Are You Teaching Your Employees to Fad Surf?


Prior to an all-hands meeting, an employee commented sarcastically to a peer, “What’s it going to be this time?”

“Whatever it is,” the peer responded, “the vice president will assure us that it will improve sales, cut costs and cure cancer.”

Rumors of a new program launch had been racing through departments like a grass fire in a wind storm.

Perhaps the employees should not have been so skeptical.  But they clearly remembered several previous aborted improvement efforts.

“Higher-ups” often are not fully aware of the extra work burden created by the latest catholicon.    And when managers are prone to latch on to the new “whatever,” employees quickly engage in what Professor Robert Sutton calls “fad surfing.”  That is, employees make minimum commitments to show cooperation but do not engage enough to ensure eye-popping success.

Program failures prompt managers to search for the next lever; starting a cycle of: (1) roll out a new program with great fanfare, (2) experience disappointing results, (3) regroup and center on another, even better, remedy.

When a new program flounders, management should not be so quick to search for lightening in another bottle.  A refocus on the fundamentals—hiring, training, supervision, recognition—might be the better cure.

 

Accept This Fact: Career Success is Very Dependent Upon Your Boss


Which is more accurate?

  1. My boss is more dependent on me.
  2. I am more dependent on my boss.

About seventy percent of participants in my workshops say, “My boss depends more on me than I do on him (her).”  This view, I think, may over state the role of the subordinate in the relationship.

Of course, higher-level managers depend on subordinates to fulfill their responsibilities.  And bosses, in some cases, may not even be able to perform their subordinates’ tasks.  Still, the boss has a lot of influence—much more than most of us would like to think.

Recall a time when you worked for a bad boss.  No doubt, you experienced a lot of frustration.  Compare that to an experience with a good boss.  Job satisfaction and career success are much more likely when working for good bosses.  Face it, you are very dependent upon your boss for a good work life.

Good bosses mentor and help staff members grow.  Bad bosses stress and frustrate all.  When considering a position, be sure to evaluate the boss carefully.  If you are frustrated at work, the boss still gets a pay check; you may get an ulcer.

Quality Face-to-Face Time is the Secret Sauce of Good Communications


(Reprinted from November, 2015)

“I was becoming frustrated,” explained a manager, “with my communications with staff at distant sites.  Several times I thought we had agreed on a way forward only to discover they misinterpreted my intentions.”

The manager began backing up his electronic messages with phone calls and while that helped, misunderstandings continued.  Later, the manager added video conferencing which helped but did not eliminate missteps.

“Eventually,” the manager said, “I started visiting the sites on a regular basis to talk personally with staff.  I was amazed at how much better we got at resolving and preventing customer-related issues.  Even though the site visits required considerable time and energy, they were well worth the effort.”

To communicate effectively, visit staff members at their work stations when there is no reason to be there.  Travel to your customer’s locations; invite your customers to your facilities. If you perceive conflicts with colleagues, drag your physical self to their offices and talk with them.

Consider town-hall meeting with large groups of employees.  Encourage them to ask questions and respond to all.  Deliver the bad news as well as the good.

I recall asking a group of employees if their managers ever visited their work areas.  “Yes,” said one.  “But when work is going smoothly, we never see them.  We make one mistake and they come out of the wood work.”

Do not wait until problems arise.  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  Engage others, preferably at their work stations, on a regular basis.  Face-to-face communication does not guarantee perfect understanding but it vastly improves your odds.

Act as a Catalyst to Motivate Others


“I work hard to motivate my employees,” lamented a manager. “I pay them well, they are trained, and I express my appreciation frequently.”

The manager continued, “I expend a lot of energy pounding the pavement in search of fresh motivational events. We do holiday events, celebration parties, landmark events, hams for the holidays, and end-of-the-year awards.”

Perhaps there is an easier way. Researchers Buckingham and Coffman suggest that managers think “catalyst” as a way to create “ooh” and “ah” performances. From your basic chemistry class, you recall a catalyst is a substance that speeds chemical reactions in other agents.

Actions of catalyst leaders might include asking for opinions, listening, encouraging, energizing, removing obstacles, and ensuring that employees have the tools they need.

Of course, training, recognition and financial rewards are important. However, these tools are ineffective for employees who lack the talent and drive to perform.

Try rolling the cosmetic dice. Find people who want to do what you need and clear the path for them to proceed. As one manager said to a recruit, “If you are looking to me to motivate you, you are probably not the hire I’m looking for.”

Employee Motivation is Not Rocket Science


When asked to identify his strength as a leader, Steve responded, “I’m a motivator.”

“How do you motivate your team?” I asked.

“I encourage my employees to push themselves.  I tell them how important their jobs are. I applaud their efforts. I’m always trying to build them up.”

“How is that working for you?”

“I think it works pretty well.  Not everyone responds the way I would like but I keep encouraging them.  I think most appreciate my efforts.”

Employees said they liked working for Steve.  They described him as “helpful,” “energetic,” and “caring.”

I applaud the efforts of leaders like Steve, and I’m confident that most employees would appreciate working for him.  However, I think a highly motivated work team also requires two additional ingredients.

One, employees’ motors need to be running when they come to work.  It is near impossible to kick-start a low-energy employee into spirited performance.

Second, employees’ must have the natural talents and acquired skills to perform the tasks well.  Long-term commitment to a job requires earned pride that comes only from doing something well.

When these two elements are present, Steve’s methods work great.  If one or both are missing, Steve’s well-meaning approach will likely whiff on motivation.

Rude Behaviors in the Workplace Cost Money


I observed a vice president leading a contingent of visitors into an early-morning meeting.  As the group approached a conference room, the vice president noticed what appeared to be spilled coffee on the new carpet.  A staff member happened to be walking by.  The frowning, vice president gruffly said, “It looks like you need to teach your friends to be more careful with their coffee.”

Studies suggest that, during a work week, about half of employees engage in rude behaviors.  Further, Dr. Woolum and associates, writing in the Journal of Applied Psychology, report that merely witnessing rude behaviors costs the company money.

Examples of rude behaviors include:  crude language, interrupting others, failure to show appreciation, loud talking, checking your phone during conversations, eye-rolls, gossiping and so on.

Apparently, observation of rudeness sets a frame in the brain.  Later, when employees see what may be ambiguous behaviors—not necessarily rude; they interpret the behavior to be uncivil. Employees who perceive rudeness may avoid interactions with others and dampen their commitment to tasks.

In the interest of civility, not to mention the bottom line, leaders would do well to model respectful, courteous and considerate behaviors, while professionally calling out team members who slip up.

Don’t Be a One-Trick Pony


The president selected Johnathon–a no nonsense, high-performer– to lead a low-morale team that had consistently missed performance objectives.

Johnathon announced to his team, “Your performance disappoints me.  You can do better.  I will change what I need to and I expect you to meet all performance metrics.  I will inspect all activities closely and take quick, corrective actions where needed.”

Employees grumbled, griped and blamed failures on unrealistic expectations, vendor problems, a warehouse fire, and bad weather.

Johnathon, anchored like a rock in a sandstorm, continued pressing.  He made changes, terminated a couple of employees, some quit.  The performance needle began vibrating upward.

After a few months, the president said to the team, “You have performed a turnaround beyond my highest expectations.”

Jonathon impatiently asked for even more from the team.  Turnover became an issue again, excuses emerged, and performance stalled out.  Eventually, the president removed Jonathon.

Johnathon’s methods jerked a group of carless whiners into a high-performing team, but he could not sustain the success.  Effective leaders are not one-trick ponies, they adapt.  Structure often turns bad performance into good, but support and freedom is necessary to sustain high performance.