Treat Your Employees Like Volunteers

By Walt Grassl

Walt GrasslSarah needs a special project done as soon as possible. She approaches one of her resourceful employees, Ken, to see if he can do the project for her. Instead of directing Ken to get right on it, she explains to him that she has a problem. She describes the project and then asks if he can help her out.

Ken is a bit surprised by her approach and says, “Sure. But, you’re my boss. It’s not like I can decline.”

Sarah said, “Actually, if you have something more important to do, I want to know about it. Then I can make a decision. Do I make a priority call on your time or do I need to find someone else to do this project?”

Ken said, “I have a project I am working on for George. I should be able to complete your project now and still meet George’s deadline.”

In dire situations, a leader must give orders based on their position— with no push back or discussion. In today’s workplace, it is often not very effective. People resent being told what to do—especially when they receive conflicting direction from multiple leaders.

There are benefits to a leader treating their employees like volunteers. You should treat them as if they can say no or walk away at any time. It encourages feedback. It improves morale. Often times, the feedback provided can prevent wasted time, money, and materials.

Here are some ways to lead your “volunteers”:

Share the Big Picture: Give your people a sense of purpose. Whether they are performing a manufacturing task or a clerical task, it doesn’t matter. If they don’t perform their small task well, the product or the company will suffer. Put the importance of their seemingly unimportant task in perspective.

Communicate: Give clear direction. Create alignment. Encourage respectful push back. Be accessible. Not only have an open door policy, but also walk around. If you show up at someone’s work area and engage them; they may ask you a question. That question had not reached the threshold for them to call or come visit you. Create those opportunities.

Develop: One way to make people enjoy working for you is to encourage them to grow. Remind them of the importance of training themselves. Give them suggestions on things to learn. You can help their development by giving them new “stretch” assignments and responsibilities. Then, be patient and nurturing as they ascend the learning curve. Coach them through any reluctance they have to leave their comfort zone. They will feel better about themselves and be more valuable team members.

Play to Their Strengths: Know your people. Know what they do well. Know what they don’t do well. While you want them to grow, it is your responsibility to know their weaknesses that may be too hard to develop. You have to realize that people are what they are. Honor them by capitalizing on their strengths and not fighting them over their weaknesses.

Show Respect: People want to be respected. Don’t be one of those people who doesn’t make eye contact or acknowledge people when you walk into a room or when you are walking down the halls. And seemingly only when you need a favor, approach them like your long lost best friend. Smile and acknowledge the people you pass in the hall—whether you know them or not. Develop relationships before you need favors.

Acknowledge Experience: There is a saying that everyone is an expert within three feet of their workspace. People who have been doing a task for years or who have been with the organization for years have experience. Realize that and when you approach them on an issue, take time to honor that experience and listen to them. Nothing irritates a seasoned performer more than when a new leader comes in and wants to share their book learning and tell them what to do. Listen with the intent to understand first, and then discuss the best way to solve the problem. You will come up with better quality solutions and have a team that respects you.

Give Thanks: Be grateful for the big things and the little things. Always remember to say please when asking someone to do something and thank you when someone does something for you. So often, this doesn’t happen and the leaders are unaware of the effect. Also, seek out opportunities to catch people doing something right. People want to be appreciated. Go out of your way to show them.

Ken was able to complete Sarah’s special project on time as well as meet George’s deadline. He felt good about how he was approached and was allowed to be in a position to succeed on both tasks.

He also had a new appreciation for what it takes to be a good leader. He used to think that he could never be a leader because he didn’t like ordering people around. He is re-thinking that position, because he knows you can be leader without acting like a dictator.

Walt Grassl is a speaker, author, and performer. He hosts the radio show, “Stand Up and Speak Up,” on the RockStar Worldwide network. Walt has performed standup comedy at the Hollywood Improv and the Flamingo in Las Vegas and is studying improv at the Groundlings School in Hollywood. For more information on bringing Walt Grassl to your next event, please visit

The Power of a Compliment

Telling others that you appreciate them can make a huge difference

By Peter DeHaan
Author Peter DeHaan

In the years between high school graduation and my first real job, I took on a variety of part-time work while being a full-time student. During one such vocational transition, the placement advisor at school knew of an immediate opening for an audio engineer at a TV station. I arrived to find out it would be a group interview, not a group of people interviewing me, but rather one person simultaneously interviewing three candidates.

Stan was an odd-looking guy, with clothes and a hairstyle emanating from the previous decade. Despite the powerful magnification of his Coke-bottle glasses, he still squinted at everything. Stan led us candidates to an open room and the interview quickly fell into an awkward pattern. Stan would ask a question and we would respond in order, with me going last. With my classmates embellishing many of their answers, I struggled to honestly present myself as the desirable candidate.

After a while, the classmate who went first blurted out, “I have a Third Class FCC License.” “This position doesn’t require an FCC License,” Stan responded. “I have a Second Class FCC License,” the second one boasted.

Then all eyes turned to me. Should I let them know that my credential was even better, although equally irrelevant? Or would my silence communicate another deficiency in this game I was losing? Opting to avoid further silence, I informed the group that I had a First Class FCC License.

Of course, this meant nothing as far as the job was concerned. Everyone was uncomfortable with this exchange but as the last one to speak, I felt it more acutely. Seeking to defuse the tension, I changed the subject. “When do you want us to start?”

“As soon as possible,” Stan replied.

“I can start in two weeks,” volunteered contestant number one.

“I can start in three days,” bested contestant number two.

“I can start tomorrow,” I asserted confidently.

“Okay,” Stan replied, “be at the station at 6:30 tomorrow morning.” I was hired!

The first day I watched Stan work and did a lot of listening. As he explained it, the job seemed simple. There was lots of idle time, four live broadcasts and on some days production work in between. However, he was more interested in regaling his glory days as a radio DJ than in training me. It turned out that Stan was also a silent partner in an out-of-town enterprise; his presence was urgently required to protect his investment. As soon as my two weeks of training were completed, Stan would be gone.

On my second day, Stan let me touch the control panel, and I did the first live segment. It was a 30-second weather report. I turned on the mike when the weatherman was cued and turned it off when he was done. There was a mike check beforehand and I monitored the level as he spoke. I did the second live broadcast, too, a one-minute news segment. Stan did the third segment: news and weather – two mikes!

The half hour noon show, however, was overwhelming. There were a half a dozen mikes to activate, monitor, and kill, recordings for musical bridges, an array of possible audio sources, and a live announcer, plus an abrupt change in plans if a segment ran long or there was time to fill.

On the third day, Stan called in to tell me he would be late. He reviewed expectations of the first two segments, and I did them solo. He called later, before the third, and we talked it through; he promised to be in before the noon show. I did the third segment by myself.

Stan called to say he had been watching, and I had done fine. Could I do the noon show by myself? “No!” I asserted. “Okay, he assured, “I will come in, but let’s talk through it just in case.” I never saw Stan again; my “training” was over.

With sweaty palms and a knotted gut, I muddled my way through the noon show, knowing that thousands would hear any miscue. By the time the show ended, I was physically exhausted; my head ached.

This pattern repeated itself before each noon show for the next several months. If only I had received more training to boost my confidence.

On-the-job training was fine for production work. Time was not an issue and retakes were common, expected, and accepted. If I lacked training in some area, the director instructed me.

The live shows were a different story. It was tense and nerve-racking; they expected perfection and didn’t tolerate errors. This produced an incredible amount of pressure and anxiety.

This stress was partly due to my lack of training, but more importantly a result of the directors; I worked with three. My favorite was nice and kind; he remembered what it was like to do my job and was empathic. Unfortunately, I seldom worked with him.

The second director was aloof and focused only on the broadcast, not caring what he said or how he treated others. Fortunately, I didn’t work with him too much.

Most of my interaction was with a third director. During live broadcasts, he became verbally volatile and abusive. He yelled – a lot. When he was mad, he yelled louder – all laced with expletives. Management via intimidation was his style. My goal was to get through the noon show without a verbal tongue-lashing; usually I was unsuccessful. Of course, this made me even tenser.

Although most of the work was fine, my angst from this half hour each day caused me to despise my job. Thankfully, my remaining time was short, as graduation neared. I grabbed the first job offer and gave my two-week notice.

Ironically, the day after I submitted my resignation, the volatile director asked, “You should be getting some vacation, soon, shouldn’t you?”

“I haven’t put in enough time, yet,” I replied. “Besides, I just gave my two-weeks’ notice.”

“What!” He slammed some papers on the table with a curse. “I can’t believe it.” His face turned red. “We finally get someone good, and they don’t pay him enough to stay.”

I was dumbfounded. “Good?” I questioned. “I’m not good.”

“You’re the best audio engineer we’ve had in years.”

“What about Stan?” I asked.

“Stan was an idiot. He was always making mistakes. We couldn’t get through a broadcast without him screwing it up. You did better your first week than he ever did.”

“But, I make mistakes every day.”

“Your mistakes are trivial,” he disclosed. “Few viewers ever notice.” As he picked up his papers and left the room, I contemplated what he had said. I am good!

Not surprisingly, I had a new attitude during the noon show that day. My nervousness dissipated, I made no “mistakes,” no one yelled at me, and most significantly, I enjoyed it. My job was fun.

On my second to the last day there, I met the weekend audio engineer. She was thinking about taking over my shift. She wanted to see what was involved in the noon show. Unfortunately, that day the show was one of the most difficult I had encountered. There was a live band, with each person and instrument separately miked, plus there were a few unusual twists. I would need every piece of gear in the room and use the entire audio console. Although it was stressful, it was a good stress, because I was a good audio engineer. I performed my part without error, earning a rare compliment from my critical director. At the end of the show, I leaned back with the knowledge of a job well done.

My protégé shook her head. “I could never do that,” she sighed and left the room.

My last two weeks at the TV station were most enjoyable. As such, it is with fondness that I recall my time there. How might things have been even better if someone had told me sooner that I was doing a good job?

Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Visit to receive his newsletter, read his blog, or connect on social media.

Six Myths of Employee Engagement

By Magi Graziano

Magi GrazianoWith today’s global ability to produce carbon copy technology and business models, people truly are a company’s only competitive advantage. Businesses that want to accentuate and optimize their competitive talent advantage focus on employee engagement strategies that improve overall workforce productivity and return on staffing investments.

A major disruption to employee engagement is the adverse impact of the unhappiness epidemic across many companies.

When employees are disengaged or disenfranchised with their work situation, performance plateaus or greatly diminishes. When there is awareness about what causes unhappiness at work, a company can do something about it.

Studies have shown that the drivers of employee engagement have everything to do with how an employee feels about work and feels at work. It begins with the employee feeling connected and invested in the company mission and direction, and continues with the employee having trust in the company’s leadership.

The first step in creating and inspiring engagement in the workforce is to debunk the pervasive and misleading myths about employee engagement.

There are six myths disrupting companies’ ability to keep people engaged.

1) A Flexible Work Environment Fosters Productivity: While remote work opportunities reduce the carbon footprint and avert hours wasted in traffic, more often than not companies do a poor job of looping remote workers into the day-to-day activities of the business. Unfortunately, a very typically adverse impact of remote work for the employee is out of sight, out of mind. Research shows that remote workers and workers with flex time schedules receive less coaching and mentoring and miss out on the institutional knowledge-sharing and socialization that happens in the typical course of a shared workspace.

2) Strong Paychecks Equal Strong Loyalty: Not all people are primarily motivated by money, and more often than not, fair and sustainable pay is not a motivator—it is a table stake. For years, company leaders have approached solving the employee retention problem through monetary rewards and incentives. While this economic motivator works for 20% of the population, most organizations are finding that employee spiffs and salary increases alone are insufficient in reversing the turnover trend.

For 80% of the working population the money is not a lever that leads to engagement and buy in. 40% of people want workplace rewards in terms of more educational opportunities, rewarding and challenging projects, and a sense that they can further their knowledge and career path as a result of working with a specific company or in a certain role. The other 40% of workers want to feel emotionally connected to the mission and service of the organization and to the customers they serve. Increasing their customer-facing opportunities is much more rewarding than a few extra bucks in their paycheck or a receiving a gift card for coffee.

If money is the only mechanism to get people to stay, it leads people using money to create to bidding wars between current and future employers.

3) Employee Independence is Necessary for Performance: One pervasive myth is that all employees need autonomy and independence, and the more hands-off that management is the better the employee will perform.

The reality is that autonomy and independence are not values that everyone shares. To one employee, being left alone can be a true benefit and they may thrive when left up to their own devices. To others it is a recipe for feeling disconnected, isolated, and ignored.

4) A Job is Just a Job: Today’s worker and human beings in general are much more evolved and present to work life fulfillment than ever before. Employees today fundamentally want and need so much more than a job for a paycheck. A striking majority of workers have said they want purpose and meaning in the work they do, and that they feel happier at work when they know that what they do matters to the success of the organization.

5) Employees Should be Satisfied with Their Current Position: High-performing people need to see a pathway for themselves in the role they own and in the company they work in. Engagement research shows that when people see a pathway for their growth and development they provide a higher-level of consistent results for the team. When employees feel that a company is invested in their growth, they are more committed to their role and more connected to how they impact the success of the company.

6) Your Company is Enough to Keep the Employee: The sixth myth is that people go to work for a company and their loyalty to the company and brand is enough to keep them engaged and retained. What has become painfully apparent over the last decade is that people don’t leave companies—they leave managers. When a good employee does not have a strong relationship with their manager, no incentive or brand loyalty will keep the employee fully engaged. People need to feel appreciated, respected, acknowledged and important; when their direct manager does not provide meaningful assignments, regular feedback and mentoring, engagement is thwarted.

While all of these perceived solutions are good ideas as components of an effective employee engagement program, alone they are insufficient means to drive employee connection and engagement. When carrots like money, time off, autonomy and career path are not coupled with alignment, good people management, and ‘match fit’ those incentives wind up costing companies millions and derive little to no benefit in the long run.

A well thought out, conscious employee engagement program considers who people are as individuals, and allows for customization in the approach to assigning work and giving feedback. Individualization is a 21st century shift from the one size-fits-all management of the 80’s. A main component of a well-built employee engagement program includes highly competent management team who embraces coaching and mentoring their people.

When a manager takes the time to offer professional development opportunities, communicate how the employee’s role contributes to the overall organizations success and rewards for great performance, employees feel valued and appreciated and engagement soars.

Magi Graziano, as seen on NBC, is the CEO of Conscious Hiring® and Development, a speaker, employee recruitment and engagement expert and author of The Wealth of Talent. Through her expansive knowledge and captivating presentations, Magi provides her customers with actionable, practical ideas to maximize their effectiveness and ability to create high-performing teams. With more than 20 years’ experience as a top producer in the Recruitment and Search industry, she empowers and enables leaders to bring transformational thinking to the day-to-day operation. For more information on Magi please visit

Why Your Employees Aren’t Performing

What You Can Do When Staff Fails to Meet Your Expectations

By Kate Zabriskie

Kate ZabriskieI can’t believe we spent a huge amount on customer-service training, and our staff still doesn’t consistently give great service. What a waste!

We sent out a memo explaining the summer dress code. I thought it was clear, but the intern showed up dressed for a night at the club. In addition to having bad fashion sense, she seems to have problems with reading comprehension.

He does the minimum, and that’s it. Why he doesn’t take more pride in his work and our business, I’ll never know. It’s extremely difficult to have him on my team. The guy’s a real energy drain.

Sound familiar? Probably. At any given moment, there are legions of employees busy “working” but not doing the work their managers expect them to do or, worse yet, doing their work in ways that hurt morale, productivity and the bottom line.

Perhaps a few of those frustrating employees have a professional death wish—but most don’t. In all likelihood, they are as frustrated by their performance as you are. The onus is on you, the manager, to identify and implement the fix.

For starters, you must come to terms with the five core reasons some members of your team aren’t performing to your standard.

Reason One: They can’t. If you expect people to do something they can’t do, don’t be surprised when they fail. For example, if the receptionist is supposed to greet guests, answer the phone, order office supplies, clean the kitchen, and cure infectious diseases all by himself, is there any wonder he can’t get it done?

The Fix: Take a hard look at what you ask your team members to do. If some of them are not meeting your expectations, be sure that those expectations are realistic and reasonable. Truth to tell, assigning tasks to people who, for whatever reason, can’t complete them to your standard, means you’ve brought your situation upon yourself. Quit beating yourself up: change the person you task or change the tasks.

Reason Two: They don’t know how. All too often people are thrown into a job with little or no training. They learn on the job, bring what they knew from their last job, or teach themselves if you are lucky. In other words, they wing it—and most of the time it shows. If you are holding people accountable for performing tasks for which they’ve had no training, you’re going to frustrate the employees and hurt morale. It’s as simple as that.

The Fix: Train people on systems, processes, and desired behaviors, and do it often. Good organizations teach forward as well as learn from their mistakes. Spend some time thinking about what needs to be completed in a certain way. For example, if everyone is supposed to answer the phone, “Good morning, Fitzsimmons and Patrick, this is __________. How may I help you? Then you’d better tell them—script them if necessary—show them how to do it with a smile, and do it yourself when you answer the phone.

Reason Three: They don’t know they are not doing it. People are not telepathic. When you fail to make clear your expectations in terms of both quality and quantity of work, and when you fail either to correct substandard performance or praise good performance, you have no cause to complain. Setting clear expectations and providing regular feedback matters.

The Fix: If an employee’s unsatisfactory performance is chronic in spite of training, managerial direction, and on-the-spot correction or praise, it is time to schedule a one-on-one meeting to review goals and expectations. Employees should know where they stand within an organization. A failure to tell people whose sustained job performance is unsatisfactory is cruel, and a failure to document the meeting is derelict. Your direct reports and your organization deserve better.

Reason Four: They don’t think it’s important. Sometimes people know the rules, and they ignore them because they don’t think the rules are that essential. How could someone reach that conclusion? It’s easier than you think. If managers don’t model desired behaviors, reward people for demonstrating those actions, and coach their team members to preclude deficiencies, they’re sending the wrong messages. Park in a spot reserved for visitors a couple of times. How long do you think it will take others in your purview to start doing the same thing?

The Fix: Walk the talk. It’s as simple as that. Hold yourself accountable first. Next recognize and reward what you want to see and address any shortcomings on the spot. Of course, this doesn’t mean becoming a patronizing zealot and thanking people for doing things they should be doing such as wearing clothing to work. Rather, it means having standards and sticking to them. If you’ve talked to the intern about observing the dress code and the next day she shows up looking terrific, acknowledge her effort.

Reason Five: They don’t want to. On rare occasions you may encounter someone who is capable, trained, and operating in a learning environment but who still fails to meet expectations despite repeated coaching and counseling.

The Fix: Document, document, document, and keep that poison apple away from the others in the barrel. There are times when people are simply not a good fit for a job, and you need either to move them somewhere else in the organization or out of the organization altogether. Be kind, firm, and quick to act. The better your documentation, the easier the process will proceed.

Nobody ever said managing people was easy. It’s not. It requires time, thoughtful planning, hard work, and moral courage; in short, it requires leadership. That said the payoffs can be huge for the employee, the organization, and for you.

Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works, Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm. She and her team help businesses establish customer service strategies and train their people to live up to what’s promised. For more information, visit

Boost Your Team’s Performance by ‘People Planning’

Gregory LayBy Gregory Lay

When ‘getting ahead’ on your job means finding ways to strengthen team performance, having a strategy to find ideas to do so is gold.

That was the discussion when Judy met Dan for coffee recently. They’d attended school together and taken jobs in different towns. Nearly three years into their careers, this was their first chance to compare notes. The conversation soon focused on where they were with their respective companies and what it takes to be ‘on the fast track.’

“I’m happy,” Judy admitted. “Just got my third promotion and I’m supervising four people.”

“That’s great,” Dan smiled. Then his voice dropped as he added, “I feel stuck. I’ve applied for several promotions and they tell me I was a finalist each time but didn’t get the job. I volunteer for special projects and try to make creative suggestions – but twice when I’ve been given the go-ahead on a suggestion to management, I got no cooperation and the idea flopped!”

“I see how that would be frustrating. I remember you got all-A’s in Business Planning courses, but maybe you need more People Planning!”

“People Planning, what do you mean?”

Judy continued, “You saw how to ‘fix’ processes and convinced management on your ideas, but you didn’t start with the people actually doing those jobs. Do you think they felt undervalued when you went straight upstairs without asking for their input?”

“Oops. I get it,” conceded Dan,” I didn’t sell the idea to front line people, I took it to the person who doesn’t do the real work.”

“Light bulb! You’re getting there. Ideas are great, but real brilliance is giving ownership of an idea to people who can actually make it work. When the whole team participates in creating a concept, they make sure it succeeds!”

Judy went on to outline several ways of people planning to get buy-in from the people who would implement Dan’s proposals. They are:

  • Find patterns: Correcting mistakes as they’re spotted is a typical tactic, but too often where a single correction seems helpful in the moment; it doesn’t contribute to long-term improvement. Identifying repeated behavior and habits to improve is the key to lasting progress.
  • Observe entire team: Watch group processes and results. Mistaking one person’s actions for a group pattern often leads to false conclusions. Individual performance is the responsibility of each direct supervisor and commenting about on individuals will make you look like a busybody instead of an effectiveness advocate. Remember that documenting people outside of your authority can create an unfriendly work environment for which you could be reprimanded!
  • Focus on positives: When there are positives and negatives, start with the positives and do it in ‘broadcast’ mode, making sure others hear how well their colleague is doing, especially those in authority. People listen better when hearing about what they’re doing right than when being told what’s wrong! Emphasize their triumphs, and then ask how they’d expand on that success so that they find the negatives instead of having them pointed out.
  • Credit those doing the work: Sometimes it takes patience to keep asking questions until others ‘get’ the idea that you’ve been trying to offer. It’s worth the effort to keep trying to hand-off your ideas, because when a team feels like a change is their idea, they make sure it works! Working from the inside, they find even more ways to improve the process. And you’re known as a helpful friend, instead of a critical busybody.

A few days later, Dan found a nice note from Judy in his email, reinforcing his notes from their meeting and adding a few more reminders:

  • No fault: Formulate questions that are curious, not judgmental. When people feel blamed, they become defensive just when the situation calls for creativity and cooperation. The person most likely to be blamed is exactly the person in the best position to suggest and implement a solution.
  • Watch without expectation: An open mind won’t let conclusions arrive before observations. You wouldn’t be observing if you didn’t think there was a solution to be found, but your previously held conception may be exactly what blinds you to new ideas and the opportunity to encourage the person who can make that idea work.
  • Use colors for tracking: It takes practice to start to recognize patterns. Marking events on a calendar using different colors helps quantify areas of behavior and potential solutions. Be conscious of marking team, not individual observations.
  • Review notes often and quickly: New ideas come from new ways of seeing, not from seeing the same thing over and over. Spending more than five minutes reviewing a week’s notes is probably wasteful. You’re not writing a book report, you’re just looking for ideas for discussion with other problem-solvers.

Dan quickly responded to Judy’s email. “These are very helpful. I started over on a project I’d given up on, and am getting some good responses by focusing on what they’re doing right!”

Gregory Lay provides information for people who want to improve their job without necessarily changing employment. He’s an experienced employee, manager, journalist, trainer, speaker, and certified speaking coach with a training specialty in organizational understanding. To read the complimentary website he edits, go to