Thursday was a pivotal day in my professional life; the past year has been a year of serious firsts if I really look back on it. My first time to go through an acquisition, my first time to go through a merger (sort of), my first time to be “down sized” (or whatever the vogue term for having your position eliminated is now). These kinds of things change you. But change does not have to be viewed as a negative.
So here I sit on a Sunday morning- just a few short days after losing my job- trying to look on the bright side of things. It is easy to feel sour, but I just can’t let myself go there…so loving the old cliché, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade”, I decide that is the way to go for me.
What can be considered sweet in all of this or any workplace adversity for that matter? Well let’s see if I can discover at least three things that are positive (three seems to be a good starting point when something seems overwhelming to me):
- In my short time there, I learned some truly valuable lessons. While it was awful putting up with certain inequities and unethical behaviors, I did learn that trust is paramount to an organization’s overall health. Once it is gone, it is gone. I have never seen this in practice in such a blatant manner before but I certainly was able to gather many “What not to do” stories that will help me bring life to my teaching and will serve as a reminder of what I never want to be. My dad says, “You have to experience the bad to appreciate to good.” So that is my first positive- I can now truly appreciate the good and can use my experience to help others improve the health of their organizations.
- I met some really great people. I made some very good connections- both professionally and personally- which I would never trade for the world. I know that staying in touch is difficult once you are gone from their daily life but I know there are a few people that I will work very hard to continue to communicate with on a regular basis.
- While free-falling is a terrifying feeling, I believe that if I had not been pushed out of the nest I would not have propelled myself forward as hard or fast to begin my own company. Not that I wouldn’t have gotten there eventually but I certainly would have taken my time and approached it in a very methodical manner. I do think that often times this calculated approach stifles our creativity. While emotionally difficult for me- the rejection you feel when you are told you are no longer wanted somewhere is painful, even if you know that to them you were not a person but a number-being laid off gives me the opportunity to let the creative juices flow free and makes me have to work extremely hard to ensure the success of my new endeavor.
If I worked at it a little longer, I bet I could have come up with a few additional blessings that this hardship has bestowed upon me. Life is messy sometimes and we can either choose to cry over the spilled milk or embrace the challenge as an open door to a bright new opportunity. I am choosing to make some really delicious lemonade and I am excited to pour a nice cold glass and bask in the glow of a sunny future- care to join me?
Happy employees matter. It is the happy people that go the extra mile, impact the culture and elevate the team to the next level. Happy employees make the difference between mildly successful and wildly successful.
You think, and want others to think, that you do care about the employees that work for you. But if you examine your actions- and this is where the rubber hits the road, Folks- are they in line with this thought or is it nothing more than lip service because you know that it the expectation?
Here are a few things that may help you determine if you truly care to impact your employee’s happiness:
1. Employees are people- not assets. You can’t act like people are things. As soon as you don’t consider feelings (I know it is almost innate in business people to want to divorce themselves from this “soft” stuff but it causes more problems than they are willing to admit), you are acting as if your employees are no different than a piece of equipment to be used by you and discarded when they have expended their usefulness to you that is how they will act. No one will be happy if they feel expendable. (Notice the repeated “you” in this section- it was not an accident. Whose interest comes first in your world?)
2. People need a vision– your employees will gladly pitch in to do whatever it is that needs done, IF they can see how their efforts will positively impact the direction of the company. Employees that have the feeling of belonging and being able to contribute to a common goal will happily do what it takes to ensure success and isn’t that what you want?
3. Trust is paramount to leadership success and good leaders are paramount to happy employees– Leaders, PLEASE listen closely…trust is the most valuable commodity you can ever hope to have, it takes time and effort to gain it and it can be downright elusive: do not jeopardize it for any reason. Once it is gone, it is gone and it will take more than a miracle to try to build that again. And guess what, you might not even realize that it is gone. Employees are NOT going to come up to you and tell you that they don’t trust you, period. So what can you do? While this is a topic big enough to fill several books, I can give you my bottom line, basic thought on it…be ”real” with your employees. You might think that employees believe the façade you have built, but I can guarantee with 100% certainty that they don’t. So… What is real? Tell the truth, keep your word, maintain a high ethical standard, never break the Golden Rule, admit when you are wrong and be transparent. People need to know what to expect from you and if you don’t offer that “real” you to them they will not trust you.
Happiness is not going to come to your employees because you buy doughnuts on Friday mornings or throw pizza parties on occasion. They will be happy if you treat them as valuable, unique individuals that you want to be part of the team. They need to know you care and that you have their back—and they will in turn have yours. When employees are happy, great things can happen. –Tony Hsieh. CEO Zappos
Several years ago, I was having a particularly bad week and by the time Friday got here I was fried! My husband, in his infinite wisdom, decided the best way for me to keep my sanity was to come home and inform me that I needed a vacation. Of course I did! Who doesn’t? But this, instead of thrilling me, actually immediately added to my stress level.
Great, I thought, still one more thing to add to my to-do list…plan a vacation. After voicing this concern in maybe not the most loving tone, my husband agreed with me. So, once again in his infinite wisdom, told me to go and pack up a few things for me and the kids for the weekend- he was taking us on a spontaneous vacation.
Well, let me tell you, it was AWESOME! We loaded in the car and headed west with no destination in mind. It was crazy and impulsive and an absolute blast that my kids still talk about today (and request that we do it again). Given my story and the great result, you would think that I am going to advocate the “flying by the seat of your pants” approach but nothing can be further from the truth.
I think our spontaneous vacation was a success because we had no fixed outcome in mind other than to be together and enjoy some time away from home- easy to succeed with such loose parameters and with really nothing to lose. But let’s be honest, in our careers and in business we have a serious desired outcome that usually is attached to our livelihood giving it that extra bump on the critical scale. We have to know where we are going if we even have the slightest hope of getting there.
It seems very elementary and very cliché but I don’t know why then so many managers do not feel it is important for their employees to have a vision of where the company is headed. And I don’t just mean paying lip service to a vision statement but a real, truthful, transparent look at the future of the company. Giving them that does not reduce management’s power but shares the power with everyone who has the ability to help impact the outcome. Doing this helps everything else fall into place. People want to be part of something bigger than themselves and will work very hard to ensure the success of something that they feel a part of. Share- share the vision, share the responsibility and share the success!
Have you ever walked through one of those haunted houses where everything is pitch black and you are kind of just feeling your way through? Scary as heck, right? Of course it better be or the haunted house would be a major flop. While intentionally inflicting fear on ourselves at Halloween is fun (at least for some), that horrifying, stumbling-around-in-the-dark feeling has no place in our work lives.
We want and need to know where we are going and how we are getting there. It empowers us to do our very best and makes us feel in control of the situation at hand. Now, I have worked with some really smart people in my career so I am forever baffled when they seem taken aback by the mere suggestion that we share information with the employees of the company.
Now, please don’t misunderstand, I am not suggesting that information that needs to be confidential is shared but more often than not, managers tend to want to withhold information that would help to strengthen the vision of the company or the ability of employee to succeed at their job and is not classified information. For example, a company I worked for was doing some reorganization. There was a position that was going to go through a transformation (not elimination) but the managers did not want the employee to know for fear that he would be unhappy with the change and would leave. The plan was to get everything set-up and when it was time to make the change they would tell the employee.
Well, you can probably guess where I am going with this but because I no longer take things for granted, I will lay it out for you. The day came for the transition to happen and they called the employee into the office to break the news to him. After the shock wore off, a few things were apparent; 1) the employee felt betrayed that people he knew and trusted did not let him in on the plans for his position and 2) the managers, not being as intimate with the position as the employee, made a huge mistake in what was realistically able to be expected from the person and related systems.
So, there they all sat, with egg on their face. The one person that could have and should have been consulted was left out of the planning and now that there was a mess to be cleaned up they did not have the trust of the person that could help them out of the jam they created…hmmmm, you know we have all seen something similar happen. So the question that just begs for an answer is why can’t we trust our employees?
That is what this all comes down to in the end. We don’t trust them to act in the company’s best interest so we keep them in the dark until we think we have backed them in a corner and left them with no option. They have to comply with things as they are presented – as the managers want them to be- or so we think. Silly Rabbit!
The one thing the employees (especially your best employees) have that nothing can change is their ability to choose. They can choose to leave, they can choose to stay, they can choose a good attitude or they can fight the entire time…but no matter what, THEY choose. As managers, the impact we can have is giving the employees the information and support so that the trust and respect is maintained. Turn on the lights and help them choose you and everything else will fall into place.
Walk in my shoes….how often do we wish our boss, our spouse, or children, heck even the cashier at the grocery store would just for a moment really understand where we are coming from. No one truly understands what we go through each and every day just to get our daily tasks accomplished. Wouldn’t it be great if they could, for even a day, be able to take a walk in our shoes? That way, they would truly understand things from our perspective.
Well, guess what, just as we say that about the people in our lives, you better believe that there are people in ours wishing the same thing about us. Guaranteed, our employees do not believe that we know what they go through every day to get their job done. So…the big question is, do we? I am not so sure. Of course, we think we do. And at one time, maybe we actually did their job so we think our insight is plenty but I would like to caution you on this. Why? Because things evolve and change at a constant pace, nothing stays the same. So, what can we do to get a true picture?
I can already hear the moaning and groaning but here it goes. Walk in their shoes! Here is my challenge to you…for at least 4 hours, do someone’s job. Choose a position you are comfortable with and think that you know what that employee actually does on a daily basis (of course, you could really up the ante and select a job about which you know precious little). Let that person know several days in advance that you will be coming to “be them” for a few hours and that you would like them to prepare to show you a typical day. Stress that you want this to be a learning experience and because you value what they do you would like them to be a partner with you on this exciting challenge.
Then get out there and do your best! Enjoy the adventure and keep an open mind. At the very least, you find you were right and you do know what goes on in their world at work. Chances are, however, that you will learn something new. This knowledge is powerful! It will give you a greater appreciation for the work your employees do, will allow you first hand experience upon which to base process improvement initiatives and will allow your employees to see that you are on their side. Louder than any words you speak, this action will instill upon them that you value their time and their efforts and will strengthen the relationship you have with your staff. If you think you don’t have 4 hours to “waste”, reconsider the return on investment that this experience proposes. You stand to gain far more than money can buy. So while it may not show up on any balance sheet, the asset you are protecting is the most valuable one any company has- investment in your people is always, always worth its weight in gold.
The “Go-To” guy….every manager has one. You know who I am talking about, that person you count on for everything. Great person to have on the team to be sure, but by relying on them completely you are doing not only them but the rest of your staff a disservice as well.
Your “Go-To” can get anything done. They are fast and accurate and you trust them with all of the important assignments. Logical, I know, but the damage you are doing seems to defy logic and may happen so gradually that you don’t even realize there is a problem until it is too late.
Traditional motivational theories tell us that people need to have responsibility and need to feel valued to stay motivated. So by this logic, our top performer should feel great being relied on so heavily. But two things are at play here. First, it is important to note that one thing that can cause dissatisfaction is unfair treatment. Is it fair to keep burdening your A-player with extra work? Just because they can do it, does it mean they should have to? And let’s not forget the rest of your staff. How are they feeling when they see the “important stuff” going to the same person over and over? My guess is that they feel that you don’t trust them. That lack of trust (real or perceived) is a morale killer in and of itself.
The other consideration comes down to equity as well. Does the “Go-To” person receive compensation that is in line with the additional responsibilities or has it just become an expectation that this individual be given extra work or tougher assignments simply because you know you can count on them getting done? If the output (compensation) does not equal input (the employee’s capability and hard work), Adam’s Equity Theory, as well as others of course, tells us that the employee will become dissatisfied and will reduce effort, become disgruntled or disruptive and in extreme cases will leave the job, or should I say leave you?
The decision is not easy and will require work on your part but you have to choose to either distribute the responsibility (which is a terrific opportunity to allow other employees to shine) or come to the conclusion that you will continue on the current path knowing that there is a chance that eventually you will likely loose one or more truly valuable assets to your organization.
If you are shooting for higher productivity, look to psychology not policy. Productivity is the result of motivated employees. Motivated employees are not the result of policies….let me repeat that. Motivated employees are not the result of policies.
Managers worry about when employees come and go, when they take a break and for how long, how long they spend on the internet, and on and on. So their first instinct is to create a policy to limit what the employee can do. Sounds sensible, right? Hmmmm….I don’t think so.
To find out what really motivates employees, you need to have an understanding of motivational theories. Motivational theories are psychological understandings of what can inspire people to extend their abilities and to perform to the best of those talents.
There are many great theories out there and it is certainly worth the time and effort required to at least garner a basic knowledge of some of the most prominent. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Herzberg’s Two-factor Theory and Alderfer’s ERG Theory are three good ones to investigate.
You will find one theory after another out there and most have their merits. Bottom line is each will discuss what people need to be motivate in the workplace and most will discuss what can kill that motivation.
People want to feel trusted, they need to be able to express creativity, they want growth opportunities, they want what they give to their job to equal what they feel they get in return…not once will you hear that people want to inundated with rules, micromanaged and controlled. Yet, that is exactly what some policies do.
Now don’t misunderstand me, policies are necessary to run a smooth operation just as laws are necessary to have orderly neighborhoods. There is a line however, between laws for an orderly neighborhood and a military state where people are oppressed by the government. It is exactly the same with an organization and its policies- less can be more; more creativity, more trust, more loyalty and more productivity.
Understanding your employees and learning what motivates them will give you the productivity you are looking for without writing a single prohibitive policy. Give them a try!
I just finished watching the movie about the NFL football player, Michael Oher. Of course, the movie is very inspiring and has wonderful life lessons weaved throughout. Today as I contemplated those lessons I had a thought not about what did happen to this young man but what could have happened. In one scene, Lee Ann walks on to the practice field and has a talk with Michael to motivate him to make the right plays. That scene was absolutely pivotal to Michael’s success and it occurred to me that it was because Lee Ann knew how to motivate Michael that he was ultimately able to succeed.
It wasn’t that the coach did not want Michael to succeed. He did what he knew to do to improve Michael’s performance- it just was not the right thing for this player. If Lee Ann had not stepped in, could Michael have ever reached the level of success he now enjoys? Or would he been doomed to mediocre performance because he never discovered the right motivation to become great? Is the same thing true for our employees? If we don’t find the meaningful way to reach each individual employee, could we be missing out on the opportunity to help make them great?
If there was ever a glowing example on why it is vital that managers get to know their employees and work to discover what motivates them on a personal level, this is it. So, how in the world can you figure out what makes your employees thrive? Start with the basics and work from there.
- Mission and Vision Statements– Do your employees know where they are going and why? With well articulated statements, an employee can understand their role in your organization and will feel part of the big picture. Everyone wants to feel part of something bigger than themselves- this helps achieve that need.
- Human Resource Strategies– Your employees are your greatest asset and your HR policies need to reflect the fact that you understand this and that you are striving to care for your employee’s best interests. This would include basics like compensation and benefit packages as well as internal motivators like training and development opportunities.
- Extra-mile incentives– Performance based incentive programs help to motivate employees to go the extra mile. Identifying opportunities to provide bonuses, flex time, additional education resources, and anything else that rewards the employee for high performance or enables them to increase their performance levels can be great motivators.
- Daily encouragement– Please do not discount the impact of a kind word and the gift of time. Sincere appreciation and acknowledgement of the employee is a hugely, often overlooked way to motivate your employees. A simple thank you, giving your employee your time to listen to their ideas and concerns, understanding and providing the tools that they need to be effective in their jobs are effective daily things that managers can do to help your employees become successful.
There is no magic formula to employee motivation because what moves each person is as individual as the person himself. It is an understandingly daunting task to uncover this information but using the basics above begins you on the path to providing the strong foundation needed to create a motivation program that will develop super-star employees.
The way you treat your employees will determine whether they just “show up for work” or if they give it their all. I am surprised how simple the concept is yet how difficult it is for business managers to grasp.
Every day I hear from employers about how the employees don’t care, how they take advantage of things, how they are unreliable. And for a small percentage of these conversations, I do believe that there may have been some poor choices made in the hiring process but for the majority, the blame lays squarely at the feet of the manager. How can I say such a thing? Simple, because the same people that are telling me about the employee issues they are having are usually the ones working very diligently to create processes and policies that treat the employee as no more than a number. So, why the surprise when the employee acts that way?
This, my friends, breaks one of the cardinal rules of employee relationship management. Rules? Okay, rules is a harsh word and we all know rules are made to be broken but there are a few “best practices”, if you will, that simply have to be given credence. Here are a few of the biggies:
- They don’t call it the “Golden Rule” for nothing. Really, if you can follow this you have got the majority of this employee relationship thing licked. Treating your employees the way you would like to be treated is huge but honestly I think it is quickly and easily lost in the shuffle. Let’s face it, you have a hundred things to worry about so analyzing the psychology behind every process or policy you implement seems daunting. But even a moment to pause and ask yourself, “How would I feel if I were them?” will be a great start.
- Trust is a two way street. Don’t take for granted that your employees trust you. Why? Because it is not automatic and has to be reciprocal. You have to earn their trust and you have to trust them. Sure, this is hard- no one said working with people was going to be easy- but it is a critical step in creating a relationship with your employees that paves the way to people who will go the extra mile for you.
- Give them opportunities to grow. This goes hand in hand with trust. You may find the occasional individual that is happy doing the same thing over and over again and that is great. However, many need to grow…notice I said need and not want. This is not optional. If you trust the employee, you can give them new experiences and chances to expand their skills. Not only does that make them more valuable to you, but it also fulfills the employees desire to learn and grow- a win-win situation.
- Create allies with communication. Everyone wants to be part of the in-crowd and by keeping them abreast of any changes not only quells rumors, which can quickly sap morale, but makes them feel part of the big picture. Of course I am not suggesting complete transparency but I am definitely warning against keeping everything as closely guarded secrets and “need to know” status intelligence. Holding back information that could have been shared makes the employee feel that they were not worthy of the consideration- you never want an employee to feel that you do not value them, NEVER!
Whether your employee makes minimum wage or 100k a year, at the end of the day, each and every employee is a person. People are unique, unpredictable, a real handful and a true joy. They are the greatest asset any company will ever have …now the trick is to always remember this and to treat them as you would any precious commodity.