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A Cog in a Wheel

I interviewed a key leader in a client organization recently. I was gathering perceptions of the organization’s culture. I’d spoken to senior leaders and was now engaging with next level leaders for their insights.

This key leader was tired. His ten-member team had been running hard over the last year, shorthanded. They have three open positions. “Everyone is doing their fair share but the workload just doesn’t let up,” he told me. They’d been actively recruiting to fill the job slots but haven’t found qualified people to plug in. Many strong candidates had multiple offers for more money than their company was offering.

“This is a really good company but no one gives us any credit for the extra work everyone is doing,” he said. “We feel like cogs in a wheel. No one is paying any attention to us.”

Among other things, this leader is experiencing the negative impact of the improving job market. People are confident that they can get a better job quickly so are leaving their current, probably uninspiring roles by the thousands. A recent USA Today article noted that over 2.8 million Americans quit their jobs in March 2015, up from 2.7 million in February.

This leader – and his team – is also experiencing a lack of appreciation for their efforts, which recent studies have found – unfortunately – to be quite common. Tiny HR’s 2015 Engagement and Culture report found that only 21% of employees feel strongly valued at work. Over 25% of employees reported they don’t have the tools to be successful in their jobs.

That lack of validation and appreciation can definitely lead to employees deciding to look for a different job where their contributions are recognized.

Why do leaders ignore genuine contributions by teams and players? It may be that these leaders believe that effusive praise and encouragement is fluff. These leaders think, “I’m paying them fair wages. I don’t need to thank them every minute, as well, do I?”

Or it may be these leaders simply don’t think about praise and encouragement, at all. They didn’t get it from their bosses so they don’t think it’s important today.

Or, it may be that these leaders are spread thin themselves. They know that they’re not providing positive, validating feedback to their employees and they feel badly for it. They apparently don’t feel badly enough to change their behavior and proactively praise aligned contributions, though!

A cog in a wheel is an important element; it keeps the machine running smoothly. If it’s cared for – cleaned, oiled, and polished regularly – it will serve the machine well for years. If it’s not cared for, it will break – bringing the machine to a halt. The breakage may even cause greater damage to other parts of the machine!

Humans deserve to know where they stand, regularly. A leader’s time and energy invested in dialog, genuine appreciation, and validation of aligned efforts builds employee engagement and well-being. Those, in turn, inspire employees to apply their skills in service to team goals and customers.

Employees are not cogs in a wheel. They are the face of your company and the foundation of your organization’s products and services. Treat them well, daily.

What do you think? How did your best bosses express genuine appreciation for work well done? Share your insights on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Photo © zarg404 – Dollar Photo Club. All rights reserved.

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The music heard on my podcasts is from one of my songs, “Heartfelt,” copyright © 2005 Chris Edmonds Music (ASCAP). I play all instruments on these recordings.


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Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The Role of Mood in Inspiring Aligned Behavior

Angry grumpy pissed off senior mature man gray backgroundMonths ago I was delivering a day-long leadership program for HR managers. The program was part of a week-long conference at the company’s headquarters. One hundred attendees were split among five classrooms.

Participants were excited about what they were learning and were very engaged. They clearly felt the program could help them not only with managing their own development but with coaching their internal clients to manage their direct reports more effectively.

In the midst of the afternoon’s main activity (structured rehearsals – we never call them role plays!), the senior vice president of HR popped in to my classroom to observe. He came in with a grumpy demeanor and a frown on his face, and leaned against the wall with his arms crossed.

Participants’ reactions were immediate and interesting. They all glanced up at their SVP’s entrance. They all noticed his posture and mood – and looked away. A few looked at their role play partners and rolled their eyes. Participants went on with the activity, but the volume in the room was much subdued after his entrance.

What caused this SVP’s unhappy demeanor? It’s impossible to guess; it could have been one or more of a hundred different variables.

What is important to understand is that a leader’s mood and tone impacts their team’s (or department’s or company’s) players. Leaders do not have neutral impact. Their plans, decisions, actions, and moods are scrutinized by their team leaders and team members quite frequently and quite carefully.

Leaders’ actions and moods either improve player engagement and contribution or they erode it. There is no middle ground.

Am I saying that leaders cannot show displeasure? No, I’m not. I am saying that leaders have greater positive impact by expressing disappointment from a servant leadership place rather than a frustrated parent place!

Think about your best bosses, those leaders that created a safe, inspiring workplace where you were immensely productive and thoroughly engaged. It is extremely likely that your best boss’ moods were positive and consistent; those moods didn’t fluctuate wildly.

Our best bosses validated our efforts and accomplishments promptly – and they redirected our efforts when we missed the mark. They expressed their disappointment firmly and kindly, asking us to shift our actions. They did not discount our value as people while doing so.

All of us experience disappointment and frustrations. When we take our frustrations out on our colleagues, family, or friends, we create dissonance and distrust, not respect and dignity.

I coach leaders to “put on a happy face,” to act positive and optimistic even when things are not going as planned. It requires effort to wear that happy face. It may require that leaders insulate their teams from the confusion going on outside their team.

Leaders need to be honest with how things are going – don’t say things are fine when they’re not. Do, however, present the realities from an optimistic viewpoint, not a depressive one.

Even if a bad mood arises, the most effective leaders set that mood aside, and present a kind, pleasant, and non-judging approach in every interaction.

What do you think? How did your best bosses manage their moods to reduce negative impact on team members? Share your insights on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Photo © pathdoc – Dollar Photo Club. All rights reserved.

Subscribe!Podcast – Listen to this post now with the player below. Subscribe via RSS or iTunes.

The music heard on my podcasts is from one of my songs, “Heartfelt,” copyright © 2005 Chris Edmonds Music (ASCAP). I play all instruments on these recordings.


Don’t miss any of Chris’ posts, podcasts, or updates – Subscribe Now!

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Your Team Needs A Caring, Assertive Captain

Who is in charge of your business? Leaders, if you don’t act daily as a calm, assertive, caring captain, your “ship” – your enterprise – may go astray.

Every business needs a captain, a person that sets the stage for all actions that take place. If you, as leader, do not set the stage by defining and aligning practices to clear performance standards and values expectations, people will be left to “figure it out on their own.”

When people “figure it out on their own,” you end up with widely varying practices – not aligned, proven practices. That lack of clarity and alignment erodes consistent performance, service, and results.

Whether you are the captain of a cruise ship, a call center, a flower shop, or any other type of business team, you need to guide your team proactively.

How do you do that? An effective, inspiring captain first creates and communicate the team’s plan, then implements the plan through role modeling, coaching, and celebrating progress daily.

First, you must craft your plan. What should your plan include? All of the vital elements are easily found in an organizational constitution. An organizational constitution is a formal statement of your team or company’s present day purpose (its reason for being), values and behaviors, strategies, and goals.

An organizational constitution is a crisp and simple declaration of your team’s desired destination as well as defining how people are expected to behave and treat others along the way.

Your purpose and values are strategic elements that don’t change much over time. The more tactical elements – valued behaviors, strategies, and goals – will likely evolve as your business evolves, as markets evolve, as customer needs change, etc.

Then, you must model and coach the plan. Setting the plan is step one. Communicating the plan is step two. The real work happens with implementing the plan – steps three through one hundred!

Announcing the plan doesn’t guarantee that team members will embrace it. The captain’s role and responsibility is to model the plan and to coach the plan, every day.

An effective captain doesn’t simply communicate the plan then sit in his or her office, studying spreadsheets or answering emails all day. An effective captain reinforces the plan by being on the move, observing how the team is interacting and operating, moment to moment.

A cruise ship’s captain spends time on the bridge, ensuring that the team there is in tune with each other, with the ship’s power plant, with the direction the ship is moving, etc. The captain also spends time observing team members interacting with passengers and with each other, validating aligned team member behaviors and redirecting misaligned ones.

You must do the same. You must be visible, present, and engaged, every day.

The only way that team members can be assured that they understand the plan and are aligned to the plan is by the captain’s calm, assertive modeling and coaching of the plan.

How much time will it take each week for you to effectively model and coach player’s practices to your organizational constitution? Spend at least an hour a day and work yourself up to two hours a day.

Your team deserves nothing less from you than a calm, assertive, caring hand on the tiller of your enterprise.

What do you think? How have your best bosses “captained” your team or department in the past? Share your insights on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Photo © dvoevnore – Dollar Photo Club. All rights reserved.

Subscribe!Podcast – Listen to this post now with the player below. Subscribe via RSS or iTunes.

The music heard on my podcasts is from one of my songs, “Heartfelt,” copyright © 2005 Chris Edmonds Music (ASCAP). I play all instruments on these recordings.


Don’t miss any of Chris’ posts, podcasts, or updates – Subscribe Now!

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Bad Bosses Erode Performance and Engagement

How engaged are your employees at work? How productive are they?

Great leaders – those who inspire top performance AND genuine team member engagement – pay attention to both productivity and employee engagement, every day.

Why? Because a work environment that treats team members with trust, dignity, and respect in every interaction boosts engagement, service, and results.

The biggest influence on employee engagement? Jim Clifton, the Chairman of Gallup, says it’s the quality of your leaders. In his post, Millions of Bad Managers are Killing America’s Growth, Clifton states that an estimated seven million lousy managers are “not properly developing or worse, are outright depressing . . . millions of US employees.”

Tiny HR’s 2014 Employee Engagement and Organizational Culture report found that 49% of employees are not satisfied with their direct supervisor. Only 21% of employees said they feel strongly valued at work.

In Workfront’s 2015 Work-Life Report, sixty percent of employees believe bad bosses (those who are demanding, overbearing, and mean) have the greatest negative impact on work-life balance. Poor work-life balance is costly. 68% of employees report poor morale, while over 40% report employee burn out, high turnover, and poor productivity.

These studies – and many more – underscore the significant impact that the quality of your leaders have on team member engagement, service, and results.

I don’t think companies intentionally hire bad bosses. I do believe, though, that companies tolerate bad behavior from bosses far too frequently.

Any instance of bad behavior – be it yelling, cursing, demeaning, etc. – erodes trust, dignity, and respect. Why would companies allow these interactions? In my interviews with senior leaders, they frequently report bad behavior – but they discount the negative impact. “Oh,” they’ll say, “everybody knows that’s just how Bob is.” Or they might tell me how Bob’s team “always comes through at the end of the quarter.” Or they’ll say, “Bob doesn’t know any better.”

Or they’ll say, “I’ve tried, but nothing works. I don’t know what else to do.”

These are difficult conversations if your company has never formalized how people need to treat each other at work. If the only targets you set are performance standards, then people – bosses and team members – often behave badly to deliver those results.

The best way to move forward – and to hire aligned bosses moving forward – is to craft an organizational constitution. An organizational constitution is a formal statement of your company’s (or team’s or department’s) purpose, values and behaviors, strategies, and goals.

By formalizing the values you want modeled in every interaction – including defining values in observable, tangible, behavioral terms – you create clear agreements with your leaders about how they are to manage their team members as well what performance standards are required.

If, for example, you have a “respect” value and one of your behaviors is “I treat everyone in a civil manner at all times,” you can measure the degree to which leaders actually do treat others civilly. If they do, praise and encourage them. If they don’t, redirect them promptly.

If they continue to treat people badly, lovingly help them out of your organization. The quality of workplace interactions is too important to leave it in the hands of mean leaders.

Want to learn more about creating workplace inspiration with an organizational constitution? My latest book, The Culture Engine, will help.

Don’t let bad bosses erode team member performance and engagement. Demand civil treatment and model it, in every interaction.

What do you think? Do you believe that bad bosses erode engagement and performance in your company? Share your insights on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Photo © katie_martynova – Dollar Photo Club. All rights reserved.

Subscribe!Podcast – Listen to this post now with the player below. Subscribe via RSS or iTunes.

The music heard on my podcasts is from one of my songs, “Heartfelt,” copyright © 2005 Chris Edmonds Music (ASCAP). I play all instruments on these recordings.


Don’t miss any of Chris’ posts, podcasts, or updates – Subscribe Now!

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Trust and Respect Require More Than Training

troops yellow ribbonAfter a six-year $287 million campaign to make US Army soldiers more optimistic, happy, and resilient, the results are less than stellar.

USA Today reported that twelve months of data through early 2015 found that 52% of soldiers scored poorly in optimism and 48% have little satisfaction in or commitment to their jobs.

One of the most concerning trends to me is that 39% of soldiers don’t trust their immediate supervisors or fellow soldiers; they don’t feel respected or valued.

The Army’s positive psychology program began in 2009 in response to rising suicide and mental illness among enlisted troops. The program was controversial from the start. A panel of scientists showed that the program demonstrated little to no evidence of preventing mental illness. This 2012 article raised serious questions about the program’s ability to address these issues.

It is very good that military leadership recognizes the importance of positive mental health of troops. And, it is clear that this particular program has had very little positive impact on soldiers’ well-being.

The psychological impact of combat, frequent deployments, and defense cuts on soldiers’ engagement and optimism is easy to comprehend. I don’t believe that any single program or training can offset those sobering effects.

The good news? There are ways to create consistent civility, performance, and satisfaction in the workplace. Any workplace.

What can have a significant positive impact on the well-being of team members – be they soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen, employees in your company, etc. – is how they are treated by their leaders and their peers.

All trust is local. All relationships are local. By “local” I mean “within arms reach.” The folks you interact with regularly, face to face or virtually (email, video link, etc.) are where your most frequent experiences occur. Those experiences either enhance trust and positive relationships or they erode them. Those experiences are rarely neutral!

How you are treated by your leaders and peers, moment to moment, in daily interactions, has a huge impact on your feeling of being in on things, of being trusted, respected, and valued for your efforts and your accomplishments.

There are numerous examples of inspiring leaders in our military today. US Navy Captain D. Michael Abrashoff changed the culture of the USS Benfold through grassroots leadership. Abrashoff created a crew of inspired problem solvers by creating a meaningful purpose, trusting talented crew members, and building buy-in with his “it’s your ship” mantra.

All military organizations have values defined. The US Army’s values are clearly spelled out. What is missing in many organizations around the globe is demonstrated alignment to their values, in every interaction, every day. Those values need to be defined in behavioral terms then measured, monitored, and rewarded.

A training program can boost awareness and build skills, but the program alone can’t change day to day behaviors. That requires commitment on the part of leaders to model the values, praise aligned behavior, and redirect mis-aligned behavior, consistently.

Our active and veteran service members give their best daily. They’re not getting OUR best, in the form of proactive care, treatment, and support.

We must do better.

What do you think? Do you agree that trust and relationships are “local”? Share your insights on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Photo © Carolina K Smith MD – Dollar Photo Club. All rights reserved.

Subscribe!Podcast – Listen to this post now with the player below. Subscribe via RSS or iTunes.

The music heard on my podcasts is from one of my songs, “Heartfelt,” copyright © 2005 Chris Edmonds Music (ASCAP). I play all instruments on these recordings.


Don’t miss any of Chris’ posts, podcasts, or updates – Subscribe Now!

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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