We all know the workers who are the first to arrive and last to leave. They don’t take time off. You wonder if their kids even recognize them anymore. Contrast that person with an employee who leaves early for parent-teacher conferences and usually walks out the door in time to have dinner with his family.
Which is the preferable employee? That question is being bantered about more than ever, as young workers in particular strive for a life that balances work, home and community.
Kate Rogers wrote “Might Be Time to Tell Your Employees to Get a Life” on foxbusiness.com. She notes that more top-level execs are embracing a flexible approach to when, where and how work is done. They hold themselves and others accountable for the quantity and quality of performance – because that produces business results.
Rewarding “face time” at the office encourages people to look busy and be present, even when they’re not giving it their all. For some, being busy becomes a way of life and a means of avoiding other brutal realities. Tim Kreider notes in “The ‘Busy’ Trap at NYTimes.com:
“Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.”
Think about how you use your time and help your team create real success. Is it all about being busy, or are you zeroing in on the business results that matter?
Specifically, if teachers are told that a randomly-selected student is expected to realize a large gain in IQ, that is exactly what happens. Why? Teachers begin to treat them differently. These “expectations affect teachers’ moment-to-moment interactions with the children they teach in a thousand almost invisible ways. Teachers give the students that they expect to succeed more time to answer questions, more specific feedback, and more approval: They consistently touch, nod and smile at those kids more.”
Transferring this phenomenon to a work setting, research by Jean-Francois Manzoni and Jean-Louis Barsoux indicates that the boss is often inadvertently complicit in the failure of an employee. This dynamic begins with an early mistake, lukewarm recommendation or personality clash and is set in motion as the boss questions the employee’s competence. Under increased scrutiny by the boss, the employee loses confidence. He freezes or over-reacts. The syndrome is then in full swing, and it is no surprise when the employee fails.
Think about the people you supervise, and ask yourself these questions:
What do you expect your people to accomplish?
How does that impact your behavior and thus, their achievement?
How should you change your thinking and behavior to remove the impact of unwarranted low expectations?
How are high potentials different from other employees? According to research by Ready, Conger and Hill (Are You a High Potential?, Harvard Business Review, June 2010), companies tend to describe high potentials this way:
“High potentials consistently and significantly outperform their peer groups in a variety of settings and circumstances. While achieving these superior levels of performance, they exhibit behaviors that reflect their companies’ culture and values in an exemplary manner. Moreover, they show a strong capacity to grow and succeed throughout their careers within an organization—more quickly and effectively than their peer groups do.”
To create a nimble strategy for managing your leadership pipeline, follow these steps:
Identify. Who are your high potentials? Though you may balk at creating a formal list of high potentials, many concede that identifying individuals with potential for growth is important for the organizations and the people themselves.
Engage and develop. Now that you have your list, create a plan to nurture your high potentials that includes both access to upper management and opportunities to grow.CCL’s research on high potentials notes that “high potentials receive more development opportunities – such as special assignments and training as well as mentoring and coaching from senior leaders – than other employees.” This gives them role models and advocates to develop those relationships that are the connective tissue within the organization.
Retain. CCL’s research indicates that people formally identified as high potentials have a higher retention rate than those not formally identified. Be aware, however, that identification as a high potential can trigger anxiety as well as excitement. Your strategy should manage for both, providing support to deal with the inevitable pressures as well as opportunities for development.
Deploy. High potentials want to understand the path that lies ahead, even if the specifics are a little vague. Provide answers to questions such as, What is the next step? What do I need to do or learn to get there? Communication, feedback and increasing levels of authority are critical to leveraging the talent pool, according to CCL.
Maximizing the potential of your organization’s future leaders requires planning and commitment. Allowing the “cream to rise to the top” on its own is not an option if your goal is converting raw talent into exceptional leadership for the long-term benefit of the organization.
Recognize and reward. Give accolades to people who are doing a good job by publicly recognizing what is going well.
Make room for fun. Make time for people to do something wacky or unusual.
Walk the talk. Rules, ethics and consequences apply to everyone, regardless of position.
Implementing these strategies doesn’t mean that your employees won’t face problems. Your job as a leader is to enable true happiness – the ability to effectively confront and work through the difficulties that are inevitable in any workplace.
Is there an employee in your organization who is dragging everyone down? There may be several. These are the employees who appear to be busy but don’t consistently produce good results. (Forget about great.) They have ready-made excuses for why they fall short, and they thrive in environments where expectations are vague.
When even one employee is glaringly unproductive, others notice. Even if they try not to care, they will begin to wonder why the expectations are so different. Over time, morale drops.
How do you clear out the dead wood in your organization?
Define expectations and give feedback. If you don’t have clear goals, roles and best practices, there can be no easy way to define a lack of productivity. Regular, formal and informal feedback to employees on what’s working and what is not will help them to maintain motivation and make adjustments as needed.
Figure out if the wood is really dead. There can be many reasons for under-performing. Some people look like failures because of a single, fixable flaw. With a strong desire to learn and change, these employees can mitigate the effects of their weakness and succeed in their jobs. Other employees may have had insufficient training. Consider fit and whether the person would be a good performer in another role. Seek the truth before you cull the dead wood.
Pinpoint who has the problem. Sometimes the problem is a lack of appropriate hiring, supervision, coaching or delegation. The results will be poor, but not because the performer isn’t giving it her all.
Act deliberately. Don’t adopt a wait-and-see approach. This may seem easier in the short term, but your organization’s culture will be negatively impacted. If you worry about losing an employee, remember that you will be more successful with fewer people aligned to the right standards than having more people orienting to mediocre or poor benchmarks.
Holding people accountable to high standards works for organizations and their employees. People thrive in environments where they are recognized and rewarded for hard work and results. In organizations with high standards and accountability, the choice for a dead-weight employee is clear. Change or leave.
Your once-well-oiled machine of a team is experiencing strife. Some people seem to be spending more time whining than doing their jobs. A high-priority project is behind schedule and over budget. What questions do you ask to understand what’s really going on?
You’re first instinct may be to ask, “What isn’t working?” If you’re really at the end of your rope, you won’t be that polite.”What in the HECK is WRONG with you people?!” As frustrated as you may be, don’t focus on the negative right away. This will put people on the defensive and may deteriorate into a blame game. You will end up wasting time and will probably miss some incredible strengths that could be put to use to solve the current problem.
Begin with this question: “What’s working and why?” Here’s where you uncover the brilliance – and regain a balanced perspective. It isn’t all broken, and some things are going great.
Then, ask: “What is the need we are trying to address?” This will get people zeroing in on their purpose and goals. Be very clear about exactly what you’re trying to achieve, why it’s important and the desired results and impact.
Next, ask: “What do we need to start doing to get there?” You’ll find that there are some best practices that were never shared or have fallen by they wayside. Build on what’s working to address the gap between the need and current performance.
Only then should you delve into “What’s not working?” Figure out the behaviors that need to stop in order to remove barriers to success. Often the previous questions will have addressed some of the gaps with an eye to constructive resolution, so this conversation may be very brief.
When there is a problem, focusing first on the negative keeps you trapped in the past and may encourage you to throw in the towel too early. While it’s important to learn from what went wrong, the real power for change lies in what is going well. It takes courage and talent to overcome adversity. You’ll uncover more of both when you uncover strengths you didn’t know existed.
Want to learn more or just need to ask some questions of a Humanergist? Contact us.
Photo courtesy of Chris Baker on stock.xchng. See more of his photos at his website.
You may be thinking, “Me? I’d never be a leader in an organization whose culture was intimidating! I’m a nice person!” Unfortunately, organizational culture and habits have a tendency to creep, if we’re not careful. There may be some ways in which you and other leaders contribute to people feeling constrained and bullied. You’ve just been too busy or narrow in your focus to recognize it. What are the symptoms of subtle intimidation?
Fuzzy accountability, blame and consequences that don’t fit. People aren’t exactly sure what they should be doing or what boundaries exist for their work. Expectations are unclear or inconsistent from one day to the next or one leader to the next. When things go wrong, the finger gets pointed, and the consequences don’t seem appropriate given the mistakes that were made.
Intense focus on what’s going wrong. Time, energy and emotion are invested in communicating about the problems and errors, and little is said about what’s working. Employees keep their heads down and hope for the best (or at least that they’re not the ones in the wrong this time). Sometimes negative feedback is delivered indirectly, such as jabs disguised as jokes.
Intermittent, inconsistent communication. Employees hear different messages from leaders, if they hear much at all. There is no context to what is communicated, so people don’t understand the importance and priority of the message. Confusion is common, and solutions are imperfect, since people don’t have access to necessary information.
Delegation is usually “swoop and poop” or micromanaging. Lacking the time (really, it’s commitment) to delegate appropriately, leaders plop projects in people’s inboxes, give direction via short, curt email or only half-delegate and then hover to make sure the work is getting done right.
Leaders don’t want feedback. Leaders may say they want critical feedback, but employees understand that this would come with grave consequences. “Remember Joe? Well, he criticized the boss and got canned.”
Leaders give feedback indirectly or vaguely. Often the person who needs the feedback is the last to know, as people discuss Sue’s problem with everyone but Sue. When leaders give feedback to their direct reports, they beat around the bush and don’t connect the dots between the direct report’s behavior and its impact. This leaves employees wondering what they did in the first place and uncertain about where they stand with their boss.
People create silos for support. To protect themselves or to gain power, people develop a group of allies within the organization. “You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours.” Invisible silos of alliances exist and everyone knows who is in whose camp, even if it is not openly acknowledged.
If even one of these statements ring true, it’s time to take a stand and promote change. Start by modeling effective listening and openness yourself. Like everyone, you are not fully aware of the impact of your own behavior. Seek information to decrease your own self-deception. Then find like-minded people within the organization and ask, “Is this culture one that enables us to meet tomorrow’s challenges and achieve necessary results?”
Work together to build a safe, healthy and productive culture that allows people to fully engage in the organization’s mission and make a difference. Good intentions won’t change anything. As Mae West said, “An ounce of performance is worth pounds of promises.”
Have a question about this topic or want some input from Humanergy? Contact us!
Shawna left the meeting feeling like her hiring decision had been all wrong. Why couldn’t Hector manage this project on his own? When Shawna was in his role, she was able to make decisions and move forward with little direction from the boss. Maybe it was time to consider moving Hector into a job that fit his apparent abilities.
We all make assumptions, even if we think we don’t. We assume that the people around us have (or should have) the same knowledge, experiences, understanding, beliefs and feelings as ourselves. When we communicate, how often do we check our assumptions? We rarely do…until our differences become apparent, and then it’s often too late to repair the damage. What types of assumptions might you be making, and how can you avoid them?
My direct reports and I have the same knowledge or understanding of business realities. This assumption can easily be validated by having regular discussions with your team about the context and reality your organization faces, including the “big picture.” You may be surprised to know that they either don’t know as much as you think or need help in understanding the implications for their work. You need to actively engage to help them comprehend how what they do fits into the bigger scheme. Redouble your efforts to communicate as much information as you can. This will enable them to do their jobs now and anticipate future change.
I understand how my direct reports feel about their work. Most bosses only see part of the reality for their people, but rarely the whole unvarnished truth. Sometimes the issues are transient and don’t require your input. Other times, an employee may not want to share the full measure of his/her frustration for fear of being seen as negative. While you may not be in tune with the day-to-day angst, stay connected with your people so that you don’t miss a critical issue that could impact the team’s performance.
My direct reports know when I’m just joking around. Flippant, sarcastic and humorous remarks may seem innocuous to you. Your team may be interpreting these comments very differently – searching for hidden meanings, taking “digs” to heart or otherwise misconstruing your intent. Save yourself the grief and loss of productivity by minimizing your attempts at humor. Instead, state your intended messages very clearly.
My direct reports and I approach a task in the same way. One of the most dangerous assumptions is that your people (must) do their jobs in the same way you would. Even if you recently held a position, you may find that your successor organizes the work differently, uses his/her distinctive skills and draws upon completely unique life experiences. Keep your focus on the results you need and allow people to achieve them in their own best way.
You may think that you are assumption-free. But how many times have you thought, Everyone knows that…. or When I was in your role… or How can she possibly do it that way? Replace those thoughts with communication that clarifies, such as Tell me more about that or Give me an example or Help me understand.
One of the most powerful attributes of any team is its diversity of experience, skill and knowledge. Recognizing that you filter reality through your own lens, take time to first understand what you may take for granted. Then be diligent in seeking to better understand your team by asking open-ended questions and honoring their unique perspectives. When you do that, you enrich your own view of the world and become a more well-rounded leader. Avoiding dangerous assumptions also means a more engaged team, better results and maximum impact. Not a bad set of outcomes, we assume!
Have a question about this topic or want some input from Humanergy? Contact us!
A recent post by Robert Sutton of Stanford University for Harvard Business Review has a provocative title, “Bad is Stronger Than Good: Evidence-Based Advice for Bosses.” The title and some of the introductory paragraphs might give you the impression that you should focus your time on what your people are doing wrong. In fact, the article contains two main takeaways:
1. In spite of making global statements, like “It’s more important to eliminate the negative,” he doesn’t mean eliminating the challenges/weaknesses that people present. He is talking about eliminating the bad apples, people who are toxic forces within the organization. Many leadership experts would agree, including Steve Tobak, who blogged on 7 Toxic Coworkers You Have to Avoid.
2. The research quoted is related to negative experiences, people and information have a deeper impact than positive ones. Since the examples quoted are all based on romantic relationships, the applicability to work is unclear. However, it does seem logical that if bad interactions outnumber good ones, a work relationship would probably be doomed as well.
But what does this blog have to do with the average, hard-working Joe or Josephine at work? If they’re not the chronically negative and annoying types, probably not much.
What more commonly plagues many leaders is not what to do with the obviously bad apples, but how to maximize the potential of average apples with good potential and a few rough spots. While it may be distasteful and require some gumption, eliminating the bad guys is cleaner and easier than cultivating the garden-variety worker to achieve her best. That’s where the real work of leadership begins.
So how do you “polish the everyday apples” so that their innate qualities translate into excellent performance?
Set and enforce high standards. People will respond to the challenge if you establish high standards for integrity and performance. Make it plain which attitudes and behaviors are expected, and which are not to be tolerated. You’re all responsible for this pie, and every single apple has to contribute positively, even you.
Align people’s talents and enthusiasm with the job. People should be given an opportunity to do something at which they can excel. This may mean cobbling a couple of jobs together or customizing a role or project. That might seem like you’re bending too far to suit each person. In actuality, you are doing yourself and the organization a big favor. When your people are putting their abilities to best use, they bring their whole selves to work – their passion, drive and creativity. Major juice for your organizational pie!
Feed what’s working. Yes, you need to weed out any behaviors and attitudes that are detrimental to success. But most of your time should be spent pointing out what’s going well and how it supports the needs of the organization. You might also need to introduce (“seed”) new best practices. For practical tips to keep the right balance, check out our blog on feed, need, seed and weed.
Do your part of the job. It’s pretty simple. It’s about your people and how well you are able to remove barriers to their success. If that bad apple’s getting in the way, deal with it. If someone has a flaw that interferes with performance, support him to either correct it or mitigate its effects. If the flaw is yours, figure out what you need to do to manage your own imperfections.
In the words of the immortal George Jackson, as sung by the Osmond brothers, “One bad apple don’t spoil the whole bunch, girl.” Or guy. Yes, the bad apples need to go. But bad isn’t stronger than good. We need to devote our time to what really works – on what’s right with the rest of the bunch, in order to make a practically perfect pie…or organization.
Have a question or want some input from Humanergy about this topic? Contact us and we’ll get right back to you!
In an era of disillusionment with high-flying, big-talking leaders, maybe it’s time to find new models. Like Fred Rogers of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, a PBS series that was targeted to preschool children. Though Fred Rogers passed away a few years ago, his legacy includes teaching kids (and parents who also watched) some fundamental leadership lessons.
Adjust your approach. Some adults find Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood to be slow and boring. That’s because the show is geared to the way children learn, not the adults sitting next to them on the sofa. Likewise, leaders must adjust their approach to suit the particular needs of the people they’re working with. Some of your team members may need very little direction and few check-ins. Others require more background information and time talking through not only what they’re doing, but how they need to do it. One-size leadership doesn’t fit all.
Don’t ignore difficult topics. Mr. Rogers tackled divorce, cancer, death and other topics that children encounter and adults find challenging to talk about. He dealt with these sensitive topics honestly and gently. If one of your direct reports has an issue, don’t side-step it. Ask open-ended questions and monitor your reaction, both verbal and nonverbal. The goal is that the conversation remains open and respectful. This is the only path to the root of the problem.
Really be with people. Fred Rogers had an uncanny ability to connect with kids, even though he did so through a TV screen. At the beginning of each episode, Mr. Rogers entered the house, took off his jacket and shoes and put on his signature cardigan sweater and slippers. He then sat down, made eye contact and smiled. These were the cues that he was ready to talk and listen. Give your people visible signs that you are fully present. Sit quietly, lean forward and relax. Remember that the most effective leaders are not the loud and flashy ones. They are the people who convey the sense that listening to you is the most important thing they could be doing at that particular moment.
Help people tap what’s within them. Mr. Rogers didn’t just tell kids they were special; he helped them draw from within to learn how to manage their feelings and interact with their world. He understood that rules were far less important than self-control and self-discipline. When teaching new information, Fred always started from a place of strength. He first shared what kids already knew about a topic, and then added new information. Be strength-based in all of your interactions – whether it’s onboarding a new team member, talking about a performance issue or mentoring a person up the career ladder.
Fred Rogers left this world with awards and accolades for his work on behalf of children. Yet he remained grounded in what was truly important, saying, “It’s not the honors and the prizes and the fancy outsides of life which ultimately nourish our souls. It’s the knowing that we can be trusted, that we never have to fear the truth, that the bedrock of our very being is good stuff.” Today, spend some time finding your good stuff and help others do the same.
Don’t know about Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, or want to re-watch your favorites? Go to pbs.org to watch 26 full-length classic episodes.
Have a question or want some input from Humanergy about this topic? Contact us and we’ll get right back to you!