“I see you got a promotion.”
“Not really. I just have a new title. I’m Project Research Coordinator.”
“You mean you are a still project manager?”
If we have not learned the potential positive impact of job titles, we have not been paying attention to the banking industry. Does the title “Lending Manager” have a different meaning than “Loan Officer?” What about “Vice President of Loans?”
Perceptions surrounding job titles do matter. Some companies have replaced “employee” with “associate.” Other organizations call their employees “Individual Contributors.” Certain ones informally refer to Google employees as “Googlers” and new employees as “Nooglers.”
Companies may also use titles to identify outstanding performance. And there is research that suggests a percentage of employees (Don’t count me among this group.) prefer an enhanced title to a modest pay increase.
For a time, engineering departments have used titles like Engineer I, Engineer II, and Engineer III to bestow status and recognition without having to promote excellent engineers into a management positions.
I have had the honor of holding many titles in my career; and while I do not remember pondering on title images, I do recall feeling a sense of pride upon being officially labeled, “Distinguished Professor of Management.”
I believe the greatest responsibility of a leaders is to make their teams better. Jack Welch, the former outstanding CEO of General Electric phrased it this way, “The team with the better players usually wins.”
Whether the arena be sports or a company, there are three major strategies for improving your team.
One, invest heavily in developing current team members. “We are always training and retaining our operators,” a manger told me. “And whenever we get a new tool or discover a better process, we educate members thoroughly.”
Two, consider shifting the roles of some of your team members. A member, who performs marginally in some tasks, may perform well in different tasks.
A manager of a floral shop said, “Soon after I assumed my position, I began getting many customer complaints about one of our employees. I asked the owner, why he had kept the person and he said because she is a genius in floral arrangements. I moved her to the back of the house arranging customer orders and she performed exceptionally well.”
Three, if marginal employees do not respond to training and if there are no other tasks they can perform well, the only remaining option is to replace the marginal employee with a more talented individual.
“Many of your staff members describe you as a perfectionist,” I reported to a manager.
“I know,” he said. “I want one hundred percent of our customers to give us an “outstanding” rating. I want every project delivered on time. I want no errors. And I want one hundred percent attendance.”
“You will never get all of those things.”
“I know. My team does a good job but I want them to be the best. I think by asking for perfection, I actually get more. They know I do not tolerate mistakes or violations.”
Members of the team responded with comments like, “No matter what we do, you can never please him.” “Why should we work through lunch and stay late? He’ll find something wrong anyway.” “Even when we do a good job, he always points to things we could have done better.”
Perfection is a fairy tale. A fact check showed that performance metrics had not improved in two years under this “perfectionist” manager. Morale was quite low and a couple of good-producing younger employees had left the company.
Employees are more engaged and more productive when leaders focus on getting better—not perfect—just improve over the last period.
By all accounts, Margie is a very influential leader. Margie’s CEO said, “She has a way of getting people’s attention. Margie’s peers often call her for advice, and I think her staff would follow her through fire.”
I asked a group of Margie’s employees if she offered rewards or used punishment to get them to do things.
“Not really,” one responded. Another said, “I think she appreciates what we do but she doesn’t offer a lot of carrots for incentives.”
I asked if Margie was unusually persuasive or charismatic. “I never thought of her that way,” came a response. “She is professional and communicates clearly but I don’t see her as sprouting ‘charm.’”
I probed further, “In a nutshell, just what is the basis of Margie’s ability to influence you and others to do things?”
In differing ways, employees voiced respect for Margie. They respected her knowledge, skill and integrity. All agreed that Margie was honest and seemed to genuinely care about them as individuals. Others vouched for her competency. She has proven that she knows what she is doing and she will not ask you to do anything that she can’t do herself.
Earn others’ R-E-S-P-E-C-T. It gives you more power than rewards, punishment, or position.
More than fifty percent of us make resolutions for the New Year, usually to lose weight, exercise more, or eat better.
News Flash! Only about one in ten of us keep our commitments for more than a few months; most engage in serious backsliding before the groundhog looks for its shadow. While these are better odds than winning the lottery, they are still pretty dismal.
I remember one resolution I kept. I resolved to give up drinking sodas. For more than a year, not one sugary soda entered my esophagus. Confession—as sodas were not part of my routine anyway, maybe my success was too easy a layup.
I have a suggestion for improving our woeful success rates. Research tells us that we have a better chance of improving our strengths than correcting our weaknesses. Think –Shaquille O’Neal’s failure to improve his free-throw shooting.
This year, pick out something that you do well, for example: I am organized, I am respectful of my colleagues, I communicate openly, I meet deadlines, I am good with metrics—you get the idea.
Pick a couple or three and enter them into your electronic calendar. Put them on the first working day of each month. As each month emerges, score yourself: A = nailed it; B = got it, mostly; C= oops, I’ll try harder next month. I predict you will end the year with an A average.
And if you wish to lose weight, you can but that on your list also.
A manager said to me, ““I assumed leadership of a department of sixteen people about three months ago. Most are reliable performers. A few are really good and one is marginal at best.”
“Would your team be better off if the marginal employee were gone?” I asked.
“No question, much better off.”
“Then why don’t you work with your human resources’ manager to professionally remove the employee?”
“The employee is sixty three years old. He was one of the first persons hired almost twenty years ago when the department was formed. There is scant chance of removing him.”
“Have you tried training and coaching?”
“He’s not really interested in getting better. I think he’s just holding on for a couple of years until he retires.”
When dealing with a persistent, low performer whom you cannot terminate, I think you just have to learn to tolerate the employee.
Be respectful of the low performer as a person, but do not waste time attempting to train, motivate, encourage, or improve the person’s attitude. Minimize disruptions as much as possible. Find work-arounds when you have to. Understand that you may have to check more often than you would like. Quit worrying about it.
(Part 4 of 5 on Increasing Influence)
A company survey revealed that almost fifty percent of its employees were occasionally out of compliance with its eye protection policy.
Violators gave many excuses: “I wasn’t in the area very long.” “The glasses give me a headache.” “They blur my vision.” “I just forgot.”
To increase compliance, management toughened its disciplinary policy, posted pictures of nasty eye injuries, and displayed “reminders” in every nook and cranny. After a few weeks, compliance increased a meager five percent.
Management changed its influence tactics to stress examples of success such as: “An accident-free competitor reports that ninety-eight percent of its employees comply with eye protection requirements,” and “The plant with the best safety record in our industry reveals that eighty-five percent of its employees like their wrap around eye protection.”
A few weeks of this campaign showed a seventy-three percent improvement rate.
The successful influence attempt used the concept of “social proof,” where individuals strive to mimic the actions of others. Most employees have a social need that motivates them to adopt behaviors of successful peers and authorities.
Industry best practices, testimonials, ratings, certifications and the like influence our behaviors because they are manifestations of social proof.