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Achieving Engagement From Productivity

I’m concerned about the focus these days on employee engagement as if it were some kind of “special thing” to be pursued outside the usual day-to-day operations of a workplace. Engagement isn’t a goal to be sought. Rather, it’s an outcome of good leadership. The goal should be a well-run organization. The best run organizations have engaged employees, not because they are necessarily pursuing “an engaged workforce,” but because they are committed to a well-run organization. If you keep your eyes on the right priorities – on the right prize – engagement will naturally follow.

An adaptation of Gallup’s Q12 Index (https://q12.gallup.com/) provides a suggested checklist for leaders. If you sincerely pursue these endeavors toward a well-run organization, employee engagement will follow. In other words, these behaviors can assist the leader to do a much better job.

Don’t try to accomplish this massive list all at once. Start with getting a read on how your employees might perceive your leadership and begin to take action in any of these areas. Action on any one item on the checklist below will result in a better, well-run, engaged organization.

  • Are you doing everything you can to clarify the kind of employee you need on your team? Are you clearly assessing the kind of skills and attitude required of an employee before you hire them, so that in the hiring process you get the right kind of people on the bus? While you may refine behaviors, don’t count on changing people’s fundamental values.
  • Are you explaining to your people exactly what you expect from them, both in terms of operational results and the kind of behaviors you need to see demonstrated to support your values?
  • Are you doing everything you can to give them the skills, tools, resources, and capabilities to succeed at their job?
  • Have you linked your expectations with the purpose of your organization so they feel their contribution is valued?
  • Have you assessed their strengths so they are doing what they do best every day?
  • Are you getting out of your office at least every week and catching them doing their job well? Are you recognizing and celebrating success?
  • Do you genuinely care about them as people? Have you listened to what matters to them, what they value, and how you can best support them to use their job to achieve their personal goals?
  • Are you encouraging your employees to grow, learn, and develop themselves? When was the last time you recommended a good book for them to read?
  • Do you allow genuine input and collaboration from your team so their opinions actually matter? While you can’t possibly make every decision by consensus, do you explain – and demonstrate – that their input on as many decisions as possible will be taken seriously?
  • Do you set high standards and hold people to account to those standards? “Everyone knows who is and who is not performing, and they are looking to you, as the boss, to see what you are going to do about it.” (Collin Powell)
  • Are you encouraging the development of good friendships at work?
  • Are you openly talking with people about their progress toward the achievement of both personal and organizational goals – so there are no surprises if/when you do an annual review?
  • Are you bringing humility to your leadership by being honest, vulnerable, and teachable?
  • Are you making it safe for people to risk making mistakes, while ensuring that they learn from these mistakes?
  • Are you creating a culture of ownership, so that employees are encouraged, and held accountable to create conditions for success on their own rather than depending solely on you, the boss, to deliver this?

Moving into a position of leadership does not give you more power. What it gives you is more accountability. Leading a well-run organization takes time, patience, and a clear intention. Set a goal for a productive workplace and employee engagement will follow.

Stop Evaluating People and Start Holding Them Accountable

In recent months, smart companies are finally seeing the futility of the old, outdated rule-based, bureaucratic “evaluation systems” of performance management. Many organizations I work with are abolishing their “rank and yank” systems that assign employees a performance score relative to their peers, while punishing or firing those with low grades. Other organizations are wisely rethinking their practices. Whether you agree or disagree with UCLA researcher Samuel Culbert’s assessment that performance reviews are “a curse on corporate America,” it’s nonetheless clear that performance reviews and evaluations are finally losing their appeal.

Why Performance Management Fails

First, the world has changed. Today’s employees want open communication and collaboration with their peers and with their bosses. They want partnerships, not parents. Today’s employees are also far more apt to want to know more immediately how they are doing and if they are meeting expectations and heading in the right direction. The world isn’t on an annual cycle any more for anything.

Second, being evaluated is demeaning. It’s based on an outdated parental, parent/child model of supervision that is founded on the belief that because a person is given a title they have authority over people. What right does anyone have to evaluate another person? No wonder performance reviews breed all kinds of unnecessary fear, resentment, and resistance. Leadership today is about service, not submission, supervision, and self-centeredness.

Third, if organizations want to develop highly engaged, contributing performers, managers must be equipped to coach and empower them. Today’s workers don’t see their managers as experts in specific subject areas the way their predecessors did. After all, the information they think they need is readily available to them online. Instead, they look to their managers for coaching and mentorship and find purpose through learning, contributing, and growing on the job.

The truth is that employees don’t need annual performance reviews to know how they stack up against their peers. Companies need to stop merely managing performance and start actually developing it.

The Alternative: Accountability Agreements

Instead of evaluating people, start holding them accountable. Here’s how:

Step 1. Build trust. Accountability without trust is compliance. Make the connection. Be trustworthy. Keep your promises. Be accountable. Genuinely invest in people lives. Be interested in what matters to them, what motivates them, and how you can support them to grow. People need to feel safe so they can be honest without fear of punishment. The key is not just walking around; it is opening up, paying attention, and being in touch. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

Step 2. Engage. Accountability without passion is drudgery. Do all you can to help and coach your employees to find their unique abilities, passion, and goals and how work fits into the context of their life. Be sure you have done everything you can to help them find a fit. Fit people; don’t fix people. Stay away from evaluating people and focus on how to support each other to grow and achieve clearly defined success.

Step 3. Clarify Expectations. Ambiguity breeds mediocrity. People need to be clear about what is expected and how success is defined. Clarify operational (competency) expectations, as well as describing in behavioral terms the kind attitude that is required and what results are promised. Before you make an agreement, be sure the willingness, the resources, and the capabilities are in place.

Step 4. Clarify Agreements. A request is not an agreement. If you want to hold someone accountable, you must get their full 100% agreement. If you don’t get an agreement to a required request, then go to Step 6.

Step 5. Clarify Support Requirements. To be committed and engaged, people need to feel that they can talk openly about the support they require to achieve their accountabilities. They need to feel that you are committed to do all you can to help them find the resources and capabilities to do their job and grow in the process. What support is needed? Your employee’s negotiated support requirements will be your accountability to them. The support requirements of your employees will be their accountabilities to you.

Step 6. Clarify Consequences. With no consequences there will be no accountabilities. Always start with positive consequences (motivators). Motivators are the internal or external results of delivering on your accountabilities. Motivators are meant to inspire you to achieve your accountabilities. If these don’t get the job done, then go to negative consequences.

Step 7. Follow up. Follow up means a clear understanding of a plan for follow-through, including how often you need to meet and with whom to ensure that you hold yourself and each other accountable for honoring the promises you have made to each other.

5 WAYS TO REWIRE, REIMAGINE, AND RECREATE YOURSELF AND YOUR WORKPLACE

There is little doubt that the environment where we work and live impacts our lives. However, by taking charge of how you perceive your environment, you can make incredible changes in your life. Rewire your thoughts about your environment, reimagine the reality of your environment, and you will recreate your environment.

Quantum physics has discovered something that many mystics have long since known: that your perception of the universe actually invokes the very universe that you observe. If you change the way you view the environment around you, the environment around you changes. This means your creative imagination literally affects the very blueprint of your reality. How our universe manifests itself depends on how we both individually and collectively dream it up. The real power, then, is in the viewing – the lenses we look through as we observe the world around us.

There is a wonderful story of William James, one of the leading thinkers of the late nineteenth century, who, as a young man, went to Paris to study. He was depressed and suicidal at the time. However, he decided to take a wager suggested by a French philosopher, to act each day as if the universe was full of purpose and meaning. By the end of his studies, he had discovered so much meaning and purpose that he changed his life. He became a great philosopher who influenced many.

You play a role not only in how you experience your universe, but how the universe will experience you and continue its creative expansion through you. It is important to note that at any moment you can effortlessly step out of your various dilemmas. You can stop endlessly recreating a toxic or negative reality. The key is whether you recognize how you are feeding into, supporting, and hence helping to create the very problem you are reacting to. As the philosopher, Jean Houston, puts it: “Don’t keep feeding chicken soup to your pathology.”

Another way to say this is that through our perceptions and our choices we are actually creating the culture that we so enjoy complaining about. Deciding that you have co-created the world around you – and therefore you are the one to step into healing it – is the ultimate act of accountability. In order to do this, every so often you need to stop, rewire, reimagine, and recreate the world around you.

Below are five practical strategies for rewiring, reimagining, recreating your current reality.

  • Work as if you have the perfect job – now.
Regardless of whether you like or dislike your job or the environment where you work or live, act every day as if this were your ideal career in an ideal workplace. Imagine that this is where you have always dreamed of working, with the kind of colleagues you always dreamed of working with, doing the kind of work you have always fantasized doing. Act every day as if your current environment was full of purpose and meaning, and observe how the environment around you changes.
  • Create a vision. Without a vision you perish. And if you don’t perish, you will likely get depressed. Rewiring, reimagining, and recreating means stepping back every so often to clarify a vision you are personally moving towards. Organizational vision statements will have little meaning for you until you have a sense of your own personal vision. What gets you up early? What keeps you up late? What inspires you to go the extra mile? What keeps you going on the darker days? Regardless of whether you are working toward a goal in your personal life or work life, be sure to make time to work for a dream that engages your unique talents and that is bigger and more powerful than simply “getting through the day.”
  • Choose service over self-interest. Imagine ways you can make the world you live in better for others. Decide, just for today, that you are going to be a giver – by your smile, kind words, encouraging attitude, and generosity. Decide, just for today, to be a contributor, a helper to others rather than expecting so much from others. Decide, just for today, to replace unearned entitlement with gratitude. Make it a point to say thank you three times each day. Decide, just for today, to “lift,” rather than “lean,” to build rather than tear down. Ask how you can best be of service and grant some grace to your fellow human beings.
  • Make yourself happy. Make a decision to enjoy the environment where you live and work. You don’t need to have the “right” job or the “right” boss or the “right” family to be happy or engaged in your work. Happiness is not a destination; it’s a method of travel. You can decide to be happy. It’s an attitude, a mind-set, a choice. As Abraham Lincoln said, “Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Happiness comes from the inside; it is not a matter of externals.
  • When the horse is dead, get off. Maybe recreating your current environment means doing just that: finding something new. If you are in a job that you hate, and you need more than a renewed reality in your current environment, then cut your losses, quit your job, and start again in a new environment. Most importantly: STOP COMPLAINING, starting right now. Sometimes relationships need to end. Rewiring, reimagining, and recreating may mean starting over in a brand new environment with brand new relationships. One important word of caution: before you leave any relationship be sure that you are not running away from something you need to face, learn, and contribute to. If you seek a geographic cure, be prepared to meet the same problems in your next environment.

Put some of these intentions into action. Pay attention to the effect they have on you and your environment. You will create a new world when you rewire, reimagine, and recreate.

Employee Engagement Surveys – Not The Whole Story

I’m not against employee engagement surveys. I’m just not in favor or our over-reliance on them for an accurate picture of an organizational culture. Reading employee engagement surveys is like reading a newspaper or watching the news. It’s interesting, there’s an element of truth in them, but it’s not the whole picture. It’s more of a photograph, a small spectrum of what’s actually happening. Surveys turn your organization into a noun, while conversations make culture a verb, a living breathing entity. Surveys give you a sense of what’s going on, but you always have to go further if you want an accurate picture. Here are some suggestions for using surveys more effectively and appropriately:

  1. Don’t use surveys to abdicate leadership. While thorough surveys provide excellent data and get you started with a snapshot of your culture, don’t rely on surveys alone to do the job. You also have to get out of your office, wander around, and be in touch with people. Ask them how they’re doing and what they need. Then listen to what they say. If you use the excuse that “people aren’t honest with you when you do that,” that’s a good indication you haven’t been out of your office enough to build trust. To be committed to culture, leaders need to be out of their office about half of the time or they just aren’t leading.
  2. Shorten your surveys. People are getting surveyed out. I’ve seen employees answer low because they are angry about having to do so many surveys! Dr. Theresa M. Welbourne (www.eepulse.com) is designing employee engagement and 360 Feedback surveys that take three minutes to complete. Dr. Welborne believes that you can get pretty much all the information you need in about three minutes. She might just be on to something.
  3. You don’t have to survey everyone to get an accurate picture. Television ratings are not determined by calling every single person watching TV. Pick a good cross section of people to survey and give the rest a break. Switch it up so you aren’t surveying the same people every time.
  4. Don’t mistake climate for culture. Climate is how people feel about the organization and their work (what you get from an employee engagement survey). Culture is what causes them to feel that way. Employee engagement surveys may tell you what the climate is, but they don’t necessarily get to the culture. Every culture has both the “visible” culture and the “real” culture. The real culture is what people talk about when the boss isn’t there. If you want to find out about the real culture, don’t send surveys to your employees. Send surveys to your employees’ spouses or best friends. Culture is measured by what people talk about when they get home from work. Ideally, we want to build a level of trust so people would have the same conversation whether the boss is there on not. You can only get the real culture by getting into the cafeteria and the hallways and listening to what’s going on, and more importantly, why it’s going on.
  5. Never ask a question about something you don’t know how to fix and you aren’t prepared to fix. Every survey question implies a promise that you are going to take action based on the answers you get. And if you break that promise, things will get ugly. I like Mark Murphy’s (Leadership IQ) experiment as an example of how this works. Tonight at home, make some popcorn. Then ask your spouse if they want some and when they say “yes” just ignore them. Now multiply that by a few thousand and you’ll see what we’re talking about. Don’t use surveys to abdicate leadership accountabilities. You must live your values, and have a way to ensure that this happens at every level of your organization. Your actions as leaders define your culture more than your value statements do. Actions really do speak louder than words. The goal is to align your actions and your value statements. The more you connect with people and really listen to what they say in a variety of ways, the greater your chances of bringing your claim and your reality into alignment.
  6. Remember that culture is a shared responsibility. Culture isn’t something that you do for or to people. Culture is something you create together. We institutionally deny the fact that each of us – through our perceptions and our choices – is actually creating the culture that we so enjoy complaining about. Deciding that I have co-created the world around me – and therefore I am the one to step into healing it – is the ultimate act of accountability. Check out my website www.irvinestone.ca/assessments for an instrument that assesses both the manager’s and the employee’s responsibility for creating a workplace worth working in – using and adapting the Gallup Q12 Employee Engagement Survey.

Creating A Remarkable Culture: Learning To Lead Without A Title

Do you work in a culture that you would call “remarkable?” Are you depending on someone else to make it remarkable, or do you take ownership to create a remarkable culture in the area where you work and can influence? The title of this blog is the title of some of my most recent presentations and workshops. Here are some of the key messages I have been giving to organizations these days:

Building resilient, vibrant organizational cultures is about building leadership capacity at every level and in every position. I define leadership as the capacity of human beings to shape and create a new future by inspiring and engaging others. Leadership is what transforms mediocrity into greatness.

You don’t get promoted to leadership. Leadership is about presence, not position. It’s not a title; it’s a decision. Every person in your organization is a potential leader.

Growing and developing the leadership talent of every single person throughout your organization is your greatest competitive advantage in a turbulent economy.

Learning to lead without a title is the responsibility of every employee.

I love what Dr. Martin Luther King said about personal leadership:

“If a person is called to be a street sweeper, they should sweep streets as Michelangelo painted or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare poetry. They should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did their job well.’”

Even if you have a title, you have to learn to lead without one. One of my clients is very wise. Before he promotes someone into a leadership position, he assesses their leadership capacity by inviting them to work in a nonprofit organization (of their choice) for six months, to see how well they influence with no positional power. “If you can’t lead volunteers, you’ll never be able to lead with a title,” he proposes. Not a bad philosophy.

How do you help people in your organization – with or without positional power – develop their leadership capacity? I’d love to get your thoughts on this.

What’s The Difference Between Communication And Just Passing Along Information?

I serve as vice-chair on an international nonprofit board. Our chair is passionate about her work and about staying in contact with board members around the world. If she has a weakness, however, it’s that she assumed that sending emails to board members meant she has actually communicated with them.

“I can’t understand why he didn’t get the message. I was so careful about crafting a clear email that outlined all the facts.”

We have had some long discussions lately about the difference between passing along information and actually communicating a message.

The problem, of course, is not in her intent. The problem is that texting and emails are great ways to pass along information. They are just a lousy way to communicate. I’m all for technology, but it is critical to understand the limitations.

To communicate you need conversation and dialogue. Even the phone can be limiting when it comes reading body language as a response to a message.

If you aren’t allowing time for reactions, questions, open dialogue, clarification, and a space for reflection, then all you are doing is passing along information. You aren’t communicating.

What have you learned about what it takes to communicate? What, for you, is the difference between passing along information and communication?

photo credit: Love you to (license)