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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.

Personal Accountability

A participant in my leadership program this week, Al Brown, President of Industrial Scaffold Services on Vancouver Island, shared a great quote with me:

These require zero talent:

  • Being on time
  • Work Ethic
  • Effort
  • Body Language
  • Energy
  • Attitude
  • Passion
  • Being Coachable
  • Doing Extra
  • Being prepared

Al gets it. He’s built an amazing organizational culture around some timeless principles of personal accountability.

How are you, as a leader, modeling the way?

Hire For Character; Train For Cashiers

The title of this blog came from an executive at Nordstrom Department Stores when I asked him about his hiring philosophy. “We hire for character; we train for cashiers.” Far too often people get hired on the basis of competence, and fired on the basis of attitude.

I am often asked, “So how do we hire for attitude? How do we ensure that the right people are hired? How do we ensure that just because a potential employee has technical competence, that they are the right fit for our culture?”

Here’s a five-step process for hiring the right people in your organization.

Step 1. Clearly define the kind of culture you are committed to create and the kind of attitude you need from your employees. Be sure you have an answer to the following questions:

  • What values do you need your staff to exhibit?
  • What behaviors do you expect from your employees that will demonstrate the kind of attitude you expect?
  • What behaviors do you expect from every employee that will demonstrate your espoused values?

Step 2. Be committed to take your time in the hiring process. The management guru, Peter Drucker, had a favorite saying: “Hire s-l-o-w-l-y; fire quickly.” Depending on the position, the best organizations are prepared to take up to several hours getting the right people on the bus.

Step 3. Bring the right questions to the interview process. Note that accountability is described as:

  • The ability to be counted on
  • The willingness and ability to take initiative
  • Taking ownership for the environment you work in
  • Taking responsibility for the mistakes you make
  • Seeing all blame as a waste of time
  • Choosing service over self-interest
  • Choosing gratitude over entitlement

Here are some sample questions for the interview to help you assess if a candidate is accountable. You can adapt these questions to any of the values that you are hiring for.

  • What does accountability mean to you?
  • Why do you feel that accountability is important in your work and in your life?
  • Where did you learn to be accountable? How was accountability instilled in you?
  • Tell me about a time in your work when you took initiative, ownership, and personal responsibility. What was the result?
  • Tell me about a time when you weren’t accountable. What was the result?
  • Tell me about a time when your accountability was tested under pressure, or when it was easier to be lazy and complacent or have a sense of entitlement instead of being accountable? How did you respond? What were the consequences?
  • When have you had to stand alone from the crowd in order to live this value?
  • How do you anticipate living this value (e.g. accountability) in the job that you are applying for?

Step 4. Be sure that all stakeholders – or as many as possible – in the organization who will depend on this person have an opportunity to ask these questions. Be sure that the questions are asked and answered from a variety of perspectives.

Step 5. Observe the candidate in action under pressure, if at all possible. Depending on the role, a probationary period where you can observe how they are living the value in their job, especially under stress, is recommended.

In the boiler room while you wait in line for the Tower of Terror ride at Disney you will find a sign with a rhyme, written by an American poet named Ella Wheeler Wilcox. It’s fitting to include it here, as no matter how brilliant a person can sound in a job interview, you don’t really know them until they are put under pressure.

It’s easy enough to be pleasant, when life hums along like a song.  But the man worthwhile is the man who can smile when everything goes dead wrong.

After a stay at a Marriott Hotel where I experienced great service from every employee all weekend, I asked the checkout clerk if everyone gets training in good customer service. After a moment of reflection, she responded, “Well… you can’t train someone to be nice. What we do here is hire nice people and train them how to use the computer.”

A well-designed culture starts with hiring the right people. I’d love to hear from you about how you use in the hiring process to get the right people on board.

The Tyranny Of The Urgency: Why Too Many Priorities Means Nothing Is A Priority

Earlier this month I was on a United Airlines flight from Calgary to Oklahoma City via Houston. It was on the morning of Calgary’s first snowstorm of the year and we were sitting on the tarmac for several minutes before passengers started to get restless, anxious, and impatient. You could feel the tension in the cabin.That’s when the captain came on the intercom and demonstrated some good leadership.

“I want to apologize for the delay, folks,” he said. “You can see the snow on the wings, and we are waiting in line for the de-icers to do their work. Unfortunately, they are a bit backlogged with the demands this morning. There are three or four planes ahead of us, so it appears it will take about ½ hour before we will be ready.

We also are having some difficulty with our computer system communicating with air-traffic control, so we have to reboot the system. That will take about an additional ½ hour.

What I want you to know from the flight deck is that we have only one priority: your safety. And I am promising you that we will not take off until we know this aircraft is 100% safe to do so. You can count on us for this. What I ask is that you have patience with us in this process that will enable us to make this a safe flight for all us.”

All the frustration that was surfacing amidst the passengers seemed to subside with this direct and honest message from the captain. In less than a minute, impatience was transformed into support. We shifted from being irritated with the airline to being sympathetic to the captain and committed to helping him make it safe for us. The tension in the cabin was dissolved in a few short moments with the clear and calm message sent by the leader at the front of the aircraft.

This is what leaders do when they are clear about their priority and are honest with those they serve…

The word priority didn’t always mean what it does today.

In his best-selling book, Essentialism (a great read by the way), Greg McKeown explains the surprising history of the word and how its’ meaning has shifted over time.

“The word priority,” writes McKeown, “came into the English language in the 1400s. It was singular. It meant the very first or prior thing. It stayed singular for the next five hundred years.

Only in the 1900s did we pluralize the term and start talking about priorities. Illogically, we reasoned that by changing the word we could bend reality. Somehow we would now be able to have multiple ‘first’ things.

People and companies routinely try to do just that. One leader told me of this experience in a company that talked of “Pri-1, Pri-2, Pri-3, Pri-4, and Pri-5.” This gave the impression of many things being the priority but actually meant nothing was.”

The captain on UA Flight 1599 knew what his priority was in the context of his job. A clear focus leads to clear leadership. This priority is transferred to his entire team. While the flight attendants serve us drinks and are expected to be pleasant and supportive to the passengers, and help us make connections to our next flight, the bottom line is that I got to Oklahoma and back safely. And even if our baggage got delayed or passengers missed connections and people were inconvenienced, our safe arrival to our destinations was all that really matters.

So what is all that really matters in your world? If I were to wander around your organization and ask your people, “What is you #1 priority right now?” what answers would I get? Are people clear about what is the only thing that is important? What have you done to identify and clarify this?

Let’s gain some liberty from the slavery of the tyranny of too many priorities. Let’s get focused on what matters most and get people enrolled in that effort. Just because somebody wants something from us doesn’t make it a priority.

Three Paths to Inspiring Leadership: Lessons From Olympians

“In everybody’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.”   –Albert Schweitzer, Philosopher and Physician

After winning a gold medal in the 10,000 meters in Rio, the Somali-born British runner Mo Farah was asked how he was able to muster the strength to pick up himself up and get back to his rhythm after being accidentally tripped on lap ten of the twenty-five lap race. “I just had to believe in myself and get through it… I promised my daughter Rhianna I was going to get her a medal and I was thinking, ‘I can’t let her down’. That’s all I was thinking about – her.”

Mo dedicated his two gold medals in London 2012 to his then baby twinsAisha and Amani. After his 2016 victory he said, “I’ve won an Olympic gold for three of my children – now I’d like to win the 5,000m gold for my little boy.”

What I love most about the Olympics are the inspiring stories – in both victory and in defeat. The parents, the coaches, the communities that raised these athletes – there’s a story behind every one of them. And then there is the inspiration in the athletes themselves. Rosie MacLennan, Penny Oleksiak and her teammates, the Rugby and soccer players, the track athletes – all have inspired an entire generation of young women in Canada.

Great leaders, like great athletes, inspire those around them. The word inspire is derived from the Latin root spirare, meaning to “breathe life into.” The need to inspire has never been greater than it is today, when many people feel afraid, cynical and stressed. Awakening the passion of others by speaking to the inner lives and deeper needs of those we serve is the work of leaders at every level and in every walk of life.

As I allow myself to be inspired by the Olympic games, my hope is that every one of us will allow ourselves to be inspired by the people around us – to enable us to inspire those we serve. Here are three pathways that inspire:

Pay Attention. The great philosopher Yogi Berra once said, “You can observe a lot by watching.” You can be inspired everyday if you s-l-o-w d-o-w-n, pay attention to what’s going on around you, and watch for inspired action. It isn’t just during the Olympics that you will hear inspiring stories. Every life has a meaningful story behind it when you care enough to take the time to pay attention. Last week I was working with a group of leaders at Emera Energy, an authentic maritime company with a down-to-earth, humble approach to business and was inspired by many of their leaders, especially the passionate young people who demonstrated commitment, ownership, and an accountable attitude. I was also inspired by how many of these leaders – mostly engineers – had mastered the simple skill of listening carefully to people. When I work with a great organization I come home inspired. What you focus on is what grows. If you focus on what’s wrong with your workplace or your life, you will soon find yourself with lots of reasons to be unhappy. But if you care enough to pay attention and focus on the goodness around you, you will find a reason to be inspired.

Choose Gratitude. I have been reflecting lately on the many people who have inspired me. I remember how George Nelson, a long-time friend of my parents and former boxer, would get up every morning and spend the first thirty minutes of his day skipping on our front porch when he and his wife Audrey visited. I always admired George, and he inspired me to get up early and start the day with some exercise. Years ago, the great motivational speaker, Zig Ziglar, inspired me to create a “Wall of Influence” – photos of the twenty-five most influential people in my life. My wall of influence has evolved over the years and as I reflect on these people, I am filled with gratitude for everyone who has helped make me who I am today through their love, their character and their example.

Care. It is inspiring to be around people who care, who choose service over self-interest, who have a sense of purpose beyond themselves, and who are passionate about making a difference in the world. People who care enough to keep their promises, to go the extra mile, and to be concerned and committed to serve the people around them make workplaces worthwhile, schools vital, relationships meaningful, and lives valuable. Caring makes all the difference. Caring is everything.

To be inspiring, you must be inspired. How do you get inspired? What inspires you? How do you inspire people around you?