5 Top Leadership Articles Week of September 18, 2017

5 Top Leadership Articles for the Week of September 18, 2017

Each week I read a number of leadership articles from various online resources and share them across social media. Here are the five leadership articles readers found most valuable last week. I have added my comment about each article and would like to hear what you think, too. (Click on the title of the article to go read it for yourself.)

Burn Your Rule Book and Unlock the Power of Principles by Eric McNulty

The producer of a thought leadership event for senior executives called me recently. She shared with a rueful chuckle that the theme for this year’s meeting was uncertainty: in economic policy, trade, healthcare, international relations…the list went on. I replied that the event would certainly tap into a larger zeitgeist — everyone is wrestling with uncertainty.

Although some argue that there have been more turbulent periods in history, I would respond that these comparisons don’t matter. Perceived turbulence and uncertainty is higher than it has been in several generations.

My Comment: This is such an important concept. You’ll never have a rule for every situation. When we share Winning Well with our corporate clients and keynote audiences, we always start by sharing the core model: an internal balance of both confidence and humility combined with an external focus on both results and relationships. Even in our six-month programs we can’t possibly give you the specific solution to every single scenario you’ll ever encounter (they’re constantly changing, after all). When you have principles, however, you’re ready for whatever comes. How can I show up with confidence and humility? In this moment, how can I achieve results and build relationships?

When to Quit Your Job, if You’re a Leader (and how to exit well) by Mark Crowley

A number of managers have asked us forms of this question; what do you do when you’re deeply unhappy in a job, and you’re a senior leader?

Today we tackle that question, and how to transition out in a way that’s good for your career, and the company you’re leaving.

When do you make a change?

When you’re an individual contributor, if you’re unhappy for too long, it’s easy to just go get another job. You give your notice, help find and train your replacement, and all is well.

For better and for worse, when you rise in an organization, the stakes are much higher. While normally this is a good thing (more responsibility, compensation, and ownership), it has major drawbacks if you want to quit your job:

My Comment: I read this one with interest as I’ve been in a senior leadership position when the time came that I knew I needed to move on. Crowley addresses both when and how to make this transition gracefully. Even if you’re unhappy or ill-treated: don’t burn bridges or depart with any less dignity than you want to have every day.

4 Strategies to Build a Company Culture of Employee Engagement In a Virtual Workplace by Perry Koh

As the number of Americans who work remotely continues to increase, business owners and managers are finding that keeping workers engaged in a virtual environment can present some challenges. A recent Gallup poll found that only 30 percent of workers who work exclusively from home or mobile devices are engaged with their jobs, compared to a 33 percent engagement rate among all workers. Lack of connection with co-workers and lack of developmental guidance from managers contribute to these lower engagement levels.

Gallup’s research also found that companies who achieve higher engagement rates from remote workers take proactive steps to equip remote workers for success, with managers playing a key role in maintaining motivation. Here are four steps companies can take to build a strong company culture that promotes engagement in the virtual workplace.

My Comment: The first sentence in the second paragraph above reads equally well if you remove the word “remote.” High engagement results from proactive, intentional effort and managers play a key role – both for on-site and remote teams. In fact, remote teams need the same things: connection, purpose, encouragement, growth, and influence – but how you create these things changes when people are not sitting next to you. Koh discusses four elements and how you can help create them for your remote team.

5 New Leadership Literacies to Prepare for the Future by Skip Pritchard

If you want to get ready for the future, you need new leadership literacies. That’s what noted futurist Bob Johansen teaches those who aspire to lead well into the future. If you’re a rising star and want to prepare for what’s ahead, this book outlines future trends and skills you need in the decades to come.

Bob Johansen is a distinguished fellow at the Institute for the Future in Silicon Valley. He has worked with global organizations from P&G to Disney. He’s the author or co-author of ten books. His newest is The New Leadership Literacies: Thriving in a Future of Extreme Disruption and Distributed Everything.

My Comment: It can be challenging to think about how you will need to lead in the future when you have immediate issues and a team that needs you now. However, looking at these views of leadership in the future will help you lead more effectively today. Some elements – particularly being there when you’re not and clarity over certainty are totally applicable today.

11 Emojis That Make You Look Really Unprofessional at Work by Peter Economy

As technology advances each year–if not each day–we, as consumers and communicators, are always delighted by the new ways in which we can strike up conversations with each other. Whether it be online or on our smartphones, long-gone are the days ruled by the simple colon-parenthesis smiley face. Our horizons have expanded, and the smiley and winky faces of the past have now made way for emojis, emoticons popularized by iPhone text messaging….

If you’re just boarding the emoji train and are not sure which emojis specifically should be left alone when it comes to their workplace use, here are 11 emojis that are guaranteed to make you look really unprofessional…

My Comment: I would hope that no one needs to be told that a poop emoji is unprofessional, but I’m sure it’s happened before. As with all your communication, does it represent your personal brand as you intend? Will you be comfortable with it representing you in a year or two? Would you be comfortable if it were printed in a newspaper or website for everyone to see?

Your Turn

What thoughts do these articles bring to mind? Do you see something differently than the author? Did you have a favorite leadership article this week? Leave us a comment and let’s hear from you.

5 Top Leadership Articles Week of Sept 11, 2017

5 Top Leadership Articles for the Week of September 11, 2017

Each week I read a number of leadership articles from various online resources and share them across social media. Here are the five leadership articles readers found most valuable last week. I have added my comment about each article and would like to hear what you think, too.

How to Be Tough When You Prefer Being Kind by Dan Rockwell

Stress increases when leaders can’t bring kind and tough together.

Kind without tough makes you a pushover.

Tough without kind makes you a jerk.

My Comment: Stress increases, yes – and both results and relationships suffer when you don’t combine kind and tough. Without a disciplined focus on results, people lose focus, infighting increases, and your top performers go somewhere where their performance is appreciated. Without healthy relationships, trust suffers, people burnout, they do the least they can to get by, and inefficiency prevails because people don’t come together to solve mutual problems.

Leaders who combine their focus on achieving breakthrough results with a focus on healthy professional relationships with the people they lead give themselves the best chance to achieve transformational results that last.

Employee Engagement: What Story Does the Data Tell Leadership? By Martie Moore

The first time I used the words “resilience” and “engagement” was with my leadership team at the time. I asked, “What can we do to advance engagement and help people to be more resilient?”

Suddenly, everyone around the table had important emails to read on their phone. In essence, this immediate phone reading signaled an uncomfortable discussion — and their avoidance level.

My Comment: While this article was written for leaders in the long-term care industry, the issues it identifies are typical of the reality faced by leaders across industries: constant connectivity, acute margin pressures, increased pace of change, and uncertain futures are challenges you can probably relate to. This article is the beginning of a series that will look at experience, science, and practical action can take for themselves and the people they serve. It looks promising.

Leading in large organizations is tough. It’s easy for people to lose their identity and humanity as decisions are made by spreadsheet. And yet, almost paradoxically, more humanity, more focus on relationships and results, improves that bottom line. It takes courage along with the specific management and leadership skills we share in Winning Well to meet this challenge and succeed.

A Leader’s Job Is Never Done by Jane Perdue

Given that our state was in the path of totality for the August 2017 solar eclipse, people in our neighborhood gathered to watch. The closer we were to the time of totality, the larger the crowd became.

Within five minutes of the awe-inspiring ninety seconds of darkness and coolness, the crowd had largely dispersed.

The lost interest and crowd thinning-out triggered thoughts in my mind of how we tend to think about many things, including leadership, mostly in terms of their headline-making moments.

My Comment: When I was young, a mentor would often share his perspective that you can’t be a hero in the big moments if you’re not a hero in the small ones. Perdue takes a look at many of the ways that leaders build their credibility, influence, and trust in some of the more mundane, less headline-worthy, common moments that you face throughout your day, week, and career. You’re constantly becoming who you will be tomorrow. With each of these moments, you choose who that will be.

How Can You Make Yourself Invincible at Work? by Wendy Marx

Quick question: How valuable are you at work? Hint: It has little to do with your place on an organizational chart.

The new truth is that grabbing a high rung in an organization’s hierarchy isn’t necessarily a sign that you’re indispensable.

What clinches your value at work is what’s known as informal power — the ability to influence people and overcome resistance where you lack authority. It means being able to get someone to do your bidding where you have no formal authority.

Today you can’t lead simply by virtue of your title.

My Comment: While I’m not a fan of the notion of “getting someone to do your bidding” (it smacks of manipulation and a USER approach to leadership) Marx is right on with regard the role of influence. I won’t promote someone to a formal leadership position until they’ve demonstrated that they can get things done without that formal power. Power gives you the ability to deliver an “or else,” but that only gets a person’s minimum effort. Effective leaders cultivate an environment that releases a person’s strengths, talents, and skills toward the mission and the work.

Marx provides a good exercise you can use to assess how much value you are adding to the people around you and how you can address it if it’s out of balance.

Optimized or Maximized? By Seth Godin

I once drove home from college at 100 miles an hour. It saved two hours. My old car barely made it, and I was hardly able to speak once I peeled myself out of the car.

That was maximum speed, but it wasn’t optimum.

Systems have an optimum level of performance. It’s the output that permits the elements (including the humans) to do their best work, to persist at it, to avoid disasters, bad decisions and burnout.

One definition of maximization is: A short-term output level of high stress, where parts degrade but short-term performance is high.

Capitalism sometimes seeks competitive maximization instead. Who cares if you burn out, I’ll just replace the part…

That’s not a good way to treat people we care about, or systems that we rely on.

My Comment: I loved this article. It gets at the heart of why so many managers can turn into jerks, even if they’re not naturally inclined that way. We call it “trickle down intimidation.” In the interest of short term “maximization,” leaders who lack any other tools turn to fear, power, and control to get things done. And it works, at least minimally. As I said in my comments on the second article this week: it takes courage and leadership skills to choose a different path. To, as Godin says, optimize your leadership, your team, and your company for the long run rather than fleeting and costly short-term gain. It takes courage and practice, but you can do it.

Your Turn

What thoughts do these articles bring to mind? Do you see something differently than the author? Did you have a favorite?

Kevin Kruse

One Sentence Engagement? (Kevin Kruse)

Winning Well Connection

Kevin has been a remarkable supporter of my speaking and writing from very early on in my journey. His Inc.’s list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers has led to some amazing keynote opportunities to spread the Winning Well message. We really enjoyed his Winning Well interview in Forbes and love contributing to his LeadX Community. He’s surely a Winning Well kindred spirit and works hard to build platforms for speakers and writers to positively impact the world. 

Is it truly possible to condense the science of employee engagement into a single sentence?

It is and I’m about to convince you of that.

But first I need to explain why I’m taking this extreme exercise in reductionism. Unfortunately, employee engagement continues to be a topic that many find confusing. This confusion is unnecessary. Despite our VUCA world (characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) that has made both time and money endangered species, it’s never been easier to drive massive engagement throughout your organization. It’s never been easier to engage your own direct reports. It doesn’t require a high IQ, high-priced consultants, long-term planning or even a lot of time or money.

The idea of a one-sentence employee engagement course is intended to cut through this noise. To make things as simple and as actionable as possible. Just 20 words. Words that I’ve seen work miracles in countless organizations. The goal is to craft a sentence that all front-line managers can remember. A single sentence that can be scribbled on the inside of a Moleskine notebook or perhaps jotted on an index card and taped to a computer monitor. It’s not a sentence that one delivers to others, but rather a sentence that one remembers.

So here is my one-sentence employee engagement course:

“People give loyalty and discretionary effort to those who foster growth, show appreciation, share a compelling vision and are trustworthy.”

I hope you’ll read that sentence again. That single sentence encapsulates the “why” and the “how” based on two decades of studying and applying the principles of engagement.

  • The why: engagement results in increased loyalty and effort.
  • The how: to feel emotionally committed, we all want to: * learn, grow and be challenged * feel appreciated * work for a higher purpose, not just a paycheck * and the first three items don’t matter if we can’t actually trust our leaders.

Can it be that simple? Try to find a reliable survey instrument that measures engagement and its drivers that doesn’t include growth, recognition, vision/meaning, and trust. I don’t believe one exists.

Think about the best job you have ever had and more specifically, the best boss you ever worked for. Can you see how she helped you to grow, to feel appreciated, to feel that your work was important and was she trustworthy?

Many will dismiss this “one-sentence employee engagement course” because it is so simple and obvious. Indeed, Frank Lloyd Wright said, “There is nothing more uncommon than common sense.” I would argue the power is in its simplicity. The correct application of these simple principles can get you into the top deciles of engagement.

So, then, what should managers actually do to drive engagement, according to the one-sentence course?

To foster growth … it’s not about corporate training programs and annual performance appraisals. It’s about having career path conversations (i.e., stay interviews), and giving feedback in the spirit of a caring coach.

To show appreciation … it’s not about award ceremonies—the winners’ circle is always too small. It’s about saying thank you in sincere ways all throughout the year.

To share a compelling vision … it’s not about the mission statement poster hanging in the conference room. It’s about repeatedly connecting and aligning the weekly work with the big hairy audacious goals of the organization.

To be worthy of trust … it’s not just about ethics and telling the truth. It’s about being authentic and transparent.

With this article, I’ve tried to reduce the science of engagement to a single sentence. I acknowledge that there are many variables omitted that often drive engagement including: fair pay, work-life balance, having the right tools, having a best friend at work, quality, corporate responsibility and on and on. But my reductionism isn’t supposed to be all encompassing; it’s supposed to simplify a topic that has become way too complex. It’s supposed to be memorable and actionable. It’s an attempt to help leaders master the most basic principles of engagement, allowing other behaviors to be layered on at a later time.

Whether you find this approach helpful or harmful to the field of engagement, one thing is clear: your team members want growth, recognition, meaning and trust.

Click the image to learn more about Kevin’s book.

Winning Well Reflection

In a world where it’s all-too-easy to over-complicate and lose sight on what matters most, Kevin brings us back to the essentials of employee engagement in one sentence. “Is it possible?” he asks. We believe the answer is an unqualified “Yes.” When you interact with your team, when you have a one-on-one or even an accountability conversation, you don’t need a body of theoretical principles, you need practical tools you can use right away. Kevin’s given you the road map: growth, appreciation, vision, and trust.

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5 Signs Diaper Drama Is Destroying Your Culture

Diaper Genies are a FABULOUS invention– for parents and nurseries. They hide the stink of a poopie diaper and exponentially increase the interval necessary to empty the trash. The stink stays conveniently wrapped tightly in plastic so no one can smell it. The stink is unavoidable and the Diaper Genie provides a welcome reprieve.

But sadly, in so many companies around the world, I see a similar effect. Employees take the stinky issues, and disguise them so cleverly with spin, sandwiched feedback and carefully crafted Power Points, that no one can smell the real problem.

The Diaper Drama Includes…

  • Spinning the truth
  • Watering down feedback
  • Omitting information that may trigger alarm
  • Manipulating data

Signs You May Have a Diaper Drama Culture (and what to do about it)

The minute I pull out the Diaper Genie in one of my keynotes, the heads start to nod. Ahh, yes. We do that here. So if this sounds familiar, you’re not alone.

Here are few signs, you may have a diaper genie culture.

  1. Meetings are readouts, not discussions.
    If meetings are more of a one-way information dump, it’s likely you’re not having the tough conversations that would up your game. Ask questions. “What else do I need to know?” “What are you most worried about? What’s making you nervous?” “What could possibly go wrong…. and how can I help?” See also our thinking on how to “own the ugly.”
  2. You spend more time crafting the communication than having the conversation.
    I once worked for a boss where we would have at least 27 rehearsals before any executive presentation. We were all coached on exactly which topics to avoid at all costs– lest we draw attention to our challenge areas. If you’re more worried about font size than fixing problems, you’re likely in a diaper genie culture. Even if you’re working in such a culture, stop that crap on your own team. Encourage your team to focus on substance over form at least in their readouts to you.
  3. Bad news is a powder keg.
    If you’ve got bosses running around that react poorly to bad news, check closely for diaper genies. They’re probably filled to the brim. It doesn’t take long to train your people to lay low and avoid the tough conversations. If you want a diaper-genie free culture, encourage bad news and respond with supportive solutions, not anxiety-laced freak outs.
  4. It’s “Groundhog Day” all over again.
    Like in the movie Groundhog Day, if you’re constantly “fixing” issues only to have them pop up again, you may be in a diaper genie culture. Be sure you’re asking the strategic questions to get to the heart of the problem. Are there performance/job fit issues that need to be addressed? Are there processes that need to be changed? Rip through the plastic and smell what stinks so you can address it.
  5. Don’t ask, don’t tell, is the norm.
    I’ve worked with companies where the employees tell me the unspoken rule… “Never ever bring up the the truth in a focus group.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard about employees being coached (and in some cases even “bribed” with extra treats to paint a rosy picture on an employee survey or in a focus group.) Nothing crushes morale faster than feeling you don’t have a voice. This is one of the worst examples of gaming the score.

More About The Diaper Genie Syndrome (an excerpt from one of our Winning Well workshops)

If you’re living in a diaper drama culture, you may not be able to fix the scene over night, but you can focus on your team and cutting through facade and exposing the stink at least in your sphere of influence. When the results start to soar, spread the word. One secret to success: eliminating the diaper genie effect.

The Biggest Reason Employees Stop Caring

When I was in my sales and customer service executive roles, whenever I needed a pick-me-up, I would go talk to the new hire classes.

They’re fired up, full of ambition, and ready to serve.

“Raise your hand if you’re looking to be promoted into management.”

Every hand in the room goes up.

Sadly, in many companies something happens along the way.

Talk to the same group a year in, and the sentiment is not quite the same. Just why does that happen?

Please comment and I will capture your thoughts on a future post– what are the main reasons employees stop caring?

Here’s an excerpt from my Results That Last Program.

P.S. If you want to take a quick look inside my Results That Last Program, here’s an easy link to preview the first 2 modules. Please reach out to me if you would like a full demo.

7 Ways to Create a Listening Culture

If you could wave a magic wand and suddenly make every employee in your organization proficient in one behavior what would that be? Critical thinking? Customer-orientation? Sales?

No matter which behavior I consider, I’m hard pressed to come up with one that would be more impactful with just a bit more listening.

Listening transforms relationships.

Listening makes customers feel valued.

Listening gets to root cause.

Listening attracts business.

Yet, in most organizations I work with, people talk a heck more than they listen. Most of us can’t claim that we consistently listen well.

So how do you set out to build a culture of effective listening? Start with these 7 steps.

1. Tell the Truth

Nothing will make people tune out faster than smelling BS. If you want people to truly listen, be sure they can believe what you say. A culture of real listening can only happen when people can count on one another for candor. Encourage transparency and truth telling, starting at the very top.

2. Be Interesting

Sounds basic, right? If you want people to listen, speak in an interesting way. Tell meaningful stories  Ditch the 35 page PowerPoint deck and explain why your project really matters.

3. Show Up Like an Anthropologist

Anthropologists don’t go to a scene with something to prove, they show up subtly and listen carefully. They ask great questions and make meaning from the responses. Imagine the possibilities if more executives approached their field visits with the attitude of an anthropologist. Or if more sales reps worked to truly listen to what customers were saying about their lifestyles and values.

4. Be Interested

To encourage deeper listening, be a great listener. Approach conversations with empathy and compassion. Let your words, body language and actions show that you’re very interested in who they are and what they’re saying.

5. Reward Transparency

If you freak out every time you get bad news, all you’ll get is Diaper Genie feedback, where the poop is disguised in so much packaging you can’t even smell it. Thank people for bringing you the truth. Surround yourself with those who will challenge your ideas. Promote those willing to speak up.

6. Encourage Field Trips

One of the best ways to build a listening culture is to have encourage cross-departmental visits. Give your teams permission to visit their counterparts upstream or downstream in the process. Let them share their challenges, pressures and successes.

7. Get Social

Social media provides amazing opportunities to listen to customers. A good social care strategy listen’s beyond the # and the @. Social platforms can be great for internal listening as well. One of my clients recently implemented Yammer and is delighted by the informal conversations forming and how they can trend what’s most important on people’s minds.

How to Stop Drama Queens and Chronic Complainers From Destroying Your Team

I often start my speeches on employee engagement sharing prototypes of various kinds of disengagement. The favorite is always Barbara Boatrocker– “her life feels like a sad country song, every little thing is wrong”– for the appropriate audience I’ll even sing that line ;-). “She’s always stirring the pot. Nothing’s ever quite right when Barbara’s around. She sucks the life-force out of your team.”

Last week, when I asked what we should do about Barbara, the entire audience screamed out in unison, “Fire her.”

I paused.

“How many of you have a Barbara on your team?” Again, almost 100% raised their hands, with lots of knowing laughter.

Clearly, it’s not that easy to fire the “Barbaras” of the world, or this exchange wouldn’t continue to work across all kinds of industries and cultures– even the top-notch law firm I spoke to recently hasn’t cracked the code in their own organization.

5 Ways to Deal With Drama Queens and Chronic Complainers

First let me emphasize the CHRONIC part of the syndrome I’m talking about here. Open dialogue and employees expressing concern is not complaining. Seeking to understand is not resistance. I’m talking about the handful of looney tunes you’ll encounter in your career who consistently make matters worse.

1. Take it Off-Line

What Barbara wants more than anything is an audience. Don’t let her hijack your meeting. Acknowledge her concern and schedule some limited time to understand her concern privately (always good to have someone headed to your office right after). Trust me, your team will thank you.

2. Listen with an Open Mind

Honestly, the reason these Barbaras are so annoying is that they have a point. Some of what they say is true, and you know it. But, you understand the bigger picture and the constraints. I must admit, I’ve gotten some great insights from the Barbaras of the world. Pay attention enough so you don’t miss the good stuff.

3. Give Them a Project

I swear this works. Get them involved in solving the problem, not just talking about it. It’s always easier to tear something down than to build something up. Pull her into the solution-building equation.

4. Watch Your Body Language and Facial Expressions

Looking annoyed and ticked off will only reinforce her opinion that you’re an idiot who doesn’t care. It’s easy to slip into passive aggressive mode here, to roll your eyes, or sigh deeply. Remember that Barbara is annoying, not stupid.

5. Fire Them

Not for complaining, but for the other complicating factors. All that miss-spent energy normally comes at a productivity price. If Steps 1-4 still don’t work (be sure you’ve given them a chance), pay close attention to the side effects and document them.

Why Job Descriptions are a Dying Art

A client called. “Karin, I’m going to send you the job description for the new role we designed, but ignore all the HR mumbo jumbo. Just concentrate on the competencies and see if they seem right to you based on the strategy we’ve been working on.”

Game on. We were going to have the conversation that was most worth having: How do we find the right person with the aptitude for this vital job? The 25% this, 37% that of traditional job descriptions was a crap shoot at best. We needed a thinker who would work with us to be as creative as possible and build this role into more than we ever imagined.

Planning out roles and functions is vital. Pricing jobs for fair market value makes sense. But when job descriptions serve to confine, or “swim lanes” become too narrow, you’re headed into dangerous waters.

I remembered the time the union fought so hard to prevent “service reps” from doing higher paid “customer rep” work, and kept a careful watch–telling both groups to be careful not to do too much outside their “role.” Once the lawyers got involved, the higher job was eliminated, and the career path disappeared, and really great people were disappointed, and stopped trying. I was devastated to see good people with hopes of moving up crushed by the instruction to do less, because some artificial boundaries said that would help. It didn’t. It never does.

It’s not just in union jobs. Recently, I failed to convince one of my MBA students in the power of thinking beyond her current low level ” job description.” She sings opera on the side and was asked if she would like to sing at her company gala (with external players). She said only if she were paid for the gig since this is “not in her job description.”

She had a big opportunity to get noticed and to differentiate herself. She didn’t sing as a matter of principle.

As a musician myself, I get it at some level. But, I’ll also never forget the time we were  in the middle of a touching measure of a huge rehearsal and the conductor put down the baton between beats, because it was time for a union break.

Most examples are not this dramatic, and often not articulated. But in almost every company I work in I see signs of the “it’s not my job virus” gaining momentum… and the “A Players” are shooting themselves in the foot while the mediocre get by just fine.

Why Job Descriptions are Old School

I can’t claim to fully understand every circumstance, and I know there are grave situations where good people are being exploited. I’m not talking about that. What I do know is the hundreds, at this point likely thousands, of people I’ve met over the years in reasonable paying jobs, whose fear of working outside their job description absolutely damaged their careers and sabotaged their long-term earnings.

And it’s even more critical now.

We’re in a knowledge and technology economy when even lower level jobs change faster than HR can keep up.

Your job description is the skeleton–the unimaginative view of minimal requirements. Many will stop there and stay put. And that’s a tragedy.

The game changers will understand this limited view, and know that the real work is to think past the basics and add value that changes the game. In most cases the money will follow. If not, know there are plenty of companies hungry to hire people willing to change the game.

The Call to HR

Of course you need job descriptions. It’s just time to get more creative. Imagine the possibilities if every job description had the 75% skeleton as it exists today, and then 25% encouraging innovation and additional contribution?

  • Continuously seeks new ways to enhance the customer experience and shares them with peers
  • Collaborates across departments for innovative solutions to improve quality and reduce costs
  • Builds a deep bench of talent through recruiting, mentoring and organic employee development

Let’s Discuss

The old Field of Dreams idea of “build it and they will come” sometimes fails as a short-term solution. But I’ve never seen a genuine effort of a competent person giving a little more than expected over time fail.

I’m wide-open to real dialogue here. Let’s talk about this important issue.

2 Reasons Employee Engagement is So Hard– And What to Do About It

If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of employee engagement results, you most likely know the, “How in the world could they feel THAT WAY after ALL I’ve done?” head-scratching frustration. I know I have. You’ve recognized, mentored, career-pathed, taken some bullets, helped them win… and yet, it somehow wasn’t enough for everyone. A few folks still feel frustration and are not afraid to make that perfectly clear on your “stupid survey that no one ever does anything with.”

The truth is, what makes employee engagement so hard is that it’s not just about what’s happening today. Your employees are impacted by all their yesterdays, and their view of how they will fit into the future of your organization tomorrow.

Winning Well managers are translators of the past and sherpas toward the future. Before they motivate, they translate.

Winning Well managers know they need to help employees recover from their memory of past experiences: a boss that took credit for their work; an organizational structure change that made their role less meaningful; a shift in strategy which made their project less of a priority… and at the same time help them see a bright future for themselves in the organization. If employees are skeptical that they’ll matter in the future, they’ll be less likely to go the extra mile today.

How to Help Employees Make Sense of the Past

1. Have a private conversation

I actually had one manager who had worked in my organization for three years tell me how intimidated she was around me for a very long time. I was shocked, as I’d never treated her with anything but kindness and respect, and was always working to connect with her at a human level.

She confided that she’d “been burned so many times before” by other female leaders that she just didn’t trust my motives.  Her opening up to me allowed me to share some of my personal stories of my career growth and why I believe and act like I do now–based on mistakes by myself and others in the past. I then explained that all leaders (whether they admit it or not) have similar insecurities and regrets–that instead of starting from a place of fear or skepticism of a new leader, it’s much more productive to get to know one another and give them a chance. Assuming mal-intent will color your perceptions and potentially lead to false interpretations.

After we had that conversation, she became much more secure in her role, took more risks, shared her opinions, and eventually was promoted. Her fear from her past had actually been holding her back from being her best self. Once she realized the past did not define the future, she was able to truly engage and build a better one for herself and the company.

2. Help them understand the context

Often when something negative happens, the employee doesn’t have all the context. Start with questions: Do you know WHY they made the decision to close that office? Do you know WHY the project lost funding? Often employees are so caught up in the impact, that they may not have truly sought to understand the bigger picture (or someone may not have explained it well). Translators take time to help employees understand the greater context of decisions so they seem less arbitrary.

And Get Excited About the Future

3. Help them understand what they can control

Nothing creates anxiety more than feeling out of control. Helping employees understand that although they may not have influence on some of the bigger strategic moves that could potentially impact their future, they have much they can do to prepare to be a utility player that adds value when circumstances change. Finishing their degree, learning new skills, networking with other departments, all go a long way in helping people feel better about themselves and their future in the company.

4. Help them see the road ahead

The main reason employees don’t think strategically is that they aren’t given enough information to connect the dots. Help employees see the strategic and competitive environment and where the organization is headed. Help them understand how the work they do contributes today and where it fits into the future. When holding career discussions, help them develop the skills that will be most important as the company grows and transforms.

To feel better about their jobs, employees need support making sense of the past and understanding what’s possible in the future.

Before you motivate, translate.

How to Get Your Team Fired Up About a Change

The minute I walked into their building, I could feel the excitement reverberating from the walls. Everyone was buzzing about the unveiling of their new company name, branding, and messaging. The IT Guy explained that they were “no longer” a start-up (true), and the designer clearly articulated how these changes were to take the company into the next phase of their growth. Everyone I spoke to was fired up, and could articulate the reasons behind the changes in a remarkably extemporaneous and consistent way.

“How long have you known about this?,” I asked suddenly aware of how different this announcement felt from the ones I was a part of in my corporate roles. “Oh about a month,” was the consistent answer. “They trusted us to keep in under wraps until today.” “We don’t really have secrets around here.” I looked around. The only closeable doors were the conference rooms and the cleverly designed old-fashioned red phone booths employees could use in case they needed some privacy for a personal matter. “Plus WE WERE PART OF the design for the new look for the website and social media channels.”

I thought back to my early years on the receiving end of such transformation messages. As a lower level manager, I’d receive last-minute notice of a meeting and then would head to a conference room or a conference call to hear a carefully prepared speech about why we should be fired up and then handed a tee-shirt to seal the deal.

A few years later, when I was closer to the inner circle, I’d receive an invite to a conference call 30 minutes before the press release, where I would be handed a list of carefully crafted Q & As to cover with my team 30 minutes after the press got the news.

In my most recent executive role, I signed a stack of non-disclosures and was one of the few “in the know,” wordsmithing talking points and crafting As to the Qs most likely to be asked, triple checking to ensure the wording could be stomached by both legal and the employees.

Of course, you can’t manage a Fortune 50 company like a “no longer a start-up.” But, when the veil of secrecy becomes the norm, employees waste valuable energy bracing themselves for what’s next and guarding their enthusiasm.

Organic fire comes when change ignites with you, not on you.

If you want a team on fire about your change, trust them enough to help gather the kindling.

How to Get Employees to Care About Your Company

Great commercials, strong PR, a brilliant social media strategy all warrant effort when building your company’s reputation. But there’s no better PR than an army of loyal employees living and breathing your brand. You know the type–folks with enthusiasm bursting from their veins–talking up your products and services with their friends at every bar, baptism and bat mitzvah they attend.

“No, I’m telling you this works, I’ve seen it from the inside! This product has changed my life! Let me show you.”

Or  “I’m so sorry you had that experience, it’s not usually like that.”

Yes. Define your image. Yes, yes, advertise it. But don’t overlook the power of your employees to tell your story.

7 Way To Turn Your Employees into Advocates

Your best employees want to be part of the inner circle. If you want them to act like owners, treat them that way. Here’s how.

1. Acknowledge Reality

Don’t blow smoke. They know the truth better than anyone and how it’s been received. Don’t sugarcoat the issues. Share your concerns and get them involved to fix them.

2. Listen to What They Hear

Don’t discount their feedback as “noise” really listen to what they’re hearing from customers. Nothing is more disconcerting that watching employees share relentless feedback in focus groups and having execs finally pay attention when the consultant comes in and says the same thing.

3. Give Them Context

Share the bigger picture and dynamics of the parameters you’re up against. Creativity comes best when the constraints are clear.

4. Treat Them with Deep Respect

“PR or HR or Staff or the VP knows best” never really plays well at the front line. Respect their perspective, and they’ll respect yours.

5. Encourage Them to Speak in Their Own Voice

Once this deeper understanding is established, I’m always amazed at the insights and eloquence of the frontline. Scripting may keep you out of trouble, but I’ve never seen a script create a best-in-class brand.

6. Allow Them to Be the Hero

There’s nothing more frustrating to a frontline employee than when an executive swoops in and does EXACTLY what they would have done but their hands were tied. Execs chalk this up to common sense that apparently they think they have but I’ve met many who question whether anyone they’ve hired to service their customers could possibly be that astute.

Give your employees a few opportunities (at least) to do what you would do in such circumstances. Can you imagine what would happen if you could replicate that level of prudence and critical thinking?

7. Encourage Swagger

This part may seem unnecessary. But I’m telling you, it matters. I remember when I first started working for Bell Atlantic (as a transition from my teaching assistanceship at the University of MD). All I wanted for Christmas was for my husband to get a hold of a Bell Atlantic sweat shirt. Here I was ready to be a spokesperson and to wear it proudly, but I couldn’t figure out how!

When two decades later I led the outsourced call center channel, it became obvious in about 37 seconds that these outsourced employees working for Verizon Wireless were wild about getting a hold of some VZW gear and would be honored to wear it. They felt passionate about being ambassadors of the brand.

When in doubt invest in the tee-shirts.

Effective brands are built from the inside out. Clever brands build the external engagement. Lasting brands build internal and external excitement concurrently.  What steps could you take to build an army of brand advocates?

One Thing to Eliminate From Every Job Description

I asked a group of managers (coming from a variety of industries and positions) “What do you think most bosses want from their employees?” They reached quick consensus: responsiveness, self-sufficiency, creativity, and candor topped the list (with a beautiful argument about the pros and cons of compliance).

I then asked, “How do you know what YOUR manager wants?” The responses were more varied and cryptic.

“You’ve got to watch for clues.”

“You learn by trial and error.”

“You’ve got to watch their body language.”

“You learn what not to do when others screw up.”

“Or worse, I learn when I screw up.”

And then the obvious question. “How do you think your team learns what you expect?” Crickets. Apparently mind-reading is a common, yet invisible requirement in many job descriptions.

How much time would we save if we were more explicit about what we want and need?

How much energy could be diverted to actually working on the work, rather than guessing what’s on one another’s minds?

  • “A response to my questions within  12 hours is vital. Let me explain why. We had this client _________.”
  • “I travel a lot so I’m going to count on you to make some important decisions when I’m in the air. Let me explain my process of evaluating a good decision.”
  • “There are some areas where I expect 100% compliance. All security standards must be followed at all times and we never jeopardize a customer’s private information.” In other areas I’m all for creativity and experimentation. I expect you to push back when something feels stupid. Let me tell you about a time _______.”

You know what you want and need. Your employees know what they need in order to meet your expectations. Imagine the possibilities with just a little more communication?