Category Archives: Employee engagement

The Importance of Being Care-full

I often like to make a distinction between caring and care-taking when it comes to leading others. This post, from 2011, gets more specific about what it means to care and why it’s important.

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hands-heartBenjamin Franklin once said, “Want of care does more damage than want of knowledge”

Never is that more true than in the workplace. Of course, there are those who continue to believe that caring for the people we lead is unimportant or a sign of weakness. After all, they would never accomplish anything if they had to spend all of their time worrying about everybody who works there. And others are often heard to say, and quite proudly too, that they take care of their people, which is a totally different thing.

The flaw in this kind of thinking is that caring for those under our charge isn’t about parenting. It is about inviting people to bring all of themselves to work every day and helping them give their best effort willingly to something that matters both to them and to the organization. I think it safe to say that engaging people in this way gets results. That makes it pretty important.

So, what does caring for people look like from a leader’s vantage point? Well, I have some thoughts about that. Here they are:

Judicious leaders care enough to…

Be interested in each person’s skills, talents and ambitions

This is a good place to start and is not dissimilar to taking inventory. You have to know what, and who, you’ve got before you can decide how you are going to help them use it and grow it for both individual and organizational benefit.

Be clear about their expectations:

No one can produce desired results if they are working with a murky set of expectations. So it is incumbent upon the leader who cares to be able to state what s/he expects, as simply and succinctly as possible and to ensure that the person to whom s/he is speaking understands those expectations in the way they were meant.

Tell hard truths

We are all familiar with times when it is easier to avoid the truth than to confront it. But, when someone is not performing well, it is essential for the leader to address it. This often requires some pretty uncomfortable discussions, and can result in equally painful decisions. Caring sometimes means helping others step up… or step off to something else.

Hold people accountable

So you’ve had the conversation. You and your colleague have come to an agreement about what s/he will accomplish and how you will support him/her. It sounds good and you both leave the room feeling good.

Caring leaders know that it doesn’t end there. Follow-up is necessary, first, because those under their charge may need some help. Second, they may need some encouragement. And finally, they may need some reminding about the commitments they’ve made. Holding people accountable for doing what they say they are going to do sends the message that their efforts matter to the success of the whole.

Risk their own vulnerability

Relationships, even those that are forged for professional reasons, are two-way propositions. Leaders who care and want to build strong connections with others are willing to share their own stories, something of themselves that makes them human. No one is a super-hero. If we try to be that, we don’t have time to concentrate on much else

Challenge people to stretch

Sometimes people are capable of going beyond what they have agreed to do, and yet, haven’t. Or, they are assigned something they believe to be too challenging for them, and don’t think they can do it. In either case, the leader who cares will provide a needed nudge, will challenge, cajole, encourage and inspire that extra effort that brings them over the top and helps them win.

Clear the way

Leaders who care will anticipate and provide needed resources. And, they will address obstacles that get in the way of success.

Let go

So by now you’ve made a heavy investment in someone’s development to the extent that s/he is now a top performer. It is natural to want to hang onto that person. After all, s/he is making a huge contribution to your results.

Letting go is hard but it’s also an important part of organizational, and personal, development. Those who go on to greater things will appreciate that you cared. Those who feel held back will quickly forget that you did. Besides in letting go, you get to….

Start Again

This may be good or bad news from a leadership perspective but the truth is that people come and people go. I like to believe that the person who has built a good reputation as a leader who cares attracts those who are willing to learn and to meet him or her halfway.

That’s what I think anyway. What do you think?

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Filed under building awareness, Building Relationships, communication, Employee engagement, Leadership, Leadership Development

Listen Here!

listening“Pardon?” I say.

“I didn’t hear you.”

“Well,” he says.

“That’s because you weren’t listening.”

I expect that, for most of us, this is a pretty common conversation. And yet, if we were to ask any number of people to rate the significance of listening in being a good leader; building good relationships; or doing good business, the ability to listen well would be among the most important.

So why are we not better at doing it?

Well for one thing, there is a possibility that we assume, because we come equipped with two ears, listening is something that will naturally follow. However, while hearing may come naturally, listening certainly does not. And yet, little attention has been paid to teaching us how to use our ears for the purposes of actually absorbing what is being said.

Think about it. When we were little children we were taught to read and write. In high school we might have learned how to debate effectively or write a coherent essay. And, Later on, we might have had instruction on effective presentation techniques, or business writing. We recognize these as developed skills. In comparison, there is little such instruction on the topic of listening because we tend to believe that hearing and listening are synonymous.

The truth is, most people can hear. Listening on the other hand involves engaging, not only the ears, but also the brain, in the process of receiving new information and assimilating it in the way in which it was intended.  Fewer people are good at that.

So, the question is, how do we get to a place where we  listen more?

I have a few thoughts on that and here they are:

1. Make Understanding the Goal

Just to be clear, understanding is not the same as agreeing. Often, when someone is speaking, we allow our own values and judgments to intervene prematurely and evaluate. Because of this (and just as often) we fail to understand what is really being said. Making understanding the goal means getting past our own biases and making space for someone else’s perspective.

2. Be Quiet

This seems simple enough. But is requires some practice. It’s hard to take in what someone is saying if we have crowded our heads with inner chatter; are waiting for our turn to speak; or thinking about what we are going to have for dinner. Taking a little time to achieve some sense of quiet and focus on the person talking will help to achieve the understanding we need to engage in a meaningful exchange of information or opinion.

3. Use the Inquiring Mind

Let’s face it. Even with the best of intentions, we aren’t always going to get to the intended meaning of every conversation easily. And, when we don’t, it is tempting to pretend we do if only to advance the conversation and move onto something else. But of course doing that takes us further away from the goal. So it’s not something we would want to make a habit of. Asking questions for clarity however, is a great habit to get into. It lets people know we are listening and it keeps the conversation on the right track too.

4. Paraphrase

Paraphrasing is another good habit to develop when listening to someone speak. This, by the way, is not about repeating word for word what we hear. Instead, paraphrasing asks us to summarize in our own words what we have heard, without judgment. If we are able to repeat what we understand the speaker to have said and the speaker confirms it as being what he meant, we have listened successfully.

That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?

 

Note: this is a refreshed version of a post originally written in 2010

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Leadership and the Attitude Contagion

catfrownDuring my active career, I used to spend a lot of time travelling for business so hotel stays for me became somewhat commonplace. And, I experienced a variety of attitudes from hotel staff as well.

On one particular trip to Toronto, I stayed in a hotel that was, and is, a rather posh place to hang your hat so I was quite looking forward to the experience.

Even so, on arrival, I felt an unmistakable chill in the air… and it wasn’t the air conditioning. The bellman, a rather tall and portly man, looked distinctly unhappy. In truth, his attitude toward me had a whiff of disdain about it as he unlocked the door to my room and ushered me, unceremoniously, inside. Hmmm, I thought, not a good start.

Once in the room, I realized there was no hair dryer in the bathroom. And so I phoned housekeeping. The Housekeeping department tersely informed me that while they would supply me with a hair dryer, I would only be allowed to keep it in my room for half an hour. Really?

This person didn’t sound happy either. Needless to say nor was I.

In contrast, my husband and I once went on a short road trip to Vancouver, Washington. We stayed at the Heathman Lodge, an upscale hotel built to blend harmoniously with the Pacific Northwest environment.

Here, we were warmly welcomed. The hotel staff was upbeat, positive and friendly. I saw no miserable faces, no reluctance to serve and no disdainful glances.

In the restaurant adjacent to the hotel our experience was even better. The wait staff was more than accommodating. And each morning at breakfast, Cecily greeted us with a cheerful smile. Cecily exuded happiness. She and the others, who all remained cheerful in spite of the busy breakfast period, helped us set our own moods for the day

People were happy. And so was I.

So what’s the message here? Well, there are a number of them but one that stands out for me is this. Attitude is contagious.

If you are a leader, formally designated or otherwise, know that you are probably also a Chief Attitude Officer.

Simply put, that means the atmosphere in your place of work is created largely by the attitude you bring to it. And, as it is unlikely anyone wants to encourage an attitude that creates unhappiness in employees and customers alike, here are a few thoughts about making positivity the contagion of choice:

Know What You Value

Being clear about what is important to us as human beings is critical to creating a kind of internal compass that guides our choices and decisions. In the workplace, knowing what we value and doing work that aligns with those values is equally important. If there is a misalignment of values between the leader and those who follow, then generally, a less than positive working environment is the result and poor attitudes tend to prevail.

Be Consistent

Okay so it’s one thing to be clear about our values. It’s possibly another to demonstrate them consistently. Like it or not, the leader is the role model. If the leader strays from the values being espoused, it is likely that everyone else will too. So, not only do we have to be clear about what they are and believe in them, we have to live by them and demonstrate our ongoing commitment to them as well.

Be Generous

Most businesses and organizations provide service in some form or another. And, even within organizations, everyone serves someone. To me, generosity is the key to success in this.

Generosity is one of those things that spills over from one person to the next. It makes sense then that if a leader’s approach to those who follow is generous in nature, that attitude will transfer to others and serve to lift the mood of everyone who comes in contact with it.

That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?

 

Note: This is a refreshed version of a post I wrote in 2010

 

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Employee Engagement…What’s in a Name?


Naming-pic1A few years ago,  I was spending a lot of time at the hospital. My husband had had a serious stroke and so my days were spent largely going to and fro, admittedly in a bit of a haze. I didn’t have time to notice too much of anything outside the small sphere of my personal concern but there was one thing that stood out, one thing that I noticed each morning as I walked past.

The Hospital Human Resources Department had changed its name to The Employee Engagement Department.

At the time, I couldn’t help but wonder what they might be doing differently now that they weren’t doing when they were called The Human Resources Department. And it started me thinking. It’s easy to change a name but not so easy to live up to it. In the case of the hospital employees, I wondered what their experience was like working under the newly popular umbrella of Employee Engagement. Were they more interested or involved? Were they happier? Were their issues and concerns being heard more than before? Were their opinions being sought out more often? Were their teams more functional and productive? Did they feel more energized and valued? Were the hospital’s costs better managed or the patients’ experience enhanced?

Of course I don’t know the real answers to any of those questions except to say that my short observation of this particular hospital staff led me to believe that not much had appreciably changed.  And perhaps that’s the point. You can change the label on something but it won’t make the substance of it any different unless you a do something differently or introduce something new. Simply calling it something else just doesn’t get the job done. So maybe there are a couple of ways of looking at this. Do you change the name first to create a mental visual around what you want to achieve? Or, do you re-label only when you can be satisfied that what you have to offer bears a reasonable resemblance to the name you give it? I’m kind of leaning to the latter here. After all if you take a cherry pie and label it “apple”, it may resemble an apple pie from the outside but unless you change what’s inside, it’s going to stay a cherry pie no matter what you call it.

That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?

*Note: a refreshed version of an original posted in March 2010

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Leadership & Creating an Environment of Service

Servamt Leadership 2 No_optA lot has been said about the leader as “servant”. I expect, given that it is a relatively young term (having been ‘born’ in 1970), it is also subject to wide interpretation. As such, while some people will experience great results from their efforts to serve, others will consider it a fad that will go away if they ignore it. Still others will make every effort to embrace the notion of the Servant Leader but find themselves exhausted, confused and possibly resentful because people seem to be walking all over them.

So what to do?

Well, first I’m thinking that we need some clarity about what it means to serve or be a servant. So I looked it up in a number of dictionaries and found this:

“Servant leaders are humble stewards of their organizations’ resources.”

A Servant is one who serves another, providing help in some manner.”

“A servant is a person who performs duties for others”.

So far so good.

Then I went to the Thesaurus for some synonyms for the word servant. Between the words attendant and steward lay these words, lackey, flunky, minion and drudge.  Okay then, herein may lie a problem.

Perhaps it is that many of us, when we think of the term Servant Leadership, take this subservient perspective (a.k.a. lackey, flunky, minion and drudge). In other words, it suggests that by serving, we are also submitting to the whims of others for no other reason than to render them superior. And, let’s face it, our egos are going to have a hard time with that. So, if you have been leaning in that direction when you think about the notion of Servant Leadership, I have some good news for you. I don’t think it’s about that at all.

Here’s what I do believe it’s about. It’s about…

knowing the Over-arching purpose I believe a good servant leader will focus on an over-arching purpose. This purpose becomes the master and the guide for all activities undertaken within the framework of the company. The leader serves the purpose through people. For instance, Southwest airlines’ over-arching purpose is stated as: “To provide the best service and lowest fares to the short haul, frequent-flying, point-to-point, non-interlining traveler.” This simple statement lets everyone know why Southwest Airlines is in business and whom it is there to serve.

However, in order to succeed, this understanding of service must permeate the organization and so it also becomes the role of the leader to:

Serve the people who are working to fulfill the over-arching purpose. This means providing the resources needed for people to do their jobs well and happily. It includes delivering needed training, supplies, connections, information, accommodation, direction and anything else that allows people working in the company to move the organization closer to the achievement of its purpose.

Encourage and develop an environment where people serve each other.  Where we can go wrong with this servant leadership thing is that we fail to expect all people working in the organization to serve too. Or, we simply don’t convey it very well.

Those who believe servant leadership to be a role only for the designated leader would be wrong. In truth, an environment that embraces service will do so in an all-encompassing way. This means that regardless of title or position, each person will both lead and serve another, or a group of others, to achieve company goals and make a contribution to the achievement of its purpose.

So, having said all that, what does it actually take to create this environment where service is king? Well, for what it’s worth, this is what I think about that.

It takes Discipline: Staying focused on the over-arching purpose and using it, as a guide for providing service to others is not easy. As humans, we can become easily distracted. It may be easy to stay the course and remain true to the purpose when times are good. But, when they are not so good, it becomes tempting to stray and do what is expedient instead.

It takes Humility: Putting others before ourselves is sometimes a challenge, especially in business, but humility is an essential ingredient in a successful service environment. I’m not talking about being obsequious here. I’m talking about simply being unselfish and mindful of others’ needs and contributions.

It takes Collaboration: Simply put, in order to serve the purpose and each other, we have to learn to work together, avoid internal politics and protectionism and share our ideas and resources with each other more freely.

It takes Trust: Trust is often an earned thing. However, a leader who serves the people will, in my view anyway, start from a platform of trust rather than skepticism. In my experience, people respond well to a leader who conveys faith in their intent. People who feel trusted are more likely to be willing to serve the over-arching purpose. Will you be disappointed? Yep, from time to time you will. But, if you start out not trusting my hunch is you’re going to be disappointed anyway.

And:

It takes Faith: I’m not talking about the religious kind of faith here. I’m talking about the kind of faith that makes you believe so strongly in your company’s purpose and its people that all of your activities centre around them and the financial results that you realize from that come as a by-product of your collective effort.

So, is servant leadership for the faint of heart? I’d say no. Is it about subservience, or slavery? Certainly not.

That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?

*Note: this post was originally published in 2010.

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Filed under communication, Customer Service, Employee engagement, Leadership, Leadership Development, Leadership Style, organizational Development

Trust: If You Build It, They Will Come…and Stay

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Trust. It’s a small word and yet, it holds the key to success in just about every walk of life. And, it’s one of those things that is often hard earned yet easily destroyed. That makes it precious.

From a corporate perspective, we all pretty much know that building trust in organizations is key. But what does it look like when it’s in action? Well,

here are some ideas around what we might see in an organization that has successfully built high levels of trust.

As a Boss, people are open and candid with me. They trust that I’m not in the business of shooting messengers or punishing anyone for giving me straight and honest information about myself or anything else for that matter. People working with me, are not afraid to be creative or try new things. And, when they make mistakes, they own up to them and are willing to share their lessons with others. As a boss too, I strive for transparency in my dealings with others and that means I talk to them, ask for their opinions and listen to their advice. I feel well rewarded and highly regarded.

As part of a team, I don’t waste time engaging in gratuitous political maneuverings. I focus instead on building solid and positive relationships with my colleagues for my benefit, and for the team. I trust them to do the same. I make sure I fulfill my responsibilities to the team and the organization and take pride in both what I produce and what the team produces. My team and I enjoy working together and pitch in to do whatever work needs doing, even if it is technically “not my job”. I always get the credit I deserve for the contributions I make. I feel that I belong.

As an individual contributor, I make sure that I understand my role in the organization and if I am unsure, I ask someone who can teach me. Similarly, if I have knowledge that someone else does not have, but needs, I am not hesitant about sharing what I know. I trust that sharing will give us all the power we need to do our jobs well and succeed. I feel competent and important.

As a sales person, I believe in my product. My clients’ needs come before my own. Many of my clients have been with me for a long time. I continue to work to earn their ongoing loyalty. I am not afraid to approach my boss if I think my client has needs that could be met differently. I offer my ideas freely. I have earned my clients’ respect. I do not feel the need to compete with my colleagues except in a way that challenges us all to do better. I feel productive and successful.

As an organization, we continue to experience growth in our business. Our client base is strong and increasing. Our employees are actively engaged in building and supporting our business. We value their contribution and make every effort to acknowledge their accomplishments in a variety of ways that have meaning for them. We feel confident about the future.

Okay, so some of this might sound a bit utopian. I mean, I used to have a boss that hid around corners at lunch hour trying to catch people taking more than their allotted time for lunch. While hopefully, bosses who behave like that are going the way of the dinosaur, I suspect a lot of work has yet to be done to build the kind of trust it takes to bring all of the scenarios I describe to life.

Nonetheless it is perhaps something to strive for because the price of under-valuing, (or worse, not doing), the work of building trust in organizations is very high indeed.

I am reminded, strangely, of a little clip from the movie City Slickers where Jack Palance’s character, Curly, talks about the “one thing” that holds the secret of life. Here it is:

When it comes to the secret of successful organizations, I tend to think that the “one thing” is trust.

What do you think?

*Note: originally posted in February 2010

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Getting Back to Work ~ What Motivates Us

KtLtMO3rJd42s9nvpRuZ6D7b_500I hate to say it…but I will. Summer is coming to a close. It feels a little sad saying adios to the hazy, crazy, sometimes lazy days of summer. And yet, to me, there is always a ‘new start’ feeling about September. I guess it must be that, for most people, summer vacation is over and it’s time to get back to work.

Some of us will approach this prospect with enthusiasm and some, well, some will spend time singing the back to work blues.

As a leader, it is reasonable to assume that you would prefer the enthusiasm option to the blues option. But, like everything else, you’ll likely have to work for it.

So here’s a reminder from Daniel Pink about what truly motivates people to do their best work, (post vacation or otherwise) and it has nothing to do with money. In fact, according to Pink, (and intuitively, I agree) there are three things that, in combination, will charge our batteries and get us happily moving forward. Here they are:

Autonomy ~ freedom to,( independently or with others of our choosing), work creatively and produce something we can be proud of.

Mastery ~ opportunities to learn, grow and build on our interests, knowledge and abilities

Purpose ~ Connecting to something greater than ourselves that we can believe in and strive to fulfill.

Here is a wonderful RSA Animate production called Drive: the Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. It is ten minutes long but, for any leader, is worth the time to see because it gets to the heart of what motivates us.

This presentation suggests to me that to keep the effects of lethargy (whenever it may arise) from diminishing our activity and blurring our focus, we must find ways to emphasize or integrate the principles of autonomy, mastery and purpose into our everyday work life.

With this in mind, here are some questions for you, as leader, to consider:

Autonomy:

  • Given the nature of your business, how might you provide opportunity for people to work autonomously?
  • How flexible are you when it comes to work arrangements?
  • What would happen if you were to make each person’s operational framework larger and allow more independence? What might it look like?
  • What would you need to make it work? What would you have to do to fill that need? What would others have to do?

Mastery:

  • What opportunities do you provide for people to get better at what they do?
  • How do you approach development planning?
  • How do you acknowledge accomplishment?
  • What value do you place on curiosity, risk and learning?
  • What are you willing to try, to allow your people a chance for growth and greater contribution?
  • If you were to take what you are doing now to increase peoples’ level of mastery and multiply it by two, what would it look like? What do you anticipate would be the outcome?

Purpose:

  • What purpose does your organization serve?
  • Does everyone in your organization know it? Understand it? Believe in it?
  • How often do you remind people of your organizational purpose?
  • How do you help them make the connection between what they do and how they contribute to the fulfillment of the purpose?

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There will of course be other questions that come up for you but the point is, there are times when this notion of achieving a working environment that values autonomy, mastery and purpose requires some active consideration.

I just happen to think that the autumn is one of those times.

What do you think?

*Please Note: This post was originally published in 2011

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Filed under Employee engagement, Leadership, Leadership Development, motivating & Inspiring