Employee Engagement: Is it Really The Boss’s Responsibility?

I grew up in a day and age well before “employee engagement”. I had five different jobs before I finished my university education: I worked on farms and ranches, survey crews, a cement company, a geriatrics unit in a psychiatric hospital, and as a janitor. I learned a lot in those jobs. I learned the value of education, to value people who were skilled at a trade, and the value of hard work.

I remember when, after pouring concrete for ten straight hours, the foreman over heard me complaining about how much I hated the work. He took me aside and said, “Son, we don’t have complainers on this crew. They call this thing work because you get paid to work. You don’t get paid to sit around. If you want to sit around, stay at home and don’t get paid. We pay you well to work, but we don’t pay you to complain. Do that on your own time.”

If I would have talked my bosses in those days about “employee engagement,” I believe they would have thought I had beans for brains. I can picture the foreman on the concrete crew saying, “My work is to get the job done; not to motivate you.”

I know we have supposedly come a long way and are now purportedly smarter in how we manage people, and allegedly are more skilled in the practice of leadership. While everyone agrees than an engaged workforce is beneficial, all of the insights and leadership efforts haven’t moved the dial much on getting them there. In all our efforts to create an engaging environment in our workplaces, I’ve never seen more entitlement.

Like children, the more people do for us, the more we expect. When I was a family counselor, I noticed an intriguing phenomenon: the children in a family that are the angriest at their parents are often the children who have been given the most.

Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s wonderful to learn to communicate with our staff and create an engaging, inspiring work environment. There is lot of research that says happier, more engaged employees are more productive.

Here are five responsibilities of a boss that will help engage employees:

  • Help create a clear vision. People largely change for one two reasons: inspiration or desperation. Great leaders create a powerful why, a clear and compelling shared purpose or cause that inspires.
  • Hire the right people. (I know, many of you had no choice over the employees that work on your teams; you are already behind the eight ball).
  • Be clear about what is expected. Ambiguity breeds mediocrity. You need to provide clarity as to the operational accountabilities as well as the kind of attitude that is needed to do the job, and build a link between each employee’s contribution to the why.
  • Support your team with a servant mind-set. Service leadership doesn’t mean pleasing leadership. Service leadership means understanding what supports are required for your employees to get their job done, and that you have their back to do whatever you can to give them the resources and capabilities to do what is expected. What your job isn’t, is to make them happy.
  • Hold them accountable by following through on the consequences. “Everyone on your team knows who is and who isn’t performing, and they are looking to you as the boss to do something about it.” said Colin Powell, the Former United States National Security Advisor. There are consequences to actions, both negative and positive. You don’t build a great place to work when you have low standards or when you let people off the hook. People need to see courage in their leaders, not coddling.

There is, no doubt, a need for caring in the workplace. We absolutely have to support and encourage people and create a place where they can feel safe to be honest and who they are. But let’s be careful because too much support and not enough demands can breed a culture of complaint and entitlement.

What I’m saying is that I’m not convinced that it’s the boss’s responsibility to get an employee engaged. If you can, that’s great. And if you can’t, don’t lose any sleep over it. It’s not your responsibility. Either people want to get their heart into the game or they don’t. You can still be a great leader even if you don’t get everyone on board. Relax and enjoy leading. Who knows? Maybe we’d be better off if bosses got back to what their ultimate job is: to make sure the job gets done and gets done well.

Personal Accountability

A participant in my leadership program this week, Al Brown, President of Industrial Scaffold Services on Vancouver Island, shared a great quote with me:

These require zero talent:

  • Being on time
  • Work Ethic
  • Effort
  • Body Language
  • Energy
  • Attitude
  • Passion
  • Being Coachable
  • Doing Extra
  • Being prepared

Al gets it. He’s built an amazing organizational culture around some timeless principles of personal accountability.

How are you, as a leader, modeling the way?

Hire For Character; Train For Cashiers

The title of this blog came from an executive at Nordstrom Department Stores when I asked him about his hiring philosophy. “We hire for character; we train for cashiers.” Far too often people get hired on the basis of competence, and fired on the basis of attitude.

I am often asked, “So how do we hire for attitude? How do we ensure that the right people are hired? How do we ensure that just because a potential employee has technical competence, that they are the right fit for our culture?”

Here’s a five-step process for hiring the right people in your organization.

Step 1. Clearly define the kind of culture you are committed to create and the kind of attitude you need from your employees. Be sure you have an answer to the following questions:

  • What values do you need your staff to exhibit?
  • What behaviors do you expect from your employees that will demonstrate the kind of attitude you expect?
  • What behaviors do you expect from every employee that will demonstrate your espoused values?

Step 2. Be committed to take your time in the hiring process. The management guru, Peter Drucker, had a favorite saying: “Hire s-l-o-w-l-y; fire quickly.” Depending on the position, the best organizations are prepared to take up to several hours getting the right people on the bus.

Step 3. Bring the right questions to the interview process. Note that accountability is described as:

  • The ability to be counted on
  • The willingness and ability to take initiative
  • Taking ownership for the environment you work in
  • Taking responsibility for the mistakes you make
  • Seeing all blame as a waste of time
  • Choosing service over self-interest
  • Choosing gratitude over entitlement

Here are some sample questions for the interview to help you assess if a candidate is accountable. You can adapt these questions to any of the values that you are hiring for.

  • What does accountability mean to you?
  • Why do you feel that accountability is important in your work and in your life?
  • Where did you learn to be accountable? How was accountability instilled in you?
  • Tell me about a time in your work when you took initiative, ownership, and personal responsibility. What was the result?
  • Tell me about a time when you weren’t accountable. What was the result?
  • Tell me about a time when your accountability was tested under pressure, or when it was easier to be lazy and complacent or have a sense of entitlement instead of being accountable? How did you respond? What were the consequences?
  • When have you had to stand alone from the crowd in order to live this value?
  • How do you anticipate living this value (e.g. accountability) in the job that you are applying for?

Step 4. Be sure that all stakeholders – or as many as possible – in the organization who will depend on this person have an opportunity to ask these questions. Be sure that the questions are asked and answered from a variety of perspectives.

Step 5. Observe the candidate in action under pressure, if at all possible. Depending on the role, a probationary period where you can observe how they are living the value in their job, especially under stress, is recommended.

In the boiler room while you wait in line for the Tower of Terror ride at Disney you will find a sign with a rhyme, written by an American poet named Ella Wheeler Wilcox. It’s fitting to include it here, as no matter how brilliant a person can sound in a job interview, you don’t really know them until they are put under pressure.

It’s easy enough to be pleasant, when life hums along like a song.  But the man worthwhile is the man who can smile when everything goes dead wrong.

After a stay at a Marriott Hotel where I experienced great service from every employee all weekend, I asked the checkout clerk if everyone gets training in good customer service. After a moment of reflection, she responded, “Well… you can’t train someone to be nice. What we do here is hire nice people and train them how to use the computer.”

A well-designed culture starts with hiring the right people. I’d love to hear from you about how you use in the hiring process to get the right people on board.

Rethinking Employee Engagement: What If It Isn’t About The Boss?

I define engagement in the workplace as the desire and capacity of employees to go the extra mile to help their organization succeed while finding meaning and significance in the work they do. There are no doubt bad bosses and toxic work environments that deplete you, just as there are great bosses who inspire you. But engagement is ultimately about energy, not bosses. Our level of engagement is impacted by our level of physical energy, emotional connection, mental strength, and spiritual alignment to a purpose beyond immediate self-interest. Bosses and your relationship to them are just one form of energy. There are dozens of others. If you are committed to being engaged, be aware of your energy and how your perceptions, choices, and environment impact your vitality.

Physical Energy: What you eat for breakfast or lunch affects your energy, as does the amount of sugar you consume, the amount of exercise you get, and the quantity and quality of your rest and sleep. Because energy capacity diminishes with both overuse and underuse, it is important to balance energy outflow with a consistent habit of energy renewal. Energy is not limitless. And physical energy fuels engagement. What are you doing to renew your vital reserve?

Emotional Connection: We all know that the quality of our connections impacts our energy. Be mindful of the people in your life that drain you and those that inspire and sustain you. Be aware of how your perceptions and choices impact these connections. Who you choose to be around, just as how you choose to be around them will affect your energy. Making room for activities that bring you joy, just as making time for people who bring you joy, will increase your energy.

Mental Strength: A pessimistic outlook on life drains vital energy, while optimism is a life giver. It’s good habit to learn to be optimistic. I had to train myself to wake up grateful and positive. Learning to be disciplined, to do the difficult tasks first, to tell the truth, to keep a promise, or to stick to a challenging undertaking when it is easier to give up, are all habits that renew essential energy. Like eating sweets, blaming others might give you a temporary high, but it will drain you of energy in the long run. Personal responsibility, on the other hand, is energy producing. How you approach life will affect your energy.

Spiritual Alignment: Discovering and living in accord with your deepest values, aligning with a sense of purpose, pinpointing your passions, or making a contribution, are all energy enhancing pursuits that enable engagement. A life that is purpose driven is an engaged life. Expanding spiritual capacity requires subordinating our own needs to something beyond self-interest. Those who have found a reason for coming to work – beyond merely completing a task or carrying out a chore or getting a paycheck – are the ones who truly enjoy their work and being alive. Finding spiritual alignment fills you up.

While bosses and your relationship to them no doubt impacts energy, the more we take accountability for the energy we bring to the world, the more empowered, productive, and fulfilled we become. Blaming your boss for your lack of energy can be just as much of an energy drainer as having the bad boss to begin with. Maybe it’s time to rethink employee engagement: what if it isn’t about the boss?

The Lean Management Approach – Five Keys To Building An Accountable Culture

Last Thursday I had the good fortune of attending a one-day Lean 101 course, hosted by POS Bio-Sciences in Saskatoon. The Lean approach has been integral to their success, and I wanted to learn first hand how the tool of Lean is used to help build the “POS Way.” POS has inspired me over the years by their leadership, innovation, and customer driven entrepreneurialism.

I also had another reason for attending. Being passionate about accountability, I wanted to learn how the Lean management approach can help strengthen the accountability process I help organizations implement.

What I learned about Lean

Lean is a philosophy, an approach to business, and a set of tools designed to eliminate waste while adding value for the customer. At its core, business is a set of processes for delivering results. And Lean is a mind-set for continuously improving these processes. Lean turns employees into leaders by encouraging and empowering ownership and better contribution at every level.

But Lean isn’t just a business philosophy. It’s a philosophy for life. Who, after all, doesn’t have waste in the way we do our work and live our lives? Life is a series of processes, whether it’s doing the laundry, finding your keys, managing stress, or improving a relationship. Whenever you are systematic about improving these processes, you are practicing Lean.

As a novice to Lean, I am making it comprehendible by breaking it down and outlining a five-step approach. Below is a process you can use for applying the Lean philosophy to any aspect of life.

Take a look at anything in your life that is frustrating to you. It might be as simple as finding your keys in the morning or as complex as an under-achieving sales team.

Do a Value Stream Map of your process:

  1. Define your goal. Your goal can be as simple as having your keys in your pocket as you walk out the door – with zero frustration, or, in the case of your sales team, having achieved a specific sales quota.
  2. Clearly identify all steps in the process to achieving your goal. For finding your keys look specifically at what you do with your keys when you come home right through until you need them the next morning when you leave for work. On your sales team, break down the sales process from the time a salesperson enters the door to the end of the month when celebrating your team’s success. It is best if you do this with everyone who is involved in the process. With your keys, you might do it with your spouse, who experiences the impact of a stressed marriage partner in the morning. With your sales process, get the whole sales team to help you identify all the steps it takes to make it a successful sales division.
  3. Identify each step as value-added or non-value added. Value-added means it moves you closer to your goal and decreases frustration of everyone. It’s also what the customer is willing to pay for. Non-value added is waste: anything that doesn’t add value to the customer.
  4. Identify and remove waste. It’s a waste to hang your pants up in the closet with your keys still in the pocket because you’ll have to run into your bedroom the next morning when you can’t find your keys. It may be a waste for your sales team to be coming in to the office and returning emails unrelated to sales when they need to be spending time following up on leads.
  5. Focus on process execution. Once you have identified and removed waste:
    1. Decide who will own the process (one person needs to be accountable for the accomplishment of the process).
    2. Identify the most effective step-by-step process to accomplish your goal.
    3. Ensure everyone understands the process and their part in making the process a success.
    4. Get agreement on people’s contribution to the process.
    5. Monitor for success. Lean has a term called, “Hansei,” which means, essentially, “Looking back with critical eyes.” Self and group reflection is critical to process improvement. You will likely decide to hold regular meetings to see how the process is working. Above all, make it safe for anyone to identify waste and make suggestions for improvement at anytime. Always question. Don’t just accept what’s there. The only failure is failure to learn ways to improve.
    6. Don’t hold people accountable for results. Hold people accountable for following the process. If the results aren’t there, don’t blame the people. Instead, change the process and ensure that everyone understands it.

I am aware that this short summary from my rookie mind-set of Lean is incomplete and overly simplistic. I look forward to learning more and continually improving the processes that run my own organization and the processes that help me manage my life with the greatest ease. I also look forward to continuously learn about how to use the Lean philosophy in helping foster accountability in organizations – without blame.

Creating A Better World 5 Decisions That Will Change Your Life

I rarely fill in surveys for hotels or airlines when I travel. But yesterday, I took five minutes to respond to an online survey from Air Canada. They wanted to know how my Regina to Calgary flight was last week.
I had a great experience on this flight, and I told them so. But taking the survey made me think about a much bigger issue. What actually makes a great experience possible – whether on an airline, in a hotel, restaurant, workplace, or even a marriage? I have had some bad experiences with all of the above in the past. What is the common denominator? When I am honest with myself, I can see that every time I’ve had a lousy experience it’s because I’ve been in a lousy mood.
Quantum physics has discovered something that many mystics have long since known: that our perception of the universe actually invokes the very universe that we observe. If you change the way you view the environment around you, the environment around you changes. The world isn’t as it is. The world is the way we see it.
Don’t get me wrong. Bosses make a difference to the experience of an employee. Customer service people make a difference. Waitresses make a difference. And it is important to get feedback on how we are doing. We are all co-creating the world that we live in. We institutionally deny the fact that each of us – through our perceptions and our choices – is actually creating the culture – in our airlines, hotels, restaurants, workplaces, and marriages – that we so enjoy complaining about.
Deciding that I am creating the world around me – and therefore I am the one to step into healing it – is the ultimate act of accountability. A simple decision can change your life. Here are five decisions that will make your workplace a better place to work and your world a better place to live:
1) Decide to take 100% responsibility for your experience. When you decide, once and for all, that all blame is a waste of time, your life will change forever. I learned years ago that I attract, even in some small way, what is happening in my life. Operating from this assumption empowers you. If you are unhappy, look at how you are contributing to the problem. If you can’t figure out your part, take time to ask people around you. They will help you out.
2) Decide to give to others whatever you expect from others. My parents taught me to “be careful what you give, for it will be what you get.” If you want good service, serve the customer service agent – with kindness, patience, and grace. Treat others with the same care as you expect from others.
3) Decide to be a contributor rather than a consumer. Consumer means to “destroy, squander, use up,” whereas to contribute means to “build, serve, make better.” It’s interesting that we now call this a “consumer” society. Decide to be a giver rather than a taker. Look for ways that you can make life a little better for every person you meet today. A smile, a word of encouragement, a little patience. These simple acts of caring go a long way.
4) Decide to care. Caring makes workplaces worth working in, schools worth learning in, relationships worth being in, and lives worth living. Caring is everything, and caring starts with a decision. Caring isn’t a feeling. Caring is a choice. Make a decision to care – about your job, about your co-workers, about your employees, and watch how your world starts to change. The power of caring was evident this past month by those who so generously have been reaching out in response to the Fort McMurray evacuees. (See my blog on the Fort McMurray fire.) Caring makes all the difference.
5) Decide to be grateful. You can always find reasons to be grateful. Gratitude is the antidote to entitlement (the attitude that you have a right to something just because you want it). Gratitude makes you healthier and the world around you healthier. The real power of gratitude comes when you are having difficulty finding anything to be grateful for. Gandhi reminded us, “Divine guidance often comes when the horizon is the blackest.”