How Your Company Should Address Staff Engagement Questions

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With regards to employee engagement, what do you do if your executive team can‘t agree?  Some see symptoms of deep disengagement, while others don’t. Suggestions for how to intervene go nowhere, stuff that used to work in the past no longer succeeds and other companies’ case studies seem not to apply.

As Tolstoy said in Anna Karenina: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

My experience supports the notion that each company experiencing disengaged, disempowered employees is different from its counterparts. Here’s a way to find a unique approach for your firm.

  1. A Custom Definition

Unfortunately, most people explain disengagement using soft, psychological objects such as “motivation,” “mindset” or “vibes”. While these constructs are better than nothing, they aren’t quantifiable by the average business.

Instead, it’s much easier to focus on behavior which passes the Video Tape Test. That is, it can be captured by a movie camera.

With this new definition, bring your executives together to agree that a core set of behaviors (such as arriving late or being absent) should be taken as components of disengagement. This helps separate agreed-upon-fact from interpretation.

However, even after this definition has been created for your company, pause to explore an extra question: “Has a critical mass of employees always been disengaged?”

  1. Custom Interventions

If you can find the precise moment when engagement fell, immediately search for broken promises. As I have shared in prior columns, they pollute your company’s culture, causing even new employees to become disengaged in a matter of weeks.

While this task may be painful to undertake, the only remedy is to take responsibility for all violations of trust. Owning them publicly on behalf of executive teams past and present is the best way to make amends.

But it’s just the beginning. Construct a cause-and-effect diagram to list all the possible causes of disengagement. Once they are enumerated, conduct tests to see which ones are at play.

Use anecdotal, non-quantifiable data if you must. While your analysis may not reach an academic standard, it will work for business purposes.

Based on these analytic results, custom-design interventions to change behavior. But don’t be surprised if most of them fail. That’s just your way of weeding out false causes in your hunt for the few that yield the best results.

Don‘t stop there. Now, look for ways to embed new habits and practices in employees’ lives at scale.

  1. Custom Communities

Back in the 1970’s, Tea Parties and Fashion Shows were accepted ways of building communities around specific interests. Today, these anachronisms are stale.

By the same token, there are new channels and technologies being used to connect staff today, but many companies see these changes as one-time shifts, rather than permanent trends.

For example, the technologies most of us use every day to message others (i.e. email, Facebook and Whatsapp) didn’t exist in 1995, 2005 and 2010 respectively. They have changed the way we join with each other at scale, allowing us to reach far more people than we ever imagined possible.

However, most companies struggle and never catch up. Why? First, there’s an age gap. Most executives are in their fifties and sixties while their employees are in their twenties. They only have a superficial experience of the latest technologies, because the communities to which they belong don’t use them.

As a result, they don’t know how to build the kind of communities required to engage employees. Their ignorance is costly.

A few years ago, I worked in Trinidad and noticed every professional using Whatsapp. When I returned to Jamaica two years later, our professionals had caught up.

During that time, my year-group at Wolmers started a Whatsapp group. Prior to its existence, there was little individual contact and no communal activity.

Momentum built quickly and today the Class of 82 group includes over 50% of our colleagues from around the world. More importantly, this month we had our first reunion and donated a million dollars to the school. In summary, a community which was recently formed is now making a tangible contribution where none was expected.

Without the appropriate channels none of this would have happened. Does the same apply to your company? Unfortunately, if you aren’t using technology to bring together employee communities in just the right way, it’s unlikely that your custom interventions will amount to much.

Furthermore, building communities in the modern age is a moving target. You must be prepared to keep adapting the latest tools, thereby empowering people to maintain behavior changes. It’s the only way to get ahead of a disengagement problem which isn’t likely to fade away. If you use the right approach, you may be able to stay ahead, applying fresh custom solutions that produce sustainable results.

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20180923/how-your-company-should-address-staff-engagement-questions 

Why employees need the power to say no

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This week, I created a video summary of the column.

 

 

 

Should an employee be granted the right to turn down a manager’s request to focus on a given task, thereby dropping everything else? And is it better to have a reporting relationship based on obedience or its opposite: independent choice? While there are no easy answers, the times are changing and so must leaders in your company.

 

Fortunately, managers who believe that their job is to do all the thinking while employees solely follow instructions are becoming rare. Yet, when the pressure is on, many managers become bossy. In the heat of the moment they give orders, and expect them to be followed without question. Resorting to anger they issue threats, stirring up fear in the hearts of others.

The worst rely on this tactic exclusively. Better managers initially start off being nice then turn into monsters later, arguing that people take advantage of the softer approach and therefore deserve this treatment.

They point to their personal experience as proof, which science supports. However, studies also show that this dominating technique has severe limits. While it gets action started, should it be a manager’s preferred tactic?

 

New research demonstrates otherwise.

 

A recent study led by Rom Schrift at the University of Pennsylvania shows that experimental subjects persisted longer in a task when they had the option to say “No.” It revealed that when they were granted a degree of autonomy, they performed better than others who weren’t given the same choice.

If you are a manager, it’s not hard to see why. In general, intrinsic motivation is a far better tool than its counterpart. In other words, you must give employees the option of saying “No” if you want them to perform at their best, especially if the task at hand involves more than a quick, physical action.

Let’s consider the extreme: what about the person at the bottom of your pyramid who is a simple laborer? I invite you to question your assumptions around this example from three angles.

  1. Should simple workers be in your firm at all?

A contractor once shared with me that his industry is the only one in which a convict can leave prison today, and tomorrow be hired to take orders on an active construction site. The consequence? Poor quality work, indiscipline, random departures and theft.

While this tactic guarantees a low wage bill, it simultaneously creates greater problems.

Unfortunately, this mindset of hiring “mere” workers pervades companies of all kinds.

Try a different one: even the simplest role expands in complexity when the person who performs it has some autonomy to produce superior results. Therefore, all potential hires have the capacity to make up their own minds, becoming better contributors over time.

Armed with this mindset, abolish the notion of a “simple” laborer.

  1. Should employees be calendar-trained?

Too many managers try to be omnipotent, believing that they can keep track of every employee’s calendar. In other words, they don’t trust staff to prioritize their work without being directed.

The solution isn’t to make an effort to become omniscient. Instead, managers need to train their workers to use better time management skills so that their calendar actually reflects the work they are doing from one hour to the next.

In habitual practice, the opposite is true. Most smartphone calendars are only used to track people’s appointments. All other tasks are left to memory – a sign of weak skills.

By contrast, employees with superior abilities are always looking at real-life trade-offs between activities. To make these difficult decisions, they realize they must use their calendar as a point of coordination. As such, their “No” is a reflection of a tough call, rather than a whim.

  1. Should managers be retrained?

As a manager, it’s tempting to jump in, give orders and negate your employee’s choices. Instead, when the impulse hits, restrain yourself. Have a conversation that looks more like an inquiry into priorities, than a demand for immediate obedience.

Why is this important?

Here in the Caribbean, our workers are sensitive: highly reactive to small slights which they take personally. The sad reality is that it only takes a single, harsh interaction to demote a newly hired eager-beaver. In the quint of an eye, they join the ranks of other sullen victims who only go through the motions. This coping mechanism got us through slavery, and the fact that it won’t change soon means that managers must un-learn the habit of routinely negating an employee’s “No.”

These three recommendations have a magical benefit: they grant employees the opportunity to say “No” in a way that keeps them motivated and productive. Take this power away and you risk miring your company in mediocrity.

 

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2017, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com

 

 

 

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20180422/francis-wade-why-employees-need-power-say-noWHy Employees ne

Toxic Culture Resistance

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Leading in a toxic culture? Transform it by absorbing, not resisting

How do you escape a corporate culture you hate to work in each day? Should it be attacked head-on, or is another more subtle approach needed?

Perhaps you know the feeling of being trapped in a toxic work environment. The stress you experience each weekday is real. It can’t be escaped by positive thinking, thoughts, and prayers or any of the other techniques that work on lesser problems. Plus, simplistic advice like “Just quit, nuh?” isn’t helpful in a weak economy where everyone you know is scrambling to hold on to a job.

Unfortunately, we are taught from early on to conquer evil by launching strong resistance. After all, this approach worked to end slavery, get the vote and achieve independence. It also works in wars.

Fighting hard to win seems to be the best way to change your company’s culture. It appears to be a far better strategy than merely surrendering making it the tactic most corporate leaders use.

Unfortunately, it has faults which only makes things worse. Here are three examples.

Denial

An executive sits at her desk looking at the exit statistics. The best performers are consistently leaving for other companies, siphoning away the second-bests within a few months. Before long, only third-bests will remain—a recipe for disaster.

The head of human resources tries to convince her there’s a huge internal problem. But she refuses to accept it. Her people are being stolen by those with deeper pockets, an injustice. She angrily denies that the culture of her company is driving people away.

In her mind, she is the big victim.

Scolding

A CEO scrolls through the survey results. The staff has spoken: employee satisfaction and engagement scores have dipped even further. Obviously, the prior year’s interventions didn’t work, in spite of his hard work and extra effort. In fact, they actually made things worse.

“They shouldn’t feel this way.”

His response is all-too-human. As a species, we have a remarkable ability to argue with reality even when it’s staring us in the face. The response is instinctive – a way to protect ourselves from bad news.

It’s also beside the point. Given his goal of changing a toxic culture, the new scores provide valuable data which tell a nuanced story. Instead of being discarded, they need to be the basis for new plans going forward, as the leadership team “wheels and comes again.”

However, whenever he repeats the refrain in every executive meeting, real discussion stops. Lots of words are spoken, but his comment inserts a dangerous fiction at the moment the team should be grappling with hard truths.

As a result, they make no progress.

Selfish Disengagement

A Managing Director is stunned by the ungrateful nature of his staff members. His official Coffee Chats, an opportunity to meet with small groups of employees, has not turned out the way he wanted.

“Is this all you people do each day… just b***h and moan?” he finally lashes out, frustrated. All future open conversations are cancelled.

In his mind, they only became a bottomless pit of complaints. Instead of presenting a useful balance of positive and negative experiences, they dwelt on the bad stuff.

In response, he withdraws, turning into himself: an act of self-preservation in which he can lick his wounds in private. He limits his meetings to people he knows are happy, eschewing group gatherings. After all, no-one seems to care that he is also a human being who has real feelings.

The First Step

The behaviors displayed in the above examples are commonplace among leaders.

In each case, they experience unwanted internal feelings, triggered by other people’s unhappy expressions. To cope, they attack the source in the hope it will go away.

This tactic sometimes works in life, on simple problems. However, it fails to transform complex corporate cultures. In the high stakes positions they inhabit, the only answer is to learn how to fully accept, absorb and “be with” the stuff most people resist. In other words, instead of turning unwanted internal feelings into the enemy, they must mature to a place when they can be embraced.

While this is much easier to write or say than to practice, top executives need to evolve to the point where they can step aside from their own instinctive reactions. It’s the first, unavoidable step towards transforming themselves, demonstrating the radical kind of inside-out change that people need to see.

 

As such, this message isn’t only for top executives. It’s for any employee caught in a toxic company they can’t stand, but can’t immediately leave. Acceptance rather than resistance is the most powerful first step.

 

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2017, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com

 

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20180225/francis-wade-toxic-workplace-resistance

Is your company gaslighting its customers to accept poor service?

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There are companies in which staff members are rightly embarrassed by the poor service offered to the public. But there are also badly-run organizations who operate without any sense of remorse: no apology ever offered, no-one willing to be responsible. Consider them to be gaslighting their customers.

The term isn’t normally applied to corporations, but to individuals. Perpetrators are often narcissists, abusers, dictators and religious leaders who say things which cause people to question their sanity. The victim’s norms are discarded or disputed. Universally accepted standards become individual proclivities to be ignored.

I have met personalities who fit the bill nicely but recently, my bank showed some disturbing signs. Unknown to me, it froze my account because I failed to respond to a posted letter from its Compliance Department…they say. I have no evidence such a correspondence was ever sent.

Their comeback? My mail system had to be faulty. Therefore, I was guilty and deserved the disruptive sentence I was handed.

Unlike the human gaslighters I have met who are easy to spot, I found this situation confounding. After all, the Customer Service Representatives (CSR’s) I spoke with were friendly, polite and helpful. They used my first name repeatedly as if we were old chums.

However, in retrospect, they all parrotted the company line: the multiple phone numbers and email addresses they have on file for me are “with another department” and “could not be used”. All that was needed to update their files were two pieces of updated information. With robotic efficiency, they assured me full restoration in five working days, in addition to the holiday weekend.

Incidentally, they didn’t mention the fact that they go overboard to “incentivize” customers to be paperless. Or that I was severely and stressfully inconvenienced because of their actions. Or that their explanations were ridiculous. None of them seemed to think these were real issues.

Instead, I was left wondering: “Is this just me? Am I the only one in this conversation who thinks this is crazy?”

Now, a week later, I can name the experience: corporate gaslighting. My definition? “When a company persistently disrupts the wellbeing of its customers in novel ways, then uses its staff to indirectly but politely attack complainants’ common sense.” It forces customers to question their sanity, while CSRs must shed their humanity in order to do the job.

If you work for an organization, let’s assume that gaslighting is a fact: the only question is how much of it is taking place each day. Ask the following questions to find out more.

  1. Are customers leaving without telling you why?

Don’t answer this looking at the loud complainers or those who write letters to the editor of newspapers. Instead, find those who quietly quit your brand and shift their behavior without warning.

Gaslighters convince themselves that customers leave because they have been enticed by the competition. In other words, it’s something they can’t control. Don’t believe your own story – find out the reasons why you are silently repelling people, forcing them to seek service elsewhere.

  1. Can customers find relief?

In a separate institution, I am forced to deal with someone who is incompetent. As my “point person”, she routinely ignores my emails and voicemails. Direct calls are useless. Desperate pleas to individuals in the organization, including her manager, produce no change in behavior or even positive acknowledgment.

As far as I can see, I have exhausted my appeals, so I’m actively searching for a new provider.

If you offer an essential service and your customers are at a dead-end with no further recourse, your company is gaslighting them. Fortunately, the answer could be simple: set up an easy to find, independent ombudsperson with enough resources to track any problem to its root cause. Have him/her report to an executive to avoid entanglement in your bureaucracy.

  1. Are you eager to uncover problems?

The best CEO’s I have ever worked with are quite demanding, especially in one way. They insist I tell them the stuff their colleagues won’t, focusing on areas I consider to be their blind spots.

Here’s a real-time test: if you bristled at the suggestion that your company is gaslighting its customers, you probably share some characteristics of the weakest leaders. They defend themselves lustily, even in the face of obvious evidence. To keep criticism at bay, they suppress people with outside opinions, while actively promoting bootlickers. As a result, it’s just a matter of time before an issue arises which blindsides their cabal, sometimes resulting in disaster.

Gaslighting in companies is hard to detect: it requires hyper-vigilance and a willingness to empathize with the abuse customers experience. Therefore, it takes supreme but uncommon courage and discipline for leaders to root out this organized form of corrupt service delivery.

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20180114/francis-wade-gaslighting-customers-accept-poor-service

Special Report – The Jamaican Professional in Trinidad

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What are the challenges faced by the Jamaican professional who moves to work in Trinidad?

While there are lot of rumours and stories, my personal experience made me wonder if I was alone in my observations, or whether others were also having the same experience.

After a conversation with Dale, my colleague (and wife) we decided to mirror a prior effort completed in 2006. “trini exec 1The Trinidadian Executive in Jamaica” was a unique study intended to capture the experience of C-level managers who had transferred to work in Jamaica. It’s available as a free download here.

The “Jamaican Professional in Trinidad” is not a perfect mirror image, but together, you may find that they provide a unique, fascinating look at what it’s like for professionals from one culture to work in another, and vice versa.

To download a copy of “The Jamaican Professional in Trinidad – A Practical Guide”, just provide us with your name and email address below.

New Project – The Jamaican Professional In Trinidad [Research]

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Ja prof in Tdad projectYou may be familiar with our 2007 study – “The Trinidadian Executive in Jamaica.” It remains the standard in practical, cross-Caribbean studies of cultural differences experienced by working professionals. (Download a copy here.)

On the heels of its success we are launching a new study: The Jamaican Professional in Trinidad.

If you are willing to be interviewed and/or surveyed anonymously, or know someone who might be, do let me know here.

Once again, the intent is not to generate academic data. We intend the final result to be a useful companion for Jamaican professionals hoping to make an effective transition to living and working in the twin-island republic.

 

Are You Sure That Telling People to Think Positively Works?

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“Positive Thinking” has been touted as the remedy for all sorts of ills, but as time changes, is this technique one that still works?

After an unproductive encounter with a positive thinker recently, I decided to dig in to the researcher and it appears that we have evolved, so that it no longer works the way it once did.

Here’s my Gleaner article on the subject, published yesterday. Positive Thinking Can Be Bad for Business.

Customer Development – As Important to Product Development

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I’m reading a book that makes the case that startups need to develop customers at the same time they are developing new products. The two processes need to proceed in parallel, from the very beginning, in order to test the hypothesis that a real customer-need is being addressed.

 

It’s a great book and I summarized what I was learning in this article in the Gleaner – The Customer May Not Always be Right.