The Soft Side of Hard Numbers

“I don’t have time for all this touchy-feely stuff. I need results.” I’m sure you’ve heard or maybe even said something like this before. In tough economic times with competitors breathing down our necks it’s understandable that business leaders need to focus on the bottom line. We need to measure and control all those factors that contribute to a healthy profit. Things like customer loyalty, employee retention, productivity and safety all contribute to a healthy bottom line. They can be measured in hard numbers. How do you measure “Listening?” What does Listening have to do with anything? Who has time for all this “soft” stuff?

Why the Soft Stuff Matters

In their book, First Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman outline the results of a 25-year Gallup study on World Class Management. The study cut across industries, countries, sizes of business, for-profit and non-profit and public and private sector organizations. In their book the authors focused on 12 survey questions that, sometimes counter intuitively, tied directly to desired organizational outcomes (in other words, “Hard Numbers”).

The Gallup study showed that those companies that reflected positive responses to the 12 questions

  1. Profited more
  2. Were more productive as business units
  3. Retained more employees per year
  4. Satisfied more customers
  5. Worked more Safely

Here are Gallup’s 12 questions:

  1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?
  2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?
  3. Do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
  4. In the last 7 days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?
  5. Does my supervisor or someone at work seem to care about me as a person?
  6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
  7. At work, do my opinions seem to count?
  8. Does the mission / purpose of my company make me feel my job is important?
  9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?
  10. Do I have a best friend at work?
  11. In the last 6 months, has someone talked to me about my progress?
  12. This last year, have I had the opportunity at work to learn and grow?

What the Cows Know

The California Dairy Producers aired a series of popular TV Ads. In the ads there were dairy cows in a variety of situations. These cows talked to each other about different funny things always showing that the California Cows are the happiest cows in the business. Each of the ads ended with the tag line, “The best Milk (or cheese) comes from Happy Cows and Happy Cows come from California.” Without satisfying an employee’s basic needs first, a manager can never expect the employee to give stellar performance.

In essence that’s what the Gallup study (and several others2) showed. Happy (or “Engaged”) employees are 5 times more likely to deliver on an organization’s desired outcomes than those that are not “Engaged” and far more so than the employees who are actively disengaged. Employee Engagement (“Soft Stuff”), then, drives Customer Loyalty, Employee Retention, Productivity, Safety and Profitability (“The Hard Numbers”). Furthermore, these five organizational metrics are trailing indicators of organizational health. You don’t know what the numbers are until the close of the reporting period. On the other hand, if your Employee Engagement scores are trending up it’s a good indicator that your other metrics will also improve. Employee Engagement is more of a leading indicator of organizational health.3

Here’s how Gary C. Kelly, President, Chairman and CEO of Southwest Airlines put it:

We’ve always “hung our hat” on providing the best Customer Service in the business, at a low cost. Now, I realize that almost any company would (and should) say that, so, you may be wondering, “What’s the difference at Southwest?” The difference is this: Everything begins and ends with our People. If we keep our employees happy and engaged, they will keep our Customers happy, who will reward us with their loyalty. That repeat business helps our bottom line and adds value to our Shareholders.4

This “touchy-feely stuff” might just deserve more attention than you thought. Improving a manager’s, a department’s or a business unit’s scores on these questions has been statistically proven to improve that entity’s other metrics. So, what does all this have to do with listening? That’s what the next several posts will explore.


1 Depending on the type of organization, these metrics may be slightly different. However, the connection between Organizational outcomes of any type and these elements remains intact.

2 Harvard Business School study The Service Profit Chain, as well as studies by the Dale Carnegie organization and others.

3 Gallup, Q-12 Meta-Analysis, c. 1993 – 1998, 2006

4 Gary C. Kelly, “Making Connections”, Spirit Magazine, September 2013

The Super Power You Didn’t Know You Have

The other day one of my daughters asked me a random question. “What super power would you want to have, Dad?” I immediately thought of flying. I’ve always wanted to fly. How cool would it be to jump up and fly to wherever you wanted to go? So, without hesitation, I answered, “To fly!” She nodded, “Yeah, that would be cool!” she said, and moved on to ask the next unsuspecting family member.

Super Heroes have super powers they use to help people. They stop acts of terror, foil criminal plots, rescue people from danger and generally set things right. We love Super Heroes. But, after the movie is over or we’ve put down the book for the last time and returned to reality, we remember there’s no such thing as super heroes. There are no super powers that can fix the real problems we have at home, school, church or at work. Or, are there?

Do You Have a Super Power?

I would like to propose to you that we all have an underdeveloped super power. It may not make you faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive or able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, but this power can transform your relationships, strengthen the effectiveness of your organization, and propel your business outcomes. This underdeveloped super power we all have is the power of listening. “Wait a minute!” you may object. “Super powers, by definition, are active. They DO something powerful. Listening is so . . . passive. You just sit there while someone else is talking.”

I think your objection has hit the nail on the head regarding why this powerful tool remains so underdeveloped. We misunderstand the nature of listening. In a Forbes online article entitled “Are You Using the Most Powerful Leadership Skill?”, consultant Erika Andersen rightly referred to listening as the “Clark Kent” of Leadership Skills.1  Because we see it as passive it seems mild mannered and . . . well . . . weak. That’s exactly what people thought of Clark Kent. Then he stepped into the phone booth!

But listening is powerful. Fortunately many people are waking up to the power of listening. Some have tried to overcome the objection to listening’s seemingly passive nature by talking about “Active Listening.” That’s helpful because listening is not something that happens to you (passive), it is something you do (active). Because it’s interpersonal, the power of listening is universally applicable. It will transform your business (inter departmental, intra-team, with customers and vendors), healthcare (Physicians and Nurses, Doctor and patient), church (boards, when conflict arises, visitors and new members), school (parents, teachers, administration, students), family, club . . . all of life because it transforms relationships.

Don’t Take My Word For It

Here’s what one contributor to Harvard Business Review’s HBR Blog Network observed:

My knowledge of corporate leaders’ 360-degree feedback indicates that one out of four of them has a listening deficit—the effects of which can paralyze cross-unit collaboration, sink careers, and if it’s the CEO with the deficit, derail the company.

For leaders, listening is a central competence for success. At its core, listening is connecting. Your ability to understand the true spirit of a message as it is intended to be communicated, and demonstrate your understanding, is paramount in forming connections and leading effectively. This is why, in 2010, General Electric—long considered the preeminent company for producing leaders—redefined what it seeks in its leaders. Now it places “listening” among the most desirable traits in potential leaders. Indeed, GE Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt has said that “humble listening” is among the top four characteristics in leaders.2

Listening, far from being passive, is powerful because it allows you to see the world through someone else’s eyes. Now that sounds more like a super power! Imagine the advantages of knowing how your boss or co-worker or spouse or competitor sees and understands the world.

In my next few posts I will outline the case for the power of listening as a direct contributor to hard organizational outcomes, reveal the necessary heart of powerful listening, and give you some exercises to help develop your listening power.


1  Erika Andersen Founding Partner of Proteus International. A Forbes article called “Are you using the most powerful leadership skill?”
2  “The Discipline of Listening,” by Ram Charan. Harvard Business Review (HBR Blog Network). June 21, 2012

How to Make a Habit of Optimizing

I’m using the same picture for this post as I did for the Engager Dynamic called Optimize. I looked for a different one but this picture from the movie “Ben Hur” showing those beautiful horses aligned on a racing team according to their specific abilities tells the story of optimizing. Plus, I love the movie!

In my posts I’ve talked about Training and Evaluating among other things. These are one-on-one dynamics in many cases. In the analogy of coaching, these skills are about helping the individual player get better at their skills. Optimizing is more like what a coach does during a game. S/he works to find the best combination of skills for that situation against that opponent.

Putting it to Work

If your work is normally done in groups or teams this is easier. By team I mean the obvious group who work in close proximity to each other and focus on a task or set of tasks for which that team is responsible. There are other ways to think of teams as well. It could be a series of people each of whom hand off work to the next person in a system, adding their piece to it until the product or service is finished. These “teams” could even be across shifts where work is passed down from one to the next.

Look at your “teams” in whatever form they take. Evaluate the skills, talents, temperament, and pace of each team member and try different combinations like a basketball game coach looking for the right combination of ball handlers, defenders, height, shooters, etc.

If your work is not normally done in groups, that’s OK. Create a team. Find a work system that needs improvement. Put together a project team with the objective of studying the system to determine which component(s) and/or process(es) need(s) to be changed or removed to improve the system’s output. You could run several project teams at once or sequentially. If you run them one after the other, mix up the teams, game coach.

Making it a Habit

The definition of “Optimize” is “to make the best or most effective use of (a situation, opportunity, or resource).” In order to do that you need to clearly understand the work (situation, opportunity) and you need to clearly understand your people (resources). The team work mentioned above is designed to help you with both. The primary focus of this post, though, is to understand and engage your people.

In the movie, “Ben Hur” the main character puts his horse team together with the slower, steadier horse on the inside “to anchor the team in the turns” and the faster horse on the outside to bring the team around smoothly. That’s knowing your resources and deploying them to your advantage. Guess what. I don’t know about horses, but people are usually happier and more engaged when they are doing what they’re best at.

Think about your own work experience. When have you been most energized by your work and given extra effort and brought insight and creativity to it? Most likely it’s been when the work most closely aligned with what you are best at and therefore love doing most. Your people are no different.

The team suggestions above are intended to help you discover what each of your people is best at. Another way to do that is to ask them. I always have one-on-one conversations with my team early in the engagement. I ask several questions of each one and it’s always the same list. Here are a couple of the Optimization questions:

  1. What’s going well? – how people answer this will tell you something about how closely their job aligns with what they’re best at. The closer their answer touches the work they specifically are doing, the more aligned their job is with their talent.
  2. What are you best at? – there’s nothing like the direct approach. The quicker someone answers this the more likely their current work is what they do best. It comes to mind quickly because they’re doing it every day.
  3. What do you wish you could do? – If their answer is about another type of job, more than likely what they’re currently doing isn’t as close to what they’re best at as they would like. If their answer is “fly” or “be invisible” or “breathe under water” (actual answers I’ve received) or anything else non work related, they may be loving their work and not fantasizing about another job.

Develop the habit of knowing your people. When you can align their work with their best talents and skills, everybody wins!

How to Make a Habit of Qualitizing

Every organization is made up of a series of systems. Like the human body with its various systems, each distinct, each contributing to the health and function of the body/organization. Systems, in turn, are made up of components and processes. The components are the parts that make up the system like the heart, arteries. veins, and capillaries, or the raw materials, people, tools, and forms. Processes are what the system does with those components to achieve an outcome.

Qualitize is what we do to improve either the components or the processes (or both) of any system in our organization. To qualitize is to make something high quality. Quality goods or services are the result of quality components and quality processes. Good quality lifts people. Poor quality drifts people. When your team or organization produces excellent quality work the people know leaders pay attention and care about what they do. When the work is poor quality it signals the opposite and people’s attitudes and performance drift. Your best employees may eventually drift away from your organization.

Putting it to Work

There are really only two things you can do to improve the quality of your product or service. Improve the components or improve the process. Identify an output you want to improve. What one thing, if better than it is now, would bring the greatest return to your organization? This would be a great time to employ the habit called Solicit (see my last post).

Now map out the process in a flow chart. It’s best to do this with a team of stakeholders. List every step in sequence along with the owner of that step and any other components (people are components, too) such as parts, forms, equipment, etc.

Now that you have a visual map of the process with a list of components, decide where there are constraints or bottlenecks in the process or inferior components that are causing a poor quality outcome. Work on the most obvious one(s) first and measure the improvement. then, as they say on the shampoo bottles, “Rinse and Repeat.”

Making it a Habit

In my post on the Engager Dynamic called Qualitize, I mentioned the saying, “The standard you walk by is the standard you set.” In other words people will usually raise or lower their performance to meet your expectations. If you “walk by” poor quality work and say or do nothing about it, they assume you don’t care and that becomes the new standard.

Your job as the Engager is to set the tone of continuous improvement. A great place to start is with you. Set a consistent time in your day when you will work on you. Read a good business book, take a class, join a peer group. Do something that will help you grow as a leader. Casually let people know what you’re up to and that you’re doing it to continuously improve yourself.

I was talking with an Operations Manager recently who took self-improvement to the next level. He knew he was having challenges with some members of his team. He had attended a class on Organizational Communication and decided to put some of those ideas to work. He sat with his team and asked for honest feedback on how he comes across when he communicates. There was some hesitation at first but then the floodgates opened. It was not a comfortable session, kind of like self-performing exploratory surgery. But he came out of it grateful for the feedback and ready to improve. That sets a tone for his team that will benefit him, his team, and his organization.

You can also work on you by habitually asking yourself, “Is this my best work?” Don’t send an email or submit a report or send a text without double checking to see how you could improve it. Never have a conversation at work that you haven’t planned for. Think through how you could best engage in the interaction. You can do this even if you’re not planning for a specific conversation. You can scenario plan for types of conversations or conversations with certain people. If a conversation is spontaneous and you can’t plan for it, replay it in your mind and think about how to improve the next one. That’s especially true of phone calls.

Another step in setting the tone of continuous improvement is to make it one of your team’s cultural beliefs. Once you’ve begun to lead by example, start talking about continuous improvement as “the way we do things around here.” Start asking the question, “Is this your best work?” Reference continuous improvement as the reason you’re asking.

Many leaders believe people are generally lazy and don’t care about doing quality work. While there may be a certain lethargic comfort to mediocrity, if you make Qualitize your habit you’ll find the dullness will begin to fade, People’s eyes will brighten and there will be a buzz of excitement born out of the pride your people will take in the great quality of their work.

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.