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We all Crave Dialogue-Here’s How to Achieve It

This election is over. Throughout the trials and tribulations we continually heard, “Why can’t we talk to each other rather than at each other?

We all crave dialogue. We resist monologue. Let me rephrase that – we resist the monologues of others but love the sound of our own voices.

It’s easier to see the lack of dialogue in the extreme rhetoric of what’s happening politically. It’s more difficult to see that we all engage in some version of this in our own lives.

Because my work is focused on Employee Engagement, I see it most clearly in the work environment. It doesn’t matter whether it’s leaders or front-line workers, we are making more declarative statements than we are asking questions.

The formula for dialogue is simple:

Questions = dialogue
Statements = monologue

In workplace situations, there are great questions to ask that can stimulate some eye-opening dialogue:

  • At staff meetings:  What would you like to accomplish this week, team?”
  • Walk me through this. Why do you think this is the best approach to take?
  • How can we make this work better?

These questions have something in common: they can’t be answered “yes” or “no” and so open up a dialogue.

A monologue can feel like an assault. A dialogue is an invitation to participate.

If you’re bone-tired of the divisiveness we’re being subjected to, why not take on the task of improving your corner of the world?  Encourage dialogue at work.  Heck! Why not try it at home, as well?

Like the old joke goes, “How do you eat an elephant? One small bite at a time.”

How do you get people to talk with each other? One question at a time.

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Humility & Leadership – Oxymorons?

“Humility is even more pleasing in people in whom arrogance would be understandable.”
― Mokokoma Mokhonoana

Two interesting pieces of information came across my computer screen today:

  1. Happiness at work may hinge on how you see your boss. At first I thought, “Well, d-uh!” but then I read the article more closely. According to a paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, employees who think of their supervisors as partners report significantly higher levels of happiness than those who think of their managers as bosses.
  2. Humility, as a desirable trait, is making a comeback! Some companies are even using it as part of their criteria for hiring, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal. Additionally, three recent studies revealed that leaders who are considered humble “inspire close teamwork, rapid learning, and high performance in their teams.” Employees who display this trait have been found to be less likely to be absent from work, or quit. Unfortunately, they are also less likely to call attention to themselves, which means that their positive qualities might go unnoticed.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, humility is defined as follows: freedom from pride or arrogance.

 It would be difficult to view an arrogant boss as a partner. We’re more likely to view him/her as someone to fear, or steer clear of. Neither encourages happiness or teamwork.

On the other hand, someone who is free from pride or arrogance is often what we term “approachable” or easy to be around. Each of us carries within us a desire to feel like our boss likes us and is “one of us;” that can only be fulfilled by someone who is humble.

Here are a few clues that your team sees you as someone to fear:

  • You discover most errors; your team does not bring them to your attention
  • Customer service problems are brought to you by customer complaints instead of proactively from your team
  • Workplace energy is low when you’re around
  • Team members avoid eye contact OR make eye contact in a belligerent or rebellious way
  • You can just tell; you can’t put your finger on it but you know you make them uncomfortable.

If you’re interested in improving your likability, the best book I know is How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.

If you’re not interested, consider this: A study conducted by economic researchers at the University of Warwick discovered happiness resulted in a 12% increase in productivity. On the other hand, unhappy workers were 10% less productive.

Besides, not wanting to improve your likebility is pretty arrogant, don’t you think?

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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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