Catch People Doing Something Right – 4 Ways to Build Workplace Morale

Happy FacesCreating a workplace culture that breeds high morale and engagement doesn’t happen by accident. It requires leadership – wise, empathetic, discerning, thoughtful, strategic, and caring leadership. And it’s a leadership you can’t fake. It has to flow from the ethos of who you are as a person.

For the last 18 years I’ve had the privilege of working for Ken Blanchard, a man who knows a thing or two about leadership. Along with his wife Margie, he has created a leadership development company that embodies several principles of a high engagement culture. In traditional Blanchard style, I’ve taken some complex issues of morale and engagement and tried to crystallize them into simple truths that all leaders can use to build morale in their organizations.

Catch People Doing Something Right

Too many work environments are focused on catching people making mistakes. In a well-intentioned effort to improve productivity and efficiency, leaders are prone to reduce an employee’s performance into raw data, metrics, and statistics. Every detail is parsed and analyzed and people’s shortcomings are readily pointed out. Years ago Ken Blanchard said, “People who feel good about themselves produce good results, and people who produce good results feel good about themselves.” It’s a virtuous cycle built on the concept of catching people doing something right. One of the easiest and quickest ways a leader can improve workplace morale is to notice, encourage, and celebrate the good things that are happening. It’s a common occurrence at The Ken Blanchard Companies for us to start meetings with the agenda item of “praisings and celebrations.” We take time to intentionally focus on the good things people are doing and celebrate their successes.

Be Other Focused

Another strategy for enhancing workplace morale is to serve others. It’s hard to be self-centered, critical, and myopic about your own business when you reach out and help others less fortunate. We have an in-house charity organization called Blanchard for Others that supports numerous local, national, and world charities. Employees have a voice in not only directing funds to these organizations, but getting personally involved. Employee volunteer efforts are encouraged through the use of “Blanchard Ambassador” hours—paid time off apart from an employee’s own vacation time—that allow team members to serve with charities locally and abroad. You can build employee morale by not only engaging their minds at work, but their hearts as well.

Treat Your People How You Want Them to Treat Your Customers

The manner in which you treat your people will be the manner in which they treat your customers. It doesn’t matter if you have a catchy customer service slogan, wallpaper the office with posters of the company mission statement and values, or create fancy marketing materials touting your brand promise, if you treat your people like they’re irresponsible, untrustworthy, and have to be micromanaged, they’ll treat your customers the same way. At Blanchard, people are extended a fair amount of autonomy in their roles to do what’s in the best interest of our clients. Leadership takes this same approach with employees through various programs like Infant at Work, where new mothers are encouraged to bring their infants to work until they reach 6 months of age. The company also sets aside a certain percentage of our profits for employees to donate to the charity of their choice through our Give Back program. The employee, not the company, decides where that money will be used. Autonomy and flexibility are key components in creating a high-morale workplace.

It’s the Culture, Stupid

To plagiarize Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign slogan (“It’s the economy, stupid”)—It’s the culture, stupid! At the end of the day, the creation of a high-morale, highly engaged workforce is about intentionally nurturing the norms and behaviors you want in your culture and extinguishing those you don’t. Every day Ken Blanchard leaves a “morning message” voicemail for the entire company. In that message, Ken takes the opportunity to reinforce the core values of our culture. He praises accomplishments of individuals, share concerns for those in need, discusses his latest insights about life and leadership, or shares other inspirational ideas and encouragement.

Any single one of these strategies is insufficient in itself, and certainly not appropriate for every organization. However, taken together, they weave together to form the fabric of our culture that results in a highly engaged, positive morale workforce. It doesn’t matter your industry, geography, or size of organization when it comes to building a high-morale culture. It starts with leadership. It starts with you!

This post was originally published at Switch & Shift as part of a series on workplace morale. I encourage you to check it out!

Posted in Attitude, Engagement, Leadership, Morale, Motivation | Tagged , | 7 Comments

Tony Gwynn – 4 Lessons Beyond the Baseball Field

Tony GwynnTony Gwynn passed away today at the young age of 54 after battling salivary gland cancer the last few years. Tony was an inspirational role model to me. It wasn’t so much what he accomplished that inspired me…although his accomplishments are mind boggling…but how he went about it. Tony was always low-key and understated, never self-promoting, yet the consummate professional. I always admired how Tony handled himself, not just as a player, but as a man.

While in high school I followed Tony’s career at San Diego State University, where he was an All-America athlete in both basketball and baseball. I graduated high school in 1984, Tony’s first full season in the majors and the year he helped lead the San Diego Padres to their first World Series appearance. It was a magical time in San Diego and was the beginning of a love affair between Tony and the city. I, like so many other people, grew from childhood to adulthood watching Tony play baseball for the hometown team.

Tony went on to become the premier hitter of his generation and one of the greatest baseball players of all time. As a youth baseball coach for 15 years, Tony was my constant example to the kids of how to play the game the right way. I always told my players that one of the reasons I love the game of baseball is that it teaches so many life lessons. The long season, full of highs and lows, is a metaphor for our experiences in life. Tony taught me a number of lessons that I’ve tried to apply in my work and life:

  • Approach  your work as a craftsman – Tony was a master craftsman when it came to hitting a baseball. It was both an art and science to him and he studied it endlessly. Tony was a pioneer in the use of video to study his own at-bats as well as opposing pitchers. Tony has inspired me to approach my own career as a craftsman. Every day is an opportunity to improve my craft. Tony once said that “You can’t live on what you did yesterday. You have to go out and prove yourself every day.”
  • Show loyalty – Tony spent his entire 20 year career with Padres, a rarity in today’s world of superstar athletes auctioning their services to the highest bidding team. Tony knew what he wanted, where he wanted to live and raise his family, and he placed a higher priority on those goals than simply making a buck. Loyalty breeds trust, and Tony was trusted to always be loyal. He’s called “Mr. Padre” for a reason.
  • Be dedicated - Of course Tony is known as a great hitter, and rightly so. He was so dedicated that he would hit thousands of balls off a tee to hone the mechanics of his swing. But Tony also became a very good outfielder because of his dedicated work habits. He wanted to be known as an excellent defensive player and he worked hard at it, eventually winning five Gold Glove awards. Although he wasn’t blessed with outstanding arm strength or range in the field, Tony made up for it with expert positioning in the field and knowledge of opposing hitters. Tony displayed his dedication by working endless hours, always on a quest to be the best player he could be.
  • Have fun - Tony loved to play. He enjoyed the process of playing baseball, from practice, to the actual game, to post-game film breakdown, it was all fun to Tony. Tony always had a smile on his face and a laugh to share. His joyful, positive approach to life was the perfect antidote to a game predicated on failure. Even during his cancer treatments in the last few years of his life, he always had a positive outlook that tomorrow would be a brighter day

Tony was elected to the baseball Hall of Fame in 2007, an honor worthy of being this generation’s greatest batsman. Today, Tony joined the eternal hall of fame, an honor worthy of a man who lived his life as a positive role model to me and so many others.

Posted in Leadership, Loyalty, Professionalism, Sports, Success, Trust | Tagged | 5 Comments

A Father’s 10 Lessons about Leadership

Father's DayToday is Father’s Day, a time we set aside to honor fathers and the role fatherhood plays in our society. Being the father of two boys (Michael 22, Matthew 18) is one of the greatest joys of my life. I’ve tried to be a positive role model and demonstrate what good leadership looks like to my sons. I’ve certainly had my ups and downs over the years, but hopefully the ups outweigh the downs and my children have a fairly clear idea of what good leadership entails. By no means an exhaustive list, I’ve listed ten lessons about leadership I’ve tried to teach my kids:

1. Leadership begins with trust – If you want people to give you their full commitment and passion, you have to earn their trust. You can get people to follow you by virtue of your power or title, but they’ll only do so out of compulsion or fear. Trust is essential for long-term effective leadership.

2. Be a person of integrity – Leadership flows from who you are as a person; your values, beliefs, and attitudes. All the leadership tips, tricks, and theories won’t do you a bit of good if you aren’t a person of integrity. Get clear on your values, live them out, and don’t ever stray from them.

3. Be dependable – People want consistency from their leaders. If you say you are going to do something, do it. Don’t make promises you aren’t absolutely sure you can keep and always follow-through on your commitments.

4. Care about others – Leadership is all about relationships. Take a genuine interest in others and get to know them as individuals, not just as teammates or employees. Your success in life will be dependent on your ability to relate effectively with others, regardless of how smart you may be. Remember, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

5. Be a thermostat, not a thermometer leader – Leaders are responsible for setting the tone for their team. Just like a thermostat controls the temperature of a room, and not merely reflects it like a thermometer, so leaders need to be proactive in creating the environment for their team to do their best work.

6. Don’t be afraid to fail – Failure is part of the learning process. There is no shame in putting forth your best effort and coming up short. The important thing is to take what you learn from the experience and use it to do better the next time. As Winston Churchill said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.”

7. Adjust your leadership style – You can’t be a one trick pony when it comes to leadership. You have to learn to flex your leadership style to the situation. Sometimes people will need more direction and other times they’ll need more support. It all depends on the task at hand and how capable and committed the person is to perform it. Learn to be flexible in your approach with people and you’ll be much more effective as a leader.

8. Start by being a good follower and teammate – The best leaders have learned what it means to be a good follower or teammate. They’ve worked in the trenches, earned the respect of their colleagues, and learned to work with leaders who have different styles. You have to earn the right to have people follow you, and the first step in that process is to learn what it means to be a good follower and teammate.

9. Keep your sense of humor – Take your work seriously but take yourself lightly. Learn to laugh and have fun with your team, and use humor to build relationships, earn people’s trust, and keep morale high. A good laugh can make hard work easier.

10. Develop other leaders – Good leaders give their people opportunities to shine. Your job as a leader is to develop the leadership potential of everyone under your charge. Your success is reflected in the success of others, so give your team members autonomy over their work and give them all the credit when they succeed. Leadership is not about you; it’s about the people you lead.

To all the fathers out there…what leadership lessons have you tried to pass on to your children? To all the children of fathers (yes, that’s you)…what leadership lessons did your father pass on to you? Feel free to share your thoughts by leaving a comment. Happy Father’s Day!

Posted in Dependability, Humor, Integrity, Leadership, Parenting, Relationships, Responsibility, Teamwork, Trust, Values | 7 Comments

Fail Your Way to Success – 4 Tips for Going from Zero to Hero

zero-to-heroFifty years ago this week, Jim Ryun failed his way to success when he became the first high school track athlete to run a sub-4 minute mile. Ryun decided to try running only after being cut by a church baseball team and his junior high basketball team. Ryun said, “I’m glad those failures were there because I didn’t linger in a sport that I couldn’t do anything in. I failed on to the next thing, until I found something. That was a gift from God to me.”

“I failed on to the next thing, until I found something.”

In reading about Ryun’s story this week, I was struck by his positive point of view about failure. It reminded me of key lessons I’ve learned over the years through my own experience (yeah, I’ve failed a lot!), as well as from John Maxwell’s excellent book on the subject, Failing Forward.

1. Redefine success and failure — Too often our society views success as a win-lose proposition. You know the mindset…if you’re not a winner, you’re a loser. We have distorted definitions of what success and failure mean, and unless you change the way you perceive success and failure, you’ll never feel satisfied with your lot in life. Failures are just life experiences that didn’t turn out the way you intended. Learn the lessons and move on. Don’t obsess over the situation and don’t use absolute language like “I’m never going to succeed,” or “I’m always going to fall short of my goal.” Don’t dwell in self-pity by ruminating on “Why me?,” but instead focus on “What can I learn?”

2. Be purpose driven — It’s easier to recover from failures when you’re living on purpose. Your purpose is your reason for living, the values and beliefs that drive you to be more of the person you want to be. If you aren’t clear on your purpose in life, you’re like a ship without a rudder, your direction controlled by the randomness of the current. When you’re unclear on your purpose, failures seem more catastrophic and debilitating. When failures occur within the context of pursuing your purpose, they become learning moments for growth and maturity. John Maxwell says that, “More than anything else, what keeps a person going in the midst of adversity is having a sense of purpose. It is the fuel that powers persistence.”

3. Persistence pays off — Winston Churchill said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.” Woody Allen famously said, “80% of success is showing up.” Both quotes convey the same idea – persistence pays off. Orville Redenbacher (yes, the famous popcorn guy) spent 15 years perfecting the corn hybrid used for his popcorn. He spent another 10 years making his popcorn the best-selling brand in the world. When asked about his philosophy, he said “I’ve followed the classic homespun principles. Never say die. Never be satisfied. Be stubborn. Be persistent. Integrity is a must. Anything worth having is worth striving for with all your might. Does it sound corny? Honestly, that’s all there is to it. There is no magic formula.”

4. Separate you from your performance — Our tendency is to derive our self-worth from our performance. If we succeed, then we’re worthy people. If we fail, we’re losers. The reality is that when it comes to achieving success, many things are out of our control. We can do everything right trying to achieve a goal, and something completely out of our control happens that causes us to fall short. Does that make us a failure? No, it just makes us human. Erma Bombeck, the famous humorist and writer, suffered many failures throughout her life but kept them in perspective. She said, “What you have to tell yourself is, ‘I’m not a failure. I failed at doing something.’ There’s a big difference…Personally and career-wise, it’s been a corduroy road. I’ve buried babies, lost parents, had cancer, and worried over kids. The trick is to put it all in perspective…and that’s what I do for a living.”

Tell yourself, “I’m not a failure. I failed at doing something.” There’s a big difference.

Fear of failure holds us back from taking risks. We paralyze ourselves, stuck in a state of inaction that leads to resignation and dissatisfaction – a zero life. Instead, we can become our own heroes by learning to redefine failure as opportunities for growth. We can discover our purpose and pursue it with persistence, all the while growing in understanding that even when we fail at a certain goal or task, we aren’t failing as a person. That’s what it means to go from being a zero to a hero – learning to fail forward.

Posted in Career Growth, Fear, Goal Setting, Learning, Motivation, Purpose, Sports, Success | 9 Comments

Performance Anxiety – Not Just a Problem in the Bedroom

Performance Anxiety 2Performance Anxiety…words often reserved to describe a person’s worrisome beliefs or fears regarding their sexual performance in the bedroom is now being used to describe the same debilitating effects on performance in the workplace. That’s the message from a recent publication by Vadim Liberman of The Conference Board, detailing the “performance anxiety” that has gripped many in corporate America. Years of corporate restructuring, shuffling people between positions, adding, deleting, and modifying roles, departments, and jobs has taken its toll on people. The mantra of “doing more with less” has become the norm as business continues a slow recovery from the economic recession of the last several years. Employees who once feared losing their jobs are now feeling insecure about keeping their jobs.

Liberman’s basic point is that people are having trouble keeping up with the amount of tasks added to their plates and the pace of change occurring in their organizations. Recession-driven layoffs, restructures, and job modifications have forced people to take on extra work, new job duties, or assume different roles and it’s taking a toll. As job scope increases, people feel overwhelmed with the amount of work they have to accomplish, and it leads even the most engaged employees to gravitate toward focusing on the least complex, simple tasks they can control, rather than focusing on the most important and complex issues that need to be addressed.

According to Liberman, much of the fault lies at the feet of senior leaders. Whether it’s pursuing the latest management fad, reorganizing on a whim, or doing a poor job of managing change, senior leaders can be prone to lay the blame of organizational failure at the feet of employees who aren’t performing up to snuff, not taking into account those same employees are still trying to come to grips with the previous round of changes. Wharton professor Peter Cappelli says, “Today, work demands are through the roof. Not just the amount of work but challenges that employees do not know how to meet, in part because they may not be achievable.” Workplace frustration leads to insecurity which leads to a lack of trust and confidence in leadership.

I can identify with these conditions. The team I lead has experienced increased job scope and responsibilities over the years as our business has grown more complex and demanding in today’s global economy. “Task saturation” is a word we’ve used to describe this condition and the insecure, frustrated state of mind it induces. Here are six strategies I’ve found helpful to deal with this “performance anxiety” in the workplace:

1. Create a safe and trusting environment—The number one job of a leader is to build trust with his/her followers. Fostering a culture of safety is essential for trust to not only survive, but thrive. People need to know they can count on their leaders to look out for their best interests, protect them when necessary (even from themselves sometimes), and to genuinely care about them as people and not just worker drones showing up to do a job. Simon Sinek speaks to this truth in his insightful TED Talk, Why good leaders make you feel safe.

2. Ask people for their opinions—One of the most tangible ways leaders can combat frustration and insecurity in the workplace is to ask people for their opinions. But asking is just the first step; you have to do something with what they tell you. The higher up a leader rises in the organization, the easier it is to lose touch with the daily frustrations and battles your employees face. It’s easy to oversimplify the problems and solutions our people face and dismiss their expressions of frustration as whining or griping. Listen with the intent of being influenced and be willing to take action on what you learn.

3. Start, stop, continue—As you consider your next round of corporate restructuring, job modification, or process improvements, ask yourself these three questions: What do we need to start doing? What do we need to stop doing? What do we need to continue doing? I’ve found it’s easy to keep adding new tasks while continuing to do the old tasks. It’s much, much harder to identify those things we should stop doing. We can’t continue to pile more and more work on people and expect them to perform at consistently high levels. There is only so much time to accomplish the work at hand. As an addition to the start, stop, continue strategy, I’m seriously considering adopting a strategy from the simplicity movement: for every new task I add for my team, we have to eliminate one task. Enough of task saturation!

4. Manage change, don’t just announce it—Managing a change initiative involves more than just announcing a new strategy. That’s the easy part! The hard part is actually implementing and managing the change well. People go through specific stages of concern when faced with a major change and leaders need to be equipped to address those concerns throughout the process. By addressing the information, personal, and implementation concerns of employees, leaders can be much more successful in helping their people adapt and endorse the change initiative.

5. Focus on development of boss/employee relationship—One of the primary factors in an employee’s success, satisfaction, and engagement on the job is the quality of the relationship with their boss. Intentional effort needs to be placed on cultivating high-quality boss/employee relationships founded on trust and mutual respect. Frequent and quality conversations need to occur regularly between the boss and employee so the boss is aware of the daily challenges faced by the employee and can work to remove obstacles.

6. Foster empowerment, control, and autonomy—People don’t resist change; they resist being controlled. Much of today’s workplace frustrations are caused by workers having a lack of empowerment in their role, little control over what effects them at work, and scant autonomy in how they perform their tasks. Leaders can build engagement by focusing on the development of these three qualities in the work people do.

Performance anxiety in the workplace is like organizational high blood pressure—it’s a silent killer. This silent killer is not always evident through outward symptoms, but it’s always lurking underneath causing damage day after day. We have a choice…will we do anything about it?

Posted in Change, Culture, Distrust, Engagement, Fear, Leadership, Management, Morale, Motivation, Performance Management, Stress, Trust | Leave a comment