Equip – Engager Dynamic #3

“If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” That quote is attributed to Abraham Maslow from his 1966 book, The Psychology of Science.

Maslow’s quote has been interpreted as follows:

  1. With limited tools, single-minded people apply them inappropriately or indiscriminately
  2. If a person is familiar with a certain, single subject, or has with them a certain, single instrument, they may have a confirmation bias to believe that it is the answer to/involved in everything.

The Right Tools

Have you ever tried to paint a wall with a hammer? Hopefully not! Inversely, have you ever tried to drive a nail with a paint brush? You get the idea. I have driven a nail with a rock before. That’s ingenuity! It’s also what people resort to when they don’t have the proper tools or equipment. I haven’t been able to find a number describing how much time and property has been wasted in organizations due to lack of tools or improper use of tools. If you find one, please let me know. But, can you imagine it?

So, our next Engager Dynamic is “Equip.” To “Equip” simply means

  1. to supply with the necessary items for a particular purpose, and
  2. to prepare (someone) mentally for a particular purpose or task.
Both definitions imply that the equipping is done by someone for someone else. Guess who? The Engager, the boss is responsible to equip their team.

What Do They Need?

What tools or equipment are required for the various jobs on your team? It could be anything from PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) to sophisticated machinery depending on the complexity of the job. But there are other kinds of tools and equipment such as access to systems and people, communication devices, etc. It is the responsibility of the organization in general and the boss in particular to ensure their people have these tools (and that they are in proper working order).

What about that second definition of “Equip,” the one that talks about preparing someone mentally? What does that look like? Some of it may have been covered under Training, but there is more. One critical thing that comes to mind is preparing your team members to thrive within the particular culture of your organization. If you’ve ever lived outside your home culture, you know what a challenge it can be to learn new customs. If you haven’t lived outside your home culture, think about your first week or month on a new job. How many times did you think, “I wish someone had told me we were supposed to (or not supposed to) do that?” Another way to help prepare people mentally will be covered under the Engager Dynamic called “Inspire.” Watch for that post later.
 

It’s a Challenge!

In my leadership matrix where I list six of the Engager Dynamics on the Connector Axis and six on the Challenger axis, Equip is listed on Challenger. Why? Well, not equipping someone is the same as saying, “We’re not all that serious about our expectations.” Also, you are providing an excuse for under performance. How many times have we heard people say, “I don’t have the right tools so I can’t do the work?”

Equipping someone says, “we’ve invested the time and resources to make sure you know what is expected from you and to train you how to meet those expectations. Now we’ve given you the precise tools to be successful, the ball is in your court.” That’s a challenge.

Train – Engager Dynamic #2

I can lay out clear expectations, be consistent with them and get all that right, but if my people don’t know the skills or how to perform the work they will never meet those expectations. So, the next Engager Dynamic is Training people how to meet your expectations.

An Example

Let’s use an acute care Hospital Environmental Services (housekeeping) department as an example. One of the responsibilities in this department is to clean the patient room after the patient has gone home to prepare it for the next patient. This is called a “Discharge Clean.” Now, I can explain the expectations; the room will look a certain way (even show a picture) when it’s done, it will pass a 14 point cleanliness inspection, and be completed within 30 minutes. Those are pretty clear, specific expectations. Everyone in the department would have to meet the same expectations so they are consistent. But, if I just communicate the expectations and walk away the employee will never be able to meet them. They don’t know how to perform the tasks and processes necessary to meet those expectations. I have to train them.

Step by Step

Early in my career I learned a 5-step training process that has served this dynamic well. The steps are as follows.

1. Tell Them – In this step you verbally explain everything needed to do the job. This will include the names of equipment, the tools necessary, how to operate them. Also important in this step is to explain why each step in this job is necessary and how this task contributes to the overall success of the company. You verbally walk the employee through each step in the process explaining tasks along the way.

2. Show Them – In this step you demonstrate what you have explained verbally. This can be done with training videos or in person. I prefer to do it in person in the environment where the employee will actually perform the work. You can have a skilled employee demonstrate the process and steps while you narrate or you can demonstrate yourself providing narration as you go.

3. Do it With Them – Here you will perform the job while the employee mimics you alongside. As you go through this step be sure to reinforce not only what needs to be done but also why and how it fits into the overall success of the company. This will provide memory pegs that will aid in learning and is also part of another Engager Dynamic called “Inspire” that we’ll discuss later.

4. Watch Them – In this step the employee performs the job by themselves while you observe. During this step ask questions to guide the employee if they are struggling and/or to continue reinforcing the whole learning process. It’s particularly helpful to ask questions about why each step is done

5. Have Them Teach You – In this step you switch roles. You have the employee pretend you are a new employee and they are the trainer. Have them teach you what they have learned. They should be able to go through the same process with you that you have gone through with them.

This is a basic training outline. Depending upon the complexity of the job, the prerequisite education or skills for the job, the learning pace of each employee, the amount of autonomy in the job, and other factors, this process could take hours, days, or weeks. You may need to go through the process more than once or repeat certain steps. It’s sometimes a good idea to break the steps up over a few days in order to help entrench the learning. Training is never a one-and-done proposition. In fact, one of the definitions of “Train” is,

“To teach (a person or animal) a particular skill or type of behavior through practice and instruction over a period of time.”

Once this outlined process has been completed, competence should be tested by you, the leader and cross-checked by another leader or skilled employee within two weeks and again at 30 days to assure the employee has learned the job.

Mistakes to Avoid

Leaders often make two critical mistakes when it comes to this Engager Dynamic. One of those mistakes is to rush the training process. Often we need the person up and running immediately so the temptation is to run them through some form of training, assume they’ve got it and send them on their way. Training is what Steven Covey, in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, called a Quadrant 2 activity. It is extremely important but not urgent in the same way as a ringing phone or getting to a meeting on time or someone stopping by to ask a question seems urgent. Do not let anything distract you from investing the necessary time and effort into training. It will pay dividends in the long run by preventing errors that could cost a lot of time and money.

A second critical mistake is to delegate the teaching entirely to someone else. This dynamic is listed on the Connector axis of the Leadership matrix. That is for a couple of reasons. First, when a company invests the time, money, and effort into a robust training program for both new hires and for continuing growth (see Engager Dynamic “Cultivate” –  coming soon) of existing employees, the message is “This is a great company; we believe in you and are glad you’re here.” This goes a long way in helping employees feel connected to the company and it’s values and purpose. The second reason Teaching is listed under Connection is that the time invested directly by the leader is the first real opportunity to develop a connection with the new employee. Leaders who are Engagers recognize the value of that connection and devote the necessary time to their people.

Think of It This Way

Another definition of “Train” is “To point or aim something (typically a gun or camera) at.” Think of it this way, when you take the time to properly train someone, you’re aiming them (and your organization) at success.

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.