Our previous post focused on the important role played by “leadership” when striving to develop a high-performance culture. An important element of the necessary leadership is emotional intelligence (EQ).
As you may well be aware, emotional intelligence or EQ is the phrase used to describe a person’s ability to identify, use, understand, and manage emotions in positive ways. It has been identified as a means to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges, and defuse conflict.
There are several competencies that are sometimes grouped into four major components:
Research shows that organizations led by people with high emotional intelligence tend to have climates in which information sharing, trust, healthy risk-taking, and learning flourish. Conversely, organizations led by people with low levels of EQ create climates rife with fear and anxiety. While fearful employees may produce well in the short term, over the long run quality and productivity suffer.
The same principles hold true for Continuous Improvement (CI) teams. The level of EQ on a process improvement team affects how much information sharing, how much inquiry, and even how creatively the team will exercise.
A low level of EQ on an improvement team causes operational problems. Silo mentality and lack of inquiry and listening create sub-optimal processes and impaired results.
On the other hand, a team that is emotionally in step has more drive, more commitment, and tends to achieve greater things. High EQ leads to better listening, and thus to better learning, to new insights and better solutions as well.
We will look more closely at the concept of emotional intelligence over the next few posts, and will share ways to increase one’s EQ level and also how to leverage higher levels of EQ in our continuous improvement efforts.
Continuing with the theme of developing a high performance culture, another prerequisite to doing so is effective leadership.
This need has clearly been recognized in the marketplace as, according to data shared by Northeastern University, 58% of U.S. companies say their number one strategic priority is closing their current leadership skill gaps. The study also indicated that many more plan to increase their total spending on leadership development initiatives in the next few years— “now treating professional development as an important component of their business strategy.”
Leadership provides the energy for change and the commitment to sustain it. Today’s leaders must continually work to hone and refine a range of skills if they are to engage and lead a cultural shift.
These skills include:
Communication and active listening
Method of sharing optimism, energy and enthusiasm
In addition, creating and working with a select work group is an ideal way to exercise, analyze and improve these leadership skills.
Finally, it’s important to note that, contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to be in a C-level role to be considered a leader. Strong leaders exist—and are highly valued—at every level of business to inspire, engage, and influence their colleagues and stakeholders.
In our previous post we shared reasons why leaders at all levels (as opposed to “just CEO’s or Senior Management”) must step-up to engage their team members during this time of need.
While that post identified important areas of focus based on employee surveys and polls, this post identifies three key managerial best practices that will help leaders improve the effectiveness of their efforts to help and support team members:
Communication is critically important. A recent Harvard Business Review article states, “Communication is often the basis of any healthy relationship, including the one between an employee and his or her manager… consistent communication – whether it occurs in person, over the phone, or electronically – is connected to higher engagement.”
However, Gallup research also indicated that “mere transactions between managers and employees are not enough to maximize engagement. Employees value communication from their manager not just about their roles and responsibilities but also about what happens in their lives outside of work.”
This perspective aligns well with the data shared in our previous post
Effective performance management is also important, but it must go beyond the “annual review.” Given the significant and rapid changes we are all experiencing in day-to-day protocols, many people do not clearly understand their goals or what is expected of them. They may feel conflicted about their duties and disconnected from the bigger picture.
Consequently, managers must more frequently discuss and possibly redefine mission, priorities, achievement and expectations.
Focus on people’s strengths. Given the above-referenced changes in protocols, this might involve some reassigning of responsibilities – especially for those who are struggling to maintain productivity while working remotely.
Gallup researchers have discovered that building employees’ strengths is a far more effective approach than a fixation on weaknesses. In the current study, a vast majority (67%) of employees who strongly agree that their manager focuses on their strengths or positive characteristics are engaged, compared with just 31% of the employees who indicate strongly that their manager focuses on their weaknesses.
An English proverb says, “Cometh the hour, cometh the man.” It’s the idea that the right leaders will emerge or step up during times of crisis.
In numerous posts we have shared data substantiating the fact that the greatest work-related impact comes from our direct supervisor. So, it’s not just CEO’s or top management, but rather leaders at all levels that must step-up to help people during this time of need.
A March 23rd Gallup article reinforced this point. “The supervisor or manager is the key conduit…” the article stated. “Only the direct manager can know each employee’s situation, keep them informed, and adjust expectations, coaching and accountability to inspire high performance.”
The question then becomes, how might we lead and inspire employees during this pandemic that’s creating anxiety and uncertainty everywhere?
The article provided some straightforward guidelines. “Global citizens look to leadership to provide a path — and to provide confidence that there is a way forward that they can contribute to. In times of crisis, there are two directions human nature can take us: fear, helplessness and victimization — or self-actualization and engagement. On the latter, if leaders have a clear way forward, human beings are amazingly resilient.”
The piece went on to share meta-analytics, which have found four universal needs that followers have of their leaders:
“These needs are especially urgent during crises,” the article said. “People look for these traits in their leaders as a signal that their life will be OK and that they can be part of the solution.”
Surveys Say:Room for Improvement Among the most important actionable organizational practices to address these four needs, Gallup listed the following along with the results of their most recent tracking:
Identify a clear plan of action: When asked if their company leadership had a clear plan of action, 39% of U.S. employees strongly agreed that their employer had done so.
Make sure people are prepared to do their jobs: When asked if they felt well-prepared to do their job, 54% strongly agreed.
Orchestrate a plan for supervisors to keep people informed: When asked if their immediate supervisor was keeping them informed, 48% strongly agreed.
Make sure employees know that the organization cares about their well-being. Gallup has found five elements of well-being that each organization can act on: career, social, financial, community and physical. When asked if their organization cared about their overall well-being, 45% strongly agreed.
This data might be useful to us all as we navigate our way forward during the COVID-19 crisis. It also shows there is room for improvement.
Our previous post referenced recent research indicating that the percentage of engaged workers in the U.S. has risen this past year, and that the primary reason for this increase is that organizations have made positive changes in how they develop their employees.
Carrying that thought a bit further, leaders at all levels within an organization must also be developed in order to bring about sustainable change and improvement. We have always known that it is a person’s immediate supervisor that has the greatest impact on their work experience and engagement level, so it stands to reason that these leaders must be trained and developed so that they can be effective.
To develop strong leaders, we have found the following five steps are critically important:
Training is an ongoing step. Leaders at all levels must understand leadership styles and how to diagnose the circumstances requiring leadership so they can apply the most effective style. Related skills and behaviors also include communication and listening, motivation, delegation, recognition and empowerment.
360° feedback from peers, staff members and upper management is a popular and insightful component of leadership development.
Coaching in a team environment is an ideal place in which to exercise and improve peoples’ leadership skills, self awareness and ability to build upon strengths.
Individual mentoring can help people analyze personal effectiveness and refine their approach based on actual performance and achievement. Mentors should observe leaders’ performance and conduct personal debriefing sessions. This cycle continues until desired skills and performance levels have have been achieved.
Accountability. All leaders are held accountable for their personal development as well as for developing others.
As noted in a previous posts, it’s important to recognize that the culture of any given enterprise is a reflection of its leadership, and that people at all levels tend to mirror that culture when interacting with one another as well as with customers and prospects.
The impact of this “mirroring” can be significant, especially as it applies to the sales force as it influences the way in which sales people interact with customers and the marketplace each day.
Consider that both the direct and implied messages your sales team conveys to others are, to a great degree, based upon the impressions they have of your business philosophy and your day-to-day behavior — ranging from how you manage and treat the team to how you talk about and treat customers.
As organizational leaders, here are seven things you can do to positively support, improve, and “lead” the selling process:
Know your customers and maintain an understanding of their true interests, needs and priorities, taking each into account when setting policies and procedures. This alignment will send a strong message to the sales people that you are, in fact, a customer-centric organization.
Maintain consistent two-way communication with the sales force, keeping them well-informed with respect to the organization’s mission and vision. Encourage them to deliver or reaffirm that message in the marketplace. As summarized by a recent American Management Association article, “Leaders must develop and communicate a compelling vision that inspires people.”
Provide regular development and feedback — considering that the marketplace is in a constant state of “change,” the sales team must also continually improve and evolve. It is vital, the AMA states, “to share both motivational and developmental feedback.” People need to know when they’ve done a good job and when there is room to improve.
Sell to the sales force — make sure they understand that the job can be done and that you and the organization have faith in their ability to do it; make sure they understand that the grass is, in fact, not greener “across the street,” and that there is a secure future for them if they work hard to earn it.
Create and implement a formalized sales management / performance management system that consistently and fairly inspects what it expects, and holds the sales force accountable for activity as well as results.
Recognize and reward desired behaviors and success as part of a formalized plan plan to engage and motivate the team, and to retain good performers. If the team is exceeding expectations, be sure to share in their celebration as opposed to intimating that the quotas might be too low.
Similarly, if the sales force is not enjoying high-levels of success or is struggling to meet expectations, provide solutions and support — build upon strengths versus focus on weaknesses. A constructive approach to improvement can significantly impact their success, while a more critical or negative approach tends to promote continued failure.
Since our inception we have stressed the fact that an organization’s leadership must champion a Continuous Improvement (CI) effort if it is to become cultural and if it is to succeed in a sustainable fashion.
Along similar lines, the Enterprise Engagement Alliance has shared data as well as experiences indicating the same holds true for engaging employees and customers; and just like a culture of CI, a culture of engagement generates a measurable return on investment.
“A CEO-led strategic and systematic approach to human capital management can enhance performance and create a better experience for all,” an article on the Enterprise Engagement Media website states.
“Without the leadership of the CEO, it is impossible for an organization to fully engage all its stakeholders in its brand, mission and goals—customers, employees, distribution partners, vendors, communities, shareholders, etc.—or to achieve measurable ROI.”
The Enterprise Engagement Alliance was the first to give a name to this strategic and systematic process to connect and align all stakeholders toward a common brand, mission, values, and goals, naming it “Enterprise Engagement.”
Based on a recent interview with Aron Ain, author of WorkInspired, How to Build an Organization Where Everyone Loves to Work, and CEO of Kronos, a leading global provider of workforce management cloud solutions, our previous two posts have demonstrated that creating a high-trust culture is worth the investment — just as Covey predicted in The Speed of Trust.
Kronos’ success nicely exemplifies what a culture of trust can yield. But building this culture isn’t easy.
“We’ve worked incredibly hard to instill trust throughout the organization, one manager at a time, starting with me,” Ain said. “First, we give employees atypical degrees of latitude and freedom. Until proven otherwise, we assume their competence, judgement, and good intentions.”
Kronos also deploys tools that support the creation of a high-trust organization, such as Predictive Index, to help people get to know one another, and a performance feedback and rating system that gives substantial weight to an employees’ effectiveness at building trust. They also establish HR policies that demonstrate trust as an organizational philosophy, such as work-at-home options, and unlimited time off.
In addition, the management at Kronos works very hard on three specific management behaviors that support effective deployment of trust:
Communication is key, as trusting your people to just do what they think is best for the organization doesn’t work out nearly as well if internal communication is weak. In fact, communication is so important that Ain devotes the second chapter of his book to overcommunication.
“Don’t just communicate,” he says, “overcommunicate. You really can’t do it enough!” He goes on to note that inquiry and listening are just as important forms of communication as updating and explaining.
The courage to lead is a high-profile concept at Kronos. Patrick Lencioni in The Five Disfunctions of a Team identifies the lack of trust among a management team as the root cause of most poor performance. At Kronos, the concept of courage has an even higher profile, as managers are required to lead with genuine courage. They have developed a Courage to Lead program, which has three major sections: Be Bold & Humble — Challenge & Support — Disrupt & Connect. And the first principle under Be Bold & Humble is: ‘Trust others, both within and outside your functional area.’
Studying results is the third component of the Kronos formula for building a culture of trust. Trust doesn’t mean assuming everything will all work out as planned. Far from it! In fact, Kronos’ approach aligns nicely with Deming’s Plan-Do-Study-Act cycle: they plan carefully, try out an innovation or improvement, then study the results, and act on what they learn.
“We measure everything,” Ain says. This is their commitment to “exposing reality” — seeing how the plans and decisions are actually working without succumbing to wishful thinking.
Our previous post identified the role that trust plays in an organization’s success, and referenced it as “the soft concept producing results that are hard to beat.”
While trust may seem too soft a concept to produce a competitive edge, the facts indicate otherwise.
In fact, a high level of trust is essential to creating an agile, highly competitive organization and here are four reasons why.
1.)No Trust — No Speed In a world where new challenges arise very quickly, it is the failure to act, failure to improve, and failure to innovate that poses the biggest risk to a company — not the risk of making a mistake. However, to an individual in a low-trust environment, by far the biggest risk is making a mistake. For these individuals, trying something new is much riskier than doing what’s been always been done. Innovation or even simple improvement is not going to happen. The whole organization slows down.
Covey, in The Speed of Trust, puts it this way: “When trust is low … it places a hidden ‘tax’ on every communication, every interaction, every strategy, every decision.” People don’t fully hear what their leaders are saying, because they factor in guesses about the leader’s intentions. They wonder how transparent their leader is being. Employees don’t buy-in to decisions that they don’t trust.
Aron Ain, author of WorkInspired, How to Build an Organization Where Everyone Loves to Work, and CEO of Kronos (a leading global provider of workforce management cloud solutions), points out that lack of trust places “a huge overhead burden on a relationship.” He insists that when you employ someone, you should go ahead and trust them! Will you get burned on occasion when trusting people?
“Absolutely!” Ain says, “But almost always my trust in team members has proven well-founded. And the benefits are numerous.”
By building a culture where employees know they are trusted and where they trust their managers and teammates, Kronos has created an organization where it is safe for people to be creative and to aim for the best possible outcomes, continuously getting better and better.
2.) No Trust — No “Exposing Reality” Exposing reality means trying very hard to look at things the way they really are, rather than the way we wish they were. As Ain points out, “the faster you see things as they really are, the faster you can get to work on improving them.”
But in a low-trust environment, people are especially motivated to gloss over uncomfortable truths and to declare victory and move on rather than checking to see if they did or didn’t get the results they expected. Trust enables us to admit what we don’t know, recognize and recover quickly from mistakes, and to put uncomfortable information, questions, and contrary opinions out in the open, where the team can work through them with honesty and passion to arrive together at the best strategies and decisions.
3.) No Trust — Poor Results In a low-trust environment, employees hold back information or ideas that seem risky to share, so leaders make decisions based on incomplete information and without knowing all the potential consequences. And when employees believe their managers are making decisions without all the relevant input and information, they often question or even slow-walk the decisions.
Covey cites polls showing that only 45% of employees have trust and confidence in senior management. Lencioni, in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, places lack of trust at the foundation of his pyramid of dysfunctions culminating in poor results. Without trust among a team, people keep their cards close to their chests. They are afraid to admit the limits of what they know, afraid to admit any vulnerabilities. Because they don’t trust one another, they fear conflict and withhold uncomfortable information and dissenting views. Without complete information, these teams make poor decisions, and the decisions they do make are poorly executed because they do not arrive at a shared commitment to the decision unless they have aired and resolved dissenting views. Thus, a lack of trust leads to both flawed strategies and poor execution.
4,) Trust Inspires and Engages Covey observes that “trust is one of the most powerful forms of motivation and inspiration. People want to be trusted. They respond to trust. They thrive on trust.”
This is exactly what Ain sees happening at Kronos. “Because we place so much faith in employees,” he explains in WorkInspired, “they return the favor, placing a remarkable degree of trust in us. Their trust in turn leads to far better performance — more innovation, quicker recovery from mistakes, more energy and enthusiasm at work.”
The next step, of course, is identifying the best way to build a “culture of trust,” which will be the subject of our next post.
You might call it a “secret weapon” but, to be honest, it is the exact opposite. Because unlike a weapon, it is constructive rather than destructive; the only harm it could do a competitor is to leave them behind.
And it is anything but secret!
In his recent book, WorkInspired, How to Build an Organization Where Everyone Loves to Work, Aron Ain openly shares the pivotal role it has played in Kronos’s amazing growth story.
This “secret weapon” is trust — the soft concept producing results that are hard to beat.
The role that trust plays in an organization’s success has been written about before by keen observers of human and organizational dynamics.
Patrick Lencioni in The Five Disfunctions of a Team identifies the lack of trust among a management team as the root cause of most poor performance.
Stephen M. R. Covey in The Speed of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything passionately echoes this view, citing research indicating high-trust organizations out-perform their low-trust competitors by 300%, because a lack of trust increases costs while simultaneously reducing an organization’s speed and agility.
What’s different about Ain, CEO of Kronos, a leading global provider of workforce management cloud solutions, is that he can tell us how trust is working in action today and about the tools and methods in place to support the practice and enhance the effectiveness of trust.
At Kronos, everyone is expected to give trust both within and outside their functional areas and to practice behaviors that earn the trust of their employees, teammates, and managers. According to Ain, the culture of trust contributes to much more than high engagement and retention, as important as those are, but to amazing business results.
And the results Kronos has achieved are great! Revenue has tripled; Kronos has surpassed 35,000 customers worldwide, innovations are rolling out faster than ever, and employee engagement scores are through the roof. Kronos once again occupies the #1 spot in the Boston Globe’s Top Places to Work list in Massachusetts. It received an award from Fortune Magazine for Best Workplace for Millennials – 2018. It is on both Glassdoor’s and Fortune Magazine’s lists of top 100 places to work and has received numerous other awards for workplace engagement.
Based on a recent newsletter by our associate Sheila Julien, our next post will share four specific reasons why “trust” works and why it is essential to creating an agile, highly competitive organization.
Challenges and best practices associated with continuous improvement