Different industries require subtle differences in style and how leaders impact their teams and results. As part of our occasional series chatting with industry leaders, we recently spoke with engineer and senior leader, Wes Davis. His story is an interesting one, with Wes focusing much of his time and development on the topic of leadership within engineering, rather than simply learning and applying the technical aspects.
Starting a new job can be an exciting and nerve-wracking experience.
You want to make a good impression and set yourself up for success in your new role.
There are many unknowns and even fears leading up to your first day. Your success and satisfaction depends on numerous factors, many of which you can influence and control.
Does onboarding and early support really matter?
Let’s delve into a few key points proving that it does and find out what you can do to minimise the risks and maximise the opportunities.
It is critical to understand the importance of an effective onboarding and induction process. This is often misunderstood and poorly implemented, with significant risks for employee retention, engagement and business success as a result.
Let’s firstly look at the environment and culture you are about to step into, including the induction process. According to a study by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), effective onboarding can increase employee retention by 25% and improve productivity by up to 50%. The study also states that Research and conventional wisdom both suggest that employees get about 90 days to prove themselves in a new job. The faster new hires feel welcome and prepared for their jobs, the faster they will be able to successfully contribute to the firm’s mission.
In addition, a Glassdoor survey found that a positive onboarding experience can lead to employees being 69% more likely to stay with a company for three years or more. BambooHR found that the most important factors for successful onboarding include:
- Setting clear expectations (96% of respondents rated this as important)
- Providing access to necessary tools and information (93%)
- Providing access to mentors, buddies, or coaches (87%)
- Making introductions to colleagues (87%)
- Having a formal onboarding program (85%)
In terms of the length of onboarding programs, the same BambooHR research found that employees who participated in onboarding programs that lasted longer than one month were more than twice as likely to stay with the company for three years or more, compared to employees who had a shorter onboarding program.
On the other hand, 62% of HR managers said that a successful onboarding process can improve the employee experience, and 54% said it can improve employee retention.
What about the individual? There is plenty you can do to own your role and provide greater likelihood of successful integration. To help you navigate this transition, we’ve put together a list of things you should do and look for when starting a new job.
- Research the company: Before your first day, take some time to research the company. Review their website, social media accounts, and any news articles or press releases about the company. This will give you a better understanding of the company’s culture, values and goals. You should also learn about the industry the company operates in and the competitors they face.
- Understand your job responsibilities: Make sure you fully understand your job responsibilities before you start. This includes the tasks you will be responsible for, any goals or targets you are expected to meet, and who you report to. If you are unsure about anything, don’t be afraid to ask your manager or HR representative for clarification.
- Be prepared for your first day: Make sure you are prepared for your first day on the job. This includes knowing what time you need to arrive, where you need to go, and what to wear. You should also bring a notebook and pen to take notes, as well as any other materials you were instructed to bring.
- Build relationships with your colleagues: Getting to know your colleagues is an important part of starting a new job. Make an effort to introduce yourself to your co-workers and ask them about their roles and responsibilities. Take part in team-building activities or social events to help build relationships and learn more about your colleagues.
- Understand the company culture: Understanding the company culture is important for fitting in and feeling comfortable in your new role. Observe how your colleagues interact with each other and the company’s values and behaviors. If you are unsure about anything, ask your manager or HR representative for guidance.
- Learn the company’s technology and systems: Many companies use specialised software or systems to manage their operations. Make sure you learn how to use any technology or systems that are essential to your role. If you are having trouble, ask your colleagues or IT department for assistance.
- Seek feedback: Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback from your manager or colleagues. This will help you identify areas where you are doing well and areas where you need to improve. Feedback can also help you adjust to the company’s expectations and culture.
- Set goals for yourself: Setting goals for yourself can help you stay motivated and focused in your new role. Talk to your manager about what goals you should be working towards, both short-term and long-term. Make sure your goals are specific, measurable, and achievable.
- Find a mentor or coach: Having a mentor or coach can be a great way to learn more about the company and industry, as well as get guidance and support in your role. Ask your manager or HR representative if there is a formal support and development program, or seek out a coach or mentor on your own.
- Take care of yourself: Starting a new job can be stressful, so it is important to take care of yourself both physically and mentally. Make sure you are getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, and taking breaks throughout the day. Don’t be afraid to talk to your manager or HR representative if you are feeling overwhelmed or need additional support.
The opportunities presented when changing jobs can be both challenging and exciting. It is this excitement and the unknowns that should form part of the reason for the change in the first place.
Don’t leave your success to ‘fate’ or luck. Own your role and seek assistance to make the most of the opportunity. Through genuine thought and reflection and having a plan to follow during your first few month, you can set yourself up for success and greater enjoyment in your new role.
Many people at all levels of seniority and across industries find that external support and coaching is of benefit, particularly during the challenging time of starting a new job.
If you, one of your team or someone else you know are currently changing jobs, it is worthwhile investigating our CoachStation Role Integration Coaching (RIC) Program.
We have created a very useful and effective coaching and support resource to assist people at all levels as they transition into a new job. It is as effective for internal movements as external. Many of the points listed in this blog are explored and expanded on to ensure the best opportunity for a successful integration.
The RIC program provides many benefits. Primarily, there is the opportunity to transition and onboard into the new role with additional support from an external resource and coach. This is designed to work in conjunction with the recruiting organisation and their induction process, enhancing the opportunity for both the employee and new employer.
Coachees participate in two online coaching and mentoring sessions across an 8-week period. The first session is scheduled 1 – 2 weeks prior to starting your role, whilst the second session is scheduled to occur around 4 weeks after. Commonly, this might involve identifying a 30-60-90 day plan; specific skill development; developing greater self-awareness and Emotional Intelligence; leadership capability; or similar themes.
The 1:1 coaching is reinforced through access to our custom eLearning platform and its resources, tools and content. Specifically your RIC Program includes:
- Two Coaching and Mentoring sessions, facilitated online by experienced and effective CoachStation coaches.
- Opportunity to ask questions via email-based Q&A coaching throughout the program.
- Access to learning videos providing insight into how best to integrate into your new role; tactics to maximise your first few months; observations and strategies to apply during this phase.
- Supporting tools and resources to be applied during the program and designed to be of benefit for many months and years after.
- Candidates will be provided with an Ebook providing insights, tools and material consolidating the learning.
Resources and References:
We all have multiple roles, responsibilities and relationships, both in and out of the workplace. Understanding how your various roles interact and affect each other can make a genuine difference in your life.
“It’s all about the levers”, I said. My client looked at me like I had gone barmy. “Maybe you are feeling an imbalance and that you are having to compromise your core values and some of the things that matter most to you”, I suggested. I knew this would require a little more explanation and detail. Once we discussed the topic further, however, it became clearer I was hitting the mark with my coachee.
Since this discussion some years ago, it is now even more evident how important this concept is to almost all of us. Attitude, prioritisation and self-awareness are always critical attributes and skills, even more so at the moment. This blog will explain the concept of choice, time and our various and many roles. A concept that has resonated and contributed to many of my client’s satisfaction, sense of control and comfort as it may for you.
We all have levers in our lives. What does this actually mean?
There is logic to the concept of levers. Each of your roles can be thought of as a separate, yet interconnected lever. Each role could be as a parent, employee, boss, friend, hobby or member of the local sports team as examples. In fact, it could be any aspect of your life that is important to you and you dedicate time to. Consider each role as being represented by a single lever.
Each lever can be adjusted, as required, aligned to how much time, effort and mental energy you dedicate to it.
Each adjustment is also reflective of how much importance you place on the role at that particular point in time. These focus tweaks are often in response to a perceived or real need to better balance your life or respond to some other stimulus. This can be either extrinsic (i.e. originating externally) or intrinsic (i.e. driven from within). The tweak may be required because of the needs of others. Maybe someone close to you expresses frustration or disappointment that you are not spending enough time with them. Or, you may recognise this need for change yourself.
Possibly you are spending too much time at work. Maybe you feel this yourself or there is pressure from your spouse and family to be home more or earlier. Or, you have stopped going to the gym, or taking regular walks and your fitness and mental well-being are negatively impacted. Is it that you recognise that your friends are being neglected? The triggers can arise from anywhere and are generally feeling-based. They can also be managed and influenced.
No matter the trigger, it often feels like something is missing or there is an imbalance in your life.
We all have the same amount of time to spend or allocate to our many roles. However, this time is finite – it has limits. The choices about where to spend this time and allocate to your many roles has a direct and ongoing influence on your overall satisfaction and contentment. It also impacts those you care about the most.
At this point, it is worth looking at where you are prioritising your time and whether this balance works for or against you. Referencing the great work of Stew Friedman, this 4-Way Views assessment will give you clarity regarding where you spend your time and satisfaction as a result.
Let’s extend the concept. I mentioned earlier that each of your roles can be thought of as a separate lever, yet are interconnected. This is true, however every time you adjust a lever or aspect of your life, all your other levers or roles are also impacted. Each lever is connected via an imaginary cable. It is often a small adjustment of maybe 5-10%. Deciding to spend more time at home, for example, will have a natural and direct impact on all of your other levers or roles. To add time and energy to one role, there is a reduction of focus and time in one or more of your other roles. Remember, your time is finite. That’s why your choices and what you prioritise are so important. There are 2 key elements to consider.
Firstly, it is important that you have enough levers.
I have seen many examples where a person has only 2 or 3 roles. These may be work and home, for example. This is a challenge when work or home is not providing positive input or going well. Devastating when both are not going well. Additional roles (maybe 7-8) provide alternatives and options to fulfill your life when one or more roles are not as positive as you would like. I am not suggesting that there is an ‘ideal’ specific number of roles. We are all different and have a variety of needs, capacities and preferences. However, like most things in life, too few or too many are extremes and offer more challenge than your individual, optimum number of roles.
Challenges and difficulties in life are common. How you react and respond to these challenges is critical.
No one lives the perfect life where all of their roles are being fulfilled at the same time. Having enough roles and different levers to adjust and provide a sense of balance is one of the keys. Not work-life balance, but a more holistic and psychologically fullfilling balance. However, it is possible to have too many roles.
Stretching yourself thin and trying to meet the needs of around 10 or more roles can also be a challenge. Imagine trying to fulfill a dozen roles and the allocation of time required? To be fair, I have seen this done. However, the strong relationships and capability to manage this time and roles effectively is rare.
Perspective and resilience are very important traits, particularly in today’s world. Taking control of your time and various roles and consciously adjusting your ‘levers’ as required, can make a significant difference to how resilient you are and in seeing life more clearly. One of the many insights I have learned when coaching and mentoring hundreds of clients over the last decade continues to resonate. Those who struggle with life generally, often do not have enough levers and/or feel they have little choice in what is happening in their life. They see things as happening ‘to’ them, not ‘with’ them. Being in control is not about being controlling. Control is about you – this is good. Being controlling is more about you and others – this is often misplaced and damaging.
Understand your own levers. Reflect on your many roles.
What roles do you have? Where are you spending most time?
Where could you spend more or less time that would suit you better?
Do you feel happiness and satisfaction with this mix? What can you do to find a better and more rewarding balance across all of your roles?
What will you do to feel you are in control and on most days feel happy with what you give and what you receive?
For the most part, you have the same choices, time and ability to influence your life as other people do theirs. Thinking about what you are compromising and what gives you the most joy will lead to change and greater satisfaction. Taking action as appropriate to adjust your levers adds value and lets you meet your core values.
Your life, your choice!
It is fair to say that we know more about the risks and benefits of working from home than we did 6 months ago.
The future looks positive for remote working, with some caveats.
Remote working and the associated challenges and benefits of leading a team who may not be located in the same site, is becoming more prominent in business. This has been triggered by the recent Covid-19 environment, improvements in technology, recognised cost-savings and manager/employee attitudes. There are many potential benefits.
Remote management adds significantly to the requirement for effective leadership. This influences how managers operate and continue to develop new skills within the modern work environment.
It is not only in the remote working space that changes have been occurring to traditional workplace structures and expectations. Concepts such as work from home, co-working, activity-based working and similar alternative working options have become more prominent in many organisations and within the community. However, Covid-19 impacts have raised the bar for meeting health needs and employee expectations. We have also learned that for many, we can easily adapt to this new environment without any productivity loss.
In many ways we are fortunate that this situation occurred now and not 15 years ago. Not downplaying the negative impact at all, but remote working and remote management have gone quite well in recent months. This has surprised many. Most companies have seen a rapid uptake of remote working. It will be interesting to see what the response is as we start to recover from the current restrictions and expectations start to shift.
We may see employees pushing for greater flexibility and completion of work at a time and in a place that best suits them.
Interestingly, remote working and work from home opportunities are not new. I wrote about this in 2012, as have many others in the last decade or more. Back then, remote working or teleworking, was very new. Technology did not support this environment all that well. Many managers resisted the opportunity, taking the view that, “if I can’t see you, I don’t trust you!”. Sadly, we still see this attitude too often, although attitudes are changing. Realistically, these old-school managers have had no choice but to accept remote working through necessity and legislation in recent months.
Leading remotely can add to the challenge of building a team. Technology, globalisation, organisational expectations and culture, management and leadership styles, along with many other factors must be taken into account.
The leader in today’s environment should be able to strategise and connect, developing and connecting with their team in a meaningful, engaged and results-oriented manner.
The skills and abilities of leaders need to not only keep up with business and employee needs but remain ahead of requirements, as remote management has such specific and unique attributes. I spent several years in national leadership roles managing teams based interstate and overseas, which provided many challenges. When I review my own development timeline however, I recognise that those years spent in virtual leadership were some of the most important for me, as they have shaped the leader I am today. Clarity in expectation setting; strong, deliberate communication; shift in accountability; and providing tools/technology for regular updates both ways, are a few of the most important factors for success.
The fact that the employee saves time and cost with less travel time can be offset by the challenge of working in the home. Technology, Occupational Health issues and physical attributes all need to be considered, but ultimately remote working is about productivity, flexibility and meeting both business and personal needs.
One of the key challenges for remote workers is the lack of social interaction that would normally occur when employees are located together. This is a very real factor however some employees have stated that this can be a benefit also. The time that is spent with their broader team-mates tends towards more focused and specific interactions, with fewer opportunities for time wastage. Clearly a remote team member has to be trusted and the critical nature of communication is enhanced in this environment.
Not all roles or employees are suited to the remote environment. It has always been and will always be critical to review these opportunities on a case-by case basis.
Recent increases in remote working examples have highlighted this point.
We have learned that the culture and environment that exists in a business setting is enhanced in remote environments. Put another way; good leaders, employees and cultures seem to thrive within remote environments. Poor cultures, managers and employees, where there is little trust or competence, usually fail when working remotely. The need for effective leadership and communication are exaggerated. It takes effort to develop relationships that have depth and meaning generally and especially so when distance is a factor.
The key elements of relationship-building remain the same when leading or working in a remote environment. It just takes a different type of focus.
Activity-based working, remote working and other modern work environments offer different challenges. You would think that remote working and “desk-less offices” would have an immediate impact on our sense of belonging. Do we feel like guest workers when we pull our laptops from the lockers? Will we be scanning the floor to make sure we are not sitting among strangers? When much of our working week is spent outside the workplace, are we still part of the tribe? Or are we loners who come in from the cold every now and then?
Research on inclusion at work has some surprising findings. Instead of feeling more remote, those who can work whenever and wherever feel a greater sense of belonging than those required to be in the office every day. A study of 1550 employees at three large Australian businesses shows that in one business unit, the inclusion rating for staff who did not work in a flexible role was 38 per cent, compared with 83 per cent for those who did. So, belonging at work is not necessarily about a “place”. (1)
Little has changed regarding this data and related findings, other than the level of understanding and experience we now have, based on recent events.
How we establish connections and foster inclusive environments goes a long way to influencing how successful the team, individual and business becomes. The increase in alternative work environments provide opportunity for leaders to test themselves and challenge traditional thinking. Ongoing development and an open mind provide a platform for driving the necessary change and greater acceptance that traditional workplaces are quickly becoming obsolete, or at least less common than a decade ago.
An organisation that decides to increase its remote working presence should also ensure that its leadership model and ongoing employee / leadership development accounts for the special requirements of leading a remote team.
If it doesn’t, then you may find the challenge greater than the reward!
When I am not working with my clients onsite, I work from home. This has been the case since creating CoachStation over 8 years ago. As many of us have discovered, there are pros and cons of remote working. In the early days, when our three daughter’s were quite a bit younger, striking a balance was difficult. Back then I found it a relatively constant challenge transitioning to working from home as I was at here more often. I think they believed I was on a permanent holiday, not driving off to work each day! Where we work should matter less than how we achieve good results.
We should be measured by our performance, not the number of hours we spend at work. Productivity and effectiveness are the key measurements that outline the business case. However, there are a series of personal factors at play also. Remote working may be a suitable alternative for you or your team but it is an individual decision. It does take additional effort, specific skills, new systems and strong communication, but remote work can add value. It is not for everyone or every role. Yet it can be a positive avenue for increased engagement, flexibility and productivity.
I have enjoyed the flexibility and opportunities presented, but recognise that it remains an ongoing effort to blend work and home life.
In fact, this is one of the greatest ‘wins’ in my mind. I have the opportunity to work during times that suit my family and I the best. That may be in the evening or very early mornings, but the flexibility and freedom is something I genuinely cherish. The 9-5 workday is a thing of the past. However, I am quite strict in setting a number of hours to work each day. This is a point I am hearing more and more from my friends and clients. It will be very interesting to see how organisational cultures are impacted in years to come.
When some people think of the workplace of the future, they envision futuristic-style holograms having a meeting or robots cooking lunch for everyone in the office. Increasingly, though, the workplace of the future is looking more simple — people having the flexibility to work remotely from home with teammates all around the world. With that in mind, the question is no longer “is remote work here to stay?”
It seems like remote work might even be the new normal.
There’s one statistic that remains unequivocal each year: remote workers almost unanimously want to continue to work remotely (at least for some of the time) for the rest of their careers. This year, 98 percent of respondents agreed with this statement. Also, it seems that once someone gets a taste of working remotely, they tend to recommend it: 97 percent told us they would recommend remote work to others.
There are always challenges that come with remote work, though they vary from person to person. Over the past three years of putting out this report, we’ve seen two unique struggles remain in the top three: the difficulties with collaboration/communication, and with loneliness. The primary benefit of remote work has remained the same for the past three years straight in our report: flexibility! (2)
Leaders must recognise the change that is happening around them and adapt, otherwise they are at risk of becoming obsolete.
With all that being said, we are still in the early stages of remote working being fully accepted. There remain many genuine obstacles and perception issues with people working outside of the office. The ‘taster’ that most of us have had so far this year has provided an opportunity to test these waters. The increased scale and profile of remote working has changed organisations forever. In what way and how sustainably…that is yet to be seen. Without doubt the role of the leader is critical in the success of remote working environments.
Doing what we have always done will no longer cut it. I can’t wait to see how it all plays out.
CoachStation develops leaders and managers, including those whose teams work remotely. In fact, in 2012 we foresaw the growth of remote working and associated leadership impacts. As a result, we created a development program for managers specifically designed to enhance remote leadership skills. This is something we are both passionate and experienced in.
The program contains a mix of mentoring, training and coaching to reinforce the key areas that are important to develop in order to effectively manage a team remotely, including:
- Understand and apply management and leadership theories, practical skills and competencies to effectively lead a remote team.
- Recognise where the needs and situations differ between local and remote employees.
- Understand how to relate and connect with team members who you do not physically see every day.
- Use technology and tools to the best advantage.
- Apply learned techniques, skill and abilities in areas such as communication, building trust, accountability, structure, measuring effectiveness and employee development.
Contact us today if you have leaders who will benefit from improving their skills, capability, confidence and competence. The benefits are proven and the investment is worth it.
(1) Remote working: Still part of the tribe or left out in the cold? – Fiona Smith, Australian Financial Review
(2) The 2020 State of Remote Work – Buffer
To communicate well, is to be understood and to understand. Communication is key to effective leadership. In fact, it is integral in much of our lives. Anecdotally, experience has consistently demonstrated that most issues in business are, at least in part, caused by poor communication.
Are there different levels of communication effectiveness?
In recent years whilst coaching, I have developed a concept regarding the effectiveness of communication. It highlights the need for depth in conversation. To verbally communicate well provides meaning and purpose. It allows for understanding and often, clarity and context. Purpose influences action and improvement. Unfortunately, many managers do not develop this skill to the level required.
Ultimately, our relationships are better for the higher levels of trust and the investment this provides for future communication opportunities.
Essentially, we can communicate at various levels of depth. However, most business communication (and that at home too!) often occurs at a moderate and superficial level, at best. I would describe this as a level 1 or 2 type of communication. Our goal is to develop the skill and capability to flex to level 3 and 4, where relevant. To communicate at level 5 takes quite a bit of practice, but is worth the effort and investment.
To communicate effectively we need to move beyond the superficial, to greater depths.
This is particularly important when leading people. The goal is to be heard and understood. Critically, this is as important for your team member or colleague in return. This is achieved when both parties invest in gaining a mutual understanding.
As I have highlighted in previous blogs, the skills of asking the right question at the right time and effective listening are two of the most important leadership attributes to develop.
There are certain situations in our life that call for us to dig deep and talk about what is really important to us. When the stakes are high it is important that we communicate effectively, if we are misunderstood in these important moments it can cause much pain and confusion. When we wish to build trust in a relationship, or when we want to be sure we are really heard, things go much better if we can communicate what we want to say fully and authentically. In reality this is no small thing to achieve and it requires both courage and vulnerability.
We often communicate only half of what is really going on for us.
If we are to truly communicate then we need to share all of who we are, not just selected parts of ourselves. The parts that tend to get left out in communication are the things that may make us vulnerable to the other, or cause us some shame or discomfort. Yet these are the very parts of ourselves that we need to share…it is necessary to express these things if we want true communication to flow. (1)
The diagram below extends this concept. The 5 levels of effective communication mentioned already are described in further detail. The goal is to develop your communication skills to at least Level 3.
Why does it matter to communicate effectively?
The benefits of developing your communicating skills are many. Through practice, when we communicate well, there is feeling of power and influence.
It’s easy to get stuck in poor communication habits, speaking or reacting impulsively rather than supportively. But any uncomfortable feelings raised in a difficult conversation can be a short-term inconvenience for a long-term gain if you talk in an honest, open manner.
Supportive communication improves your relationships by focusing on empathy and mindfulness, and it can also help increase positive emotions such as joy, hope, peace, gratitude and love. The body responds to these emotions by reducing stress hormones and increasing endorphins, also known as “feel good” chemicals. Over time, these effects can cause positive changes in mindset and creativity, as well as increase immune function and longevity. (2)
A significant amount of my time when coaching people focuses on their ability to communicate effectively. Effective communication is a skill, attribute and outcome.
The opportunity to invest in your communication skills is one that you must grab with both hands if you want to be a more effective influencer, manager, leader and human. It is difficult to think of a more relevant time in recent history where effective communication has been more important.
Consider the information and model detailed in this blog and assess your own skills and importantly, your actions. All of us have the opportunity to improve our communication. The benefits are clear. Making the choice to do so…well, that is up to you.
References and Resources
Related Blogs By Steve @CoachStation
Organisations regularly fail to set their leaders up for success.
When it comes to development, up and coming managers and leaders themselves are just as responsible and culpable. Coaching provides the opportunity and impetus for growth and change.
The statements above may seem confronting, yet the evidence continues to present itself in organisations throughout the world. Few people I know personally and professionally feel that they are supported and developed consistently well by their leaders. Those who do should feel very lucky. Leaders who have sought development and coaching are significantly more likely to engage their team members. Coaching leaders are also more likely to develop and maintain solid relationships and connections with those they work with. This is important as employee engagement rates continue to fall or at best, remain stagnant.
According to the recent Gallup State of the Global Workplace report, 85% of employees are not engaged or actively disengaged at work. The economic consequences of this global “norm” are approximately $7 trillion in lost productivity.
Eighteen percent (of employees globally) are actively disengaged in their work and workplace, while 67% are “not engaged.”
This latter group makes up the majority of the workforce — they are not your worst performers, but they are indifferent to your organization. They give you their time, but not their best effort nor their best ideas. They likely come to work wanting to make a difference — but nobody has ever asked them to use their strengths to make the organization better. (1)
Becoming an effective leader does not happen by accident. Leadership and management coaching support provides the opportunity to grow professionally and personally. Skill and capability development, along with gaining an understanding of how to work with different people are important attributes. That makes sense, however, possessing the right skills is only part of the story.
Other critical factors are just as important. Knowing the right question to ask at the right time. Genuinely listening and delving to get to the nub of the matter. Learning how to influence. Caring about others as much as yourself, are all vital leadership traits. Beyond standard development, how else can you obtain the right skills and behaviours?
By building on the skills listed above you will earn the right to lead others. Deciding that this is your path is a great first step. Too many of us fail to challenge our comfort zones and follow through on what we believe and who we are. This sort of compromise leads to a lack of contribution and fulfilment.
What’s the secret? It’s this: we rose to our leadership positions because we were good at a certain skill not because we were skilled at leading others. We were promoted because we personally created great results. And, now that our job has shifted into a leadership role, we realise that we’re responsible to do the one thing we were never actually trained to do—lead, inspire, and motivate other people to become their best.
I never had training on how to be a leader, and frankly leadership is earned not given so I’m not sure it’s something that can be learned in a classroom,” said Matt Rizzetta, CEO and Founder of N6A, a public relations and social media agency based in New York and Toronto. “I came from an agency background and couldn’t understand why so many failed to see that the lifeblood of a services business is its people.
If people are what makes your business tick, then that needs to be the first place you look to invest and innovate. You need to see the correlation between the service product and the internal culture. The two should be interchangeable.
If you create a unique and rewarding internal culture for employees you’ll likely create a unique service experience for customers, and there will be performance benefits for both. That’s why I started my own company—not because I thought I was a leader, but because I knew that, by creating a better environment for employees we would create a better product for clients, and ultimately everybody would win. (2) Developing effective coaching skills and capability is one way to positively influence the culture and environment.
If you see this type of time and effort as a cost, not an investment, you will never commit fully. And you will truly struggle to influence and lead others.
- It is imperative to spend the time upfront to identify and recruit the most appropriate and effective leaders. The time spent getting this right is an investment, not a cost. Get it wrong however, and it will feel like a price you have to pay for far too long.
- Dedicating suitable levels of effort in developing leaders internally, prior to the opportunity. This rarely happens in reality, yet is one of the most simple and effective ways to confirm suitability and set up the new leader for success. Success for the leader, team and organisation.
Seek additional understanding and knowledge from whoever and wherever you can. Reinforcement of your existing understanding; exposure to new ideas and thinking; whilst broadening your mindset and skills comes from many sources. Seek them out. Be deliberate.
Being a leader can be challenging. It is also often rewarding, both personally and professionally. However, it takes effort, persistence and time, which it seems many people struggle to understand and apply. There are no short-cuts, but there is opportunity. (3)
The opportunity to improve individual and team leadership is available to most. The chance to make leadership development a priority and expectation within your organisational culture can make a real difference to whether people bother. Leadership is not a negotiable asset. We are all looking for more from our workplaces and our leaders and bosses are the linchpin to make this happen. What does this look like?
Google released two projects over the past few years that provide evidence of where our focus should be. Project Aristotle found that the firm’s best team’s exhibited a range of soft skills. Top ideas often come from so-called B-teams comprising people who were not always the smartest in the room, but excelled in team based environments.
Along with mentoring, leadership and workplace coaching is a great asset to receive and give.
Project Oxygen research in 2013 found that STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) expertise was the last of eight traits in the company’s top employees. The seven most important were soft skills:
- possessing insights into others
- being empathetic and supportive
- critical thinking and problem-solving
- ability to make connections (3)
There is no doubt that the most effective and respected leaders in any role or organisation are those who recognise that they are not in their role because they have all the answers.
They are honest in their own self-assessment and seek the same of others. They are successful because they understand their own strengths and limitations, possessing the self-awareness and desire to surround themselves with a team who have supporting strengths and skill-sets that contribute to the effectiveness of the team.
Effective leaders are accountable to themselves and take on the responsibilities for their role, inputs and outcomes willingly and with purpose. This is not a one way street. Organisations must support their current and future leaders and continue to provide relevant and genuine development and growth opportunities. (5)
As we’ve travelled the globe and spoken to leaders from all different industries we’ve come to find the best leaders are open and honest about one simple thing—that they’re in their position not because they were necessarily skilled or credentialed at leading people, but instead because they sincerely cared about other people. They cared about helping others become the best they could be.
This is the one thing leaders need to understand—that a title doesn’t mean you know more, that years on the job don’t always mean you should be making all decisions, and that cheering for your employee’s success is the number one thing you can do as a leader to inspire greatness.
“The question every leader should ask their people is, ‘How can I help you become your best?’ instead of ‘How can you help me?’” (2)
Coaching your employees encourages self-reflection and accountability: two topics that are commonly raised in my coaching and mentoring discussions. A recent article by Amy Bach consolidates these key points. For anyone in a position that involves leading others, the ultimate decision remains.
Will you choose to focus on being a competent manager, or take up the more complex but also more rewarding challenge of committing to being a truly influential leader?
Leaders achieve through others. They develop, empower and motivate people, shape team culture, display courage and resilience in the face of adversity: and underpin all of this with something that cannot be taught, but can certainly be chosen. Lead with passion, authenticity and a commitment to making a positive impact in the workplace. (3)
A genuine leader and manager will read this and feel a connection with the words. Not simply as a concept, but recognised through action. It is too easy to continue on the path of acceptance or avoidance. You have a choice. It ultimately comes down to your answer to the question: what kind of leader do I want to be?
Resources and References:
(1) Dismal Employee Engagement Is a Sign of Global Mismanagement: Gallup.com
(2) The One Truth You Should Know That Most Leaders Keep Quiet: Forbes.com
(3) The Leader Journey is Long and Worthwhile: CoachStation
(4) Forge Magazine: Vol 4, No 1 – 2018; pages 6
(5) Are We Setting Our Leaders Up For Success?: CoachStation
Effective leaders make shared goals clear. They also clarify the role we each play in achieving them.
Leaders empower their team members and hold them accountable for delivering agreed results.
However, to inspire and empower you must have a connection with your team members…a relationship.
The words and concept in the heading above could not be clearer. The message and need to establish accountability cannot be understated. Making this real in practice is the challenge.
How many of us truly provide the context and create the environment where trust and accountability are encouraged? Do you empower or dis-empower?
A few weeks ago I facilitated a ‘Lunch and Learn’ session with one of my clients. The session formed part of a week-long focus on leadership. Other speakers included representatives from Blanchard International and BTS Australasia. I was provided with guidance on the session topic, which had to relate to coaching and leadership. We were fortunate to have Max from Sketchvideos recording the key points from each session, as highlighted in the image above.
Many of us have the opportunity to influence, lead and manage people either directly or indirectly every day. Like most leadership and people-related skills, this requires practice and effort. It is important to understand the key points and areas to focus on and practice whilst developing yourself and those around you. In the lunch and learn sessions, I discussed the core traits and skills that the most effective leaders possess and apply every day.
To empower is to provide opportunity for buy-in and success for individual employees and your team overall.
One of the most important, yet often missed elements is to establish agreed expectations and standards. Clarity of expectations provides a greater chance that your team members will complete tasks and actions in an efficient and timely way. It is virtually impossible for an employee to feel empowered if there is disagreement or misunderstanding in what they are expected to do each day. Most critically, clarity allows each person to engage in their roles and hold themselves accountable.
Most managers are more comfortable discussing and holding team members accountable for the objective aspects of their role for example KPI’s; KRA’s; results etc. They are often less comfortable influencing the ‘seemingly subjective’ aspects of the role. As highlighted in the associated graphic, we often do more talking and telling than asking and listening. This is particularly prevalent when managing people, during 1:1’s and appraisal-type discussions.
By telling and informing, the leader is assuming a lot and making it more about themselves. Who’s 1:1 is it anyway?
Too often managers are fearful about how to establish expectations and hold these conversations. Particularly when the goals and standards are seemingly subjective and are less quantifiable. With the right skills and practice, accountability is possible to apply, no matter the details of the performance expectation or requirement.
Once agreed, the commitment to meet the expectation is implicit, whether objective or subjective in nature.
It is worth considering whether this point applies to you? Take a moment to reflect on how often you deliberately focus on agreed expectations. Check in with your team…you may be surprised at the response. Additionally, there are other skills and traits that employees look for in their leaders. The graphic below highlights a recent survey that asked which leadership traits and skills were most important.
Whereas, most of them are reasonably obvious, we can all think of manager’s who fail more than succeed in demonstrating the skills through action. The skills can be developed. What is one of the best ways to influence most, if not all, of the leadership skills listed above? Coaching! Being coached and developing others through coaching has tangible and measurable benefits. Many of these outcomes are the skills that our employees are looking for. How do we know this? Because feedback and survey after survey tells us so.
A leader only has to become moderately proficient in most of the skills above to be an effective and productive leader. Perfection across all skills is not required. In fact, it is not possible. However, taking the time and putting conscious effort into growth and development provides many benefits…to yourself and your team. Although, it is worth remembering that knowing and doing are not the same thing! Oddly, they are the same traits and attributes you are looking from from your leaders. Yet, we often see what we provide and what we get in different contexts and degrees of self-expectation.
Genuine progress is made through taking action, developing skills and closing any gaps.
Managers can attest to this experience: You ask an employee to carry out a task that has enough flexibility for creative input. Rather than making their own decisions, the employee comes to you with an onslaught of questions, trying to pin down the exact parameters of the task. You become exasperated, wondering why the employee has to ask you permission for every tiny detail.
This isn’t an unusual phenomenon – it can be difficult to break out of the leader-follower mindset at the workplace. In fact, researchers from Penn State, Claremont McKenna College, and Tsinghua University find that only rare, “transformational leaders” are able to prevent employees from being excessively reliant on their bosses, cultivating instead a staff that feels empowered and self-guided.
Trust and business acumen are some of the cornerstones in building this type of work culture.
We can use this wisdom to train informed and decisive teams that we can trust. (1)
To empower is to provide opportunity for involvement and input into the conversation; understand what matters most to each person; and have a say into the work being performed.
In Eyewitness to Power, David Gergen writes, “At the heart of leadership is the leader’s relationship with followers. People will entrust their hopes and dreams to another person only if they think the other is a reliable vessel.”
There was a time when leaders thought their role was to exert power over others. No longer. Today’s best leaders recognise their leadership is most effective when they empower others to step up and lead. That’s exactly what the new generation of Gen X and Millennials expect from their leaders, and they respond with great performance.
With leadership comes responsibility. As Clayton Christensen wrote, “No other occupation offers as many ways to help others learn and grow, take responsibility and be recognised for achievement.”
It’s time to lead authentically. You can do so by focusing on empowering others.
A team of empowered leaders all rowing in the same direction is hard to beat. (2) It is only when we mature and grow as leaders that we realise most people have at least a general understanding of their own performance, successes and future development opportunities. Gaining more context through asking; developing a stronger connection and trust; and setting up the opportunity for more productive relationships ongoing, are all benefits. But, we don’t provide enough guidance through facilitating a discussion to help our employees draw these conclusions. These behaviours are most commonly a result of:
- Avoidance and fear of our own capability to assist – “I won’t ask the question as I may not be able to do anything with the answer”
- Prior poor examples, experiences or situations that have created self-doubt
- Lack of skill and capability to lead
- Selfishness – simply not caring enough about members of your team to bother (a strong indicator that this type of manager shouldn’t be leading teams in the first place!!)
The desire to build leadership skill takes time…just like every other skill or capability you have developed.
To coach and lead is to empower. But, we all must develop the capability to do this well. The graphic below provides a set of guidelines about how to hold an effective 1:1 and coach accordingly. You will notice there are more questions that statements. Your opinion and view can be fed into the conversation as it develops. Stop and consider whether a question may be more effective and provide greater understanding than a statement would.
Giving up control and empowering your team can be a terrifying experience for many leaders. You might feel compelled to watch their every move and peek over their shoulders. But by monitoring someone’s every move, you’re actually impeding his or her ability to grow.
Give your team some space, trust them, and you might be impressed by what they’re able to achieve.
Breaking out of the traditional leader-follower mindset can help you create stronger staff bonds founded on trust, self-confidence, and achievement. When you create room for independent work and decision-making, your team might discover that they’re able to achieve far more than they originally thought possible. Test drive these leadership techniques, and see what your own team is really capable of. (1)
How do you think you might use this information to empower and assist your team?
(2) Huffington Post
Trust is the key to meaningful leadership, relationships and influence.
Most of us know this, but how do we develop trust in the workplace and at home?
It is fascinating to see people grow and develop. Like many in my industry, I do what I do because of a deep need to contribute and make a difference when coaching and mentoring. This continues to hold me in good stead as a coach, mentor and consultant. However, developing trusted relationships was also a core belief when I was leading people directly. Now, my goal is to help others learn why and how to apply these skills and attributes to influence and lead their team members.
One of my favourite and most effective tools relates to helping my clients understand their personal values. The process of prioritising an extensive set of value statements and words down to 20 primary and ultimately, 7 core values is always interesting.
A continuing trend is that trust forms a part of the vast majority of people’s primary values.
Based on many other personal and professional conversations, I am confident this is a consistent need for most people. Elements of trust that are identified throughout these discussions show that most people can feel whether trust exists. Fewer can explain specifically how it is built or established. At the end of my Personal Values workshops or coaching process, I ask participants to reflect and act upon several questions. One of the most important is:
How well do you establish and maintain a culture where most people get to fulfil this need most of the time? This is important if trust is so inherently important to so many people, including members of your own team.
I also ask that they reflect on all core values in a similar way. How regularly and effectively are your core values being met at work and at home? The answers to these questions can provide great insight into why things ‘feel’ as they do…both good and bad, positive and negative. Critically, it is what you do with this new learning that matters. However, trust is strengthened or weakened readily depending on your behaviours and demonstrated actions. What you do, what you say and how you say it has a bearing on how well you connect with people.
Connections with purpose and meaning build trust.
- Do What You Say You Will Do: This is the ultimate way to gain people’s trust. It means following through with what you say you will do.
- Trust & Nurture To Develop: To gain trust we need to trust others. It is a two-way street. We need to be patient and give them the time to grow and develop instead of forcing the issue.
- Do The Right Thing: Regardless of whether or not anyone is watching you, integrity cannot be compromised. It takes many years to establish your credibility, but it only takes a few minutes to ruin it.
- Care For Your People: Before we ask our people to do something for us, we must appeal to them and touch their heart.
- Serve Your People: When we serve our people, we ensure that their interest is taken into consideration. By doing so, we don’t focus on who gets the credit. Our focus shifts to getting the job done. (1)
When employees are not having their core needs and values met, they may look elsewhere.
A powerful way to establish trust is to employ one of the mind’s most basic mechanisms for determining loyalty: the perception of similarity. If you can make someone feel a link with you, his empathy for and willingness to cooperate with you will increase. (3) It is much easier to do this when you have a natural affiliation with someone. It may be a shared history; aligned values; similar belief systems, or other form of alignment. This link is key, but don’t think it can be easily faked.
People can see and feel any superficiality a mile off. Even if they can’t explain it.
Sometimes this is described as ‘just not feeling right’. When their is alignment is it often stated that it ‘simply feels like a strong connection’. This cannot always be easily explained or articulated. Yet, the feelings we have about others is powerful and drives many of our decisions, particularly surrounding our relationships.
First, leaders that place people ahead of profit (which leads to more profit, imagine that!) will work hard to promote trust. That means that they create an environment where risks are taken, where employees feel safe and motivated to exercise their creativity, communicate ideas openly, and provide input to major decisions without reprimand. Because there is trust there. But trust is a two-way street. So leaders trust and believe in the people that they lead as well. And when you value people by trusting them, you treat others with dignity and respect.
But trust in this social economy remains a baffling stigma. In 2014, the American Psychological Association published the findings on their Work and Well-Being Survey.
Nearly 1 in 4 workers say they don’t trust their employer and only about half believe their employer is open and upfront with them.
While almost two-thirds (64 percent) of employed adults feel their organization treats them fairly, 1 in 3 reported that their employer is not always honest and truthful with them. But the great news is that workers who feel valued by their employer are more likely to be engaged in their work. In the survey results, employees were significantly more likely to report having high levels of energy, being strongly involved in their work, and just plain happy about what they do. Ninety-one percent were likely to say they are motivated to do their best (versus 37 percent who do not feel valued) and 85 percent were likely to recommend their employer to others (versus 15 percent of those who do not feel valued). (4)
It’s clear that a culture that feels valued, that promotes openness, honesty, transparency and trust are key to high-performance.
When considered as a sum of its parts, the Trust Equation (highlighted below) has much merit. I like the idea that the model highlights the four elements of who we are: words; actions; emotions; and, caring. Once understood there is greater potential to apply these elements and establish greater levels of trust in practice. Check yourself against the four criteria and see where you might be able to strengthen your trust-building skills.
Research conducted by The Ken Blanchard Companies using its Employee Work Passion Assessment has found significant correlation between positive work intentions and a leader’s ability to build trust, use coaching behaviors, and create an engaging work environment. This environment includes high levels of Meaningful Work, Autonomy, Growth, Fairness, Collaboration, and Feedback, along with six other factors. (2)
I see trust being taken for granted in many workplaces. As with any relational aspect, it takes effort to develop trust.
I regularly state to my clients, “whether you like someone you lead is not the point”. As a leader you have little choice in making it all about who you like or dislike. In your leadership role you are obligated to influence, develop and assist your team members. In fact, one of the most rewarding aspects of leadership is seeing improvement and growth in those who initially you may not have affiliated naturally with. Trust is built on many things. Moving beyond likeability to deeper traits such as respect and honesty influence trust more than simply being liked.
The Inc article highlighted in this blog makes several great points about engagement and trust. It is worth reading in full. I particularly appreciate the final paragraph which summarises the essence of valuing employees and building trust, described as the ‘most counter-intuitive part’.
More studies are coming out saying that if you trust and believe in your people first, and in return they reciprocate by believing in you as a leader, they will give their best work.
In other words, although conventional thinking says that people have to earn trust first, in healthy organizations, leaders who put high emphasis on meeting employees’ needs are willing to give trust to them first, and they give it as a gift even before it’s earned. Now that’s valuing people. (4)
As highlighted earlier, the question really is a simple one. Does the environment and culture you are building as a leader foster and develop trust in others and to be trusted yourself?
Take on the challenge of reviewing where trust sits for you. Reflecting on this is one great way to understand yourself and your team members better. It will also be a meaningful way to develop a deeper sense of trust and relationships in practice.
The leader and employee in today’s environment must possess a credible and trusted brand, much like a company does.
This is sometimes also referred to as a personal and/or professional reputation. Either way, people see you a certain way based on your behaviours, words and actions. Being aware of this helps you to take control of your brand.
Like culture, it exists whether we influence it or not. Why then, wouldn’t you want to take control of this as much as possible? The benefits of modern technology and Social Media make this easier than in the past. It also provides potential pitfalls and risk. However, your personal brand and the perception you create is more than your Social Media profiles and habits. Your ‘real life’ actions and behaviours shape the perception others have of you. After all, those closest to you are the people who you should be most interested in influencing. Rarely is the depth of relationships online as strong as in person. Sadly, the lines are becoming blurred for many people.
It takes time and effort to develop your reputation built on genuine results, behaviours, skills and qualities that others identify as strengths and positive attributes. This is important for all of us, but is most critical for leaders.
Personal branding, much like social media, is about making a full-time commitment to the journey of defining yourself as a leader and how this will shape the manner in which you will serve others. (1)
Many leaders are already performing well in their roles and have much to offer. Whether people recognise and acknowledge this is another question. Having the knowledge and tools to promote yourself effectively without appearing to be ‘big-noting’ is a challenge for some. I look at this differently. It is not about being a self-promoter. It is more about being comfortable enough in who you are and your achievements so that you can comfortably talk about it. This comfort stems from strength in self-esteem and self-acceptance, amongst other attributes.
Overlooked for promotion; receiving little recognition; difficulty in explaining beliefs, passions or roles, along with other skills are often difficult challenges, but can be overcome. Creating a strong brand can only be achieved through consistent practice and application. This takes effort and accountability. In a blog I wrote previously titled Setting Standards and Expectations, I mentioned the importance of ownership and taking accountability.
Perceptions about self and what we think others believe about us influences much of who we are and what we do.
Each person has their own beliefs and needs and are at various stages of acceptance of their situation, financial requirements and employability. Being clear about what you want from life, including as an employee, helps you to make appropriate decisions. Decisions based on want, values and need and not simply situation and opportunity. Even when current roles appear stable, understanding of yourself and focusing energies on the next steps or options is a worthwhile exercise.
A brand in itself is not the end game. It is a mistake to think that a hollow set of tricks and/or being a good marketer without having the substance to support the brand will work.
This is the same when promoting products, services or people. People see through this kind of facade very quickly, even when we think they haven’t.
What is presented to the world via your online presence is becoming more and more critical to how other people view who you are and what you stand for. It is a wonder to me how many people still struggle with this concept. As important as this is, meaning and substance matters more than merely presenting yourself professionally online. It is how you communicate, manage perceptions, behave, respond, learn about and apply emotional intelligence. A solid social media presence is one aspect, but your brand is more than that.
It also relates to your ability to develop relationships, foster an ability to connect with others and various similar core skills that help you to influence people.
Taking control of and developing your reputation is essential for the advancement of your career and development as a leader. Unfortunately, personal branding has become a “commoditized” term that has lost its intention as people have irresponsibly used social media as a platform to build their personal brand and increase their relevancy. They believe social media can immediately increase their market value for their personal brand rather than recognizing that the process of developing their personal brand is a much bigger responsibility; a never-ending journey that extends well beyond social media.
Your personal brand should represent the value you are able to consistently deliver to those whom you are serving.
This doesn’t mean self-promotion – that you should be creating awareness for your brand by showcasing your achievements and success stories. Managing your personal brand requires you to be a great role model, mentor, and/or a voice that others can depend upon. (1)
Personal branding is a topic that has been of interest to me for some years. The related concepts and practical elements are consistently discussed topics when coaching and mentoring my clients. Our focus is about what is happening now, how you present yourself in your current role. This is not only relevant and important when you are looking for a new role. Essentially, having a strong brand always matters. I work with people in various industries at all levels of management, yet the branding elements remain surprisingly consistent.
The issues that exist and skills required in modern workplaces are as applicable for entry-level employees as they are for supervisors and executive level leaders.
How you present yourself should reflect what you care most about. This should include demonstrating consistency in values, beliefs and actions. The most effective leaders are those who care about people and are passionate about specific aspects of their role.
If you want to become a person of influence in your industry, realize it usually takes years of experience to earn a spot at the top. “How do you figure out something is your passion? It’s that thing you go to sleep about at night and it’s on your mind. You wake up and it’s still on your mind. It’s like a burning desire inside of you, you just can’t escape it, and you would do it for free simply because you love it.” (2)
At CoachStation we focus on the core elements that can assist any individual to develop a reputation and brand. One that is based on a solid foundation, leading to improved credibility and future success. These topics may be of use to you as you continue to build your reputation:
- Investigate why personal branding is important in your business and personal life.
- Take control of your brand and reputation – like culture, it exists, so you may as well influence it as much as possible.
- Learn the key elements of branding and how to build on them with meaning and authenticity.
- Build self-esteem, confidence and authenticity – don’t feel you need to act the part or play a role either in your personal or professional life.
- Understand the relevance of Social Media in developing a brand and how to use these tools to greatest effect.
- Develop a strong brand that is consistent with what you care about the most and your passions.
- Learn how to use the most relevant tools and technology to develop your brand.
- Seek understanding why a personal and professional brand is a non-negotiable for leaders and employees in today’s environment.
View your personal brand as a trademark; an asset that you must protect while continuously moulding and shaping it.
Your personal brand is an asset that must be managed with the intention of helping others benefit from having a relationship with you and/or by being associated with your work and the industry you serve. (1)
The need to develop your brand and reputation is more relevant today than ever. If you don’t take control of your brand it will continue to evolve but not in a way that will add value to yourself and those you care about.
Have you defined your own brand? If so, do you live and breathe it consistently every day?
Think about what your brand looks like from the perspective of others.
Take action to be accountable in shaping your brand to greatest effect.
As always, the opportunity is yours.
(2) How To Create a Standout Personal Brand: Entrepreneur.com
Employee Engagement surveys are barely worth the time and effort taken to produce them.
They certainly have questionable content and value for those organisations who rely on survey results for a genuine view of how employees feel.
Big statements, perhaps! But only if you have not taken the time to meaningfully investigate the reasons why employees might feel the need to provide over-inflated scoring that does not reflect reality.
Engagement continues to be a major factor in business success and focus for management.
We know this topic is big. Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends research (shows) 78% of business leaders rate retention and engagement urgent or important. HR leaders talk consistently about retention issues…and businesses all over the world are trying to build an inclusive, passionate, multi-generational team.
In fact…the issue of ‘engaging people well’ is becoming one of the biggest competitive differentiators in business.
The change we need to make is to redefine engagement beyond an ‘annual HR measure’ to a continuous, holistic part of an entire business strategy. If your people love their work and the environment you have created, they will treat customers better, innovate, and continuously improve your business.
Creating a high performance work environment is a complex problem. We have to communicate a mission and values, train managers and leaders to live these values, and then carefully select the right people who fit. And once people join, we have to continuously improve, redesign, and tweak the work environment to make it modern, humane, and enjoyable. (1)
There are many reasons why employee engagement surveys have limited value.
Not because the concept is flawed. It is more about respondent buy-in, bias and application of the process that creates the greatest anomalies. Three potential flawed assumptions that commonly interfere with understanding what engagement is and what it does for the organisation are:
- All employee responses are equally credible.
- Perfecting employee circumstances will drive engagement.
- Engagement alone drives results. (3)
Extending this thinking, additional elements that challenge the value of engagement surveys include:
- Establishing KPI’s that are aligned to the engagement scores is a major failure point. Employees and particularly managers, who have a vested interest in obtaining a higher score may skew their answers. Particularly if the engagement results have a direct impact on their bonus, annual reviews or similar. If you doubt this point, it may reflect relationships and trust that exists with your employees and their willingness to be truly honest. Hard to hear. Maybe, but the most effective leaders don’t let ego, fear or self-delusion stop them doing what is right or true. In my role as coach, consultant and leader I have had many conversations with employees who deliberately inflate or affect scores based on self-interest.
Why would a manager be critical of their team or business unit when the onus and responsibility to ‘fix’ any real or perceived issues will fall back on them?
- During my coaching engagements it has become clear that the links between culture, trust and transparency positively or negatively impact engagement survey results. Organisations that communicate well; recruit and develop leaders who support both the business and employees; are transparent and giving by nature; and genuinely support employees as people, often see this positive action reflected in results. Of course, the opposite is just as true.
- The time invested in responding, compiling and supplying surveys is rarely worth the effort. Particularly when little is done to maximise the results through action and improvement. Essentially, for many organisations the return on investment is low. Too often the process is a ‘tick-the-box’ exercise. By pursuing employee engagement surveys, an organisation is establishing an expectation that they care and are looking for information to improve the performance and inputs of the business. Cynicism and apathy are the result when nothing is communicated or applied post survey.
In some ways an organisation is better to not create this expectation in the first place, than to ask for feedback and then do nothing with the data collected.
- The perception of anonymity remains a concern for many. No matter how many times or ways the message of anonymity is stated, many employees doubt that the data truly remains hidden. To this day I speak with managers who spend time sifting through the comments trying to decipher which respondent made a certain statement. Clearly the point of engagement and leadership is being missed by these people. Unfortunately, the reasons a manager behaves in this way within the survey process generally reflects how they lead teams. In my experience poor leadership behaviours such as these are not isolated to engagement surveys. A manager who behaves in this way will generally be displaying poor behaviours elsewhere. This should be reflected in the survey (kind of the point), but is often not highlighted for the reasons listed. Ironic isn’t it! Additionally, anonymous input protects privacy but for this reason also means that specific targets for development cannot be identified.
The ability to translate how an employee feels into a series of prescribed questions is a challenge for some respondents.
- Along with a lack of genuine clarity of what employee engagement actually is, there is plenty of grey area. A recent article expands on this point. If something can’t be clearly defined, then it can’t be accurately measured. Because of these contradictory definitions (and measures), it is hard to accurately compare the results from external statistical comparison studies. The results of high engagement are ‘stronger emotional feelings’ and ‘increased effort’. Although these two factors may be important, other factors like a bad manager, the wrong skills, and improper training may neutralize any benefit from engagement. Some engagement surveys include multiple factors (i.e. satisfaction, performance, sentiment, trust, morale, happiness, burnout, commitment) but many of these may be overlapping or duplications of the same factor. (2)
- Engagement is not productivity or an output— using an analogy, engagement may be smoke but it is not fire. The primary concern of business leaders is increasing productivity, output, or innovation. Unfortunately, employee engagement, employee satisfaction, emotional intelligence, etc. may contribute to productivity, but they are not productivity. An employee may be fully engaged and emotionally tied to the firm but without the proper training, leaders, resources, etc. no amount of commitment will improve their outputs. Emotional states are hard to understand and measure, while behaviours and productivity are not. A superior approach is one that looks broadly at all of the factors that increase productivity, that lower labour costs, and that increase the value of labour outputs and innovation. (2)
Remember: People Are The Product
Part of this shift is redefining our perspective on an employee. Rather than consider people as “hired hands” we want to “engage,” (the whole term “human resources” has this old fashioned connotation) high-engagement companies understand that employees are the essence of products and services. They develop, deliver, and support what our customers experience every day. (1)
Are employee engagement surveys becoming obsolete? Possibly. However, the principal behind increasing understanding of what contributes to engagement and ultimately improved performance and results remains an important point. It is far from simple, though. In fact, engagement surveys may be drawing too long a bow between engagement, performance and outcomes. As detailed earlier, there are many reasons (including several not listed) that provide reasonable doubt as to the value of employee surveys. What is clear, however, is the need for transparent leadership and genuine effort in understanding team members and the link to business needs.
Organisations that fail to focus on the inputs that contribute to results and instead focus solely on the results; KPI’s and outcomes will always feel challenged. Maybe I am wrong, but the evidence continues to speak for itself. CoachStation is regularly engaged for development opportunities such as these.
Whether your leaders are prepared for an honest self-assessment and reflection of reality is the real question.
Will a survey identify or prevent these issues? Probably not. But, as a leader, appropriate and relevant actions remain your call and responsibility.
Effective leaders understand that this is not negotiable.
Whether you take the challenge is up to you.
(1) It’s Time To Rethink this Employee Engagement Issue: Josh Bersin
(2) The Top 20 Potential Problems with Employee Engagement: Arvind Verma
(3) Employee Engagement – Avoid These 3 Fatal Flaws: Justin Scace