Leadership Barometer 136 Improve Online Communication

March 9, 2022

Are you becoming a digital junkie? Between e-mail, texting, social networking, and remote working the nature of communication is ever more digital and less verbal. With the brevity and acronyms used in Twitter and text messages, we may be heading back toward some form of cave drawings to communicate. At least if we are going to be communicating online all the time, we should all do it skillfully.

The rules for communicating efficiently and effectively online are not complex; unfortunately many people do not remember to use the rules on a daily basis.  Here are ten specific points that can improve your communication online:

  1. Understand online text is different from conversation – When we use the old fashioned method of communicating (with the mouth and ears) we have the opportunity to modify everything we say, the pace, the tone, the content, the inflection, everything, based on the visual feedback we are getting real time from the other person. Instantaneous feedback is not in play with digital communication, so the potential to make corrections and stay out of trouble is just not there.
  2. Use the right mode of communication – For many applications, a digital note may be the expedient way to communicate, but it may well not be the best way. Consider whether having a face-to-face discussion or a phone or Zoom call might be the more efficient route in the long run. Having your cell phone in your hand is not a reason to use the wrong mode of communication for important messages.
  3. Choose the right time to communicate – Consider the state of mind of the receiver and make sure you are sensitive to the pressures on the other person.  If you try to communicate constructive feedback to a person who is feeling insecure or particularly vulnerable, it will likely not translate well.
  4. Get the right tone at the start – In any message, even a tweet, you need to set the tone at the very start so the other person understands your frame of reference. If not, the message can be read in a way that is totally opposite to your intention.  With longer e-mail messages, this is a critical element.
  5. Don’t play one-upmanship – Escalating e-mails in an organizational context are familiar with long strings of increasing rancor and expanding distribution. I call these diatribes “e-grenade battles.” The antidote here is to refrain from taking the bait. Simply do not reply in kind to a message that gets under your skin. Instead, pick up the phone or walk down the hall to clear up any misunderstanding.
  6. Keep the content brief – Twitter helps us in that regard, but the side effect is that sometimes the true intent can be lost in extreme brevity. With social networking and e-mail, less is more, because people do not take the time to wade through mountains of text to get the meat.
  7. Avoid Absolutes – If I write that you are “always late for meetings,” it is not likely an accurate statement. “You never call me,” is usually proven to be incorrect. Even if an absolute word is technically correct, it is an accusatory term that sets up a negative vibe in the mind of the reader who will try to prove the writer is incorrect.
  8. Read before sending – Depending on the gravity of the message, you should reread it at least twice before sending. With social networking this is also true. Make sure you attempt to put yourself in the place of the reader. Think about how the information might be misinterpreted, and make sure you spell things correctly.
  9. Recognize you cannot get them back – Most digital messages are permanent data. They do not atrophy with time like verbal communication does. You can apologize all you want, but the other person can demonstrate that you said this or that. Make sure you write what you mean to communicate. Emails never go away.
  10. Understand you lose control of the distribution – Once you push the send button, it is all over. You cannot easily get the message back or delete it. It is out there for the intended recipient and potentially any other person in the world to view. That includes your harshest critics or worst enemies!

There are numerous other ways to improve digital communication, but if you keep these nine concepts firmly in your mind, you will have a much more fruitful interface with other people online in the long run.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 


Leadership Barometer 135 Creativity

March 2, 2022

I read an interesting quotation in a student paper a while ago: “Demanding creativity is like yanking on a seed to pull out the flower” (by the famous author “unknown”). The optics in this quote really work for me. People have referred to me as a creative person at times, and I even won an award for it once, yet if you stand over me with a scowl on your face, my creativity will dry up faster than a drop of water in a red hot frying pan. Most people have a creative side that will blossom if properly nurtured.

The benefits of creativity and innovation are well documented. Unfortunately, while all leaders yearn for higher creativity, their behaviors often squash it. This article provides seven pathways to encourage more creativity that are simple and powerful.

  1. Let people play – Natural creativity is linked to the concept of play. Just observe children who are about 3 years old, and you will see some of the most creative people on the planet. Reason: The world has not taught them that certain things are impossible. They see clearly with their imagination, and they are not afraid to experiment.
  2. Give them the tools – We typically use brainstorming to get creative at work, yet over the decades since it was invented, it has lost most of its potency. Put brainstorming on steroids using Morphological Analysis, which is a technique where you put dissimilar concepts on two axes and then brainstorm ideas at the intersections of the resulting matrix. This forces the mind to conjure up connections that people habitually ignore.
  3. Do not legislate – We cannot force creativity. By trying to nag people into getting creative, we can actually reduce the chances for novel ideas. Most people are more creative at specific times of the day. Allow people to pick the times when they experiment with new ideas.
  4. Create an environment of innovation – Do this by encouraging people to tinker and rewarding them when they come up with unusual approaches. If leaders in the organization overtly promote creative behavior, then it will spread.
  5. Measure it – The old adage of “what gets measured gets done” is true for innovation. The measure can take the form of documented new procedures, patents, new product announcements, and many other forms. I once knew a manager who found a creative way to measure creativity. He placed a cork bulletin board in the hall with a fence around it. The sign on the board read “Sacred Cow Pasture.”  Then there was an envelope full of silhouette cows made of different colored construction paper. He encouraged workers to uncover a sacred cow, write it on the cutout and pin it in the pasture. The management team would then set about eliminating the sacred cow.  
  6. Reward good tries – Not all ideas are a smashing success from the start. Leaders need to encourage people to try, even if there are failures along the way. The failures are really successes because they uncover other ways something will not work. Failure points the direction to what eventually does work. Thomas Edison had to find nearly 10,000 things that did not work before he figured out how to make the incandescent lamp a reality. Reward deep curiosity and dogged determination. Impatience and a short-term mindset are the enemies of innovation.
  7. Brag about your innovative culture in public – When leaders point out the great creative work going on in all areas of the organization, not just in the lab, people tend to get more excited about it. This leads to a dramatic increase in innovation similar to spontaneous combustion in a pile of tinder.

The secret to innovation and growth is to develop a culture where people nurture creativity rather than force it.  To have a more creative organization, follow the seven tips above. 

 

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations


Leadership Barometer 134 Strategic Thinking

February 23, 2022

The number one rule of strategic thinking is to be current. In the past three years, the world of business has changed so dramatically that anything written before 2020 should be examined carefully to ensure the key points are still valid today. That means getting out in the world to understand how organizations actually operate now.  

Thinking Ahead

You cannot survive by studying the business models of the past.  You must be thinking ahead of the power curve so you at least have an accurate view of the environment in which you are trying to thrive.

What is the benefit of reading books that outline great details about models for strategic planning?  The benefit is that the process of strategic thinking and the mental steps you take are fixed and really do apply, even in vastly different environments.

A Real Example

Let me illustrate with an example.  There is a concept called “Segmentation Strategy.” This is where an organization slices and dices the market into chunks that can be addressed with slightly different tactics depending on the characteristics of each chunk.  This segmentation idea could be applied whether you were making and selling wood stoves in 1900 or some kind of personal vapor heating body envelope concept in the year 2040.  Even though the world operates quite differently over time, the fundamental thinking process in trying to laser focus marketing efforts on the precise segment you are trying to reach is a valid one.

Focus on Principles Rather Than Specific Tools

As you read and think about the various strategic tools, try not to get caught up on the specific tools and examples the authors use, because the logic in examples illustrates the time when they occurred.  Rather, think about the overarching principles involved in the techniques.  These will not change much regardless of the current world and technological conditions.

Painting a New Picture

The artistic part of strategic thinking is that you get the chance to paint a new picture every day. The canvas is there for you, and you can select not only the brush and colors to use but also the subject you wish to paint.  The only stipulation is that you need to produce a viable idea out of your effort. 

It reminds me of the story of the coal miner. Someone asked him if he got bored down in the mine.  He said, “Bored? No way! I enjoy being down in the mine. I like the lack of restrictions. I have absolute freedom to do anything I want down in the mine, provided I get hold of two tons of coal every day.”

Conclusion

The old models of business do not always apply in today’s conditions. The strategic process to analyze markets and opportunities are still valid, but you must refresh your thinking to be relevant in today’s competitive landscape.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.  For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at www.Leadergrow.com,


Leadership Barometer 133 Stupid or Brilliant

February 16, 2022

I do a fun exercise in my leadership classes called “Stupid or Brilliant.” I go through a number of scenarios and specify an action that, on the surface, appears to be stupid. In each case, the loss of control would appear to be devastating from a risk point of view. I ask the participants to vote if the action was stupid or brilliant.

There are some examples where there is a suggested “correct” answer, but most of the questions can lead to lively debate. For any example, it can be a toss-up whether a particular action is “stupid” or “brilliant.”  In reality, it can be either depending on the people involved and the circumstances.

The world has also changed over the past few years, and it is not as safe to take risks as it might have been in the past. It takes a bit of soul searching to come up with an answer.

Here is an example of a question with an answer that worked over a decade ago that might not be the same today.

Selling Doughnuts

A doughnut street vendor at the base of a skyscraper in New York City noticed that the line was too long while people waited for him to make change. He was losing customers. He put out a box with change and small bills and a sign that read “In a hurry? Make your own change: I trust you!” At first glance, putting money out in trust in NYC would be stupid. People could just take the cash and go.  Instead, the vendor found the strategy to be brilliant for three reasons:

  1. The throughput of his vending operation increased by 50% because the line moved faster.
  2. People started talking about his trust throughout the building, and they came out to buy from this honest vendor.
  3. Many people would not even take the change. If their total came to $3.75, they would just put in a five-dollar bill and walk away.

His method worked in 2012, but it might be a different story today. It undoubtedly also matters what the exact location of the vendor was.

Charging for Services

One consultant decided to charge only what the customer felt was appropriate after completing his work.  He would leave the fee totally at the discretion of the people he was helping.  This tactic defies negotiation logic because it ignores an important principle of negotiation (the perceived value of a service is lower after the service is rendered). Yet, this consultant generally did very well and often received larger fees than he would have if he had negotiated a firm price before doing the work.

Treating Impacted Employees with Respect

One organization needed to do some downsizing.  They decided to allow the impacted people to continue to use their old office, computers, and cell phones for a month if they wanted while they looked for work elsewhere. 

Of course, there were a few stated rules about not being disruptive and honoring professional behaviors while on the premises, but other than that, they treated the severed employees the same as the ones retained. There was a risk, but the company found that in all but a few rare exceptions, the benefits far outweighed the risks.

Selling Booze

You can carry blind trust to an extreme where a strategy is likely stupid.  One example I give in my classes is this: The owner of a bar does not charge patrons per drink but asks each customer to keep track of what he or she consumed and pay at the end of the night.  Obviously, most people vote for this as a “stupid” strategy. The customer’s memory of how many drinks he or she consumed would be cloudy in many cases.

On the other hand, it would make an interesting research experiment, because it may be possible that some customers would pay more than required rather than less.

Key Point

The point is that when we really do trust people to do the right thing, they often respond in ways that defy conventional wisdom.  That logic comes from a social norm based on a controlling philosophy. When given the chance, most (but not all) people react with integrity and gratitude when we extend trust to them.

First Law of Trust

I have developed what I call the “First Law of Trust.”  It is: “If you are unhappy with the level of trust others have toward you, the first corrective action is to find ways to extend trust more to them.”

The caveat is that some people are basically not trustworthy. In that case, you need to find small ways to extend trust and build up an environment where the person earns higher trust over time.

Trust is reciprocal in nature, so the best way to receive more trust is to give more. Try this technique with the people in your life, and you may see a dramatic increase in trust.  Often what seems like an unwise risk to take will turn out better by far greater loyalty than you can imagine.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.  For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763.

 


Leadership Barometer 132 Toxic Leaders

February 9, 2022

When a toxic person is the leader of an organization, the performance of that unit will typically be less than half what it would be under a leader who builds trust.

Thankfully, the majority of leaders are not toxic. The unfortunate reality is that one toxic leader in an organization does such incredible damage, he or she can bring down an entire culture without even realizing it.

Most toxic leaders understand that people are generally unhappy working under them. What they fail to see is the incredible leverage they are leaving off the table.  They just do not believe or know there is a better way to manage, otherwise, they would do that. 

If you are in an organization, there is a possibility you are in daily contact with one or more toxic leaders. There are three possibilities here: 1) you have a leader working for you who is toxic, 2) you are a toxic leader yourself but do not know it or want to admit it, or 3) you are working for a toxic leader or have one higher in the chain of command. I will give some tips you can use for each of these cases.

Toxic Leader Working for You – this person needs to become more aware that he or she is operating at cross purposes to the goals of the organization. Do this through education and coaching.  Once awareness is there, then you can begin to shape the behavior through leadership development and reinforcement. It may be that this person is just not a good fit for a leadership role, and removal may be necessary because not everyone can be “fixed.”

You are the Toxic Leader – it is probably not obvious to you how much damage you are doing by your treatment of other people. They are afraid to tell you what is actually going on, so you are getting grudging compliance and leaving their maximum discretionary effort unavailable to the organization. 

The antidote here is to genuinely assess your own level of toxicity and change it if you are not happy with the answer. You can accomplish this by getting a coach or some excellent training. Try to read at least one good leadership book every month. This scenario is the one with the greatest likelihood of success, but only if you are willing to work at it.

You are working for a toxic leader – in my experience, this is the most common situation. It is difficult and dangerous to retrofit your boss to be less toxic. My favorite saying for this situation is, “Never wrestle a pig. You get all muddy and the pig loves it.”

What can you do that will have a positive impact on the situation without risking the loss of employment? Here are six ideas that may help, depending on how severe the problem is and how open-minded the boss is. Note: any of these ideas can work or they can backfire depending on the severity of the case and how you approach the leader. Use judgment and caution at all times. If you sense resistance or anger, back off.

  1. Create a leadership growth activity in your area and invite the boss to participate. Use a “lunch and learn” format where various leaders review some great books on leadership. I would start with some of the Warren Bennis books or perhaps Jim Collins’ Good to Great.
  2. Suggest to the leader that part of the performance gap is a lack of trust in higher management and get some dialog on how to improve. By getting the boss to verbalize a dissatisfaction with the status quo, you can gently shape the issue back to the leader’s behaviors. The idea is to build a recognition of the causal relationship between culture and performance.
  3. Show some of the statistical data that is available that links higher trust to greater productivity. I have written about this in another article entitled, “Trust Improves Productivity.”
  4. Bring in a speaker who specializes in improving culture for a quarterly meeting. Try to get the speaker to interface with the problem leader personally offline. If the leader can see some glimmer of hope that a different way of operating would provide the improvements he or she is seeking, then you have made some progress.
  5. Suggest some leadership development training for all levels in the organization. Here it is not necessary to identify the specific leader as “the problem,” rather, discuss how improved leadership behaviors at all levels would greatly benefit the organization.
  6. Reinforce any small directional baby steps in the right direction the leader inadvertently shows. Reinforcement from below can be highly effective if it is sincere. You can actually shape the behavior of your boss by frequent reminders of the things he or she is doing right.

It is a rare leader who will admit, “Our performance is far off the mark, and since I am in charge, it must be that my behaviors are preventing people from giving the organization their maximum discretionary effort.” Those senior leaders who would seriously consider this statement are the ones who can find ways to change through training and coaching. They are the ones who will have a better future.

Most toxic leaders will remain with their habits that sap the vital energy from people and take their organizations in exactly the opposite direction from where they want to go. You may be better off finding a different position in another organization.   

To reduce the impact of a toxic leader, carefully and gently follow the steps outlined above, and you may be able to make a large shift in performance over time while preserving your job. You can even use this article as food for thought and pass it around the office to generate dialog on how to chart a better future for the organization.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 


Leadership Barometer 131 Span of Control

February 2, 2022

How much span of control (number of direct reports) should a particular manager have? Years ago, I was taught that any manager who has more than 6 direct reports cannot do a proper job of supervising the individuals.

On the other extreme, with a very flat organization and self directed work teams, it is possible for a manager to be directly responsible for over 100 people.

More recently, the issue of hybrid work makes the situation even more complex. Span of control remains an important concept in today’s fragmented workplace.

An overarching question is why we call it “control” at all. The idea that one must have control over people in order to influence or coach them properly is outdated. I agree that the total entity needs to deliver on the goals of the organization and serve the customer well, but the individuals within the organization do not need to be “controlled” like marionettes in order to perform well.

Most of my professional work centers around the concept of trust.  If an organization has a culture of high trust, then we do not need to control the individuals within it to be effective.

If upper management act as servant leaders and are transparent with information, all workers at all levels know the goals. They feel trusted or empowered to do the right thing, so the conventional hierarchy of group leader, supervisor, manager, vice president, group vice president, president, and CEO is way more structure than necessary.

Let us look at eight manager behaviors that will allow one individual to provide the needed guidance to numerous other people.

  1. Delegate well – Delegate more and micromanage less.
  2. Trust others – Demonstrate more trust in employees.
  3. Fewer Rules – Ditch the complex operating procedures – rely on people.
  4. Self Development – Encourage workers to have a development plan.
  5. Better Mentoring – Have a culture that encourages mentoring.
  6. Less “Administriva” – Reduce busy work and complex forms.
  7. Improve Online Communication – Reduce the email load and make it more efficient and user-friendly.
  8. Clean house – Get rid of habitual problem employees. Shift attention from those who are causing problems to those who are doing great work.

Conclusion

Increasing the span of control is good for the efficiency of any organization. Following the eight tips above will shift the burden for most managers and allow them the time to have broader influence. This saves the organization money and provides a more rewarding environment in which managers and employees can thrive.

 

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 

 

 


Leadership Barometer 130 Clean Out Your Clutter

January 26, 2022

Most of us need a reminder once in a while to clean out our clutter. This article is about the topic of clutter in various parts of our lives and how we need to keep it from building up.

If you have the personal discipline never to have a cluttered desk or workbench, stop reading and give yourself a medal for being so organized. The rest of us will pick apart the concept of clutter and find some coping mechanisms.

Condiment and Spice Clutter

First, it would be good to identify exactly what clutter is.  Clutter is that set of things (or ideas) that once served a useful purpose in our lives but now are no longer useful. For example, if you look in your cupboard or pantry, you are likely to find some condiments or food items that expired over a year ago.

If you think about it, these items are not safe to eat, and you will never use them. They remain on the shelf taking up valuable space, but you nor anyone else will consume them.  To throw them out would be the smart thing to do, but we continue to work around these artifacts and simply refuse to do what is obviously right.

Clothes

Look in your closet. If you are like me, there are probably clothes in there that you intellectually know you will never wear again. Your body shape is not going to return to the size that would allow these items ever to be wearable by you, and you cannot legitimately give them to someone else. Yet, year after year, they remain in your closet taking up space and leaving the place a cluttered mess.

We at least try to give away usable clothing to the Goodwill or the Salvation Army, but many of the old items are in such poor shape we would be embarrassed to give them away. 

Organization Policies and Procedures

Keeping clutter is not just a bad habit for people; it is also a problem for organizations. In any organization, there are procedures and processes that have no current purpose, but we continue to do them out of momentum.

They sap energy and time from our current operation, but we fail to stop them. An example might be a daily report that nobody pays any attention to anymore. You probably have ink cartridges or toner for printers that no longer exist in your office.  The list goes on and on.

Spare parts for machines we no longer own; old Christmas decorations; trade show posters collecting dust; a broken vase; these are all items that we find in most office storerooms, and there are thousands of other examples if you think about it.

With the office procedures, why not have a “clean out” day where we challenge all of the rituals and things that take up our time.  There is a formal process for this called “work out.” 

The idea is to take the useless work out of our processes so we can spend our precious time only on the things that matter, thus de-cluttering our processes. The concepts of lean thinking and “5S” principles are particularly helpful for these clean-out activities.

Recent Opportunity

Actually, in 2020, we all had a golden opportunity to get rid of procedural clutter due to the pandemic.  We had to “pivot” to a completely different way of operating, literally over a weekend. That forced us to stop doing things that were not critical and focus only on essential work.

As we reinvent the future, let’s not slip back into some of the useless old procedures. Rather let’s cash the gains we learned when forced to accept the pain and reinvent ourselves.

Old Paradigms

There is also mental clutter that clogs our brains with old ideas that do not apply in our current world or maybe never did apply very well.  For example, many managers still practice a “command and control” philosophy, clinging to the ancient belief that in order to get things done they need to scare people into compliance.

Managers may believe that to “motivate” people, all they need to do is add some extrinsic goodies like t-shirts, pizza parties, or hat days. Those ideas went out with Herzberg’s Two Factor Theory over 70 years ago, yet every day I still see managers trying to motivate people with extrinsic rewards.

Learn to See It

How can we get a handle on clutter and remove much of it from our lives? To start with, we need to be able to actually see the clutter in a different form than we usually do.

I think one way is to do campaigns where we remove every single bottle of lotion or shampoo from a cupboard and then only replace those items we are likely to use in the future. You can do one cupboard or closet a day and have an entire room cleaned up in a week. 

You can set aside three consecutive days on your calendar to do the garage or attic.  Just be sure to have a dumpster handy and a wheelbarrow to carry the junk out to it. 

Drugs and Cosmetics

With edible condiments and drug or cosmetic items, the rule is to buy only what you intend to use. Use up each item and throw away the container before you start using a replacement. If you use 3/4 of the bottle, then use a replacement, eventually, you will have cupboards full of 1/4 full bottles and no room for any new ones, plus you will spend 25% more on your cosmetics than you need to. Use up what you have before opening a new jar.

Summary

The benefit of cleaning out your clutter is that you make room to put the vital few things for your current existence front and center where they are readily available and not hidden among the piles of useless garbage that has built up over the years. In the event that you need to downsize your environment in the future, (and we all eventually do), you will need to throw out the clutter anyway, why not start now and enjoy some more usable resources today.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 

 


Leadership Barometer 129 Hold Yourself Accountable

January 19, 2022

Several managers I know are fond of saying “we have to hold our people accountable.”

I think the process of making sure people need to step up to responsibility is a good one, but the concept really needs to start at the top.  Unfortunately, I see many top leaders failing to hold themselves accountable first.

Typical Example

Let’s envision a plant manager who has a problem of extremely low morale within the team.  Roughly one-third of the organization is working remotely due to a pandemic. The production workers are upset with all the safety mandates and having to wear cumbersome masks. They are tired of the abuse and being kept in the dark about future conditions. 

Productivity is at an all-time low, and the only way to take costs out is to reduce the workforce, so job security is in doubt. People are scared.  If you were that manager, how would you go about engineering a rapid turnaround in the performance of your plant?

Look At Yourself in a Mirror

One interesting strategy is to push your chair back from the desk, stand up, walk down the hall, go in the bathroom, look in the mirror, and ask yourself some tough questions like the following:

Tough Questions

  • Morale is terrible in this plant, and as the manager in charge, how have I been contributing to this problem?
  • What is keeping me back from fully holding myself accountable for this awful situation?
  • When I call people at home to see how they are doing, might they interpret it as checking up on them?
  • In what ways have I been trying to lay the blame on the supervisors, employees, the pandemic, bad economy, supply chain issues, business downturn, competition, etc.
  • How can I deal with the current situations and the business environment in a more empowering and effective way for all concerned?
  • What fundamental changes in the structure, behaviors, values, and vision am I going to make to completely change the environment?
  • What behaviors do I need to change, starting right now, to build a culture of higher trust?
  • In what ways can I change the attitudes of the workers by changing my own attitudes and behaviors?
  • Since bonuses, or picnics, or parties, or hat days are not going to have much impact on long-term motivation, how can I find out what really will inspire people and then implement the proper changes to the environment?
  • How can I be a better mentor for my supervisors as well as train them to be better mentors to their own staff?
  • How am I going to find a way to double the time I have available to communicate with people?
  • Do I need assistance to solve these issues? If so, what kind of help could I use and where can I find it?
  • How can I know if or when it is time to pursue other opportunities and let someone with a different skill set handle the turnaround?

Step Up to Your Accountability

Yes, that is tough medicine, and yet I believe if top leaders internalized these cold realities, conditions might start to change. Once top leaders step up to their own accountability, then the rest of the organization will quickly become enrolled in a new and positive vision for the enterprise. Positive change starts at the top.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 


Leadership Barometer 128 Great Resignation

January 12, 2022

The Great Resignation of 2021 is a stunning example of how organizations without great cultures can suffer mortal damage due to employees leaving.

Turnover has always been a big problem for organizations, but in the face of unrest due to the pandemic, the problem has escalated to be life-threatening to numerous organizations.

Many businesses have been forced to close simply because they cannot find enough people to do the work.

One recent estimate is that about 50% of workers are unhappy and plan to move within the next year.  That would mean a dramatic rise in turnover costs and a significant shift of the best talent from organizations with poor practices to those with stronger reputations.

How can we fight this needless drain? Here are seven key factors that can help you reduce turnover in your organization:

Employee Value Proposition

The EVP factor takes all things into account and tries to measure the total value an employee experiences from the first moment he contacts an organization until well after he has left it.  It is axiomatic that if the EVP of working at Company X is lower than what the person can obtain elsewhere, the employee will leave.

Supervision

When people decide to leave an organization, it is most often the result of dissatisfaction with their direct supervisor. The most important thing to improve is the quality of leadership at all levels. Teaching supervisors and managers how to create the right culture makes a huge difference in turnover.

Unfortunately, when money is tight, the first thing that gets cut is training.

Improving leadership at all levels needs to be a continual investment, not a one-time event when someone gets promoted to a supervisory role. Supervisors who are well trained recognize their primary function is to create a culture where people are engaged in the work and want the organization to succeed. These people rarely leave because they are happy where they are.

Compensation

Pay is often cited as a reason for people leaving an organization. Pay may be a factor in some cases, but it is often just an excuse. What is really happening is that the work environment is intolerable, so the remuneration for the grief endured is not a good tradeoff. 

We need to teach managers to improve the trust level within the organization.  High trust organizations can pay workers non-inflated wages and still have excellent retention rates. There are numerous examples of this. One of them is Zappos, where they have such a great culture, that when they offer employees $2000 to leave, they do not take it.

In Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Dan Pink points out that the relationship between pay and motivation is not what most people think. 

He cites several studies that show a pattern where higher pay actually can lead to poorer performance. Pink advocates paying people enough so that the issue of money is off the table. Then, three other conditions, Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose, will take over as the key drivers to satisfaction and motivation, and therefore, retention. 

A Better Future

Another key factor that causes people to leave is lack of a path forward. Employees who can visualize some pathway to a better future will generally stick around to experience it.  Training and development are key enablers for people to know there is a brighter future.

Cross-training is a particularly helpful way to have employees feel they are being developed to be more important to their organization. Cross-training also helps make the work environment more interesting.

Onboarding

In a time of high turmoil in the workforce, onboarding takes on a much more important significance. Most organizations do a poor job of onboarding new employees.  They are so busy trying to survive that new people are shoved to the front lines early and often without a good orientation. The first few weeks of a new employee’s tenure are the most significant factor that either result in a long and productive tenure or a hasty exit.

A Family Atmosphere

If you read about the culture of the top companies worldwide, there are many common themes. One of these is that employees describe their work associates as their extended family. They cherish the relationships with their co-workers. Sure, there will be some squabbles and an occasional lecherous uncle, but the overarching atmosphere is one of a nurturing and caring group of people similar to a family. Who would want to leave that environment?

Freedom

Enabling people to do their own work without being micromanaged is a characteristic of organizations that are good at retaining people. Nothing is more irritating than being ordered to do things in a certain way by a condescending boss who does not really understand the process as well as you do. The ability to use one’s own initiative and creativity to get the job done right helps build self-esteem, which is a key ingredient in the retention of people.

Recognition

Knowing that someone cares about you and recognizes your efforts and accomplishments goes a long way toward building employee loyalty. A loyal employee is not out there looking for another position. Instead, he or she is thinking about how the organization’s success can be enhanced through even more effort. The collective muscle of thousands of employees who each feel that way is amazing to behold.

Safety

Many organizations live on the edge of impending disaster. The competitive world has forced legions of companies to downsize on a regular basis simply to survive.  When employees witness the revolving door that occurs as a result of things they cannot control, you can’t blame them for wanting to find a safer mode of transport through their career.

There are three levels of safety involved in the equation.  Physical Safety is always a factor, especially if the organization is lax about procedures and personal protective equipment.

Psychological Safety refers to the freedom to express one’s self without having to fear retribution.

Emotional Safety is the feeling that things will work out in the end and the employee will be whole.

Conclusion

These nine factors are not an exhaustive list, but I contend that groups who focus on these conditions and understand the dynamics will have consistently lower turnover rates, saving millions of dollars each year or even just staying in business. That advantage is sustainable and scalable. It just requires leaders at the top who are skillful and relentless at applying these principles.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 

 

 


Leadership Barometer 127 Situational EQ

January 5, 2022

Emotional Intelligence (also called EQ) is your ability to understand emotions and your skill at using that insight to manage yourself and your relations with other people. 

A high EQ is a prerequisite for good leadership because Emotional Intelligence governs the ability to work well with people.

Many people view EQ as a static quantity within each person, similar to IQ. In reality, EQ is a dynamic quantity that changes and grows as we gain life experiences.

EQ is Never Static

I participated in an online discussion while teaching a graduate course several years ago that highlighted the dynamic aspects of EQ.  I was asking students to rate their current level of EQ.

One person got back that he was strong in EQ, but because of his military background, that skill was not as developed as it might have been. 

He believes EQ is less important in the military because of the command and control nature of the service. People expect to be ordered around and do not take umbrage at the drill sergeant for yelling. That same behavior in the corporate world would cause instant revolt. 

EQ is Situational

EQ is really situational; it morphs depending on the current circumstances and prevailing culture. That is actually good news because it means we have some control over our level of EQ and are not stuck with our current level forever.

Real Examples

Suppose a man who had spent most of his adult life as a mediator for contract negotiations in the corporate world decided to change and become a Jesuit priest. Would his perspective on the emotions of other people change with that transformation? In Rochester, New York, Rev. Edward Salmon made that exact conversion.

Salmon admits that in many ways running a local Catholic High School is similar to corporate work, but the whole framework of challenging the youth to be all they can be takes a much deeper skill of listening and sensitivity.

As we go through life, our skill at using Emotional Intelligence becomes developed and changes with each new situation.  For example, the EQ skills required to convince an ornery teenager to do his homework are not the same as those required to coach a 99-year-old blind man to remain optimistic when confined to a nursing home.

Some of the psychological thoughts would be similar, and the values might be roughly the same, like following the Golden Rule, but the emotional framework in the two environments is vastly different. A different set of tools is required to succeed in each of these situations.

Cultural Differences

I suspect the skill of EQ and how to apply it would be different in unique cultures around the world. For example, one’s behaviors toward other people in England might be totally different than that person would show if he or she was brought up in Japan. The cultural differences would drive unique opportunities and challenges.

Gender Differences

We know that there is a big difference between how men and women experience Emotional Intelligence.  In “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus,”  John Gray describes the gender paradigm differences that cause men and women to deal with emotions in totally different ways.

For example, women will consult with other women to analyze and resolve problems, while men would rather retreat to their “cave” to deal with difficulties.

It is widely believed that the Corpus Callosum in the female brain is larger than the same organ in a male.

The Corpus Callosum is the “highway” in the brain that connects the right side (limbic, or emotional system) to the left side (rational brain). That allows women to process emotions into logical thought much faster and easier than men.

Conclusion

Your background, skill set, and even gender, along with the environment you experience will determine how you employ Emotional Intelligence in a way that is unique to you. That application of EQ will morph as you go through life in ways that nobody else on the planet can experience.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.