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.
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.
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.
Challenges and best practices associated with continuous improvement