Tag Archives: management

Mind Reading for Managers: How to Fully Engage Staff in 5 Easy Conversations

Kim Seeling SmithBy Kim Seeling Smith

Did you know that only a fraction of your staff bring their ‘A Game’ to work every day? According to companies like Aon Hewitt and the Gallup Organization, this number is about one in five. The rest? At best, they are bringing their B or C games to work—at worst, their main goal is to keep from getting fired.

This is the employee engagement crisis we now find ourselves in.

Countless companies dedicate a sizeable chunk of their annual budgets to solving their employee engagement issues, when in reality most engagement issues (as well as performance and behavioral problems) can be solved through conversation, five conversations to be precise.

But most managers don’t talk to their staff frequently enough, don’t know how to talk to them or what to talk about! Managers are unaware as to how to plug into their employees’ minds and figure out what they really want, and what they need to be fully engaged—and productive.

There are no psychic forces at work: getting into the minds of your employees to glean the information needed to increase not only engagement, but productivity in your workforce can be as simple as conducting the following five FOCUSed conversations.

Conversation 1: Feedback

There are two types of feedback that fall under this conversation. First, give praise where praise is due. Studies have shown that a vast majority of employees do not feel appreciated enough for the job they do. Praise, it seems, is a scarce commodity in the workplace. So if your staff is doing a good job, be sure to let them know.

Conversely, one of the key factors in employee engagement is the ability to have your say. Be receptive to your staffs’ feedback. Who knows, they may just come up with a brilliant idea that makes a huge difference for the team or company.

Conversation 2: Objectives

Most performance issues stem from a disconnect between, what the manager perceives as meeting objectives and, what the staff member perceives as meeting them. To drastically reduce performance issues, managers must both clearly define and articulate expectations. Yet few do.

Your employees need to know what they must do to be successful in their jobs, and how that success will be measured. And you need to have a clearly defined yardstick by which to objectively measure performance. Aligning their expectations with yours will result in less frustration and anxiety—on both your parts.

Conversation 3: Career Development

Many studies list career development within the top 3 factors that employees gauge to determine whether to stay with their current employer or look for another job. Yet, many managers avoid this topic like the plague for 1 of 3 reasons:

  • They don’t understand how to manage their own careers
  • They are afraid that if they help their staff manage their career better they will surpass them on the corporate ladder
  • They are afraid to talk about career development because they don’t feel they can meet the employee’s expectations. This is especially true in smaller companies or niche functions where there is not a lot of vertical career opportunity available.

Helping staff manage their careers makes good business sense. Ensuring that they understand what opportunities exist within your company (something they may not recognize without your help) will inhibit them looking outside of it.

Find out what your employees’ priorities are and have open, honest conversations around how your company can help them achieve them—even with any constraints you may have. Suggest and recommend internal opportunities to learn, grow and develop and they will at least delay—if not avoid—looking for external ones.

Conversation 4: Underlying Motivators

The Underlying Motivators conversation helps to uncover those intrinsic factors—Currencies of Choice— that science has shown to be much more highly motivating than extrinsic ones such as pay and benefits. By tapping into each individual’s Currencies of Choice you will help uncover what they need to ‘go the extra mile’. Conversely, once they do, they need to be recognized appropriately for it. The old adage, “Praise in public, correct in private” is only half true. Many people don’t respond well to public recognition.

Identify the drivers of each individual staff member to unlock productivity and unleash potential. Then recognize them appropriately when they do go that extra mile.

Conversation 5: Strengths

According to The Gallup Organization, teams whose members play to their strengths most of the time are:

  • 50% more likely to have low employee turnover
  • 38% more likely to be highly productive
  • 44% more likely to earn high customer satisfaction scores

Strengths can be defined as the innate abilities or behavioral patterns that are neurologically hard-wired into our brains between the ages of 3 and 15. The context of the behavior will change over time, but the patterns remain the same. So those children who share their toys in the sand box at the age of 5 may very well become 15 year olds who volunteer at the local charity. And 20 years on they may become the 35 year olds who are the most collaborative in the workplace.

Strength-identification also requires a very minor time commitment: as little as two-hours per week can make a world of difference.

If you can help your staff determine behaviors that come naturally to them you will find that their stress is decreased, they become more engaged—and of course more productive.

There is no reason to spend mass-amounts of time and money on ‘engagement’ programs when all it takes is tapping into the minds of your personnel. By first hiring the right staff and then employing the five FOCUSed conversations, managers will significantly increase overall employee engagement.

Communicate with your staff frequently, effectively, and about the things that really matter to them.

Kim Seeling Smith is an international human resources expert and author of the newly released book, Mind Reading for Managers: 5 FOCUSed Conversations for Greater Employee Engagement and Productivity. With her expansive knowledge of human capital practices in today’s market, Kim helps companies build healthy work environments and increase employee engagement and productivity in our digitally connected, globally oriented world. For more information on Kim Seeling Smith, please visit http://igniteglobal.com.

Identify Your Employees by the Theory of 21

Chuck ReavesBy Chuck Reaves

“For every person who will say yes, there are twenty who will say no. For a positive response you must find the twenty-first person.” – The Theory of 21

The CEO of an electronics company had an idea. He was a solid business person but was not as well-versed in electronics as some of his engineers. He came up with an idea and did not know if it was feasible. He asked two engineers to explore how it could be done so he could test the feasibility of the idea becoming a new product line.

One engineer made an appointment, and delivered a formal presentation to the CEO explaining why the idea would not work. He had color charts and graphs and even some data that suggested no one would want the product even if it were to make it to market.

When he finished, the CEO told him that the other engineer was in the process of implementing the idea. Instead of developing a knock-your-socks-off presentation explaining why the idea was a bad one, the other engineer had waded through the obstacles to find a way to make it happen.

The idea, by the way, was caller ID – that now-ubiquitous service on most phones.

There are two types of people in the world: the “20’s” and the “21’s”. The 20’s are those people who consistently declare that anything new cannot, should not or will not be done. The 21’s are those people who look for ways of making things happen – even those things considered to be impossible by others.

There are two types of 20’s: Negative 20’s and Positive 20’s.

Negative 20’s are easy to spot and you already know who most of them are in your organization and in your life. You know that if you bring a new idea to them they will shoot it down. Immediately and out of habit, they will let you know in no uncertain terms that it cannot be done, should not be done or will not be done. If you press them, they will give you valid-sounding reasons why their position is justified. They give away their position with statements like:

  • We have never done it that way before
  • It has never been done
  • We are already doing that
  • Nobody will like it
  • The boss will never approve it

By now you have learned who these people are and what a waste of time it can be to engage them. In fact, when you want to get something done quickly and done well, you tend to give it to someone who is already busy, a 21.

Described above is the Negative 20, the people who come right out and tell you that it cannot be done. More difficult to recognize is the Positive 20 because they can sound like a 21.

These slippery critters can delay a project until it is no longer viable. They can dilute an idea until it has little resemblance to the original concept. They are dangerous.

The Positive 20 may say something like, “That’s a great idea and something we need to do someday,” or “We could do that if …..” “It will be easier for us to do that when…”

The 21’s are the people you know who somehow always seem to find a way to make things happen. Rather than offer excuses, they may offer alternatives. Instead of saying they do not have time to do whatever you are asking them to do, they will ask, “What is your timeframe?”

To differentiate between the Positive 20’s and the 21’s, listen for delays, “buts” and “ifs”.

How do 20’s find their way into otherwise successful organizations? First of all, there are more of them than are 21’s. In fact, there are not enough 21’s in the world so, eventually, despite your best efforts, you will find a 20, probably a Positive 20, somewhere in the organization. If they are in a position to influence a hiring decision, they will attract other 20’s. After all, 20’s don’t like having 21’s around.

So, what do you do with the 20’s in your organization?

Teach – The single, most important function of leadership is to teach. You have achieved your level of success because someone took the time to teach you. As you teach, you will ascertain whether you have a student or not.

Exemplify – Praise the 21’s in public. When your employees know that you appreciate, admire and respect the efforts of the 21’s, more of them will aspire to be 21’s.

Remind – There are no extraordinary people. There are only ordinary people who are doing things that other people consider to be extraordinary. Everyone on your team was brought onboard because they have a skill set, ability or something else that could make them extraordinary.

Henry Ford and Thomas Edison were friends and mentors. Ford was in Edison’s facility when one of his engineers reported that one of Edison’s ideas could not be done. Edison listened patiently and then said, “Build it anyway.”

Later, one of Ford’s engineers would come into his office and explain why a “shiftless” (automatic) transmission was impossible to manufacture. How did Ford respond? “Build it anyway.”

Two lines from the movie, “Apollo 13” are applicable for every business.

“Houston, we have a problem.” Sooner or later every organization faces a seemingly insurmountable problem. How do you address it?

“Failure is not an option.” For 21’s, this is a lifestyle.

Chuck Reaves, CSP, CPAE, CSO helps companies raise their prices and volumes simultaneously through innovative processes, tools and training. With his innovative presentations on sales and motivation he has inspired hundreds of people to pursue and achieve their impossible dreams. Along with pioneering many advanced sales tools and processes, Chuck’s achievements include Vistage’s ‘Impact Speaker of the Year’ honors and being named the top salesperson for AT&T. For more information about Chuck Reaves please visit www.chuckreaves.com.

Three Questions to Ask After a Disaster

By Lucien CantonLucien Canton

Just surviving a disaster or rapidly resuming operations is not always sufficient to guarantee the future of a company. Physical damage is often the easiest problem to deal with following a disaster. But quick repairs alone do not equate to business survival if you cannot produce goods and services or there is no one to buy them. Once the immediate crisis is passed, it is essential to have a business recovery strategy.

A prime example of this is the experience of the Sheraton Hotel following the terrorist attacks in New York City on September 11. The hotel had not been damaged in the attack and initially enjoyed several days of sustained bookings from stranded travelers and rooms provided to rescue workers. But it soon became apparent that the attacks had dealt a heavy blow to the tourist industry. Room cancellations soared and the outlook for the future was bleak. The Sheraton needed a new strategy if it was to survive.

That strategy took the form of a partnership with Lehman Brothers, the global financial firm. Lehman’s offices were located in World Trade Center Three and had been severely damaged in the attack. The firm was desperately seeking an operating location for its 6,500 employees. Owing to a pre-existing relationship and aggressive marketing by the Sheraton staff, within a few days Lehman Brothers contracted to use all 665 rooms of the hotel, its lounges and restaurant as office space. This relationship continued for several months until Lehman Brothers was able to purchase and renovate a new building and insured the survival of the Sheraton Manhattan hotel.

Developing a recovery strategy requires an understanding of the impact of the crisis. This impact is not limited to physical loss; disasters produce ripple effects that can have a long-range impact on the survivability of a company. There are three basic questions that must be asked when developing a business recovery strategy:

  1. What is the impact on your labor pool? For most companies, their ultimate competitive advantage lies in its employees. Employees are the repositories of intellectual capital and represent a significant investment in training. However, disasters can have a disproportionate impact on hourly employees. Damage to housing stock may encourage employees to relocate to other areas or seek higher-paying jobs to meet unanticipated expenses. Disasters also create new opportunities such as high-paying construction jobs. One need look no further than the mass-evacuation of the city of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina for an example of the effect of disasters on local labor pools.
  2. What is the impact on your supply chain? Disasters frequently create spot shortages of goods and services, particularly those related to reconstruction. They can also generate significant transportation infrastructure damage that can affect the delivery of goods. Large numbers of manufacturers go out of business following disasters either through destruction of their facilities or their inability to resume normal business operations. All of this suggests that the resources needed to continue business may not be readily available or may be spoken for by competitors. In the classic supply chain study of microchip shortages following a clean room fire, Nokia was able to secure all future production runs of the microchips in question and dealt a devastating blow to its competitor, Erickson.
  3. What is the impact on your customer base? Disasters can frequently lead to demographic shifts that can alter your customer base. Demand for products and services can increase, decrease or be unaffected depending on the nature of these changes. Disaster may actually offer an opportunity for increased sales in some sectors. However, these changes can be temporary or permanent, so increasing capacity may be a risk. Following the Northridge earthquake in California, many of the existing population of middle-class, retired aerospace workers chose to relocate to other states. They were replaced by an influx of largely Hispanic immigrants. This demographic shift resulted in changed demand for products and services such as grocery items, clothing, and restaurants.

These same three questions can, of course, be asked in the immediate aftermath of a disaster and can certainly help guide response activities. However, just considering immediate impacts can blind you to future problems. The long-term effects of a disaster can initially be very subtle and not manifest themselves for a considerable time. It is critical, therefore, to consider the potential impacts of a disaster on employees, suppliers, and customers over an extended period.

Strategy is not static. Asking these three questions once is not sufficient. Disasters are complex and so are their effects. A good strategy needs to be reassessed periodically by asking the same questions again and again.

Many businesses have recovered from disaster by developing a recovery strategy based on the effects of the disaster. The story of the Sheraton Hotel is not unique and there are many stories just like it. Let yours be one of them by asking the three critical recovery questions.

Lucien G. Canton, CEM is a consultant specializing in preparing managers to lead better in crisis by understanding the human factors often overlooked in crisis planning. A popular speaker and lecturer, he is the author of the best-selling Emergency Management: Concepts and Strategies for Effective Programs. For more information, please visit www.luciencanton.com, or email Info@luciencanton.com.

Five Tips for Successful Delegation

By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

Many years ago, as a first-time manager, I was green with much to learn. Management looked easy from the outside. I assured myself that, when given the opportunity to lead, I’d never make the same blunders I witnessed.

Yes, I would direct my future staff with enlightenment, never forgetting the negative examples I witnessed over the years. Quite simply, I pledged to do a better job as a manager. It was a commendable yet lofty goal; one I found much easier to say than do.

One day I walked down the hall with my boss, a man I respected, yet feared; loved, but occasionally detested. Publicly I defended him, yet privately his inexplicable demands and thoughtless pronouncements confounded me. He was the source of countless frustrations while offering little praise or encouragement. He had just given me yet one more assignment, a task I didn’t have time for.

I protested, insisting I already had too much on my plate. “Don’t worry,” he said. “Just delegate it.” I mentally reviewed the capabilities of my charges. Although a group of able young technologists, none were ready for a project of this magnitude or to meet my boss’s high standards.

“But there is no one I can delegate it to.”

“Do you want to know the secret of delegation?” There was a twinkle in his eye.

I moved closer, expecting the secret of managerial nirvana. I nodded.

“It’s simple. Just look for your busiest guy and give the project to him!”

I was dumbfounded at his “insight.” I said nothing, and he continued.

“You see, the busiest guy is the guy who gets things done; that’s always who you want to delegate to.”

Seething, I kept quiet. I flashed a comprehending look, a respectful nod, and a faint smile. His dissemination of knowledge now complete, he strode down the hallway to his next victim, while I ducted into my office and closed the door.

His words angered me on multiple levels. First, I had yet another project to do. Second, his advice was illogical and unfair; delegating to the busiest employee would only serve to make him or her more busy, setting them up to be the leading candidate for the next project. Lastly, I realized that as the busiest of those under his command, I was his “go to guy.”

There had to be a better way. It took a while, some research, and lots of trial and error, but I eventually understood the art of delegating. Delegation is something all managers need to do. Unfortunately it’s often hard. Many who attempt it are unhappy with the results, often accepting sub-par outcomes or giving up. Sadly, successful delegation requires an initial investment of time, often more time than for you to do the work yourself.

If that’s the case, why bother? Quite simply because once you teach your employees how to receive and complete delegated tasks, you can realize a huge savings of time as you empower them, allowing them to grow as individuals and to contribute to your organization’s success. As such, delegation is well worth the extra effort to do it right. A five-step procedure paves the way to successful delegation.

1) Select the Right People: A person who has proven themselves in small things can handle more responsibilities and enjoy greater latitude. However, until they prove their ability to effectively handle assignments, the scope of their tasks must remain small. For example, if they can’t arrive at work on time, is there any reason to assume they can accomplish something more challenging?

To give unproven employees a chance to substantiate themselves, start with small assignments such as sorting mail, stuffing envelopes, making copies, or simply arriving to work on time. Next, they can graduate to processing UPS shipments or placing an office supply order (you select the items and quantities, they call it in).

Each time they successfully complete a delegated assignment, reward them with additional responsibilities; each time they fail to complete a task, confront them. All employees should be trained to handle basic delegated projects. If they can’t, why are you still employing them. Some employees will advance to assignments of medium difficulty, while a few superstars can work independently. Therefore, match the task to the employee.

2) Ensure They Have the Proper Tools and Knowledge to Do the Job: If the work requires a computer, is one available? If it requires a program, do they know how to use it? Consider whether they have the background knowledge to complete the task. It’s easy to oversimplify a project or assume key details are common knowledge. Often, an employee needs instruction or training before they can successfully complete an assignment. Not only must you ensure you’ve given them this information but also to provide it in the ideal format for them. Some people learn best in written form, others need a demonstration, and some need to do it; occasionally a combination is appropriate. Regardless, asking an employee to start a project without the proper resources is setting them up to fail.

3) Give Them a Clear Timetable: Saying a project is “urgent” means different things to different people. Saying “when you have time” is open to misinterpretation. When giving a deadline, you cannot be too specific. Examples include, “I require your written overview on my desk every Monday by 5 p.m.,” or “I need your preliminary work by the end of the day on Thursday, the twelfth.”

4) Hold Them Accountable: Follow-up must be consistent and expected; let them know you’ll check on their progress. Assure them you’re available for questions. If they do unsatisfactory work or miss a deadline, there must be a reaction. This could be merely asking them to explain what happened. Perhaps, despite your best efforts, instructions were incomplete or training was insufficient; then shoulder the blame and correct the oversight. Sometimes, managers need to communicate the ramifications, such as, “Because you did not complete this on time, we lost the client, which will cost us X hundred dollars.” If you correctly follow step one, only in rare cases will disciplinary action be needed.

5) As They Prove Themselves in Small Things, Give Them Bigger Assignments: Now you can begin to phase out of the “accountability” step. Yes, accountability is still required, but it gradually becomes ancillary to delegation, instead of integral.

If you consistently follow these steps, all employees will become better at responding to delegation; some employees will even advance to the point of self-determination, where they take the initiative to do what needs to be done. That is delegation at its finest.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is a published author and commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services.

Employees Come in Three Flavors

Kim Seeling SmithBy Kim Seeling Smith

Mike was the CFO of a large manufacturing company in Texas. He was an outstanding executive and he accepted this position because it suited his strengths to a tee. The company was looking for a very strategic Head of Finance who could work in partnership with the company’s CEO to take market share in existing markets, enter new markets and diversify their product line.

When Mike started his new job he quickly realized that there was a huge problem. The way the department was set up he had to spend all of his time looking at the past instead of working with the CEO to plan the future. He also found himself working 70 – 80 hours per week.

Mike knew this was unsustainable for several reasons. He was not using his talents and would eventually become disengaged and frustrated. He was also not doing what he was hired to do, which would quickly become a source of irritation to the CEO and detrimental to the company as a whole.

Mike assessed the situation and discovered that a few of his employees’ current roles were a substantial waste of talents and individual skillsets and having a negative impact organizationally. So, he reorganized the department and prioritized his time. He decided who his high-potential staff members were—his Critical People—and redesigned their job descriptions to allow them to take on more crucial projects. He found the Squeaky Wheels on the staff and provided essential training, and then determined who needed a bit of motivation or to be moved on.

Mike had identified the “flavors” of his employees.

Like a workplace Neapolitan ice cream, employees typically come in three distinct “flavors”: your Critical People, the Squeaky Wheels and the Fat Middle. Most managers and supervisors either attempt to manage every employee from each of these groups in the same manner. Or worse, they spend the majority of time with their Squeaky Wheels – rewarding bad performance or behavior. Either results in a loss of productivity and engagement, and inevitably, an unfulfilled and unhappy staff – and frustrated and time-poor manager. When you recognize the “flavor” of the individual employee, and prioritize your time accordingly, you position them for the highest potential for success—for themselves and for the company.

Critical People: These can be obvious—the real superstars who consistently under-promise and over-deliver, but they can also be not-so-obvious, those quiet achievers or Steady Eddies. They may never be superstars; in fact, they may be barely above mediocre—but they are consistent and reliable. They may also be those staff members who hold important intellectual property or jobs no one else wants to do. They may have great customer relationships or know a lot about the organization itself. In any case, you don’t want to lose them. You should prioritize your time so that 80% of it is spent dedicated to these people for three main reasons:

  • Allowing them to mentor with and learn from you will help them grow and develop in their own career.
  • If you don’t give them the time and attention they deserve (and may crave), they may not understand how important they actually are, which can lead to frustration, hurt feelings and even a sense that they aren’t appreciated. The number of people who walk into recruiters’ offices looking for a new role because they didn’t feel appreciated by their boss is astonishing—and easily avoided.
  • The third reason was discovered by the Gallup Organization. Their research showed that if managers spent 80% of their time with the top 10 – 20% of their staff they would become even more productive and engaged. As the saying goes, “a rising tide lifts all boats.” If you empower those of your staff who really want to perform they will help you manage the others.

By spending more time with your Critical People, you will increase productivity, manage your time effectively and have more engaged staff and increase retention rates.

The Squeaky Wheels: At the other end of the spectrum you have your Squeaky Wheels. It’s often said that “the squeaky wheel gets the grease,” and perhaps that’s a good thing in a mechanic’s workshop. In a business environment however, it’s a recipe for poor management, high staff turnover and low productivity.

There are a couple of types of Squeaky Wheels: the high-performers who are also high-maintenance, and those who squeak because they present either a performance or a behavior issue. Spending an over-abundance of time with these employees will become problematic, and again, sends the wrong message to staff.

So what about your Squeaky Wheels? Should you just ignore them? Possibly—but in a business setting, a more proactive approach can be beneficial to the collective team. There are three scenarios you can utilize:

  • Hold a formal conversation to set more clear objectives or key performance indicators, and give them the necessary training required to accomplish them and hold them accountable for doing so.
  • Determine their internal motivators, or Currencies of Choice, and use those to inspire them to a higher level of performance or better behavior.
  • Move them on. Let them squeak on someone else’s bus.

The Fat Middle: This “flavor” is comprised of the remaining 60-70% of your workforce. Miraculously, when you devote the majority of time to your Critical People and avoid the urge to grease the Squeaky Wheels, the Fat Middle takes care of itself. The good ones desire to feel the inclusion and attention they see managers giving to the Critical People. They tend to become more engaged and to develop more quickly, especially if the manager empowers the Critical People to help train, mentor and motivate the Fat Middle.

Within six to eight months of managing his team by their individual “flavor,” Mike was back working a reasonable work week and spending his time working with the CEO on strategy—exactly what he was hired to do. As an added benefit, employee retention went up as a result of the staff being deployed properly, working together much more effectively and enjoying their own jobs to a much greater extent. By identifying and classifying the types of his employees, he righted the overall course of the company.

And you can do the same with yours.

Kim Seeling Smith is an international human resources expert and author of the forthcoming book, Mind Reading for Managers: 5 FOCUSed Conversations for Greater Employee Engagement and Productivity. With her expansive knowledge of human capital practices in today’s market, Kim helps companies build healthy work environments and increase employee engagement and productivity in our digitally connected, globally oriented world. For more information on Kim Seeling Smith, please visit http://igniteglobal.com.