Category Archives: Connection & Engagement
Some time ago I conducted a training session for a number of restaurant employees. I prefaced my training session with an explanation of how restaurants made money, and that the average restaurant makes about a 5% profit.
As soon as this fact rolled from my mouth, a number of servers who were present with their owner turned to her and questioned “Is that right?” The owner nodded and confirmed “Some months, yes.”
The staff then turned around to me and many of them exclaimed, “Well, we’ll need to help Cathy make more money then.” The sense of teamwork to rally and help their boss make her business more profitable was the most incredible aspect of that training.
Usually in consulting with business owners, I find that most of them never share the financials with their employees.
The usual excuses abound:
“They don’t need to know.”
“I can’t trust them, why should I show them the books?”
“It’s not their job to know.”
“We can’t show them what we really make.”
“They’ll want a raise!!”
Then there are always the unspoken excuses that being open-book will reveal issues, such as impropriety, false reporting, bleaker financial pictures, and so on.
Business owners and leaders who want to increase engagement can easily develop trust by adopting an open-book culture that lets employees know the financials, a more connected and positive workplace results. This study from the University of Michigan underscores some of the benefits of this approach.
Here are some of the other benefits of adopting an open-book culture:
- It give employees information to make informed decisions
- It builds trust in all directions of the organization
- It enables people to make decisions to better increase bottom line, without being told so
- It gives employees a better understanding of how strategy and goals are, or are not, meeting financial goals
- It holds leadership and the entire organization accountable for financial stewardship
- It indirectly asks people to give input on ways to help make revenue, and save on costs
- It gives people a deeper insight as to your industry so they can develop their knowledge more thoroughly
- It also builds more experts in your industry and deepens your organization’s competency and acumen
While it’s clear there are so many advantages for open book leadership, there is one disadvantage however – holding unethical leadership accountable. The case is pretty clear, if you want people to open up and engage, you will need to open up your books first.
A colleague of mine many years ago had an interesting approach to observing and grading her staff’s performance.
We used a standardized form to grade each person’s job performance on their respective stations. It was a tool for both training and development to improve operations and build the team members’ job skills and competnecy.
“Micky” ran a higher volume operation than I did at the time, the flagship unit of the company. She inherited a facility that had solid leadership previously and a grounded and well trained staff that executed well. It was a golden opportunity with the pieces already in place to take the unit to another level of performance. She was young and recently promoted to the position, and was determined to show her influence and position.
However, Micky failed to gain a loyal staff because of a fatal flaw in her leadership. One of the key indicators was how she graded performance.
Micky’s approach to the station grading, was to never give her staff a perfect score on their performance. Ever.
Her justification? “Nobody’s perfect; they always have something they can improve on.”
What Micky failed to realize is she was telling her people they were worthless and could never be good in her estimation.
It should come as no surprise that internal conflict started to occur. Turnover increased, and employee engagement started to suffer. Revenues started to drop. Upper management spent more time in the facility. What was handed over to Micky as a smooth sailing ship was run aground by the following leadership failures:
- Not recognizing your employees for what they do. Micky failed to acknowledge the already well-trained staff of what they did well. Her failure to highlight people’s competency started to create resentment and distrust in her people. Good leaders will always praise and promote their people’s abilities and skills.
- Lack of faith in your people. Another by-product of her critical attitude towards her staff was effectively saying that she did not trust them in their jobs. When a person is constantly critical staff will play down to the expectation of them. Conversely when you show your people trust they will play up and fulfill that trust even further.
- High standards became unattainable. High standards are great, but unless people are supported and trained to attain them, or see them being attained, they will get discouraged and stop trying. Micky killed her team’s development by not allowing her people to attain the standard – one that was commonly attained in every other company facility.
- No commitment to true training and development. A leader’s true task is to build their people up to reach performance metrics and skill levels. Micky failed to see this as being relevant to her role, and instead she adopted a mindset that her job was to point out flaws. Her ability to train, even after pointing out any deficiencies, was poor. She never set her folks up for success.
- Non-verbals communicated disdain for people. Micky was also notorious for showing her frustration that people couldn’t do their jobs. Rolling the eyes, sighing audibly, her sour demeanor, and huffing around after a mistake was made – these all underscored her contempt for her people. She may have tried to talk a good game, but her people knew exactly where they stood by her body language.
- What you say is what you get. Micky’s self-proclaimed thinking was “I’m the manager, so no one should get better scores than me.” Micky set a goal, and achieved it. It was unfortunately a misguided goal.
- Pride. Micky’s pride was ultimately her biggest flaw, and downfall. Her people became a bother to her, and got in the way of her job. Every mistake that occurred as the store spiraled downward, she took personally as her people sabotaging her.
Eventually, the company had enough of her personality and dismissed Micky. Her replacement spent the better part of two years cleaning up the mess, but eventually got a solid and well trained staff and turned the operation around by devoting her time to building her people up.
Micky failed to acknowledge that the core fundamental tenet of leadership is to inspire and develop your people. When grounded firmly in a culture of value, people tend to perform at their highest levels. When absent, engagement and performance decrease.
The absolute worst thing a leader can do is to see themselves in a role to lord over their people. Be a servant leader, set your folks up to win, and grow your business by growing your people. It’s the best way for a leader to grow as well.
Keeping employees engaged is similar to the process of using a balance scale.
On a balance scale, if you place weights more on one end than the other the scale will tip towards the heavier side. Employee engagement is very similar.
Envision the scale with two distinct balances on either side – one is engagement and one is disengagement. Each side has has a weight that can only be placed on one side – one weight is positive impact on your people (engagement), and the other is negative impact on them (disengagement).
Each organization has an employee engagement scale, but so does each team and each individual.
The overall goal of leadership is to weight the scale so heavily on the positive engagement side, with virtually no negative on the other balance. However the delicate nuance is to understand each individual’s scale and ensure their engagement side is properly weighted.
The challenge is to understand the principles of negativity and employee disconnect, and how any negative actions, including yours, are counted on the employee’s scale.
Negative impacts to your staff almost always outweigh the positive.
It takes a large amount of positive to offset negatives when they do occur.
Unlike weights on a physical scale which has constant density, employee engagement has variable weights based on the dynamics of the individuals and basic human principles of interaction. Consider the following variables:
- Positives are lighter while negatives weigh more
- Negatives can vary in weight from individual to individual
- More than one positive is needed to offset negatives
- Small and seemingly normal positives may not outweigh negatives
- Both weights have varying degrees of visibility – positives need to always be visible (public and tangible); negatives are usually invisible and hard to discern as many leaders are blinded to them
- Negatives gain increasing weight over time (distrust grows) where smaller negatives can carry an enormous weight
- Staff Appreciation Days, Thank You cards and Employee of the Month programs are good positives, but are too infrequent to offset constant year-round negatives
Some items that are heavier positives:
- Sincere apologies
- Concrete actions to correct poor leadership
- Increased valuation of a person
- More voice
- Public praise and apology
- Deferred leadership role, showing trust for your people to showcase their talents
While not an exhaustive list, these examples show the intricacies of how mindful leaders need to be in creating a culture of total engagement.
By gaining more awareness of the correlation of negative and positive weights that get placed on an employee engagement scale, you can create a better leadership style that puts more positive engagement weights and builds a deeper and more committed team in your organization.