Increasing people’s commitment

When people feel committed to achieving results, they work whole-heartedly and do their best. Low or no commitment yields the bare minimum that comes from half-hearted effort.

Here are the important To Dos to increase people’s commitment:

  1. Paint the ‘big picture’ so they can share your vision.
  2. Help them see the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ and involve them in helping you work out how to get there. (These first two To Dos are known as ‘engaging people’ in the jargon.)
  3. Match the work needed to reach the goal suits their skill set and personal inclinations.
  4. Next, ‘energise’ them. How does achieving the goal help others? (I posted about this 2 weeks ago.)
  5. Provide the resources – the time, effort, information, etc. – they need to achieve the goal; without this, they’ll feel like they’re beating their head against a brink wall – a sure way to sap the energy you’ve summoned.
  6. Show your appreciation for their contributions. Make it clear you prize what they’re doing because it’s helping to bring that light at the end of the tunnel ever-closer.

So there we have it, a simple enough formula that you can put to work tomorrow to bring out the best in your team:

Engage – Match – Energise – Provide – Prize

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Which kind of boss are you?

Here I sit, typing awkwardly, nursing a smashed up collarbone held together by a steel bar and 11 pins. (Broken bones hurt a lot, by the way.) Even so, here I sit, doing my work thing.

How many people who work for you carry on, doing their work thing, when they’re uncomfortable, physically or psychologically? Maybe one has a kid at home who is a source of concern, another’s relationship is faltering, one has a cold or ‘flu coming on, another is irritated by colleague but is too polite to confront the problem and one has painful arthritis.

When you’re aware of the ‘whole person’, you can establish a strong and effective working relationship and help them be as productive as they can be. When people are just so many ‘pairs of hands’, it’s a different story.

Ah, but is getting to know the whole person worth the effort, when many employees readily move from one job to another and when others are contract and part-time employees?  Common sense says so, since the way you treat people day-to-day establishes the culture, which sets the pace for productivity.

And it goes deeper than that. How you treat people after they leave is important, too. Some organisations act as if departed employees never existed at all. That sends a strong message.

And then there are the organisations that make sure people leave on good terms. Some even treat former employees like alumni, staying in touch and even inviting them back for part-time or contract work or to mentor current employees. Former employees of organisations like these become ambassadors. They speak highly of their old organisation, building its reputation in the marketplace and strengthening its customer base.

Even when your organisation isn’t that sort of organisation, you can be that sort of boss. The organisation may reap some undeserved benefit, but you’ll reap a lot of deserved benefit: a happier, more productive work team and a strong professional network to stand you in good stead when you need it, to name but two.

Which kind of boss are you?

Emotional labour

Here we are in the service and knowledge economy. On the upside, it means less dangerous, demeaning and dirty labour than work in the agricultural and industrial economies. On the downside, it means more emotional labour (Arlie Hochschild’s term, in The Managed Heart). One can hurt your back; the other can hurt your psyche.

Two thirds of Australians are at risk of psychic hurt due to emotional labour. This is work that requires employees to hide emotions seen as unwanted and manufacture wanted emotions.

  • Retail and hospitality workers need to be cheerful to gain repeat business.
  • Health care professionals need to remain empathic yet neutral to ensure objectivity.
  • Police officers often need to seem angry to gain a confession.
  • Judges need to appear emotionally neutral so as not to influence the jury.
  • Office workers may be having a bad day but still need to be cordial and pleasant to their colleagues to grease the wheels of teamwork.
  • Customer service people need to be patient and helpful even to the biggest pains in the neck.

The difficulty is all this emotional dishonesty can be bad for employees and bad for organisations. For employees it can mean burnout, loss of job satisfaction and even damaged family relationships (when you’ve been pleasant to people all day, it can be tempting to drop your mask of sweetness when you walk through your front door). For organisations it can mean high staff turnover and disengaged employees.

Before moving on to possible remedies, or at least ameliorations, we need to distinguish between two possible ways of putting on the organisationally required ‘face’: surface acting and deep acting.

Surface acting is when you only disguise your feelings. It’s superficial. You paste on a smile and say ‘Yes, certainly, M’am’ through gritted teeth. But you still want to put your fingers snugly around M’am’s throat.

Deep acting is where you consciously control your feelings. You might recall a happy experience to put you in a cheerful mood. You might see the difficult person you’re dealing with as a frightened child to boost your empathy (reframing). The desired emotions follow naturally.

With surface acting, you don’t kid yourself about how you really feel and most of the time, you don’t kid other people, either. It demands more energy and effort and leads to more health problems, too–greater emotional exhaustion, feeling like a non-person, depression and anxiety, to name a few.

With deep acting, you actually feel the emotion you’re portraying and because it’s more genuine, it’s more believable, both to yourself and to others.

So, given that you’re likely to carry out emotional labour yourself and to be leading and managing people carrying out emotional labour, how can you lessen its negative effects while still displaying the behaviours and attitudes demanded by the organisation? Here are five steps you can take.

  • Recruit the right people. Look for people who share your organisation’s values and whose temperaments and attitudes lead them to naturally display the desired behaviours. Look for people who don’t ‘wear their hearts on their sleeve’ and who have a track record of successfully regulating their emotions.
  • Train people in deep acting. Trained imagination, role play and reframing are three techniques that work.
  • Let people de-brief after a hard day or a hard encounter. Recovery short-circuits burnout, leading to increased performance. People can also learn from each other this way, too.
  • Encourage healthy off-the-job activities (exercise, sport etc.) and a healthy life style (healthy eating, work-life balance etc.) to further replenish depleted resources.
  • Recognise the value of emotional labour.

Are you at risk of losing your best team members?

Paul (let’s call him) works in the finance sector. Not so long ago, he was very disillusioned with his job. Not his actual work, which he enjoyed thoroughly, but with his new boss who, to put it bluntly, was a bully. Team morale crashed, cordial working relationships took a dive, job satisfaction plummeted.

We caught up the other day and I asked him how his work was going. ‘Great!’ he said. Seeing my surprise, he explained that he had a new boss. The bullying boss had been moved to another state where, he said, the number of internally advertised vacancies had soared.

‘It’s amazing’, he said, ‘how one person can spoil the enjoyment and job satisfaction for thousands. I could earn lots more money elsewhere. In fact, I nearly took another position when the poisonous boss was around but I held off because I genuinely care about the bank and my customers. Now I wouldn’t even consider moving. I enjoy the people I work with, I respect and like my new manager and I have the opportunity to develop and mentor others, which I find hugely satisfying.’

Over the years, I’ve had many people on training programs who have stated they’ve been offered more money to work for the competition but have turned down the opportunity for similar reasons. They enjoy their work and workmates. They respect their boss. They feel invested in their organisation.

Treating people with respect. Coaching them and providing them with development opportunities. Assigning work they enjoy and feel pride in doing well. Building a strong team people want to be part of and making sure people feel proud of their organisation. These basic people management activities become even more critical when you’re in an industry with high employee turnover and when you depend on the contributions of individuals for the whole team’s success.

Yet, basic as they are, those vital people management activities can all too easily be neglected when you’re under pressure, tangled in continual problems and crises, and have a ‘to do’ list as long as roll of toilet paper.

That’s what reminders on your calendar are for. Diarise the basics. Chat informally with every team member daily. Catch up weekly or fortnightly with everyone to chat about how their jobs are going. Talk about important organisational achievements and events. Share a coffee and share a laugh.

It’s the simple things that count the most. Do you do enough of the ‘simple things’?

Managing after redundancies

Yet another of my friends has been made redundant, this one after 21 years in her role as a senior manager in a hospital. The 1990s may be known for redundancies but they’re still a common feature of the organisational landscape.

Morale certainly takes a hit after even one redundancy, never mind a series of sad goodbyes. And you’re no doubt familiar with the ‘survivor syndrome’, the feelings of ‘Gosh, I’m glad it wasn’t me’ followed by guilt that you’ve still got a job and someone you liked and respected hasn’t. This is often followed by resentment and feeling taken advantage of among those who have picked up the extra workload of their recently departed colleague(s).

So how do you manage those left behind, especially when they may well be feeling unsettled in their own positions and less trusting of and loyal toward the organisation itself?

Provided redundancies aren’t an exercise in shifting deck chairs on the Titanic (in which case, polish up your CV) but to meet a genuine business need, make sure people understand that ‘redundancy’ means the elimination of a job due to outsourcing or restructuring and it is not personal or related to performance. (When the redundancy is due to outsourcing, your job is probably even harder because of the additional emotions that bubble up as a result.)

Acknowledge and respond to people’s feelings of guilt, shock, resentment and loss of confidence in the organisation and in their own security. Answer their questions as honestly and straightforwardly as you can. Explain the bigger picture and how the redundancy was necessary in order to strengthen the business. People need to understand the context.

Paint a clear picture of the future and the important roles those left behind have in that future. Then people can think, ‘Yes, this has been bad news. But at least it’s going to help us build the future we need’. When that isn’t clear, you’re left with unsettled, unhappy people and sinking productivity.

Involve people in working out how work can best be done in the absence of their former colleague(s) and how you can all move forward together. Keep an eye out for signs of stress and dissatisfaction such as increased absenteeism or people ‘going through the motions’ and take them as a sign you need to communicate more; listen to what people are thinking and keep showing the way forward (without making promises you can’t keep and without ‘spin’). The less you communicate, the more the rumour mill is going to flourish and its content won’t be nice.

Work at strengthening your own trustworthiness in the eyes of your team, too, because trust in ‘management’ in general has probably dropped and you need the trust of your team for them to work at their best and continue produce a valuable product or service.

 

The six worst things a leader-manager can do

We probably all know what we’re supposed to do, at least in theory, but sometimes reality gets in the way. It’s easy to succumb and take a shortcut occasionally, and before you know it, the ‘easy option’ has become the default, and we don’t even realise that what we’re doing is actually harming our team’s morale or its productivity.

So here is my list of the six worst things a leader-manager can (usually unintentionally) do:

  1. Break your promises. What quicker way is there to lose peoples’ trust and confidence? When you agree to do something, or say something will happen (‘Thanks for spending a lot of your weekend doing that; I’ll see that you get some time off in lieu’) honour your commitment. Write it down if you have to so you don’t forget.
  2. Settle for second best. Close enough can be good enough when a task is of minor importance or adds minuscule value, but most of the time, ‘She’ll be right’ just means ‘I can’t be bothered to do it properly’. Don’t accept mediocre when you know you or your team member are capable of better.
  3. Treat all your team members the same. Treating people like the same cardboard cutout, regardless of their age, background, culture, home responsibilities, interests and working styles can never bring out people’s best work. Everyone has their own set of expectations and needs from work and different actions delight different people, so tailor your assignments, coaching, perks and thank you’s to individuals to ‘light that fire within’. That means not treating people as you want to be treated but treating people as they want to be treated.
  4. Don’t explain how peoples’ roles and contributions fit into the organisation’s vision and your team purpose–just give them a job to do and let them get on with it. Nope. Most people want to be part of something bigger and make a worthwhile contribution to it. Explain the bigger picture to that ‘fire within’. (If you’re missing the fire within allusion, see my blog The real secret to inspiring motivation.)
  5. Hide your mistakes; when that doesn’t work, blame someone else; when that doesn’t work, blame events beyond your control. Say no more. Step up. Fix it up.
  6. Sit back, relax, breathe a sigh of relief and put your feet up, especially when things seem to be going well. Wrong again. Chill out, yes, but when you’ve finished that cuppa, get back to work! Now is the time to get on with important but not urgent duties like planning and looking for ways to make things even better. What in your job, your team’s jobs, your team’s processes, your learning and development and that of your team, for instance, can you improve, however incrementally? What can you do easier, better, faster, more economically?

So there you have it. What can you add to these easy-to-make leadership blunders?

The real secret to inspiring motivation

I was asked to talk about how to inspire motivation on Annette Marner’s ABC radio show and the usual things sprang to mind:

  • Motivation isn’t about lighting a fire under someone it’s about lighting a fire within someone.
  • Motivation isn’t about fear or money, which are external, it’s about internal things, like pride and satisfaction and contributing something worthwhile.
  • Motivation is about getting two important things right: psychological rewards and job placement.

And so on. It’s all in Chapters 10 and 11, as I certainly hope you know!

As I was writing up a few notes for myself, a sudden thought struck me: motivation is about feelings:

  • feeling valued and respected
  • feeling you’re getting somewhere, achieving something, making progress
  • feeling proud of what you’re doing
  • feeling you’re using your talents and developing your potential.

All right, it isn’t the theory of relativity, but I think it’s a new twist on the way we think about motivation, and sometimes when we see something from a slightly different angle, we see it completely differently.

Feeling something is a lot different, and a lot stronger, than just knowing something. When you feel something, it’s really part of you and therefore drives your performance much more and much further than knowing something.

Discussion questions

What actions can you take, or what can you say, to make your team members feel valued and respected? Feel they’re making progress and achieving something? Feel proud of their work? Feel they’re developing as people and learning valuable skills?