PEOPLE ARE WORTH IT – Connection As A Path To Leadership

Dad once looked down an assembly line of women employees and thought, “These are all like my own mom – they have kids, homes to take care of, people who need them.” It motivated him to work hard to give them a better life because he saw his mom in all of them. That’s how it all begins – with fundamental respect. – Bob Galvin, speaking of his father, founder of Motorola

Leadership is about connection. It’s not just a rational, analytic process. If you are going to influence people; if you are going to get past compliance to genuine engagement; and if you are committed to creating an environment that produces the results you need, you have to reach people’s heart. If you simply give your employee a job description or list of expectations that are required to do their work without a sincere interest in them as a person, you relegate your people to simple “task-doers,” rather than genuine contributors. In order to lead, people need to know you care. They need to know you have a vested interest in them as a person, a genuine commitment to their wellbeing that goes beyond what they do or what they achieve.

What this means is that in order to engage people, you not only have to know yourself and have a high level of engagement in your own work, you also have to be engaged with the people you are attempting to engage. The first condition of leadership is connection.

Making a connection with employees begins by asking and sincerely seeking to understand the fundamental engagement question: “What do each of your employees need to be motivated?” Because every person is unique, it’s most likely that each employee will have a different answer to this question. If you don’t know the answer, then you are just guessing. And the risk of being wrong is too great. It’s much better to simply ask the question and set out to discover the answer.

Before he hires people, a leader in a long-term care organization asks the engagement question this way, “What are you passionate about? What would excite you to come to work here?” In his world, answers deal with interests in areas such as end of life challenges, dementia, HR/labor relations, and health and safety. He then asks: “How can we, as an organization, help you develop that passion?”

After listening to their response, he concludes with: “If we can help you develop that passion within your role, do you mind being a resource, coach, mentor, etc. for others in this organization?” Over many years, he has yet to have anyone say no. He then sets out to help them develop a plan that will grow their area of interest and contribute that talent to the organization. In this leader’s view of engagement, you have to give people a sense that they are needed and find a way to connect to their unique talents and passion. His motto to engage people (employees and residents alike) is to give them both a voice and a choice.

Even if you aren’t in a leadership position, ask three fundamental leadership questions in relation to anyone you serve (customers, clients, external stakeholders):

  • What are you doing to get to people’s heart?
  • What are you doing to make a connection to your employees, those you serve?
  • What are you doing to uncover your employees’ passion and talents?

In her book, “Kids Are Worth It,” Barbara Coloroso, the world-renowned parenting expert, says parents need to create a home environment that provides six critical life messages:

  • I believe in you.
  • I trust you.
  • I know you can handle life situations.
  • You are listened to.
  • You are cared for.
  • You are important to me.

It’s no different for employees. To be engaged, we all need to work – and live – in environments that support these fundamental messages.

What’s your way of connecting? What worked or did not work for you?

Employee Engagement Surveys – Not The Whole Story

I’m not against employee engagement surveys. I’m just not in favor or our over-reliance on them for an accurate picture of an organizational culture. Reading employee engagement surveys is like reading a newspaper or watching the news. It’s interesting, there’s an element of truth in them, but it’s not the whole picture. It’s more of a photograph, a small spectrum of what’s actually happening. Surveys turn your organization into a noun, while conversations make culture a verb, a living breathing entity. Surveys give you a sense of what’s going on, but you always have to go further if you want an accurate picture. Here are some suggestions for using surveys more effectively and appropriately:

  1. Don’t use surveys to abdicate leadership. While thorough surveys provide excellent data and get you started with a snapshot of your culture, don’t rely on surveys alone to do the job. You also have to get out of your office, wander around, and be in touch with people. Ask them how they’re doing and what they need. Then listen to what they say. If you use the excuse that “people aren’t honest with you when you do that,” that’s a good indication you haven’t been out of your office enough to build trust. To be committed to culture, leaders need to be out of their office about half of the time or they just aren’t leading.
  2. Shorten your surveys. People are getting surveyed out. I’ve seen employees answer low because they are angry about having to do so many surveys! Dr. Theresa M. Welbourne (www.eepulse.com) is designing employee engagement and 360 Feedback surveys that take three minutes to complete. Dr. Welborne believes that you can get pretty much all the information you need in about three minutes. She might just be on to something.
  3. You don’t have to survey everyone to get an accurate picture. Television ratings are not determined by calling every single person watching TV. Pick a good cross section of people to survey and give the rest a break. Switch it up so you aren’t surveying the same people every time.
  4. Don’t mistake climate for culture. Climate is how people feel about the organization and their work (what you get from an employee engagement survey). Culture is what causes them to feel that way. Employee engagement surveys may tell you what the climate is, but they don’t necessarily get to the culture. Every culture has both the “visible” culture and the “real” culture. The real culture is what people talk about when the boss isn’t there. If you want to find out about the real culture, don’t send surveys to your employees. Send surveys to your employees’ spouses or best friends. Culture is measured by what people talk about when they get home from work. Ideally, we want to build a level of trust so people would have the same conversation whether the boss is there on not. You can only get the real culture by getting into the cafeteria and the hallways and listening to what’s going on, and more importantly, why it’s going on.
  5. Never ask a question about something you don’t know how to fix and you aren’t prepared to fix. Every survey question implies a promise that you are going to take action based on the answers you get. And if you break that promise, things will get ugly. I like Mark Murphy’s (Leadership IQ) experiment as an example of how this works. Tonight at home, make some popcorn. Then ask your spouse if they want some and when they say “yes” just ignore them. Now multiply that by a few thousand and you’ll see what we’re talking about. Don’t use surveys to abdicate leadership accountabilities. You must live your values, and have a way to ensure that this happens at every level of your organization. Your actions as leaders define your culture more than your value statements do. Actions really do speak louder than words. The goal is to align your actions and your value statements. The more you connect with people and really listen to what they say in a variety of ways, the greater your chances of bringing your claim and your reality into alignment.
  6. Remember that culture is a shared responsibility. Culture isn’t something that you do for or to people. Culture is something you create together. We institutionally deny the fact that each of us – through our perceptions and our choices – is actually creating the culture that we so enjoy complaining about. Deciding that I have co-created the world around me – and therefore I am the one to step into healing it – is the ultimate act of accountability. Check out my website www.irvinestone.ca/assessments for an instrument that assesses both the manager’s and the employee’s responsibility for creating a workplace worth working in – using and adapting the Gallup Q12 Employee Engagement Survey.

Personal Leadership – A Culture of One

Operational accountabilities are about what has to be done in an organization. Leadership accountabilities, on the other hand, are about how the work gets done. You have to take both into consideration if you want to build a great culture. Culture defines the how.

It is important to regularly assess how your people are achieving operational results, and it is just as important to regularly assess your culture with a Culture Inventory:

  • Are people clear about the values that are espoused – the way we do the work?
  • Are there clearly defined behaviors attached to each of the values so that the expectations of the how are explicit?
  • Are there clearly defined promises between the manager and the employee about what both are agreeing to?
  • Are there clearly defined support agreements, so everyone feels supported?
  • Are there clearly defined consequences – both positive and negative?
  • Is the follow-through clear, so that the agreements remain current and remain useful?

Just as it is good for a regular Culture Inventory, is it important to take a Character Inventory – an assessment of our own personal way we are at work and in the world. Similar to how an organization has a culture – a way of doing things, individuals also have a way.

Much emphasis in organizations is put on the what, and this is true with individuals as well. How many people do you know emphasize the achievements in their life but don’t pay attention to the kind of person they are becoming in the pursuit of these achievements? A Character Inventory assesses the kind of person you are – how you are living your life.

If you want to attract others, you must be attractive. Strong character demands that you shift from being the best in the world to being the best for the world, to strive not for what you can get, but what you can give, to endeavor not for what you can have or what you can do, but for who you can be. A job title, the letters behind your name, the size of your office, or your income are not measures of human worth. No success by the world’s standards will ever be enough to compensate for a lack of strong character.

It’s an act of caring to pause every so often and take an inventory of your character.

  • How are you doing in areas such as compassion, reliability, honesty, courage, prudence, contribution, and maturity?
  • Are you one person in public and another in private?
  • Do you focus as much on what kind of a person you are in the world as much as on what you want to achieve in the world?

Like a business that takes regular stock of its inventory, this is a fact-finding process. There can be blind spots to seeing yourself, so get feedback from the most important people in your life. Being a good person precedes being a good leader in any capacity.

Here’s a list of actions that demonstrate strength of character. See how you measure up with this list, or take the time to write your own list:

Let go of what you want.

Prudence is the common sense – that unfortunately is not so common any more – to live with what you can do without, and the ability to find joy in what is here. Every so often it’s good to surrender something we want, but don’t need. In a world that confuses wants with needs, debt continues to rise as character continues to erode. Practice living below your means, not getting everything you want, and finding freedom in enjoying what you have.

Do something difficult every day.

“Do the hard stuff first,” my mother used to say. The earlier in the day you get the difficult work done, the better you’ll feel about yourself and the rest of your day will improve. Whether it’s having a difficult conversation, getting some exercise, or taking a risk, character is built on the foundation of overcoming the natural tendency to take the course of least resistance.

Clean up after yourself.

Something eats away at your character when you sit in your mess or leave your messes for someone else to look after. And if you really want to experience character, walk through a park close to where you live and clean up garbage left behind by someone else.

Look beyond yourself.

Character means choosing service over self-interest. Character grows in the soil of concern for others and the commitment to act on that concern. We can all find ways to make life better for someone less fortunate than ourselves.

Spend less than you earn.

This is truly one of the best character habits you can develop. Spending less than you earn, whether it’s reflected in your home, your car, or the stuff you buy, is another version of prudence. The space you create in your life by doing so will give you freedom, renewed worth, and contentment that money will never buy.

Practice gratitude.

Gratitude is integral to strong character. It’s the antidote to the entitlement that contaminates character. Be an appreciator, rather than a depreciator, of everything that shows up in your life, including opportunities disguised as problems. What you appreciate, appreciates.

Before you criticize the culture you work in or the leaders of the culture, take a good look in the mirror. Leadership is about PRESENCE, not position. What kind of presence do you bring to your work? What kind of person are you? What is your “way” of being in the world? As a personal leader, you are a culture of one. Make it a daily practice to review your character in relation to your daily life, your friends, your acquaintances, and your work. Keep striving to be a better leader by being a better person. This is the real satisfaction and ultimate goal in life.

Q12 Engagement Survey: Who is Responsible?

The Q12 Talent Engagement Audit

The Gallup Q12 (https://q12.gallup.com) is a survey designed to measure employee engagement. The instrument was the result of hundreds of focus groups and interviews. Researchers found that there were 12 key expectations that when satisfied, form the foundation of strong feelings of engagement. So far more than 90,000 work units and 1.7+ million employees have participated in the Q12 instrument.

Comparisons of engagement scores reveal that those with high Q12 scores exhibit lower turnover, higher sales growth, better productivity, better customer loyalty and other manifestations of superior performance.

The Gallup organization also uses the Q12 as a semi-annual employee engagement Index – a random sampling of employees across the country.

The engagement index slots people into one of three categories:

  • Engaged employees work with passion and feel a profound connection to their organization and their work.
  • Not-Engaged employees are essentially “checked out.” They are sleepwalking through their workday. They are putting in time, but not enough energy or passion into their work (“Quit and stay”).
  • Destructively Disengaged employees aren’t just unhappy at work; they’re busy acting out their unhappiness. Every day, these workers undermine what their engaged co-workers accomplish.

The Q12 Index

  • Do you know what is expected of you at work?
  • Do you have the materials and equipment to do your work right?
  • At work, do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?
  • In the last seven days, have you received recognition or praise for doing good work?
  • Does your supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about you as a person?
  • Is there someone at work who encourages your development?
  • At work, do your opinions seem to count?
  • Does the mission/purpose of your organization make you feel your job is important?
  • Are your associates (fellow employees) committed to doing quality work?
  • Do you have a best friend at work?
  • In the last six months, has someone at work talked to you about your progress?
  • In the last year, have you had opportunities to learn and grow?

The limitation of the Gallup Q12 Employee Engagement Survey (https://q12.gallup.com) is that it only measures half of the equation: the manager’s responsibility to build an engaging relationship with their employees and to foster an engaging workplace culture. The Q12 Talent Engagement Audit below, adapted from Gallup’s Q12, measures the employee’s responsibility to build an engaging organizational culture.

Take an honest inventory of yourself in the following areas to assess your level of personal responsibility and commitment to do your part as an employee to build a workplace culture that is worth working in.

  • Have you clarified with your boss what is expected?
  • Have you clearly and respectfully asked for the resources you need to do your work right?
  • At work, have you created the opportunity to do what you do best every day?
  • In the last seven days, have you given recognition or praise to your colleagues for doing good work? How about to yourself?
  • Does your supervisor, or someone at work, know that you care about them as a person?
  • Is there someone at work who you encourage in their development?
  • Have you earned the credibility so that your opinions seem to count?
  • Does your own personal purpose make you feel your job is important?
  • Are you committed to doing quality work?
  • Have you taken the time to create a good friendship at work?
  • In the last six months, have you taken the responsibility to talk with your boss about your progress?
  • In the last year, have you had created opportunities to learn and grow?

What do you need to continue doing to sustain your commitment to 100% responsibility for the culture you work in?

What do you need to start doing to take more responsibility for the culture you work in?

What support do you need? Who will help hold you accountable?

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Creating A Remarkable Culture: Learning To Lead Without A Title

Do you work in a culture that you would call “remarkable?” Are you depending on someone else to make it remarkable, or do you take ownership to create a remarkable culture in the area where you work and can influence? The title of this blog is the title of some of my most recent presentations and workshops. Here are some of the key messages I have been giving to organizations these days:

Building resilient, vibrant organizational cultures is about building leadership capacity at every level and in every position. I define leadership as the capacity of human beings to shape and create a new future by inspiring and engaging others. Leadership is what transforms mediocrity into greatness.

You don’t get promoted to leadership. Leadership is about presence, not position. It’s not a title; it’s a decision. Every person in your organization is a potential leader.

Growing and developing the leadership talent of every single person throughout your organization is your greatest competitive advantage in a turbulent economy.

Learning to lead without a title is the responsibility of every employee.

I love what Dr. Martin Luther King said about personal leadership:

“If a person is called to be a street sweeper, they should sweep streets as Michelangelo painted or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare poetry. They should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did their job well.’”

Even if you have a title, you have to learn to lead without one. One of my clients is very wise. Before he promotes someone into a leadership position, he assesses their leadership capacity by inviting them to work in a nonprofit organization (of their choice) for six months, to see how well they influence with no positional power. “If you can’t lead volunteers, you’ll never be able to lead with a title,” he proposes. Not a bad philosophy.

How do you help people in your organization – with or without positional power – develop their leadership capacity? I’d love to get your thoughts on this.