Without Vision A People Perish

When I was a boy growing up in Redlands, California, my father would often take me with him to view cultural events on summer evenings at the Redlands Bowl.  This outdoor venue was a wonderful place to view opera, plays, band concerts, and numerous famous singers.

One evening as we sat waiting for the performance to begin, my dad leaned over and asked me, “What do you think that means?” At the top of the proscenium were these words, “Without Vision A People Perish.”  Being only about 10 years old at the time, I contemplated the wisdom of this phrase and replied, “I guess it means that if you are blind, you can’t find your food, so then you die.”

He laughed out loud and said, “That’s pretty good! You’re right that if you can’t see what you need, you probably won’t find it.”

Having worked with a number of teams, I have often contemplated the impact vision has on increased motivation.  I was particularly fascinated with the Norton and Kaplan Study done in 2007.  These two Harvard researchers asked a myriad of employees if they knew how what they did at work impacted their organization’s strategy.  95% of those surveyed indicated that they did not know how their work contributed to the organization’s success.  Why is this the case?

Those employees surveyed most often chose leadership communication as the reason for the disconnection between themselves and understanding how their work impacted the organization. Put another way, “fake talk” contributes to “fake work,” or workers, managers, and organizations achieving less than full potential.

I would submit that clearly identifying and articulating a vision not only increases employee motivation but also insures desired results.

Here are a number of strategies you might implement to increase individual and team success.

Identify Your Mission

It is imperative to know specifically what you want to achieve.  If you are not completely clear, then your lack of clarity is what will be communicated to your associates.  You need to know exactly what you want people to do.

Articulate the Vision

Once you know exactly the results you want to achieve, you need to convey that vision to each individual.  They need to understand specifically how what they are and will be doing will make the vision reality.

Identify Success

Each individual should have a clear understanding of what success looks like and what expectations will guide their performance.  Clarity is the key.

Encourage Initiative and Communication

There are far too many people who wait to be told what to do.  Why is that? Sometimes people are afraid to make a mistake. At other times individuals have worked very hard and then have received no recognition for their efforts. Still others may feel like what they do really doesn’t matter.

Once you have clearly established expectations and set parameters for performance encourage people to help you achieve those goals.  Invite them to take the initiative, ask questions, identify concerns or roadblocks, offer suggestions, and solicit your involvement if they need help or support.  Creating a culture of candor and learning goes a long way to increasing motivation and engagement.

Inspire Determination

Determination moves people forward to action.  Even when obstacles occur or priorities change, encourage people to persevere towards the goal.  Those who have a specific idea of what to do and the permission to move forward to achieve it will succeed.

Be Positive

We are often quick to criticize what people don’t do or what they do that we don’t like.  How would it change things if you said, “This is a great opportunity for you.  I know you can apply your expertise and experience to make this assignment a smashing success. I look forward to seeing the results.”

Who wouldn’t be lifted or inspired by such an expression of confidence by their leader?  Speaking in this way empowers a person to succeed.

Celebrate Successes

Recognize individual and team effort in accomplishing superior results.  We repeat behavior that is reinforced.  Taking the time to recognize performance and its impact says, “I noticed you and what you did.” We often fail to realize that recognizing smaller successes lead to much larger future success.

Having a clear vision, communicating that vision to each individual effectively, inviting their help, and recognizing their contributions will increase your team’s motivation, productivity, and results.  Your vision will no longer be just a vision, but reality.

R . E . S . P . E . C . T

How Respect and the Quality of the Relationship Impact Results

People often talk about improving their results through conversations, but what they don’t talk about is the connection between respect and relationships. And yet, the results we receive are directly affected by the respect between two people and the quality of the relationship.

I recently spoke at a leadership conference of general managers for a national transportation company.  One of them told me this story which I will relate from his perspective.

One Saturday after reading your book, I went to a shop to have my windshield replaced. I arrived early for my appointment so I told the receptionist that I was here. She asked me to take       a seat.

A little while later, the owner stomped through the office and the waiting room, yelling, “Has anyone seen a Yukon?” A few minutes later I realized that he was probably talking about me. I went and found him.

“I have a Yukon that was to have the windshield replaced, were you looking for that one?” I asked.

“Well, no kidding! Were you just clueless when I came into the waiting room or what?” he demanded.

“Say, I don’t deserve to be spoken to like that!”

“Well, you can take your business elsewhere, then,” he retorted.

 “Fine! I will.”

As I went to my truck and prepared to leave I thought, “What am I going to do now?  I need my windshield replaced.  I don’t know where to go. I sure didn’t handle that very well. In fact, I violated most of the principles I just read about, and I didn’t get the results I wanted.”  I decided to go back into the store.

I went and found the manager, apologized, introduced myself, shook his hand, and said, “I really need you to fix my windshield.”

He said, “Let’s go take a ride in your vehicle. I need to go pick up some adhesive from my other store.” I went with him.

When we returned, I went and sat in my chair in the waiting room. The gentleman I had been sitting next to said, “Where did you go?” I told him that I had had a fight with the manager, but had returned to try the conversation over again because of a book I had recently read about managing conversation dynamics.

As we talked, I found out that he was a senior executive from an oil company where I had been trying to make inroads to sell our transportation services. After talking awhile we exchanged cards and he told me to call him next week to figure out a way we could work together.

Not long after, the owner of the store found me in the waiting room. He tossed me my keys and said, “Here you go. Your windshield is fixed.” As he walked away, he said, “By the way, the repair today is on the house.”

 I was shocked. I never realized how creating respect and building relationships had to do with results. Not only did I get my windshield replaced for free, but I also made a contact I had been trying to make for six months.

Here is a wonderful quote that summarizes this whole situation, “We are perfectly positioned to get exactly what we receive.” This quote makes the point that we are accountable for the results, the respect, and the relationships that we are currently experiencing. You can’t optimally improve your results without also considering the impact of respect and the relationship in any situation in which you may find yourself.

Can You Unify Your Team?

8 Tips for Increasing Team Unity

Before the start of the college football season, the head coach of the local university’s football team announced that he had decided to take the football players’ names off of each of their jerseys, not uncommon in college football.  However, in place of their names, he proposed having the team’s motto of “Tradition. Spirit. Honor” printed instead.

Because the team members were unhappy with this change, they called a team meeting to express their displeasure at the coach’s decision.  The players told the coach they believed that displaying their last names on their jerseys was not only honoring their families’ names, but also a visible measure of their personal accountability for their performance on the field. To the head coach’s credit, he reversed his previous stance to accommodate the team’s desires.

This situation drew such a firestorm of protest in the news and from fans on social media that it reaffirmed to me the importance of team unity.

In order to create a high performing team, unity is essential.  Leaders need to recognize that the way they manage a team’s dynamics plays a large role in how well people work together toward achieving mutual goals.

As you review the suggestions below, keep in mind how your conversations with your team and individual members impacts team unity.

Practice Patience                                                                                                    

No one is perfect.  Performance is a function of understanding and ability.  If your message is unclear, then you will likely be misinterpreted—individuals tend to act based on their perception of what is required.  Use others’ performances as an opportunity to explore potential misunderstandings.

Focus on Solutions

Oft times leaders berate others for poor past performances.  There is nothing wrong with exploring the past from the perspective of learning.  As soon as you understand how current results were achieved, focus on the future—what the individual can do going forward to improve their results.

Nix Negativity

It is critical that no one speak negatively about anyone on the team, particularly behind their backs.  Explain that each individual is responsible for protecting one another’s good name.  If an individual has an issue with a team member, you should encourage them to speak with each other about those issues rather than talking about them to other coworkers or to you.

Foster Learning

Team members should be encouraged to consciously observe and identify what is working and what is not.  You want people to do more of the right things and learn to identify areas that can be improved.  If you are able to get your team to take initiative for their learning and apply what they learn to their current challenges, you will not only save time, you will increase their ownership and accountability for success.

Do Fun “Stuff”

As hard as people work these days, it is important to engage in activities that will allow people to get to know one another on a personal basis in an informal setting.  Fostering positive personal relationships pays dividends on the job, not to mention the importance of allowing others to relax and enjoy themselves together.

Celebrate Successes

Recognize individual and team effort in accomplishing superior results.  We repeat behavior that is reinforced.  Taking the time to recognize performance and its impact says, “I noticed you and what you did.”

Invite Openness

Encouraging team members to share and explore their concerns and frustrations creates a degree of candor and openness that will foster learning and increase improvement.  Besides, often team members know more about what is not working than you do.  You want to access the knowledge and difference in perspective that team members can provide.  If you have to make a decision that may not receive wide support, explain the “why” or rationale for the decision.  Don’t be afraid to change your mind should you receive additional data that you didn’t have before–doing so signals to the team that you are open and flexible and that you value their input, knowledge, and expertise. Fostering and encouraging openness can create more successful outcomes.

The head coach’s willingness to listen and to accept his team’s request regarding their names on their jerseys did more to increase team unity and develop a strong team identity than printing the team’s motto on their jerseys.  The coach’s decision to listen to his team and to adapt to their request was an expression of his principled leadership.

Successfully Managing Remote Employees: 10 Tips for Improving Your Remote Leadership Skills

Successfully Managing Remote Employees:  10 Tips for Improving Your Remote Leadership Skills

I recently met with a friend and asked him what his current greatest challenge was. He responded that managing a number of remote employees was proving to be harder than he anticipated. When I asked him where members of his team were located, he indicated that he had team members in Singapore, Houston, Seattle, Beijing, Phoenix, Los Angeles, and London. Then he said that if I could give him a number of tips that would add some degree of structure and certainty to how he managed remotely, it would help improve the quality of his leadership. 

After visiting for an hour or so, we outlined 10 tips for more effectively managing remote employees: 

  1. Clearly identify company goals. Often team members have differing interpretations of what the company’s objectives are and how they contribute to the achievement of those goals. It’s important to be clear about what the company’s goals are and how both the team and each individual contributes to the attainment of those goals. When individuals clearly understand their roles and the importance of the work they do, they are usually more motivated by the clear vision and distinct purpose that their work serves to achieve.
  2. Establish clear accountabilities. Sometimes people who work remotely have a presumption of autonomy. Although no one is on site to insure that they are actually doing the assigned tasks, being very specific about your expectations for performance will help to increase employee engagement and accountability whether you are there or not.
  3. Set milestones for achievement. After you have identified a performance goal, it is helpful to establish a clear set of milestones that will help the individual reach that goal. Doing so makes it easier to hold accountability conversations along the way. Setting clear milestones will benefit them and those who might also rely upon their work for the achievement of their own objectives. Be sure to involve those doing the work to insure that the goals set are realistic and attainable.
  4. Emphasize a customer focus. Not everyone interacts with external customers. However, sometimes individuals become so caught up in their work that they lose sight of how their actions impact others, whether inside or outside the company. Having a clear understanding how their work directly affects those they are trying to serve will help them to meet expectations and demands in an exemplary manner.
  5. Foster open relationships. Just as you would work to build an open relationship with a person in a face-to-face setting, it’s essential to build a relationship with remote employees. Taking the time to speak with everyone will help you maintain a pulse on the needs of your team. Notice in virtual meetings who is speaking up, participating, and making suggestions. Also notice who is not as engaged. These less-engaged employees should be a focus of your contact and attention as you try to understand what and how they are doing. It is difficult to address concerns and challenges that you don’t know exist. Reaching out to everyone signals that you care and are concerned about their success.
  6. Be accommodating. When you have a team whose members live in a number of different locations and time zones, it would be wise to consider and accommodate some of those differences. For example, holding a meeting that is convenient in Singapore but not terribly convenient in the United States says you care enough about your Singapore employees to adapt to their needs. Taking the opportunity to rotate times among team members establishes fairness that will be accepted and supported by everyone.
  7. Reflect on the needs of others. Taking a minute to silently contemplate and anticipate the needs of remote employees will help them in the achievement of their goals. As you think about what each individual may need, incorporate those considerations in your questions when you meet with them one-on-one. Doing this will signal that you have their best interest and their progress in the forefront of your mind. This will increase your credibility as a leader while insuring the success of each individual.
  8. Check in frequently. You should meet with your remote employees on a regular basis, just as you would routinely meet with the entire team. Given the nature of the work, you may want to hold a weekly staff meeting that includes your remote employees. Likewise, you should check in with each individual employee at least once a month. This might seem to be a daunting task, but it’s important to remember that good relationships are a key factor in success. Individuals need encouragement as well as a frequent invitation to identify issues of concern or note where additional support may be needed.
  9. Establish development and growth goals. If we assume that everyone would like opportunities to grow and develop, then providing such opportunities allows people to improve their skills and abilities. Don’t use remoteness as an excuse for not making plans to help people improve. Creating a development plan for each of your employees helps individuals to stay engaged and motivated in what they are doing, as well as strengthening their skills, increasing their confidence, and improving their outcomes.
  10. Celebrate, celebrate, celebrate. Because you may not physically be together often, creating the opportunity to celebrate team and individual successes will go a long way to establishing rapport with one another and building a positive team culture. You should celebrate in team meetings, when you meet one-on-one, and when you have the opportunity to physically be in the same space. Look for ways to be creative in how you celebrate success. For example, you could send a gift to a remote employee, and then have them open the gift during a teleconference. Or you could create a team page on Facebook and ask individuals to post positive messages or to express appreciation to one another. Regularly do something that recognizes and celebrates the efforts of everyone. 

Managing remote employees is becoming an ever-increasing way of doing business. This reality necessitates a deliberate and conscious effort to ensure the success of your teammates. Taking the time to communicate your expectations clearly, to establish clear goals and milestones, to connect with others, and to celebrate individual and team accomplishments will increase positive results and the success of your team—guaranteed.    

12 ways to destroy employee engagement

12 ways to destroy employee engagement

Employee engagement is one of the focal points for improving business results. The notion of effectively shaping the employee experience is centered in improving engagement of employees to reduce turnover, improve productivity, increase accountability and achieve results.

But regardless of all the research that abounds on improving engagement, it is noteworthy that many organizations still do little to improve the leadership’s engagement the workforce. In your organization, is employee engagement the elephant in the room — what everyone knows needs fixing, but no one will speak up? Or are you happy with the status quo?

If you really want to stymie employee engagement, here are 12 behaviors that will help you do just that.

1. Don’t attempt to offer a vision. You know what work your department needs to accomplish. There is no need to offer any kind of vision or purpose that people need to do what is expected of them. Each person should know the tasks they need to complete; don’t worry about helping people understand how what they do ties into a larger picture of what you are trying to accomplish and why. Too much information just muddies the waters and is distracting.

2. Don’t allow people to question your directions. The work that needs to be completed should be the only focus of people’s efforts. Just tell people to do what you want them to do and nothing more. You are not interested in any new ways of doing things. Tell folks to keep their heads down and meet the desired goals in the timeframes that are given.

3. Don’t interact on a personal level. Knowing people on a personal level is irrelevant to the job. You don’t want to deal with people and their personal lives, and they don’t need to know anything about yours. You don’t have time to learn about what is important to people. Your focus is getting the job done and meeting the demands of your customers. Taking time to get to know people personally is a waste of time and detracts from the work at hand.

4. Don’t worry about being confrontational. Don’t hesitate to call people out in front of their peers and ridicule or criticize their performance. Sometimes a little fear is a great way to focus people and create a sense of urgency to get things done. When you call people out, others will step up their performance out of fear of thinking that you may single them out the next time around.

5. Don’t be afraid to let your true feelings show. When things begin to go awry or when people don’t meet your expectations, you should feel free to express your negative emotions with all of the intensity that you can muster. Keeping your emotions trapped inside of yourself usually doesn’t work very well. They will come out sooner or later, so you might as well let them loose. Feel free to yell, scream, call people names and use profanity. All of these behaviors will serve to get people’s attention and let them know their lack of performance is totally unacceptable.

6. Don’t give others credit for their work. You are the manager of a team or work group that you are responsible for. When they don’t perform, you are the one who is usually called on the carpet, so when they do perform well, you should naturally take the credit for what they do. If you are responsible when goals aren’t met, then it is natural that you should get the credit when the desired goals are achieved. This is what you need to do to get ahead and secure your annual bonus and your position. You know that organizations reward results, so you should get the credit for the results that you are responsible to achieve.

7. Don’t express appreciation. People don’t need to be recognized or appreciated. All of this verbal praise becomes meaningless if you do it all of the time. People are paid for what they do, so don’t worry about expressing any kind of verbal appreciation or recognizing them in any other way. The financial rewards associated with their work is reward enough.

8. Don’t allow people to do other than what they do best. No need to provide any kind of growth or developmental opportunities. You don’t want people leaving or looking for a reason to leave your department. Once they have learned how to do what you need them to do, you want them to stay put and just do their jobs. Besides, growth opportunities take time and cost money that you would rather not spend on skills that may not be applicable to the work that they do.

9. Don’t help people solve their problems. Sometimes people get stuck in the work that they are supposed to know how to do. Tell them to solve their own problems rather than coming to you when things don’t turn out as they should. Making them learn from their mistakes will make them produce and will improve their critical thinking skills.

10. Don’t offer feedback. The whole notion that people want or need feedback is overrated. The best feedback is the results that people receive from the work that they do. Tell individuals to take stock of what they do and change what they need to in order to get better results. They shouldn’t have to be checking in with you to know how they are doing.

11. Don’t take time to meet one on one. Taking time to meet with everyone individually takes too much time. It is much more efficient to meet with the whole group. Giving directions is more effective this way because everyone will hear what you are saying at the same time. Everyone will be on the same page, and if they have a question, they can ask each other.

12. Don’t encourage people to work together. It is better if people just focus on doing their work without distraction. All this getting together to collaborate is a waste of time. Decisions in groups often take too long and are often not made at all. Keep people focused on their specific goals without involving others.

If this is the way you lead your team, I can guarantee that turnover will be high, productivity will be lower, morale will be in the tank, and you will not get the results that you desire. Simply take each point above and remove the word “don’t,” turning the suggestions into a positive statement of what you should be doing to increase employee engagement. Doing so will positively shape your employee’s experience and dramatically improve your results while helping people be successful, productive, and feel valued.