Each week we aim to deliver the most useful information, inspiration, and insight about Employee Engagement and Motivation, Leadership and Followership, Strategy and Culture, all summarised into bite-size chunks.  Here are this week’s must reads;

How to identify leaders in a future you can’t predict – 29th July

One of the biggest concerns for any HR team is succession planning, particularly in the current climate where professionals are expected to change jobs more frequently than any of their predecessors. Stephen Gilbert, of ReThink Talent Management asks: “So how can HR professionals effectively identify and retain leaders in an increasingly VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Chaotic and Ambiguous) environment?”

In this article, Gilbert identifies four areas worthy of consideration.

Benefits of fresh thinking

Businesses are now appreciating the value that different thinking and external skills can bring. For example, Gilberts cites the impact that former analyst and private equity professional, Daniel Schwartz has had in his role as CEO at Burger King. In the 13 months since his arrival Schwartz has surrounded himself with an equally fresh management team to change the ailing fast food retailer’s fortunes.  This highlights the value of oblique thinking, he says, as this was Schwartz’s first role in the fast-food industry.

Generalist over specialist

This example also highlights the recent rise of the generalist over the specialist.  Schwartz has developed a holistic skill set gained in the finance and private equity sectors which has served him well as leader of Burger King. He even spent his first couple of months in its restaurants finding out how they operated and where they could improve, reflecting his ability and desire to learn about the entire business. Gilbert suggests this openness is something that HR teams should now look to identify over the previous requirements of extensive experience and pre-existing knowledge of the sector.

Changing requirements

In an ever-shifting business environment HR teams should focus on pinpointing the softer abilities in individuals that could develop them into a successful leader. It may even be a waste of resources, says Gilbert, trying to identify concrete technical skills in a world when change happens so quickly. Developing a combination of both technical and softer skills – such as adaptability, flexibility and openness to change – is becoming increasingly important.

Invisible leadership

The definition of a “leader” has shifted. Studies at Nyenrode Business School in The Netherlands, for example,  suggest that leaders should now be ‘invisible’ rather than ‘heroic’, because it’s not realistic to expect the fortunes of a large organisation to rest on one person. An effective leader must now be able to utilise the skills around them for the benefit of their business, rather than expecting to come up with all the answers for themselves.

So, asks Gilbert, with these changes in mind, how can HR professionals identify the next generation of leaders?

They’ll need to stop relying on the pipelines they would have traditionally recruited top level staff through. Businesses need innovation and fresh ideas, and while there may be plenty of talented professionals existing within the relevant sector, an organisation won’t benefit from the new approach that comes with recruiting talent from outside their discipline.

10 Magic Phrases That Will Make You a Better Leader – 29th July

Dan McCarthy asks if you want to be a better leader? Then try improving your vocabulary.  And no, he isn’t talking adding the latest management and leadership buzzwords or jargon to your repertoire. Rather he suggests you try adding some powerful phrases to your vocabulary that will engage and motivate, encourage people to come up with ideas, and inspire commitment.

  • “How can I be a better leader?” Credit goes to Marshall Goldsmith for this one. Variations of the question include “How can I be a better parent”, “How can I be a better spouse”, and “How can I be a better child”. Just make sure to listen and say…..
  • “Thank-you.” Use these two powerful words as a response to constructive feedback (which should be seen as a gift), positive feedback, as a way to express gratitude for going the extra mile or a job well done, or when someone brings bad news or a problem to your attention“Nice Job.” Variations include “good work” and “way to go”. Giving positive reinforcement becomes even more powerful if when it’s specific, timely, and you can explain why (positive impact), but let’s not over-complicate it too much for now.
  • “What do you think?” Credit goes to Tom Peters for this one. Asking someone for their opinion or ideas is the ultimate demonstration of respect. And when you get those ideas, don’t forget to go back to #2.
  • “How can I help?” Often used as a way to express support during a development discussion, in problem solving, when someone is going through personal difficulties, or when problems or ideas are brought to your attention.
  • “What’s possible?” Credit goes to Jack and Carol Weber for this. Instead of coming up with reasons why something won’t work, ask yourself and others “what’s possible”. And if they do come up with examples of how similar ideas have been tried in the past and have not worked, use the phrase “Up until now.”
  • “I don’t know.” Use this when you truly don’t know the answer to a question or solution to a problem – it demonstrates humility and authenticity. It goes well with “what do you think” as a follow-up.
  • “Why is that important to you?” This question demonstrates that you care, and you’ll learn a lot about the person’s motivation and values.
  • “Help me understand.” A much better way to understand someone’s logic, reasoning, feelings, etc… than “really?!”, or “seriously?!”, or “what the heck are you smoking?!”
  • “I believe in you.” What a way to express confidence in someone’s ability or potential!

The Dynamics of Employee Engagement – 28 July

Dale Carnegie have released another White Paper on employee engagement.  Looking at the Canadian business landscape, MSW research investigated the dynamics of employee engagement by asking 1500 managers and employees 2 questions:

  • How likely are you to recommend your company to your friends as a place of employment
  • How likely are you to recommend your company to others for the purpose of doing business?

Their intent was to discover what dimensions impacted on engagement, including demographic dimensions – age, education, gender and income; as well as less tangible dimensions such as emotions.  Some of the highlights of the research include:

  • Young employees and those aged fifty plus are more engaged than people in middle age.
  • Those in the 40-49 age range are more likely to have external pressures due
to family life; however, disengagement could also be due to these employees feeling they have reached a plateau in their careers.
  • Individuals employed for at least three years are more engaged than the newly employed, particularly employees in the first year.
  • Engagement is low among people with 20+ years of service, perhaps because of difficulty in maintaining motivation or a stalled career path.
  • Part-time workers, who make up an increasing part of the workforce, are much less engaged (26%) and more likely to be disengaged (29%) than full-time employees.
  • Those at a VP level or above are the most fully engaged, but 47% engagement among this group is relatively low given the importance of their role.
  • While there are significantly more people earning $50K and above who are fully engaged than at lower income levels, income is not a driving factor.
  • Negative emotions have a greater influence on engagement than positive emotions.

7 Best Practices to Boost Employee Engagement – July

In this interview and related article, author Michael Lee Stallard sets out 7 best practice actions that will have a positive impact on employee engagement.  He summarises his his research, which shows the best leaders communicate an inspiring vision and live it, value individuals and give them a voice.  Here are 7 of over 100 of his best practice tips:

  1. Set “Top Five” High Level Annual Priorities – more than five diminishes focus.
  2. Know Their Stories – learning how people think and what their values are help build better relationships.
  3. Help People Get Into the Right Role – match people’s strengths and interests to job roles that provide the right degree of challenge.
  4. Develop the Habit of Emphasising Positives – Higher ratios  (the magic number is 5:1) of positive to negative emotions produce a more healthy workforce.  Leaders should develop a habit of providing positive affirmation and recognition.
  5. Provide constructive Feedback in a Constructive Way – always communicate in private using a respectful tone and begin with three positive things you like about the persons performance.
  6. Provide Autonomy in Execution – Avoid micro managing unless asked for specific help.  Favour guidelines rather than rules.
  7. Hold In-Person Meetings and Regularly check-In – Winston Churchill wrote over 1700 letter, notes and telegrams to his wife so they would remain connected.  Take a leaf out of his book and stay connected to your team, including remote workers.

Pushing up employee engagement is not all talk at TalkTalk – 28th July

TalkTalk is working hard on employee engagement after bringing together several businesses.  To address the challenge of creating one business with a clarified structure, all employees including contracted and outsourced functions have been through initiatives focusing on career, development, the working environment and rewards & recognition.

One example is a change to the rewards process which is now focused on giving employees more timely recognition.  Interim Head of Rewards, Jenny Davidson sees taking rewards online will be a major step in building engagement.  Another initiative has been reconfiguring the work environment to create more meeting rooms and space for private conversations.

In the last two years these and other initiatives have increased engagement from 50% to 73%.

Read the article here.

Leadership and Co-design – 26th July 2014

The author proposes that co-design (which he defines as “two or more people thinking together as equals about some specific change they want to make”) can have a profoundly beneficial impact on organisational performance.

They key question being – “What good thing could we create together?”

The core idea behind co-design is two people sit down informally with an idea to flesh it out. They then take this idea and share it with others whose lives or work could be impacted by it. As they do so, they pose the following questions:

  • What do you think of this idea? Does it have sufficient merit to build on or should it be scrapped? Scrapped in favour of what?
  • If you agree it has some merit, how might it be altered, corrected, improved or extended?
  • Are there some side-effects or consequences we haven’t foreseen that need to be addressed? How would we do that?
  • Who else needs to be involved in helping us?
  • How would we go about actually making this happen together?

As a result the design is revised, the ideas themselves are co-owned, and the questions asked of another group of stakeholders to continue the process.

It sounds deceptively simple, and it is; nevertheless it leads to a profoundly different culture – away from the perception that organisations impose a hierarchy in which some do and some critique, towards one where we work collectively to co-create a better future.  What a powerful way to harness all the talents that your people possess towards greater shared success.

Don’t believe the hype of employee engagement – 25th July

In this provocative and stimulating article, Rob Briner (Professor of Organisational Psychology at the University of Bath’s School of Management) proposes that HR needs to put the concept of engagement under the microscope before buying in.

[Editors note: We don’t agree with everything Professor Briner writes here, but nonetheless his views are relevant to discussion on the topic and we’re happy to share them.]

It’s a long article, in which he identifies a number of problems with the concept of engagement,which are briefly summarised here:

Employee engagement has no agreed definition.

Briner claims “This definitional mess must not be ignored or trivialised but should profoundly trouble us all. Without a clear and agreed definition of engagement we literally do not know or understand what we’re talking about or doing.

[Ed: There are indeed many definitions out there – you can see our point of view and analysis of the various definitions here. ]

There is no evidence it can be reliably measured.

Producing valid, reliable and hence usable measures of any phenomena depends on several things. There needs to be clarity, not confusion, about definition and the phenomenon needs to be different from those already known. Engagement is definitely not such a thing. As a consequence there is almost no evidence that any measures of engagement are valid or reliable. Predictive validity is important for almost any measure.  If you measure something at one point in time does it predict something important at a later point in time? Briner remarks that he does not know of any publicly available, good quality evidence showing any measure of engagement predicting any measure of performance.

It’s almost identical to ideas that have been around for 50 years.

Briner asks: Is engagement old hat? Or is it really something new and different? There are two simple possibilities:

No. Engagement is not a new and different idea. It should therefore be dropped immediately because using a new term to describe existing concepts is confusing, unhelpful and does not add any value.

Yes. Engagement is a new and different idea. If so, then proponents of engagement need to define it in a way that shows precisely how it is new and different, and gather good quality evidence to show that measures of engagement are indeed measuring something new and different.

He continues: At the present time there is no evidence that clearly demonstrates that engagement is a new or different idea.

[Ed. I would agree with him on this point, but its not being new does not make it any less important.]

There is currently no quality research showing that increasing employee engagement will increase performance.

Briner asks:

  1.  Do increases in engagement actually cause any increases in performance?
  2. Do engagement interventions increase engagement levels and subsequently increase performance?

He goes on to say that “If we can’t confidently answer “yes” to both these questions then employee engagement is (or may turn out to be) a fairly worthless idea.”

He continues to assert that the answer to those questions is “no”, discrediting other published research, e.g. that from Engage for Success.

He concludes: “Do we want to take employee engagement seriously, or not? That’s the simple decision we need to make.

Taking it seriously means asking and trying to answer the sorts of questions I’ve addressed here. Not taking it seriously means accepting the definitional mess, being relaxed about whether it can be measured, claiming with little basis that it’s new and different, ignoring the fact that there is an absence of decent evidence, and not bothering to check whether claims about engagement have been sexed-up.

So what’s your decision going to be?”

Managers Can Be True Leaders Not Just Taskmasters – 25th July

Brian Fielkow shares his experience of the things he wished he know when he was a new or mid-level manager hoping to move up into increasingly senior leadership roles;

  1. Hold the CEO accountable. Accountability should flow in all directions throughout the organization, not simply from the top downwards. Every person in the company must hold one another accountable, including those of higher rank.
  2. Be yourself. Don’t put up a front. Be genuine and stay true to who you are. It’s easy to see through a charade.
  3. Don’t sweat every last detail. Managers sometimes don’t want to come forward until all of the data is tied down with 100 percent certainty. Don’t spend 70 percent of your time chasing down the last 5 percent, which may not even add significant value. This shows you have an ability to make decisions in the face of uncertainty.
  4. Avoid looking at the other guy’s wallet. Never let small thinking get in the way of how people should be compensated and certainly never cap commission plans. Create an environment that defines and rewards individual and team success. Never let anyone else’s jealousy distract you.
  5. Be informed. Develop multiple data sources in your organization. Don’t let a culture develop where it’s politically incorrect for you or anyone else to speak with other people in the organization. Encourage feedback from your frontline employees and beyond.
  6. Manage behaviour. Ensure employee behaviour is in line with your organization’s values and that your employees not only understand the company’s values but also never compromise them. As a key executive, managing behavior is one of the most important things you can do to engender a vibrant  culture and ultimately bring your company forward.
  7. Put your mission and value statements into action. Communicate them over and over again. Your employees are the ones who will breathe life into these statements, and it is your responsibility to be sure these goals and values are clearly understood. Employees will also pick up quickly on hypocrisy, when leaders post a set of values yet conduct themselves in a contrary manner.
  8. Know the 20/60/20 rule. When your company is engaged in fundamental change, be sure you understand the 20/60/20 rule. This means 20 percent of your employees will already be on board, and 60 percent of the employees are winnable. And 20 percent will never be convinced, so don’t waste your time. Once you explain and implement the case for a change, the faster you can move forward with it. But always remember that you won’t win over everyone.
  9. You may be good today but what about tomorrow? Are you setting yourself up to succeed in the future? Keeping up with the trends, technology and what is happening in your organization and industry is essential to your company’s long-term success and growth. Develop your own personal plan and evolve and stay relevant.

Most Managers Think of Themselves as Coaches – 25th July

As a manager, do you think of yourself as a leader or as a coach?

Do you, for instance, feel it’s important that your staff see you as an expert or do you prefer to create an egalitarian environment? Are you the person who solves problems or helps your staff come up with their own solutions? Are you more comfortable being directive or collaborative?

The results of a survey of over 2,000 people indicate a stronger desire to display coaching attributes than the authors were expecting.

The results represent a global audience with 60% of respondents from the U.S., 10% from Europe, 9% from Asia, 6% from Canada, 2% from Central/South America, 2% from Africa, and 11% who did not identify their location.  Respondents represent a fairly even mix of all levels in the organization: 20% executive management, 23% senior management, 27% middle management, and 30% supervisors or individual contributors.

Overall, 75% of the respondents indicated that they prefer to manage through coaching. Looking further into the results suggests that those in top management positions have the strongest desire to be more collaborative and help others find their own solutions whilst supervisors ranked the lowest.

Building a Successful Creative Culture: 3 Questions Leaders Must Ask Themselves – 24th July

Duane Fernandez challenges us to look at our company culture and ask ourselves, honestly “Is it authentic?” He explains that Tony Hsieh said, “If you get the culture right, most of the other stuff, like delivering great customer service or building a long term enduring brand will happen naturally on its own,”

So you need to get it right. But how? Ask yourself these three questions;

  • What is your mission statement?
  • What are your core values?
  • What are your goals?

And ask your staff, colleagues and customers for their viewpoint on them. Do they get it? Do they resonate your vision and goals?

And here’s how you can begin to refine your culture;

  • Ask questions and listen.
  • Gather your stakeholders and ask them the three questions above.
  • Be wary of biases and agendas, they will surely derail your efforts. It’s time for honest conversations.

(Editor’s comment. Simple – Yes. Easy – No. Which is why Fernandez also suggests you hire people to help you figure it out)

4 Management Traps to Avoid at All Costs – 18th July

If you want to be a positive, effective leader, you’ll want to steer clear of the following four traits at all costs:

  1. Complaining.  Don’t do it. It undermines your efforts, the work of your colleagues and generally erodes trust and company morale.
  2. Emotional volatility. Good managers can read a room and know how to respond under pressure. If you let your frustrations get away from you, you won’t be able to focus on the problems that most need your attention.
  3. Playing nice. Treat everyone with respect but remember that you can’t be everyone’s friend, especially when it comes to the tough calls.
  4. Micromanaging. When you’re in charge, it’s easy to feel like if you aren’t keeping all the balls in the air, no one will. But as the company grows, you have to trust that the people you hired will do the work you need.

There is more here.

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About Emenex

We help you keep your great people great.

Emenex enables organisations to get the best from and for their staff.

Leaders approach us when they have challenges associated with motivation, productivity, retention, talent management and succession planning. They know that addressing these critical issues can deliver higher levels of profit, productivity and customer satisfaction. They also know that a more progressive solution is required – one that enhances their brand with customers and staff alike.

The solution our clients are choosing to implement is the extraMILETM approach to engagement and development. The extraMILETM delivers all the tools and skills leaders need to clearly define and communicate organisational priorities to employees. For employees, it ensures they are prepared and able to align their personal and career goals to the priorities of the organisation.

The continued growth and development of both teams and individuals builds loyalty, commitment and engagement. It builds an organisation better able to meet future challenges and leads to higher performance and customer satisfaction.

The result?

Individuals and their organisation excel.

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