All posts by Les Landes

Scouting for Control

As history marks time, it hasn’t been so long ago when people thought the best way to run an organization was with an iron fist.  Workers were told what to do, and control was based on unchallenged lines of authority. There was little uncertainty about performance expectations, no room for employee opinions, and any effort to ruffle the status quo was met with swift, punishing consequences. 

The limits of authority
But even way back when, authority as a source of control had its limits.  A valuable lesson for today’s workforce can be learned from a notable exception to the traditional rule of control and command that embodied that long-ago bastion of order and discipline – the U.S. Cavalry.

The “production system” in those days was pretty straightforward. The colonel was in charge, and through the chain of command, he made sure that regulations were followed and requirements were met.

For the most part, the daily work routine consisted of making the bunks, polishing the brass, cleaning the stables – and given the white man’s misguided bias at the time – getting rid of the Indians. Measuring performance and production was just as clear-cut. All the colonel had to do was inspect the barracks … look at the brass … smell the stables … and count the bodies on the battlefield.

Everything worked fine for the colonel until he was faced with a dilemma he couldn’t solve by simply exerting his authority – not knowing where the Indians were. That’s when he had to count on his trusty scout – that free-spirited guy who wore buckskins instead of uniforms, and did pretty much whatever he wanted. He just had to be ready to go when the colonel needed him to track down the Indians.

When that happened, the colonel was still in charge – no one questioned his authority – but the scout was in control. That’s because he was the only one with the information and knowledge for the production system to operate successfully.

Information as the main source of control
Fast forward about 150 years, and look at how that scenario equates to modern day management. Fact is, in today’s complex organizations, information has significantly diminished authority as the sole source of control. First of all, few folks believe in absolute management dictates anymore – certainly not the millennial workforce.

You could also make a case that most of today’s managers are more tuned in to the benefits of free-thinking employees who can make sound decisions and take appropriate initiative on their own to go beyond the boundaries of their job descriptions.

Still, you have to wonder just how far we’ve really come from the old days – and how much further we have to go to optimize employee potential. According to the annual Gallup surveys on employee engagement, only 30% of employees are actively engaged, about 20% are actively disengaged, and the other 50% are somewhere in between. Gallup attributes most of that shabby state-of-affairs to bad management.

Make scouting part of everyone’s job description
So managers need to listen up. If you want to take a big leap forward in boosting engagement and getting team members emotionally invested in the company’s success, here are some guidelines to follow:

  1. Encourage and support everyone on your team to operate as “scouts,” always on the lookout for the trail to systematic continuous improvement.

  2. Set up routine processes for listening sincerely and substantively to the “scouting reports” you get from everyone on your team.

  3. Explain the decisions you make so your team knows you are taking their input seriously and not dismissing them without consideration.

We can’t turn back the clock and erase the tragedy of what was done to Native Americans, and we will never recover what’s been lost from the crushing effects of traditional command and control that diminished the value of workers in decades past.

We can, however, take a stand for a more promising and prosperous future – one that promotes human dignity, unleashes employee potential, and honors the extraordinary contributions that every individual is willing and able to make.

Watch this video to learn more about our approach to Systematic Continuous Improvement.

For more information or to request an appointment with Les Landes,  send us an e-mail or call us today at 314-664-6497. 

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What’s love got to do with it?

Tina Turner’s hit song, “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” could easily be an anthem for the way most people think about workplace relationships.  Love isn’t really the kind of thing that most people are comfortable discussing in the work world. In fact, the implications can be a bit unsettling for folks who want to keep their distance from things like harassment charges and dicey workplace romances.  I’m not that skittish about it, so I blurt out the word on occasion without much regard to whether or not someone might take it wrong.  Still I get where the hesitation comes from.

Earlier today, I received this wonderful “love infographic” in celebration of Valentine’s Day from my friends and colleagues at Gagen-MacDonald that reaffirmed the value of openly sharing genuine – and appropriate – expressions of love in the workplace.

With all the buzz around employee engagement these days, the “gift of love” from Gagen-MacDonald made me think of the phrase we use to talk about what we’re up to in life – and what we want to bring to the world of work at Landes & Associates.  We say we’re all about “Creating great organizations where employees love to work and customers love doing business.”  It’s right there in big, bold letters on the home page of our website.  Occasionally, when I look at it and when I say it out loud, I get a tad bit sheepish.  Then I get a message from the universe like the one I got today from Gagen-MacDonald, and I know we’re on the right track.

So what’s love got to do with it?  When it comes to people, it’s pretty much everything.  At least it’s where everything starts.

Here’s love to all of you!


An engagement “miracle”

T’was the night before Christmas. That timeless phrase tells true believers they are about to hear one of the most beloved holiday poems of all time.  It first appeared in a Troy, New York newspaper in 1823.  Recently, it took on fresh new meaning with a Christmas “miracle” that was performed by employees of the Canadian airline WestJet for passengers on two of their flights.

Westjet Christmas Miracle VideoThe story has been captured in a wonderful 5-minute video clip that is a must-see for everyone who’s grown a bit cynical about the capacity for any business to show it has a warm heart, a creative spirit and a sense of humor.  It’s also a refreshing reminder that truly compelling marketing requires effective “story-doing” and “story-listening” along with well-crafted “story-telling” if you want to foster greater employee engagement and customer loyalty over the long haul.  When it’s done right, the story tells itself – as the 27+ million YouTube views attest.


On the Landes & Associates website home page, we have a couple of personally meaningful phrases:

  •  Aligning marketing communications with employee engagement
  •  Creating great organizations where people love to work, and customers love doing business
Those two phrases go hand-in-hand, and they speak to our belief that the ultimate definition of marketing is “relationship building” – inside and out.  It goes beyond the typical notion that it’s mainly about slick advertising campaigns driven by persuasion, positioning and targeted messaging.  Those are important tools, but with thoughtful “story-doing” and “story-listening” they can leveraged to produce far greater impact.
Some cynics have scoffed at the WestJet “miracle” as a cheap publicity stunt.  Perhaps, but take a look at the faces of the people in the clip, including the WestJet employees, especially the one at 4:29.  From a financial investment standpoint, it was indeed cheap – it cost WestJet about $30,000.  But seeing the expressions of the passengers and employees who served them is priceless.
Have a blessed and joyful holiday season!

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Getting value from values.

It’s a rare organization that hasn’t gone through the process of defining their vision, mission and values at one time or another.  It just makes good sense to have a clear picture of where you’re heading and a roadmap for how you’re going to get there.  What’s more, it seems natural to assume that the impact of that process on employee engagement would be highly positive.  So imagine my surprise when I saw the data from a 2011 study of 5,000 employees across the country that reports only 4% are “inspired by values and a commitment to a mission and purpose.”  That’s not a typo – yes, I said 4%.

How can that be?  Well, another part of the study offers a good hint.  It states that “only 3% of respondents report they work for organizations whose purpose and values inform decision-making and guide all employee and company behavior.”

So 96% of the respondents say they weren’t inspired by values – and 97% say the stated values don’t guide decisions or behaviors.  Hmmmm … funny how those two things go hand-in-hand.

Before you lose heart, the study also revealed that companies that do govern heavily through values significantly outperform those who don’t.  The study showed that values-driven companies “experience higher levels of innovation, employee loyalty, and customer satisfaction, and lower levels of misconduct, employee fear of speaking up and retaliation.”

Here’s the bottom line.  Companies shouldn’t be discouraged from developing and deploying meaningful values. They just need to do it differently.

The Typical Approach
Consider the typical value-setting process: a small group of senior leaders go away for a day or two with a facilitator to put together a plan that includes vision, mission, values, etc.  The people who talk the loudest or who have the most authority are usually the ones whose opinions prevail. At the end of the session, they congratulate themselves, take it all back the corporation, send out an announcement about it, present it in a town hall meeting, put it in a binder, post it on the wall – and that’s about as far as it goes.

A Better Alternative
We’ve developed a Cultural Assessment instrument that’s designed to make values more meaningful, more reflective of the collective team’s views, and more actionable. It has 40 value statements that have been created and validated to reflect different culture types through a rigorous research and development process. Each person on the team (typically senior leaders and the next layer of management) completes the assessment, identifying from each person’s perspective the values that are most like and least like both the current and target cultures.

Every response is then tabulated and run through a computer program that identifies within one hundredth of a point on a 7-point scale the composite team score on each of the 40 value statements – for both the current and target cultures. The process is always enlightening for teams, and it points specifically at the areas where the biggest gaps need to be closed.

Beyond the Binder – Putting Values to Work
Once identified, we work with the team on how to close those gaps – particularly where they have an impact on employee engagement. One way we do that is by having each manager identify specific actions that he or she will start, stop, and continue to close the gaps. Then they review those actions with one another first.  Later they review the action plans with the teams of people who report to them. Then they periodically reconnect with their teams and review the progress that’s being made on closing the gaps and achieving the target culture.

That’s just one way to make values more relevant and long-lasting for an organization.  Whatever approach you use, just make sure it doesn’t become a retreat exercise that turns into nice-sounding words on a poster that lead to 96% of employees being uninspired.

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Fueling the human rocket.

Fueling employee engagement
What does it take to fuel employee engagement?

A few years ago, the Conference Board offered a definition of employee engagement that has become widely used and highly popular:  “A heightened emotional connection that employees feel for their organization … that influences them to exert greater discretionary effort to their work.”

The key point in that description is the link between “emotional connection” and “discretionary effort.”  Without an emotional connection, it’s very difficult to get people tuned in, turned on and eager to go the extra mile.

Making an emotional connection

In my new book – Getting to the Heart of Employee Engagement – I offer a somewhat provocative idea on how to make that kind of emotional connection.  It starts with the premise about the main qualities that differentiate human beings from all other living creatures – namely imagination and free will.  Not our intelligence – lots of animals are highly intelligent.  Not our souls – Disney has made it clear that “all dogs go to heaven.”  Not our compassion – many animals demonstrate strong emotional feelings about their fellow creatures.

At one point in writing the book, I was overcome by an out-of-body force that seemed to take over the keyboard and channel through me what may be the only significant original thought I’ve ever had.  Imagination and free will go hand-in-hand, and they are useless without one another.  Imagination without free will has no power.  Free will without imagination has no purpose.

Here’s why that idea is so important.  When people are not given the opportunity to exercise their innate, uniquely human gifts of imagination and free will, you diminish their potential and undermine their trust in the organization’s commitment to their success and well being.  Putting it more simply – you take the human out of human being.

Going beyond imagination and free will

But imagination and free will by themselves are not enough. Lots horrible things have come from people using their imagination and free will.  If you want employees to trust the organization and give the very best they are capable of contributing to its success, you must design systems, processes, policies and practices that foster the development of “human rockets” in three ways  – just like a real rocket:

  1. Optimize the potential of each person’s capacity for imagination and free will (thrusters and boosters to make them soar)
  2. Provide for the security and self-esteem that people need in order to feel safe  in exercising their imagination and free will (stabilizers to keep them from wobbling)
  3. Specify the responsibility and provide the constructive accountabilitythat people need in order to guide their decisions and actions in the use of their imagination and free will (a guidance system to keep them on course)

If you grasp the essential nature of the “human rocket,” it’s easy to understand why employees need to have some sense of control over the things that affect their lives and their ability to perform at their best. No one does their best when their only motivation comes from an external force.

Looking at the bright side of control

It’s also important to understand that “control” is not a four-letter word.  In the end, it’s just another word for predictability.  We mistakenly think that people don’t like “command and control,” but that’s only half right.  They hate the command part, for sure, but the control part is important. No one likes it when things are out of control.  People just want to have some say in what those controls are and how they are applied – especially when it comes to things that affect their own lives and their ability to do their best. When organizations learn how to apply that vital lesson, there will no shortage of the connection that employees feel for their enterprise – and they will demonstrate a level of extra effort beyond what most managers can imagine.

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The best game in town.


play to win

Let’s do some word association.  Tell me the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “game.”  I’ll bet it wasn’t “business.”  That is, of course, unless you’re one of the many devotees around the world of “open book management,” a game-changing way of management that made its first big public appearance 20 years ago with the initial publication of “The Great Game of Business.”

Two Decades of Game-Winning Strategies

Well … I’ve got great news for you, folks.  Last week, Random House released the long-awaited 20th anniversary edition of this ground-breaking classic written by Jack Stack, the head of SRC Holdings and the “father” of open book management (OBM).  As the people at SRC describe it, OBM is all about “creating better engagement – creating a sense of ownership through a deep connection with the numbers that matter most to the business and the individual.”

To say that it’s had a powerful impact on the businesses where OBM has been applied would be a huge understatement.  Take SRC Holdings, for example.  The company got its start in 1983 when Jack and the other employees at Springfield Remanufacturing decided to buy the operation from International Harvester.  IH was shutting down and selling off a bunch of their plants to stop a flood of red ink that was killing their business.  It was a highly leveraged buyout at 18% interest, and Jack knew they couldn’t survive unless every single employee had intimate knowledge of all the financial details of the business.  So he taught them – all of them – and every person in the company became more knowledgeable about finance than most MBA grads.

Here’s the juicy part of the story.  Their success has been meteoric by many measures, but the stock price tells it all.  When the introduction of the new edition of the book was written, here’s how the numbers stacked up.  If you had invested $1,000 in the S&P 500 in 1983 when SRC got started, your investment would have turned into $8,434.  If you had invested that $1,000 in Warren Buffet’s company, Berkshire Hathaway, it would be worth $113,000. Not bad.  If you had been one of the lucky employees who invested $1,000 in SRC – and you had to be an employee, not an outside investor – it would be worth $3.4 million  Can you say cha-ching??!!

Getting People Engaged in the Game

So what does all that have to do with communication and employee engagement?  Maybe everything!  I’ve talked before in this column about the essential criteria of an effective, engaging organizational communication system – all of which are exemplified in the OBM management process:

1. Interaction – If it isn’t two-way, it isn’t communication.  It’s message distribution. (OBM employees are plugged in to business conversations daily)

2. Speed – Quarterly publications have their place in an organization, but faster vehicles (like weekly OBM “huddles”) are needed to give people information they need to stay on top of performance and make needed adjustments on a routine basis.

3. Availability – Other than proprietary formulas and confidential human resource files, follow the policy for making information available to employees that one Baldrige Award winning company ultimately adopted – No secrets! (That’s the mantra in an OBM culture)

4. Access – It’s not enough to “open the books” to employees.  Making information available is useless if people have to jump through hoops to get at it.(Aside from weekly “huddles,” OBM companies have processes for easy access to all critical information)

5. Relevance – Dumping tons of information on people isn’t much better than hoarding it.  Find out what people find relevant and valuable (like company financials), and make sure they get it.

6. Inclusion – Beware of leaving certain people out of the loop of information that might make a difference in their knowledge and performance.  (Everyone from the janitor to the CEO is included in the OBM process)

7. Authenticity & Transparency – Be real, be open, and avoid the temptation to sanitize and glamorize information.  (What could be more real than seeing every detail of how the company keeps score?)

On Your Mark, Get Set, Game On!

When you look at how those criteria map up with the OMB process, the “great game” may be the most effective employee engagement tool any organization could use in today’s business climate.  It’s been described by one well-known author on the subject, John Case, as “lightning in a bottle.”  If you’re ready to set the world on fire and kick your competition’s rear end, you may want to think about putting an OBM “lighting rod” on the rooftop of your business.

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Banking on the value of giving.


Corporate Giving
Corporate giving benefits the giver and the recipients.

Hurricane Katrina is a distant memory for most people.  For others, the effects of that horrific event continue to be felt, and compelling stories continue to be told – some actually so wonderful that they take your breath away.  Just the other day, I saw a great story about the extraordinary response by Hancock Bank after the mega-storm had passed.  It came from a blog posting on the website of Realized Worth, a firm with considerable passion for corporate social responsibility.

Aside from the heroic proportions of how Hancock dived in head-first to help people cope with the crisis, the story is all the more remarkable for the impact it had on the bank’s long term business.  Even though the events took place nearly seven years ago now, the story has a timeless message that is well worth retelling for people like me who somehow missed it the first time around.

Here’s a slightly edited version of what appeared on the Realized Worth website.

The Crazy Things Hancock Bank Did Following Katrina

Hancock Bank was hit hard by Hurricane Katrina. Approximately 90 of the bank’s 103 branches along the Gulf Coast near New Orleans and along the Mississippi River suffered some damage. Electricity and phones were out in the area for weeks, and many of the bank’s branches lost connections to the main data center. People had no access to their money, and they were desperate for cash for simple things like ice and gasoline. What happened next was quite extraordinary.

Laundering Cash for Good

The day after the storm, Hancock Bank set up stations with whatever was available. Sometimes it was just card tables and chairs.  And they went about getting cash into the hands of the people. They kept the cash flow going by using money from ATM’s, vaults, and night deposits.Hancock employees were literally “laundering” the money, putting it in a washing machine to clean it from the sewage that had flooded the area. Bank employees, many of whom were also affected by Katrina, worked extended hours to accommodate everyone. Busloads of employees made 250 mile round trips daily in order to keep the Bank running.

Risk and Reward

All of this was quite admirable, but not completely shocking for a bank or any business during a crisis. However, Hancock Bank went far beyond what the community might have expected. They loaned out millions of dollars during the days immediately after Katrina. Without electricity or other modern technology, they went old school, tracking loans with post it notes. And they didn’t just give the money to bank customers. They gave out cash to anyone who needed it, and trusted that it would be paid back,including $3.5 million to people who were not even customers.

The gamble paid off, and all but $300,000 was paid back. In the words of George Schloegel, Bank Chairman at the time, “Basically, people are honest and want to do the right thing and they’ll stand by you if you do the right thing by them.” The best part of the story is how people stood by the bank after their initial support efforts. In the four months following Katrina, Hancock grew by $1.6 billion, more than they had grown in their previous 95 years. Thousands of new customers opened up accounts with the bank, and George Schoegel was rewarded for his trust by being elected Mayor of Gulfport, Mississippi in 2009 with nearly 90% of the vote.

 The insights for business success from this story could fill a book.  In a nutshell, it offers striking testimony for the cycle of success a company can generate when its top priority is the common interests of everyone touched by the organization inside and out. When that is done well and selflessly, you’re well on your way to creating a great organization where people love to work and customers love doing business.

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The care and feeding of employee EGOs.

When you hear someone say, “That person’s got quite an ego,” it’s rarely meant as a form of flattery.  In fact, it typically carries a lot of negative baggage.  But without a “healthy ego,” a person can be pretty dysfunctional.  Indecisive.  Defensive.  Insensitive.  Accusatory.  Insecure.  Risk averse.  You name it.

One way to think of ego in a positive light is to look at what it takes to maintain a healthy one.  Using the word EGO as an acronym, here are three key requirements:

  • E-xpectations
  • G-oals
  • O-ptions 

If you want to mess with people’s heads, be fuzzy about what you expect them to do. Then give them a rash of trouble when they fail to meet your expectations.  That problem crops up quite a bit in the annual ritual of the performance review and appraisal process.  What starts out at the beginning of the year looking like a clearly defined set of goals and objectives often becomes a sore point of contention. The employee and the supervisor discover they had different pictures in their respective heads of what successful completion looks like, and guess who usually wins the argument.

Even the best of employees can get bruised egos from that kind of experience.  Both people bear responsibility for making the process work, but the supervisor has to take the lead in making sure they’re on the same page from the outset.

Remember the classic exchange between Alice and the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland? Alice is wandering around lost, and the cat asks her where she’s going.  She replies that she really doesn’t know, and the cat says, well then, any road will take you there.

I don’t know if Alice was suffering from a shaky ego – after all, she was a fictional character in a far-flung fantasy.  But if you’re a real live, flesh and blood human being, your ego is in jeopardy if you don’t have clear goals for yourself.  When it comes to the workplace, employees and supervisors alike have to make sure that clear, meaningful goals are in place if they want to keep people feeling happy, health and whole.


Getting to the Heart of Employee Engagement book
Getting to the Heart of Employee Engagement: The Power and Purpose of Imagination and Free Will in the Workplace by Les Landes

In my new book, Getting to the Heart of Employee Engagement, I talk about imagination and free will as the two essential qualities that differentiate human beings most from all other living creatures.  When it comes to free will, our capacity to make choices – to do things that aren’t dictated by the program that controls other animals – is a forceful driver of people’s attitudes and behaviors.

Failing to appreciate that force leads to a basic misunderstanding about human nature in the workplace. The old bromide that people resist change is a classic example.  Fact is, people change all the time.  What they resist – and what they don’t like – is being forced to change without having a say in the matter.  People hate not having the control that comes with choices and options.  What’s more, they won’t trust anyone who takes that control away from them, and their performance on the job is usually pretty subpar when they don’t get it.

Bottom line, healthy EGOs are a big part of what makes the business world go ‘round.  So take the time to make sure employees are clear on their E-xpectations, G-oals and O-ptions if you want to keep them tuned in, turned on and ready to go the extra mile.

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Getting to the Heart of Employee Engagement

Businesses worldwide have been searching feverishly in recent years for the key to unleashing the power of people in the workplace. The reason is obvious. Compelling evidence from countless studies has shown the commanding competitive advantage of high-engagement cultures when it comes to virtually every relevant business measure – sales, profitability, quality, customer satisfaction and more. While some attempts have been fruitful, deep-rooted employee engagement continues to elude most organizations.

If you’re looking for some novel insights on that elusive subject, check out my new business fable: Getting to the Heart of Employee Engagement: The Power and Purpose of Imagination and Free Will in the Workplace. 

The book tells the story of two principal characters. Tom Payton is a human resources and employee communications manager who’s looking for insights on employee engagement, and David Kay, is an enigmatic consultant who guides Tom on a journey of discovery.  Their conversations run the gamut from the silly to the sublime, from the humorous to the serious, from the novelty of Barney the purple dinosaur to the elegant wisdom of Henry David Thoreau.

Here’s an excerpt from the book’s Preface on the value that I believe it contributes to resolving the employee engagement challenge:

I’ve always felt a longing to get at the heart—the essential elemental truths—of what gets people tuned in, turned on, and eager to go the extra mile for the mutual benefit of themselves and the organizations they work for. I’m convinced that understanding those truths can help people get past the stumbling blocks that so often derail and discourage efforts to tap into the full-blown potential of employee engagement.

At the risk of sounding a bit lofty, I’ve compared my quest to Einstein’s pursuit of the elusive unified field theory, the Holy Grail of physics. He searched for it most of his life to explain the connection between all of the forces of the universe in a single equation.

When I started writing this book, I wasn’t sure what my single “equation” might turn out to be for employee engagement. It seemed to me that it might be rooted in the uniquely human qualities of imagination and free will, but by themselves, those qualities certainly were not new, and they weren’t sufficient to shed significant new light on the subject.

Then it hit me. The answer is rooted in the intrinsic relationship between imagination and free will that plays out in this fable. The secret to employee engagement lies not merely in our capacity to imagine and choose, but in understanding how those qualities are inseparably interrelated.

That was a breakthrough moment for me, and it sparked a flood of insight about why organizations struggle with employee engagement. It also opened the door to understanding how nurturing the combined power of imagination and free will in the workplace can allow employees to contribute the greatest and be the best that human beings are designed to be.

For those of you who share my passion for the power and potential of employee engagement that transcends the norm, I hope the ideas in this book will challenge and inspire you to explore new ways to create the kind of organization where employees love to work and customers love doing business.

In the end, the book is a tribute to the extraordinary capacity of all human beings to contribute more to the success of the world’s collective enterprises than most people dare to imagine.

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The looming employee mutiny

The economic downturn of the last few years has taken a toll on employers and employees alike.  In some ways, though, management has held the upper hand.  They’ve been telling employees the only way their company can survive – and people can keep their jobs – is by going “the extra mile” and “doing more with less,” including little if any salary increases.

The End is Near

Choose employee engagement over employee mutinyChoose employee engagement over employee mutiny.Here’s some compelling evidence.  In a recent study conducted by Vistage, 84% of their CEO members answered YES to the question, “Have you learned how to make your business more productive with fewer employees?”  Who can blame them?  Tough times call for tough measures, right? Up to now, employees have pretty much gone along.  But that may be coming to an end. A different study conducted recently by Right Management coincidentally shows that 84% of employees say they’re going to be looking for a new job in 2012 – and for good reason.These days, when young boomers say “50 is the new 40,” it’s not just about age – it’s about being expected to work 50 hours a week for 40 hours of pay. The good news for employees is the job market is improving, giving them more options.  The bad news for employers is that workers are getting fed up, and we’re likely to see an employee “mutiny” in the not too distant future. It’s just a matter of time before people start jumping ship and companies across America begin finding themselves with a serious talent drain that’s going to be very costly to replace.  That includes front line supervisors and middle managers who, in many cases, are struggling hardest of all as job vacancies have been left unfilled and resources have been stripped away. At the same time, they’re still being expected to maintain or expand output. Even if people don’t physically bail out, the “mental mutiny” from trying to keep up that kind of pace is almost inevitable.

Ask the Right Questions

Trying to deal with that challenge, I often hear managers pleading, “How do I motivate my people?”  Problem is, it’s a bad question, and here’s what I tell those managers.

First … Unless God has taken you in as a partner, or you’ve taken in slaves, employee are not your people. They are independent adult human beings who want some say and some control over what happens in the workplace – especially when it affects them directly. Second … You’re wasting your time.  There’s only one kind of motivation, and that’s self-motivation.  Anything else is either carrots, sticks, sweet-talk or begging.  If that’s what you’re using to try and “motivate your people,” the best you can expect to get from employees is compliance – never excellence and certainly not extra effort.   Once managers come to terms with that basic reality, then they can ask a better question about how to engage employees in a dialogue about extra effort: “How can I get the very best that people are willing and able to contribute to the mutual benefit of their own personal growth and the success of this organization?”

 Right the Ship with Trust

The key to getting that voluntary extra effort comes down to a simple, yet powerful 5-letter word – TRUST.  It’s a belief that people will do the right thing … in the right way … at the right time.  So what are some of those “right things” you need in order to build trust?1.  Employees need to see their managers demonstrate behaviors that build credibility – caring, honesty and openness, responsiveness, competence, reliability, and the willingness to admit when they’re wrong and apologize for it.2.  Design the organization’s primary people-systems – measurement, rewards and recognition, communication, learning and development, and continuous improvement – in a way that tells employees loud and clear … “You come first, and we trust you to do the right thing.” History shows that most ship captains who’ve experienced a mutiny have gotten what they deserve.  If companies want to avoid the same fate during the economic recovery, they better change their tune AND start asking the right questions.

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