Anamcgary's Blog

Leadership thoughts from PeopleFirst HR


Are you responsible for employees resigning?

Could you be pushing your best employees out the door without realizing it? If staff retention is an issue for your company, then you’ll need to think about what could be causing your top talent to look for other opportunities.

There are numerous ways that managers can drive great employees away without even realizing it. I’ve told leaders this many time “people don’t walk out on companies; they walk out on managers”.  Here are three actions that always impact employee retention :

1. Focusing on the bad rather than the good

Employees might make mistakes, but blaming them for mistakes instead of providing constructive feedback and advice is an even bigger mistake on a manager’s part. Star employees are those who aren’t afraid to take risks. Recognize that taking successful risks can create massive beneficial change for your company. There will be times when plans and projects fall through; accept those mistakes as learning opportunities and move on. Your top talent will walk away if you focus more on their weaknesses than on their accomplishments.

2. Thinking money is the only motivator

A big mistake employers make is thinking their employees are there just for the paycheck they receive at the end of the month. In the short run, money is a definite factor for retaining employees, but it can only remain a motivating factor for so long. If your staff does not find their work fulfilling and get the job satisfaction they desire each day, they’ll soon get bored.

This is especially true for your best, most talented employees. If your star employees can acquire a new position somewhere else that will give them greater responsibility, strong mentorship, increased recognition and new opportunities to learn and innovate, they may jump at the opportunity — even if the pay is not as high.

3. Do as I say, not as I do

You’ve secured the title of manager, but if you think sitting back in your chair and delegating work is going to get the work done, you’re not in touch with reality. When the going gets tough and a key project is due, rolling up your sleeves and working alongside your team shows your commitment and gains you respect. Star employees are looking for strong leaders and role models and are less likely to leave bosses and managers who are accessible, approachable and respectful.

If you don’t think as a manager you need to be respectful of your employees, you’ll find it very challenging to keep great employees and will always end up with mediocre performers.

Throughout my career, I have seen this time and time again.  Managers that set a good example, listen to their employees and genuinely make employee’s feel they care about them, will benefit from great employees staying with them through thick and thin.

If you distrust your employees, discourage innovation and creativity, ignore their advice and communicate poorly, they’ll start hunting for other positions.  As the economy slowly improves finding and keeping great talent will become even more challenging.

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Inspiring Communicators

In two decades (that sounds old) of working with CEOs, business owners and other senior leaders, I cannot recall one who I would have deemed to be stupid (ok maybe 1). But seriously most were intelligent, talented people. Yet, when faced with the challenge of change, or a crisis, many succeeded and some failed. Those who failed usually lost their jobs or businesses.

When I listen to the ones that succeeded consistently, I listened to inspiring communicators.

To be inspiring, however, was not the same as being a great speaker.   To be inspiring, you had to learn how to be a better listener, you had to fundamentally understand what was in the hearts and minds of the people in your audience, and you had to speak with passion and authenticity.

You could stumble and stutter over your words, but if people saw you speaking to the things you truly believed, and felt that you truly understood them and respected their views, you were far more likely to make the vital connection that would attract them to your vision.

HR leaders have recognized that leadership has changed. OUT has gone the command and control style of leadership, and IN has come a new, more empathetic, emotionally intelligent style of leadership where communication becomes one of the top two skills that you need to succeed. (The first is raw intellect and the ability to develop the right strategy.) The ability to understand, motivate and inspire others is the characteristic that is now second most important when recruiting senior leaders or anyone headed in that direction.

Great leadership ensures that the right conversations are taking place right across their businesses, for they understand it is those conversations that drive change and ensure progress.  Leaders have to learn how to engage people in and through conversations. They have to learn how to tell stories better, and they have to learn how to be themselves, only better if they want to lead in our changing world.

The task of a leader is to inspire others to achieve great results. It sounds simple, but leaders today are operating in an incredibly demanding environment. The difference between competent communication and inspiring communication can be the difference between poor performance and outstanding results.

In speaking with leaders I admire the most, two words that I consistently hear are relationships and trust. You cannot lead if you cannot establish relationships of trust, both inside and outside your company.

Effective communicators:

  • Address the concerns of the audience BEFORE delivering their own messages,
  • Learn to listen better and master the most difficult communication skill of all,
  • Develop strong points of view on key issues,
  • Use more stories to capture hearts and imprint messages on memories,
  • Are aware of the power of unintended signals and messages,
  • Prepare properly when appearing on public platforms, and
  • Keep reviewing and developing your communication skills.

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Creating a Culture of Smarter Thinking

Innovation has always been a business necessity.  How many times have you worked with individuals or teams that work really hard, but not always in the most effective way.  I am sure you heard the mantra “work smarter, not harder”.  Art Markma, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas and director of the Human Dimensions of Organizations program recently published a book “Smart Thinking”.  In the book he discusses several straightforward things leaders can do to help everyone in an organization think more effectively. The more you know about the way your mind works, the more that you can improve the thinking of the people around you. Here are some things you can do to get the ball rolling toward a smarter organization.

  • Stamp out multitasking. This is one that has been debated quite a bit and we are all guilty of it,   virtually everyone today does some type of multitasking.  Markma says “The human mind simply isn’t designed to do more than one kind of complex thinking at a time”. When people are working on complex material, give them permission to ignore the phone, shut off the e-mail and shut down instant messaging. When you bring everyone together for a big meeting, get them to “be here now.” Ban smartphones and Internet browsing during meetings.
  • Encourage openness. You never know where the next good idea is going to come from. So encourage people to try on new ideas for size before deciding whether to pursue them. Too often, people assume that the fiercest critic in the room is the one who looks smartest. But if you criticize before deeply understanding an idea, you won’t be able to use that knowledge later when you need it. Set an example by focusing first on the positive parts of a new proposal before finding potential flaws.
  • The company succeeds when “we” succeed. Our culture is one that prizes individualism. Ultimately, we reward people who make important contributions. Credit and publicity tend to go to particular individuals who make important contributions. History rewards great people, but rarely great groups. But an organization cannot succeed without a group contributing deeply to that success. Lead by promoting the value of group success and reward groups for their achievement. In the long run, that provides everyone with the incentive to learn and grow.
  • Create desirable difficulties. We use technology to make things easier for us. And, of course, there are lots of things that ought to be easy. It is wonderful that we can send documents across the globe in seconds and that we can get research papers with the click of a link. But technology cannot make learning easier. Gaining true understanding of complex situations requires effort. Don’t just provide summaries of key concepts to group members. If there is something that people need to understand, encourage everyone to dig in and work on it.
  • Support smart habits. There is a lot that we do mindlessly each day. We don’t have to think about where the light switch is in our office or how to find the gas and brake pedals in the car. Those habits are smart, because they allow us to focus our mental energy on more important matters. Similarly, don’t disrupt the habits of people in your organization without careful planning. Open workspaces, for example, don’t allow people to develop habits for where their desk supplies are and can cause disruption. Changes in internal websites and forms cause people to think about tasks that should be mindless. And remember change for the sake of change costs more time and mental effort than it is worth.

This book provides simple yet valuable advice that can be applicable to anyone and any situation. I would recommend it to anyone with a curiosity and desire for living a smarter and more efficient life.


Informal Recognition: A Powerful Tool!

Formal employee recognition programs can be effective, but many formal programs only pay lip service to recognizing employee performance.

Real praise should reward effort and accomplishment, reinforce positive behaviors, build self-esteem and confidence, and boost motivation and enthusiasm.

Do your formal recognition programs accomplish all that? I’m guessing maybe not.

Here are four informal and powerful ways to praise your employees:

Ask for ideas. Don’t just ask, “Do you have any ideas for how we can help you do your job better?” (Certainly ask that, but sometimes go farther.) Build off skills or insights they possess to use them in other ways.

Say a production employee is incredibly organized. Say, I am always impressed by how organized you are. I wish there was a way to clone you.” Then ask if she has thoughts about how to streamline order processing, or ways to reduce the flow of paperwork, or how another department could more efficiently collect data.

Not only will you get great ideas, but you also recognize skill and ability in powerful way.

Ask for help. Asking another person for help is one of the sincerest ways to recognize their abilities and value. Ask employees for help and you show you respect their skills and you extend a measure of trust.

The key is to ask for help partly or totally unrelated to their function, and to make the assistance relatively personal to you. Early on in my career I attended a meeting to talk downsizing; by the time I got back to the office word had already spread that layoffs were coming. One of my employees said, “So, layoffs, huh?” I didn’t have to confirm it; she knew. I said, “I’m struggling with what to tell our employees. What would you say?”

She thought and said, “Just tell everyone you’re doing your best on their behalf. Then talk about where we go from here.”

Simple? Sure, but powerful too. She later told me how much it meant to her that I had asked for her opinion and taken her advice.

Create informal leadership roles. Putting an employee in a short-term informal leadership role can make a major impact. Think how you would feel if you had a boss and she said, “We have a huge problem with a customer. If we don’t take care of it we may lose them. Can you grab a few people and handle it for me?”

Informal leadership roles show you trust an employee’s skills and judgment. The more important the task, the higher the implied praise and the greater the boost to their self-esteem.

Team up. You and your employees are on unequal footing since you’re the boss. A great way to recognize an employee’s value—especially to you—is to take on a task together.

What you choose to do together doesn’t have to be outside work, of course. The key is to do something as relative equals, not as boss and employee. Unequal separates, while equal elevates.

Verbal praise is great, but at times implied praise can be even more powerful. Ask for help or ideas, put an employee in charge, drop hierarchical roles, and work together. Each is a powerful way to recognize the true value of your employees—and to show you trust them, which is the highest praise of all.