Category Archives: Leadership

3 Managerial Best Practices for Engaging Today’s Teams

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:

  1. 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
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Leadership: “Cometh the Hour, Cometh the Man?”

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:

  • Trust
  • Compassion
  • Stability
  • Hope

“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.

Read the full Gallup article.

Developing Leaders

A conceptual look at developing strong leaders

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 360° feedback from peers, staff members and upper management is a popular and insightful component of leadership development.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Accountability. All leaders are held accountable for their personal development as well as for developing others.

CI & Sales “Leads”

How does your leadership style impact sales?

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

The CEO & Enterprise Engagement

Leadership

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.”

Building a Culture of Trust

Trust: a soft concept that’s hard to beat…

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.’
  3. 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.

Read the full article…

Why Trust Matters

The Soft Concept That’s Hard to Beat!

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.

A Business “Secret” Weapon?

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!

Trust — the soft concept producing hard to beat results

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.

Engaging Your Workforce: A Front-line Manager’s Recognition Tip Sheet

A recent article published by Engagement Strategies Media, outlined five specific best practices for front-line managers to help them more systematically recognize and engage their workforce.

As you may know, the recognition field has seen a significant shift over the past several years, going from traditional length-of-service awards to programs that focus on supporting critical organizational goals — i.e., quality service to internal or external customers, participation in volunteer initiatives, a willingness to go the extra mile, etc. In most cases, the success of these efforts depends upon the managers at the front lines.

It’s also true that many employees become disengaged or leave their jobs because of an immediate supervisor, not because of the company or pay. Here’s a tip sheet for front-line managers that lists five ways in which they can implement a systematic and effective approach to recognizing team members:

1.) Start With the Basics of the Work
The first step for front-line managers is to show employees that they and their work are valued and appreciated. Initially this might involve giving them a sense of ownership, and making the practice of expressing simple appreciation a standard part of day-to-day management. To ensure consistency, the prudent manager schedules regular time with each employee to make sure they understand their job goals and how their work makes a difference. It’s also important to make recognition meaningful. Don’t go overboard by praising everyday basics such as showing up for work on time or keeping a clean desk.

2.) Continually Reinforce Goals and Values
It’s equally as important to make sure team members understand the organization’s goals and values, which might include a commitment to superior customer service, continuous improvement, innovation, or inclusiveness. Don’t make employees guess—every employee should know the organization’s goals, organizational values and the role they individually can play. Take advantage of team meetings or employee newsletters to regularly reinforce the key messages and goals, and what the values mean in terms of actions and behaviors. This might include simple things such as “how we treat one another,” as well as things more directly associated with how the work gets done.

3.) Recognize employees for both their individual and group contributions. Not everyone likes public praise, so managers must get to know employees and tailor their recognition style based on each person’s preferences. When recognizing a group, make sure to acknowledge each person’s contribution. Be inclusive—recognize everyone who does something meaningful that supports the company’s values or goals through their actions. However, if you publicly recognize someone who doesn’t deserve it, you’ll devalue the whole process.

4.) Planned and Spontaneous Recognition. Formal recognition events can take place monthly, yearly, or almost any time. They’re great ways to celebrate achievements, but try to recognize employees whenever it is merited. In general, praise employees as soon as possible after an accomplishment.

5.) Leverage Internal Communications. If your organization has a print or online newsletter or social recognition platform, an article or post highlighting an employee’s achievement is a very effective way to show appreciation in a way that helps communicate and reinforce values and goals to everyone. How you recognize individuals can be inspiring to their colleagues as well.

Keep in mind that the personal touch, sincerely delivered whenever warranted, is key to keeping your team members feeling valued, motivated and excited about doing the best they can at their jobs each and every day. Studies show that front-line managers can make or break the employee experience.

Read the full article…

Managing Change

What Does it Take to Implement Change?

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.