Effective Leaders See Their Employees as More than Just a Bunch of Numbers


In an all-hands meeting an excited manager reported,  “Our on-time delivery was 98.9%; we reduced scrape rate by 4%; margins increased 2%; rework rose by 3%; 93% rated us high on customer service; attendance averaged 97.6%; we had no lost-time accidents and no near misses.”

The manager told his story on four-color, animated PowerPoint slides with graphs and emoji’s.  After the presentation, the crowd buzzed with questions and comments.

In a debriefing, a direct report said, “I think the employees appreciated the show.”  Another added, “Yes, there was a lot of energy in the room.  The employees were engaged.”

However, returning to their work stations, an employee commented, “Down here we are nothing but a bunch of numbers.”  Another said, “All management cares about is making their numbers.”

All organizations, large or small, profit or not-for-profit, must deliver the numbers to be successful.

But it takes a set of humans to operate the maize of systems and processes that produce the numbers.   Effective leaders spend time getting to know and respect employees as unique beings with complex needs and dreams.

When leaders care about their employees as persons, they are less likely to see themselves as “just a bunch of numbers.”

 

My Top Ten Idiotic, Motivation-Killing Statements


businessman rating

Here are my top ten idiotic, motivation-killing statements.

If I gave you a “five,” you wouldn’t have anything to strive for.

You haven’t been here long enough to get a “five.”

I don’t give “five’s.”

HR requires that I write a justification if I give you a “five.”

Our policy discourages high ratings.

If I gave you a high merit increase, you would think you had it made.

Never let them know you are satisfied with their work.

Others might be envious if I gave you a big increase.

Yes, you did a good job, but this was a team success.

I know your attendance is perfect but we can always do better.

Effective leaders delight in awarding their best producers with high appraisals and merit increases.  The result is:  high producers strive even harder.

While lesser performers may publicly whine and whimper about their modest increases, they will learn that to get more they have to produce more.

Withholding rewards from high performers based on fear of losing commitment or upsetting slackers makes about as much sense as the late Yogi Berra saying, “No one goes there nowadays; it’s too crowded.”

 

I’ll Be Your Huckelberry


During a management meeting, the president said, “I’m not sure we can save the Western Division. Sales continue to decline, employees keep quitting and morale is in the pits.”

Managers sat quietly, fidgeting with their devices and avoiding eye contact. After what seemed like an eternity—probably fifteen or twenty seconds—Albertson spoke up, “I’m your Huckleberry!”

All eyes turned to Albertson. “What did you say?” asked the president.

“I’d like to lead the division,” replied Albertson. “I think we need to replace a couple of people, reduce the number of brands, and improve relationships with our dealers. Give me six months. Then we can reevaluate.”

When you observe a troubled department, consider volunteering to lead the group. But first, make sure you are empowered to replace personnel and improve customer service. If you do these two things, you have a chance of improving performance. Higher management will see great value in you. That’s how legends are made.

Of course, there is a chance you will fail; but if management has already labeled the department “terminal,” you will not likely be stigmatized.

The phrase, “I’ll be you huckleberry,” apparently appeared among the Knights of King Arthur and more recently as a movie line from Doc Holiday to Wyatt Earp. Translation, “I’m the person for the job.”

 

Employees and Leaders Benefit From Unequivocal Confirmation


Helena explained to her friend, “I just talked with my boss.  She couldn’t say enough good things about how I handled an unhappy client.  She went on and on.  It makes me worry.”

“Why would that make you worry?”

“I think she may have an ulterior motive.”

“Like what?”

“You know we are opening a new location, and I’ve told her that I do not want to transfer.  She may be thinking about moving me to the new site.”

How is it that we have taken a concept like “sincere appreciation” and turned it into something suspicious?

Maybe it’s because we have introduced practices like balanced feedback—identify what is good and what needs improvement.  Maybe it’s because performance appraisal systems discourage unqualified high appraisals—try turning in an exceptionally-high appraisal with no suggestions for improvement.   Maybe the concept “you can always improve” pervades leader-employee relationships.

Unequivocal confirmation occurs when a leader tells an employee something the employee knows to be true without “if’s,” “and’s,” or “but’s.”  Leaders practice pure confirmation so rarely that employees become suspicious when they hear it.

Employees (people) need to be confirmed.  It is not a psychological need; it is a physiological need.  Unequivocal confirmation releases endorphins (chemicals that create a sense of well-being) in our brains.    Insightful leaders realize that unequivocal confirmation increases both employee engagement and satisfaction.

To Get “Buy-In,” Ask People To Do What They Are Capable of Doing


Shortly after Julie Walsh assumed the role of plant manager, she discussed with her front-line supervisors the need to reduce rework.

“During the last three quarters,” Julie announced, “only about fifty percent of our product passes all inspections on the first effort.  I think we need to get this down to ten percent by the end of six months.”

“That’s too much,” responded a supervisor.  “We won’t get buy-in from our employees.”

“How do you suggest we get buy-in?”

“Well, I think we need to discuss these metrics with the employees and get their suggestions on what is realistic.”

“Based on my experiences, with the changes we are implementing, I believe this is realistic.”

“You may think the goal is realistic, but I’m not sure our employees think it is.”

Push back is common when leaders ask employees to step up their performances.  Many leaders respond by asking employees for their opinions.  This usually results in some haggling followed by an eventual compromise and grumbling on all sides.

Leaders, in my view, have a good idea of what their people are capable of achieving.  When leaders’ and employees’ perceptions differ, as they often do; I say leaders should stick with their opinions.

At the end of the period, we may hear from employees, “I didn’t think we could do it.”  From leaders, the winning comment is, “I knew you could.”

Leaders Don’t Get Too Far Ahead of the Herd


Because the firm had been performing like an eighth-place team in an eight-team league, the board fired the president and hired Eldrin Wassermann.

Mr. Wassermann, who looked, dressed and talked like a leader announced in an all-hands meeting, “Our goal is to be number one in our industry.  We have a plan for increasing sales by twenty percent next year and we are going to double our revenue in three years.”

Wassermann refurbished facilities, ordered new technology, redid the landscaping, painted everything and transformed meetings into motivational speeches.

Year One sales increased only five percent; Year Two sales increased three percent.  Midway through Year Three, the board removed Wassermann.

Wassermann had a dreamy and unrealistic view of what he could accomplish.  Pie-in-the-sky visions are not enough for success; reality engulfs them in a beat down.  No matter the enthusiasm or the charisma, leaders cannot perform miracles simply by announcing they are going to perform a miracle.

Leaders who try to go from worst to first overnight get too far ahead of reality.  The team soon loses focus and commitment wanders.  Frustration follows.  Bickering, blaming and covering up sap energies.  If you are in tenth place, figure out how to get to ninth place and then learn how to be a little better the next year.

As the late Will Rogers said, “If you are riding ahead of the herd, take a look back every now and then to see if it is still there.”

 

Front-Line Supervisors–Two Different Approaches


Here is a brief account of what employees of two front-line supervisors said about their leaders.

Josie’s staff members commented:

“Josie is available and we can go to her at any time, but she does not look over our shoulders all of the time.”

“I’ll tell you one thing; you know where you stand with Josie.  She sure lets you know when she is disappointed with you.”

“I overheard Josie talking with her peers.  She was really bragging on us.”

Crew members who worked for Alexis had different comments.

“He is on the floor all of the time.  He knows how he wants things done and he watches us like a hawk.”

“I like that Alexis is very good about recommending people for salary increases and promotions.”

“Alexis is very smart.  He can do every job out here and he can do most of them better than anyone here.  He loves to talk about the work.”

Although both groups were doing similar work in the same company, Josie’s team performed significantly better.

Research by Sartain and Baker appearing in the HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW, conclude that the more effective front-line managers:  (1) allow employees a little more freedom; (2) they are more direct with performance feedback; and (3) they talk about their employees more than the work itself.