Employee flaws (and we are all flawed) draw managers’ attention like flies to honey. No matter how well team members perform, one little glitch—even a typo—can become the impetus for serious interventions.
To illustrate, a manager said, “We recently hired an accounting major to produce our monthly financials. Another small part of his job was to enter data—soil nutrients, water content, air permeability, etc.—in an app which our customers use in crop management.”
“I think you are about to tell me you are disappointed in the employee,” I responded.
“All of his work is good quality. He is just careless about updating the data.”
“What happens if the updates take a little longer than you want?”
“Not much. Our customers do not look at the app every day and most probably would not even be aware.”
“How have you been dealing with this?”
“I’ve had numerous coaching conversations and routinely send reminders.”
“Have you communicated with him about your appreciation for his high-quality work?”
“No. Work quality is not an issue.”
Leaders who chose to improve the good, while reducing attention to the less good, are more likely to create energized, high-performing teams.
As many as 73% of participants in virtual meetings admit to frequent boredom and distraction. More than half of virtual participants say they sometimes working on projects unrelated to meeting topics.
Why are many meetings boring? What creates interest? The following comments from six participants answer these questions.
“Our leader’s voice tone and nonverbals reveal her passion. She brings a lot of energy to our meetings and it is contagious.”
“Carl is just funny. It’s the way he says things. And he always seems to have an entertaining story to back up major points.”
“Belinda gets everyone involved. She asks questions, calls on people to offer solutions, and conducts polls. You have to stay alert at all times.”
“The leader’s boring, monotonous comments are totally devoid of energy. He could put an insomniac to sleep.”
“Did you ask if our leader promotes humor? I do not recall laughter at any meeting; placid would be a better descriptor.”
“Our leader talks at length. My mind drifts to other topics. Few members speak, even when given a chance. I think they just want to get out.”
Energy, humor and involvement create high-interest meetings—fortunately any two of these factors will likely cause an interest spike in most virtual gatherings.
“We say we work in a professional environment, but I have a peer who seldom follows through on his action items, causing us to miss deadlines.”
“I work in accounting and I’m aware that leadership has misrepresented financial estimates to some of our lenders.”
“I can’t believe in today’s world that my manager continues to make sexists comments in our meetings.”
“We failed to honor warranties to some of our customers by inaccurately claiming that they had failed to service the equipment according properly.”
As revealed in the above comments, Sarah Clayton writing in the HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW, reports that one in five employees have experienced a cultural crisis—shoddy quality, discrimination, cheating customers, bad leader behaviors—in the last year or two.
Lack of accountability appears to be a major reason for these cultural ruptures. For fear of elevating incidents, too many leaders just look the other way. And when leaders do hold people accountable, they hide their actions under the cloak of “privacy.”
Effective cultures identify clear expectations and consequences regarding legal, ethical, and moral behaviors.
To ensure greater accountability, leaders should: (1) communicate expectations vigorously and repetitively, (2) apply appropriate consequences, and (3) shine the light on consequences by making them public.
“I have a good team,” commented a leader. “But, one member, a high performer, often shuts down our discussions.”
“What do you mean?”
“He speaks authoritatively, often raising his voice, and acts as if his opinion is superior.”
“Do other team members ever disagree?”
“Rarely. When someone occasionally disagrees, the aggressive member responds with data, quotes, and historical incidents to drive his point home.”
I think it effective for team members to engage in passionate, challenging discussions. But there is a fine line between fruitful discussions and win-lose debates.
Win-lose statements include: “You are wrong!” “That would be a big mistake!” “You have left out important data!” “Your suggestion will not work!” “That has already been tried!”
Such statements are likely to dampen free-flowing exchanges because they set up debates where one wins by proving the other wrong.
Consider expressing disagreements with phrases such as: “I’d like to offer another way of looking at this.” “I don’t fully understand how you arrived at your position.” “Can you fill me in with more background information?” “I’d like to hear others’ opinions. We can evaluate later.”
For engaging team discussions, it is important to create a tone of exploring options before evaluating and selecting.
A manager said, “I have a good team but two members seem to oppose any significant suggestion I make.”
“Are they in agreement with each other when opposing your suggestions?”
“Not usually. They seem to have their own agendas.”
“Do you ever make concessions to them?”
“Yes. I have accepted modifications, even when I thought it might weaken the plan, to get their support.”
“What do other team members say when one of the opposers argues against your plan?”
“Not much. I think they are intimidated. Some tell me privately they support my version.”
“Is your current handling of the situation working?”
“No. The opposers still want to argue. Some projects are being delayed. I sense frustration building among other members.”
Unfortunately, many otherwise good teams include a member or two who are anti-team—uncooperative, argumentative, self-serving, controlling.
It is almost always a mistake to accommodate anti-team members, as they see cooperation as a weakness to be exploited.
If an anti-team member cannot be removed, it is usually better to simply acknowledge the anti’s position and move forward undeterred with what the leader thinks is better. Explanations and conciliations seldom satisfy anti-members; they do extend meetings and annoy cooperative team players.
When discussing the role of recognition and praise, an employee said, “I don’t need recognition. I know when I’ve done a good job. I want my manager to point out my mistakes and show me how to get better.”
While a few individuals may shun recognition and lean into criticism, sincere and regular praise increases team performance and reduces absenteeism.
The Gallup organization reports that only about one in four employees “strongly agree” that they received recognition and praise for doing good work within the past week.
Some organizations use apps for instantly recognizing good work. But my personal research identifies “manager recognition for good performance” as the most powerful tool for communicating appreciation.
Sincere recognition releases endorphins, sometimes called “happy hormones,” which create feelings of well-being and happiness. Thus, individuals become even more passionate about doing good work.
As a nice side effect, less engaged employees become aware that effective managers shower recognition on good work; and they sometimes put forth more effort to earn the boss’s approval.
Some people bask in public recognition; others prefer private ceremonies. Effective managers note the differences among their team members’ and act accordingly.
During a planning retreat, a vice-president asked me, “Do you think it is OK for staff to feel joyful at work?”
“Absolutely,” I responded.
The VP asked, “How do you cause employees to be joyful? We celebrate birthdays, offer movie outings, and sponsor employee sports teams. Employees show enthusiasm during these events, but smiles turn to frowns upon returning to work.”
“Joy” is a feeling of pleasure and happiness, and an A. J. Kearney survey revealed that only 37% of employees say they experience “joy” at work.
But “joy” is not about employees playing together. Alex Liu, writing in the HARVARD BUSINESS REVIW, explains that employees experience joy when they achieve something together that contributes to society.
Put simply, joy is the product of cooperating with team members to achieve “wins” that also improve society.
Winning sports teams provide a formula for how to create “joy.” Team members understand and accept their roles, and they recognize other members’ contributions. The late Dean Smith, a hall of fame basketball coach at North Carolina, encouraged shot makers to acknowledge the teammate who passed the ball by publicly pointing at him.
Just as in sports, a little high fiving, handclapping and team cheering may induce joy and help advance the ball at work.