Understanding what your employees want, who they are and what they are naturally good at provides a solid platform for success: personally, professionally and organisationally.
Helping your employees by taking the time to find out these things is good leadership.
A gap exists between what employees want and what leaders deliver. So, what is this difference, between what has proven to work, what should leaders be doing and what actually happens in most organisations? Well, there are books and books covering this topic, but my experiences highlight two points:
- The need for focus on strengths
- Diversity and differences that naturally exist between people.
Most staff want to have an inclusive culture in the workplace where differences are valued and people can share their opinions. Hay’s Staff Engagement: Ideas for Action report finds 93% pf workers want to be a part of a workplace in which there is diversity in thought. Employers agree, with 87% saying it is important to them to ensure staff feel like they have a voice and can share their opinions at work, although 43% of them admit they can do more to facilitate it. (1)
Which leads to the question, what are the most important skills today’s leaders need to cultivate? They have to recognise that this is a tougher leadership challenge than ever before…you can’t fly by the seat of your pants anymore. You have to be incredibly tough-minded about standards of performance, but you also have to be incredibly tenderhearted with the people you’re working with. They have to feel like you have their back. If they feel like a victim of your leadership, they’ll go elsewhere.
The second principle is that the soft stuff is the hard stuff. Most people that derail as leaders in the corporate world, it’s not because they couldn’t do the math and calculate return on investment properly. The issues are communication and understanding. All of what typically would’ve been called the “soft stuff.” You have to be authentic. You have to be dialled into the soft stuff. Your EQ (Emotional Quotient) has to keep up with your IQ. (2)
The need for focus on strengths:
Focusing on employees’ strengths does more than engage workers and enrich their lives: it also makes good business sense. Gallup recently completed a large study of companies that have implemented strengths-based management practices…e.g. having employees complete the Clifton Strengths assessment, incorporating strengths-based developmental coaching, positioning employees to do more of what they do best every day, and the like.
The study examined the effects those interventions had on workgroup performance. It included 49,495 business units with 1.2 million employees across 22 organizations in seven industries and 45 countries. Gallup focused on six outcomes: sales, profit, customer engagement, turnover, employee engagement, and safety.
On average, workgroups that received a strengths intervention improved on all of these measures by a significant amount compared with control groups that received less-intensive interventions or none at all. Ninety percent of the workgroups that implemented a strengths intervention of any magnitude saw performance increases at or above the ranges shown below. Even at the low end, these are impressive gains.
- 10%-19% increase in sales
- 14%-29% increase in profit
- 3%-7% increase in customer engagement
- 9%-15% increase in engaged employees
- 6- to 16-point decrease in turnover (in low-turnover organizations)
- 26- to 72-point decrease in turnover (in high-turnover organizations)
- 22%-59% decrease in safety incidents. (3)
Research shows that it is easier to develop your strengths than to develop your weaknesses.
If you reflect on and consider this statement, it is reasonably obvious and intuitive. Yet, is it what we reinforce culturally and do in practice? Not usually!
Figures show that only 13% of employees worldwide are engaged at work, according to the Gallup organisation. This low number has barely budged since they began reporting engagement worldwide in 2009 – highlighting that the vast majority of workplaces have failed to engage their employees. Why isn’t engagement improving? Gallup estimates that managers account for at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement across business units.
Disengaged workforces are a global problem; and the costs are high. Companies motivate their employees with incentives and unique perks, but none of those approaches address the deeper issue of why employees are so disengaged. The answer is organisational culture and leadership. The formal and informal values, behaviors, beliefs and leadership capability present in an organisation. Very few companies intentionally focus on culture and dedicate enough time to developing effective leaders. (4)
Effective leaders surround themselves with the right people and build upon each person’s strengths. Yet, in most cases, leadership teams are a product of circumstance more than design – Tom Rath & Barrie Conchie, Strengths Based Leadership
The key is to discover what traits and talents are most natural for each of us and then build upon these, to make them strengths. We look at this another way. You cannot ignore weaknesses and areas for development. It is never the case that all of the natural talents and strengths make up all of your role requirements. But, this should not stop you working from your positions of strengths where possible. It is much more likely that you will have passion, interest and commitment working with strengths that you are more comfortable with rather than areas of less talent.
However, when assessing performance most organisations and managers focus on the 10-20% that it isn’t rather than the 80-90% that it is.
This is particularly prevalent during annual appraisals and demonstrated by less experienced leaders in coaching and 1:1 sessions. Organisations are regularly held to ransom by their appraisal systems and the assumed conversations that occur. Unfortunately, the fact that most leaders and employees see the systems as roadblocks and necessary rather than beneficial is a poor start.
The nature of appraisal programs is that the conversations focus more on trying to explain why the employee is not a higher rating than they have been given. A few carefully placed questions and displaying care for the employee and process will shift the onus:
- Concentrate more on what each employee is able to do well and has contributed to the business.
- Ask your employees to self-assess and gauge their own performance before providing your thoughts and comment.
- Blend these points with clearly set expectations and goal setting to provide context and accountability.
- Thinking about and discussing what the next 6-12 months looks like is key to engaging and providing clarity.
The result is a greater likelihood of appraisals actually adding value.
Diversity and the differences that naturally exist between people:
There are many benefits to working collaboratively and most importantly, understanding other people. In my experience diversity is most commonly a barrier in teams. It affects relationships and is often defined as a ‘personality clash’. It is rarely that simplistic, but is more commonly based around little effort and emphasis on team mates getting to know one another.
Recognising the value each person offers can lead to greater creativity and improved business productivity. Diversity of thought is starting to gain a lot of attention since a workplace that respects and encourages a different way of thinking works more innovatively to bring new ideas to the table. Each individual possesses a range of qualities, traits and backgrounds that influences the way that they think. (1)
A lot of the principles associated with leading a large organisation are unchanged since the advent of the study of leadership. What’s changed is the environment in which people are being challenged to lead. There are two overwhelming forces that are touching everything we deal with now. The first one is the explosion of information. The speed at which business is being conducted is exponentially faster than ever before in the history of enterprise.
The other explosive change is the advent of diversity. You have gender diversity, ethnic diversity, geographic diversity, diversity of lifestyle, and probably the most profound one is the diversity of generations. We have four to five generations working right now. Those two things coming together create enormous stress. Leaders have to deal with that. (2)
Individual leaders and team’s must take the time to increase their own Emotional Intelligence, self-awareness and acknowledgment of the differences between people.
This will reduce or remove the barriers and issues that exist between team members.
The fact is that if you want to build teams or organisations capable of innovating, you need diversity. Diversity enhances creativity. It encourages the search for novel information and perspectives, leading to better decision making and problem solving. Diversity can improve the bottom line of companies and lead to unfettered discoveries and breakthrough innovations. Even simply being exposed to diversity can change the way you think. (5)
The challenge is that acknowledgement and action takes time and effort. Effective leaders engage their team members regularly, not just talk about it or wish it was different. When you more fully understand why others do and say things, the results are:
- reduced assumption
- acceptance of differences without necessarily having to agree
- less negative judgement and more tolerance
- a solid platform for working more effectively and openly
- stronger relationships, that have purpose.
To achieve productivity, teams require an environment that reduces feelings of disconnection and maximises collaboration, connection and engagement amongst all involved.
To be an effective and useful leader requires clear focus and action. This focus can be enhanced by learning what is important to each employee, understanding their strengths and acknowledging that the differences between people can be an advantage.
(1) Work Culture, Cara Jenkin: Courier Mail, Saturday 3/9/16