How to Make a Habit of Cultivating

People generally don’t like change. On the other hand, one of life’s intrinsic motivators is “Mastery” or the desire to get better at things. That’s why people will spend countless hours practicing and playing an instrument with no intent they will ever make a dime at it professionally. Or, how many people play video games professionally? or golf? You get the idea.

Think about that, though. If I improve at something, isn’t that growth? And, isn’t growth, by definition, equal to change? Well, if I find it motivating to get better at things (or grow = change), but I don’t like change, isn’t that a contradiction? It sure seems like it. Maybe the question is, “what does it mean when people say they don’t like change?”

Several years ago my wife and I were having lunch with another couple who were friends of ours. We were talking about personal growth and development. At one point in the conversation my friend’s wife made a telling comment. She said, “If growth means I have to experience any pain, then I’m fine just the way I am.” Bingo! It’s likely what people don’t like is not the change, but the anticipated “pain” we often associate with growth.

What Pain?

We love the flower or the food we get from plants, the result of the growth. So we cultivate. Cultivating means to prepare the soil for planting and to promote the growth of the plants. We prepare soil by breaking it up and introducing fertilizer. What’s the best fertilizer? To put it nicely, dung. To promote growth we make sure to plant the seed where it will be exposed to rain and sunlight. We also pull up any weeds that may start to grow in the vicinity and we often need to prune the plant as it grows. Pruning is cutting away growth that is not healthy for the plant. Wow! “Breaking up, dung, rain, pulling, cutting away,” Ouch! Growth can involve pain . . . “No pain, no gain” so the saying goes.

The pain for us may come in the form of feedback from co-workers that identifies an area where we need to grow. It may come from a boss in the form of an evaluation or discipline. It could come from a mistake we make that identifies a deficiency. It’s often said that failure is a great teacher. None of these is particularly pleasant. But, they are often the beginning of growth.

Putting it to Work

The Engager Dynamic called Cultivate is all about creating an environment at work that promotes growth. The first step is to make the pain bearable. Really, you’re just changing people’s perception of it. If you make continuous improvement part of your culture, if “we get better” is just “how we do things around here,” then feedback, evaluation, and even failure become normal. When they become normal, they seem less painful and can even become as welcome as eating healthily or a morning workout. To achieve this you must allow freedom for mistakes and failure without retribution as necessary steps of improvement. Failing forward is part of a continuous improvement culture.

Making it a Habit

Once you’ve removed the fear of punishment for mistakes, the environment will be much more conducive to growth. The following three elements will promote learning and development for your team.

  1. Exposure – give your people the opportunity to be exposed to new things. Take someone to a meeting they don’t usually attend. Give them a chance to spend time in another job or department for a day. Introduce them to someone who is an expert in an area of their interest. I put this element first because often this exposure excites a motivation for the next.
  2. Education – having been exposed to something of interest, people are often filled with questions to which they sincerely want answers. Now they’re ready to go to “class.” This may be in the form of online learning, or in-person classes your company offers. Don’t be afraid to spend a little money to send someone to a seminar or class or school if your company offers tuition reimbursement. On the other hand, it may be a simple as letting them spend time with a mentor. NOTE: too often, leaders make the mistake of thinking Education is the totality of Learning and Development. They believe if they send someone to a class and they get a certificate, then they should know everything they need to know. In fact, education is only about 20% of the learning package.
  3. Experiences – here is where you really get the benefit. Focus up to 70% of your development plan on providing opportunities for your people to put into practice what they’re learning. We retain only about 50% of what we see and hear. We retain over 80% of what we experience for ourselves. Give people guided experience at leading meetings. putting together presentations, whatever their learning path is about. As I suggested in my post on Training, if you really want them to know their stuff, let them teach you or someone else what they’re learning. We retain 95% of what we teach.

Weave these elements into the every day routine of your organization or team and you will have a thriving garden of engaged, productive people.

How to Make a Habit of Equipping

Many companies have Policy and Procedure manuals. If you look at a Procedure from the manual, it will usually outline the Summary, Purpose, Scope or Responsible Parties, and Definitions associated with that particular procedure. Then, just before describing the steps in the procedure, it will list the required Tools and Equipment.

Now, imagine you are an employee preparing to do that procedure. You understand everything about the procedure including how critical it is to the business outcomes of your organization. But, you do not have nor can you find the “Required Tools and Equipment” to perform the procedure.

When I was in high school I had a screw put into my shoulder because of a sports injury. On the day my surgeon took the screw out, I was brought into the operating room. I was to be awake during the procedure. My surgeon, I guess he wanted to keep me relaxed with his sense of humor, got onto an intercom and asked, “Could you have maintenance bring me up a Philips-head screw driver, please?” Imagine!

What would it say to your employee about the organization if they didn’t have the proper tools and equipment to perform their work? The Leader who is an Engager makes certain that never happens.

Make It a Habit

In my post on the Engager Dynamic called Equip, I talked about two kinds of equipping, physical and mental. Unless you’re writing a brand new procedure the physical equipment is usually pretty straight forward. You list the required equipment and have processes in place to ensure it is available and in good working order.

Mental equipping means to prepare someone mentally for a particular purpose or task. This may not be as obvious. It would help if you could learn to look at your organization like an outsider.

In acute care hospitals, for example, where “Care Experience” is a critical measure of success, leaders will often sit down in an empty patient room and try looking at it like a patient or a patient’s family member. “What do they see when they sit here?” they ask trying to push through the familiarity bias of seeing the space everyday as a work environment. This helps them understand what they might do to improve the experience of their patients.

No matter what your organization does, looking at it from the perspective of a new employee will be extremely helpful in equipping your people mentally. Beyond the knowledge required to perform their job, what do they need to know about your organization to be successful? For example, they will need to know

  • Where things are (restrooms, cafeteria, break rooms, nearby restaurants for lunch, etc.)
  • Whom to contact (for finance, for Human Resources, for Benefits, for Operations, for IT support, for other technical support)
  • How to get their contact information
  • Cultural do’s and don’ts (what are they in your organization?)

Try to remember your first week. Which of these and which other questions or difficulties did you have? Write them down in order of priority or frequency of use. Now give that “cheat sheet” to each new employee. I suggest handing it to them in person and going over it with them rather than putting it into a “Welcome Packet.” That signals, with a personal touch, that you’re doing everything you possibly can to be sure they are successful as soon as possible. That, in turn, creates within them a subtle challenge to do everything they can to be successful as soon as possible. It’s a Win, Win!

How to Make a Habit of Setting Expectations

It’s been said, “Two things can destroy any relationship: Unrealistic Expectations and Poor Communication.” That’s especially true if communication is poor about expectations. In my post on expectation setting, I said that one of the most toxic killers of any relationship is unspoken expectations. Why would expectations go unspoken, especially at work? Two possible reasons are

  1.  Assumption – you assume people know the expectations either because “they should be obvious,” or, you believe someone else has already expressed them.
  2. Awareness – you may not be aware that you have a certain expectation.

What Do You Expect?

One of the first steps in making a habit of setting expectations is to identify your expectations. “Expectation” is defined as “A feeling or belief about how successful or good someone or something will (should) be.” So ask yourself, “What are my beliefs about how . . . should be done?” Here’s how you can identify those expectations you may not know you have. Ask yourself, “What do I find myself being irritated about at work? Let’s say it’s meetings. OK. Make a list of what irritates you about meetings. Maybe your list looks like this:

  1. People arriving late
  2. Side conversations distracting people and causing loss of focus
  3. People interrupting each other to make their point
  4. Disrespectful non-verbal communication
  5. People going on tangents
  6. Meetings take too long

You’re irritated about these things because you have an underlying expectation (feeling or belief) about how they should be. Now, turn each of those irritations into a statement of expectation.

Meeting Expectations

  1. Everyone will arrive to meetings on time
  2. Everyone will remain attentive to the discussion on the table
  3. Everyone will demonstrate courtesy during meetings by allowing a speaker to finish their point before speaking
  4. Everyone will demonstrate a respectful attitude
  5. Everyone will remain on topic. Side topics will go onto the parking lot for later discussion
  6. Everyone will adhere to the agenda so meetings will end on time

You may even want to include some accountability signals. For example, if someone does not meet expectation #1 Arrive on time, they have to sing a solo in front of the rest of the group. I’ve seen this work wonders at getting people to meetings on time! For the rest you may simply establish a further expectation that anyone can respectfully remind attendees of the expectation they are violating at any point during the meeting. If it’s your meeting, you certainly can do that.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

That was pretty easy. Now you have to let people know what the expectations are. You need to communicate. You may want to do the following:

  1. Email team members (or anyone who may attend meetings in your organization) a notice letting them know what the new Meeting Expectations are along with the accountability signals. It would be helpful to include a statement of why you are implementing these expectations. In the interest of respect for people’s time and points of view and for the efficiency of meetings, for example.
  2. Send out agendas for meetings ahead of time. Include the list of Meeting Expectations on every agenda.
  3. Make a poster of the Meeting Expectations and hang one in every meeting room for all to see.

Now you’ve communicated your expectations three different ways. If you model these expectations and consistently use the accountability signals you’ve developed, you will find yourself a lot less irritated at meetings. Even better, you’ll find your teams more engaged and productive when they meet.

Making It a Habit

If your habit has been to be vague and imprecise about expectations, how do you change that habit? First, take a look at my posts on exercising the Do and Don’t muscles and on general Habit Formation. Then, set up your habit change routine. Identify your “whistle” (see Habit Formation). Practice the skill – for example, identify the underlying belief of a frustration and turn it into a statement of expectation. Reward yourself. Repeat on a daily basis.

Not every one of the expectations you discover will be about work and some, you may find, are unrealistic. That’s actually a good thing. Learning to clearly articulate your expectations will help you engage the people who need to know what you expect. It will also help you abandon those expectations that are unrealistic which is definitely good for engagement.

Its Not Just Pizza Parties

I was in a meeting awhile ago with several Director level representatives of a healthcare organization. We were in the final design phase of a training program for supervisors in that organization.

This particular meeting was to discuss interview questions to use when hiring supervisors. The idea was that selecting a good fit is the first step in a successful development program. We had identified several categories of questions that aligned with the competencies we wanted the supervisors to develop. Of course, Employee Engagement was one of those categories. We were designing open ended, experience based questions that begin with, “Could you tell me about a time when you . . .”

I suggested a couple of questions and explained that those questions were testing for how the candidate had engaged previous employees. I further explained that the focus was on how the candidate engaged at the level of three primary intrinsic motivators: Autonomy, Mastery, and Transcendent Purpose. The specific Engager Dynamics the questions probed were, Solicit, Cultivate, and Inspire. Part way through my explanation, one of the directors said, “That doesn’t have anything to do with Employee Engagement.” He went on to describe his view of Employee Engagement which was having pizza parties and attendance award programs.

Don’t get me wrong, I love pizza parties and recognition programs. However, this interaction demonstrates a common misunderstanding of Employee Engagement. Leaders often think making employees happy with periodic trinkets equals employee engagement. I’m also in favor of making employees happy as often as possible. But, Employee Engagement is more than that. It’s about how you encourage people to invest their discretionary time, mental and physical energy, and creativity into improving the business. Follow some of the links I’ve included in this post to find out more.

Dynamic Duos – Another Way of Seeing Engager Dynamics

In an earlier post I talked about the Leadership Matrix where one axis is “Connector” and the other axis is “Challenger.” I said that a leader who is an “Engager” is one who is strong on both axes. This picture, taken from my Best.Boss.Ever. training, shows the 12 Engager Dynamics in a balance I call the Dynamic Duos (Yes, I was a fan of Batman and Robin when I was growing up!). It’s another way of looking at the Leadership Matrix.

Dynamic Duos

For each Challenge Dynamic there is a balancing Connection Dynamic. Achieving and maintaining that balance is how one becomes an Engager. For example:

If I am going to set expectations, then I had better train my people in the skills required to meet those expectations.

If I equip my people with all the best that is necessary for the job then cultivating an environment where they can grow into the best at the job makes sense.

If I challenge my people by inspiring them with a higher purpose of their work, wouldn’t I want to solicit from them what they’re discovering about how better to do the work and achieve that purpose?

If I set standards of quality and work to raise those standards, then I should recognize the people who contribute to that effort.

If I take the time to evaluate, or show the value, of my people’s performance, building trust in the organization is how that value is acknowledged.

Finally, If I optimize my people’s best skills, love is how I show they are more than a machine to be used.

Yet Another Way of Looking at It

What if the opening of new employee orientation went something like this:

“We will EXPECT a lot from you so we will TRAIN you and EQUIP you. We will CULTIVATE an environment where you can thrive. That environment should INSPIRE you and SOLICIT from you effective ways to QUALITIZE the work and RECOGNIZE those who contribute. We will EVALUATE your work in order to establish TRUST as the foundation upon which you can OPTIMIZE your talents because we LOVE you.”

Wow! If that were the opening of New Employee Orientation at a company I had just joined, I would be ready to engage. Even better, if that turned out to be the way things were at that company, I would never want to leave.

Love – Engager Dynamic #12

We come now to the final Engager Dynamic on my list, Love. I’m not talking about office romance or any of that “love” that is merely a half-selfish pleasure in being around those who care about us. I’m talking about a sincere desire for the well-being of others that is often accompanied by a genuine affection for them. In many ways, Love is the embodiment of the other Engager Dynamics and it is the climate in which they flourish.

What’s Love Got To Do With It?

There is an old saying, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” An engaged workplace is one where people feel safe — safe enough to experiment, to challenge, to share information, to support each other, and where the work groups are prepared to give the boss and the organization the “benefit of the doubt.” That kind of engagement develops in an atmosphere where people feel genuinely cared for, or, I would say, loved.

An ancient Hebrew Proverb comes to mind here. “Know the state (face) of your flocks, and put your heart into caring for your herds, for riches do not endure forever, and the crown may not pass to the next generation.” The application to our modern workplace is that we should know the faces and put our hearts into caring for the people who produce our product or deliver our service. If we don’t, our company’s future is in question.

In an article that appeared in the Denver Post on May 13, 2013 entitled, “Southwest CEO Says, ‘All you need is LUV.'” Al Lewis said,

Unlike every other major carrier, it has never filed bankruptcy. It has never sacked employees with layoffs, furloughs or pay cuts. It is also the airline with the fewest complaints–just 0.25 per 100,000 passengers last year, according to the Department of Transportation.

There are plenty of theories as to how Southwest succeeds where most other carriers fail. But Gary Kelly, who has been CEO since 2004, says it comes down to love. “Love is part of the fabric at Southwest Airlines,” he said. “Love Field is our headquarters in Dallas. LUV is our three-letter symbol on the New York Stock Exchange. It’s a word that we’re not embarrassed to use about how we feel about the company, our employees and our customers.”

How Can I Do That?

Think about someone you know personally who most influenced you. Why were they such an influence in your life? Most likely it’s because they cared about you. How did you know they cared? I’ll bet one key way you knew they cared was because they listened to you. There is power in listening. Try taking time to really listen to what your employees are interested in. It will show that you care and it will help you learn to love your employees as people. They are not machines; they are human beings with families, hopes, dreams, fears, troubles and joys. Knowing that you care about them will create the environment for engagement to grow.

In his book, The Servant: A Simple Story About the True Essence of Leadership, author James C. Hunter defines Love by breaking it down into these components:

Patience – showing self control
Kindness – giving attention, appreciation, and encouragement
Humility – being authentic, without pretense or arrogance
Respectfulness – treating others as important people
Selflessness – meeting the needs of others
Forgiveness – giving up resentment when wronged
Honesty – being free from deception
Commitment – sticking to your choices

Who wouldn’t want to work for someone like that?! Learn to listen and to embody these elements of love, and you’ll have a workplace second to none in engagement and positive outcomes.

Inspire – Engager Dynamic #5

You may have heard a version of the story I call the “Quarry Story.” The way I heard it was, back in the day when stones were cut by hand in the building process, a man walked through a quarry and asked three of the stone cutters the same question, “What are you doing?” The first, with a look that questioned the man’s eyesight, said, “I’m cutting rocks, what does it look like?” The second, replied, “I’m making a living for my family.” When asked the same question, the third stone cutter looked up with an enthusiastic smile and said, “I’m building a cathedral!”
Which of these stone cutters would you say was engaged in their work? The third? I would. You might ask, “So what?” “What difference does it make if he’s engaged?” Well, let’s speculate beyond the scope of the story and ask, whose stones, do you think, were of higher quality?  My gut tells me it would be the third guy’s. And who do you think cut the most stones?  Again, probably the third guy. What is it about the third stone cutter that makes us believe he would cut better stones and more of them? In a word, Inspiration.

Word Nerd Alert

We hear a lot about Motivation. I’m talking about something more than that. Check out the definitions of each . . . (though they appear on the list of synonyms for each other, they are not the same)
mo·ti·vate
ˈmōdəˌvāt/
verb
  1. provide (someone) with a motive (reason) for doing something.
    “she was primarily motivated by the desire for profit”
    • stimulate (someone’s) interest in or enthusiasm for doing something.
      “I’m going to motivate kids to study civics”
in-spire
inˈspī(ə)r/
verb
  1. fill (someone) with the urge or ability to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.“his passion for romantic literature inspired him to begin writing”
  2. create (a feeling, especially a positive one) in a person.“their past record does not inspire confidence”
  3. animate someone with (such a feeling).“he inspired his students with a vision of freedom”
  4. give rise to.“the movie was successful enough to inspire a sequel”
To Motivate is to give someone a reason. Most of the time we’re talking about an external reason like a reward (money, recognition) or a punishment (disciplinary action, being fired). To Inspire is to “fill someone with the urge . . .” It speaks of internal drive. If you check out the previous link you’ll see that “Transcendent Purpose” is one of three main internal drivers. Linking our work to a purpose bigger and more important than ourselves is what inspires people. In the Quarry Story the stone cutter who said he was, “Building a Cathedral” saw his job as a critical part of something bigger and more important than himself. He was Inspired. Because he was inspired, he was engaged. Because he was engaged, he was far more likely to be more productive and produce a higher quality product.

What’s Your Inspiration?

You might be thinking, “Our jobs are not that inspiring.” Don’t be so sure. Maybe you work on the production or shipping line in a commercial bakery. You’re not just packing hot dog buns, you’re feeding southern Texas (or whatever part of the country or world your product serves). Maybe you work as a housekeeper in a medical facility. You’re not just cleaning patient toilets. You’re saving lives. Or, maybe you work for a company with a social mission statement and whatever you do you’re providing jobs for people with disabilities (or whatever the mission is).
The point is that a leader who is an Engager is able to Inspire their people. They connect the daily tasks to the overall purpose of the organization and the purpose of the organization to something bigger. The Engager starts from the very first day of employment. From “Welcome Aboard” through training and every day after, Inspiration is the engine that drives the organization.
What’s your inspiration?

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.