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How “Corporate Liberation” Can Move the Needle

In my continuing research on Employee Engagement, I run across some fascinating ideas. Today I want to talk about corporate liberation, a term that is new to me, although the concept is something I’ve been promoting for years.

Coined by two men, Brian Carney, author of Leadership Without Ego; How to Stop Managing and Start Leading, and Isaac Getz, professor of leadership and innovation at ESCP Europe Business School in Paris, France, the concept of corporate liberation has been around for more than half a century and its advocates believe it has been more than proven by real data about the results.

What is corporate liberation?

Getz outlined it in a March 14, 2017 ChangeBoard.com article: The idea can be stated simply enough: A liberated company allows employees complete freedom and responsibility to take actions that they—not their managers—decide are best for their company’s vision. That doesn’t mean that these firms are unmanaged. On the contrary, the specific actions that we observed in close to one hundred liberated companies prove the opposite.”

In a liberated organization, managers act as coaches and eschew the outdated technique of “command-and-control.” A “kissing cousin” of the process I teach, Socratic Delegation, liberated managers use questions to explore what the workers think is the best approach and then empower them to take action.

Since the Law of Attraction dictates that you get more of what you focus on, then honoring the expertise of your team in these ways results in a growth of expertise. In a command-and-control environment, the emphasis is on the need for employees to be told what to do. The result is more and more people who don’t bother to think for themselves because really, what’s the point? Disengagement grows; profits do not.

You can well imagine what a difference it would make in Employee Engagement to work at a liberated corporation. Each individual would be much more attentive to their input and output because they would know it’s up to them, not management, to get things done. Although the importance of workers has always been significant, because their value has not been acknowledged as strongly as it could, workers end up disengaged and profits drop. This is not a theory; it’s been proven repeatedly.

Here is one success story, outlined by Carney and Getz, in their September 10, 2018 Harvard Business Review article, Give Your Team the Freedom to Do the Work They Think Matters Most:

“Michelin, the global tire manufacturing giant—with 11, 400 employees-has also embarked on a corporate liberation campaign. In one of its German plants, teams self-direct most activities and managers have transitioned into the role of coaches without formal authority. Operators set their work schedules and their vacations, design and monitor their own performance indicators, do their own maintenance, and are consulted on the choice of new machinery. Michelin is a huge company in a relatively mature industry, but it has still managed to nearly double its free cash flow since 2015, to $1.75 billion in 2017 compared to $979 million in 2015. In 2018, Michelin was ranked the #1 America’s Best Large Employer.”

To paraphrase from the movie Field of Dreams, if you liberate your team, they will grow—their engagement AND your profits.

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Employee Engagement & 9/11-WHAATTT???!!!??

9/11/2018 – Today, along with millions of Americans, I have been watching footage of the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Recurring themes include heroism, people’s inherent kindness to others during times of duress, and going the extra mile.

These attributes are why I have never despaired, “What will become of us?” I know that, deep down we are all connected and want the best for each other, for our country, and for the world.

What does this have to do with employee engagement? Simply this: you needn’t wait for a crisis to practice kindness. You have opportunities all day long, both at work and in your personal life.

At work, striving for an environment where employees look forward to coming to work each day is one of the kindest things you can do for your co-workers, and yourself. Caring enough to ask, “How are you doing? How can I support you?” goes a long way toward allaying any underlying fears your team may have. Fears like: “Am I alone? Does anyone care that I’m struggling? Does my work even matter?”

A sense of belonging is also one of the themes of the 9/11 aftermath. We bonded together as Americans.

We all want to belong. If you doubt this, think back to your High School days.

Work is a place where the opportunity to experience a sense of being included is present every day. More than anything, creating an environment where everyone strongly feels they are an important part of the team ensures a culture of engagement.

While we are remembering 9/11, we also have an eye on Hurricane Florence, scheduled to hit the East Coast soon.

It is comforting to know that neighbors will help neighbors even if they live in different states far away.

Having said that, please don’t wait for a crisis to help your neighbors at work. You don’t know who on your team may be suffering now and need a kind word, a confidence-boosting assignment, or some feedback that will help them to grow.

“Make a difference, not just a living.” – Anonymous

Let’s strive to be every day heroes. No one will make a documentary about it but to those around you, it can make all the difference between an existence of simply marking time or work they look forward to each day.

Change Your Focus; Engage Your Team!

A Few Tools to Ease the Way

I love simple tools and techniques. That’s why I like great questions so much. The right question, asked in a neutral tone, can transform a situation. Here are a few examples:

  1. Someone is upset. The best definition I’ve heard of the word upset is “an unfulfilled expectation.” You expected X to happen, Y happened instead and now you’re upset. Therefore, a simple and quick way to get to the bottom of things when someone is upset is to ask, “What were you expecting to happen that did not?”
  1. A mistake is made. How you respond (versus react) to another person’s mistake says a lot about you. When you react to a situation, the adult has vacated your body and a small, tantrum-driven child is in charge. On the other hand, when you respond, your adult is in charge. Keeping that in mind, here’s a great question for your adult to ask when a mistake is made: “What happened?”

“What happened? Is a great question because we often make this type of situation even worse by, as they say in courtroom dramas, “introduce facts not in evidence.” Reacting to a mistake sometimes involves making assumptions that may or may not be true. “You were careless.” “You’re irresponsible.” “You clearly didn’t think this through.” When the question, “What happened?” is answered, you will know the facts instead of things you made up because you’re upset (refer to #1 above). Then you can respond effectively.

3.  You’re giving instructions. Too often, in this scenario, we do all the talking and simply assume (there’s that word again!) that the other person absorbed all the words we uttered as well as what we meant when we said them. BIG MISTAKE. An approach that increases the odds of you getting what you want is to clearly outline the end result you seek and then ask, “How are you planning to get this done?” If their answer tells you they’re heading down the wrong path, you have an opportunity to course-correct before any time or effort has been wasted. That way, you won’t be upset (see #1) and mistakes are avoided (see #2).

Those are a few tips that have helped me greatly. I hope they’re equally useful for you.

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Can You Feel the Energy?

People often ask me, “How do I know if my employees are engaged?” The easiest way to assess engagement is to pay attention to what it feels like when you walk into your work location.

  • Does it feel like something good is about to happen or does it feel like you’re waiting for an axe to fall?
  • Is there a pleasant buzz when co-workers are gathered or does it sound like angry bees?
  • How are people moving about? If they are hurrying, do they look panicked or do they simply look like the meeting to which they are is important?

What all of the above share in common is that they are reflective of ENERGY! There is light energy and dark energy (okay, maybe I’m watching too many Star Wars movies). Light energy doesn’t necessarily mean fun and games. It means people are deeply engaged in what they are doing. Dark energy, on the other hand is a sign of disengagement.

The stronger the energy, the more intense is the engagement or disengagement.

To be candid, it all starts with you. How is your energy? The world is a mirror; your team is a reflection of you, both dark and light.

Are you dragging yourself into work each day? Are you always waiting for the next shoe to drop, or the next catastrophe? The irony about employee engagement (or lack thereof) is that leaders expect (sometimes demand) that employees be happy at work or excited about a project, despite the fact that they themselves are not!

The Law of Attraction says, “You get more of what you focus on.” Another way to say it is, “You get what you measure.” Are you measuring for light energy or dark energy? Are you noticing when things are going well, or are you perennially focused on what’s wrong?

Unless and until leaders bring the best of themselves to work each day, employee engagement numbers will remain, as they have been for nearly a decade—stagnant.

This isn’t something you work on for the benefit of your team. It isn’t something you work on because it benefits your organization. Figuring out how to get engaged at work fully benefits YOU! Anything beyond that is a bonus.

If you want to know the WHY of employee engagement, it is this: the more engaged you and the members of your team are, the lighter the energy and the better your lives – both at work and at home.

May the Light be with you.

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When Team Members Seem “Disobedient”

Why can’t my team members see that my way is the best way to do things?

How do I get my team to do what I ask without question?

Why do I feel like I’m constantly beating my head against the wall?

When working with organizations on tools and techniques to get their team more engaged, I am often asked these questions (above).

The biggest frustration of many team leaders is that command-and-control is simply not working anymore (darn it)!

They might not say it that way because no one likes to think their leadership style is controlling. Nevertheless, if you’re in a leadership position you most likely earned it through being an exceptional “doer” and it’s difficult to be patient with those who do not have your work ethic or approach.

So what’s a leader to do?

You’re not going to like my answer:

Let go of your ego!

Open your mind up to solutions you don’t come up with. Give your team members leeway to solve problems and encourage them to do so. How do you encourage? If a team member comes up with an approach and you know a better way to do it – DON’T OFFER IT. Unless you can prove that their way won’t work, let them run with it. Yes, your way may be faster or more efficient but, if you think about it, that’s probably only true if you’re the one doing the work. If the methodology is not their idea, it might actually take them longer due to their lack of enthusiasm for it

Most “disobedient” team members are merely asserting their own ideas. Imagine how boring your job would be if, instead of using your creativity to produce results, you had to follow your team leader’s precise directions without question. Is that what it’s like for your team? If the answer is yes, even some of the time, there is work to be done.

When you start letting team members come up with how to do their work, productivity will increase and quality will improve.

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