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Questions to Improve Productivity

We are addicted to knowledge—to having the “right” answers. Things would improve quickly if we became addicted to discovery.

When is the last time you took a look at how things are done in your work environment with an eye toward improvement?

How often do you ask one or more of these questions about the processes in your line of work?

  • How could we improve this process?
  • Is there affordable technology that could improve the end result?
  • How could we make it faster?
  • Are there people involved in this process who don’t need to be?
  • Where are the bottlenecks and how can we eliminate them?
  • What takes the most time when completing this process?
  • Does the customer (internal or external) even want this anymore? Is this the format s/he wants?
  • What’s the lowest pay grade it makes sense to assign this to? (This could free up your senior talent to do other things and give your less experienced team members an opportunity to grow).

After facilitating hundreds of these types of discussions for both private and public organizations, I can say unequivocally that the quickest way to identify areas for improvement is to ask your team. Give them an opportunity to identify and submit those processes they believe could be improved, their ideas for improvement. Turn their complaints into solutions. Challenge them to say how they would do it if they were put in charge. They’re discussing this when you’re not around; it’s time you heard their ideas.

If ideas are submitted that cannot be implemented, let them know why. They may not agree but they’ll be glad you let them in on the decision making process. It could also prompt them to come up with an even better solution.

This discovery process also has the advantage of teaching them how to apply the same questions to their individual work, which in turn, leads to personal improvement and greater productivity.

A “one man band” is, by definition, not a leader, so stop thinking you’re the one who needs to have all the answers. You have players in your particular band who want to help make it the best band ever (U2? Heart? The Boston Pops?). Work with them to adopt an attitude of discovery and watch employee engagement increase.

Change your focus; engage your team!

For a PDF of this article click here

Appreciation = “I notice”

I’ve written about this before but it bears repeating.

We seem to make a very big deal about employee engagement. We conduct surveys, put in systems and programs to address the issues and yet nothing seems to improve.

Perhaps we are overcomplicating things.

Our employees and co-workers (our families!) all want to feel appreciated. We want to fulfill those desires.

Here is a simple way to show appreciation in any situation: simply notice what others are doing and tell them you noticed.

To the receptionist: “I’ve noticed that, when things are slow for you, you ask your co-workers if there’s anything you can do for them. Thank you for that.”

To the maintenance person, “I see that not only are the floors clean but the baseboards are, as well. Not everyone takes that extra step. Thank you.”

To your boss, “Whenever you want to speak to me you always ask if it’s a good time. I really appreciate that consideration.”

Take a moment to think about those around you. What do they do, without being asked, that is noteworthy? When I say “noteworthy” I don’t mean that it has to be a big deal. It’s just something they do that makes work more pleasant.

Another way to think about it is, what do you complain about others doing? Are there people around you who DON’T do that? Have you told them how much you appreciate it? Here’s an example: when I am in a restaurant and telling a story, I really don’t like it if the server interrupts. First of all, have you noticed it’s usually when you’re in the middle of the punch line? Therefore, whenever a server waits for me or anyone else at the table to stop talking before interrupting, I always let them know how much I appreciate it.

You might say, “Well, Silver. That’s how they are SUPPOSED to behave,” and you would be correct. That doesn’t mean they don’t deserve to be thanked for it. Keep your focus on what people do that pleases you, thank them for it and engagement will naturally increase.

Change your focus; engage your team!

For a PDF of this article click here

Toxic employees? First, look in the mirror.

Earlier this week, a friend of mine who works in retail shared with me that her boss, in a daily staff meeting intended to motivate performance said, “You should understand that ALL of you are replaceable! There are toxic people on this team!

Really, Captain Obvious?

Years ago, I took a transformational workshop in which I was repeatedly told, ”There’s nobody out there.” This confused me greatly until I finally understood that life is a mirror that shows us who we are being by putting in our path those who reflect us.

I can’t say I was initially thrilled by that realization.

Now that I understand how The Law of Attraction works, I am happy that life is a mirror because it means I can do something about it. The alternative would be that I have no control whatsoever over what shows up around me.

The Law of Attraction dictates that we get more of what we focus on. We also get more of what we are being.

Show me a toxic team and I’ll show you a leader who is (a) toxic himself or (b) resisting toxicity with everything he’s got (which means his full attention is on toxicity), or (c) both. I want to call my friend’s retail manager and say, “If you start focusing on what your team does well, the toxicity will immediately begin to diminish.” I suspect he would reply, “Tell them to stop being toxic and I’ll be able to see what they do well.”

In my line of work, the leadership team that hires me almost always wants me to “fix” the employees. Those employees they want me to fix repeatedly ask, “Are the managers ALSO getting this message?”

That is the dance of poor Employee Engagement: I’ll change as soon as THEY change. I’ll focus on their faults until they stop focusing on mine.

No one seems to understand that you cannot see in the mirror something you are not a match to. As long as you are focused on the behavior you don’t want, you will continue to see that behavior all around you. Worse, when you look in an actual mirror, your face will be that of someone exhibiting the exact same behavior.

I suspect that, like me, you may not initially be thrilled by this message. Take heart. All you need to do is change your focus! Start looking for the behavior you want. If you don’t see it, start imagining it so vividly that it feels like it’s already happening. And watch how quickly things change.

Change your focus; engage your team!

For a PDF of this article click here



Engaged Employees = Retained Customers

I am a Southwest Airlines devotee and, since they are one of the most profitable airlines in the industry, it seems I am not alone.  Southwest customers are such fans that, after 9/11 many of them sent money to the airlines to help them out during the crisis. I’m sorry I didn’t think of it at the time.

If you’ve flown with Southwest then you know their employees, while being serious about safety and quality of service, are also fun and engaged. These are top priorities of the company beginning with the CEO.

In their book The Service Profit Chain, Harvard professors Heskett, Sasser and Schlesinger reveal that the core driver of long-term profitability is customer retention. You’ve likely seen data over the years that consistently points to the fact that it costs significantly less time, effort and money to retain a customer than to get a new one.  The professors’ research identified service and quality as the two factors necessary for customer retention. They also tell us that the most important factor driving service and quality is employee satisfaction, or what we more commonly refer to as employee engagement.

Southwest Airlines is successful largely because every employee knows that the company cares about them just as much as the company cares about their customers.

If customers stay because of service and quality, which is fueled by employee engagement, then figuring out how to engage employees should be a the top of every CEO’s list.

Employee Engagement should also be at the top of every leader’s list.  Whether you are a supervisor, team lead, department head or part of the C-Suite, the lack of employee engagement in your organization is killing your profitability and/or productivity.  

Employee Engagement is solved through action, not surveys and classes. There are three important legs of the Employee Engagement stool:

  • Socratic Delegation that allows the person who will actually do the work to determine his/her approach.
  • Socratic Feedback that develops employees by allowing them to self-critique first before receiving feedback, and
  • Laughter in the Workplace – humor that is kind, and fun.

As a leader, it is important that you get good at all of these.  If you aspire to be a leader, then start learning how to get good at them; they will guarantee that you are seen as leadership material.

Employee Engagement = Customer Retention

Are you serious about giving up micromanaging?

How many times have I heard someone in a leadership position say, “I don’t like to micromanage… BUT…”

Within that simple word—but—there is an entire history: all the times an employee let him/her down, every time they had to take responsibility for a task that a team member failed to accomplish, not to mention being called on the carpet for failing to meet a critical deadline.

Most would agree that being micromanaged is demoralizing, frustrating, and demotivating. For a leader, however, micromanaging can represent a safety net while walking a high wire where the pressure to succeed is intense. Many leaders feel like they’re on the wire completely alone; they micromanage to avoid failure.

So, how do you make sure tasks/projects get accomplished without micromanaging? 

The first and most critical step is to use the Socratic Delegation Process  from the beginning.

When you do, both you and those to whom you delegate will have an extremely clear picture of what has been agreed to including when and how it’s going to be done.

The second step is to make sure you hold your team members accountable for deadlines. When a deadline slips and they don’t hear about it from you for a day, a week or more, they understandably think it must not have been important in the first place. Then they apply that logic to all deadlines from you.

It does not take much effort to record in your calendar a note that says something like, “Deliverable 1 of Project A delivered?” At the end of the day it’s due (and wait until the end of the day), if you haven’t received it, schedule a follow-up email for the following morning. If you send it the day it’s due, you are micromanaging and the employee may be working on it that same night to meet the deadline.  

Finally, appreciation and feedback is important. Employees complain, “When I do something right, I don’t hear a word but when I mess up, my boss is all over me.” If you want to build a relationship where you don’t have to micromanage, make sure you let your team know when they do well AND when they could have done something better. This builds trust and also lets them know you’re paying attention.