Management Success Tip #181: Give First What You Want to Get from Your Employees

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Recently, The Conference Board came up with a practical, down to earth, and—more importantly—useful definition of “employee engagement.” Because frankly, half the time, when you ask managers how they define “employee engagement,” all you get is a blank stare and a “Uh, well, it’s when employees are engaged” type response, which means virtually nothing.

Here’s the definition: “A heightened emotional connection that an employee feels for his or her organization, that influences him or her to exert greater discretionary effort to his or her work.”

Now to the practical part. The Conference Board’s first “key driver” of employee engagement is “Trust and integrity: how well managers communicate and ‘walk the talk.’

Ah yes, there it is. Where the rubber meets the road. How well do you walk your talk? For example, if you want employees to work well together, to collaborate seamlessly on projects—do you listen to employees when they communicate to you? Or is your mind on 100 other things, so you’re following their thoughts with but a fraction of your attention? Are you appreciative of their opinions, ideas and innovations? Or do you dismiss employee ideas as ‘not good enough’ or ‘yeah, yeah, heard that already’ without even giving them credit for the desire to improve things?

You can’t get what you aren’t willing to give. It’s just as true in the workplace as it is in your other relationships. Be willing to give to your employees in spades what you want them to contribute to your company’s success.

Management Success Tip #177: Encourage Your Employees’ Best Work: Adopt Employee-Friendly Body Language

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You’re in a tough spot as a boss. On the one hand, you have to exude sufficient authority that your employees accept your directives, on the other hand, you have to be sufficiently user-friendly that employees are willing to tell you the truth of what they see and how they see it.

There’s a reason why there are couches and chairs in the Oval Office, in addition to the President’s desk. The President sitting behind his (or one day, her?) desk conveys a message of relative separateness: “I’m over here, you’re over there.” When the President sits at a couch or chair, with the guest sitting similarly, the message is one of working things out together.

When it’s important that your employees experience you as in “together” mode, make sure your body language is congruent with that message. For example, Detert and Burris suggest: “Keeping your arms at your side (rather than crossing them in front of you), lowering your voice, dressing less formally, and even smiling can make people more likely to share their thoughts with you. So can behavioral cues, such as sitting at the same tables as everyone else at lunch and not being the first to articulate a point of view at meetings.”

Gone are the days of “He/She Who Must Be Obeyed”! For all you may regret that, adopting an employee-friendly manner will go a long way towards gaining your employees’ trust, and with that, their best work.

Management Success Tip #172: Engage Employee Cooperation By Asking Open-Ended Questions

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Even as children, most of us didn’t like to be told what to do. And although a certain amount of “Here’s what you must do” is obligatory in any business, there are many times when “What” or “How” open-ended questions are more effective.

For example, “How do you think your task could best be accomplished?” “What resources do you think you might require?” invite consideration by your employee as to just with what and how they might meet a desired goal. More importantly, open-ended questions invite dialogue, and dialogue, in turn, is how positive relationships are born.

Successful managers foster positive relationships between themselves and those who report to them: not necessarily friendships, but certainly relationships of mutual respect and appreciation.

You can, of course, lead by commanding, but that has proven to be an increasingly less effective strategy. Leading by engaging is far more powerful, and inviting dialogue is a prime way of engaging.

People always cooperate better with a decision they’ve had a hand in creating. Asking open-ended questions that invite dialogue is a sure way of facilitating your employees’ role in making, and then adhering to, those decisions that apply to them.

Management Success Tip #161: Servant-Leader: Not Just a Concept, a Powerful Success Generator

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Your CEO is espousing the concept of “servant-leader” as the latest and greatest way to build a platform from which tremendous productivity and performance will soar. And indeed, the idea of “servant-leader” sounds inspiring, even awe-inspiring: “A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong… The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.”

But as you scramble to meet this quarter’s deadlines, goals and other obligations, find someplace on your desktop to park yet another project requiring immediate attention, and winnow through today’s endless emails, texts and voicemails, all you can say is “How the heck am I supposed to be a ‘servant-leader’ along with everything else on my plate?!”

One step at a time. And the first step is easy, it consists of asking yourself a few questions, such as “What are my employees happy about? What aren’t they happy about? What are their challenges? How can I better respond to those challenges?” You know more than you think you do about what works for your employees and what doesn’t. And if you’re not sure, invite anonymous comments, make it safe for employees to share their experiences – good and bad.

Then, solicit ideas about how you can respond to employee experiences: how to amp the positive, find solutions to the negative.

And there you have it. You are now a budding servant-leader. By putting your employees’ concerns front and center (serving), you make it possible for both your workers and your company to thrive (leading to success).

Management Success Tip #156: A Better Way to Deliver Bad News: Deliver the Decision-Making Process

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Some managers are Scrooge-like in their glee at delivering bad news to employees, but that isn’t you. You wish there were some impersonal way to let your employees know that they’ve been demoted, or that raise isn’t going to happen, or they aren’t going to be part of the wonder-team, or whatever it is. But just like it’s extreme bad form to break up with someone via text, it’s utterly impossible for anyone other than your reluctant self to deliver said bad news. It’s in your job description.

Other than going British and adopting a stiff upper lip, what can you do?

Be transparent about the process by which the decision was made. People are generally more satisfied with the outcome, even when they don’t particularly like the outcome, when they believe that the outcome has been fairly arrived at. It’s what’s called “procedural fairness.” So explain how the decision was arrived at, who weighed in (if appropriate), what their considerations were, and what different factors came into play.

I think of it as “showing your long division.” Don’t just give your employee the result of the process, take them through the process itself. You don’t have to defend the process, or what went into the decision-making. Be factual, don’t take sides. Your objective is to describe the process, not argue any pros or cons.

Your employee may still not be thrilled at the news, but they will be at least reassured that the decision wasn’t arbitrary, and you will have a better way of delivering bad news than just stiffening your upper lip.

Management Success Tip #150: Want Solid Employee Ideas? Make it SAFE for Them to Talk!

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Asking questions of your employees is a tried and true way of engaging employee enthusiasm – not to mention getting valuable ideas and suggestions on improving productivity and performance from those in the trenches.

However, if your employees’ responses aren’t respected, appreciated and valued – or worse, employees feel that they’ve been punished or dealt with unfairly as a result of giving their honest opinion – then employees won’t give you their truth, all you’ll get are useless platitudes.

This is hurtful both to your business and to your employees.

Joseph Grenny, business performance consultant, discusses how a CEO successfully overcame the lack of safety felt by his employees when it came to voicing their concerns and suggestions. One of those ways was to praise publicly: “He [the CEO] created a safe forum for people to raise questions—then spoke publicly about those who asked them in laudatory ways… He was careful to sympathize with the questioners and to validate their concerns. The workforce took note— seeing evidence that disagreement would no longer be treated as insubordination. Questions could be asked anonymously or not, and over time more and more of the questioners identified themselves — which gave Phil [the CEO] a chance to commend them in the newsletter for their candor. Public praise is more about influencing those who hear it than those who receive it.”

Make it safe for employees to speak up, and openly express your appreciation for your employees’ contribution. You’ll win every time.

Management Success Tip #149: Speak It, Mean It – The Ultimate Employee-Engaging Question: “How Can I Help You?”

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The higher up the food chain you are, the less likely your employees are to believe that you have their best interests at heart. Common perception is that supervisors, department heads, managers and on up are interested in their own success, and the company or department’s success – but rarely the employee’s.

This may not be true for you at all, but if you want employee engagement, the holy grail of today’s businesses, then you must demonstrate your interest in your employees’ success and well-being, or develop such an interest if it’s not natural to you.

One of the easiest ways to do that is to cultivate the “How can I help you?” state of mind. To literally, ask employees “How can I help you?” with a sincere, genuine desire both to hear what they have to say, and to help them with their challenges and concerns.

A sterling example of this in action was Doug Conant, who, while he was CEO of Campbell Soup Company, asked “How can I help you?” all the time of his employees, and required his managers to do so as well. Over time, Conant’s approach – genuine and meaningful –  completely turned Campbell Soup Co. around, from declining market value and profits, and woeful employee engagement, to a once-again thriving corporation.