Reinforcing Candor: The Key to Building Trust

October 17, 2015

Whenever I hired a new manager in my organization, the very first conversation I had with that individual was about “reinforcing candor.”

Over a period of 30 years I’ve discovered that reinforcing candor is the single most powerful way to create trust within an organization.

For leaders, it is imperative for them to understand what this means and be able to practice it. The idea is, when an employee comes forward with a concern about something that the leader has said or done, rather than punishing the employee, the leader makes the person glad to have brought up the issue.

This behavior is not easy to do, because the leader does not see a problem with what was being done. In essence, everyone in the organization, including the leader, wears a button saying, “I AM RIGHT.”

If an employee challenges an action, then it’s only human for a leader to become defensive and punish the person in some way for bringing it up.

It takes superhuman effort on the part of leaders to consistently reinforce candor, but the impact on the organization is so great that those leaders who can understand the wisdom of this technique have a huge advantage in terms of building trust.

Without reinforcing candor, all of the other actions to build trust are somewhat blunted. They work a little bit but they are not very powerful.

Once the leader understands how to reinforce candor, a whole new world opens up, and all of the other actions to build trust work like magic.

Exercise for You: In your organization, work to reinforce candor the next time someone tells you something that you did not want to hear, but has some truth to it.

You will find it difficult at first, but the more you practice this technique, the easier it becomes, and soon you can change your entire pattern of behavior when you’re challenged.

The ability to reinforce candor is the most powerful method of creating trust, because it allows a safe environment where employees know they will not be punished when they bring up scary stuff. I call this skill the key for building trust.

What if you are not the top leader but wish to be a positive influence on that person? If you can get the top leader in an organization to reinforce candor more, trust will spread rapidly throughout the entire population.

The challenge is how to get the leader to develop the skill and patience to reinforce candor when he or she may not see the need to do so.

Here are six ideas that can help encourage a leader to practice reinforcing candor. Try to use these in the spirit of helpfulness rather than manipulation. The idea is to help shape behavior over time, so if any of these ideas are creating tension, back off and go slower.

1. Start by planting a seed in the leader’s mind that there is a potential for a much better culture if higher trust can be generated. Point out that trust grows when people are made to feel glad when they bring up their concerns.

2. All leaders want higher trust, so the opportunity to make things better by some changes in their behavior should be appealing.

3. Start small. The goal is for the leader to see the benefits of reinforcing candor and try to be less defensive when people push back on actions or statements.

4. Model the principle of reinforcing candor yourself when working with the leader.

5. Talk openly about how you are using the skill and ask how the leader is responding to it.

6. Catch the leader applying these techniques and praise the effort. Also make note of the positive response on the part of the person who was reinforced for being candid.

No leader will ever get to 100% perfection at reinforcing candor, but if the percentage can go from 5% (which is about what most leaders typically achieve) to something like 70% of the time, the culture will make a seismic shift toward higher trust in short order.

You can help shape the behavior of your leader toward the benefits of reinforcing candor. It may take a while for the concept to gain traction, but once the leader experiences the forward progress, he or she will be anxious to do more of it.

The preceding was derived from an episode in “Building Trust,” a 30 part video series by Bob Whipple “The Trust Ambassador.” To view three short (3 minutes each) examples at no cost go to http://www.avanoo.com/first3/517


Trust and Reinforcement

September 5, 2015

AwesomeIn groups with high trust, management attempts to reinforce workers usually work well. People are appreciative that management notices good performance and expends effort to recognize them.

Since reinforcement is one of the best ways to shape future performance, any organization that has high trust between management and the workers has a significant advantage.

In groups with low trust, attempts to reinforce workers are often met with apathy or suspicion, and they frequently backfire. This reaction happens because of the low trust, and workers feel the reinforcement is likely some form of manipulation.

Here is an example of how an attempt to reinforce workers did not work well.

Marvin was the big boss in the organization where I worked. He wanted to reinforce a group of employees who had put in a lot of overtime over several weeks. He asked the manager to buy theater tickets for everyone in the department.

The problem was that he failed to provide a similar reinforcement to another department who worked in the same building and had put in similar crazy hours. So by trying to reinforce one group, Marvin caused significant loss of motivation in the other.

It was an ugly scene, and he tried to smooth things by buying tickets for the second department, but the damage had already been done.

Although reinforcement is a powerful way to improve performance if done well, it can be a minefield if there is not a basis for trust behind it because it feels manipulative.

People ask “what is he up to now,” or say “there must be something more he wants from us,” or “uh oh, he is trying to butter us up to tell us some bad news.”

Often thoughtless leaders try to reinforce workers from their own personal perspective rather than the perspective of the workers themselves.

An example is the supervisor who decided to have an ice cream social to celebrate a production milestone.

He had forgotten that over half of the workers had signed a pledge to lose 20% of their weight in an effort toward better health.

Most of the workers boycotted the social, and the hapless supervisor ended up with the scoop in his hand and a lot of melted ice cream. Worse, his crude attempt to celebrate with the workers made him the laughing stock of the production area.

Here are six ways that well-intended managers blow it when trying to reinforce workers:

1. Reinforcing too much with trinkets like t-shirts or hats, etc.
2. Being insincere when reinforcing
3. Having the reward something the workers really don’t want – like the ice cream story
4. Unfair application of rewards where one person or group is favored over others
5. Recognition not timely to the actions that caused them
6. Automatic or mechanical reinforcement that does not come from the heart

Exercise for you: Think about your own successes and failures when trying to reinforce people. Try to pinpoint the root cause of why any problems occurred.

Think about what could have been done differently to prevent the resulting loss of motivation. With effort, you can usually spot the error in logic and the cure. This gives you a chance to apologize and not make the same type of mistake in the future.

Reinforcement is a powerful method of improving performance, but only if it is done with skill. Having high trust is a great enabler of effective reinforcement. It helps managers avoid the many pitfalls that can happen.

The preceding was derived from an episode in “Building Trust,” a 30 part video series by Bob Whipple “The Trust Ambassador.” To view three short (3 minutes each) examples at no cost go to http://www.avanoo.com/first3/517


Measuring Morale

April 13, 2013

scaleCan you measure morale accurately by simply walking into a room and observing people? I think you can. In my courses, I often ask participants to tell me the best way to measure morale. Most of them come up with the idea of an employee survey or some other form of lagging indicator, like turnover rate. While both of these techniques are useful, I think there is a far faster and more accurate way to measure the morale of people in an organization, and you can do it while there is still time to take corrective actions. All you have to do is observe the individuals, and they will give ample clues as to their morale.

Here are seven ways to measure morale by watching and listening to what people do:

1. Posture

If people are standing with one hip raised, that is a sign of a poor attitude. It is a hostile gesture where the individual has a chip on his shoulder and he is daring you to knock it off. If people are sitting in a slouched-over configuration, that may be simple fatigue or it may be they feel beaten down and fearful when managers are around. If you walk into a room and people are sitting around a table leaning back with their arms folded, you can immediately sense these folks are dug in, grumpy, and not happy. The most sensitive areas for posture are in the shoulders and the position of the spine. I once walked into a restaurant to meet up with a colleague for a chat. She was sitting in a booth with her back to me and did not see me approach. All I could see of her was the back of her head and the upper 6 inches of her shoulders. I accurately determined before seeing her face or hearing her voice that she was in crisis mode due to a family tragedy.

2. Gestures

When people are together, watch the gestures. If they are doing a lot of finger pointing as they speak, there is a hostile environment. If their hands are most often open with palms up, that means they are open to ideas and suggestions. Watch to see if the gestures remain the same as managers come in the room. For example, if people are having an animated conversation about some outside event but clam up both verbally and with gesturing when the manager walks in, it is a sign of either fear or apathy. Certainly hostile or vulgar gestures are obvious indications of poor morale. The best display of good attitudes is if the gesturing remains the same when a manager approaches. People are comfortable and not threatened by this leader.

3. Facial Expression

There are thousands of facial expressions that have meaning, and many of these are specific to the culture in which they are used. The eyes and mouth hold the most information about attitude. For example, when a manager is giving information, if people roll their eyes, the meaning is that they believe the manager is basically clueless and is wasting their time. If they are tight lipped, it is normally a sign of fear and low trust. The most positive expression for morale is a slight smile with bright open eyes and highly arched eyebrows. This expression indicates interest and openness.

4. Tone of voice

When people speak, their tone will give away how engaged they are in the conversation at hand. Apathy is easy to spot with a kind of roll-off of words in a low pitch that says “I don’t care.” If the voice is stressed and shrill, that usually connotes fear of some type. Anger is easy to detect as the voice becomes choppy and the pitch and volume go up dramatically. The sneer also can be detected as people take on a mocking tone when they mimic other people. Medium voice modulation with good diction usually means good engagement and attention.

5. Jokes

When people make jokes at the expense of the other people, it is often thought of as just kidding around. The fact is, there is always some kind of truth underlying every dig. So if people are mocking a manager for always showing up late to the meeting, it may cause a chuckle, but it actually reveals that people believe the manager has no real respect for them. Some groups are world class at making jokes at the expense of team members. I maintain this is a sign of poor rapport that will show up as lack of good teamwork. This poor behavior can be easily stopped by just coming up with a rule that we will no longer make jokes at the expense of others.

At one company where I was teaching, the rule about not making jokes at the expense of others was the third behavioral rule on their list (I always have groups create such a list). It was easy to extinguish the bad habit because we just allowed people to hold up three fingers whenever anybody violated the rule. The poor behavior, that had been going on for decades in that organization, was fully extinguished in less than one hour.

6. Word choice

When people are honestly engaged in positive conversation and are making constructive observations or ideas, it shows high morale. If they undermine the ideas of others or management, it shows a lack of respect that has its roots in low morale. If the leader asks for a volunteer and you can hear a pin drop, that is a different reaction than if three hands go up immediately. People with high morale spontaneously volunteer to help out the organization. They respect their leader and truly want him or her to succeed because they know if the leader is successful then good things will happen for them.

7. Reinforcement

In a culture of high morale, people have a tendency to praise each other and seek ways to help out other people. When morale is low, everybody is in it for themselves and will discredit the ideas or desires of other people to preserve their own status. Leaders who know how to build a culture where individuals spontaneously praise each other for good deeds can foster higher morale by that emphasis alone.

These are just seven ways you can identify the morale of a group simply by observing what people are doing and saying. You can go to the trouble of a time consuming and suspect survey, but you do not need to in order to measure morale. Measuring turnover or absenteeism will be an accurate long term reflection of morale, but by the time you get that data, the damage is already done. You have often lost the best people. By observing people every day and making small corrective actions along the way, you can prevent low morale and build an environment of higher trust. In that kind of culture, productivity will go up dramatically.


Seven Traits of Super Teams

March 31, 2013

Green Arrow Breaks Through Maze WallsIf you have ever been on a SuperTeam, you know how it felt. The group accomplished seemingly impossible goals like clockwork. The group stayed pretty much on track, and when it got off the beam, it self-corrected. People on the team shared real interpersonal affection, and the group had a lot of fun. Imagine a world where most teams functioned that way: how refreshing. What would it take to make this dream a reality?

I have been serving on and advising teams for over four decades, and I have come to the conclusion that there are seven traits that enable this kind of environment. If you are on a team that has an abundance of the following seven characteristics, I guarantee it is one of those super groups that is so rare these days.

1. Good leadership

The person in the leadership role must be an excellent leader. Reason: nothing can ruin the ability of a team to rise to greatness more quickly than a leader who cannot maintain the right kind of environment and lead by example. The leadership role can be distributed to more than one member, but there is always one person in charge at any moment, and that person needs to have excellent leadership instincts. Perfection is not required, but a values-based approach to the concept of servant leadership is fundamental, and must be there.

2. A common goal

If all members of the team are aligned behind a common goal, that forms a foundation for great teamwork. To have goal alignment, the team needs to embrace the goal or vision emotionally, not just understand it. Leaders need to foster a sense of ownership of the goal in each team member, and each person must understand his or her contribution to the goal. This alignment is accomplished best by involving all team members in establishing the goal in the first place. With universal ownership of a worthy goal, the team is off to a great start; without it the team could not function.

3. Trust and respect

Without the elements of trust and respect, team members will eventually undercut each other and cause discontent. Excellent leaders know that trust begins with them and their behaviors. It is not likely you will find a trusting team if the leader does not know how to foster trust and practice trust building behaviors daily. I believe the most important skill in building trust is to create a safe environment, where team members can voice any concerns and know they will be rewarded rather than punished. Fear is the enemy of trust and will easily destroy it. To drive out fear, leaders need to make people feel good when they voice a concern. I call it “reinforcing candor,” which is an essential ingredient in good team communication.

4. Good communication

Team members must be able to express themselves freely without fear and have the skills to listen to each other without being judgmental. Great communication skills do not come naturally, and they are not taught very well in schools. Smart leaders recognize any gaps in communication skills and provide immediate training to enable seamless and easy flow of information. Team members need to dig, not just for understanding, but for intent. The most important communication skills are listening, body language, and Emotional Intelligence. How many of us had courses in these critical skills in school? When these skills are not present, the blockages produced will hobble any efforts toward a cohesive group. Smart leaders invest in training of excellent communication skills for all team members.

5. Encouragement and reinforcement

Team members need to feel that someone truly has their back. They need to know someone really cares and will go the extra mile to ensure all members are doing their best. Reinforcement for good work must be sincere and immediate. The best reinforcement on a team is from one member to another and in a loving, spontaneous way. Good reinforcement does not need to be financial. Many times the most effective reinforcement is just a sincere thank you from another team member.

6. Discipline

Discipline should not be confused with punishment. What team members need is an understanding of the rules of engagement and a sense of resolve for upholding their end of the bargain. The most frequent source of team stress is a feeling that one or more members of the team are not pulling their weight. I believe more than 50% of all team problems are caused by this one aspect alone. Teams quickly become fractionated when there is social loafing going on among some members. The best way to avoid this is to have a team charter with expected behaviors spelled out in advance and a specific agreed-upon consequence for any member who does not pull his or her share of the load. If all members agree that a slacker will be expected to “wash the dishes for a week,” then a potential slacker is not likely to goof off. If he or she does, then the penalty has already been agreed on, so a fair application is not subject to argument. My observation is that having a solid team charter with visible consequences for social loafing is the most significant ingredient that will prevent team discord.

7. Balanced Accountability

Holding people accountable is usually a negative expression. Someone is not measuring up in some way, and is forced by others to face the fact and make corrections. I advocate a more holistic or balanced approach to accountability where the good things are reinforced in addition to some coaching on things that need to be corrected.

Great teams have a deep sense of accountability, because they have a high level of commitment to each other and the goals. Since most of the team members are making positive contributions daily, they are responsible to the team for their efforts and performance in positive ways most of the time. Acknowledging accountability for positive acts is also called “reinforcement.” If an individual does come up short on occasion, he or she receives some shaping that can be anything from some gentle coaching to a more serious discussion depending on the circumstances.

For example, if John has been regularly reinforced for his accurate reporting on the quality report, it is a much easier conversation to have when a single error occurs and his boss does some coaching on how John might prevent a future lapse. Reason: you have the string of good will as a backdrop for the coaching discussion, and you avoid the common frustration of “the only time I ever hear from them is when I do something wrong.”

All teams that have these seven elements are going to be highly successful; I guarantee it. Take away any one of them, or somehow thwart their application, and the team will suffer sub-optimal performance. Foster these seven elements in all of your teams, and they will glitter like gold and perform like SuperTeams.


Is Bribing Employees Ever OK?

December 16, 2012

bribeIs it ever a good leadership to bribe your employees? I recently asked that question in an online leadership class. We got into a very interesting discussion that highlighted the difference between four words that are often confused by managers. Those words are bribe, incentive, reward, and reinforcement. The world will not come to an end if these words are mixed, but since they represent different concepts in motivation theory, it would be wise to use them correctly.

All four of these words have the connotation of influencing people to do the things we would like to have them do. The distinction is that two words typically apply before an action is taken while the other two words usually apply after the action.

The word bribe is a well-known and loaded word. In common usage, it means we are offering people something they want in pre-payment if they will do something that they would not normally do. For example, in some cultures it is expected that airline passengers going through customs will give the customs officer some kind of “tip” in order to process their bags without hassle. That is a bribe, although we would never use the word in front of the customs officer. We have all heard stories of individuals arguing with a policeman about a potential speeding ticket and trying to offer some kind of bribe to have the ticket waived. These individuals often find a bribe is not only unsuccessful, it can lead to dire consequences.

The second type of pre-agreed payment is called an incentive. This is where a leader will challenge people to do more than expected, and they are promised a specific payment if they do it. Usually with incentives, there is no stigma associated with doing something wrong; it is merely an encouragement to do more of what is right.

Sometimes the incentives are built into a compensation plan such that they really don’t appear as separate incentives, but certainly have that same feel. For example, commissions paid for certain levels of sales are types of incentives. They are a promise made ahead of time to pay a certain amount based on the employee performing at a certain level.

When employees perform better than expected, for any number of reasons, leaders often give them extra compensation after the fact. These payments are called rewards. Often, the compensation is a token amount in recognition of the actions by the employee and are not intended to fully pay for the extra effort. Instead, they are a kind of thank you for going the extra mile.

The area of rewards can be a minefield, and there are numerous books on the potential mistakes when trying to reward people. For example, if a leader rewards an individual for a job well done, often other people feel slighted because they expended as much effort or provided more benefit to the organization than the person being rewarded. There are numerous other problems that can come up that can be devastating. It is not uncommon for well intentioned supervisors to create ill will by applying rewards poorly.

A final category is called reinforcement. Like rewards, reinforcement is something that is usually applied after actions have been taken. Reinforcement is more general than rewards. It seeks to make people feel appreciated and thanked for the things they have been doing. Usually reinforcement takes the form of verbal or written praise as opposed to tangible gifts or direct compensation. Reinforcement takes hundreds of different forms and can be as simple as a “thank you” or as complex as a group-wide celebration.

The words discussed in this article are sometimes used inappropriately. One might refer to what was intended as an incentive as some kind of bribe. Or someone might think of a form of reward as being simple recognition. It is instructive to realize there is a difference in behavior modification between promising an incentive ahead of the act versus providing a reward after the act has been completed.

To be an accurate communicator, it is important to use the right words for each application. If one of the four words described above is used in the wrong context, it can send mixed signals about a leader’s intent. That will cause a lowering of trust within the organization, and it will eventually show up on the bottom line.
Be careful when using these words to use them accurately. The concepts involved in behavior modification are critical to having people experience higher motivation as a result of reinforcing actions by leaders. They are powerful concepts, but they can be easily misused.


Real Motivation

April 8, 2012

Every manager I have ever met, including myself, would appreciate higher morale and motivation among his or her team. After all, these two attitudes lead directly to productivity and employee satisfaction, which are pivotal in sustaining a healthy business. Many managers have a stated goal to improve morale, motivation, or both. I contend the mindset inherent in setting goals for these items shows a lack of understanding that actually will limit the achievement of both.

The reason is that morale and motivation are not objectives; they are the outcomes of a great or a lousy culture. If you spend your time and energy trying to improve the environment to include higher trust, then higher morale and motivation will happen. If you try to drive morale, it may sound to the employees like the famous saying, “The beatings will continue until morale improves.”

I have seen a group of people at work with such low motivation, there seemed to be no way to get any work done. If a manager dared try to speak to a group of employees, they would heckle or just pay no attention. Nothing the leader said or did had much impact on the employees, so in desperation, the manager would stoop to threats. This would elicit a half hearted groan and some compliance for a time, but the quality of product would suffer, and the gains would be only temporary.

I have seen that same group of workers six months down the line after putting in a really good leader. The atmosphere was entirely different. The employees showed by their body language that they were eager to do a great job. If there was a dirty or difficult job and the leader asked for volunteers, half a dozen hands would go up immediately. When they were at work, they resembled the seven dwarfs whistling while they worked rather than slaves in the belly of a ship being forced to row.

How was that one leader able to accomplish such a turn-around in just six months? The leader focused on changing the underlying culture to one of high trust rather than just demanding improvement in the performance indicators. The motivation and morale improved by orders of magnitude as a result rather than because they were the objective. Let’s look at some specific steps this manager took early in her term that turned things around quickly:

Built trust – She immediately let people know she was not there to play games with them. She was serious about making improvements in their existence and had that foremost in her mind. She built a real culture where people felt safe to come to her with any issue and know they would not be insulted or punished.

Improved teamwork – She invested in some teamwork training for the entire group, offsite. These workshops made a big difference in breaking down barriers and teaching people how to get along better in the pressure cooker of normal organizational life.

Empowered others – She made sure the expectations of all workers were known to them but did not micromanage the process. She let people figure out how to accomplish tasks and got rid of several arcane and restrictive rules that were holding people back from giving their maximum discretionary effort.

Reinforced progress – The atmosphere became lighter and more fun for the workers as they started to feel more successful and really enjoyed the creative reinforcement activities set up by their leader. She let the workers plan their own celebrations within some reasonable guidelines and participated in the activities herself.

Promoted the good work – the manager held a series of meetings with higher management to showcase the progress in an improved culture. The workers were involved in planning and conducting these meetings, so they got the benefit of the praise directly from top management.

Set tough goals – It is interesting that the manager did not set weak or easy goals. Instead, she set aggressive stretch goals and explained her faith that the team was capable of achieving them. It first, people seemed to gulp at the enormity of her challenges, but that soon gave way to elation as several milestones were reached.

Support – The manager supported people when they had personal needs, and made sure the organization received the funding needed to buy better equipment and tools.

Firm but fair – The manager was consistent in her application of discipline. People respected her for not playing favorites and for making some tough choices that may have been unpopular at the moment but were right in the long run. Her strength was evident in decisions every day, so people grew in their respect for her.

This manager turned a near-hopeless workforce into a cracker-jack team of highly motivated individuals in six months. Morale was incredibly high. Even though improving morale was not her objective, it was the outcome of her actions to improve the culture.

If you want to be one of the elite leaders of our time, regardless of the hand you have been dealt, work on the culture of your organization rather than driving a program to improve morale and motivation. Develop trust and treat people the right way, and you will see a remarkable transformation in an amazingly short period of time.


Avoiding Drama

March 11, 2012

I participated in an interesting discussion in an online class on teamwork recently. The students were lamenting that drama in the workplace is common and very disruptive to good teamwork. While drama is just part of the human condition, I am sure you have experienced unwanted drama and wished there were ways to reduce it.

First, one precaution; There are various different kinds of drama and many different symptoms and sources. In this article, I am discussing the most common kind of drama in the workplace. This is where a person acts out his or her daily frustrations in ways that create chaos and loss of focus that hurt the productivity, effectiveness, and teamwork of the group. I am not addressing the serious drama caused by mental illness or tragic events.

Let’s take a look at the seeds of this problem to identify some mitigating strategies. Drama is a result of people who feel they are not being heard. If an individual believes his or her opinions are valued and considered in the decision process, then there is less need for drama. If the culture is real, and people are not playing games with each other, then the distractions of drama will be significantly reduced.

It is a function of leaders to establish a culture where people see little need for drama in order to be a vital part of the real action. Here are some tips that leaders can use to reduce drama in their organization:

1. Improve the level of trust. High trust groups respect people, so there is a feeling of inclusiveness that does not require high profile actions to get attention.

2. Anticipate needs. Be proactive at sensing when people need to be heard and provide the opportunity before they become frustrated.

3. Respect outliers. When someone’s view is contrary to the majority, there may be valid points to consider. Do not ignore the valuable insights of all people.

4. Hear people out and consider their input seriously. Positive body language is essential to show respect for all people.

5. Work on your own humility. Climbing down off your pedestal means that you are more willing to be on an equal footing with others.

6. Admit mistakes. You gain respect when you are honest about the blunders that you make. People will feel less like acting out in response to your foibles if they see you willing to be vulnerable.

7. Reinforce people well. Providing sincere praise is one way to show respect. This reduces people’s tendency to say “Hey don’t forget about me over here.”

We must also realize that some people are world class at creating drama. For these people it is a kind of sport. They do it to gain inappropriate attention or just to be disruptive. These people need coaching to let them know their antics are not really helping drive the goals of the organization. The leader needs to provide feedback about the issue and set the expectation of improvement. If the drama continues and is disruptive, then the person may be better off in some other organization doing a different function.

Drama is all around us on a daily basis, but good leadership can mitigate the negative impact and keep bad habits from becoming an organizational albatross.


Getting Millennials To Drink the Kool-Aid

June 5, 2011

It is no secret that there are tensions between the four (soon to be five) different generations in the workplace. It is the topic of hundreds of articles and books. Several consultants make their living helping organizations understand and cope with generational differences. In this article, I want to focus on the Millennials and provide some tips on how Baby Boomers and Generation X groups can be more effective at engaging them. I am using the following age groupings in this article based on the writing date of 2011.

Generation Name    Birth Year    Age 2011 
Traditionalists           1925-1945       66-86
Baby Boomers           1946-1964      47-65
Generation X            1965-1980       31-46
Millennials (Y)          1981-1995       16-30
Generation Z            1996- on          LT -16

In an excellent article in HR Magazine entitled “Mixing it Up,” Adrienne Fox pointed to several research studies that indicate intergenerational stress which leads to habitual problems having different groups get along. For example, she cited a study of 3200 US employers by Leigh Branham that showed a correlation between low employee engagement and highly mixed general populations in organizations.

One huge caveat when discussing any diversity issue is that one must communicate in generalities or stereotypes. There are always specific individuals within any segment who do not conform to the typical pattern. When one says something like “Gen X individuals are typically frustrated and cynical and tend to be aloof in their management style,” that is a sweeping generalization that will not hold true for all individuals.

The area of greatest challenge seems to be how to get the Millennials to respond more positively to the Boomers in charge and especially to the Gen X coworkers or managers. Here are some ideas that may allow more fruitful relationships when the older generations attempt to lead Millennials.

Recognize their comfort with Technology

Rather than discourage Gen Y people from openly using the tools they were brought up with, embrace their knowledge and skill with the hardware and software that let them communicate with each other as effortlessly as the older generations brush their teeth. Tap into their knowledge, and have them teach others how to succeed with the tools of today. I personally know several excellent Gen Y professionals who are seeking to change jobs because they are forbidden to openly use social networking at work. To them the concept is anathema, and it will not be tolerated long term.

Get to know them on a personal level

Everyone has a story to tell about dreams and aspirations. While Gen X individuals might tend to hide true feelings in order to concentrate on the work at hand, Gen Y workers are more willing to open up when asked. Knowledge of a person’s ambitions allows a leader to tap in at a gut level, which greatly improves understanding. With understanding comes empathy and respect in both directions.

Praise quickly and with specific information

Positive reinforcement is welcomed by all generations, but it is more powerful for Millennials than Gen Xers. Reason: The Millennials generally have less experience and are more easily shaped by positive reinforcement if it is sincere, specific, and done well. Gen X workers have heard it all before and would be more likely to think the feedback was disingenuous or manipulative.

Make expectations clear

Millennials like to be told they are on the right path as opposed to Gen X workers, who are more independent and focused on tasks. Since the younger workers tend to think holistically about how work integrates with their life, it helps to think in these terms when giving the rationale for specific procedures or sequencing of tasks. For example, a millennial would respond better to an explanation of the “comp time” policies than a Gen X worker would. Knowing the reason why the policy was set up would help the Millennial put it in the perspective of his or her life view and accept the rule, while a typical Gen X person would comply begrudgingly and try to “play the system” if possible.

Be as flexible as possible

In establishing policies for time off from work, show as much flexibility as possible to keep the younger generation engaged. For example, they find stiff and antiquated rules about how quickly after starting a job they can take vacation to be annoying and insensitive. Sometimes this leads Millennials to be tagged with the name “the lazy generation.” It is not so much that they are anti-work; they just want to be offered the option to fit work more seamlessly into their life and be able to take advantage of interesting opportunities when they arise.

Be patient with reluctance to use e-mail

Millennials would rather text or use social media than communicate to other people via e-mail. I know many young people who say they rarely use e-mail at all. This has a backlash effect at work because Millennials are often less responsive to e-mail requests than Gen Xers. The business world is still e-mail based, since the asynchronous nature of e-mail lends itself well to the meeting-centered professional schedule.

Millennials sit in meetings and keep up to date with events in real time, where the Gen X and Boomers tend to be less distracted in meetings but get their data through an endless stream of e-mail messages outside the meeting environment. When you do observe people in a meeting environment using PDA devices while multitasking, chances are the Boomers and Gen X individuals are reading and answering e-mails while the Millennials will be mostly texting or tweeting. The best advice here is to compromise and allow Millennials to text, but also set the expectation that they will respond to important e-mails promptly.

I read one rather telling statistic the other day. The use of e-mail by seniors increased by 28% between 2009 and 2010. During that same period, e-mail usage decreased by 59% among teens. As these teens move on through school and into the working world, this will cause the difference in communication patterns to become more of a schism. Perhaps some hybrid technology is out there that can bridge the gap to make the younger generations more receptive to e-mail. This would be good, as the more durable historical trail in e-mail is often useful in a business environment. Likely it will be the other way around. The senior workers are going to be encouraged to use more texting and social networking for daily communications, and e-mail will become less dominant.

Generational differences do lead to stress in the workplace, and the habits and life view of Millennials creates a dynamic that is frustrating for older generations. To help vent the pressure, follow the ideas above and continually seek pragmatic ways to integrate younger workers into the fabric of daily organizational life.


Trust Keeps Leaders off the Slippery Slope

August 29, 2010

Great leaders have the ability to build a culture of high trust. They consistently work to nurture an environment where people know it is safe to bring up difficult topics because they will be rewarded for doing so. This atmosphere is hard to find in most organizations, but where it does exist, the entity has numerous sustainable competitive advantages. Let’s examine ten of the more obvious ones:

1. Lower risk of ethical debacles – When people know they will be rewarded for speaking their truth, a remarkable thing occurs. They will tell you if an action is not the right thing to be doing. You may be saying “we would never be guilty of doing anything unethical.” Well, most likely you would be wrong. Reason: The number of potentially unethical activities that are on the margin are legion. Any leader will unintentionally step over the ethical line from time to time and not even realize he or she is doing it. That is how most ethical messes, like Enron, get started. At first, it might be just a cosmetic, and perfectly legal, change in reporting transactions to improve clarity. Then, if it is OK to do that today, tomorrow we can do a little more. The day after that someone else is involved, and we slowly but surely head in a direction where everyone would agree we are in an ethical quagmire. It may have started out innocently, but in the end it was clearly illegal. In a culture of high trust, all employees are the watchdogs who let leaders know if they are in danger of heading toward eventual problems, long before anything illegal or dumb has transpired. In high trust organizations, whistleblowers are a blessing rather than a problem.

2. Higher productivity – It is pretty simple, really; turned-on people produce more. Because there is less bickering and selfishness in high trust groups, people tend to pay attention to the true mission and goals. They motivate themselves to do excellent quality work rather than what we see in most organizations where management is constantly trying to figure out more attractive carrots to dangle before workers in a desperate, often pathetic, attempt to “motivate them.”

3. Lower costs – This occurs because people are engaged in the business rather than in outdoing each other. Stephen M.R. Covey, in his book The Speed of Trust, highlights that when trust is high costs go down because speed goes up. It is axiomatic. If something can be accomplished faster, it will take fewer resources of all kinds, so it will be provided at lower cost.

4. Less conflict – The most significant sources of conflict in any workplace are the little things that people do which annoy one another. One of my favorite behavioral rules for teams is “We will remember that we are all adults and try to act that way most of the time.” Low trust encourages people to squabble with each other, often acting like children. In high trust environments, there are still petty differences, but they are usually resolved by open dialog long before a public food fight begins.

5. Focus on the vision – Trust lets groups work side by side in harmony, free to focus on the critical vision rather than build fences of doubt or fear. When trust is low, people focus on the negative side of everything and spend much time trying to protect their parochial interests. Silo thinking is the result. Actually, this is a good test for the level of trust in an organization. Just keep track of the ratio of negative to positive statements you hear in an average day. If the ratio is over 50% negative ( for whatever reason) you can be sure the environment is one of low trust.

6. Trust is evident to customers – When people walk into a business where there is low trust, they get a creepy feeling almost instantly. Human beings are quick to pick up small clues in the body language or tone of voice of the people serving them. People instinctively seek to do more business with an outfit that has high trust.

7. Focus on development of people – High trust organizations spend more energy developing people because it breeds satisfaction and is just smart business. Learning organizations with great bench strength have lower turnover and more dedicated employees. Low trust groups are so consumed with stamping out problems of their own making there is little time or energy to put into developing people.

8. Improved communication – In employee satisfaction surveys, the issue of communication is habitually mentioned as the most significant problem. Reason: In low trust environments, communication is often viewed as manipulative. People sense a degree of spin or even lies, and the leaders lose credibility. There is communication in low trust groups, but most of it is from the “back channel” of rumors and gossip. In high trust groups, communication is credible and believable. The news may not always be good, but people respect their leaders for telling them the truth.

9. Better reinforcement – When leaders in high trust groups reinforce the workers, it feels good to them. Whatever form it takes, (verbal praise, special recognition awards, small bonuses, theater tickets, parties, etc.) people appreciate the sincere effort to recognize great performance. When trust is low, efforts to reinforce workers are often met with skepticism. Reason: People are used to being manipulated, so the reinforcement appears to be part of a ploy to squeeze the last drop of productivity out of an overworked group of people.

10. More efficient problem solving – When trust is low, solving a problem is like wrestling an octopus. As you work on one part of the problem, another tentacle having to do with personal interaction starts winding around your neck. In high trust groups, solving problems is efficient because the only thing to resolve is the problem itself, not a myriad of other gremlins hiding under the surface.

These are just ten ways a high trust organization has a huge advantage over a group with low trust. There are probably dozens of other advantages one could name. The point is that if you are running or involved with an organization of low trust, you cannot possibly hope to compete long term. Seek to build trust and maintain it in every action every day. The payoff is huge.


Money and motivation

August 3, 2009

It has been studied for years and Behavioral Scientists have concluded that money is not a prime source of motication. Motivation comes from intrinsic sources such as recognition, autonomy, accomplishment, etc. . In todays environment, those conclusions may be less compelling than in the boom times of the 1990s. What is you opinion of whether money is a primary motivation for most people in the US? http://www.leadergrow.com/CultureandMotivation.pdf