Successful Supervisor 40 – Engaging People

August 20, 2017

In this article I want to share some of my personal experience on the topic of how to obtain the full engagement of people.

Getting the maximum discretionary effort of each individual on the team ought to be a top priority for any supervisor, yet in an attempt to “maintain control,” many supervisors make critical errors that undermine their intentions. Control is extremely important, and yet there are right ways and wrong ways to obtain it.

First, there is a term that I often hear which puts a negative slant on the concept of coaching people to do better. That term is when the supervisor “writes up” an employee.

Let’s say I am an employee, and you are my supervisor. You have noticed that my breaks are too long, so you tell me that you are going to “write me up” for not following the break rules. Let’s break down some of the implications around that statement from my perspective.

1. First, you have historically failed to provide the kind of culture in which I decide, on my own volition, to take a standard break because it is in my best interest to do so. I should be writing you up for poor leadership.

2. Second, you reveal yourself to be a “Theory X” type of leader, who believes that to get people to perform their best, they need to be beaten.

3. Third you insult me by putting my “sin” on a piece of paper that you can use in the future to punish me in dark and mysterious ways.

4. Fourth, you are treating me like one of Pavlov’s dogs by expecting me to toe the line now that you have demonstrated your authority over me.

5. Fifth, you have encouraged me to figure out some ways I can get even with you in the future without being detected.

6. Sixth, you have put me on the list of enemies of the state, so I have lower engagement in the work I perform at your behest.

7. Seventh, you have lowered teamwork within the crew because some people with the same time pattern as me were not “written up.”

8. Finally, you have helped me picture you as the enemy from now on. You are not interested in me as a person but only as a cog in your machine, so I will restrict using my precious discretionary effort to some extent in the future.

Granted, some of these consequences are a tad exaggerated, but there is some truth to every one of them.

The flip side of the coin is that you would be doing a bigger disservice to me and the entire crew by ignoring my tardiness and letting me get away with it. So, what alternative methods might there be to prevent the need for you to write me up?

1. Start by treating me differently from the outset. Show by your prior behaviors that you are a different kind of leader who establishes trust with your employees. There are numerous ways to do this, but establishing a “safe” environment where I do not need to worry about speaking my truth is a key method.

2. Get to know me as a person, and show an interest in my family situation.

3. Value me for my brain as well as for my hands. Let me know what is important to accomplish in our crew and why that is.

4. Train me very well from the start, so I understand what behaviors are important to model, and provide me with a buddy who will help mentor me when you are not around.

5. Develop within me a sense of pride that I am doing good work for a reason: that while providing for my family, I am also part of a larger system that serves humanity.

6. Praise me when I do things well or at least according to the behavioral norms. Celebrate with me and the crew that we are capable of performing at a very high level and challenge me with good stretch goals.

7. If I do something wrong, speak to me in ways that maintain my self esteem while simultaneously letting me know that I need to improve in this particular area. Ask me how you can help me link my behaviors to the goals and needs of the organization.

8. Continually model the values that you preach, and explain to me why you are making the calls that you do. Illustrate that you are true to the values at all times, and stress that I need to act in ways that are consistent with the values too.

9. Help me understand how valuable I am to the organization for the work I do and also for the attitude I demonstrate, which has a real impact on the entire crew.

10. Foster a level of esprit de corps within the crew that transcends teamwork and leads to a true sense of belonging and affection.

11. Be open with me and accessible to me. Never punish me for sharing my thoughts and ideas, even if they were not what you wanted to hear.

12. Be transparent and admit when you have made a mistake.

13. Represent my viewpoint and that of my coworkers well to higher levels of management.

If you do all those things, I feel confident that there will be little need to beat on me to abide by the rules, but just in case I do not respond in a way most people do, and seem to get off track often, follow these ideas to bring me back to reality:

1. Hold me accountable in a balanced way: not just when I mess up. Let me know when I am doing well and when there is a need for some correction.

2. Enforce the rules with an even hand, and do not play favorites, but do not always treat each person exactly the same way. Recognize that my needs may be somewhat different from my coworkers.

3. If I have the same pattern of poor behavior more than once, remind me that I am an adult and am capable of learning the right way to do things. If I am habitually late or in other ways miss the mark, it is OK to put down the expected behavior on a note to remind me of the correct thing to do rather than to write me up for being bad.

Try to find out what is going on in my life that is causing me to act out at work. Show that you care about me as a person.

4. Discuss with me that the employment situation is a matching phenomenon. Not all organizations are right for a particular individual and not all individuals are right for a particular organization.

5. If I continue to struggle, look for ways to help me find a better situation where I can be more successful. Get involved in helping me make a transition to a future pattern of employment either inside the current organization or elsewhere.

Being a great supervisor means juggling the needs of each individual on the team and keeping discipline without resorting to Theory X type command and control logic.

Great leadership is an art, and if you are an excellent artist, you can paint the vision of the future on the canvass of today’s paradigm in a way that empowers and engages all members of the team because they trust you.

Following these ideas can not only lead to less documentation; it can also mean that your team operates as a world class group with high trust levels.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. 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 http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Meaning of Trust

January 6, 2013

Trust, Colorful words hang on rope by wooden pegIn your opinion, what is the meaning of trust? Most of us use the word trust several times a day. It is actually one of the more common words in our lexicon, yet when I ask people in my seminars to define what it means, I often get an awkward silence, then a few definitions come out, like “confidence,” or “integrity,” or “walk the talk.” Eventually, most groups come up with a dozen or more definitions, and they begin to realize that what they pictured as one single phenomenon is actually a myriad of concepts that mean vastly different things in different circumstances.

I have been working in the area of trust for nearly 20 years. The topic is infinitely fascinating to me, and I am always gaining new understanding thanks to the many other authors and people who network with me. I have found several concepts to be central to the idea of building and maintaining trust, and as I thought about some of these words, they started to form an acronym for the word TRUST.

Acronyms are strange mutations of the language that I find curious. Sometimes an acronym will seem rather strained or far-fetched as an attempt to be cute or simply a trick to help people remember concepts. The acronym below is neither of these; instead it is a way for me to highlight five central issues about trust that I continue to emphasize.

Trusting others. I have coined what I call “The First Law of Building Trust.” It is that when leaders are not satisfied with the level of trust they see within their organization, the first question to ask is how they can show more trust in others. Trust is a reciprocal relationship, and numerous authors have identified the best way to have people trust you more is to increase your visible trust in them.

I once observed a Vice President who really struggled with trust. I asked him if he could find ways to demonstrate more trust in his people. His reaction was, “You are asking the impossible; these people show me by their actions every day that they cannot be trusted to do what is right.” As I dug into the situation, I found that his workers had been so abused by this manager, they had no reason to even try to do things right. It was a toxic environment, where the VP would literally yell at the people and say things like, “You are so stupid I cannot rely on you for anything. I have to watch you like a hawk or you will just goof off and not even try to do your job right.” This is a classic case of a Theory X management style described by Douglas McGregor in the 1960’s, and the VP was truly unaware that he was the real cause of his problem.

I grant that in any workforce, there are some bad apples who can never be trusted, but if you have any of these people on your team and tolerate them, shame on you. Get rid of them. The vast majority of workers, I believe over 95%, will respond positively and do good work if they are treated correctly. When trust is low, The First Law of Building Trust puts the onus on the manager to do three things:

1. Recognize his own contribution to the problem,
2. Modify his behavior to be more trustworthy, and
3. Start showing more trust in his workers.

Unfortunately, the first step is the most difficult. I have observed numerous managers who are simply blind to the fact that they are causing their own problem. It is so much easier to blame the workers than to take a hard look in the mirror and ask some tough questions.

There are numerous other actions required to build and maintain trust, but the three steps above are the precursors that must be in place, or nothing will change. Also, recognize that the process to rebuild lost trust is arduous. Wounded workers will observe improved behaviors for a long time before believing they are genuine.

Reinforcing candor. After a couple decades studying trust, I believe the most central enabler of it is reinforcing candor. This is the leader’s ability to refrain from punishing people when they speak their truth. Most leaders cannot do this. When workers state that a manager is doing things inconsistent with the vision, they take a risk because most managers punish that kind of candor. Brilliant leaders recognize that if they can establish a pattern of making people glad when they bring up difficult issues, it enables trust more than any other single factor.

I put reinforcing candor in the center of my Leadergrow Trust Model because it is the one skill that most leaders find difficult to do, yet once they understand its power, they have a much easier time creating and maintaining trust.

Universal goals. I have found when trust is absent in an organization, usually individuals and groups have conflicting goals. They often do not realize they are pulling in different directions. When you have an organization that is truly focused on one consistent set of goals, then you have alignment. Many organizations struggle with poor alignment such that only a small fraction of the workforce is actually pulling in the direction of the stated vision. Organizations with high trust achieve the reverse of that condition and have almost all people in the organization pulling in the direction of the vision.

It is easy to see if goals are not universal when you observe silo thinking, conflict, low trust, lack of respect, fear, management abuse, and any number of other organizational ills. The starting points for establishing an environment of high trust are 1) complete agreement on where the organization is trying to go, and 2) enrolling all members of the organization to engage their full effort toward that vision.

Sincerity. This is the human dimension that shows leaders care about everyone in the organization. It is never the case that all people in an organization are exactly equal, yet the role played by each individual is of critical importance to the organization’s success. When managers and leaders are duplicitous, people quickly get the idea, because they see a lack of sincerity and care for individuals.

The antidote for low sincerity is very simple. The Golden Rule is the most important concept to show others that we care about them. If you treat other people the way you would like to be treated, you will find they respond in a positive way because they know you care. It is quite simple, but unfortunately many leaders have their priorities mixed and put short term financial performance above the notion of caring for the people in the organization.

The best approach is to treat people the right way, which means being alert to the needs of each person as a unique individual and treating him or her as a person who will happily perform well if treated properly.

Transparency. The final T in my trust acronym is transparency. Organizations that share information widely about what is happening, what the goals are, where we are going, what the strategies are, what behaviors are needed, and how we have been performing recently, get the best that people have to offer. Transparency is an interesting concept because it is not always good, or even legal, to be totally transparent. You must combine common sense, kindness, ethical behavior, and care into the equation when deciding how much information to reveal. Unfortunately, most organizations err on the side of too little transparency rather than too much.

The irony is that transparency is becoming less of a choice for senior executives due to social networking and the ability for people to get information more quickly and easily than ever before. Leaders who try to hide information from workers are becoming increasingly frustrated because the information leaks out anyway. A better approach is to aim for maximum transparency and very fast response time when incorrect information gets out in the social networks.

These five concepts: Trusting others, Reinforcing candor, Universal goals, Sincerity, and Transparency form the acronym TRUST. While there are many other concepts and issues around trust and being trustworthy, I believe these five concepts are really at the core of creating an environment of higher trust.

Researchers have established through numerous studies that organizations with higher trust out-perform those that have low trust. A high trust group enjoys two to five times the productivity of a low trust group. No organization can survive for very long if they have an environment of low trust. Focus efforts on these five concepts, and you will improve your ability to achieve and maintain high trust in any organization.