Category Archives: Leadership Strategies
A CEO of a small organization once told me why she couldn’t be more effective.
She told me that she spent about 80% of her time involved in employee behavior issues which left little time for her to focus on the basic needs of the company. What added insult to her injury was that it was only a small portion (less than 10%) of her staff members who were chewing up the majority of her time and energy.
Unfortunately this type of workforce dynamic happens far more often that it should. As leaders, we should be allowing the best of employee behaviors to drive the culture and operations, and not allowing negative behaviors to drag things down.
What this CEO needed to do what transition her focus to the core part of the staff who will produce the biggest change in culture and productivity. She needed to not focus on the detractors, but not necessarily on the top performing employees either.
Jeffrey J. Fox in his book, How To Become A Great Boss, suggests that one should spend 90% of their time on their best people. While his theory on maximizing the stronger points of your top performers makes a good deal of sense, it falls short of those in the middle.
The most effective leaders will spend more time on the so-called “passive” employees to build a stronger team and workforce. Passive employees make up the bulk of your talent, and therefore should require the bulk of your focus.
Anyone familiar with the Net Promoter Score system for customer feedback will know that there are 3 types of customers: Promoters, Detractors, and Passives. While this system measures the variety of customers exposed to your brand, it’s also a solid classification of your employee base as well.
To define these better, here are how these classifications relate to your employees in general:
- Promoters – These are your most committed and engaged staff members. They get the vision, are “all in” and give stellar performance consistently. They will view, and speak of, the company in a more positive light and are your best ambassadors.
- Detractors – These folks are truly disengaged. Many times they are just going through the motions and give lip service up front. But behind your back, they give negative vibes to your customers and a few may even resort to various methods of sabotage. Some may be actively looking to leave, but many stay on and take away from the company more than they give.
- Passives – Your “on the fence” staff, these are people who most likely want to do a good job, but are easily swayed by whichever voice is the strongest – Promoters or Detractors. These are people truly want to do a good job, but get lost between the Promoters and the Detractors.
The NPS system for customers shows 60% Detractors, 20% Passives, and 20% Promoters. In my experience, the typical workforce is about 20% Detractors, 20% Promoters, and 60% Passives.
If you want to build a truly great team and change the workplace culture with your people, you need to focus on the passives more than any other group. This is where 60% of your workforce lies, and it makes sense to focus on the largest population of your people. The following is an example that proves this.
I worked for a large entertainment company and went through an internal restructuring designed to foster more front line customer service. We broke out most of my team from the other areas and hired a few from outside the company to round out the staff.
What we got from most of the other areas were people they did not want, and we had what one supervisor said were the “cast offs.” We quickly discovered that many of these people never received the proper attention or training that they deserved.
We had a short period to get the team together before peak business volume. We had to rely on my top Promoters to dive in and help get operations settled, and I rallied my supervisor staff to focus on getting the Passives to learn everything they could so they had solid footing under them, as there was no time to lose.
During this process, a number of Detractors started to pull away our focus for a variety of different reasons. We didn’t know these folks were Detractors at the time – I had viewed that everyone needed our full attention to training and didn’t see anyone in a negative light. But as the days went on it became evident they were pulling on the other end of the rope.
The solution? While we dealt with the Detractors firmly and fairly – some of them we groomed and some of them we “broomed” – we kept the focus on training our Passives. And then two things started to occur that amazed me.
First, many of our Passive staff started to become Promoters. Because of the vested time and value we placed on them, they started to engage and were thrilled that we believed that they could contribute. No one ever took the time to build them up before. Their performance dramatically improved and our sales started to take off.
But the most amazing change to the team is we started to see some of the Detractors slide into Passive, then Promoter types. They realized that our mission was so critical, and our customers the priority, that they changed their attitudes, their behaviors, and their focus. They also, incidentally, started to feel they were missing out on some exciting things by not going “all in.” We were creating a dynamic and fun team, and they wanted to be a part of something big.
We set some sales and profitability records as a result of this, but the biggest achievement was in building a strong team culture by taking the lion’s share of the staff and putting the lion’s share of our focus into them.
Leaders, set the tone for your people. Show that everyone is valued. Don’t overlook the Passives in your organization. Or the Detractors either. Yes, you will always have some Detractors (as I did still back then), but in setting a bigger vision for the company and their role within it you will create an amazing dynamic within your team.
(One note: always use wisdom and discernment from calling or labeling your people. Performance-based behaviors should never take away from the intrinsic value that anyone and everyone can bring to the organization.)
Change is hard.
No one likes change. Especially leaders who know change is needed in order to be more successful.
Change is not just a new set of goals, processes, workflow or behaviors. It’s a turn in culture that starts with reassessing what’s needed to make progress.
Redefining vision, mission, goals, KPIs and behaviors are necessary, but if the mindset and thinking of the organization aren’t addressed, even the best planned strategies will fall short of lasting change.
It can be an overwhelming feeling when you realize change needs to happen. As with everything else, leadership must not only change it’s processes but thinking as well to lead change.
It’s essential to to start the path to real change with a renewed clarity on vision, goals and processes,
but change only starts when the organization as a whole starts to think and see differently.
So here are 9 steps to start the process of real culture change, starting with you as a leader.
First and foremost:
Admit you as a leader need to change the culture. If your organization is not where it needs to be, take responsibility. Your leadership has allowed certain behaviors to manifest and take root that has led you to where you are currently. Don’t blame, but admit your faults and determine to be accountable for the change going forward.
The Road to Culture Change Starts with You.
Reveal and/or remind the vision. Sometime your people need to be reminded of the vision. You may also find out some where never quite aware of the mission at all (again take ownership for this shortcoming). The key is to talk up the vision so everyone can start calibrating their thinking on what the objective is.
Set the expectation. Let everyone know that they as individuals need to be on board with the vision. There should be essential (non-negotiable) behaviors that align with the culture, and flexible (negotiable) behaviors that allow people to be themselves while still operating with the cultural framework. Set the non-negotiables firmly but encouragingly.
Individually coach. Let your people know that you’ll be their biggest cheerleader and give them what they need to succeed or further grasp the renewed vision. Let them know immediately when they fall short, and show them how to get there. Ignoring behavioral shortcomings will only dilute the progress you’re trying to make, which is most likely why you ended up needing to change culture in the first place.
Hold accountable the cultural behaviors and performance. When an individual won’t engage or align themselves with change, you’ll need to take the necessary steps to correct. If they are still unwilling, then separate; you cannot risk drag factors that hold culture change hostage.
Yourself as a leader:
Be open and admit that you are changing as well. It’s easy to tell others what to do. It’s an entirely different leadership that shows it to your people. Let others know that you’ll be changing the culture within yourself, and that it starts with you. It sets them off of the defensive and sets you up to be the standard bearer for change.
Have others keep you just as accountable. The next necessary step after admitting you are changing as well is to allow others – everyone – from all around the organization to keep you accountable to stay the course and manifest the change within and without. When people know that there is mutual standard and they are allowed to hold everyone on the team to it, there will be more openness to allow change to occur. This prevents leaders from making the change all about others and only partially committing to it themselves.
Daily preach culture behaviors and the larger vision. Unless you are willing to start over with an entirely new team, you need to dilute and over time replace the old culture. This can only occur by focusing on the new mindset not just everyday, but at every interaction throughout the day. Conversations, emails, texts and even external communications are essential means in which to let the new culture grow roots. The more you focus on talking about change, the deeper it grows into everyone’s mind and the DNA of the organization.
Look for willing mindsets to be culture champions. No leader can effect culture change by themselves, so you need to identify those who adopt the new mindset – the renewed vision – and allow them to positively infect the organization. Leverage their enthusiasm and the shared vision to stimulate faster, more committed change and engagement.
Once these underlying steps are in place, then the culture, goals and strategies you’ve identified can start to take hold.
When a group of people have a common vision and commitment to make change happen, the results speak for themselves. Many books on business and history will attest to the incredible changes made when a group of people had the same vision and mindset to effect progress and make their company, their country, or their communities better.
Leadership is about shaping mindsets that change behaviors that eventually transform a culture.
Imagine if you will a hospital that spent more time and money training their C-suite than their direct-care staff of doctors and nurses. Or a large airlines spending most of their training budget on the executive staff and very little on the pilots, flight crew, or mechanics.
The resulting scenraiors wold prove to be short-sighted and troublesome. And yet it seems that the average company spends more on training for upper level versus line-level or front-line employees.
A survey of average company training budgets will reveal that a typical company will spend from 2-5% of annual revenues on training.
The Association for Talent Development in their annual state of the industry report from last year revealed that the average company spent $1273 per employee in 2017.
Couple that with Training Mag’s study of “per-learner training” from the same period and you’ll see that most of the $1000-plus spending per-learner was done on the C-suite level, then less for mid-level management and the least individual employees. The exception seemed to be for “high potential” employees.
If you take these statistics and see the ongoing (10 + years) trend in worsening customer service experiences, one can draw a conclusion that more training needs to be invested on the front line staff in order to reverse this trend. And while some of this is related to the rapid education of the customer and the tight labor market, there is still one thing any company can do to provide a better customer experience.
Spend more time training your front line staff than you do anyone else.
About 15 years ago a restaurant chain claimed to spend more money than the industry on training was found to have actually shortchanged their line staff and spent more resources on opening more and more units. This eventually led to their bankruptcy just a few years later.
A couple of independent and different healthcare organizations were both afflicted with the same fate in the last few years. Instead of managing resources to the employees in the way of training, they diverted those monies to the top of the organization. As a result, patient care and satisfaction tanked, employees left, and both are facing various regulatory issues as they struggle to be in compliance.
While training and development of all levels of staff are essential, the expenses of major conferences at higher levels can tend to be very expensive without much ROI and direct customer impact. But a more focused training on front-line staff will reap higher returns and boost your levels of customer satisfaction. It’s a model that Chick-Fil-A uses to their advantage in their huge growth over the least decade. Same for Bonobos, whose goal is to help their workers become better employees and equip them with skills needed to do their jobs. CyberCoders and Paychex also have made committed goals to go all in on training their employees and their cultures and recruiting efforts reflect this quite positively.
What is being advocated here is the mindset to pour better and more focused resources – proportionately – into those employees who face your customers and have the most touchpoints with them. In a shifting economy and sliding landscape of digital and analaog business, being able to spend your resources on front-line training is essential for a company to stand out. In order to combat evolving business models, tight staffing, and increasing customer expectations, you need to up your game to invest in more training for your employees who most come in contact with your customers.
Determine today to build a better company and go all in on employee training.
The best companies know that the reasons to spend more on training are worth every cent.
(per-learner image: brandonhallgroup; main image: pixabay)