Employee experience can be defined as the journey an employee takes with your organization over the course of their employment. Everything from the way they experience recruitment, interviewing, onboarding, training, career development, performance management, recognition, rewards, and even the way they exit the organization makes up their overall experience.
Employee experience is in the spotlight because of the importance of retention and engagement issues in today’s marketplace. Organizations are competing for the best and brightest workers who won’t jump ship for the next shiny new offer that comes their way. To keep their top talent, organizations are taking a close look at how their employee experience can set them apart from the crowd.
We recently completed research on this topic and gathered input from over 700 leadership, learning, and talent development professionals. We asked them to share their key strategies for improving their employee experience and the feedback showed a clear frontrunner:
Building trust between managers and direct reports
Why did this strategy rank ahead of other important initiatives like addressing workloads to prevent burnout, connecting work to purpose, setting clear performance expectations, and promoting teamwork and collaboration? It’s because trust is the foundation of the employee/employer relationship, and a person’s direct manager is the organization’s representative.
Research supports the criticality of trust between employees and their managers as the basis for being highly engaged at work. ADP Research conducted a global study on engagement that involved over 19,000 people across 19 countries and 13 industries. The study included full-time employees, part-time employees, gig workers, those with multiple jobs, and people with full-time jobs plus gig jobs on the side.
ADP found that two primary factors that characterized highly engaged employees stood out above all others: being on a team and trust in the team leader. In fact, a worker is 12x more likely to be fully engaged if they trust their team leader.
Our own research on the roles of cognitive trust (what I like to call “trust from the head”) and affective trust (“trust from the heart”) show a direct correlation between high levels of employee trust in their leaders and those employees having positive intentions to be highly engaged at work. Our study showed that leader trustworthiness is highly correlated to the five key intentions that drive employee work passion: discretionary effort, intent to perform, intent to endorse, intent to remain, and organizational citizenship.
So, trust is the foundation for a great employee experience. How do you build it?
Many leaders think trust “just happens,” like some sort of relationship osmosis. These people often understand trust is important, but they don’t know what it takes to have their people perceive them as being trustworthy. There are four elements of trust in a relationship that we’ve captured in the Building Trust model. If leaders use behaviors aligned with the four elements of trust, they will build trust with their people. If they don’t use those behaviors, or do the opposite, they will erode trust. It’s commonsense but not always common practice.
Your organization’s employee experience is critical to its health and success. But to bring it closer to home, it’s critical to your success as a leader, and the foundation of that experience begins with the trust your people have in you. Remember, every interaction you have with them is an opportunity to build trust or erode it. Will you focus on building trust with your people in 2023?
Quiet Quitting—for a phenomenon that is titled as something that doesn’t make much noise, it sure has caused a commotion lately, hasn’t it?
In case you’ve been cloistered in a monastery and cut off from all outside contact and don’t know about all this quiet quitting hubbub, let me quickly bring you up to speed.
In April 2021, a Tik-Tok post from a worker in China started going viral. The author was poking holes in the notion that work is the end-all, be-all in life; pretty radical stuff in a culture known for its strict work ethic. Instead of selling his soul to work, the author talked about “tang ping,” which literally translates into “lie flat.” In English we’d commonly say, “lay low.” You know, just lay low, chill, and relax. Not go overboard at work, but just do what’s needed to meet expectations and leave it at that.
As viral social media posts do, the news spread around the world, and workers from all cultures started talking more openly about having a new perspective on work-life balance. Quiet Quitting is all over the news as people reevaluate the role of work in this post-pandemic world, and employers come to grips with the implications of workers who are no longer willing to go above and beyond in their duties.
So, now you’re caught up. But, despite all the press it has been getting lately, Quiet Quitting is not a new problem. It’s actually a new name for an old problem: disengagement.
As my colleague, Kathy Cuff, recently wrote about this topic, a recent Gallup survey estimated that 50% of American workers are disengaged. Since the year 2000, employee engagement has hovered around 30%. The percentage of actively disengaged employees has taken a jump the last few years, primarily due to the impacts of the Covid pandemic. Workers are fundamentally reassessing the role work plays in their lives and that’s showing up in this wave of Quiet Quitting.
Rather than viewing Quiet Quitting as a challenge that must be managed, I encourage leaders to look at it as an opportunity to be seized.
People are quietly quitting because they perceive the ROI of work isn’t worth it. People are more than willing to give their full effort at work if they perceive they are getting value in return. And that value is not just related to money. Surveys consistently show that people rank things like career growth, autonomy, appreciation, and recognition, higher than compensation in what they value most about work.
This is a prime opportunity for leaders to engage team members in heartfelt, open dialogue about their growth and development goals and how the leader can partner with them in pursuit of those goals.
If you’re not sure how to engage your folks in these kinds of conversations, here are four steps to take:
Connect with care—If you have a team member who appears to have quietly quit, address the issue with care and empathy. Openly acknowledge the reality without placing blame or judgment on the person. In fact, there’s nothing to blame. Is it wrong for a person to fulfill the duties of their job description without going above and beyond? I’d argue that no, there’s nothing wrong with that. However, it’s important to uncover the motivation behind that thinking. Is it because the employee feels like they’ve been taken advantage of? Do they have life circumstances going on that is causing them to pull back from work? Everyone’s situation is different, so take the time to explore, listen, support, empathize, and truly understand the needs of your team member.
Express appreciation—One of the leadership nuggets Ken Blanchard and I share in our recent book, Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust, is Simple Truth #35: People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care. A lack of value and appreciation is at the root of why many people have quietly quit. They just don’t feel or believe the organization appreciates them. As a leader, you have a tremendous opportunity (and responsibility) to reverse this belief. Show how their work connects to the greater purpose of the organization. To the best of your ability, make sure they are appropriately recognized and rewarded for their contributions. When people feel valued and connected to something greater than themselves, they naturally go above and beyond the call of duty.
Explore options—Lack of growth, development, and opportunity is another key driver of quiet quitting. Helping team members see a career path in the organization can be challenging for many leaders, especially in today’s flat organizations where there is less upward positional growth than in decades past. Career growth is no longer about gaining the next title or promotion, and in fact, many Millennials and Gen Z folks are looking for skill and experience development instead. This career discovery process starts with conversations between you and your people. Two good resources are an article I wrote about 10 questions great bosses regularly ask their people and Promotions are SO Yesterday, the newest book from my friend Julie Winkle-Giulioni. These resources can help you explore career development opportunities beyond the traditional route of promotions.
Pledge commitment—People are longing for leaders to be their advocates, and at times, their defenders. They want leaders who will go to bat for them, lobby for the resources they need to do their jobs effectively and strive to give them the reward and recognition they desire. Those are the kind of leaders to whom people give their hearts and minds. People will bend over backwards to follow a leader they believe in, because they know the leader believes in them. Let your people know that you’re on their side. That doesn’t mean you’re not on the side of the organization, because you are, and your people know that. But your people will respect and value your authenticity in doing what you can to be their champion and you’ll see that evidenced in their level of engagement.
Quiet quitting is a golden opportunity for leaders to connect with their people in a genuine, authentic, heartfelt way, and those opportunities don’t come along often. Don’t freak out if you think someone has turned into a Quiet Quitter. Instead, muster up the courage to talk to them about it. Approach the conversation with care, let them know how much they’re appreciated, explore options to meet their growth desires at work, and commit to walking alongside them in the days ahead. Your team members will appreciate it and you’ll feel good about it, too. That’s a win-win.
This post originally appeared on The Ken Blanchard Companies' LeaderChat blog and I thought the Leading with Trust audience would enjoy it as well.
Thanks to Tanmay Vora at QAspire.com for the sketchnote
Now, more than ever, people need leaders to step up and lead from the heart.
The coronavirus pandemic has turned our world upside down, and people are looking to their leaders for direction on how to move forward when it seems like life has ground to a halt. Sheltering in place and social distancing may be effective strategies for slowing the spread of coronavirus, but they can be recipes for disaster by creating isolation, fear, and loneliness. Millions of workers have been told to work remotely, often with little training on how to do so effectively. That leads to a loss of productivity, frustration, low morale, and disengagement.
In order to be fully engaged and bring our best selves to work, there are four basic human needs that must be met. Meeting these needs has become even more critically important during this time of uncertainty and change, and if we lose sight of them, we run the risk of losing our best people.
In conducting over 19,000 exit interviews of employees who voluntarily left their jobs, Leigh Branham, author of The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave, identified four basic needs that weren’t being met that started people on the path to disengagement and ultimately quitting a job.
The Need for Trust — The number one priority for any leader is to build trust with his/her team members. Trust is the foundation of any successful relationship, and in the workplace it’s a non-negotiable if leaders desire to tap into the full effort and passion of their employees. Employees won’t give you their best if they don’t believe you have their best interests in mind. They will shy away from taking risks or making themselves vulnerable if they don’t feel safe and trusted. They expect company leadership to deliver on their promises, to be honest and open in communication, to invest in them, and to treat them fairly. The ABCD Trust Model is a helpful tool for leaders to understand what it means to be trustworthy and build trust with others.
The Need to Have Hope — I’ve had the privilege of meeting football legend Rosey Grier, a member of the “Fearsome Foursome” when he played with the Los Angeles Rams, and now a Christian minister and inspirational speaker. He said something I’ve never forgotten. When speaking about his work with inner city youth in Los Angeles, Rosey said “Leaders aren’t dealers of dope, they are dealers of hope!” So true…leaders are dealers of hope. We need to instill a sense of hope in the people we lead. Our people need to believe they will be able to grow, develop their skills, and have the opportunity for advancement or career progress. It’s our job as leaders to foster that hope and support our employees in their growth.
The Need to Feel a Sense of Worth — Despite its struggles and challenges, work is an intrinsically rewarding experience for people. We derive a tremendous amount of self-worth from our work, whether it’s something we’re employed to do or whether we volunteer our time and effort. Employees have a need to feel confident that if they work hard, do their best, and demonstrate commitment and make meaningful contributions, they will be recognized and rewarded appropriately.
The Need to Feel Competent — Employees need to be matched in jobs where their talents align with the challenges of the work. If the work is too simple, then it’s easy for people to lose interest and become disengaged. If the employee is in over his/her head and the work is too challenging, it can lead to discouragement and frustration. Leaders are on a constant quest to find ways to place employees in that sweet spot where they are challenged at just the right level. But it’s not all on the shoulders of leaders to do this work. Employees need to take responsibility for their own development and learn how to manage their motivational outlooks.
These four needs – trust, hope, sense of worth, and competence – aren’t just needed during the coronavirus lockdown. They’re needed each and every day. Unfortunately, too many people show up to work each day and check their expectation for these needs at the door. They don’t think of work as a place where they should experience fulfillment. Isn’t that sad? If there is one good thing to come out of this global pandemic, I hope it’s the renewed focus that leaders have on the value of their people. Most business leaders spout the cliche that “people are our most valuable asset.” Well, now is the time to put the money where your mouth is. What are you doing to meet these basic human needs of employees during this unprecedented time?
Let me ask you a question: Do you believe trust is critical and important to your success as a leader? Raise your hand if you answered yes. OK, you can put your hand down now.
Why do I think you raised your hand? Well, nearly everyone agrees trust is a critically important factor in leadership success. A recent survey by YPO showed 96% of chief executives said building and maintaining trust was a high priority for their success. This past week I posed that question to 120 family business owners and leaders representing dozens of industries across the Midwest United States and 100% answered in the affirmative.
Now let me ask you a second question: Do you have a defined strategy and plan for building and maintaining trust? Raise your hand if you answered yes. Anyone? Anyone?
If you didn’t raise your hand, you’re not alone. YPO’s survey showed just 34% of the respondents said they had defined and specific plans for building trust in their organizations. Based on my personal experience, I think that number is a bit generous. The response from the group of family business owners and leaders this past week is more reflective of my experience – 3 people raised their hands (2.5%).
It can be difficult to know where to start to build trust. Trust goes deep and wide. There aren’t any magic silver bullets when it comes to building trust. It requires a comprehensive and sustained approach over time.
If you want to have a defined and specific approach to leading with trust, I recommend you consider the following three dimensions:
1. Trust in Your Mission—Organizational mission statements are common and most of our organizations have them, even if we can’t always remember them verbatim (I said they were common, not effective or well written!). But how about a personal leadership mission statement? What is your mission as a leader?
I used to think a personal mission statement was a bunch of warm, fuzzy, namby-pamby leadership nonsense. Until I wrote one. It helped me take the jumbled mess of thoughts, values, and ideals that I knew in my gut were my personal mission and express them succinctly and coherently.
You don’t have to follow any specific formula, but here’s an easy one to get you started:
Brainstorm a list of personal characteristics you feel good about (these will be nouns). For example, “computer skills,” “sense of humor,” “artistic,” “enthusiasm.”
Create a list of ways you effectively interact with people. These will be verbs like “teach,” “motivate,” “inspire,” coach,” “love.”
Write a description of your perfect world. For example, “My perfect world is a place where people know their destinations and are enjoying their life journeys.”
Combine two of your nouns, two of your verbs, and your definition of your perfect world. For example, “My life purpose is to use my energy and my people skills to teach and motivate people to know their destinations and enjoy their life journeys.”
My personal mission statement is “To use my writing and speaking skills to teach and inspire people about the power of trust so they enjoy deeper, more meaningful, and rewarding relationships.”
There is a two-fold reason why a personal mission statement is the first dimension of leading with trust. First, if you don’t know where you’re going as a leader, why should anyone place their trust in you? People trust leaders who are clear on their beliefs, values, and priorities. Second, having a clear mission allows you to lead confidently and authentically, with a sense of purpose and direction for your life. Trust in your mission translates into others trusting your leadership.
2. Personal Trustworthiness—The second dimension of leading with trust is personal trustworthiness. Trust is based on perceptions, and perceptions are formed by the behaviors we use. If you use trust-eroding behaviors with those you lead, they won’t trust you. If you use behaviors that build trust, they will trust you. It’s that simple.
There are four elements that determine your trustworthiness: competence, integrity, care, and dependability. Those four elements are the “language” of trust, and to make them easy to remember, we’ve captured them in the ABCD Building Trust Model:
Able—Leaders demonstrate competence by having the knowledge, skills, and expertise for their roles. They achieve goals consistently and develop a track record of success. They show good planning and problem-solving skills and they make sound, informed decisions. Their people trust their competence.
Believable—Leaders act with integrity when they tell the truth, keep confidences, and admit their mistakes. They walk the talk by acting in ways congruent with their personal values and those of the organization. They treat people equitably and ethically and ensure that rules are fairly applied to all members of the team.
Connected—Trustworthy leaders care about others. They are kind, compassionate, and concerned with others’ well-being. They readily share information about themselves and the organization. Being a good listener, seeking feedback, and incorporating the ideas of others into decisions are behaviors of a connected leader who cares about people.
Dependable—People trust leaders who honor their commitments. DWYSYWD—doing what you say you will do is a hallmark of dependable leaders. They do this by establishing clear priorities, keeping promises and holding themselves and others accountable. Dependable leaders are punctual, adhere to organizational policies and procedures, and respond flexibly to others with the appropriate direction and support.
Personal trustworthiness is at the core of leading with trust. Trust is the foundation for unleashing the creativity, innovation, and productivity of your team. Using behaviors that align with the ABCD’s of trust is where it starts.
3. Extend Trust to Others – The third dimension of leading with trust is to extend trust to others. For trust to develop, someone must make the first move by extending trust to another. It’s the leader’s job to extend trust; it’s not the follower’s job to blindly grant trust to the leader based on their position or title.
Servant leadership is an approach that incorporates this third dimension of leading with trust. Creating a culture of servant leadership is based upon the idea that we can lead and serve at the same time. The leading aspect is represented by the traditional organizational pyramid with senior leaders at the top and front-line employees at the bottom. The leader has the responsibility to build a culture around a clear and compelling vision that includes the organization’s purpose, values, and a picture of the future where the organization is headed.
“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” ~ Ernest Hemingway
Once that’s in place, the servant aspect of servant leadership is flipping the pyramid upside down and serving the people who will bring that vision to life. It’s extending trust to those who will implement the vision and doing whatever is needed to support them with the training, tools, and resources to accomplish the mission.
Servant leaders create an optimally motivating environment for employees to flourish. Your people are constantly making logical and emotional appraisals of your leadership behavior. Every interaction in the workplace causes them to make judgments about how they think and feel about you, the organization, and the job they perform. Those appraisals lead to employees evaluating their sense of well-being. Am I feeling safe? Am I winning or losing? Is my boss for me or against me? Based on those appraisals, people form intentions about how they’re going to “show up” on the job. Our research shows that employees of other-focused, trustworthy leaders have greater intentions to do above-average work, give discretionary effort, be a good corporate citizen, stay with the company, and endorse it as a great place to work, the five hallmarks of passionate, highly-engaged employees.
Let’s circle back to the two questions I originally posed. Do you believe trust is critical and important to your success as a leader? You likely answered with a resounding yes. Do you have a defined strategy and plan for building and maintaining trust? Your answer was probably no. If so, build a plan based on the three dimensions of leading with trust: trust in your mission, personal trustworthiness, and extending trust to others. Your people deserve a leader they can trust.
The Ken Blanchard Companies recently unveiled the results of their 2020 HR Learning and Talent Development Trends Survey. Over 800 Learning and Development professionals participated in the survey, comprising a wide cross-section of roles, age, and level of responsibility in organizations. Respondents were asked to identify the most critical leadership skills needed in their organization. The top five skills identified, in order, were:
Creating an engaged workforce
Listening—Often taken for granted, listening is one of the most underrated yet powerful skills a leader can possess. When I conduct training sessions and ask participants to describe their ‘best boss’ to me, they frequently mention their best boss was a great listener. They describe how their leader listened without judgment, didn’t interrupt, asked probing questions to understand, paraphrased what was heard, didn’t multi-task, and was truly present in the conversation. Check out Close Your Mouth and Open Your Ears-4 Tips to Build Trust for some quick help on improving your listening skills.
Coaching—Top-down, autocratic leadership doesn’t fly in the 21st century. Today’s workforce responds to leaders who come along side team members and provide a coaching style of leadership. Leaders who are good coaches know how to build trust and establish positive relationships, collaboratively establish goals and action plans with team members, and partner with them to ensure accountability for results.
Building Trust—Trust is the absolute, without a doubt, most important ingredient for a successful relationship, especially for leaders. Unfortunately, though, most leaders don’t give much thought to trust until it’s been broken, and that’s the worst time to realize its importance. Contrary to popular opinion, trust doesn’t ‘just happen.’ Building Trust is a skill that can be learned and developed, and from my point of view, it’s the most important skill needed for leaders today. A quick glance at the news headlines makes it clear that trust is in a fragile state. Read We Don’t Have a Crisis of Trust – We Have a Crisis of Untrustworthy Leaders.
Creating an engaged workforce—Engagement…the elusive magic elixir that all organizations desire to achieve. Organizations spend over $700 million dollars a year addressing engagement issues, yet the latest statistics from Gallup report that 66% of the workforce is either disengaged or actively disengaged. Research has shown that trust is a vital component in creating a culture of high engagement. Did you know that a worker is 12x more likely to be fully engaged if they trust their leader? One of the most interesting pieces of research I’ve read recently about engagement was highlighted in this article: A Study of Over 19,000 People Reveals the 2 Most Critical Factors of Highly Engaged Employees.
Managing Change—’Change’ has officially been added to the list of things that are inevitable in life (joining the famous ‘death’ and ‘taxes’). In order for organizations to thrive, they need a workforce that has a mindset that views change as an opportunity to learn and grow, rather than being something to fear and resist. The most successful change initiatives are those done with people, not to people. Here are 6 Strategies for Helping Your Team Manage Change.
Would you like to learn more about HR / L&D trends in the year ahead and how they can inform your leadership development planning? Join us for a free webinar!
2020 L&D Trend Survey: 4 Key Takeaways
Tuesday, January 21, 2020, 9:00 a.m. Pacific Time
In this webinar, president Scott Blanchard shares an insider’s look into the results of The Ken Blanchard Companies’ 2020 HR / L&D Trend Survey. Blanchard shares top trends from more than 800 survey respondents and provides actionable strategies for leveraging four key takeaways from the data.
Who L&D professionals are focusing on for development in 2020
The employee experience, culture elements, and leadership skills L&D professionals identify as most in need of development
The top five ways L&D professionals plan to approach the deployment of training and culture initiatives in their organizations
How L&D professionals connect training to organizational objectives—and the number one organizational initiative they are targeting
Scott Blanchard will also share the five key criteria for developing a sustainable approach to training that maximizes and demonstrates the benefits of your training investment. Don’t miss this opportunity to refine your 2020 planning using the survey data from hundreds of peers in this year’s survey and the experiences of hundreds of additional L&D professionals who will be participating live in this online event.
How do you feel about your employer when you leave work at the end of the day? When you talk to friends or family about your job, how do you describe it? When you eat lunch with coworkers in the break room and the conversation shifts to work, what is the tenor of the discussion? Are there positive sentiments expressed or negative?
How you answer those questions says a lot about the quality of the employee experience at your organization. The employee experience can be defined as the sum of all the interactions an employee has with their employer. It starts from the moment a person applies for a job and continues through the interview, hiring, and on-boarding process. It includes the training process, the daily work experience including the quality of the work environment and the technology they use, career growth, interactions with leadership and the organization’s policies and procedures, and eventually retirement or separation. In essence, it’s the entire employee/employer life cycle.
Why is the employee experience important and why should leaders give a hoot? Well, the answer is pretty straight-forward when you think about it. The way you treat your employees is the way they are going to treat your customers. If you want your customers to have an outstanding experience, then your employees need to have one, too.
Given the expansiveness of all the factors impacting the employee experience, it’s easy to get overwhelmed when considering where to focus your efforts. Let me suggest that there is one critical X factor that has a disproportionate amount of influence on the quality of the employee experience, and as a leader, this X factor is primarily under your control. This X factor is something your employees experience every day and it shapes how they view the importance of their work, their commitment to the organization, and whether they endorse the organization as a good place to work.
What is the X factor of the employee experience? The X factor is you. The leader.
An employee’s relationship with their direct supervisor is the primary lens through which they interpret how they are treated by the organization. Gallup’s research shows that leaders are responsible for 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores, so a healthy employee-supervisor relationship is key to an exceptional employee experience. Research on other key dynamics of the employee-supervisor relationship confirm its importance and impact. The 2017 “Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement” report from the Society for Human Resource Management showed the top two contributors to employee satisfaction were respectful treatment of all employees at all levels (65 percent) and trust between employees and senior management (61 percent). Studies have shown that committed and engaged employees who trust their leaders perform 20 percent better and are 87 percent less likely to leave the organization, and that high-trust organizations experience 50 percent less turnover than low-trust organizations.
The employee experience of your organization will develop with or without your involvement. Obviously, it’s in your best interest to proactively influence the process. I invite you to learn more by joining me for the free onlineExperia Summit, December 9-13, where I’ll be presenting specific strategies for creating an exceptional employee experience. I’ll be joined by several other thought leaders discussing ways you can elevate your employee, customer, product, brand, culture, and leadership experience.
Remember, as the leader, you are the primary influence on the quality of experience your employees have at work. What will that experience be like? What will yoube like?
ADP Research recently released the results of a massive global study on engagement that involved over 19,000 people across 19 countries and 13 industries. The study included full-time employees, part-time employees, gig workers, those with multiple jobs, and people with full-time jobs plus gig jobs on the side.
As my colleague Drea Zigarmi and I wrote in a March 2019 article for Workforce Magazine, employee engagement is a broad and complex problem that organizations spend $720 million a year trying to solve, according to a Bersin & Associates report. Yet when it comes to engagement there isn’t even a commonly accepted definition of the term. Descriptions vary widely, with elements that include commitment, goal alignment, enjoyment and performance, to name a few.
ADP Research and Marcus Buckingham define engagement as “a positive state of mind characterized by ‘vigor, dedication and absorption'” (Schaufeli & Bakker, 2004). Vigor describes the willingness to invest all of one’s self into work and refers to high levels of conscientiousness, persistence, energy, and mental toughness. Dedication refers to being strongly connected to one’s work while experiencing a sense of significance, pride, enthusiasm, and challenge. Absorption implies being deeply involved in one’s work, such that time passes quickly and disconnecting from work becomes difficult.
So, what did the results of their research find? The two factors that stood out above all others that characterized highly engaged employees were:
Being on a team increases engagement
Trust in the team leader is the foundation of engagement
Workers who are part of a team are 2.3 times more likely to be fully engaged than those who are not. These results were consistent across country, industry, virtual workers, or those co-located. Too many organizations discount the power and importance of teams. Our own research at The Ken Blanchard Companies has shown that organizations charge teams with solving their most persistent and difficult problems, but few organizations support their teams with proper training and tools to be successful working as a group. ADP’s research indicated 64% of respondents worked in more than one team, and 75% report that their teams are not represented in their employer’s organization chart. Teams exist all across the organization, but they live in shadows and carry out their work without much official organizational support.
A worker is 12x more likely to be Fully Engaged if he or she TRUSTS the team leader.
ADP’s research also revealed that by far, the best explanation for employees’ level of engagement was whether the team members trust their team leader. Of those who strongly agreed that they trusted their team leader, 45% were fully engaged. Of those who didn’t strongly agree, only 6% were fully engaged. Team members who trust their team leader are 12 times more likely to be fully engaged.
How can you lay the groundwork for teams to be successful and well supported in your organization? Here’s a few ways to get started:
Officially endorse and charter teams—Most teams get started by a leader deciding to pull some people together to tackle a problem. Someone gets designated as the team leader and then the team gets to work. Instead, take the time to officially charter the team. Clearly identify its purpose, goals, norms, communication strategies, and decision-making processes. Provide the team with budget, manpower, and other organizational resources that will enable it to be successful.
Establish a common language of trust—Trust doesn’t happen by accident and given the importance of team leaders having the trust of their team members, it’s critical that organizations take the time to train their employees on how to build trust. Trust is based on perceptions, and those perceptions are formed by the behaviors we use. Each one of us has a slightly different idea of what trust means to us, and unless the team shares a common definition of trust, trust will be harder to build. Team leaders will be perceived as trustworthy if they exemplify the ABCD’s of trust—Able, Believeable, Connected, and Dependable.
Help teams navigate conflict—Teams inevitably experience rough patches and must deal with conflict. Not all conflict is the same, so it’s important for team leaders to understand the different types of conflict and how to deal with each of them. Some conflict is over positions, strategies, or opinions. If handled correctly, this can be healthy conflict that leads to better decisions and outcomes. Other conflict arises from power issues, personal agendas, or lack of trust. This kind of conflict can poison a team from the inside-out and must be dealt with quickly and effectively. Check out 4 Types of Team Conflict And How to Deal With Each Effectively for more information.
Trust is the foundation of any healthy and vibrant relationship, so it’s not a great surprise to find that ADP’s research identifies trust in team leaders as the foundation of engagement. The answer is obvious, so now the question becomes what are you going to do about it?
Did you ever play the game Show and Tell when you were in elementary school? It wasn’t really a game in the traditional sense, but more like story-time or a group activity to help the whole class learn more about the presenter.
The premise of Show and Tell is a student gets to bring something from home to show the class and then tells them why it’s important to them or what it represents about them as a person. I remember looking forward to Show and Tell days with great excitement!
My favorite Show and Tell was in 6th grade when Simon Mattar’s uncle showed us his tricked-out 1950’s era ambulance that had been converted into an all-purpose rescue vehicle. This thing was so cool that you could change a flat tire on the vehicle while it was driving down the road! That’s the day Simon Mattar became a legend at Avondale Elementary. I gained a whole new appreciation for who Simon was and what his family was about after that experience.
I think our workplaces would be more productive, humane, and empowering if more leaders played Show and Tell. Not in the same way we did as kids in elementary school, but in our everyday words and actions. Here’s a good place to start:
Competence – Too often people stop focusing on their personal learning and development once they reach a leadership position. I would argue the opposite needs to occur – that’s when you need to ramp up your education. Showing your team that you prioritize ongoing education sends the message to them that they should do the same. It’s important to not just stay up to speed on the technical aspects of your team’s work, but also on general leadership and management practices. Being a manager or leader is a mindset and skillset unto itself, and the best leaders are lifelong learners.
Integrity – Integrity is about walking the talk. It’s about your actions aligning with your words, and when you’re a leader, you can be sure that your team members are watching your every move. The best leaders show they are worthy of the trust of their teammates. They do that by being honest, keeping confidences, and not playing favorites. At the end of the day, leaders are known by their integrity, and sadly, the lack thereof.
Care and Concern – It’s a cliché but it’s true: People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Expressing care and concern for others is one of the quickest and easiest ways for leaders to earn the trust and respect of their team. You can start by building rapport, which is simply finding common ground with another person. You can also express care by getting to know your team members as people who have lives outside of work. What are their interests? Hobbies? Kids’ activities?
Dependability – Leaders show they are dependable by following-through on commitments. They are responsive to their team members, respect their time, and are punctual for meetings (yes, showing up on time is still important!). Conversely, not being reliable erodes trust with others and shows that you can’t be depended on when it counts.
People they’re doing a good job – How many of you are sick and tired of all the praise you receive from your boss? Nobody? I didn’t think so. The truth is that most people are starved for a little bit of recognition from their boss. Take the time to verbalize your thanks and appreciation for the good work your team produces.
People how they can do better – Yes, you heard that right; tell people how they can do better (and show them how). A good coach is always encouraging his team members to improve their skills. Why do you think professional athletes still have coaches? It’s because they know that no matter how good they are they can still get better. I’ve learned through personal experience that withholding constructive criticism from a team member does them a disservice. People can’t improve if they don’t receive timely and accurate coaching.
The whole story – Too many leaders are selective story tellers; they only tell their people what they want them to know. In the absence of information, people make up their own version of the truth. It’s the leader’s duty to share as much information as ethically appropriate and then trust their people to act correctly. People without information cannot act responsibly. People with information are compelled to act responsibly.
Others about yourself – Leaders who share information about themselves, particularly their vulnerabilities, garner immensely more respect and trust from their team than leaders who don’t share personal information. I believe it’s a false notion that leaders must keep their business and personal lives separate. Today’s employee wants to have a genuine and authentic experience at work. They want to know they are valued and appreciated as individuals, not just workers showing up to do a job. Leaders must model that level of authenticity if they hope to attract and retain the best talent.
Show and Tell in today’s workplace isn’t quite the same as it was back in elementary school, but the outcomes are similar. It results in helping people to know each other better, foster team cohesiveness, and develop a greater appreciation and understanding of their teammates. Those sound like worthy goals for any organization.
Oomph! Those words feel like a punch to the gut of the employee on the receiving end, and for the leader delivering the bad news, those words create anxiety and many sleepless nights leading up to that difficult conversation.
No leader likes to see an employee fail on the job. From the moment we start the recruitment process, through interviewing, hiring, and training, our goal is to set up our employees for success. It takes a tremendous amount of time, energy, and expense to bring new people into the organization and ramp them up to full productivity, so it’s in everyone’s vested interest to see an employee succeed. Yet we all know there are situations that, for whatever reason, an employee struggles on the job and there isn’t much hope of turning it around.
I recently met with a group of HR professionals and line managers to debrief employee termination situations. As we reviewed the cases at hand, the following nine signs emerged as warning signals, that had they been heeded early on in the employee’s career, a termination decision could have been made much earlier in the process that would have saved everyone a lot of heartache and the company a lot of money. Any one of these signs is alarming in and of itself, but when you combine all of them together…KABOOM! You’ve got an employee meltdown waiting to happen.
Nine Warning Signs of a Failing Employee
1. Things don’t improve with a change of scenery – Maybe it’s the relationship with the boss, certain peers, or the nature of the work has changed and the employee is struggling to perform at her best. Whatever the reason, moving the employee to another role or department can get her back on track. I’ve done it myself and have seen it work. But if you’ve given someone another chance by giving them a change of scenery and it’s still not working out, you should be concerned. The scenery probably isn’t the problem.
2. You feel like you have to walk on eggshells around the employee – We all have personality quirks and some people are more difficult to work with than others, but when an employee becomes cancerous to the morale and productivity of the team and everyone feels like they have to walk on eggshells around the person for fear of incurring their wrath, you’ve got a serious problem. Don’t underestimate the destructive power of a toxic, unpredictable employee.
3. Emotional instability – Part of being a mature adult is being able to manage your emotions and it’s critically important in a professional workplace. If you have an employee that demonstrates severe emotional mood swings on the job and in their relationships with others, you need to pursue the proper legal and ethical guidelines in dealing with the employee and getting them the support they need. Don’t ignore the behavior by chalking it up to the heat of the moment, the stress of the job, or excusing it by saying “Oh, that’s just Joe being Joe.”
4. Trouble fitting into the company culture – Perhaps one of the earliest signs that you have a failing employee is noticing she is having significant trouble adapting to the culture of the organization. There is a natural transition time for any new employee, but if you’re constantly hearing the employee make negative comments about how the company operates and criticizing leadership, or not developing solid relationships with others and becoming part of the team, warning alarms should be going off in your head.
5. Blames others, makes excuses, and challenges authority – You know the incredibly loud sound of air raid sirens used in civil defense situations? That’s the sound you should be hearing if you have an employee with a track record of blaming others and making excuses for her poor performance. Failing employees will often challenge authority by trying to lay the blame at the boss’ feet by saying things like “You should have done this…” or “You didn’t address that problem…” or whatever the case may be. If you have an employee who always seems to be involved in drama, ask yourself “What (or more appropriately ‘who’) is the common denominator in these situations?”
6. Distorts or manipulates the truth – I’ve dealt with employees who were very skilled at manipulating or distorting the truth. In whatever difficult situation they were in, they would find a kernel of truth to justify and excuse their involvement to the point that I would feel compelled to side with them. I learned you have to be discerning and consistent in your approach to dealing with manipulative people and make sure you document your interactions so you have sufficient data to support your termination decision.
7. Unseen gaps in performance – One of the most challenging situations is when an employee seems to be performing well by outside appearances, but when you explore behind the scenes you discover there are gaps in her performance. Maybe it’s sloppy work, not following correct procedures, or even worse, being intentionally deceptive or unethical. Be careful, things may not always be as they seem.
8. A trail of broken relationships – Employees don’t have to be BFF’s with all of their coworkers, but they do need to respect others and be able to work together. A person may be a high-performer in the tasks of her job, but if she can’t get along with other people and has a history of damaging relationships with colleagues, eventually there will come a point where her contributions are outweighed by the damage and drama she creates.
9. Passive-aggressive behavior – You know those smiley-face emoticons at the end of slightly sarcastic and critical emails? A classic example of passive-aggressive behavior where the sender is trying to couch her criticism in feigned-humor. This is toxic and can be hard to manage because it manifests itself is so many ways that appear to be innocuous in and of themselves. Veiled jokes, procrastination, sullenness, resentment, and deliberate or repeated failure to follow-through on tasks are all signs of passive-aggressive behavior. Be careful…very careful.
The number one job for a leader is to help his or her employees succeed. Before an employee is terminated, a leader needs to be able to look in the mirror and honestly admit that everything possible has been done to help the employee succeed. These nine warning signs should serve as critical guideposts in helping any leader be alert to a failing employee.
Technology and social media has allowed us to be more connected than ever before, yet our society is suffering from an epidemic of loneliness. How is that?
Our technological tools have allowed us to be more collaborative, increase efficiencies, powered innovation, and allowed us to tap into information and knowledge at record speeds and levels. At the same time, those devices and technologies have given rise to a collective sense of distraction among its users, provided constant interruption, and replaced strong relational bonds with weak ties. It has also contributed to record levels of disengagement and low trust in the workplace.
In order to develop a connected and engaged workforce, Schawbel recommends leaders focus on four factors: happiness, belonging, purpose, and trust. Research has shown that employees who consider themselves happy at work are more likely to refer new candidates to the company, brag about the organization online, work harder, and are less likely to jump ship. Schawbel cites the research by Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, who found that happy employees have an average of 31% higher productivity, 37% higher sales, and are three times more creative. Simple acts of kindness, getting to know employees on a personal level, and helping employees with work-life balance are all ways to increase happiness.
Engaged employees also feel a sense of belonging to the organization. Humans are pack animals, and we like to be affiliated with organizations that appreciate our contributions and share our sense of values. So often we get focused on strategies and goals that we forget to develop a sense of community in our workplace. Studies have shown that when employees feel a lack of belonging, depression is more common, problem-solving skills deteriorate, and effectiveness on the job declines. Schawbel says leaders can foster belonging by scheduling social events, having team lunches, and creating an environment where people feel free to share information about their personal lives.
Purpose is the third element of engagement that Schawbel suggests leaders focus on. When you have a purpose, you feel that you matter and that you are contributing to something larger than yourself. Having a clear purpose provides energy and direction, and it’s the fuel that keeps you going when life is busy and challenging. The tips Schawbel offers for creating purpose include helping people connect their work to the benefit it provides your customers. Bring in a customer who has been personally affected by your team’s work so they can hear and see the difference they are making. Another strategy for creating purpose is help employees understand the why of their work and how it supports your organization, customers, or the world at large.
Finally, the fourth element of an engaged workforce is trust. Many leaders think by virtue of them being the boss they are trusted by their employees. Wrong. It’s not the employee’s job to give trust; it’s the leader’s to earn it. Establishing authentic, caring, and appropriately vulnerable relationships is a primary way leaders build trust with their team. You can be a technical genius at your job, honest as the day is long, and follow-through on your commitments every time, but if you don’t show any sense of personal care or connection with your team, they will always keep you at arm’s length. Trusted leaders behave in ways that demonstrate the four elements of trust, and when employees see their leaders have their best interests in mind, they will not only trust them, but will pledge their loyalty and commitment as well.
Schawbel makes the point that technology isn’t all bad, but we should be more human and less machine. If we want a workplace where people engage their hearts and minds, and trust their peers and leaders, then we need to leverage technology to develop more human relationships of substance rather than connections of convenience.
Have you ever worked in a positive culture? If you frown, then you haven’t! A positive culture gives people wings and swings results into a positive spiral. It “broadens and builds” people and organizations as Barbara Fredrickson researched. When people feel positive, they become more open and resourceful and achieve better results which reinforces the positivity. A positive culture contributes to the bottom line as positive organizations are engaged, innovative, competitive, agile, collaborative, and productive.
Isn’t that too good to be true? Well, no! Scientifically validated research shows that positive leadership (of yourself, and others) is the key to a positive culture and quantifiable positive outcomes.
This is important because many people don’t believe that a positive culture is possible. Maybe you started your work life optimistically, then you turned realistic and, finally, you may feel pessimistic or cynical because your workplace is far from positive. Yet, this is what companies such as Ford, Kelly Services, Burt’s Bees, Griffin Hospital, and Zingerman’s have been doing. They prove that you can create positive change in your organization through simple actions and attitude shifts.
What is a Positive Culture?
Positive leaders can change what is “normal” and all positive cultures have four ingredients. Based on positive psychology, positive cultures cherish an “abundance mindset.” There’s trust that there will be enough for everyone and aims to enlarge the pie instead of dividing its parts resulting in winners and losers. This first ingredient, Positive Awareness, helps to see more solutions, the half-full glass, and positive potential that is waiting to be realized. We are often used to aim for the default baseline: “We fix a problem to go back to normal”. Positive cultures aim for “positive deviance” where people are performing beyond expectations but without exhausting anyone or pushing too hard.
A positive culture builds on what is already working well. It appreciates people for their unique contributions. This is the second ingredient: Connection and Collaboration. It includes leadership basics such as connecting with and caring for people, being authentic and honest, communicating continuously and coaching people as well as stimulating them with compliments.
The third is a meaningful Shared Purpose that people like to contribute to, and the fourth part of positive cultures is Learning and Autonomy. People are trusted to do their work and even excel. People have choices and enjoy autonomy—no micro-management needed, no detailed instructions. Learning is the norm, and developing ideas together, learning from mistakes, and trying out things is appreciated. There’s no need to be perfect and no fear to “lose face.”
There’s only one requirement: that you engage and commit. When you work in a positive culture, you go “all in.”
What Positive Culture is Not
The issue with positive culture is that it can sound corny. “Positive means fake smiles, slacking off, and dreaming.” Let’s quickly look at these three common objections.
A positive culture stimulates people to be authentic at work so they can give their best. That includes off-days and occasional bad tempers. No need to fake a smile. Just be you and solve what you can solve – knowing that it will pass. Slacking off is the opposite of achieving positive deviance with a team. Positive leaders (and co-workers) give candid feedback to anyone who doesn’t contribute to the team as expected – and they try to help them improve.
Positive people might also be more realistic than cynics. Yes, really. Research shows that we’re wired to focus on the negative because that helped us survive physical dangers. Nowadays, it’s helpful to be able to see the positive potential that’s hiding in plain sight. No dreaming needed: stay grounded and work toward the best possible outcome.
What Can You Do?
So, what could you do to develop a more positive organization? What is interesting, is that organizations operate as non-linear networks. This means that you can influence your workplace. My book Developing a Positive Culture shares many tools to develop a more positive culture, with Interaction Interventions and/or Change Circles.
Culture happens when people get together because they copy, coach, and correct each other all the time. Culture is sustained in every interaction so if you start changing interaction patterns, you start to influence the system.
Interaction Interventions are small interactions that you can do on a daily basis to influence your meetings, co-workers, and eventually the organizational network. They are small but not insignificant, especially if you team up with like-minded co-workers. Interactions in meetings matter to the culture, so I share ways to make meetings more interactive and positive. I also share tools for leaders to work with their teams on values, purpose, positive challenges, and trust.
Next, there are Change Circles if you want to enroll the whole organization in culture change. This is a larger-scale approach that works if there’s attention for personal interactions in small groups that influence the culture.
Start with Kindness
So, how positive is your current contribution? What would happen if you role-model kindness, whatever your position at work? You understand that everyone tries their best, and everyone can make mistakes. So, you show compassion. You don’t take things too personally. It is safe to share “failures” or doubts with you.
You are present for your coworkers and teams. You give genuine attention. You give compliments. It costs nothing. All it takes is you: the best version of you. You can start today, no matter how busy you are or how challenging it may be to see something good in your coworkers.
But What If It Is Not Easy?
But what if you work in a corporate environment that does not “do” kindness? You may be labeled as weak, or you may be mocked. How kindness is perceived, depends on the current culture. Yes, being kind sometimes takes courage! Yet, a positive culture can start with one person who interacts kindly and offers a positive perspective… Are you going to be that uplifting example?
My book Developing a Positive Culture focuses on what you can personally do to develop a positive culture. Based on both research and practice, you’ll see how to engage your co-workers with Interaction Interventions or Change Circles. If you influence one person, one interaction at a time, you contribute to a more positive organization.
The ability to build and sustain high levels of trust and engagement is a critical competency for today’s leaders. In our technology-fueled, digitally connected world where new products, competitors, and business models seemingly emerge overnight, one of the few competitive advantages organizations possess is their people. The skills, talents, creativity, innovation, and passion of its people can be the difference between organizations achieving exceptional performance or wallowing in mediocrity. In order to come out on the winning side of this challenge, organizations must connect the dots between trust, leadership, and engagement. Trust is the foundation, leadership is the driver, and engagement is the goal.
The Foundation of Trust
Trust is the foundation of any successful, healthy, thriving relationship and it’s essential to your success as a leader. Without trust your leadership is doomed. Creativity is stifled, innovation grinds to a halt, and reasoned risk-taking is abandoned. People check their hearts and minds at the door, leaving you with a staff that has quit mentally and emotionally but stayed on the payroll, sucking precious resources from your organization.
However, with trust, all things are possible. Energy, progress, productivity, and ingenuity flourish. Commitment, engagement, loyalty, and excellence become more than empty words in a company mission statement; they become reality. Trust has been called the “magic” ingredient of organizational life. It simultaneously acts as the bonding agent that holds everything together as well as the lubricant that keeps things moving smoothly.
Trust doesn’t “just happen” through some sort of magical relationship osmosis. It’s built and sustained through the use of very specific behaviors that align with the four core elements of trust: competence, integrity, care, and dependability. Leaders who emphasize the use of “trust boosting” behaviors cultivate an environment where employees feel safe and want to invest their discretionary effort, whereas leaders who engage in “trust busting” behaviors foster an environment of distrust and fear that cause people to withdraw and only give minimal effort.
Leadership as a Driver
Research by Gallup has indicated that a person’s relationship with his or her direct manager is the leading factor influencing employee engagement and that managers account for 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores. The Great Place to Work Institute has documented that committed and engaged employees who trust their management perform 20% better and are 87% less likely to leave the organization. What does that mean for leaders? To a large extent, the way you lead your people has a dramatic impact on their level of engagement on the job.
According to Gallup research, managers account for 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores.
SLII® is a model and methodology that fosters an environment of trust and engagement because it puts people first. SLII is a “people-centered” approach to leadership that looks at the needs of the follower to determine the leadership style used by the leader. The needs of the follower come before the needs of the leader. This altruistic approach by leaders builds trust because his or her followers see the leader has their best interests in mind.
Leaders who effectively use SLII also develop open, honest, and transparent communication with their people. With trust as the foundation in the relationship, employees feel safe enough to ask for the direction and support they need on tasks and goals. A team member who doesn’t trust his or her leader is not going to admit to being a “D2 – Disillusioned Learner.” Admitting you don’t know something is the last thing you’ll do with a leader you don’t trust. Conversely, leaders who foster trust and utilize SLII open up the lines of communication with direct reports and are able to talk objectively about developmental needs.
Engagement is the Goal
It would be overly simplistic to suggest that having a people-centered approach to building trust and employing Situational Leadership® II will produce an engaged workforce. Employee engagement is a broad and complex issue that organizations spend $720 million dollars a year trying to solve, according to a Bersin & Associates report. Bersin also highlights that when it comes to engagement there isn’t even a commonly accepted definition of the term. Definitions vary widely, with elements including commitment, goal alignment, enjoyment, and performance, just to name a few.
However, it isn’t an oversimplification to state that a people-centered approach fosters an environment that allows trust and engagement to flourish and leads to organizational success. Research by renowned economist Laurie Bassi has proven that firms who put people first, as measured by the highest scores on the Human Capital Management (HCM) scale, have outperformed the S&P 500 over the past 25 years in periods of financial prosperity as well as in more difficult times. Most notably, firms with higher HCM scores are able to endure and recover more quickly from cyclical downturns in the economy than are firms with lower HCM scores.
Simply stated, leaders of the best and most successful firms understand that all they have and all they hope for is due to their people, and as a result, they practice people-centered leadership.