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Promote (don’t crush) Employee Engagement

Feedback: Key to Employee EngagementWhen I work with organizations I am often surprised by how few leaders know how to give feedback that is constructive and energizing. There seems to be a black or white quality to the feedback. Either employees hear what they did wrong or we’re cheerleading them when they did something right, all without providing guiding details. Or worse, we don’t provide feedback at all and they are left floundering, wondering if they’re getting things right or about to be fired. None of these approaches lead to more employee engagement—quite the opposite—they all lead to employee disengagement. Yes, lacking specific details, even positive feedback can be a detriment to employee engagement. Employees don’t want cheerleading—they want to know specifics about their performance (don’t you?)

It is a rare leader who understands and can provide the kind of feedback that creates an opportunity for improvement of employees’ skills, boosts morale, and results in employees’ taking responsibility for their results.

Happily, there is a feedback process that builds employee engagement specifically because the employees critique their own performance.

Feedback, in its purest essence is neither positive nor negative; it is merely data. The person providing the data cannot control how it is perceived; that is controlled completely by the recipient. When the provider and the recipient of feedback are one and the same (i.e., self-critique), it can become very interesting.

By adding the following process to your toolkit your employees will begin to participate in their own development and become more engaged in their work.

The LB/NT Process

The process is called The LB/NT Process. Here is how it works:

When a task or project is completed, you ask your team member, “What did you like best (LB) about what you did, and what would you do differently next time (NT)?” This process is useful for both individual and project team feedback.

Once the self-critique is completed, you will have less to say than if you had been the only one delivering feedback. In fact, sometimes your input won’t even be necessary, your employees will cover everything you intended to say. However, it will support their process to let them know which parts of their assessment you agree with and which you do not. You may have an opportunity to say, “I think you’re being a little hard on yourself,” if, in fact, that’s true. And if there is feedback you wanted to give that they didn’t cover, you can guide the conversation in that specific direction. “What did you like best about _______________and what would you do differently next time?”

Here are some key advantages to using this process:

  • (LB) You may learn something you hadn’t even noticed, giving you an opportunity to provide positive feedback. For example, you might learn that the project was delivered a week ahead of time. This gives you the chance to express how much you appreciate it (they don’t ever have to know you didn’t notice).
  • (NT) Employees take responsibility. By taking an objective look at their work they can see the opportunities for making improvements. Because the employees identified those areas themselves, they are significantly more likely to make those corrections in the future.
  • (LB) It encourages a feeling of satisfaction for what was done well. A major component of employee disengagement is the feeling that they are not making progress. (Don’t you sometimes feel the same?) Acknowledgement of “wins” is sorely lacking. (For more empirical evidence on why a feeling of progress is important to employee engagement, I highly recommend the book The Progress Principle – Using small wins to ignite joy, engagement and creativity at work by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer.)
  • (NT) It eliminates your role as “the bearer of bad news.” When you consistently use the LB/NT process with employees, you are no longer regarded as being overly critical, difficult to please, or other “not fit for print” labels employees make up when they receive negative feedback.
  • (LB/NT) It increases productivity and energy. Too often we move from task to task without acknowledging that things are getting done. When the LB/NT process is utilized you are acknowledging the completion of a task or project. Completion generates energy and we are infinitely more productive when energetic.

I would be negligent if I didn’t mention the linchpin that makes the LB/NT process work beautifully: once you ask, ‘what did you like best?” and, “what, if anything, would you do differently next time,” SHUT UP! Stop talking! Do not offer suggestions (leading the witness); do not fidget in your chair (due to your discomfort with silence), JUST WAIT.

I promise, as you get better at this, and you will, you will be amazed by what your employees offer and how much easier your job becomes. At first, it may be awkward. Employees might worry that these are trick questions. If so, reassure them that their input is a valuable component to a new approach you just discovered and are applying. Employees are glad to know you don’t have it all figured out; it makes you human.

Once your employees see this in action and understand that this is the new feedback process (i.e., it’s not going away), they will come to meetings prepared with their LBs and NTs. The benefit to everyone is that it will take less time and be more productive than traditional feedback sessions where they may often have felt defensive, unappreciated and beaten up. They may also choose to incorporate this practice into tasks and projects they’ve completed for which your feedback is not necessary, making them more self-reliant and efficient in their work.

Finally, ahem (small cough), if I may suggest? This is an excellent process for you to use when reviewing your own work.

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The Thrill is Gone – Re-igniting Passion at Work

overwhelmed young man with piles of work

Everyone is beyond busy. There is more work to do than time to do it. It’s one of the primary reasons employee engagement is at an all time low. We are not the only ones under constant time pressure. Our co-workers feel it and so do the bosses. If you’re a boss or the boss, your tension is coming from many angles.

It’s no wonder we become disengaged; it’s an ages-old defense mechanism called fight or flight. Disengagement is a form of detaching or running away. Unfortunately, it never feels as good as we hope it will and it often robs us of enjoying our work.

Action cancels fear – every time.

Disengagement at work is a response to fear. “What if I can’t keep up?” “What if this job really IS impossible to do?” “What if the boss finds out I have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing?” These questions are all based on deep-seated anxiety and can paralyze us.

Work Night Insomnia

Beginning in the sixth grade, I suffered from school night insomnia. Does this sound familiar? Maybe you’ve traded it for work night insomnia. Once homework assignments became part of my education, I would lie awake at night staring at the ceiling, obsessing about what would happen the next day when the teacher discovered I hadn’t done my homework.

I remember sneaking into the bathroom at 3am to read books (another form of disengaging). I would examine my face in the mirror for hours, count the tiles on the floor in every direction, finding any distraction to avoid facing my fear. One time I even rearranged my Dad’s medicine cabinet alphabetically. He was not as grateful as you might think.

In all the years I suffered from school night insomnia, it never once occurred to me to sneak into the bathroom and (fill in the blank) ______________. That’s right! DO MY HOMEWORK! (Apparently, my teachers were all correct: not doing one’s homework DOES atrophy the brain.)

Later, as an adult my habits of procrastination began to have some very negative repercussions. I was fired from one job for being consistently late. At other jobs I lived in constant fear that my boss would ask for something I hadn’t yet gotten to or didn’t understand and had been afraid to ask. It was a miserable existence. What would you do? That’s right! You’d look for a solution. I became determined to stop this self-defeating behavior.

A body in motion tends to stay in motion..Newton's Cradle

A body in motion….Newton’s Cradle

What I eventually learned is that action cancels fear—every time! If you are frozen in fear about a task or a project, identify the easiest part of it, tackle that and you will be in action. You will have taken the first step to displacing the fear and what may be hindering any progress. Remember what you learned in physics? A body in motion tends to stay in motion; a body at rest tends to stay at rest. Once you’ve tackled an easy task, you’re already working—just keep going!

The more you’re in motion the less fear can dominate your mind.

The Law of Attraction dictates, “You get more of what you focus on.” When you focus on, “I can’t do this,” guess what? You’ll be right! When you are constantly fearful, you attract more circumstances that only substantiate the fear.

If instead you are focused on action, and another word for action is solution, your fear subsides and you begin to attract more solutions.

Solving problems is why we enjoy work in the first place. Don’t you love solving problems? At the very core of our being we are problem-solvers.

Jump into action, solve what’s in front of you and one morning or afternoon, you may just realize that the fear has been replaced with renewed passion for your work.

The thrill is back and so are you.

Let me know how you have overcome your fears and put yourself back into motion!

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Influence as it Relates to Engagement

My bagel shop experience

Last week I went to a bagel shop for lunch. The young man behind the counter could barely muster up the small amount of energy required to accurately record my order. I ordered tea and he handed me a cup. I managed to find the tea bags on my own but when I went to the coffee bar, I discovered there was no hot water. Returning to the counter, I asked him about it and he replied, “Oh yeah, I need to do that from behind here.” Then (and this gave me hope for him) he asked if I wanted the cup filled to the brim. I replied, “No. Thanks for asking. Please leave some room for cream. “ He certainly did that—he left about four inches! Then I went back to the coffee bar only to find out there was no cream. So back I trotted to the counter…

These kids today—not!

Before you jump to conclusions about “youth today,” please understand that I have had similar scenarios played out in front of me when the employee tasked with helping me was my age or older. So, from my experience, it’s not generational. And it happens in corporate and government settings, not just fast food.

Lack of Employee Engagement

Leaders need to learn how to engage employees

It has to do with lack of engagement.

According to the 2015 Global Human Capital Trends1 study published in Deloitte University Press, “…employee engagement and culture issues exploded onto the scene, rising to become the No. 1 challenge around the world in our study,” with 87% of organizations citing it as one of their top challenges.

Kevin Kruse, in a Forbes magazine article2 defined the issue. “Employee engagement is the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals. This emotional commitment means engaged employees actually care about their work and their company. They don’t work just for a paycheck, or just for the next promotion, but work on behalf of the organization’s goals.” 2

Engagement and its relationship to influence

If you’re trying to influence someone, whether it’s your boss, a subordinate, a co-worker, your teen or your spouse, if that person is not engaged, then good luck! The conundrum is that, in order to engage others, you need to be able to influence them. One of the many benefits of influence is the ability to engage.

Engagement can be accomplished through fear or influence—your choice. Which is your leadership style? Fear will certainly get the job done but it’s a short-term gain. And doesn’t intimidation take a lot out of you? I might have tried to intimidate that young man into providing better service but the cost to my well-being for the rest of the day would have been too dear. I doubt he’d have felt any better, either.

Influence will ensure that the job gets done even when you’re not around.

The Law of Attraction and influence

The Law of Attraction dictates, “You get more of what you focus on.” If, when you are attempting to engage others you are doing so with the mindset that they need to be “fixed,” then what will continue to present itself is more evidence that they are broken and unable to meet the requirements of the job.

Start with the premise that everyone wants to be engaged!

Think about that for a moment. If you were given the choice between being fully involved and bored to distraction, which would you choose? The same is true for everyone but many do not know how to do this for themselves. That’s where your leadership skills come in as you influence them to get involved at a deeper level.

There are many things that keep people from engaging. One of the most important is that they have no say in how they do whatever it is you are asking them to do.

Allow them to “own” the job. 

We bemoan the fact that others won’t take responsibility for their work and then we insist they do it our way. The quickest way to allow others to grab ownership of whatever you’re asking them to do is a two-step process:

Step 1 – Statement:

Here’s the end result I’m looking for: _____________________________

(make sure it’s achievable and measurable.

Step 2 – Question:

What do you think a good approach might be?

If the person is planning to use a method that’s against company policy or doesn’t take into consideration some pertinent facts, then some coaching from you is in order. However, if the only reason you want to correct his approach is because you have a better idea, then keep it to yourself. How is this person going to learn if you do all the thinking for him? And how can he experience self-worth if all he’s doing is carrying out someone else’s solution?

And what if (this is a sacrilege, I know) his idea turns out to be better than how you would have done it?

The thrill of seeing the spark ignite.

Nothing is more exciting or fulfilling than igniting a spark in someone else. In the case of engagement, you won’t always have a lighter at hand to create an instant flame. More often, it resembles the approach we learned in Scouting—two sticks patiently rubbed together until a spark catches the kindling.

And how satisfying when it happens!

I’d love to hear your experiences of how you have used your influence to spark someone’s engagement in a process or job. Tell me what worked and what didn’t.

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For more information on having Silver work with your company on employee engagement, call 877-840-5416 or email: Info@SilverSpeaks.com


1 2015 Global Human Capital Trendshttp://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/human-capital/articles/introduction-human-capital-trends.html OR search: Deloitte 2015 Global Human Capital Trends

2 Kevin Kruse is the creator of the Leading for Employee Engagement eLearning program for managers. and author of the bestselling book, Employee Engagement 2.0. http://www.forbes.com/sites/kevinkruse/2012/06/22/employee-engagement-what-and-why/

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