We are all familiar with the character Ebenezer Scrooge, from Charles Dickens’ famous novella, A Christmas Carol. This character is depicted, as a surly, cold-hearted businessman who hates Christmas, spends his life hoarding his wealth and forces his employees to work long, grueling hours for little pay. Scrooge is basically everyone’s worst nightmare when it comes to a manager. However, as we learn more about Scrooge through his journey with the ghosts of Christmas past, we find that he actually is a victim of circumstance. His childhood experiences, misfortune in love, and depression overcome him, not allowing him to re-frame his perspective to understand how he, as a manager, needs to communicate with his employees.
In communications, this is called understanding your frame of reference, or how individuals assess information. This can be based upon an individuals education, background, personal values, experiences, cultural differences and more, having a large influence on how information flows from or to us. The greater the overlap in frame of reference between two people, or the greater the similarities in individual’s backgrounds, the higher the likelihood that communication will be successful.
In the case of Scrooge, due to his lack of willingness to open up to his employees and allow them to understand his background, employees as well as others, simply assume that he is crotchety and cold-hearted. Therefore, any message that he sends to an intended audience will misconstrued, and may be dismissed due to the disrespect that the intended receiver may have for the sender. However, if the intended receiver of the message understands Scrooge’s background, they may be more willing to understand his situation and receive the message without the attachment of bias.
So, what can be done to fix these communication issues?
In order to fix this communication barrier, managers must do a bit of re-framing. Meaning that as leaders, we must seek to look at things in a different way and seek to understand the other person’s frame of reference. The following can assist with this process:
- Take the time to get to know your employees. Learn their personalities and interact with them regularly so that you not only build a trusting relationship with them, but you also learn how they communicate. Doing this will help to improve the likelihood of successful communication.
- Let your employees learn about you. Communication is a two-way street, unless, of course, you want to talk to yourself. Managers need to ensure that they share their best practices for communicating, including their favorite way to deliver messages and feedback. Allowing for face-to-face time to get to know each others personalities is key as well, as this is the time that you will learn how to interpret each others non-verbal cues.
- When communicating to the outside public, know your audience. Do your research. Learn about the background of your intended audience and speak to that. Although you can’t get to know everyone you are speaking to at a conference, classroom or otherwise, you can speak to their general experiences and speak to them through that perspective.
My advice to you is, don’t be a Scrooge. Teach yourself to look at things from a different perspective; learn your audience and communicate in a clear, concise manner, giving feedback as necessary to improve internal and external communication within your organization.
What are some of techniques or methods that you use to help improve communication?
Over the past 3 months, I’ve written numerous posts on employee engagement, and like me, you may be wondering: What else is possibly left to discuss? While the answer is “a great deal,” I’d like to wrap up our look into Gallup data on employee engagement with one final viewpoint: Generations.
If you were to visit one of my classrooms where the topics were coaching or managing employee performance over the past few years, you’d have thought the Millennial generation was going to be our undoing. Now, I don’t tolerate bashing of any generation, but we tend to encourage discussion and discovery about the youngest generation in our workplace because they’re the least known and most feared (and there are so many of them!). If you’re reading this Millennials, please hear me! Your slightly older and certainly wiser counterparts don’t necessarily dislike you, but they may fear you a little. Or a lot. And if my observations are correct, some are even envious. But you’re not off the hook! Many of you Millennials have a lot to learn from those of us who have been in the workforce a lot longer than you…and we have a lot to learn from you, too!
Back to the engagement topic, though. Gallup, has defined for us what an actively engaged employee is, “those who are involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and workplace.” Not engaged employees are those who are emotionally checked out. They go through the motions, but their connection to the organization is faint. Actively disengaged employees are more than just “unhappy” at work. These employees undermine the organization and those around them.
The majority of Americans are not engaged (51%) or actively disengaged (17.5%), and thankfully, actively engaged (31.5%) figures remain steadily on the rise in recent years! But I’m interested to see which generation is the least engaged and which is most. Based on what I’ve heard in the classroom and seen play out in organizations I work closely with, it could be reasonably assumed that Millennials are the least engaged of all. They’re the least loyal, the most aloof, the most “just on their phones,” the ones who are “all about me.” According to older Gallup figures from 2013, that assumption is completely untrue.
Traditionalists have the highest engagement – but they make up less than 4% of the workforce today. The Millennials have a spread very similar to the national average, higher on the positive side! It’s the Boomers and Generation Xers who are less engaged. Not only are we less engaged, we’re the MOST actively disengaged. Boomers, you’re the ones we should be concerned about engaging. Maybe you’re the ones we need to harness – better. The key to engaging Boomers and Xers is to align their work and help them feel connected to the organization’s mission and values.
Interestingly, engagement is typically synonymous with retention. But with Millennials, this is less and less true. From a 2013 Gallup report,
“Despite their higher engagement levels, they are particularly prone to job hopping. Millennials are the most likely of all generations to say they will leave their company in the next 12 months if the job market improves. To increase retention among Millennials, [organizations] need to emphasize engagement and provide plenty of opportunities to learn and grow. While nearly half of actively disengaged Millennials want to find new jobs, only 17% of engaged ones do.”
While I think that the numbers are interesting, I honestly don’t think that there’s enough substance in them or what else I’ve found about generational engagement to substantiate a truly different approach to engaging people, regardless of which generation they were born into. In addition to the 4 Essentials of Engagement for Managers, provide folks development opportunities and help them connect to the big picture of your organization. To me, we all need these things, no matter how young or old-ahem-tenured we are.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t get enough of this Gallup report, State of the American Manager! It’s almost like, “Managing Employees For Dummies.” Well, that’s not entirely true – BUT – there are a few simple things that Gallup found that engaged employees said consistently of their managers. Gallup also tells us that 50% of adults have left a job to get away from their manager at some point in their career. The study says this, and I couldn’t say it better, “Having a bad manager is often a one-two punch: Employees feel miserable while at work, and that misery follows them home, compounding their stress and putting their well-being in peril.” I hope you personally haven’t had this experience, but chances are, half of you reading this have, and chances are, 50% of the employees in your organization feel or have felt this way. I’d like to help you understand how to avoid being the reason someone leaves you – not their job.
Step 1: Address Your Employees’ Strengths (not weaknesses)
Some factoids from the report:
- Employees who receive strengths feedback have 15% lower turnover rates than employees who do not receive feedback.
- People who use their strengths every day are six times more likely to be engaged on the job.
- Employees who learn to use their strengths are 7.8% more productive.
- Teams that focus on strengths every day have 12.5% greater productivity.
Many organizations operate under the idea that a manager’s job is to identify what’s wrong with an employee and “fix them.” But Gallup has found that there is infinite potential in developing what is right with people versus fixing what is innately “wrong” with them.
High performing managers focus on strengths by leveraging and developing areas of strengths. A large amount of limited and functioning talent managers said that they emphasized a balance of strengths and weaknesses, while more limited talent managers focused on weaknesses alone. I understand that the Gallup terms may have jumbled this message, so let me be clear: managers with high talent and engaged, high performing employees focus on strengths, and strengths alone.
Step 2: Consistently Communicate
You’ve probably heard that communication must be regular and frequent from every management and leadership course you’ve ever taken. This report shows that the frequency of communication is not the key, nor the mode, but the consistency. Specifically, employees whose managers hold regular meetings with them are almost three times as likely to be engaged as employees whose managers do not hold regular meetings with them. Those managers who maintain daily contact using a combination of communication modes (in person, phone, email, text) have the highest engaged employees, but engagement rests largely on consistency alone. Consider this: if you have a meeting scheduled every Tuesday at 2:00 with your boss, and it is cancelled 25% of the time, or even 50%, what does that say to you? Or you’re told by your boss that they’ll call you (perhaps at your request, to discuss a specific project), and that call doesn’t occur – how do those irregularities affect your assessment of how your boss values you? I’m sure that your boss – and you – can justify the times that another call or another meeting took precedence over a standing meeting. But the effect of having regular meetings far outweighs the cancellation of them. Unless you like losing your top talent.
Step 3: Don an Authentic and Approachable Attitude
I’m a huge fan of authenticity. I like being myself. I like surrounding myself with people who aren’t fake. I delight in getting to know people (I know, my extroversion is showing…) I believe that real relationships can only occur when you’re your true self. Even at work, even when you’re the boss. I’m not saying that you have to share everything with your employees, but be a human! Share bits of your life with them, and encourage them to do the same. What are their hobbies, outside of work? If they have a family, ask about them periodically! You might find that you – gasp – actually like your employees! There’s a different level of trust developed when you’re real with people, and the Gallup study shows a correlation between people who answered that they felt that they could safely talk with their boss about non-work matters and those who answered that they felt they could ask their boss anything. Wouldn’t you rather your employees come to you with the questions they have, regardless of what the topic is? Rumor control, change management, quality control, priority of work, so many questions either aren’t asked or are asked of other people, but they could be asked of you. Be real with your people. You all deserve it.
Step 4: Proactively Provide Performance Coaching
For the most part, we have managing employee performance all wrong. There are a few organizations across the country, a handful of cities in Texas, starting to get things right. But even in well-designed performance management systems, individual managers can still mess things up. Employees whose managers help them set work priorities and goals are more actively engaged (though only 12% report their managers do), and employees whose managers don’t set these are most likely actively disengaged. The basics of performance coaching include clarity of expectations, understanding the employee’s role and how that fits into and aligns with the team and the larger organization, and frequent updates about priorities and progress (not just when HR requires a tool to be completed). So, regardless of what your organization mandated performance management system is, give your employees more. Have consistent, authentic coaching conversations about your employee’s strengths. It’s really that simple.
As we began looking at last week, according to Gallup’s State of the American Manager: Analytics and Advice for Leaders report, there are 5 characteristics of a great manager:
Great managers possess a rare combination of five talents. They motivate their employees, assert themselves to overcome obstacles, create a culture of accountability, build trusting relationships and make informed, unbiased decisions for the good of their team and company.” Gallup’s definition of a manager is “someone who is responsible for leading a team toward common objectives.
Statistically – and logically – engaged managers have more engaged employees. If you’ll recall from a previous blog on employee engagement, ultimately, female Baby Boomer managers with high school diplomas who live in Montana, in their first six months of work have the highest engagement in America! Furthermore, female employees working for female managers have the highest overall engagement (35%), while male employees who work for male managers have the lowest engagement (25%). Again, women are more engaged at work, and women are more engaged when they work for women!
Now, this is not a post about feminism or leaning in or girl power, but we do have to ask ourselves: if we desire employee engagement, which we all do, for many reasons, and it is proven that women managers cause greater engagement, why is there only 13% of women in top leadership roles in local government, the same percentage for 30 years!? Yes, you heard that correctly. The same percentage – 13 percent – of females in top local government leadership roles has not changed in 30 years.
We have an opportunity here. I’m not suggesting “reverse discrimination” by saying we should select more females than males just to change this number. According to the report that claims the 13 percent issue, there are larger pools of female talent in mid-level management positions to develop and select from (yet still far fewer than males). So I implore you to take a look at your applicant pool better the next time you’re hiring or promoting a manager. Are we passing by a great opportunity to blow the roof off our organizations’ engagement by passing by females for leadership roles? If so, why? Is there a cultural bias toward having males as managers? Perhaps. Is there some other reason that we don’t see more women step up and not even get considered for the top leadership roles? Why are women less prevalent in leadership if they are statistically more effective?
The issue was recently brought to light by an article in ICMA’s PM Magazine and is being explored in an ongoing series of blogs by the Emerging Local Government Leaders network in their #13percent initiative, which looks at how we can actually cause change in the unfortunate low percentages. Remember, women managers have greater engagement, so having fewer of them won’t fix the engagement problem.
I’ve had the benefit of working for four incredible female managers so far in my local government career. I’ve worked for more managers, but these four women were all exactly what I needed them to be so that I could grow, learn, and thrive in my position and career. These four did not hold the top positions in our organizations, but they could very well have. They motivated me, they built trusting and authentic relationships with me, they lived according to their own expectations and held our team accountable, and they were bold and guided our team through adversity, to success. Cindy, Kelly, Debi, and Krisa – thank you.
Allow us to introduce to you The 16 Percent’s newest blogger—SGR’s own Muriel Call. Muriel joined SGR in December 2014 as a Research Assistant and is currently the Research Coordinator. Before joining SGR, Muriel was on the Library Staff for the City of Southlake, Texas. She has 15 years of experience working in the library and information science field in academic, public, and special libraries. She earned a BA in English and a Master’s degree in Library and Information Science, both from Louisiana State University.
We’ve all had bad jobs. And maybe jobs that could have been great if the management hadn’t been so terrible. I’ve found myself in the latter situation at several points in my career and there’s nothing more frustrating. Everyone wants to feel that the person who hired them is just as grateful to be working with them as they are to have the job—but, in many cases, you may be made to feel that you are lucky you were even hired in the first place and that you could easily be replaced. When I’ve worked for organizations with this kind of leadership, I didn’t stay with them for very long because a) I couldn’t see a future for myself in the organization and b) the low morale problem with the rest of the staff; these weren’t happy places to work.
Have you ever worked under “insecure leadership”? I have, and I can tell you, there was a great deal of frustration because I felt I had no voice, no agency—that I wasn’t really a part of the organization. I felt like little more than a cog in a huge, inanimate machine. My years of knowledge and experience weren’t valued and when I was able to express an idea for making a process more efficient or implementing a new way to increase productivity, management would use the idea and not give me credit or any sort of acknowledgement for it. Insecure managers aren’t good at recognizing the strengths in others or, worse, feel intimidated by them when they do recognize them.
In Mike’s blog on Leadership Rehab, he mentioned the following destructive leadership habits:
- Blaming others for failures that are beyond anyone’s control
- Verbally abusing employees
- Mind games that send mixed messages so that employees never feel secure
- Creating a moving target for success
- Expecting perfectionism from others, while denying their own flaws
I have worked under managers who did these very things—one manager even made her employees cry on several occasions! These types of managers never seem to realize that they won’t get the best from their employees by these methods.
I have to confess, I never thought much about leadership before I came to work for SGR. I could definitely tell the difference between a bad boss and a good boss but never considered what it takes to be an effective leader, and what constitutes the difference between a “leader” and a “manager.” Now I know the positive effects that great leadership can have on both one’s personal and professional outlook.
Most managers just want to maintain an even keel. They want to get things done but so many rarely strive to achieve more than the minimum required. The goal is to float along with the current and try not to sink; they’d rather no one rock the boat, even if there’s potential for great success. Or maybe they micromanage to the point that innovation is completely stifled. That’s why they are managers and not leaders; they manage and maintain mediocrity, they don’t make sincere efforts to go beyond functioning at a basic level. When this is the culture, it’s often a systemic problem and the entire organization may be in need of “rehab” to fix the problem.
As employees, we all have different needs, different strengths, and different expectations. These are the characteristics I now know I need for job satisfaction and engagement:
- An environment in which there is a high level of trust amongst staff. While a bad manager will often pit employees against one another or take sides, a good leader will find ways to build trust with employees so that there is a real sense that you are functioning as a team. You will achieve so much more if you work as a team.
- An environment in which to flourish and grow. A good leader will recognize your strengths and utilize them to achieve goals and set new goals. For me, this means being given opportunities to learn, be creative, and challenge myself intellectually. You may require different things, but the point is, a good leader will help you meet these needs. There are incentives for leaders to do this. As a recent Harvard Business Review article pointed out, “…identifying and capitalizing on each person’s uniqueness saves time. No employee, however talented, is perfectly well-rounded.” Time is much better spent focusing on natural abilities. The article also says that, “capitalizing on uniqueness makes each person more accountable.” By challenging an employee to make their natural abilities the cornerstone of their contribution to the organization, they take ownership of their skills and can practice and refine them.
- Acknowledgement. Raises, promotions, and other rewards are great when you get them but even just a kind word from management when you’ve put time and effort into a project makes a huge difference in staff morale. It makes you feel that the work you do is acknowledged and appreciated.
A great leader will give you these things. Organizations with strong leadership aren’t like inanimate machines, they are living, breathing entities that grow and change with time and that allow you to grow and change as an employee (Tweet This). It took a major career change for me to find a work environment that provided me with job satisfaction, engagement, and the opportunity to learn and hone new skills. Consider your own job satisfaction checklist and determine if your leadership is helping or hindering you in meeting your goals.
Is it possible that you are sabotaging your own effectiveness as a leader without even knowing it? At SGR we teach that there are Four Dimensions to being a great leader, and they build on each other. You can see from the diagram that all leadership starts at the Relational level. Here, people follow you because of how you treat them, and this applies to both externally AND internally.
The second level is called Operational Leadership. This is where people follow you because you know more about how things work than they do. Supervisors and Managers have to be Operational Leaders. However, many cities and organizations are institutionalizing mediocrity because they have supervisors who are technically competent, but relationally incompetent. Sometimes when I am teaching a class, I’ll make the observation that every organization has some managers who just “suck the life out of the room, and they are completely oblivious to it.” Almost every time I say that, a lot of people laugh, but some people cry.
The third level is what we call Systems Leadership. Here people follow you because they trust you to put systems in place that work—even though you, personally, don’t have direct control over the system. It’s all about trust.
The last level is Strategic Leadership, which is focused on not just what the organization is, but also on what it needs to become. But let’s go back to the Systems Level for just a moment. That’s where I observe a lot of accidental sabotage takes place. Here’s what I mean.
John Maxwell has made popular the statement that “Leadership is influence.” As a leader moves up in the organization, he/she may reach a ceiling in terms of formal leadership. The Public Works Department Head maintains the same title, even if he/she has been there for many years. Formal leadership doesn’t change, but informal leadership can continue to grow and grow and grow. That means that his or her influence grows and grows, too. However, it doesn’t always happen. Just because you are in a position for a long time doesn’t mean your influence continues to grow. Sometimes it doesn’t grow because you sabotage yourself.
One of my mentors told me many years ago, “Your organization will not judge you by the way you treat the beautiful people. They will judge you based on the way you treat the weakest person in the community.” In many ways, he was right. However, I’ve developed a slight variation to his observation. I would say it this way: “The community at large will judge you based on the way you treat the weakest person, but your closest allies will judge you based on the way you treat them.”
Of course, I am not suggesting that you shouldn’t treat the weakest person with empathy, respect, kindness, and dignity. Certainly you should. However, if you treat that person properly, but behind closed doors, you treat your closest associates poorly—they will perceive your actions toward the needy as to be nothing more than self-serving, political grandstanding.
And that’s how leaders sabotage themselves. Because there comes a time when, in order for your influence (informal authority) to keep expanding, you need for those around you to naturally be saying about you to others, “You can trust him/her.” But if they don’t experience it personally, you can’t pay them enough money to say it convincingly. So, instead of your informal influence growing and growing, it stops. It stagnates. It declines. Who caused that? Maybe you did.
SGR’s CEO, Ron Holifield, often says, “Always protect the relationship.” That’s sound advice. Don’t just do it for the ones “out there” when you’re in the political spotlight. Treat people the right way even when no one’s looking. Do it long enough and consistently enough and even if your title doesn’t change and your formal leadership doesn’t change, your informal influence will keep expanding, and that’s what really makes a leader because, as Maxwell says, “Leadership is influence.”