Tag Archives: employee engagement

Companionate Love in the Workplace

The holiday season often opens employees’ hearts to a level of warmth and caring for one another not commonly seen during other times of the year. Recent research shows, though, successful companies are finding that love and compassion are powerful forces for high performance all year round.

According to a study conducted by Sigal Barsade and Olivia A. O’Neill, “The more love co-workers feel at work, the more engaged they are.” They’re not talking about romantic love, of course, but what they called “companionate love” which is characterized by warmth, affection and connection rather than passion. The title of the study is ”What’s Love Got to Do With It?: The Influence of a Culture of Companionate Love in the Long-term Care Setting.

Satisfied Employees = Satisfied Customers
Here’s what they learned. Employees who felt they worked in a loving, caring culture reported higher levels of satisfaction and teamwork, and they showed up to work more often. The research also demonstrated that this type of culture related directly to client outcomes, including improved patient mood, quality of life and satisfaction.

The study offers numerous tips and guidelines on how to create a culture of caring that also produces high performance, but what’s most important are the little everyday things. According to Sigal and O’Neill, it’s “the small moments between coworkers, a warm smile, a kind note, a sympathetic ear — day after day, month after month, that help create and maintain a strong culture of companionate love and the employee satisfaction, productivity, and client satisfaction that comes with it.”

Engagement by the Book
If you’re looking for a “novel” way to create a loving, caring culture, check out an approach offered by an organization called Books @ Work. They are hired by companies to bring professors into the workplace to foster critical thinking, nurture interpersonal connection and strengthen a culture of trust, respect and inclusion through the discussion of great literature.

They work with all types of groups from front-line workers to senior managers, and the response has been extraordinary. Here are a few examples:

  • “Once you get into it in the books, and start bringing your own experience in, you start to learn about other people on a much deeper level.” (Specialty Healthcare Facility)
  • “I realized that there’s a little more depth to some of these guys than I knew before, and hopefully they thought the same thing about me. It was interesting to sit with the team and talk about our own perspectives and have a professor to bring it into focus. It brought our work group closer together, opened up lines of communication, [and] broke down barriers.” (Machinists Team)
  • “The participating shift had higher employee engagement scores on the company’s last regular survey. What it does is bring people together. I’ve seen the culture change. We are interacting with one another, we are learning something that we didn’t know.” (Manufacturing and Distribution Team)

So when it comes to employee performance and business results, what’s love got to do with it? A lot more than most people realize.

Watch this video to learn more about our approach to helping organizations align marketing communications and employee engagement. For more information, send us an e-mail or call us today at 314-664-6497.

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Getting better at getting better.

Most forward-looking business people are avid advocates of the principle espoused by noted author, Jim Collins, that “good is the enemy of great.”  But how many recognize that great is the enemy of better?  Of course, it’s great to be great, but if you get seduced into being content with greatness, you won’t stay there for long.  Markets change … technologies change … companies change … people change … everything changes – and if you’re not getting better, you’re falling behind.  There’s no in between.

Better not get tempted by the “icing.”
Few astute leaders would argue otherwise, but the way they typically operate demonstrates a shallow appreciation for what it takes to get employees fully engaged in getting better all the time as a persistent way of life.

They declare they want employee input and empowerment … they brag about an open door policy … they set up culture clubs and suggestion committees … they create a bunch of recognition programs … they hold quarterly town hall meeting … and on and on and on.  When you add it all up, though, they’re just stacking one program and activity on top of another, and they delude themselves into believing that constitutes a substantive approach to getting employees actively engaged in making things better.

Here’s the quandary.  They’re not entirely off base.  Most of that stuff can help to some extent, creating an illusion that the organization is on the right path. That illusion makes it all the more difficult to heighten awareness and raise expectations for what a true continuous improvement mindset and methodology can produce when it’s imbedded at its systemic best.  In the end all those programs and activities are little more than the proverbial icing on the cake.  Unless organizations get real and focus on the “cake” of day-to-day systems and processes, improvement efforts ultimately wind up anemic, episodic and unsustainable.

Better make it a habit.
Getting past that trap takes a systematic routine that generates a sustainable output of improvements from every corner of the organization on a constant basis – in other words, a “continuous improvement habit.”  That’s mainly due to the dual essence of human nature. The animal part of us wants things to be predictable, stable and unchanging — what all living creatures crave to feel safe and secure. The human part of us wants to exercise our unique gifts of imagination and free will to push the boundaries, explore possibilities and color outside the lines of the natural world.  In order to optimize people’s improvement potential, organizations need to appeal to both aspects of that nature.  In a nutshell, employees need a habit to replace the habit of doing things over and over again the same way.

Then, make the habit better.
But there’s a subtle yet significant catch in that recipe.  Even the continuous improvement habit or process itself needs to be scrutinized constantly so the organization is always “getting better at getting better.” That’s the captivating subtitle of a book by Doug Lemov called Practice Perfect. His premise is simple yet compelling.

“We love competition, the big win, the ticking seconds of the clock as the game comes down to the wire. We watch games and cheer, but if we really wanted to see greatness we’d spend our time watching, obsessing on, and maybe even cheering the practice sessions instead. Practice Perfect … shows that anyone, in any field, can come to appreciate that practice, not games, makes champions.”

Here’s one critical twist on Lemov’s contention.  The notion that “practice makes perfect” is a fallacy.  Truth is, practice makes permanent.  It only makes perfect if you’re practicing the right things.  If you’re practicing to make the perfect buggy whip when the rest of the world is shifting toward automotive transportation, you can practice with perfection every minute of the day and wind up obsolete.  Likewise, if you’re practicing how to make the best automobile in the wrong way, you’ll wind up losing the game.

It all comes down to a clear and compelling conclusion.  Organizations always need to be “getting better at getting better,” or they’ll eventually get caught in the alluring and misleading trap of seeing greatness as the pinnacle of success.

Learn more about our approach to employee engagement in our free webinar, available to view on demand! For more information, send us an e-mail or call us today at 314-664-6497.

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Shifting from Servant to Shared Leadership

For years now, servant leadership has been touted as a seminal model for modern day management.  It’s easy to see why when you consider how a servant leader is characterized – as someone who “makes sure that other people’s highest priority needs are served first, who shares power, and who helps people perform as highly as possible.” What’s not to like about that?

Time to Move On
At the risk of spouting heresy, the notion of servant leadership – as affirming as it sounds – may have served its purpose and passed its prime as an enlightened form of workplace culture.  The reason for its attraction is rooted in an elemental aversion to old-school leaders who tend to hoard power and act like dictators.  Traditional command and control doesn’t work well for at least two obvious reasons.  First, it often crushes the spirit of the workforce. Second, it usually kills the initiative to pursue any semblance of innovation and improvement.

Let’s accept for a moment that most people these days are reasonably clear on that reality, and few managers are hard-nosed power mongers.  For the most part, they are trying to be more open and engaging – they just aren’t doing it particularly well.  With today’s workforce, though, the solution to those shortcomings does NOT lie in helping managers be better at “serving” the people who report to them.  It lies in abandoning the paternalistic notion that it’s a leader’s role to serve “lower level minions,” and shifting instead to a self-management model where leadership is shared with everyone serving one another as equal partners in a joint enterprise.

If that sounds too much like a socialist movement that’s out of step with hard-core capitalism, take a look at one company that has implemented shared leadership and self-management with astonishing success.  Located in California, The Morning Star Company is not just the world’s largest manufacturer of bulk tomato products.  When it comes to leadership and management methods, they are pace-setters and mold-breakers of the first order.

What’s the Difference?
For starters, the company has no managers.  None.  Nada.  Nowhere to be found.  All employees are interdependent parts of a genuinely collaborative venture that relies on each person taking individual responsibility for aligning his or her role with other co-workers and the needs of the overall business.  Here’s how Morning Star describes its self-management system on the company website:

“We envision self-managing professionals who initiate communication and coordination of their activities with fellow colleagues, customers, suppliers and fellow industry participants, absent directives from others. For colleagues to find joy and excitement utilizing their unique talents and to weave those talents into activities which complement and strengthen fellow colleagues’ activities. And for colleagues to take personal responsibility and hold themselves accountable for achieving our Mission.”

Mighty highfalutin words, right?  Sounds like the kind of thing a lot of companies aspiring to employ progressive management practices would claim about themselves. At Morning Star, though, it’s more than mere words.  The difference is apparent in the structures by which the enterprise is organized and the methods by which it operates.  It’s also apparent in the depth of employee sentiment about their company and the personal responsibility each person assumes for its success.

If you’d like to learn more about how Landes & Associates can help you implement systems and processes that foster greater shared leadership, click the link below for a short video clip.

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The empowerment myth

A funny thing happened on the way to employee empowerment.  More sad than funny really, but here’s the truth.  It’s mainly a myth in most organizations that claim to believe in it.

A Dilbert cartoon from several years ago cuts to heart of the disconnect between what managers say they want and how they react when employees take the initiative to do something out of the ordinary.  In a nutshell, the pointy-headed boss tells employees he wants them to act more like “entrepreneurs.”  When they ask him if they can do specific things that typify entrepreneurship, the boss says no to each question for predictable and pretentious reasons.

Let’s Get Real 
Truth is, managers are happy to see employees go above and beyond – as long as those actions don’t wander outside the cocoon of their comfort zone.  When people try to “think outside the box” or “take ownership,” command and control often rears its ugly head, and managers scramble to corral the renegades so they don’t roam too far afield.

Then guess what happens in the kind of culture when pointy-headed bosses ask employees to step up with ideas for how to make things work better?  Here are some things you’ll hear them saying:

  • They’re not really serious
  • They won’t do anything with it
  • The last time I suggested something, they said thanks but no thanks
  • No one really cares for my opinion
  • My ideas are too small to make a difference
  • It’s not my job, and I’m too busy doing my regular work
  • I might get in trouble

You get the picture – and here’s what makes the challenge even more difficult. It’s not hard to see why managers resort to command and control – and their dreaded twin, micro-management – in the first place.  It’s called survival. They need the security of predictable results in order to keep their own butts out of the sling. One slip, one bad quarter, one poor production cycle, and they’re in trouble – at least that’s what they fear.  That’s why the words and actions of employee empowerment and engagement have to be aligned and real top-down, bottom-up, middle-out and sideways.

Moving Beyond Lip Service
Getting to that level of reality takes the right mind-set, the right heart-set and the right systems and processes for imbedding effective engagement principles and practices into day-to-day operations.  The journey takes patience, persistence and trust, but the cost of sticking with command and control and micro-management can be very high indeed when you consider how employees often respond to it:

  • People are more likely to do what they’re told – right or wrong
  • They won’t take the initiative to use “good judgment”
  • They’ll rarely, if ever, offer ideas for improvement
  • They sometimes take secret pleasure in seeing things fail
  • You drive away your best talent – every time

It’s also easy to see the impact of that kind of culture on a company’s connection with the marketplace.  When employees don’t feel trusted to do the right thing on their own initiative, it deadens their drive for going the extra mile to take care of the customer.

Here’s a quote from the classic business book, The Customer Comes Second, by Hal Rosenbluth that captures that connection perfectly: “Only when people know what it feels like to be first in someone else’s eyes can they sincerely share that feeling with others.  We’re not saying choose your people over your customers.  We’re saying focus on your people first because of your customers. That way, everybody wins.”

It doesn’t get much more real than that.

If you want to learn more about how to make empowerment and engagement the “real deal” in your organization, click on the following link for a short video clip, and we’ll show you how to get there.

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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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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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Change is good, you go first

Employees may react badly to change
Employees may react badly to change if you don’t involve them in the process.

It’s that time of year again.  Resolutions.  Out with the old.  In with the new.  Stopping bad habits.  Starting good ones.  Bottom line: it’s time for change.  But that simple little word conjures up lots of emotions and reactions among people.

Recently, I came across a little book with a clever title – “Change is Good. You Go First.”  That phrase reflects the sentiment that many people have about organizational change.  They realize they can’t survive without it.  They know that everyone has to do their part.  But they dig in their heels when it comes to taking the first step, and they have a hard time staying the course – at least that’s the conventional wisdom.

People Hate Change — Or Do They?

Here’s an important question, though. Is resistance to change really inherent in human nature – or is something else going on?  If you look around, you can see people changing all the time.  Clothes.  Foods.  Channels. You name it. Like the old adage goes, variety is the spice of life, right?  So how does that cherished maxim jive with the contention that people resist change?

Truth is, people don’t resist change as much as they resist being forced to change without their involvement.  People actually relish change if they’ve got some control over it, and they think it’s going to be good for them.  Human beings are imprinted at birth with an innate desire to make things better.  We want today to be better than yesterday, and we want tomorrow to be better than today. Everyone knows that can’t happen without change.

People Embrace Change — When They Have Some Control

So that’s where smart leaders will go when they want to foster employee engagement and get people on board with a change management plan:

  • They start by giving employees a compelling vision, a riveting story of where they want to be “tomorrow.”  And they explain why it’s important to embark on that journey in a way that speaks to the well-being of employees, not just the company.
  • They continue to build on the allure of that vision in every communication they have with employees, and they provide the support employees need to reach it.
  • They give continuous encouragement and express absolute confidence in the ability of employees to do the job.
  • They make the change process manageable by not giving people too much to handle all at once, and by giving them clear, simple steps they can take successfully.
  • They let employees see the performance numbers, and they allow people to take the initiative to make course corrections along the way.
  • Finally, they let employees have a say in how to design and manage the change they’re expected to embrace.

In the end, change is NOT necessarily good.  But it IS absolutely necessary. Whether it’s good or not depends on what the change is – and, more importantly, how it’s handled.  Change is also unavoidable.  As the introduction says in the little book that inspired the title of this essay, the only choice we have is this: “… either we manage change, or it will manage us.”

People Will Change — If They’re Led the Right Way

It’s true that change can be difficult. Even though it isn’t as onerous to employees as some people think, human beings often long for the familiar, and old habits die hard.  But if you label the source of those behaviors as “resistance to change,” you’re probably going to be treating the wrong cause of the challenge – and take the wrong approach to overcoming it.

So along with your other resolutions this year, add one more.  If you see your change efforts stalling out, don’t jump to the conclusion that employees are “resisting change” – and don’t assume that it’s just human nature.  It could be that the so-called “resistance” is actually due to the methods you’re using – or the way you’re telling the story.

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