getting the direction and support they need. Schedule your one-to-one meetings in person whenever possible and focus on maintaining a trusted relationship to drive performance and engagement.

Success in working remotely will ensure you don’t have to return to fulltime work in the office again. It is therefore important to demonstrate your remote work is beneficial to both you and your company.

All About Managers

January 6, 2023

The CEO is where we typically focus when we evaluate a particular company, which makes sense given that this is the leader with the biggest impact on the organization’s success or failure—at least in terms of profitability. However, when it comes to getting work done and employees being engaged, it’s all about managers.

Managers are the ones who execute the strategy, deliver products or services, and ensure that the overall objectives are carried out. Managers are also the ones with the biggest impact on employees and greatly determine whether they are fully engaged or not.

According to a 2017 Gallop report titled “State of the Global Workplace,” companies in the top quartile in employee engagement deliver 17 percent better productivity and 21 percent more profitability than those in the bottom. To improve employee engagement, look no further than the manager.

Former managing director for Gallup’s Global Leadership Advisory, Larry Emond, said “the manager explains 70 percent of engagement.” Better engagement is a function of better management, and worse engagement is a function of worse management.

“People need clear expectations, the autonomy to craft and pursue their agendas, support to achieve success, and help thinking about their careers,” writes Russ Laraway in his book When They Win, You Win: Being a great manager is simpler than you think. “Three important words managers use that demonstrate they care about the people: time, help, success. Take time to help people be more successful.”

According to Laraway, managers must provide three things: direction, coaching and career. By focusing on helping their people win, managers win too.

Direction – Setting the direction anchors the team to an aligned result through a combination of purpose and vision (long-term), and OKRs and ruthless prioritization (short-term). Setting direction ensures people know both the what and the why things need to get done, provides clear measures for what results look like, and a shared understanding of the most important tasks of the day, week, or quarter.

Coaching – Coaching is about encouraging people to change what’s not working and continue doing what is working. The first involves giving feedback in a way that is supportive; the second involves helping people explicitly understand what they have done well so they can do more of it. Neither of these should be considered micro-managing but instead are about keeping a close eye on what is happening to immediately correct when things go off-track and to encourage and praise when things are going well.

Career – Managers should do more than help employees succeed in the job at hand. They must also assist people in discovering a long-term vision for their careers and show them what actions they can take right now that enables tangible progress toward it. In doing so, managers can show employees that they care for them above and beyond the immediate work and current organization. Managers can demonstrate that they value their people more than simply as employees.

Laraway, a former executive at Google and Twitter as well as co-founder and COO at Radical Candor, says managers whose teams are most engaged, and whose organizations produce the best results, are able to systematically:

  • Create a culture of candor
  • Actively prioritize
  • Respond to ideas and concerns
  • Establish explicit expectations
  • Support growth and development

All of these are likely to increase engagement because they extend beyond typical company perks or benefits. They are about the behavior of managers leading the work.

To improve any company, look no further than the managers within it. Hiring and retaining the best managers makes business sense because good managers are those who develop engaged employees resulting in measurably superior results.

Civility in the Workplace

December 7, 2021

Blame it on social media, politicians, cable news or our collective desire for confirmation bias rather than truth and understanding, but incivility seems rampant in our lives.

Civility is about getting along with other people and treating others the way you would want to be treated. It’s about respecting and finding common ground with others despite our differences. So obvious and yet all too rare.

If you’re like me and think incivility and rudeness are on the rise, you would be correct. In fact, in a 2019 poll run by Weber Shandwick and KRC Research, 93 percent of people across America stated that uncivil behavior was increasing, and 68 percent said this was a major problem. That was before the pandemic and the January 6 insurrection, so things have likely worsened.

The one bright spot is that this has not necessarily been true in the workplace. In fact, over the past decade, people reported fewer rude incidents in the workplace—from 43 percent in 2011 to just 29 percent in 2019. Perhaps we should look forward to going back to the office if only to find some civility in our lives.

Another finding is that Americans continue to identify their place of work as a civility safe zone, with 89% of those who work with others describing their place of employment as very or somewhat civil.

Could it be that it’s too risky to be rude at work as it may cause us to lose opportunities for promotion or even cause for dismissal? Or is it due to a positive shift in attitudes signaling a move from divisive silo mentality to one of cooperation and collaboration?

Regardless, if we’re more likely to practice courteous behavior while at work, maybe returning to the office would be good not only for the organization, but beneficial to our society as well.

From the same research poll, when Americans were asked what actions could be taken to improve civility in our society, 55% said parents should be teaching civility to their children, followed by many workplace actions, including:

  • Warning or taking disciplinary action against people who are uncivil in the workplace (42%)
  • Civility training in the workplace (37%)
  • Employers’ training people how to intervene when others are being treated uncivilly (35%)
  • Employers encouraging employees to report incivility at work (35%)
  • Firing people who are uncivil in the workplace (32%)
  • Employers ensuring they hire civil people (21%)
  • Employers should discourage employees from discussing controversial subjects that could turn uncivil (21%)
  • A coalition of companies that promotes civility in society (18%)

Clearly, the workplace is not only viewed as a safe zone for civility, but also perhaps a template for how to encourage more of it throughout society.

While politicians, social media companies, cable news networks all have a role to play in making our society more civil again, business leaders can encourage civility in the workplace. This will make their workplaces safer, more collegial, collaborative and productive. And that’s good for the company’s bottom line and ultimately good for our society as a whole.

Retaining Your Best Employees

October 26, 2021

The best organizations are those that hire and retain the best and brightest employees. Keeping these people engaged and satisfied is essential. If you’re not worried about employee retention, then you must work at a rare company these days. Consider the following:

  • Currently, there are about 8.6 million people unemployed in the U.S. and nearly 10 million job openings.
  • A record 4.3 million people left their jobs in August and, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this job quitting trend is showing up in every sector they track.
  • A survey by BamBooHR found that nearly one-third of employees left their job in the first six months of employment: top reasons include poor onboarding, lack of clarity in job duties and expectations, and a less than stellar boss.
  • Recent research by Built In found that the cost of replacing a highly-trained employee or executive can exceed double their annual salary.
  • According to Wills Towers Watson, almost three-quarters of employees who fall in the “high-retention-risk” category are seeking to leave because they see no opportunities in their current organization’s career ladder.

If you’re a leader in your organization, especially in HR, you should find all of this very alarming. Blaming it on millennials who feel no company loyalty is only partially accurate.

Despite what may seem like an insurmountable challenge, there are many things that are entirely within your control. These things will not only help you retain your top talent and save time and money but will likely increase overall employee engagement and productivity.

  • Improve your hiring process to ensure you bring in the right people for the right positions and develop a strong on-boarding process.
  • Ensure that managers have annual or semi-annual conversations with each direct report regarding career growth and opportunities.
  • Offer professional training and development opportunities such as executive coaching to build greater leadership capacity.
  • Provide career advancement pathways beyond managing groups or teams for valuable individual contributors.
  • Offer ample opportunities to take on leadership positions throughout the organization.
  • Ensure those with direct reports are regularly measured on how well they manage and grow their people.  
  • Stop inadvertently encouraging employees to seek out and then provide counteroffers from other companies before offering to pay them what they should be earning.
  • Encourage an environment that expresses gratitude for work well done. This is not limited to bonuses and other material rewards, but specific and heartfelt appreciation delivered publicly (when possible) can be tremendously important in job satisfaction.  

“Most organizations simply assign too much importance to financial compensation and too little to the other side of the equation,” writes Patrick Lencioni in his book The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business. “They often do this because they believe that people who leave their organizations are doing so because they want more money.

“This is an understandable mistake because that is what many employees say during exit interviews when they’ve already made up their mind to leave,” continues Lencioni. “However, almost no employees willingly leave an organization where they are getting the levels of gratitude and appreciation that they deserve just to make a little more money, unless, of course, they are so grossly underpaid that they can’t justify staying on the job for the sake of their livelihood.”

As I’ve written previously, simply expressing appreciation to your people can go a long way towards making employees feel valued. It doesn’t overcome an inadequate salary, but it certainly factors in when deciding whether to change jobs.

Provide a warm and welcome on-boarding process, clearly define the role, responsibilities, and expectations, ensure managers are effective at directing and supporting their direct reports, provide career advancement opportunities, and show appreciation regularly. If you’re doing all of this and salaries are commensurate with the positions, you will likely retain your best employees.  

Workplace Engagement Follows Appreciation

December 21, 2018

Here at the end of another year, my family and I will express and literally record statements of love and appreciation for each other in what has become an annual tradition. This simple exercise compiles what we appreciate about and wish for each other in the coming year—something started nearly ten years ago in order to strengthen the bonds of a blended family.

I now see this act of acknowledging in public (at least within the immediate family) our feelings for each other has helped normalize the expression of appreciation. While this is extremely important in families, I contend there should be a lot more appreciation expressed in the workplace because this will lead to greater engagement.

Though many workplaces today are more open to encourage increased interaction and engagement, this alteration of the environment is not nearly enough.

Fact is most of us are motivated and engaged only when we feel appreciated in a way that is both accurate and personal. And simply throwing a holiday party where the boss says some words of overall appreciation—while important—is not nearly enough.

If every supervisor, manager, director and senior executive were to vocalize what they honestly and personally appreciate about each of those who report to them, I suspect this would increase overall productivity and sustainable engagement.

Perhaps you’re thinking that because you don’t get this kind of appreciation from your own supervisor, you shouldn’t offer it to others. This type of thinking only contributes to why so many people feel depleted and unmotivated at work.

Sharing appreciation for another person doesn’t cost you anything. What it demonstrates is your awareness of the value another person provides and your own vulnerability, which enables greater emotional connection.

Often times the deciding factor for why people stay on a job or look elsewhere has to do with whether they feel an emotional connection with leaders. Those who are able to show vulnerability demonstrate honesty, openness and authentic leadership. Employees then feel more connected and are less likely to move on, even for more money or benefits.

No matter your position in the organization, expressing gratitude for others will elevate your aptitude for leadership in their eyes. You will distinguish yourself from others and likely build an engaged group of followers.

If your organization is looking for the simplest, cheapest and best way to increase engagement, look no further than the expression of honest and personal appreciation. And while doing this at the end of annual performance reviews is valuable, it can be much more meaningful if it is done more frequently and when it is unexpected.

Now that my kids are all teenagers, their expressions of appreciation for each other has moved from the simple and often funny to more heartfelt and moving. What I appreciate most is that they don’t always wait until the end of the year to express these feelings.

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.

The Compassionate Leader

April 2, 2016

The current tenor of the Republican presidential campaign has got me thinking about the lack of compassion expressed by our so-called leaders. It wasn’t that long ago when George W. Bush campaigned using the phrase “compassionate conservatism,” though you might argue he never really governed that way.

For some reason the term compassion has become divisive and reserved for discussion of those who have fallen through the safety net and only the “truly needy.” It’s as if compassion should be conveyed only as a last resort and for a small minority of us. The fact is we all need compassion at some time and we should all feel compassion for others when they need it.

“Compassion is not weakness, and concern for the unfortunate is not socialism,” said Hubert H. Humphrey. I hope we haven’t gotten to the point where there’s no room for compassion in our capitalism.

Whether in politics or business, leaders who demonstrate compassion are more likely to connect with and gain lasting followers.

Feeling compassion in the workplace means staying in touch with your own feelings as well as those of others, which can result in more accurately understanding and navigating all your workplace relationships. Compassion is a leadership trait that should be demonstrated by leaders at every level within an organization.

That’s because research has shown that those who experience compassion in the workplace feel more positive emotions and are more committed to the organization. When bad news is delivered compassionately, workers are more likely to remain supportive of the organization. And when you act with compassion at work, you can increase your satisfaction and lower your overall stress.

Compassionate leaders put people before procedures, they courageously say what they feel, and they lead with sincere and heartfelt consideration for others.

Perhaps the most important tool of compassion is empathy, which is the ability to understand what someone else experiences and reflect that understanding back to them. Empathy is also a vital component of what it means to be emotionally intelligent.

According to Brené Brown, Ph.D., author of Rising Strong, the prerequisite for real empathy is compassion. You can’t respond to someone empathetically unless you are willing to be present to their pain, which requires compassion.

“It’s important to note here that empathy is understanding what someone is feeling, not feeling it for them,” writes Brown. “If someone is feeling lonely, empathy doesn’t require us to feel lonely, too, only to reach back into our own experience with loneliness so we can understand and connect.”

But don’t confuse empathy for sympathy. As Brown further explains, when someone says, “I feel sorry for you” or “That must be terrible,” they are standing at a safe distance. Rather than conveying the powerful “me too” of empathy, sympathy communicates “not me,” and then adds, “But I do feel for you.” This does not have nearly the impact empathy provides.

For you to demonstrate empathy inside an organization, you must have the foundation of compassion.

Being compassionate doesn’t mean taking on and solving other people’s problems. Nor does it mean you have to agree with the actions that got the individual into a particular situation. And being compassionate doesn’t mean you don’t hold the individual accountable.

What compassion does mean is noticing another person’s suffering, connecting with him or her both cognitively and emotionally, and then responding in a caring and proactive fashion. You can be compassionate by agreeing to disagree, yet still hold the person accountable.

In this way your compassion helps the individual, the organization and yourself.

I’d like to think we’re seeing an increase in compassionate business leaders who sincerely value the welfare of their employees, customers and surrounding community. This kind of leadership will lead to more engaged employees, satisfied customers, a healthier community and ultimately greater shareholder return.

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.


Reward Evidence-based Decision-Making

December 10, 2015

“Good judgment comes from experience; experience comes from bad judgment.”
                                                        –Mulla Nasruddin, 13th Century Sufi sage/fool

Success in business today requires many things. Perhaps most importantly, organizations need to embrace learning. And both the employer and the employee have responsibilities in this learning.

Employers should do what they can to engage employees and keep them intrinsically motivated to learn. And this learning must include the ability to be implemented otherwise it undermines the employee’s motivation as well as limits organizational improvement.

At the same time, employees should adopt a growth mindset so they continually achieve and learn as they navigate their careers. This means taking on new challenges, expanding their skills, and broadening their area of expertise. It also means challenging the status quo.

Here are two scenarios:

Bob discovers the new product his company is launching has a fatal flaw that may undermine its success in the marketplace. He double-checks his research and concludes it is correct. His company however discourages naysayers and, despite his certainty, Bob is concerned that speaking up will be detrimental to his career. He stays silent, the product flops, yet Bob’s career growth is preserved.

Nancy discovers the new project her company is rolling out will miss its target completion date. She double-checks her research and concludes it is correct. Because she works for a learning organization that encourages direct feedback, Nancy presents her findings, the project is given additional resources to complete on time, and it is a resounding success. Nancy is rewarded with a promotion and celebrated throughout the company.

Which company do you work for? Are you Bob or are you Nancy?

Organizations should encourage employees to challenge assumptions, speak directly about the “elephant in the room,” and take calculated risks when it’s right for the business. This theory must go beyond mere words in an employee handbook and extend into actual practice for how things get done inside the organization.

On his way to inventing the light bulb, Thomas Edison reportedly said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” That is a healthy perspective on reaching success and how learning is paramount.

The best companies perform a post-mortem on projects and products with the purpose of pointing out and learning from what went well and not so well. Too often, however, the lessons of what went wrong are not adequately documented and communicated, so the missteps are likely repeated.

Economists too often see people as highly rational in their decision-making and don’t take into account the irrationality of human beings, says Richard Thaler, professor of behavioral science and economics at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business in his book Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics.

“It is time for everyone—from bureaucrats to teachers to corporate leaders—to recognize that they live in world of Humans and to adopt the same data-driven approach to their jobs and lives that good scientists use.”

Here are some basic lessons in behavioral science Thaler suggests can make this possible in the corporate world. Observe, collect data and speak up.

Observe – This means seeing the world not as you wish it be, but as it really is. The first step to overturning conventional wisdom, when conventional wisdom is wrong, is to look at the world around you as it is.

Collect Data – People become overconfident because they never bother to document their past track record of wrong predictions, and then make things worse by falling victim to confirmation bias—they look only for evidence that confirms their preconceived hypotheses. The only protection against overconfidence is to systematically collect data, especially data that can prove you wrong. This is what proves especially difficult because we are so devoted to our hypothesis.

Speak Up – Many organizational errors could be prevented if someone is willing to tell the boss something is wrong. Thaler cites the tragic 1977 runway crash of a KLM flight because the second officer was too timid to speak up to the pilot, his boss. Culture, professional courtesy, and most of all fear keep people from challenging the boss, even when they know the boss is wrong.

“But we cannot expect people to take risks, by speaking up or in other ways, if by so doing they will get fired,” says Thaler. “Good leaders must create environments in which employees feel that making evidence-based decisions will always be rewarded, no matter what outcome occurs.”

In Thaler’s ideal organizational environment, everyone is encouraged to observe, collect data, and speak up. And the bosses who create such environments risk only a few bruises to their egos, which is a small price to pay for increasing the flow of new ideas and decreasing the risk of disasters.

It comes down to more humility in leaders and more courage in employees. When both are present, organizations can learn from their experiences and become more successful. And organizations should encourage more Nancys and fewer Bobs.

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.

Don’t Underestimate Corporate Culture

April 2, 2015

Beyond salary, benefits, perks, and the nature of the work itself, a company’s culture is often the reason people stay in an organization. That’s because corporate culture—though not readily apparent or even easily defined—can make you feel like you are part of a team, that you belong, and that you are doing something important.

It can also do the opposite.

No matter where you work, part of the reason you’re there may very well have to do with the connectedness you feel with your co-workers. When this is strong, you are probably accomplishing a lot and feeling good about how you spend your working day. When it is weak, you are probably dreading each Monday morning.

Think of Twitter, Google, Apple, Zappo’s, Wegman’s, Whole Foods, Southwest Airlines, REI, Patagonia and Netflix. These are all companies with positive corporate cultures that share widespread brand awareness, strong financial performance, unrelenting customer focus, and a reputation that makes them a magnet for job seekers.

Corporate culture can best be defined as the shared values, attitudes, standards, and beliefs that characterize those in an organization. It is based on the beliefs and behaviors that determine how a company’s management and employees interact and handle their business transactions.

It is defined over time from the cumulative traits of the people hired, and rooted in the organization’s goals, strategies, structure and approaches to its employees, customers, vendors, investors and the larger community. You might think of your company’s culture as its personality.

The statement “culture eats strategy for breakfast” has often been attributed to the great management consultant Peter Drucker, who argued that a company’s culture would trump any attempt to create a strategy that was incompatible with its culture. Drucker compared company cultures to country cultures. Never try to change one, he said, but instead try to work with what you’ve got.

In the same way that a company’s products and services, leadership team, market conditions, competitive pressures, and other factors need to be considered in any corporate strategy, so too must the existing culture.

Corporate culture can either help or hamper an organization in its efforts to implement a strategy. More often than not, leaders underestimate the power of culture rather than embracing its power for helping them. Implementing a strategy that runs counter to or requires a huge shift in the culture can be disastrous.

Instead, you can leverage the corporate culture by ensuring it is aligned with your new strategy, latest company acquisition, or your incoming CEO. Each of these transitions can be successful if the cultural aspects of the change are considered along with all the other due diligence completed.

A positive company culture can benefit recruiting, employee motivation and retention, teamwork, reduced absenteeism, customer service, responsiveness to change, and bottom line financial performance.

Developing such a positive culture evolves over time and grounded in the employees you hire. Be careful and selective in recruitment and in every way you conduct business, and your culture will enable the organization to grow and thrive.

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.

Focus on Employees Before Customers

April 25, 2014

In my experience, the best companies put their employees ahead of their customers. This may seem counter to what most companies want to convey to the marketplace, but the ultimate value of products and services shine through if the people designing, producing and delivering them are served well.

Think of Google, Zappos , Netflix, Costco and, at least until recently, Southwest Airlines who continually focus on the relationships with their employees.

“Everybody talks about building a relationship with your customer,” says Angela Ahrendts, CEO of Burberry and soon to take on Apple’s retail business. “I think you build one with your employees first.”

Employees who feel cared for are far more likely to serve customers well than those who are not. This is because employees are the most important element when it comes to improving productivity and increasing profitability.

In The Executive Checklist: A Guide for Setting Direction and Managing Change by James M. Kerr, the author provides a framework to reach enterprise-wide transformation.

All the expected items are in this checklist, but my focus is on the people side, which he discusses in two sections: Chapter 4 Engage Staff—The way to gain support and accelerate success, and Chapter 8 Transform Staff—The people part of enterprise-wide change.

Staff Engagement Checklist:

  • Decide to Engage – This is a continuous program and includes executive sponsorship, engagement strategy, communication framework and program administration.
  • Promote the New Culture – Outreach and promotion are essential with messaging that is consistent and on-point for both internal and external audiences.
  • Inspire Early Adopters – Reaching out and empowering those who clearly adopt the proposed changes will help engage other employees. This can encourage change from the bottom up as well as top down.
  • Plan for Generation Y – These workers can be more difficult to engage and not easily managed through conventional means. Consider ideas such as redefining job titles, enable a free agent market, promote location independence, and provide lifestyle benefits.
  • Include Inclusion – Embrace diversity to ensure everyone feels their ideas and input are welcome. Ensure that your management team and board of directors exemplify your commitment to this.
  • Tie Engagements to Measurement & Reward Programs – Incentivize the commitment people make to the engagement. Develop an awards program that can reward them for their efforts.

Employee engagement is vital to increasing trust and building better relationships that can increase productivity. It can inspire employees to bring their best selves to the workplace and result in more positive customer interactions.

Staff transformation is another area that can leverage the employee focus into organization-wide results.

Staff Transformation Checklist:

  • Shape the Program for Continuous Execution – This means training on skills and behaviors consistent with the vision and business strategy. It includes what Kerr calls the pillars of training, measurement and reward.
  • Place Emphasis on Softer Skills and Bigger Pictures – Enhancing communication, building trust, and encouraging teamwork can greatly influence cooperation and collaboration. A greater understanding of the vision and strategy can stir creativity and innovation.
  • Commit to Shared Training – The employee and employer should jointly take part in determining what training is needed as well as where and how it can be obtained. Both should have skin in the game for this training to be effective.
  • Weave Measurement into the Execution Environment – When performance metrics are produced as a byproduct of doing the work, the process can be adjusted in real time and not wait until after completion.
  • Measure for Desired Outcomes – Aligning performance measurement with desired objectives is more likely to bring about higher quality changes faster.
  • Reward Results – Reward and compensation packages should track directly with results and not merely effort made or hours invested.
  • Reimagine Incentives – Extrinsic nonmonetary rewards such as tickets to theatre or sporting events, gift cards, preferred parking spots, etc. go a long way to motivating your staff.
  • Build a Creative Team of Personnel – Encourage your staff to be more creative through cross-functional work teams, out-of-the-box thinking, and a visually stimulating workplace environment.

This staff transformation is all about a management structure that trains, measures and rewards people for delivering results. When you directly tie your people’s efforts to the outcomes desired, you can transform your staff.

These transformation efforts need to be deliberate, well planned and guided by the strategy of the organization.

“It is vital part of rejuvenating the current execution culture, while enabling the achievement of desired outcomes,” Kerr writes. “Organizations change as people change.”

When organizations put their employees ahead of their customers not just in words but in actions, this will translate into higher productivity and profitability. Customers will follow.

Retaining Your Top Talent

March 27, 2013

Now that the U.S. economy is beginning to show signs of life and companies are looking to hire again, it’s important to remember that this also opens the door for existing employees to explore their options elsewhere.

The last thing you want now is to lose your top talent to competitors. But if you don’t focus on the things that are important to these employees, you may find that they will indeed leave for greener pastures.

According to a recent CareerBuilder survey, nearly one-third of employers (32 percent) report that top performers left their organizations in 2012 and 39 percent are concerned that they’ll lose top talent this year. And while two-thirds of workers stated they are generally satisfied with their jobs, one quarter said they will change jobs in 2013 or 2014.

More than 3,900 full-time workers nationwide participated in the survey that was conducted online by Harris Interactive November 2012. The survey explored which job factors are most important to today’s workers.

“What determines job satisfaction is not a one-size-fits-all, but flexibility, recognition, the ability to make a difference and yes, even special perks, can go a long way,” said Rosemary Haefner, Vice President of Human Resources at CareerBuilder. “Being compensated well will always be a top consideration, but we’re seeing work-life balance, telecommuting options and learning opportunities outweigh other job factors when an employee decides whether to stay with an organization.”

A better job title is not important to more than half of workers (55 percent), however, upward mobility is key to job satisfaction and employee retention. Other things more important than job title include:

  • Flexible schedule – 59 percent
  • Being able to make a difference – 48 percent
  • Challenging work – 35 percent
  • Ability to work from home – 33 percent

Not surprisingly, nearly three quarters of workers reported that salary increases are the best way to boost employee retention while 58 percent pointed to improved benefits. Other actions workers said employers should take to reduce voluntary turnover include:

  • Provide flexible schedules – 51 percent
  • Increase employee recognition (awards, cash prizes, company trips) – 50 percent
  • Ask employees what they want and put feedback into action – 48 percent
  • Increase training and learning opportunities – 35 percent

Three areas I want to focus on include flexibility, being able to make a difference, and effective managers.

As I’ve written about previously, the flexibility to do the work when and where people want is an important way to stimulate employee engagement.

The premise of Results Only Work Ethic or ROWE is that employees are paid for results rather than hours worked. This provides both the freedom for employees and the results for employers. ROWE is based on the assumption that employees will do more and better work when given the latitude to decide how and when it is done.

In order to do this, of course, requires that these results are closely tracked and measured. If companies can do this and also trust their employees not to take advantage of the flexibility, then they should provide an opportunity for many to work at home.

Making a Difference
When it comes to being able to make a difference, employers need to continually remind workers the importance of their individual and collective contributions. Ensure that no matter the position, every person in every company knows how their contribution leads to the success of the organization. All of us can lose sight of this the further we are from the customer or the end result of our individual efforts.

Having a boss who reminds us of the benefit of our direct contribution can mean the difference between job satisfaction and the need to look elsewhere.

Effective Managers
Another thing to keep in mind is that people are attracted to and seek jobs at companies based on their reputation. On the other hand, people leave companies because of a bad boss. Although it may not show up directly in the research due to fear of retribution, many employees choose to leave a company not because they want better compensation, but because they don’t like their boss.

This dislike could be based on many factors, but it is worth looking into before it becomes an epidemic. Many managers and directors simply never got adequate training and instruction on how to be effective at leading people.

Talented people won’t let an incompetent or unfair manager stand in their way of job satisfaction, and will move on if necessary.

Ensure that your managers and directors know how to motivate and lead people in a way that brings increased productivity without sacrificing employee engagement. This may require training, mentoring, coaching or other interventions that are vital to keeping your top talent.

Don’t let your top talent leave now that the economy is improving. Instead, determine how you can provide what your employees need to increase overall productivity while also what they want to raise employee engagement. Then they will stay.

Employees (Engaged or Disengaged) Make or Break Your Business

October 19, 2012

When companies focus first on their employees, customers are likely to be satisfied. This results in profitability, which then makes shareholders happy. Things can go very wrong if employee focus is not at the beginning of this equation.

In a new edition of Managing with a Conscience: How to Improve Performance Through Integrity, Trust, and Commitment, Frank Sonnenberg writes “companies must encourage employees to be passionate about what they do, to remain laser focused on their organization’s mission and goals, and to be obsessed with customer service excellence.”

One of the ways to measure such encouragement and focus is through employee engagement. If employee engagement is high, then you are likely encouraging and focusing on your employees. If it is low, then you are probably not.

Employee engagement can best be described as the level of intellectual and emotional commitment an employee has for accomplishing the work, mission, and vision of the organization. And the level of active engagement or active disengagement can be a game changer in whether an organization succeeds or fails.

According to The Economist, 84% of senior leaders say disengaged employees are considered one of the biggest threats facing their business. However, only 12% of them reported doing anything about this problem.

Though it may be difficult to attribute costs directly to under-performance, Gallup estimated employee disengagement costs the overall US economy as much as $350 billion every year! This can break down to more than $2,200 per disengaged employee.

Just what do disengaged employees do or not do to cost companies so much and how can you identify them? Disengaged employees:

  • Take more sick days and are late to work more often.
  • Undermine the work of their more engaged colleagues by constantly complaining.
  • Produce less. According to Gallup research, this can be $3,400 to $10,000 in annual salary.
  • Miss deadlines and lose sales opportunities.
  • Use cynicism, which is often passed on to other employees and customers.
  • May be very talented, but leave to join another company.

In many cases, disengaged workers may need to be removed because they cannot be turned around. However, most of your employees are neither engaged nor disengaged, and this is something you can influence.

To increase employee engagement, a leader must (1) continually demonstrate integrity and trust, (2) clearly communicate their vision, and (3) encourage the inner work lives of employees.

Consistently Demonstrate Trust and Integrity
Perhaps the single most important element attributable to active employee engagement or disengagement is directly related to the level of trust within the organization. In the same way a marriage requires complete trust in order to flourish, so too do the relationships in the rest of our lives, including at work. Leaders must be honest with their employees and keep them in the loop, especially when times are tough. Showing vulnerabilities during tough times mean employees can see you more fully as a human being and just like them.  They are then more likely to want to follow your lead and do their best.

Clearly Communicate a Vision
According to Mercer’s 2002 People at Work Survey, when senior management communicated a clear vision and direction of the organization, fewer employees were dissatisfied than when senior management did not communicate its vision effectively (7% versus 39%); fewer employees said they did not feel a strong sense of commitment to the organization (6% versus 32%); and fewer employees said they were seriously thinking about leaving the organization (16% versus 40%). If your employees clearly understand where you want the organization to go, they will do their best to help get there.

Encourage Employee Inner Work Lives
As I wrote in a previous post, steady and continual progress toward goals is easily the most effective way to motivate employees. According to Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, authors of The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work, the best leaders focus on helping employees lead satisfying inner work lives that include consistently positive emotions, strong motivation and favorable perceptions of the organization, the work and their colleagues. Celebrating milestones and small victories can keep workers on track and motivated to continue.

By focusing on these three things you can raise employee engagement in your organization. And nothing can more directly influence your productivity and profitability, regardless of the size of your business.

Motivate Employees through Continual Progress

August 3, 2012

Actively engaged workers dramatically improve productivity and, according to a new book on the subject, the most effective way to engage employees is to help them make steady progress toward their goals.

As I wrote in a previous post, employee engagement should not be merely an HR initiative to use when morale is down. It also should not be a one-off intervention after other extrinsic incentives have been offered up.

Instead, employee engagement should be a strategic approach for driving improvement that is directly linked to achieving corporate goals and organizational change. It should lead to workers who are more emotionally attached, involved and fully committed to their organizations. This can profoundly increase productivity.

In The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, the authors determined that steady, continual progress is far and away the most effective way to motivate employees.

Their research included nearly 12,000 daily reports from 236 knowledge workers from 26 project teams in seven different companies. Each employee was asked to respond every day to the following: Briefly describe one event from today that stands out in your mind.

What the authors found from this was that the best leaders help employees lead satisfying inner work lives, which include consistently positive emotions, strong motivation, and favorable perceptions of the organization, the work and their colleagues.

“Inner work life,” write Amabile and Kramer, “is the confluence of perceptions, emotions, and motivations that individuals experience as they react to and make sense of the events of their workday. Inner work life is about emotions—positive or negative—triggered by any event at work.”

A positive inner work life can be influenced by three elements: progress in meaningful work, catalysts or events that directly help project work, and nourishers or the interpersonal events that uplift people doing the work.

Progress events include:

  • Small wins
  • Breakthroughs
  • Forward movement
  • Goal completion

Catalyst events support the work through:

  • Setting clear goals
  • Allowing autonomy
  • Providing resources
  • Providing sufficient time
  • Helping with work
  • Learning from problems and successes
  • Allowing ideas to flow

Nourishing events support the individual and include:

  • Respect
  • Encouragement
  • Emotional support
  • Affiliation

Turns out how we feel greatly determines how well we perform. And that feeling is most heavily influenced by whether or not we are making progress toward our goals.

On the flipside are events that directly lead to a negative inner work life, which stymies engagement and productivity. Negative events include setbacks in the work, inhibitors or events that directly hinder project work, and toxins or interpersonal events that undermine the people doing the work.

And these negative events can be much more powerful than positive events, all other things being equal. They can also contribute to an increase in actively disengaged workers, who can then undermine everything we are trying to accomplish.

Today’s business environment requires a greater reliance on groups of people working collaboratively to solve increasingly more challenging problems. If the feelings we have can so dramatically impact our motivation to work effectively together and find creative solutions, then heeding this advice to engage employees is paramount to our success.

What about you? Are you actively engaged at work? Is it due to the fact that you are continually making progress as well as finding catalysts and nourishers along the way?

Engaged Employees Make all the Difference

October 6, 2011

Is employee engagement really important or is it just nice to have and something to think about once economic times improve?

The fact is companies with a high percentage of engaged employees are more profitable than those with fewer engaged workers. High engagement can improve employee retention and raise customer perceptions that directly lead to better financial performance.

Overall, most companies have about one-third of their employees fully engaged in their work. Yet recent surveys suggest that as many as four out of five workers would leave their current job if they could, but most think they would have trouble finding another one right now.

Engaged employees are those who are involved in and enthusiastic about their work. Those who are not engaged are satisfied but are not emotionally connected to their workplace and are less likely to put in extra effort. Those who are actively disengaged are emotionally disconnected from the work and workplace and jeopardize the performance of their teams. Their physical health may also be at risk.

A recent Gallup survey found that in the average big company only 33% of employees describe themselves as fully engaged in their work, 49% say they are not engaged and 18% say they are actively disengaged.

Gallup’s research found there is a strong relationship between engagement and high-performance outcomes which include customer loyalty, profitability, productivity, turnover, safety incidents, shrinkage, absenteeism, patient safety incidents, and quality (defects). They also learned that organizations with a high percentage of engaged employees have nearly four times the earnings per share growth rate compared to organizations in the same industry with lower enagement.

In what Gallup calls world-class organizations, the ratio of engaged workers to actively disengaged workers is about 10:1. Whereas in average organizations, the ratio of engaged workers to actively disengaged workers is about 2:1.

All too often, employee engagement is viewed as an HR initiative to improve morale among employees when things aren’t going so well. These intiatives do little to raise the level of employee engagement, and sometimes they even undermine it. That’s because employee engagement is distinctively different from employee satisfaction, motivation and organizational culture.

In the best companies employee engagement is a strategic approach for driving improvement that is directly linked to achieving corporate goals and organizational change. It can lead to employees who are more emotionally attached, involved and fully commited to their organizations. And it can profoundly increase productivity.

Employee engagement should be an organization-wide effort, and so much of its execution is dependent on good managers. As I wrote about in a previous post, employees join an organization based on the reputation of the company or the quality of its products or service. But they most often leave because of their manager.

In a down economy when hiring is stagnant and organizations are trying to get the most out of the people they already have, managers can engage employees in many ways. This includes clarifying expectations, providing adequate resources, giving recognition, encouraging their professional development, helping them connect to the organization’s purpose, and measuring and discussing progress more often than once each year.

Managers who do these as part of an overall employee engagement strategy are more likely to produce high-quality work and retain employees.

At a time with high unemployment, stagnant wages and workers staying in their jobs only because they fear they cannot find something better, it is the perfect time to execute an employee engagement strategy to energize your people.

In most organizations employees are the biggest expense and, far and away, the greatest asset. Now is the time to invest in a strategy that will raise the number of fully engaged employees and increase your profitability. You’ll be glad you did both now and when the economy improves.

Statistically Significant: Effective Managers use Soft Skills

March 15, 2011

In 2009 Google began an internal initiative called Project Oxygen in order to better understand what makes an effective Google manager.

They analyzed more than 10,000 observations about managers, including 100 variables on things like performance reviews, feedback surveys and nominations for top-manager awards. They correlated phrases, words, praise and complaints.

This data-driven method for improving managers was based on the premise that Google workers are different from other workers.

In the end, Project Oxygen’s statisticians came up with eight directives that separate good managers from bad managers. These include such common sense things like:

“Have a clear vision and strategy for the team.”

“Help your employees with career development.”

“Don’t be a sissy: Be productive and results-oriented.”

What Google found in its research is that employees most valued managers with people skills, not technical ones. Rather than being told what to do, employees want to be helped through figuring out problems for themselves.

“Although people are always looking for the next new thing in leadership,” says D. Scott DeRue, a management professor at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. “Google’s data suggest that not much has changed in terms of what makes for an effective leader.”

According to a recent article in the The New York Times, Google’s “people operations” group, led by Laszlo Bock, “found that technical expertise—the ability, say, to write computer code in your sleep—ranked dead last” among the list of Google’s eight main habits of effective managers.

Bock admitted they had assumed managers needed to have deep technical knowledge in order to effectively manage other engineers. Turns out this is the least important of the top eight qualities.

Project Oxygen discovered that two of the most important things managers can do is make time for their people and be consistent. It turns out these two things are more important than doing all of the other things.

This is not unique to Google, of course. Today’s workers need to connect with their teams and especially their immediate supervisors. It’s not that we are especially insecure and need constant feedback on what we do, but we are often isolated from the end product or bigger picture and it’s hard to know whether or not we’re doing a good job and whether we matter.

Connecting with the people who work for you and giving feedback more often than an annual performance review can be a powerful motivator.

Research suggests that employees join a company due to its reputation and they leave a company primarily due to their manager. Google’s data confirmed that managers have a much greater impact on employees’ performance and how they feel about their job than any other factor.

Soft skills, the very things that are so difficult to quantify and aren’t easily recognizable on resumes, really do make a difference in how people manage others.

As I wrote in a previous post with regard to what employees say they want from their managers, the first three are all in the category of soft skills. These are:

1. Full appreciation for work done
2. Feeling ‘part’ of things
3. Sympathetic help on personal issues

Many managers reading this may find these are not at all consistent with their own employees who surely want more tangible things like good wages, job security and promotions. But these results have been consistent over the last thirty years.

Google has grown incredibly fast since its founding in 1998. They expertly navigated this growth by hiring smart technical people and let them figure out how best to get things done. Now they need to shift the focus on replicating the people skills of their most effective managers so they can continue this growth.

Social Networks Bottom-line Benefits Require Employee Focus

January 12, 2011

Companies embracing social networks both internally and externally appear to be achieving bottom-line benefits, but this requires more than technology. It also means empowering employees at every level to make decisions and provide them with more flexibility in how to solve problems.

According to recent findings by McKinsey & Company, a new class of company is emerging that uses collaborative Web 2.0 technologies (wikis, blogs, social networks, mash-ups, etc.) intensively to connect the internal efforts of employees and extend an organization’s reach to customers, partners and suppliers.

The McKinsey worldwide survey of 3,249 executives across a range of regions, industries and functional areas found that two-thirds of respondents use Web 2.0 technologies in their organizations and the results are paying off. The survey asked respondents about their patterns of Web 2.0 use, the measurable business benefits they derived from it and the organizational impact of Web technologies.

More than two-thirds (69%) reported that their companies have gained measurable business benefits, including more innovative products and services, more effective marketing, better access to knowledge, lower cost of doing business, and higher revenues.

This is great news for businesses and their shareholders as well as the economy as a whole. The widespread use of Twitter and Facebook is beginning to look like more than a passing fad, but as a valid way to leverage business opportunities. Blogging can now be used to reach customers more directly and establish stronger relationships.

This is also good for a company’s ability to increase productivity, innovate more and increase employee engagement. According to the survey, the internal organizational impact included increased information sharing, less hierarchical information flows and collaboration across organizational silos.

Those businesses who embrace Web 2.0 technologies both internally and externally deploy talent more flexibly to deal with problems and allow employees lower in the corporate hierarchy to make decisions.

Implementing any new technology in an organization requires employee training to use it, but in the case of Web 2.0, there is also a need to alter corporate culture behaviorally. Just because there is a wiki, doesn’t mean people will contribute to it. Blogging without guidelines, support and incentives won’t necessarily lead to greater usage.

Social networking requires truly embracing the social to be successful and this may very well change the way employees interact inside the organization. Information won’t flow more freely because of technology alone. It also requires a cultural shift in the way employees interact with each other that is based upon mutual respect and trust.

Perhaps this is what separates the 3% of companies included in the McKinsey survey who are considered fully networked—those that have embraced Web 2.0 technologies both internally and externally. They are realizing the most benefits because they have focused their efforts on the cultural aspects as well as the technology.

To realize the bottom-line benefits of Web 2.0, organizations need to focus on the behavior accompanying it. This means empowering employees and giving them greater flexibility to do their jobs.

How is Web 2.0 technology being adopted in your company? Is it just the latest business strategy or is it fully embraced and supported with a focus on shifting the corporate culture so that it can be successful?

Thriving in the Knowledge Economy

November 30, 2010

The American K-12 public education system is failing to keep up with our counterparts around the world. There is much blame to pass around and despite governmental programs like “No Child Left Behind,” many challenges have yet to be addressed.

Recent documentary films such as “Waiting for Superman” and “Race to Nowhere” are helping to bring this concern front and center, but it may take no short of a revolution to change how we currently educate our children.

And if American-educated students fail to meet the grade, this likely means they will not have the knowledge and skills to compete for twenty-first-century jobs. This is a huge concern.

Tony Wagner, a Harvard-based education expert and author of “The Global Achievement Gap,” explains it this way. There are three basic skills students need if they want to thrive in a knowledge economy: the ability to do critical thinking and problem-solving; the ability to communicate effectively; and the ability to collaborate.

Wagner’s thesis revolves around “Seven Survival skills”—the core competencies he sees as necessary for success both in college and in the twenty-first-century workforce. These seven survival skills are:

  1. problem solving and critical thinking
  2. collaboration across networks
  3. adaptability
  4. initiative
  5. effective oral and written communication
  6. analyzing information
  7. developing curiosity and imagination

In this knowledge economy it should also be clear that organizations need to prepare existing workers to meet today’s challenges. Many have focused on recruiting workers with critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and these are the things many colleges and universities focus on in their curriculum.

But what about the other skills not easily measured with academic tests? These include such straight-forward things as the ability to collaborate and effectively communicate as well as the more esoteric “developing curiosity and imagination.” If these are also essential skills that will enable workers to succeed in the new economy, how can they be developed with current employees?

Many in today’s workforce not only need assistance in learning these skills, but the organizations they work for must also encourage their use. If a company truly wants their employees to collaborate more, they must encourage teams to work together more cooperatively rather than compete with each other for projects and promotions.

Excellent written and oral communication skills are so often requested by employers and documented on resumes by prospective employees that there should be no problem. But, of course, there is. Improving written communication skills beyond text messaging and cryptic tweeting will only continue to be of concern.

Organizations who truly want their workers to take initiative must back it up with incentives (financial and otherwise) to reward this behavior. How often is the phrase “it’s better to beg for forgiveness, than ask for permission” heard around your office?

And if the company wants a worker to develop his or her curiosity and imagination, then the company must accept that there will be missteps, mistakes, and bad decisions along the way. Individual and organizational learning is the likely output and encouraging it can lead to the innovative thinking necessary to compete.

To thrive in the knowledge economy, organizations must have workers capable of critical thinking and problem-solving. They must have employees who effectively communicate, collaborate across networks, analyze information and are adaptable. They also need each employee to take individual initiative and develop their curiosity and imagination.

As with any employee improvement strategy, this requires management to back up their words with deeds. This means providing the training, support, learning, and incentives that truly promote the development of all these essential skills.

How well do employees in your organization problem-solve, effectively communicate and collaborate? If not very well, are there programs in place to address them?

5 Things Managers Should Say to Employees

November 17, 2010

With nearly ten percent unemployment, it may seem ludicrous that a manager needs to say anything nice to employees these days. But you might consider the upside of treating your people well in hard times as well as good times.

In an earlier post, I wrote about things an employee should say to his or her boss. This provoked some harsh feedback because many readers may have thought I was referring to an employer as opposed to an immediate supervisor or manager. The immediate supervisor is someone who very likely also has a boss and therefore knows what it’s like to be in your shoes.

Unfortunately, there is a great divide between what employees want versus what their bosses think they want. And this has been consistent for a long time.

A survey on the discrepancy between what employees want versus what managers think employees want was conducted in 1946 by Foreman Facts, from the Labor Relations Institute of NY. This study was replicated with similar results by Ken Kovach (1980); Valerie Wilson, Achievers International (1988); Bob Nelson, Blanchard Training & Development (1991); and Sheryl & Don Grimme, GHR Training Solutions (1997-2001).

What Employees Say They Want (in order)
1. Full appreciation for work done
2. Feeling ‘part’ of things
3. Sympathetic help on personal issues
4. Job security
5. Good wages
6. Interesting work
7. Promotion/growth opportunities
8. Personal loyalty to workers
9. Good working conditions
10. Tactful discipline

What Managers Think Employees Want (in order)
1. Good wages
2. Job security
3. Promotion/growth opportunities
4. Good working conditions
5. Interesting work
6. Personal loyalty to workers
7. Tactful discipline
8. Full appreciation for work done
9. Sympathetic help on personal issues
10. Feeling ‘part’ of things.

If you just look at the top three things that employees say they want from their managers, you can see that these are at the bottom of what managers think employees want.

As someone who has worked in both for-profit and non-profit organizations, it always amazed me how little businesses use praise in the way it is often used in non-profits. A genuine “thank you” or “nice job on that project” can truly make someone’s day and often make an employee feel more satisfied and productive in his or her job.

Managers often forget that what motivates them are the same things that motivate their people. Employees want to be recognized and appreciated. They want to be treated humanely. And they want to be integral to the organization. Bottom line: it’s not always about the money.

Here are five things a manager should say to employees:

  1. “How can I help?” Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard developed the Situational Leadership Model on the importance of providing a combination of direction and support depending on where the employee is at a given time and position. Ask your employees what they need from you to perform their best.
  2. “Great job on . . .” Use specificity to make your praise authentic and meaningful. Everyone craves appreciation and receiving it can be more powerful in motivating an employee than just about anything else.
  3. “You seem particularly happy/sad/irritated . . .” Insert something genuine here to show you are paying attention to feelings. Say it in a way that communicates you are concerned and then really listen for understanding.
  4. “I want your input on . . .” This can make an employee feel engaged and appreciated in the organization like nothing else. But don’t say it unless you mean it and will consider what they say.
  5. “Thank you.” These two words are never used enough in the workplace. Using them more often is not simply for common courtesy, but as a way of connecting and showing appreciation for a job well done.

Employees and managers are more stressed than ever, working faster and with fewer resources. And lots of managers mistakenly think they are too busy to give praise, show appreciation, or truly connect with their employees.

But the best managers—ones who are able to effectively direct and support employees, recognize and appreciate them when appropriate, and remain sensitive to their emotional needs—are likely to get the most out of their people and thereby increase their own value to the organization.

What about you? Does this ring true for you who manage other people? As an employee, would you be more satisfied, motivated, and productive if you heard these things from your boss?

7 Things You Should Say to Your Boss

October 26, 2010

Working for someone else can be challenging no matter how good the boss may be. Nurturing this relationship can be important for your immediate job satisfaction as well as keep advancement opportunities front and center.

With this in mind, there are many things you should never say to your boss. For example, “this is not my job, it’s not my problem, or it can’t be done.” These will only aggravate your boss and demonstrate that you are not a team player and cannot be trusted to get the work completed.

Building a positive relationship with your boss can be vital to your general well being but, like any relationship, it takes time and energy.

Every manager or supervisor is likely to appreciate certain qualities in an employee. These include having credibility, being solution-oriented, being a good team player, being a good listener, and—if there is such a thing where you work—following the chain of command.

“The relationship with your boss is a partnership,” says Jane Boucher, author of How To Love The Job You Hate: Job Satisfaction for the 21st Century. “It takes effort to build the relationship and nurture it. You have to communicate well, avoid confrontations, and resolve differences in a positive way.”

It’s important to learn your boss’s concerns and goals. Try to fully understand the problems and pressures he or she confronts on a daily basis. Listen carefully to what your boss says and doesn’t say. And know when it’s wise for you not to say anything.

“You can lessen the chance that your boss will make bad decisions that adversely affect you and your career by managing your relationship with the boss,” Boucher says. “Keep the boss informed about what’s going on at work and never forget the pressure your boss is under. Honesty and reliability will win the hearts of most bosses.”

So what are specific ways you can maintain a positive working relationship with your boss? I have seven suggestions for things you should say to your boss.

  1. “I’d like to discuss priorities.” All of us at one time or another get overwhelmed with responsibilities, and sorting through what is most important is something our boss should help us with. More than likely, it is good just to check in to be sure what we think is most important is also most important for the boss.
  2. “I’d like your opinion.” All of us have an opinion and are typically proud to give it. In the case of a boss, this can be especially helpful as this person is likely to have a perspective different than yours. Be genuinely interested in this opinion whether you choose to accept and implement it or not.
  3. “Here’s something I really appreciate about you.” Supervisors and middle managers get lots of complaints, but very few compliments. Unless you work for an absolutely terrible boss, he or she probably has some positive qualities. Express your appreciation for these, but only if you are truly sincere.
  4. “I’ve got some bad news and a potential solution.” Employees are typically closer to the work and therefore spot impending trouble before managers do. Be proactive and give your boss a heads up about a problem as well as a potential solution. This will make you a more highly valued employee.
  5. “How am I doing? What can I improve upon?” Don’t wait for your annual review to find out your boss’s opinion on how you’re doing. Initiate an occasional feedback discussion to learn how your performance is perceived as well as how and where you can further improve.
  6. “How can I help?” Everyone needs assistance at times and this includes your boss. He or she may be unable or unwilling to ask given your other priorities, but when you see that you might be able and willing to lend a hand, be sure to ask how.
  7. “Thank you.” This could be for any number of things, such as guidance, patience, support, or the overall flexibility in how you get your job done. Whatever it is, be sure to let your boss know that you appreciate what he or she has done for you.

Speaking with your boss regularly can go a long way towards maintaining a positive relationship. By breaking the habit of simply going over the same job-related tasks and functions, and delving into more personal areas, you can create greater familiarity and closeness. This can make your immediate work environment more enjoyable and it may further your career opportunities

Should Fun be Mandated at Work?

September 29, 2010

Fun activities in the workplace can often improve employee engagement. When these are mandated or poorly concocted, however, the fun can actually be counterproductive and reduce overall morale.

Some companies have used fun activities as a way to recruit new employees. It is used to increase customer engagement and even to help leverage social media opportunities. But is this fun really effective if it is mandated rather than grown more spontaneously?

Some examples of the fun activities I’m speaking of include:

  • TD Bank, the American arm of Canada’s Toronto Dominion, has a “Wow!” department that sends out teams in costumes to “surprise and delight” successful workers.
  • Google offers employees volleyball courts, roller hockey and bicycle paths to encourage hanging out longer in the workplace.
  • The London branch of Red Bull recently installed a slide in its office.
  • Acclaris, an IT company, has a “chief fun officer.”
  • Twitter claims one of its core values as creating “fun and a little weirdness.”
  • Zappos encourages workers to form noisy conga lines and then single out an individual colleague for praise, whereupon the person must wear a silly hat for a week.

What is it about fun that makes it necessary for employers to create it for us? Is this due to much of the younger workforce having had so many structured fun activities as children: heavily scheduled playdates by helicopter mothers, overly supervised slumber parties, too little downtime between extracurricular activities?

Encouraging employees to have fun while at work is all well and good, but this shouldn’t be a requirement. And what that fun looks like should not be decided by public relations or human resources departments in isolation of rank and file employees.

There are many ways employees can find more joy in their work. The most basic are not so much fun and games, as they are simply more supportive of the workers.

Fostering an environment where people feel empowered to do their best work should be executed long before efforts on creating fun. These can include such sensible things as:

Safe Environment – Ensure that every employee feels physically and emotionally safe to execute his or her job function. If employees are more concerned about their personal safety, they are not going to be able to enjoy any fun activities.

Open Communication – Provide the opportunity for every employee to feel free to speak with others throughout the organization. Keep an open door policy so that all ideas and concerns—both positive and not so positive can be heard.

Meaningful Values – Netflix includes nine behaviors and skills that they value in all employees: judgment, communication, impact, curiosity, innovation, courage, passion, honesty, selflessness. Working around people that embody these nine values would trump all fun activities for me.

Team Building – Provide opportunities where people can bond on topics outside the work they do. This can often be loads of fun with extremely powerful benefit of building trust and teamwork.

Advancement Opportunities – Ensure there is a career path for every employee so that expectations can be met and incentives exist to encourage moving up in the organization.

Flex Time – Perhaps the most fun employees can have is in first ensuring that their personal lives and families are taken into consideration. This could ultimately mean that an employee does not want to have fun at work if it means additional time away from his or her family.

These things will certainly help employees feel more joy in the workplace, which can result in higher employee engagement. They are also likely to improve productivity and that’s the kind of fun we could all use in this economy.

Thoughts of Workplace Empathy on Labor Day

September 7, 2010

Last week I had the opportunity to work along side some carpenters, and their perspective on working with subcontractors made me think about how important empathy can be in the workplace.

Like my father, who was also a carpenter, home builders work along side many subcontractors involved in things like masonry, roofing, plumbing, electricity, insulation, sheetrock, painting, etc.

What I learned from carpenters is that many subcontractors continually complain about the work each other does. Typically it is the work of the previous specialist and how “if only he did it this way” everything would be much better.

This got me thinking about how beneficial it would be if the person doing the mudding and taping spent some time painting over his work. More than likely, the sheetrock specialist would gain insight into how little changes in his work could better accommodate the painter’s needs.

Imagine if the electrician and plumber negotiated on where to drill holes in order to reduce the need for longer wires and pipes. What if installing insulation could be more fully considered when preparing the foundation and framing?

Empathy is the ability to put your self in someone else’s shoes. It is the quality of feeling and understanding another person’s situation in the present moment—their perspectives, emotions, actions (reactions)—and communicating this to the person. You learn what they are feeling, or at least you suspect you know what they are experiencing, and you can communicate that for further discussion or clarification.

Putting yourself in another person’s shoes can help you better appreciate his or her perspective. In the workplace, by knowing the particular concerns of others would enable you to make decisions that help rather than inhibit another’s work.

The empathy in the workplace I’m speaking to requires more than simply doing another person’s job. It also requires inquiry and communication to better understand your coworker’s particular perspective.

Extending empathy could be helpful in virtually any industry. Imagine a cook waiting tables in a restaurant, a software engineer answering technical support calls, the accountant helping to make a sale. In every case, gaining insight into another’s perspective could help us make better choices in the way we do our own work.

It’s not unusual for some organizations to have employees “work the front lines” to stay in touch with customers. Starbucks has new employees—regardless of position—serve as baristas early in their employment to familiarize themselves with the ultimate reason they are in business.

Organizations should consider job shifting or job rotation so coworkers better understand the entire cycle for what the organization does because this could be beneficial in so many ways. If this is not feasible, they should offer opportunities for employees from different perspectives to brainstorm on ways to work together more efficiently.

Finding ways to foster empathy in the workplace can:

  • Create simple changes or alterations in the way everyone does his or her job that could dramatically improve efficiency by reducing time and/or costs for the organization as a whole.
  • Raise employee engagement because each employee can more fully understand and appreciate what the people around him or her actually do in their jobs. This can also increase job satisfaction because initiating changes in the way we do things can be empowering.
  • Better serve customers because organizations that run their operations efficiently can improve customer value. Organizations are also likely to have employees who care about the quality of their work and this is especially obvious to customers.

Appreciating the work our coworkers do can go a long way towards increasing appreciation of others, optimizing productivity and raising overall job satisfaction. Regardless of the work we do, seeking ways to empathize with others in the workplace may help reduce the labor in our work.