A Dozen Leadership Tips

February 20, 2016

When was the last time you really enjoyed going to work? The unfortunate truth is that only about a third of people are engaged in their work, according to Gallup measurements, and the statistic is remarkably stubborn.

The other two thirds go to work each day in a zombie-like state where they go through the motions all day and try to stay out of trouble with the boss, their peers, or their subordinates.

Work life is often a meaningless array of busywork foisted upon them by the clueless morons who run the place. They hate the environment and intensely dislike their co-workers. Their suffering is tolerated only because there is no viable option for them to survive. What a pity that anyone would spend even a single day on this earth in such a hopeless atmosphere.

We can fault the individuals who allow themselves to be trapped in this way, but I believe the environment created by leaders has a great deal to do with this malaise. Reason: if you put these same individuals in an environment of trust and challenge, nearly all of them would quickly rise up to become happy and productive workers.

It is essential that each individual in the workforce find real meaning in the work being done, and the responsibility is on leaders to make that happen.

Some good research into this conundrum was presented by Viktor Frankl more than a half century ago in his famous book, Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl posits that it “is a peculiarity of man that he must have something significant yet to do in his life, for that is what gives meaning to life.” He discovered this universally human trait while surviving the most horrible of life conditions in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp.

One cannot imagine a more oppressive environment, but believe it or not, many people at work feel like they are in a kind of concentration camp. The antidote is for leaders to create something significant yet to do.

Dave and Wendy Ulrich, co-authors of The Why of Work put it this way. “In organizations, meaning and abundance are more about what we do with what we have than about what we have to begin with.” They point out that workers are in some ways like volunteers who can choose where they allocate their time and energy. For their own peace and health, it is imperative that workers feel connected to the meaning of their work.

What can leaders do to ensure the maximum number of people have a sense of purpose and meaning in their work? Here are a dozen ideas that can help.

1. Create a positive vision of the future. Vision is critical because without it people see no sense of direction for their work. If we have a common goal, then it is possible to actually get excited about the future.

2. Generate trust. Trust is the glue that holds people together in a framework of positive purpose. Without trust, we are just playing games with each other hoping to get through the day unscathed. The most significant way leaders help create trust is by rewarding candor, which is accomplished by not punishing people for speaking their truth.

3. Build morale the right way. This means not trying to motivate people by adding hygiene factors like picnics, bonuses, or hat days. Create motivation by treating people with respect and giving them autonomy. Leaders do not motivate people, rather they create the environment where people decide whether to become motivated. This sounds like doubletalk, but it is a powerful message most leaders do not understand.

4. Recognize and celebrate excellence. Reinforcement is the most powerful tool leaders have for changing behavior. Leaders need to learn how to reinforce well and avoid the mine-field of reinforcement mistakes that are easy to make.

5. Treat people right. In most cases focusing on the Golden Rule works well. In some extreme cases the Golden Rule will not be wise because not all individuals want to be treated the same way. Use of the Platinum Rule (Treat others the way they would like to be treated) can be helpful as long as it is not taken to a literal extreme.

6. Communicate more and better. People have an unquenchable thirst for information. Lack of communication is the most often mentioned grievance in any organization. Get some good training on how to communicate in all modes and practice all the time.

7. Unleash maximum discretionary effort in people. People give effort to the organization out of choice, not out of duty. Understand what drives individuals to make a contribution and be sure to provide that element daily. Do not try to apply the same techniques to all individuals or all situations.

8. Have high ethical and moral standards. Operate from a set of values and make sure people know why those values are important. Leaders need to always live their values.

9. Lead change well. Change processes are in play in every organization daily, yet most leaders are poor at managing change. Study the techniques of successful change so people do not become confused and disoriented.

10. Challenge people and set high expectations. People will rise to a challenge if it is properly presented and managed. Challenged individuals are people who have found meaning in their work.

11. Operate with high Emotional Intelligence. The ability to work well with people, upward, sideways, and downward allows things to work smoothly. Without Emotional Intelligence, leaders do not have the ability to transform intentions into meaning within people.

12. Build High Performing Teams. A sense of purpose is enhanced if there is a kind of peer pressure brought on by good teamwork. Foster great togetherness of teams so people will relate to their tasks instinctively.

This is a substantial list of items, but most of them are common sense. Unfortunately they are not common practice in many organizations. If you want to have people rise to their level of potential, they must all have a sense of meaning. To accomplish that, focus on the above items, and see a remarkable transformation in your organization.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow, Inc. an organization dedicated to growing leaders. He can be reached at bwhipple@leadergrow.com 585-392-7763. Website http://www.leadergrow.com BLOG http://www.thetrustambassador.com He is author of the following books: 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: Navigating Organizational Change.


Holiday Gifts

December 20, 2014

happy mature business man with santa hat  is giving you a presenThis time of year, we naturally think of giving gifts. Whether with family or friends or in the work environment, we want to show our affection for each other with tangible presents.

At work, we often see some kind of bonus or financial benefit that has been baked into the compensation package long ago.  It arrives during the holiday season by design. While welcome, if the bonus is expected and predictable, the impact as a gift is muted.

How can leaders combine the habit of giving gifts with a resolution to do things better in the future. Do you have a way to figuratively place “gifts” for the people who you interface with on a daily basis? I am not thinking of the tangible gifts, but rather presents of a different kind. Here are a few of the gifts you might consider giving more often to people at work, or at home.

Time

The most precious thing for all people is really time. Reason: scarcity and value are what make something precious. Time is scarce because it is fixed (24/7), and it is valuable because we are all habitually short of adequate time.

You can give time to people by thinking through how you can be more considerate of theirs. For example, you can have shorter meetings, cut out some Mickey Mouse work, reduce conflict, lower the e-mail load, prioritize better, eliminate redundancy, communicate more clearly, and so forth. There is a never ending supply of ideas to save people time at work.

The other way we give time to people is to make ourselves more available to them. We are all pulled too many ways and find it difficult to balance our own needs with those of others.

People do recognize and appreciate when you take time for them if they need it. Giving the gift of time means demonstrating with your calendar that you are accessible.

Trust

When you give people the gift of your trust, it multiplies and then comes back to you with more trust. Real trust is essential for people to function as they were designed to do.

So many people dwell in an environment of extremely low trust at work every day. In most environments, the extension of more trust is the most effective way to uplift the culture and improve the work experience. For example, reducing the tendency to micromanage is a great way to demonstrate higher trust.

Attention

In the rush of daily activity, it is easy to take people for granted. We get wrapped up in the stresses that consume our day and forget to acknowledge other individuals who are striving to do their best. See them work, and recognize their effort and dedication.

Care

Empathy for what others are experiencing is the best way to have people realize you care about them. If you show an interest in their challenges and triumphs in life, they will see that love and reflect it back to you. The visceral feeling of being cared for is part of the human condition that is essential: like the air we breathe or the food we eat.

Support

Strongly linked to care is the notion of support. We all need help from time to time, and the gift of our physical or emotional support can make a huge difference in the quality of another person’s day. Be proactive with your support. Be more like Santa and less like Scrooge.

Recognition

Reinforcing people in an appropriate and thoughtful way when they do good work helps improve their self esteem, and is always a welcome gift. Recognition triggers their intrinsic motivation to do more good things. It enables empowerment and is kind of a liberating force that encourages people. Thus, recognition is a force multiplier.

This list could get very long if I let it, but I will keep it short to give readers the gift of brevity. My present to you this holiday season is the idea that with very little time and effort, you can have the wonderful spirit of giving gifts  every day in your work and home life.


Turnover – 7 Tips

October 21, 2012

Is employee turnover killing your company? Turnover is one of the most significant, and avoidable inhibitors of profit. The US national average for turnover usually runs between 2-3% per month, whereas the top 100 companies have a turnover rate of only 2-3% in an entire year (Fortune 2012). In this article, I put a spotlight on the turnover problem and offer some antidotes that are common sense but sometimes not common practice.

For professionals, the cost of replacing an employee is roughly the annual salary of the individual. That means a company with 1000 people, each with an average annual salary of $48K, will lose more than $17 million per year due to turnover. These costs go directly to the bottom line in good times and bad.

Even in periods of high unemployment, turnover is still a problem for most groups. When jobs are scarce, workers may not leave immediately, but they are quietly planning on exiting once the job market improves. One recent estimate is that 40% of workers are unhappy and plan to move within the next year if jobs become available (National Labor Statistics). 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:

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 the excuse. What is really happening is that the work environment is intolerable, so the remuneration for the grief to be 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 employees are offered $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 can actually 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 a 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.

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. If the other suggestions above are followed religiously, then the organization will have a lower risk of having to lay off people, so they will enjoy a lower turnover rate.

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


What’s Under Your Tree

December 24, 2011

I would like to explore the spirit of giving in this article. The Christmas Tree is a great symbol and tradition because it provides a locus of opportunity for us to place large and small gifts for the people in our life.

Let’s focus on the equivalent of a Christmas Tree in your work environment. Do you have a way to figuratively place “gifts” for the people who you interface with on a daily basis? I am not thinking of the tangible gifts, but rather gifts of a different kind. Here are a few of the gifts you might consider giving more often to people at work, or at home.

Time

The most precious thing for all people is really time. Reason: scarcity and value are what make something precious. Time is scarce because it is fixed (24/7), and it is valuable because we are all habitually short of adequate time. You can give time to people by thinking through how you can be more considerate of theirs. For example, you can have shorter meetings, cut out some Mickey Mouse work, reduce conflict, lower the e-mail load, prioritize better, eliminate redundancy, communicate more clearly, and so forth. There is a never ending supply of ideas to save people time at work.

The other way we give time to people is to make ourselves more available to them. We are all pulled too many ways and find it difficult to balance our own needs with those of others. People do recognize and appreciate when you take time for them if they need it. Placing the gift of time under the tree is demonstrating with your calendar that you are accessible.

Trust

When you give people the gift of your trust, it multiplies and then comes back to you with more trust. Real trust is essential for people to function as they were designed to do. So many people dwell in an environment of extremely low trust at work every day. In most environments, the extension of more trust is the most effective way to uplift the culture and improve the work experience.

Attention

In the rush of daily activity, it is easy to take people for granted. We get wrapped up in the stresses that consume our day and forget to acknowledge other individuals who are striving to do their best. See them work, and recognize their effort and dedication.

Care

Empathy for what others are experiencing is the best way to have people realize you care about them. If you show an interest in their challenges and triumphs in life, they will see that love and reflect it back to you. The visceral feeling of being cared for is part of the human condition that is essential: like the air we breathe or the food we eat.

Support

Strongly linked to care is the notion of support. We all need help from time to time, and the gift of our physical or emotional support can make a huge difference in the quality of another person’s day. Be proactive with your support. Be more like Santa and less like Scrooge.

Recognition

Reinforcing people in an appropriate and thoughtful way when they do good work helps improve their self esteem, and is always a welcome gift under the tree. Recognition triggers their intrinsic motivation to do more good things. It enables empowerment and is kind of a liberating force that encourages people. Thus, recognition is a force multiplier.

This list could get very long if I let it, but I will keep it short to give readers the gift of brevity. My present to you this Christmas is the idea that with very little effort, you can have the wonderful spirit of placing gifts under the tree every day in your work and home life.