In a past post we shared some perspective about assessing workforce capability as well as leadership when planning a change or improvement initiative. Among other things, it was noted that without engaged, effective leadership it is difficult to implement the changes that are necessary for achieving a culture of continuous improvement.
Effective leadership is about driving change. The ability to anticipate, lead and manage change is a critical indicator of organizational success.
But, of course, change does not “just happen.” It takes place when leaders at all levels see opportunities and get others to share their passion about what can be accomplished.
Strong leaders provide the initial and ongoing energy for change. Without strong leadership, most change efforts will fail. As noted in our previous post, implementation is the key step. Simply making speeches, declaring a new mission or vision and handing out short-term rewards alone will not cut it; management must advocate, lead and support change, and do so not only at the “launch” but throughout the implementation phase and beyond.
It’s also important to remember that people will only follow leaders if they trust them, if they see the need for change, and if they are involved in creating the change. Change is brought about by a combination of strong leadership, human relations systems, beliefs, values and cultural practices. They are the true catalysts to sustained change and improvement.
Our previous two posts focused on the decision-making process, as outlined in a Wall Street Journal Article by Robert I. Sutton, a professor in the department of management science and engineering at Stanford University. The premise is that “how” leaders make decisions is just as important as the decisions themselves.
In his article Sutton identified four bad habits associated with “how” bosses make decisions. As discussed in our previous two posts, the first of these pitfalls are:
Telling people they have a voice in decision-making when, in reality, they don’t
Treating final decisions as anything but
The final two habits to be avoided are:
Moving too fast: While some leaders suffer from indecision and procrastination, some decisions require more careful thought— “especially risky, important and complicated ones that are costly (or even impossible) to reverse,” Sutton says. Despite the fact that employees most often like working with managers who are confident and don’t waste time, they are also leery of snap decisions, which are likely to turn out wrong. These decisions are also more likely to undermine employees’ faith in their leader and the decision, and can make employees less motivated to implement the decision. It’s the difference between a smart, confident decision and a rash one, possibly made without proper research or without sufficient facts and data.
Using decision-making as a substitute for action: “A decision by itself changes nothing” says Sutton. Simply “deciding” to change a protocol or process doesn’t help unless someone actually does it! The gap between “knowing” and “doing” is real, yet too many leaders act as if, once they make a decision, and perhaps spread the word, their work is done.
Our previous post shared data from a Wall Street Journal article about decision-making, which indicated that the way in which leaders make decisions (the process) is just as important as what decisions they make.
In that article, author Robert I. Sutton described four specific pitfalls associated with the decision-making process that can compromise a leader’s effectiveness as well as the effectiveness and attitudes of people throughout the organization.
The first of these pitfalls, which was the subject of our previous post, involves telling people they have a voice in decision-making when, in reality, they don’t.
Next on the list is the poor habit some leaders have of “treating final decisions as anything but!”
“Many insecure bosses have a habit that is especially damaging: After a decision has been made and communicated and implementation has begun, their insecurity compels them to revisit the choice too soon and too often. A few complaints, a small early setback, or simply anxiety about the decision can provoke such unnecessary reconsideration.”
Sutton goes on to explain that the insecurity and waffling “infects their teams.” In addition, many of the people involved lose faith in their leaders’ ability to make good decisions, and also lose interest in implementing new directives that could soon become subject to change.
We will take a look at two additional decision-making pitfalls in our next post.
Developing effective leaders within an organization is an important step toward achieving sustainability, workforce engagement, and a culture of continuous improvement.
Many define leadership as getting people to want to do what needs to be done, and providing the energy and mindset for change and the commitment to sustain it.
To develop leaders who are capable of implementing a strong style, and who can provide a straightforward path for bringing about change and continuous improvement, we’ve found the following three steps are necessary:
Training — including an understanding of leadership styles and how to diagnose the circumstances requiring leadership so the most effective style can be applied. Important skills and behaviors, include:
Communication and listening
Optimism, energy and enthusiasm
360° feedback from peers, staff members and management is a popular and insightful component of the journey toward becoming an effective leader. With heightened awareness comes improvement.
Coaching in a team environment. A project team or natural work group is the ideal place in which to exercise and improve leadership skills. Senior leaders must coach and mentor new leaders so they can build upon strengths and measure progress.
While identifying the right things to work on is a critical decision we must make each day, it’s important to also have the right people working on the right things if we hope to truly achieve breakthrough solutions. In other words, it is imperative to have a solid grasp of the team’s capabilities, strengths and developmental needs.
We’ve discovered that workforce assessments need to be done in an organized, comprehensive way that includes a strategic mixture of observation, one-on-one and small group interviews to cover a diagonal cross-section of an organization. Key activities include an analysis of layout, work flow, bottlenecks and yield, and also an assessment of people’s understanding of tools as well as how their work impacts the total organization.
It is also important to ask questions about the organization, how people feel they are treated and valued, and, in so doing, it’s important to assess their level of engagement.
Based on discovering the best opportunities for improvement, an improvement plan can then be implemented, which will involve making key changes in processes and behaviors.
Finally, it’s also necessary to review how people are being managed, as without engaged, effective leadership it is difficult to implement the changes that are necessary for achieving a culture of continuous improvement.
Several past posts have referenced the fact that strong, effective leadership is a “must” if we hope to build and sustain a culture of continuous improvement… a culture rife with innovation and high-levels of engagement.
Innovation, change, continuous improvement, and engagement only take place when leaders empower people at all levels to unleash their creative skills, seek new and better ways of improving their work, and share their passion about what can be accomplished.
Strong leaders provide the initial and ongoing energy for change, and people will only follow leaders if they trust them, if they see the need for change, if they believe change will benefit “all” parties, and if they are involved in creating the change.
In a recent SmartBriefarticle, John Stoker, Author and CEO of DialogueWORKS, Inc., shares several pitfalls that can result leaders undermining their credibility and effectiveness.
These “behaviors to avoid” include:
“You can tell me anything, but…!” This statement is made (without the “but”) to solicit input or feedback on a particular idea or course of action. But, sometimes leaders will completely discount the idea or opinion offered, especially if it’s something with which they don’t immediately agree.
Coercing support. Sometimes in an attempt to win approval for an idea or decision, leaders will say something like, “I need you to support my position today in the meeting. You have to back me up!” Often there’s an implied, “Or else.” Such behavior destroys candor, honesty and team morale.
Solicitation without action. Simply stated, solicitation implies action. When a leader asks for ideas or solutions, it is implied that the leader will do something with the ideas or solutions that are provided. This doesn’t mean that a leader has to implement or take action on every idea that is offered, but it does require that the leader share what they might do and why. This reinforces the importance of contribution and collaboration. To solicit ideas or solutions and then do nothing signals to individuals that their ideas are not important. Do this, and it won’t be long before people quit speaking up or offering ideas.
Manipulation. Sometimes a leader will ask people for ideas and then use them as evidence that the leader’s original idea was the best idea. This ends up feeling like manipulation. If leaders ask for ideas, then they should be open to exploring those ideas.
Giving feedback at the wrong time and in the wrong place. The proper place to give any kind of negative feedback is in private! Some leaders feel it is appropriate to give negative or critical feedback to a person on the spot and in front of others. Some of these managers have said that they like giving feedback in this way because it is motivating to others. But in reality, such behavior strikes fear into the heart of any conscious team member who learns to dread interactions with these managers or leaders. Sharing negative or critical feedback in front of others is highly disrespectful and does not inspire candor or openness. In fact, it will likely cause people to keep bad news to themselves and hide their mistakes.
A past post focused on how we make decisions, and noted that while people often think they could make better decisions if they had more facts and data, in practice the presence of “too much information” often complicates decision-making.
In fact, behavioral economists report that “data driven” decisions tend to increase confidence in the decision far more than the quality of the decision.
While the above-mentioned post shares a five-step process for making critical or complex decisions, a simpler approach might be equally as good for certain decisions. Consequently, we might want to first consider the “type” of decision with which we’re faced. In other words, if we “classify” the decision first we can then proceed more strategically.
For example, in their book “A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making,” authors David Snowden and Mary Boone explain that decisions can be categorized by context:
Known knowns: That is, we know what information we need in order to make a good decision and we can acquire that information. These decisions can be mapped out with simple decision-trees to reliably and quickly produce good outcomes. For example, a supplier selection process can be mapped out and reliably executed to produce good results.
Known unknowns: The problem is knowable, but not simple. We require an expert to gather and process the information to arrive at a reliably good decision. Decisions about how to design a website to maximize traffic or where to position a power plant relative to cooling sources are examples of “known unknowns.” Snowden and Boone refer to these as “complicated decisions — the domain of experts.”
Unknown unknowns: Complex decisions, in which we may not even know all the right questions, are increasing in frequency. Many strategic decisions organizations face today carry a great deal of uncertainty. Since best practices are by definition past practices, we have little to go on when faced with unknown unknowns. Thus the more detailed 5-step decision-making process outlined in the above-referenced post can help us achieve the best results.
An earlier post summarized the real costs associated with disengaged workers, which is close to $500 billion per year based on research by glassdoor.com, the Enterprise Engagement Alliance (EEA), and others.
Fortunately, there are proactive steps that can be taken to avoid these costs and the collateral damage to team morale and brand that is a regular side-effect.
Based on research and data shared by the EEA and The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, the following five steps can drive employee engagement, and reduce the number of disengaged workers and the associated costs:
Enhanced recruiting and on-boarding — The first steps involve the inclusion of the organization’s mission and vision into interviewing conversations, and a more conscious effort to identify and hire people with aligned goals. Adding a mentor program to the on-boarding process helps new hires assimilate
faster so they became more productive in less time as well.
Enabling people to achieve higher levels of productivity and success early-on promotes greater engagement levels, and reduces first-year attrition rates. Early churn tends to demoralize
everyone, so in addition to reducing re-hiring and re-training costs, the costs associated with negativity within the existing workforce are also reduced.
Consistent performance management and communication — People need to have meaning in their work, and understand how their work aligns with organizational objectives. This communication works best when systematized as part of structured, proactive approach to performance management.
Learning and development — A young, fast-rising junior executive had been working at a large bank for just over six years. When he was asked about his job and how he felt about it he said, “The job’s OK.” His lack of enthusiasm was evident, and when pressed to say more he added, “Well, I’m not really learning much anymore.” He went on to confirm that he was not truly engaged, and that he did not make much of an extra or discretionary effort, which engaged workers regularly make. Forward thinking
business leaders understand that the path to sustainable employee engagement is to drive productivity, and to do so through ongoing education and empowerment.
Recognition and rewards — Recognizing and rewarding employees is not a new concept, but if the goal is to engage people rather than simply acknowledge milestones (such as length of service), then the approach must be aligned with what is meaningful to each recipient.
Flexibility and work/life balance — Employer/employee relationships, expectations, and engagement criteria have evolved significantly over the past decade. Data from a PwC survey of 44,000 workers who had become less engaged indicated that “71% said their jobs interfered with their personal lives, and 70% said they wanted to be able to work from home.”
Employees can also become disengaged when they feel their managers only care about the bottom line. More than one-third of U.S. employees (39%) don’t believe their bosses encourage them to take allotted vacation days, and almost half (45%) say their bosses don’t help them disconnect from work
while on vacation, according to a Randstad survey.
Our previous few posts have focused on “The 4 Disciplines of Execution,” a book by Sean Covey, Chris McChesney, and Jim Huling, and how the disciplines impact achieving goals as well as employee engagement.
These previous posts have shared perspectives on disciplines one, two and three. However, the fourth discipline ― accountability ― is the discipline that enables you to win.
Without a cadence of accountability, teams will have a much more difficult time and will tend to become less engaged. The threat, of course, is that the whirlwind of running the day-to-day business that will consume all the available time.
By ‘cadence’ the authors mean an inviolable regular schedule, commitments, and expectations. Teams should meet every week, and it’s best to schedule the meetings at the same day and time each and every week. These meetings should never canceled ― they must be viewed as important and productive, thus promoting strong feelings of belonging, commitment, productivity, and accomplishment, which are all drivers of engagement.
At the end it is all about employee engagement; working on the right things in the right way and in a way that involves understanding and applying some paradoxical insights:
The fewer the goals, the more you get done.
Clarity of goals increases engagement, even when a vague goal seems safer.
Know your LAG measure, but find and act on LEAD measures to get the results you want.
People play differently when they are keeping score and they know if they are winning or losing; the commitment, consistency of focus, and the resulting sense of productivity are all key drivers of engagement.
Without a rhythm of accountability, the whirlwind will win.
On Wednesday December 6, 2017, the Wall Street Journal published an article about the country’s most effectively-managed companies as ranked by the Drucker Institute.
Interestingly, the selections were based on a “holistic approach, examining how well a business does in five areas that reflect Mr. Drucker’s core principles.” These areas are:
Employee engagement and development
In case you’re curious, the top 5 on Drucker’s “250 most effectively-managed” list are:
Johnson & Johnson
It’s encouraging to see customer satisfaction and employee engagement/development atop the criteria list, as these emerging measures have proved to be common threads among the most successful organizations we’ve encountered — these organizations tend to enjoy a safer, more productive workplace, with low team turnover, high safety ratings, and high customer retention rates; they operate with a culture of continuous improvement, and they are consistently able to achieve goals through people in a measurable way.
Challenges and best practices associated with continuous improvement