Expect – Engager Dynamic #1

“Expectation is the root of all heartache,” someone has said. I would agree with one clarification. It is unmet expectation that causes all heartache. It’s true in marriage, family, work, community, politics, etc. To go a step further, one of the most toxic killers in any relationship is unspoken expectations. Not meeting an expectation is one thing. Not knowing what the expectation is and then learning you didn’t meet it can be devastating.

Word Nerd Alert

According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary an Expectation is

    “A feeling or belief about how successful or good someone or something will (should) be.”

 An Exercise in Unmet Expectations

I’ve taught this material in a classroom setting, I like to ask the group to take out a piece of paper and a pen or pencil. I then ask them to put their name at the top of the paper and explain that I want to go through an important exercise with them. Then I tell them that the exercise is foundational to understanding the Engager Dynamics and have them number down the left side of the paper from 1 – 10. I explain that they have three minutes to complete the exercise. Then I tell them to begin.

What’s wrong with this exercise? There are no instructions, no expectations have been set. People don’t have any idea what I want them to do. They believe it’s important. They figure that I want 10 of something and they know the timeline. But, what in the world do I expect them to write? They haven’t a clue! You should see the reactions I get to this stress, and it’s artificially induced. Imagine the stress of a similar situation in real life . . . or maybe you don’t have to imagine.

A Real Life Example

I recently stopped at the drive-through of a well-known fast food restaurant for a cup of coffee. I waited for several minutes and the line didn’t move. Still wanting that cup of coffee, I decided to go inside. The scene inside was tense. Many people were waiting for food or to place their order. People in the back were working but things weren’t flowing and there was frustration in the air. A young woman whom I assume was the shift manager turned from the drive through window and said to the crew in the back, “C’mon you guys!” That was it, “C’mon you guys!” Nothing changed. I did eventually get my cup of coffee but it took way too long.

When the shift manager issued her exasperated rebuke, the looks on her colleague’s faces said, “What do you expect us to do?” There it is. What was the expectation? That was a real-life example of my staged exercise where unclear or missing expectations create stress.

What Do You Do?

The job of the Leader is to set clear expectations and make sure all employees know what the expectations are. Some examples include:

  • What Skills do you expect employees to have or gain?
  • What Duties do you expect the employees to perform?
  • What are the quality and timeline expectations?
  • What attitudes do you expect the employees to have toward each other, toward customers, the company, the boss?
  • What else do you expect? (e.g. do all your employees give you a “high five” when they see you? If so, will you expect that of new employees? If s/he doesn’t give you a “high five” will you be offended and think poorly of the new hires? It may sound silly, but that’s a real life example and these are the kinds of subtle things that can fall into the category of unspoken expectations. Be sure you’re self-aware)
How do you communicate your expectations?

  • Job descriptions
  • Duty Lists
  • During Training
  • Employee handbooks
  • Policies and Procedures manuals
  • Posters
  • Verbally
It is not enough to simply tell an employee about an expectation once and leave it at that. People need to hear a thing 3 – 7 times, preferably through different media, before it will really sink in. Communicate, communicate, and communicate. It is also very important to be consistent in your communication. Send the same message to each employee.

Setting clear Expectations that are communicated effectively and consistently will pay dividends on employee engagement not only for its own sake but also when it comes to Performance Evaluations and Trust. Both of these are critical Engager Dynamics we will discuss later. Expectations impact them both.

A Word About Barriers

Expectations can remain unmet for several reasons. For example, someone attempting to meet an expectation could be blocked by a co-worker, by broken or missing equipment or even by a policy that conflicts with the expected outcome. The result of blocked attempts to meet an expectation is frustration. Or, as in the examples above, expectations could be unclear causing anxiety among the workers. Failure to meet expectations causes discouragement which lowers morale. On the other hand, when expectations are clearly understood and met or exceeded, engagement occurs and morale improves.

Flip the Coin

 
Most conversations about expectations at work revolve around making sure employees know and meet (or exceed) the expectations of the company and their boss. Remember, employees have expectations, too. They have expectations about their co-workers, their relationship with the boss, the value of their work, etc. One of the best ways to engage employees around expectations is to exceed their’s.

 

What Does a Leader Look Like?

In my last post I talked about being the Best Boss Ever. If you’re a boss you are expected to lead. But, not all bosses are leaders. Not all leaders are bosses either.

Are you a Leader?

You may not be the boss but you can still be a leader. Leadership is a skill not a position. We sometimes here the phrase, “Natural, born leader.” However, that is a misnomer. Some people confuse extreme extroversion or drive or intelligence with leadership. It is true that some leaders have those characteristics, but those characteristics are not the definition of leadership and not all effective leaders have all of them. Effective leadership is influencing people to accomplish things that are good for them and the team even if they don’t see it at first. Another way of defining leadership comes from James C. Hunter, in his book The Servant: A Simple Story about the True Essence of Leadership. He says that true Leadership is a matter of “Authority”. He defines “Authority” as, “the skill of getting people to willingly do your will because of your personal influence.” Both definitions describe a skill. Since leadership is a skill (or set of skills), it can be learned.

What Kind of Leader Are You?

Some people are said to be leaders because its in their job title. They may or may not actually be leaders. Others lead because it’s who they are. Their job title may be janitor or clerk, but they know how to positively influence people, so they are leaders. The skills that make up a leader are what I call Engager Dynamics. Those “attributes and energies that engage people and transform work” (see my second post, “Employee Engagement: What does that mean?“) fall along two axis of a matrix like the one above. Some of the dynamics fall along the “Challenger” axis and the others along the “Connector” axis.

You can plot your current leadership effectiveness on the matrix.

  1. If you are more concerned about having good relationships with your people and don’t want to rock the boat or upset them too much by challenging them, you may be what I call a “Pacifier.”
  2. I’ve seen people in leadership jobs whom I would call “Avoiders.” These folks tend to stay in their offices and send out emails or texts and make phone calls. They neither challenge nor connect with their people. These are “L-I-N-Os” – Leaders In Name Only.
  3. Then there are the “Dictators.” I’m sure we’ve all met these. They are very high on command and control and have a “Do-it-because-I-said-so” approach. People tend to snap to when this person comes into the room. They work diligently while the leader is present. What happens when the leader leaves? All too often, work suffers while the tension fades from the room.
  4. “Engagers” are people who both Connect with and Challenge their people. These are the ones who tend to be leaders even without the title. Engagers make a personal connection with people. Because of that connection they are able to challenge them to achieve beyond what they’d ever imagined.

What Kind of Leader Do You Want to Be?

I said you could plot your “current” leadership effectiveness on the matrix because you can improve your effectiveness by developing the skills called Engager Dynamics. In the next several posts I will describe each of the dynamics and then we’ll talk about how to improve in each one. So if you are currently a Pacifier or Avoider or Dictator, never fear, you can become an Engager.

Best.Boss.Ever.

Whenever I interview someone who’s applying for a job I always ask a set of specific attitude questions. Whether the person is interviewing for a senior management position or for an entry level position, one question I always ask is “Could you tell me about your best boss?” You learn an awful lot about a person from their answer to that question. You learn about their attitude toward authority and leadership in general. You learn about how they define “good” and “best”. You learn about how they define “leadership”. You learn about how they prefer to be managed.

These insights can be very helpful in a hiring decision. For example, if someone’s best boss was a person who managed them very closely so they always knew what the next step was, but the position I’m looking to fill requires that a person be able to work independently for a long period of time, the chances are good this candidate is not a fit.

What About the Worst?

I also ask the opposite question, “Could you tell me about your worst boss?” Also very revealing. An interesting thing about the answers I’ve heard to those questions, again whether entry level or leadership level, is that they include statements about how that boss made them feel. “I felt like I was being scrutinized and criticized at every turn.” “She gave me the freedom to ‘fail forward fast.'” From which category, best boss or worst boss, do you think each of those comments came? One of the benefits I have personally received from asking these questions is a kind of measuring stick for my own leadership. When I hear a candidate describe their best boss, it gives me a chance to reflect on whether or not I provide that kind of leadership for my people. Conversely, well, you get the idea.

What About You and Me?

That whole process also makes me wonder whose list I would make. Hopefully, your wondering the same thing or at least thinking about how you would answer those questions. I’ve been blessed to hear from some of my people that they considered me to be the best boss they’ve had. What a humbling joy to hear something like that! Who wouldn’t want to be the best boss someone has had?

How do you become that best boss? Think of the question from the point of view of ”The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Habit 2 – Begin with the End in Mind”. Steven Covey suggests imagining you are attending your own funeral. What would you want people to say about you? What about if you were to leave your current position or your company; what would you want people to say about you and your leadership? Whose list of “Best Bosses” would you be on? What does it take to be or become a “Best Boss?” That’s what this blog is all about. Keep checking in and feel free to leave comments.

A Word that Blew My Mind

פָּנִים

I called myself a “Word Nerd” in my last post.  It’s true, I am.  So I decided to share a word that blew my mind. I know that in the process I will be giving further evidence of my nerdiness but that’s OK.
A few years ago I was in a financial planning class and the instructor  made reference to an ancient Hebrew proverb. He was talking about taking care of your business in general terms. I was intrigued so I looked up the proverb and did what I usually do (word nerd). I broke it down and looked at the meanings of the words. The proverb in English says, “Be sure to know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds; for riches do not endure forever . . .” Proverbs 27:23 – 27 It goes on to say that if you take care of your flocks and herds, they will take care of you when times get tough.
The word that blew my mind was “condition,” not too amazing at first. But, the proverb was originally written in ancient Hebrew. I still have some tools from my ministry days, so I looked it up. The Hebrew word is Paniym (it’s the word pictured in the title of this post). It means “faces!” The proverb says, “Be sure to know the faces of your flocks . . .” When I discovered that meaning, the faces of all my colleagues at work started racing through my mind. I could see them happy, I could see them stressed, I could see them frustrated and angry. These people with whom I worked every day, most of them were my employees, were my flock. They were the ones who did the work that determined the success or failure of the business. The proverb goes on to say, as I further learned, “Put your heart into taking care of your herds!” Wow! My job is to take care of the people who do the work so they can take care of the work.
One of the main things I learned from this was that the principles of Employee Engagement are not new. This proverb was written around 3,000 years ago yet it sounds strangely like “The Service-Profit Chain,” (Harvard Business Review) and the findings of many other modern studies. Put your heart into taking care of the people that take care of your business. It makes sense. It has for a long, long time.

Employee Engagement – What does that mean?

In my last post I talked a little about how important Employee Engagement is and why I’ve joined the public conversation. In this post, I want to talk a little about what Employee Engagement is.

Break it Down

One thing I do to better understand a concept is to break it down and define the terms. For example, what is “Engagement?” I know I’m going to sound like a word nerd, but bear with me. The suffix “-ment” is magical. It turns a verb into a noun. Merriam-Webster says -ment identifies a “concrete result, object or agent of a specified action (e.g. embankment), or, the state or condition resulting from a specified action (e.g. encampment).” So, engagement is the concrete result or the state or condition resulting from someone engaging.

What does Engaging Mean?

Now I want to know what “Engaging” means. We use the verb “To Engage” in many ways. It can mean, for example:

  1. To attract and hold, by influence or power
  2. To Commit (bind) as to marry
  3. To weave into the fabric (interlock, mesh: gears)
  4. To engross (take and hold attention)
  5. To induce to participate, involve or cause to be included, to take part
  6. To Hire (e.g. a lawyer)
  7. To Enter into a contest or battle – competition
Each of those definitions adds a dimension to our understanding of engagement in an organization. Think about each one in the context of employee engagement–trust me, it’s fun! In broadest terms it seems to convey the idea of connecting things or people with or to a purpose. So, a person who engages could be called an “Engager.” In fact, in order for there to be engagement, there has to be an engager, someone who has engaged.

Who is the Engager?

But who is the engager? Some self-motivated people are natural engagers. It’s how they do life. When we have those people on our teams in an organization its a blessing. Most people, however, especially at work, need a little help getting engaged. That responsibility usually falls to their supervisor, the “boss.” So, when employee engagement happens, it’s usually the result of a boss acting as engager for their team.

Putting It All Together

OK, so now I want to know how that happens. If we say that a supervisor engages their employees, and mean they “induce or cause them to participate or be engrossed in their work” (see definitions  5 and 4 above), how do they do it? You know me, I went looking for a word to describe the forces or properties that stimulate growth, development, or change within a system or process. Wait a minute! That’s the very definition of “Dynamics!”
When I talk about Employee Engagement, I’m coming at it from the perspective of “Engager Dynamics.” I’m exploring the attributes and energies (yeah, more definitions. Those are other words for properties and forces) that make some bosses really good at engaging their employees; thus creating Employee Engagement.

Star Performance

Star Performance
Everyone wants to be a star. We have whole TV Shows dedicated to that desire. If  you’re an introvert and don’t like the idea of the limelight, OK, but everyone wants to be excellent at something. Organizations want to be stars, too. Most organizations use five metrics to measure their relative stardom. They may have different names for some of them like “Patient Experience” instead of “Customer Loyalty.” Non-Profits will not measure “Profit” but there is a performance-to-budget measurement of some kind. Star performance for any organization is when all the targets of these metrics are hit and there continues to be favorable movement in each one. The metrics used by most organizations as seen in the above diagram are Profit, Productivity, Safety, Customer Loyalty, and Employee Retention. The lines in the diagram represent the fact that these metrics don’t stand alone. They can impact each other. Movement in one metric effects movement in another. For example, improved Customer Loyalty usually means there is an improvement in Profit. It can go the other way, too. A healthy bottom line means the company is going to be around for the long haul and will usually be investing in improvements to its products or services. This often has a positive effect on Customer Loyalty. A good customer wants their supplier to be profitable.

Laggers

One challenge with each of these metrics, though, is that they are all trailing indicators. That means, like a report card in school, you don’t know how you did until all the numbers are in. For some of the metrics you have to wait an entire quarter to get the results. And then you can’t do anything more about it. Organizations will spend a lot of time and money on programs designed to correct one metric. For example, they may engage in cost-cutting efforts to improve Profit margins, or Lean principles to improve Productivity. How many Employee Retention strategies or Customer Loyalty programs or Safety initiatives have you experienced? It’s not that these are not helpful. In fact, as I mentioned before, positive movement in one metric can have a positive impact on another. Improved Safety performance can have a positive impact on Customer Loyalty especially if your Customers are very proud of their safety record. It can also improve Profit since Worker’s Comp costs are reduced. But, wouldn’t it be nice if there were a single metric that could move all of the others at once? Even better, what if that metric could provide predictive insight into the direction the other metrics were going to move? There is such a measurement. It’s called Employee Engagement.

A Prime Metric?

Employee Engagement (E2 in the diagram) directly impacts each of the other metrics. Favorable movement in Employee Engagement is an indicator that an organization’s other metrics will begin to move favorably as well. The data is out there on this. You can search Harvard Business Review or the Gallup Organization’s work. Countless other organizations have researched and demonstrated the role of Employee Engagement in performance improvement. One example is an article by Curt Coffman (co-author of First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently) and Jim Harter, Ph.D. called “A Hard Look at Soft Numbers,” in which the correlation between the Gallup Organization’s Q12 and several of the above metrics is demonstrated. It is also true that unfavorable movement in Employee Engagement will have a corresponding unfavorable impact on the other metrics.

Why Me?

I’ve been in the contract Management Services Industry for over 20 years. During that time I’ve worked for a couple of the industry leaders and had clients in multiple industries from Sports & Entertainment, to Transportation, to Manufacturing, to Healthcare.  It has been rare that I’ve run across an organization that “gets it” when it comes to Employee Engagement. I’ve encountered many individuals who do, but too many organizations run the spectrum from unaware or uninterested to “All Hat, No Cattle.” I cut my teeth on the principles of Employee Engagement during my 11 years as a pastor prior to entering industry. During that time I had the opportunity to study, up close and personal, the impact of principles on the character and behavior of individuals and organizations. When I transitioned from pastoral ministry to corporate America, I translated what I was about into this personal mission statement–“To build relationships within my sphere of influence through which I will help people discover and achieve their capacity for excellence.” It is that mission and some of the experiences I’ve had over the last 30+ years that lead me to join the Employee Engagement conversation.

My hope is that by adding my small voice to the conversation still others will catch on. Employee Engagement impacts organizational metrics, but it can’t be just about that. Employee Engagement is about employees, it’s about people. No matter what your widget, every business is a people business. Star performance begins with making work excellent for your people. Making work excellent for your people begins with being an excellent person. Here’s an important piece of information to close this post. Even if you’re not the “boss,” you can influence your organization’s stardom. I look forward to the conversation.