Category Archives: Culture
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.
There have been myriads of articles and posts written about how leaders can best build commitment and a culture of trust among their employees. Many of those methods are proven and well-studied.
But one thing often missed is a need for leaders to drive deeper into themselves and promote a behavioral leadership style that fosters connection, commitment, and engagement.
Below are 6 behavior mindset changes that leaders need to change within themselves before they change the level of trust in their organization.
- Trust Your People First. I had a business owner who was severely challenged with staffing tell me the reason she couldn’t get employees was that she didn’t trust anyone. She was shocked when I told her she was correct and wrong at the same time. Numbers of studies show how employees want trust from their leaders. Placing the trust in your people first will usually work to get them engaged – it never happens the other way around.
- Don’t Play Favorites. Leaders who ignore others, such as spending most of their time with the coolest or the people making the numbers happen, divide their teams silently and quickly. When people feel detached because they aren’t part of the “inner circle” they distrust leadership and many think you have to be unethical in order to get attention or feel valued.
- Don’t Assume Fault. Over the years I worked for a leader whose favorite response to any situation was “Who’s fault is that?” A question like this always placed people on the defensive, and assumed a failure on that person’s behalf. Moving away from a fault-finding mindset into a mindset of turning bad circumstances into opportunities to win long-term, change processes, or develop skills will have your people fighting for you when things go bad, instead of fleeing from you.
- Know That They May Know More Than You. I had a former colleague say that they had been embarrassed about a boss showing them up by stating how little my friend knew in front of others and proceeded to talk about something they did not really know much about. My colleague told me the boss was actually the one who embarrassed themselves because everyone present saw the puffed-up leader make a fool of themselves. It did more to harm the trust of the staff as they felt they too would be next on the public embarrassment stage. Give your people the platform to showcase what they know and then stay out of their way to prove it.
- Don’t Assume Ill Intent. Many times when an employee has an issue the first thing certain leaders do is to assume that the person isn’t committed, or going rogue, or being a saboteur. When leaders know that performance issues usually stem from lack of trust in leadership, systems, or culture, then you can take steps to correct those external forces that negatively impact employee performance. It’s another aspect of trust that needs to be present in mind at all times.
- Find Ways To Always Train Them Up. Whether subtly or overtly, leaders who tear down staff in front of others will not produce leaders or employees who do the same in others. When a great leader focuses on every opportunity to train and develop, consistent with the other behaviors listed, a culture of trust is solidified in which true business growth can then foster. By finding ways to train instead of criticize, people around you will adopt a development mindset that attracts employees and brings out their best for you.
Over the years I have noticed that the best leaders consistently exhibit all of these traits without wavering. Those that have swung on both ends of the spectrum in any of these behaviors showed a much higher degree of employee mistrust.
Changing the level of commitment from employees means changing the level of trust first. This can only be done by changing your leadership mindset in how you approach and view any and all of your people to begin with.