This is a guest post from Devin Morrissey. He has been a dishwasher, a business owner, and everything in between. You can follow him on Twitter.
Management has never been easy; it’s not uncommon to hear terrible stories about horrible managers and the difficulties they subject their employees to. Stories about managers who are constantly looking over employee’s shoulders and reminding them to dot their i’s and cross their t’s. Or alternatively, managers who are so completely disengaged that they don’t even seem to have a solid grasp on the day-to-day activities of most of their employees. Or worst of all, managers who keep workers’ noses to the grindstone all day.
Of course, none of these management styles are beneficial to the company in the long-term. Employees with these types of managers hovering around often feel stifled, disengaged, stressed, or unsure of their next move. Productivity remains lower than it ought to be and nobody really seems happy with the job they’ve done at the end of the day.
As a manager, it is your job to promote a productive and healthy workplace; not a dreary, slow-moving one. Contrary to popular belief, productivity doesn’t necessarily stem from working harder or longer hours, but rather from creative spirits, trusting environments, and happy employees. Therefore, as a manager, it is your job to facilitate employee happiness in their workspace.
The only question that remains is the best way to start doing just that.
One of the most fundamental ways to start building a more productive workforce is to take a hard look at the office layout and organization. Some research suggests that employees who are happy within their work area are more likely to have higher job satisfaction rates and be nearly twice as productive when compared with employees who are unsatisfied with their workspace. It’s no wonder that major tech companies put so much effort into workplace satisfaction.
When considering a change in office workspace, it is critical to ask employees what is likely to make them more productive. For some, an open floor plan provides more opportunities to communicate with fellow employees and produce collaborative projects more effectively. For others, quiet areas to focus in are going to be preferred for greater success. All employees benefit from a relaxed office area or break room that allows them to temporarily walk away from work throughout the day.
Sometimes it isn’t even a complete rearrangement of floor plans that makes a difference. Sometimes all employees need to be more productive is a clean space and the time to organize it in a way that promotes efficiency. Providing the tools to do this and the opportunity to take ownership of a work area can make a substantial difference in productivity and happiness overall.
Let Creativity Flow
Another important means of boosting workplace happiness and productivity is by finding ways to allow employees to express themselves and their creative ideas. These ideas often flow their best when there is good communication in the workplace and employees feel as though they can trust each other and their managers. Once trust is there, creativity can be boosted in any number of ways, including the open floor plans mentioned above, the development of project breakout groups, or the hiring of more diverse employees.
Recruiting and investing in a diverse office has been linked to greater workplace happiness and productivity. Millennials, for instance, tend to prefer and often thrive in diverse workplaces with a sense of community that supports their creative ideas and drive to make a better world. A nice package of unique job perks can encourage creative thinkers to flock towards your company even more than huge salaries.
Of course, when seeking creative employees and promoting this type of a work environment, try not to forget the influence current company culture will have. Try to cater to employee work culture when coming up with ways to boost creative thinking, and think about whether or not your people will respond well or be uncomfortable. When hiring a new employee, try to find someone who will mesh well with everyone and help maintain good work vibes.
Finally, although it can seem counterintuitive, promote the idea of your employees taking regular breaks (within reason). Regular work breaks have been linked over and over again to a higher rate of job satisfaction, productivity, and longevity with the company in employees. Having just a few minutes a couple times throughout the day to get up and walk away from the task at hand makes a huge difference.
One example of this working is in the case of an employee who is struggling to write up a report because the right words just won’t come. Walking away and enjoying a short break can allow the employee to relax, revitalize, and come back ready to tackle problems. Furthermore, a break can ease up the mental bottleneck that has formed and allow words to flow more easily or a problem to be solved more quickly upon return.
Breaks can also improve employee health (and indirectly happiness) in a few other ways. For instance, if the employee works on a computer, taking regular breaks can greatly reduce digital eye strain and all of the negative side effects associated with that. Employees who do some physical activity such as walking during their breaks may also boost energy levels and improve their fitness in a small way.
The key to being the manager of a happy and highly productive team of individuals is finding ways to keep employees satisfied. Happiness and satisfaction can be improved in a huge number of ways, including office organization, creative encouragement, and breaks. Sometimes, it really is the small things that make the biggest difference.
Leadership drives intelligent, wise change. Change is about people and behaviors. Therefore, leaders must be skilled in influence and persuasion. Influence and persuasion are often centered on status quo vs. possible future state discussions.
Weak and manipulative leaders try persuasion through straw man arguments. A straw man approach calls attention to something you covertly substituted into your opponent’s argument, which he didn’t say. You knock down that straw man, giving the impression you defeated the argument, when in fact you didn’t address the original argument at all. This is frequently observed when the value of the appearance of vanquishing an opponent is far greater than critical thinking about complex issues.
Strong, confident leaders know this truth: “We are not sure we are right until we have made the best case possible for those who are wrong.” (Lord Acton) The most persuasive leaders will articulate the “other side” arguments even better than they do – and then explain point by point why an alternative approach is better. This is called the steel man approach.
The steel man approach is especially helpful for major changes with significant consequences. You want to bring people along with you when your organization faces a “no going back” irreversible decision. Therefore, you must be articulate about all options. One of the best outcomes of the steel man approach is that people will respect you even if they don’t always agree with your decisions.
Some historical examples:
Martin Luther launched the Protestant Reformation by articulating the Pope’s arguments for indulgences and other practices, then demonstrating why they were illogical and inconsistent with the Bible.
Charles Darwin’s book “On the Origin of Species” broke through historic dogmas because he used the steel man approach. He laid out the case for alternative explanations of different species far better than others had done, and then systematically showed why those explanations were inferior to evolution.
Karl Marx brilliantly documented the inherent consequences of capitalism in “Das Kapital” by partially using a steel man approach – though 100+ million dead demonstrate his recommended alternative proved disastrous.
Law schools in England and the US (until the mid-20th century) used the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans as the archetypical ancient legal brief. Paul effectively used the steel man approach to make the case for Christianity rather than the pantheon of Roman gods and traditional understanding of how “the divine” interacted with men.
Develop your leadership capability by making the case for both “sides” or “next actions.” Discipline yourself to articulate ideas and strategies (especially if you think they’re dumb). You can practice this even in situations where you aren’t making the decision.
This practice work will be truly helpful when you are put to the leadership test. Straw man arguments go down badly in history.
Leaders are in the education business, because leaders need to pull people – team members, bosses, customers, partners — along with them. Pushing people is partially effective, but requires positional power. Educating people is a key part of persuasion and influence.
The word ‘educate’ comes to English from Latin: ducere, meaning to draw or lead, with the prefix e to indicate “out of.” Education is not pouring into, but drawing out. It’s not cracking open the skull and stuffing in facts. Education requires that we use information, questions, dialogue, and experience plus feedback to shape the way a person thinks and behaves.
Therefore, education will never be an efficient process. There are efficient ways to give people information. There are efficient ways to begin dialogue. Yet education is about a whole person, requires their participation and cooperation, and touches the mystery of how the mind works.
Sometimes people have created a loose connection between education and indoctrination. Working from formal definitions:
Education: imparting or acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgment, and generally of preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life.
Indoctrination: teaching or inculcating a doctrine, principle, or ideology, especially one with a specific point of view.
Observation: If we approve of the curriculum and worldview, then we call it education. If we don’t, we condemn it as indoctrination.
Education is an open mindset; indoctrination is a fixed mindset. A test to consider: An educated person may develop a separate worldview from his teachers, disagree on many matters, and still be friendly and learn from one another. An intense focus on indoctrination yields a situation where departure from the doctrine is labeled heresy and destroys fellowship. Indoctrination as a strategy does not create mature individuals who continue learning and growing. People hell-bent (I use that word purposefully) on indoctrination do not tolerate a student exceeding the teacher. The only cooperative part of the indoctrination process is obedience and rote learning.
Education must be a mix of information and experiences. Sharing stories is crucial. Few will remember your seven brilliant bullet points, but they will remember the well-told story that touched their heart or made them smile. Better yet, share a story which made them see differently! Inspiring, transforming leaders weave stories and information together. They give people context where they can fit in the facts and information.
Your leadership will go to new levels when you see yourself as an educator.
Listening is key to wisdom. People who will not listen are stuck, cannot grow, and are likely a hazard to others. It’s not enough to listen to understand–we must listen to learn, and to discern. Here are the practices and mindsets of great listeners on the path to wisdom.
Let’s first imagine that you’re listening to a recorded speaker, or an interview via a podcast. You can’t ask questions in real-time, but you can listen to learn.
Be open to new, even awkward information. A closed mind and a fixed mindset cannot grow by listening, only make judgments and ignore potentially useful information. You need to have a mature understanding of your personal worldviews and limiting biases. You must value depth and clarity over ease and comfort if you seek to learn and grow.
Seek out contrarian views and contrasting perspectives. Echo-chambers which reflect only your worldview and experiences have walls and limitations.
Exercise patience to keep listening when (I do not say if) it gets uncomfortable. Often your first impulse to stop listening is short of when you could learn something useful.
Take notes. Observe your own reactions. Capture what you need to process it later. Imagine describing the main points to someone else; this will help you pay attention.
Take time for discernment. How do their comments and positions stand up to your tests for logic, consistency, sensibility, and practicality? How would you characterize the strengths and weaknesses of their views, and how they are presented? Are they credible? Did they challenge a convention or expectation? How would you evaluate the truth and/or error of their statements? What would be worth sharing with others, based on what you learned?
If you are with a person in actual conversation, then keep your purpose in mind; it is better to learn than to “win.” It’s possible for you to learn from anyone. These tips may be helpful.
Pursue depth. Ask follow-up questions to elicit more information during a conversation. Your goal is to get a sense of the why behind statements and expressions. Your objective should be to learn enough to articulate this person’s views and experiences. Restate and summarize without critical tone. Being able to articulate a position well does not mean you agree with it.
Focus on them. If 90% of your brain is occupied with how you will respond, you’re guaranteed to miss important information that can help you learn. Let your body language reflect your genuine interest.
Pause. Respond wisely. Resist the impulse to debate and destroy, however tempting. There is a time and structure for debate, but I’m speaking here about listening in conversations. If you don’t pause, but reflexively answer, you’re robbing yourself of the time and space to assess what has been said (and left unsaid). Detach. Consider. Ponder.
Be grateful. Say “thank you.” These are not mindless or meaningless courtesies.
Listening to learn and discern requires practice and self-discipline. It’s difficult enough to do well that few people are good at it–which means that you can surpass most people in a short period of dedicated effort.
People aren’t taking their business elsewhere merely because of convenience and lower price. The root of the problem is a lack of loyalty. That word your parents and grandparents used when they did business. This loyalty in business didn’t disappear into thin air. It is a concept that is a real business asset in 2018. But if you currently feel like there is a lack of loyalty with your customer base, there is always the proven way forward:
Build trust through open communication and dialogue with customers. Admit it when you make mistakes. Repeatedly offer the best products possible through trial and error. Exceed expectations with products and service. Repeat.
You need open communication and dialogue because it is necessary to know who your customers are; what your customers want, need, and expect from you; and why they want it; and then to provide those things in a tailored way. When you try to reach everyone, you end up reaching no one. That’s why it is so important to understand your spot in the business space and to build relationships with your tribe.
Communication > Relationships > Trust > Loyalty
And I say to repeat these steps because consistency is the foundation of trust. And with trust and consistency, you are well on your way to making loyalty a part of your business.