Category Archives: Inside Out E-Column

New Podcast! You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

Earlier this year, I was honored to be interviewed for the inaugural production of a new podcast called “You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know.” Produced by  Innovative Business Advisors, the podcast delves into the meat of my work in the areas of organizational communication, employee engagement and systematic continuous improvement.  It’s not a short story – about 53 minutes long. It’s more like a “biographical webinar” in the form of a dialogue with the program’s producer and IBA partner, Steve Denny, who does a really superb job of interviewing. If you’ve found my many  Inside Out blogs of interest, this webinar weaves lots of my principles and practices into one nice package. So sit back, relax, munch on the snack of your choice – and enjoy the show!

You can also listen to the podcast on most major platforms:

Why are people keeping their mouths shut?

Last year, I was working with Jim, a frustrated supervisor at a company that I was helping to implement our employee engagement and alignment system.

A few weeks earlier, we had put in place their improvement huddles that every team conducts weekly. He was puzzled about why one of his team members, Annie, wasn’t coming to their huddles with ideas for ways to improve their operations. After all, that was one of the big things that employees said they wanted more of in the survey we conducted. So why wasn’t she participating?

Jim said he hadn’t talked with Annie about it because he didn’t want her to feel pressured or defensive about the situation.  I suggested that he start by shifting his mindset from expecting or demanding participation to acknowledging her work and encouraging her contributions. 

The conversation started out a bit rough, but she eventually opened up.  After a while, she dropped a bombshell that stopped Jim dead in his tracks. “I’ve worked here for more than 20 years,” Annie said, a bit choked up and agitated.  “All that time, I’ve been told to stick to my job and stay on schedule, and don’t worry about anything else. So excuse me if I don’t feel quite ready yet and I’m not jumping up and down with new ideas about how to do things better.”

Here’s the deal.  People in the workplace like Annie are caught between a rock and a hard place. Many of them desperately want to be heard, but they’re afraid to speak up for fear of being criticized, punished, embarrassed, misunderstood, told to get back to work or just plain ignored.

Just having an “open-door policy” and telling people you want to hear their ideas won’t do the trick.

How to Create a High-Performance Culture of Trust

If you’d like to learn how to get employees tuned in, turned on and eager to contribute all they have to give, click on the button below and check out my upcoming course …

The course is presented in three modules, each with a live Zoom session. When you enroll you’ll also get a free 1:1 session with Les Landes to discuss your unique situation.

Managing COVID-19 Communication Directions & Guidelines

One of the main contributors to the stress and anxiety employees are feeling from COVID-19 is overload and uncertainty due to their company’s lack of appropriate filters and frameworks for prioritizing, organizing and disseminating information.

Most organizations also lack an effective mechanism for responding promptly to employee questions and comments. This is the time more than ever to think of employee communication as a “fountain” rather than a “cascade” so you have a truly dynamic, interactive mechanism for both talking with and listening to people.

As a basic foundation for maintaining employee performance and wellbeing under the current conditions, communication must be designed to help maintain employee equilibrium, engagement and productivity based on the following 4-part framework:

Health and safety … Containing the disease and reducing risk of infection

Connectedness … Keeping people informed, aligned and supported during social distancing

Compassion and appreciation … Recognizing the difficulties people are facing and the special contributions they are making

Hope and optimism … Sharing information that can ease concerns about what’s happening now and show promise for future

Click here for more strategies and tactics for communicating and connecting with your team during COVID-19.

Social Origin Podcast Features Les Landes

I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed for a podcast produced by Social Origin, and I wanted to share it with you. It gave me an opportunity to offer some new perspectives on important principles and practices for effective employee engagement and alignment.

We covered an array of topics like …

  • The need to start with the right mind-set and heart-set about people in the workplace before designing the right systems and processes for getting employees tuned in and turned on
  • Why organizations need to nurture the uniquely human gifts of imagination and free will in order for people to excel
  • The vital importance of focusing on the little things that count when it comes to maintaining a culture of continuous improvement
  • How to make accountability constructive instead of punishing
  • The value of putting personal and professional development of each individual at the forefront of business priorities

And lots more. Click here to listen now. Hope you enjoy it!

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Habit: Good Servant, Bad Master

Habits get a bad rap, partly because people tend to talk more about the bad ones than the good ones. Truth is, habits are helpful. In fact, life without them would be a mind-crushing avalanche of relentless decision-making. How should I brush my teeth? How should I drive to work? What should I feed the dog? You get the idea.

Here’s how Gretchen Rubin puts it in her book Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives. Once we get it started, “We can allow the extraordinary power of habit to take over. We take our hands off the wheel of decision, our foot off the gas of willpower, and rely on the cruise control of habits.”

Sound pretty great, right? Not so fast, Rubin cautions. There’s a dark side to habits that keeps people stuck in some patterns of behavior that are not necessarily “good” for them. And just calling them “bad habits” doesn’t really get to the heart of the dilemma.

You see, when it comes to habits – and their kissin’ cousin, processes – most people assume they simply fall into two categories – good ones we need to keep, and bad ones we need to stop. With that frame of mind, it would be natural to assume we should simply change the bad ones and leave the good ones alone. And THAT is the biggest habit hazard of all.

As Jim Collins said in Good to Great, “Good is the enemy of great.” I take it a step further and say, great is the enemy of better. That’s one of the main tenets of Rubin’s book. No matter how good or great you are, there’s ALWAYS the potential to be better than before.

Summing up her point brilliantly, she says, “Habit is a good servant, but a bad master.” Well established, proven habits and processes make life a lot smoother and more predictable – and that’s a good thing. But if you stay stuck in them without continuous reflection, assessment and adjustment – no matter how good they appear to be – you will eventually become a slave to them. Rubin puts it even more emphatically saying, “Habit makes it dangerously easy to become numb to our own existence.”

So what’s a body to do?

Since humans are creatures of habit like all other mobile life forms, the only way out of that paralyzing trap is to create a habit to break the habit of doing things over and over again the same way. It’s the only way to ensure we don’t plod along without considering options and evaluating their potential to go farther, faster, higher and be better than we’ve been before.

So ask yourself and your colleagues this question. What’s your “continuous improvement habit?” If you get blank stares when you look in their faces – or in the mirror – you better take a long hard look at Rubin’s book before you become so content with how good your habits and processes are that you eventually become obsolete.

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Want to learn more about a systemic approach to creating a habit for continuous improvement?   Check out our free webinar. Then give us a call at 314-664-6497 or send us an e-mail, and we’ll show you how to get employees tuned in, turned on and eager to go above and beyond.

Rockin’ Your World to Happiness, Harmony and Prosperity

“Quick question. How many here support increased happiness, harmony and prosperity?” Those are the opening words from Doug Kirkpatrick in one of the most compelling TED talks I’ve ever seen.

Ready for a shocking assertion? After decades of searching and experimenting, I believe we’ve found in Doug’s company the end-all be-all, absolute superlative method for tapping the very best performance that employees are able and willing to contribute in the workplace.

Dubious, are you? Well, hang in there for 2 more minutes, and let’s see if I make a believer out of you. If I do, you’ll want to sign up right away for Doug’s appearance at Saint Louis University on Friday, May 4.

Truth be told, most organizations today are still stuck with the vestiges of a never-should-have-been model of management and leadership for any enterprise that involves independent adult human beings. That outmoded paradigm persists despite nearly 40 years of countless efforts to shed the shackles of traditional management methods dating back to the quality movement of the early 1980s.

At that time, it was becoming clear that Japan was going to eat our economic lunch if we didn’t do something about it. That’s when quality gurus like Deming, Juran and Crosby became the toast of the town in American business circles. To be sure, their contributions made a significant, lasting impact. Some companies that went all-in with system-wide quality methods achieved spectacular results.

Still, the advances and resulting successes were far from pervasive. Most organizations came away from their quality improvement programs with little to show for their considerable effort and expense. Some were left even worse off than when they started on their quality journey.

Nevertheless, diehard believers were determined to crack the code and keep the fires burning. That persistence led to a continuing series of initiatives that dot the historical landscape of here-today-gone-tomorrow management movements: quality circles … total quality management (TQM) … reengineering … employee empowerment … employee engagement … holacracy … and the latest iteration – employee experience (EX).

So here’s the truth. Whatever you call it, the name of the game is the same when you’re striving for business success through people. It comes down to a simple, significant premise – if you create an organization where employees love to work and customers love doing business … you win. The question remains – What’s the best way to do that?

Enter The Morning Star Company.

No, it’s not the well-known investment research firm. It’s a tomato processing business that began in the early 1990s in northern California. Rather than follow the TQM trend of the day, the company founders, including Doug Kirkpatrick, decided they would run the business in a radically new way – without any bosses, managers or traditional hierarchies.

Instead, they created their own unique model for self-management and shared leadership, all based on principles and practices of law like a constitution, employee contracts, adjudication boards, etc. If you’re wondering what happens to managers in companies who adopt the model, they shift to more value added work as coaches, mentors, subject matter experts, and more. But the responsibility and authority for managing the work itself always resides with the employees.

So how has it worked out for them? Within less than a decade, Morning Star went from a start-up operation to become the largest tomato processing company in the world!

Want to learn how they made it work – and how you can do it, too? Click here to sign up for the business event of the year, and get ready to rock your world! People will be talking about it for a long time to come, and it will have a lasting impact on the life of your people and your business.

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What Makes Employees Tick?

Do we really need yet another list of the 5 tips or the 7 rules or the 3 keys to “truly effective” employee engagement?  Maybe not, but the cause is vital enough to continue exploring ways to fine-tune the formula.

Part of the need to do that stems from the misguided flood of one-off activities that people cite as examples of engagement in the workplace.  Typically, they’re little more than anemic lists of do’s and don’ts that suffer from the “program trap” or “icing-on-the-cake syndrome.”

The litany of perks, plaudits, and periodic get-togethers have become so passé and predictable it’s hard not to roll your eyes at what companies say they’re doing to boost employee engagement.  We’ve all seen them – employee of the month awards, town hall meetings, lunches with the boss, performance incentives and prizes, picnics, pizza parties, fitness club memberships (to burn off the excess calories from the pizza parties) and on and on.

Far less often do you hear about essential changes being made in routine systems and processes that improve the way employees get engaged and aligned in their day-to-day work. Another missing piece is an adequate appreciation for what’s at the heart of employee behavior in the first place.

At the risk of piling onto the lexicon with another list of needs, drivers and forces for effective employee engagement and alignment, here are three interlocking pillars that get at the heart of what makes people tick in the workplace.

Connection Needs (ABC)

  • Achieve – experiencing continuous growth and accomplishment
  • Belong – being a valued part of the team
  • Contribute – making a difference to others

Driving Forces

  • Animal nature – ensuring comfort and survival
  • Human nature – nurturing imagination and freedom

 Operating System Requirements

  • Being heard and heeded – embedding a process for paying attention and respecting input
  • Clear and credible expectations – avoiding fuzzy and overly ambitious goals and directions
  • Support and resources to do what’s expected – providing what people need to succeed
  • Control over decisions and actions that affect personal wellbeing – giving people the liberty to do what they believe is right for them and others without fear of reprimand
  • Constructive accountability – employing a clearly defined process that ensures commitments are met and people are supported

Want to learn more about how we help organizations get employee tuned in, turned on and eager to go the extra mile – systematically?  Check out this 6-minute video, and then give us a call.

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A nationally recognized expert on employee engagement, Les Landes is the author of the business fable, “Getting to the Heart of Employee Engagement.” Contact Les Landes at 314-664-6497 or send an e-mail.

The Truth About Baseball and Business

Baseball lore is full of “truisms” that people like to apply to business and daily life. Sometimes, though, those truisms aren’t all that true.

Take the classic myth about Babe Ruth, for example. Everyone knows about his home run prowess – he hit 714 round-trippers in his career, putting him 3rd on the all-time list. The other story that lots of folks tell is that the Babe’s all-or-nothing style also made him a leader in strikeouts. “You can’t be great unless you’re willing to put it all on the line and go down swinging” – or so some consultants like to say when they’re making a point about business people getting out of their proverbial comfort zone.

Truth is, Ruth is 122nd on the list of strikeout leaders for a career. That’s still pretty high, but far from the top. In fact, the numbers that matter most tell a different story about Ruth. His lifetime batting average is the 10th best of all time at .342, and his OPS (on-base plus slugging average) – the holy grail of baseball stats in today’s game – is 1.164, making him numero uno of all time.

Success doesn’t require strikeouts
So what does all this stuff about baseball and Babe Ruth have to do with business? It’s pretty simple. Anyone who believes you have to “strike out” a lot in order to be a top performer is an idiot.

It’s true that you need to push the limits sometimes and explore new opportunities that could put you in another “league.” And you certainly shouldn’t punish failures that come from earnest effort and calculated risks that sometimes go awry. But being a leader in business does NOT require that you also strike out a lot.

Homers don’t equate to winners
What’s more, you don’t need to hit a lot of homers to be a winner. That’s another myth. It’s a trap that takes people’s eyes off the ball of doing all the little things right – and looking constantly at how to do all the little things better.

Sure home runs are fun, they’re exciting, and they can win a game. Nothing wrong with that. But they rarely win a season. Don’t believe me? Here’s another revealing statistic. Since 1995, no team that’s won the regular season home run title has won the World Series. In fact, only four of them have even made the playoffs!

Small and better all the time
Give me a team that’s great at both “small ball” and reducing the strikeouts, and I’ll show you a consistent, long-run winner – in baseball AND in business. It starts with a mindset that the little things really do count – combined with an obsession for improvement. From there, it takes a systematic process for engaging all employees in identifying and implementing the little improvements they have control over in their day-to-day work – those small, continuous steps forward that build up over time and produce enormous collective impact.

Remember, when it comes to winning in the long run, the improvements you make every day, however small, have greater impact on results than what you do once in a while, however big.

In baseball lingo, that means focus first on making contact and getting on base. Then work on doing that better all the time. If you happen to hit a homer, that’s fine, but don’t get used to it. If you get in the habit of swinging for the fences, you’ll wind up watching your competition playing small ball in the “world series” of business while you’re sitting in the stands eating peanuts and Cracker Jacks.

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Want to learn more about a systemic approach to creating a habit for continuous improvement?   Check out our free webinarThen give us a call at 314-664-6497 or send us an e-mail, and we’ll show you how to get employees tuned in, turned on and eager to go above and beyond.

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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With Liberty and Justice for All

In 1790, George Washington famously proclaimed, “The establishment of our new Government seemed to be the last great experiment for promoting human happiness.” The recent celebration of our country’s 241st birthday is the perfect time to spotlight a fundamental truth about human beings and the institutions that manage our collective lives: The basic principles and practices that underlie the “great experiment” known as the United States of America apply just as powerfully to a company as they do to a nation.

Nothing captures the essence of that truth more elegantly and meaningfully than the last six words of our country’s Pledge of Allegiance: “…with liberty and justice for all.”

Liberty and justice in the workplace
For all the yearning that companies profess for “out-of-the-box thinking” and “taking initiative,” the way they typically operate robs employees of personal freedom and forces them into drone-like conformity with the status quo. In most organizations, following rules and regulations gets rewarded far more often and more richly than calculated risk-taking. That’s especially true when risky actions lead to conspicuous failures – which are inevitable by definition. Where’s the justice in that? What kind of incentive does that give people to go the extra mile, to dig into the messy trial-and-error process of discovery and innovation?

If you truly want to generate the creative thinking and behavior that’s essential to excel and produce significant breakthroughs, employees need the “liberty” to use their imagination, to try new things – and the “justice” to be rewarded for the effort and the courage it takes to risk failing.

Getting an organization to operate that way as a routine part of its culture can take a long time, but here are a couple of actions you can take to start moving in the right direction.

Establish a “habit for improvement”
All habits – good, bad or indifferent – have one thing in common. They will never change unless they get replaced by another habit. If you want people to move beyond the habit of doing things the same way over and over again, you need to substitute it with a “habit for improvement.”

People need to gather on a regular basis – at least once a week – for the prime purpose of exploring ways to do things better. It’s not a one-off, when-you-get-the-urge activity, and it’s not optional. Everyone participates as a team, as a supportive community, everyone votes, every idea gets just consideration, and “rewards” come in two forms – neither of which are about money or career advancement:

  1. Showing people that their opinions count by supporting them in implementing improvements as quickly as possible without a lot of bureaucratic hassle;
  2. Mutual on-the-spot acknowledgment and appreciation for one another – no plaques, no trophies, no employee of the month awards, no bonuses, no perks – just high-fives and cheers for peers all around in the moment.

Hold a “fail fest”
It’s one thing to tell people it’s okay to fail; it’s even more powerful if you celebrate it. That’s right – toast your biggest failures on a regular basis with the same passion you would show for your greatest accomplishments. Truth is, unless you’re really lucky, most big breakthroughs are the result of what you learn from your failures – sometimes lots of them. The key is to “fail fast” and “fail forward.”

One way to build that practice into a routine is with a regular “fail fest.” Once a quarter, bring teams together to examine your most notable failures of the past 90 days. What were some big risks that offered potentially big rewards that you learned from and pointed you in a different direction toward new and improved solutions?

Then have everyone vote on the “best failure,” and pop a cork to celebrate. Better yet, shoot off some fireworks as a tribute to the company’s commitment to liberty and justice for all.

Looking for a process for how to create a “habit for improvement?” Download the brochure for the Landes & Associates Continuous Improvement System.

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