Management Success Tip #185: The Non-Rocket Science Art of Listening

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You know how irritating it is when someone you’re talking to, usually a close friend or family member, is texting while you’re trying to get across something really important to you? Or maybe they’re not looking at you, but at something else? Or when they give you that blank stare as in “Whatever you’re saying it’s just so much blabla”?

Now with that close friend or family member, you have the freedom to say “Hey, listen up! This is important!” But when you are texting, looking at something or someone other than the person in front of you, or thinking about something totally unrelated which causes that blank stare, while your employee is trying to get across something really important to them—that employee does not have the freedom to say “Hey, listen up! This is important!” All your employee can do is stand there, feeling disrespected, dismissed and in general, devalued.

Not a great way to manage your peeps! Back in 1957, Ralph G. Nichols and Leonard A. Stevens wrote in a 1957 HBR article (yes, Harvard Business Review existed even waaaay back then); “It can be stated, with practically no qualification, that people in general do not know how to listen. They have ears that hear very well, but seldom have they acquired the necessary aural skills which would allow those ears to be used effectively for what is called listening.” Nichols and Stevens studied thousands of students and hundreds of business people, and what they found was that most retained only 50% of what they had heard—immediately after they’d heard it! And only 25% some six months later.

What does listening involve? Basically, your attention. Your 100% attention on what the person is saying to you, on looking at them, preferably engaging good eye contact, and acknowledging that you are listening by either nodding your head from time to time or saying something like “Uh-huh.”

Not rocket science. But it does mean you can’t be formulating your response while they are talking, nor can you text, daydream, tune out or otherwise withdraw your attention from the individual in front of you.

Accord your employees the basic respect of really listening to them, and they will respect you in turn.

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Management Success Tip #154: Indulge In A Powerful Motivator: Thank Your Employees

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You’d think that saying “thank you” or “I appreciate what you did here” would be normal, business-as-usual, in the workplace. You certainly think that you do your fair share of appreciating your employees. You may very well, however, here’s a wake-up call from UK’s performance improvement consultants Maritz (as discussed by business consultant Steve Roesler): their “research has found that almost one in five of us (19 per cent) have never been thanked for our efforts at work while more than a third only hear those two little words once or twice a year.”

More importantly, approximately one third of workers “receive regular recognition and are thanked several times a week, something that (as more than eight out of 10 of those surveyed acknowledged) has a positive impact on their desire to remain with their employer.”

Even if you think you already recognize, appreciate, and actually speak words of thanks and appreciation to your employees, think again. Are there workers you regularly thank, but some you take for granted? Are there workers you overlook in your thanks? Do you only think “Gee, good work, I appreciate that” in your mind, or do you actually speak the words?

When you next do a walk-through, or as a team meeting concludes, make the effort to catch an employee – or several – in the act of doing something right, and thank them, right there on the spot, in specifics, for what they’ve done right.

Thanks matter.

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 #136: Drive Employee Performance and Business Success With Effective Asks

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If failure to appreciate employees is the single most important factor that drives workers screaming out of a company, appreciating your employees is one of the best ways of not only keeping them, but supporting their very best performance and productivity.

Appreciating employees goes way beyond bonuses and awards. It is, as the saying goes, “the little things,” your day to day practices, that show employees they are appreciated.

And one of the easiest, best ways to show employees you value them (which is what appreciation is all about), is to ask them, on a regular basis, for their thoughts and comments.

Kevin Eikenberry, in a recent “Remarkable Learning” tip, suggests nine questions that effectively elicit employee thoughts:

“1. What is your intention?
2. How would you suggest we proceed?
3. What is your recommendation?
4. How do you think/feel about it?
5. What do you see contributing to this problem?
6. What is the best next step?
7. What is your biggest concern?
8. Can you say more about that?
9. What is your greatest wish?”

Ask these and similar questions frequently, you’ll greatly enhance employee engagement, as well as glean all sorts of useful ideas with which to increase your company’s success.

Management Success Tip #135: Don’t Leave It At Home: Compassion At Work, Works!

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For the longest time, it was believed that feelings, emotions, were inappropriate in the workplace; we were told to “leave it at home” – with the obvious exception of happiness at the company’s success, or the displeasure managers were expected to convey over poor performance or productivity.

But that has changed. It is increasingly recognized that people who are suffering or upset bring that upset to work with them, and “sucking it up” isn’t good for the person or the business.

If anything, research reported by Professor Jane Dutton suggests that when people experience compassion at work – a recognition of their pain – whether they are the recipient of the compassion, the giver of such, or just a witness to the compassion, feelings of commitment to the organization increase, as does employee engagement!

Yet businesses are not meant to be “group therapy” – there’s work to be done! So how can you show compassion to an employee or co-worker going through a rough patch, without turning yourself into Dr. Phil?

Professor Dutton suggests: ““Rather than worrying about fixing someone’s pain, simply taking the time to see their pain, to inquire, to empathize and to listen without judgment, can be an act of compassion at its best.”

None of which takes much time or energy, just a caring and respectful attitude toward the pain of your fellow human being. No Dr. Phil-ing required.

Management Success Tip #123: Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway!

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“Feel the fear and do it anyway” is a powerful phrase, generally attributed to author Susan Jeffers. Make no mistake about it: fear is powerful.

Fear is what prevents your employees from suggesting new projects or processes. Fear is what stands between your employees and their willingness to point out what isn’t working in the resources they’ve been allocated. Fear is what keeps your employees performing at levels below their best.

You, their manager, are not their therapist. It’s not up to you to go rooting around in your employees’ past or present lives for how various fears arose. Fortunately, you don’t need to.

What you do need, is to provide your employees with the antidote to fear: courage.

Courage is the ability to face the world, a situation, or a person, with confidence.  Courage is what enables your employees to speak up, speak out, and do what it takes to up the level of their contribution.

You instill courage in your employees by encouraging them. To encourage is literally, according to dictionary.com, “to inspire with courage, spirit, or confidence.”

Simply put, you applaud your employees’ efforts, you notice the work done right, you never dismiss an idea as ridiculous or irrelevant, you make it not only safe, but desirable for your employees to come to you with new ideas, helpful criticism, in a word – their truth.

Then indeed, despite the fact that there maybe always be that slight tremor of fear in the face of the new, your employees will be able to “Feel the fear and do it anyway” to the increasing success of your business.

Management Success Tip #116: Want Enthusiastic, Motivated Employees? Switch Your Focus from Output to Impact

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If you want engaged employees– critical to the success of your business–beyond the obvious of treating them with respect and providing fair compensation, change your emphasis from what Rosabeth Moss Kanter calls “output to impact – from how many products are sold to how much the products enrich peopleʼs lives in the broader society.”

We crave meaning in our work lives. We want to know that what we do matters, counts, is important–whether it’s putting widgets together on an assembly line or assisting in an operating room. Sure, it may seem easier to pump up employee enthusiasm when they are in life-saving occupations, but think about it: the employee who puts that widget together properly is integral to the safety of the machine or vehicle or whatever it is, and thus to the safety and well-being of the end user.

It’s up to you to see to it that your employees, from all departments, are well versed in the importance of what they do. Kanter’s recommendations are sound: “Repeat and reinforce a larger purpose. Emphasize the positive impact of the work they do. Clarity about how your products or services can improve the world provides guideposts for employeesʼ priorities and decisions. As part of the daily conversation, mission and purpose can make even mundane tasks a means to a larger end.”

What your employees do, matters. Let them know it. Lend your enthusiasm, your belief, your engagement to that cause, and your employees will bring their enthusiasm to yours.