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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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!

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