Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Two Basic Leadership Behaviors that Increase Employee Engagement

I have still not fully accepted the term “employee engagement”.  It always seemed to me just another management fad buzz word.  How “engaged” are your employees?  Why can’t we just ask, how much do your employees love what they do?  I guess it just doesn’t sound professional enough.
If you’ve somehow missed or been able to ignore the sweeping inundation of the engagement fad, the concept of “employee engagement” came onto the human resources scene in the early 90’s as an evolution of employee satisfaction that includes full involvement in and commitment to the work and the organization.    It has now become an accepted term by management from all disciplines, since numerous studies have linked the level of engaged employees with earnings per share, customer satisfaction, turnover, and productivity.  The attached graph shows some results from a 2007 study by Towers Perrin. (Now Towers Watson.)
It only seems to make practical sense to me that if you can hire and retain people who love their job, your bottom line will reflect that.  They are naturally going to devote more thought, ideas, creativity, time, and effort to their work than if they didn’t enjoy their work. 
But employee engagement has, well, engaged many management experts and yet another study has been released, this time by BlessingWhite, a global consulting firm.  After compiling the information of nearly 11,000 individuals, here are some of their key findings:
·    31% of respondents are engaged.  This corresponds to Gallup’s research that 29% of employees are engaged.  Engagement levels vary by country.  For example, 37% of respondents in India are engaged (the highest) and just 17% are engaged in China (the lowest).  In North America, 33% are engaged, in Europe, 30%.  Southeast Asia is at 26% and Australia/NZ is at 36%.
·    Another 26%, on average, are “almost engaged”. 
·    The higher you are in an organization or the older you are, the more likely you are engaged in your work.
·    The size of the organization made no difference in engagement levels.
·    The most engaged employees are in departments that are closest to the external clients.
One of the descriptions I like best in this study says:  Engaged employees plan to stay for what they give; the Disengaged stay for what they get.
Besides hiring the right people, what can you do to strengthen employee engagement?  That is, how can you help your employees love their job more?  It seems like it should all be on their shoulders, and it’s true, those who know what their strengths are, what they want to do, and what their core values are, will look for work that fits them and allows them to be successful.  Self-knowledge is a pre-requisite for employee engagement, and that may be the reason why younger workers are not as engaged as older ones.  At any level, individuals must take action on this knowledge and ask for the responsibilities and involvement that will make their work lives more satisfying.
That said, there are many things management can do to boost engagement levels.  Here are two key leadership behaviors that will make a difference when done consistently:
1.   Communicate often.  Convey the reasons behind decisions, the challenges and opportunities you are facing, the organizational values, plans, and strategies you are implementing, and how appreciative you are of their hard work.  Be crystal clear when communicating expectations and get their feedback on how things are going.  Ask questions to involve them in creating plans, solving problems, and to find out about their ideas.  Without breaking any confidentialities, be transparent.
2.   Get to know your direct reports well.  What are their strengths, their career goals, their weaknesses?  What are they struggling with in their current job?  What do they have a flair for that hasn’t yet been developed?  Match their strengths with projects and tasks so that they – and you and the company - can be successful.  Offer them training and opportunities for development so their talents can be honed.  Coach them in a way that develops mutual trust and respect.
If you can incorporate the above suggestions into your day, you will not only help your employees love their jobs more, you will become a better leader.  And all of you should feel more engaged. 
Sorry about the language!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Integrity Consistently Compromised? Quit!

I once worked for a witch. No, not that kind. A real one. A male one, with long flowing locks and the charisma of a car salesman. I came into work one day and the place smelled like a combination of rotten eggs and stinkweed had been roasted over an open fire. Turns out, the witches (there was more than one besides my immediate supervisor, and by the way they called themselves “witches” so this is not meant to be a slur or anything) had performed a ceremony the night before that was supposed to increase profits. It smelled so bad that a couple of my co-workers and I went out for coffee instead of starting to work. So much for productivity that day.

One of my witch co-workers would also occasionally wave a rock over our coffee cups and mutter something. I think it was so we would have more luck selling our specialty advertising items, which was the nature of the business. It would freak out my cubicle-mate, who suspected evil spells.

When I took the job I was desperate: a single parent, I had been out of work for months. Despite having a brand new Masters degree, it was one of those all-too-frequent recessions and they were the only ones who would hire me. Even though I needed work, I ended up listening to my intuition and making a decision that others in my situation may not have – I quit.

I woke up one morning with a terrible stomach ache. That stomach ache was a signal to me, one that has plagued me since childhood whenever I am under tremendous emotional stress. The intense pain gave me pause – what was going on? I recognized that I really didn’t want to go to work. I suspected that the company I worked for was not completely on the up-and-up and that for whatever reason, financial troubles or just plain underhandedness (which is what I really suspected), they were not delivering on the customers’ orders. This, coupled with the fact that I was numbing my brain selling junk over the telephone, made it not a desirable place to work. (Surprisingly, it wasn’t the witches – they made coming to work rather interesting.) Without giving two weeks’ notice (the one and only time I did that), I called in and quit.

The owner took it really well and in fact said some nice things about possibly working together in the future. A month later the business closed without paying some of the employees.

As a coach, I have had clients who insisted on remaining in their jobs even though the company or their boss was unethical or a tyrant. I have heard some horror stories about bosses who should be in jail or at least slapped with lawsuits. These are bosses who consistently discriminated against various kinds of people (overweight, old, women, name a religion and race), and were stealing or cheating. The clients who wouldn’t quit even after hiring me for help were under crushing stress. Their physical health, family relationships, and mental and emotional states were all damaged.

What is more important? Making money or your physical and mental health? My clients who wouldn’t quit were scared if they did they wouldn’t be able to pay their mortgage or take care of their families. Valid fears, yes. But I guarantee, living under that much stress every day takes it’s toll and will cost you long-term in poor health.

Simply put: If you are under that much stress consistently, LEAVE. Leave and let it go. Of course, try not to burn any bridges when you leave. You never know what is going to happen in the future. But get out before you do permanent damage to yourself and your family. Your family doesn’t want you to get cancer or be unhappy.

Have the courage, confidence and the self-awareness to find a job that is worthy of you. It is out there. Even when jobs are hard to find like the present, there is something out there for you. It may be temporary, it may be part-time, it’s probably not perfect. But it will be someplace where your skills will be used, and you will be of value. Where can you be of the most value? And valued the most? I hope you are there right now. Make the most of it.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Office Politics: The 3 Essential Networks You Need To Develop

“I won’t play office politics,” a client told me. “I just do what I need to do to get things done. I don’t want to get caught up in all that.”

Office politics often has a dirty reputation. But in truth, we all need to “play the game”. Unfortunately, when it’s viewed that way - as a game - people think of engaging in it as being manipulative and underhanded.

There are individuals who are just in the game for personal power at any cost. Definitely try to avoid getting involved in “all that”. But if you want to be as successful and productive as you can be, you must understand how politics works in your organization.

Essentially, politics is relationships. Developing and nurturing good relationships with those you work with at all levels is required to get your work done. In order to develop and maintain good relationships, you need to get to know people, their motivations, their work, their priorities, their values. A good relationship is a 'give and take', where both parties assume 100% responsibility for maintaining a positive connection. If you establish a relationship first, then problems and opportunities can be dealt with in the context of your relationship which is more encompassing than anything that may come up.

In a new book entitled Being the Boss: The 3 Imperatives for Becoming a Great Leader by Linda Hill and Kent Lineback, the authors have identified three networks to develop to optimize your effectiveness. Their distillation of these relationships puts office politics into a measured, practical perspective that any leader can agree makes sense.

Here are their three essential networks:

1. Operational network. This refers to developing the relationships with those people who are needed in order to accomplish your team’s daily tasks and projects.

2. Strategic network. Build bridges with those people who are in positions that can help you identify opportunities for your team. This can help you prepare your team for future projects, challenges, and changes.

3. Developmental network. Identify people who can help you develop and grow. “Who you know determines what you get to do. And what you get to do determines what you get to know,” says author and Harvard professor Linda Hill.

Developing solid alliances takes some forethought and work. Determining who to develop relationships with requires the understanding of what you want to get done, where you want to go, and how your organization works. If these people are remote, it will take a little more thought and creativity to develop and maintain affiliations. (Check out the article 5 Marketing Rules for Long Distance Influencing for some tips.)

And the bottom line for developing good relationships is, as the authors succinctly state, “You need to understand how you make people feel when they are with you.”

Being the Boss is a book that packs a lot of sage advice for managers. The link below is to a sixteen minute video where the authors cover this information and a little bit more.

If you are one of those that wants to avoid office politics at all costs, rethink that stance. In an upright organization , utilizing office politics correctly is a winning situation for all involved.

Being the Boss: The 3 Imperatives for Becoming a Great Leader

Video: The Best Way to Play Office Politics

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Kick Off Your Year Right by Defining Your Team's Purpose

It’s the beginning of the year and an excellent time to clarify your team’s purpose. A team “purpose” defines the reason for the team’s existence – not necessarily what you do, but why you do it.

You may assume everyone knows the purpose of your team, and hopefully they do. However, taking a meeting to walk your team through an exercise to re-define your team’s purpose builds team cohesion and ensures everyone is committed to the same outcomes. It offers a chance for team members to reconnect with their reason for being there, and to recommit (or not) to their team and it’s raison d’etre. It ensures you do have a team, and not a group of individuals each working on their own for their own purpose. It lays a solid foundation for your team members so they know what's important for them to focus on. And, you may learn something about how your team members view their team and it’s purpose.

If you are developing a new team, it’s especially important to start off ensuring everyone is on the same page. Don’t assume they are – that is a common mistake of leaders. Make sure they are by inviting them to determine the team’s purpose.

For optimum commitment and buy-in, all team members should be involved in creating the team’s purpose. Here are some easy steps to do that:

Before the meeting, ask each team member to write down:
1. What they see as the current purpose of the team. You can even ask them to just finish the sentence by inserting the why: “The purpose of the Magic® Brand team is to control how, where and when the brand is portrayed so that….”
2. How the team purpose ties directly to the company’s mission, vision and /or core values.
Let them know that at the meeting, they will have an opportunity to explain to their team members what they’ve written, and to answer any questions for clarity and understanding.

At the meeting, once everyone has had a chance to explain their view of the team’s purpose, lead a discussion about the commonalities and the disparities of the different purposes. Prioritize common purposes.

As the team leader, you can then do one of the following:
1) Take all you’ve learned from this meeting, go off on your own and write the team’s purpose statement. Bring it back to the team at the next meeting and present it. Answer any questions to ensure clarity and understanding. Or,
2) If at the first meeting it seems that everyone is pretty much on the same page, define the team’s purpose right then and there. As word-smithing in a group can be torture, you may want to assign one or two people to go off and do final tweaks to the purpose statement to be presented at the next meeting.

The team purpose should be able to be described in one clear sentence. Something like: “The purpose of the Shipping Department is to ship customer orders accurately and on time in such a way that we save money for the company and make the customer happy.”

You may want to prioritize your purposes:
“The purpose of the Document Control department is to manage information so that 1) we maintain a controlled, reliable audit trail and 2) our internal and external customers can confidently and easily obtain the most recent, accurate documentation.”

Once you have a purpose statement for your team, refer back to it as often as you can. It is justification for creating new processes, ideas and methods to support the purpose. For example in the Shipping Department case, you can refer to the team purpose to reinforce new idea generation that would save money or make the customer happy. For Document Control, ask your team “How can we better reinforce our audit trail?" Or, “What ideas do you have to make it easier for our customers to access the documentation that they need?”

Having and reinforcing a team purpose keeps your team members on track with the priorities of your group. It reminds them of why they do what they do, which is a basic requirement of motivation. If people don’t understand the why, the purpose, their motivation lags and expectations are not reached.

A commitment to a clear and common purpose is essential to creating a strong and cohesive work team.

Having a commitment to a clear and common team purpose could avoid this.