Peter Barron Stark Companies | Management Consulting
Peter Barron Stark Companies is a nationally recognized management consulting firm that has surveyed and trained a quarter of a million managers and employees around the world over the past 20 years. Our mission is to help build organizations where employees love coming to work and customers love to do business.
My response. “Unequivocally, yes!” Introverts and extroverts can both make great leaders, but, for introverts, leading others requires more effort towards adapting their natural style.
When you look up introvert at Wisegeek.org, you find out that an introvert is a person who is reserved, quiet and solitary. In a recent poll of executives who are our clients, approximately 35 percent described themselves as introverts. Are you an introvert? If you can answer “yes” to the majority of the statements listed below, there is a good chance you are an introvert:
You believe that if everyone just did their job, there would be less of a need to communicate and there would be no need to go to a team building session.
You would prefer to communicate by email rather than by phone or in person.
You work hard to minimize the amount of time you have to spend at social events.
You are more comfortable being with people you know well, rather than in situations where you have to hold a conversation with people you do not know.
You actually re-charge your batteries by spending time by yourself.
You believe that since you do not need a lot of praise and recognition, others should be content and not look for acknowledgement for just doing their jobs.
You do not like to speak your mind until you have listened to all of the options, both pro and con, and then have the opportunity to prepare a well-thought-out response.
You prefer to dig deep into an issue rather than focus on someone else’s vision. To you, depth is more important than breadth.
You prefer to work with people in situations where people are calm, objective and there is an absence of emotion.
You really enjoy calmly analyzing challenges and solving problems that are troubling to others.
If you are a leader who is an introvert, you are in good company. Great leaders who have classified themselves as introverts include: Bill Gates; Warren Buffet; Douglas Conant, the former CEO of Campbell Soup; Mahatma Gandhi; and Abraham Lincoln.
For many people, the stereotype that you need to be an extrovert to be a great leader still exists. In a study published by USA Today, 65 percent of executives stated that they perceive introversion as a barrier to leadership, and only 6 percent said they believe introverts make better leaders. The University of Notre Dame, in an analysis of approximately 70 leadership studies, found that extroversion was a major predictor of a person’s leadership potential. Most likely, these findings are because extroverts, through their comfort of networking and their ability to build relationships, are more likely to be noticed and considered for promotions.
The reality is that there are about an equal number of introverts and extroverts at the executive level of the organization who are great leaders. Why both extroverts and introverts make great leaders is that they have the ability to adapt their style, an ambivert, or a combination of both introvert and extrovert—even when it is uncomfortable for them to do so—when that is what is needed for their people or for the situation within which they are leading.
Although remaining introverts to the core, successful introverts learn to adapt when certain behaviors are necessary for influential leadership. If you are an introvert, the following six tips will help you in becoming an even more successful leader:
Get out of your comfort zone. If you are most comfortable being in your office responding to email, then set a goal that three times a day you are going to make the rounds. Ask each person you talk to the following questions: “How are you doing?” “What are you working on?” and “What support do you need from me?” The best part about asking these three questions is all you need to do is listen, possibly take notes, and take action if needed.
Connect with others. Introverts have the habit of walking by others and just hoping that no one will try to connect with them. Stop it! Start walking by others and greeting them with, “Good morning. How is your day going?” When you ask a question, it is then important to stop and listen to the response. This reminds me what our 91-year-old dad has preached since we were kids, “People like you so much better when they do the talking.”
Participate in meetings. Don’t just sit in meetings looking at others (and thinking in your own mind how stupid people can be and what a complete waste of your time this really is). Get involved. Ask questions. Acknowledge people’s contributions. Ask what you can do to help the team or to help others be even more successful.
Acknowledge other people’s emotions. When people communicate to you, they most likely are feeling some emotion, whether it is pride or frustration. If someone is telling you about their family or children, acknowledge the emotion by saying something like, “You have to be really proud of what John has accomplished in sports.”
Prepare in advance. If you are going into a public setting, have your presentation/ questions prepared in advance. As an introvert, the more prepared you are, the more confident you will be.
Honor people’s need to be valued and appreciated. While introverts do not have a high need to be valued and recognized, most people do, whether it is at home or at work. Don’t be like the man whose wife said, “You never tell me you love me,” to which he responded, “I did on the day we were married. If anything changes, I will let you know.” Set a goal to let three to five people know each day that you appreciate their contributions, recognize their success and are grateful that they are involved in your life.
Introvert or extrovert, your preference doesn’t determine your leadership ability. What makes you a great leader is the flexibility to adapt your behavior so that you can bring out the best in others and connect with your team members in such a way that they are motivated to follow you.
This is going to sound contrarian for those who know me…I have never considered myself to be a leader who has needed to be focused on team member accountability. Why? With the teams I have been responsible for leading, we have always been highly successful at exceeding the needs and goals of our fellow team members and our clients. If we were a sports team, I would tell you we consistently win.
What is important to understand as a leader is there is a huge difference between accountability and responsibility. Accountability is done to you by someone looking for someone to blame if things go wrong. Responsibility is done by you to ensure you exceed your counterpart’s and client’s expectations. When you are responsible, you go out of your way to exceed expectations so that the world does not have to focus on holding you accountable. When you are a leader who has a team filled with responsible team members, you don’t need to spend a lot of time setting up an accountability matrix. Like being a manager or being a leader, accountable and responsible leadership are not either – or, all or none propositions. There are times when team members do not carry the responsibility and you will need to get involved and ensure that people are held accountable. But, what I know firsthand is the more you hire employees that are highly responsible to meet and exceed expectations, the less you need to put your focus on holding team members accountable.
So, what can you do to build a team of highly responsible team members who meet and exceed the expectations of other team members and your customers?
Look to the Top First
Personal responsibility begins at the top. To inspire self-responsibility, you must first demonstrate personal accountability. Take full responsibility for your decisions, follow through on your promises, seek solutions to challenges rather than reacting, and tenaciously pursue your organization’s goals.
If from time to time you are challenged with an, “it’s-not-my-job” response, take time to clarify the difference between the employee’s job description and your expectations. Ask team members to write down areas of work for which they are personally responsible. You may be surprised to find that, in some cases, more than one employee feels accountable for a particular task, while responsibility for other tasks is not claimed by anyone! Review your findings with employees and gain agreement regarding each individual’s areas of accountability.
Stress Performance Standards
Be absolutely clear in your expectations for performance. Review standards regularly throughout the year. Don’t wait until the annual review when it is too late for employees to do anything about it! Performance expectations should be non-negotiable. Your commitment to holding people fully accountable for meeting their performance standards will raise employee levels of commitment and morale because team members know you hold each member of your team equally responsible for meeting his or her expectations.
Provide Needed Resources
You cannot expect people to meet your expectations unless you provide the support they need to successfully accomplish their goals. This may mean providing additional training, tools, or resources. You may also need to allocate additional authority to give employees the power to take action. Limiting employees’ authority will undermine your accountability efforts.
If you follow the first four steps to create accountability, you will have little need to micro-manage. If you mix micro-managing and accountability, we can promise you defeat in your quest to build self-responsibility! When tempted to step in and direct processes, don’t! Allow your employees the freedom to make decisions and live with the consequences. When you demonstrate trust in their competence, they are more likely to rise to your expectations.
Reward Personal Accountability and Responsibility
Organizations achieve what they value and reward. When your employees take initiative to meet performance expectations, take note and respond! Celebrate achievements and let them know their behaviors support your company values! Recognizing successes in initiative, responsibility and personal accountability builds employees’ confidence and increases the likelihood they will repeat the behaviors.
As we move into the future, those companies that create a climate where employees feel valued for their commitment to continuous improvement, innovative solutions, and responsibility and accountability will be companies that, not only survive, but stand at the top.
Have you ever been jealous of your boss’s clear and clean desk and wonder how they do it? Some people are just more mentally organized, while others are more physically organized. But there is also a connection between the types of problems people solve at different levels in the organization. The higher the position, sometimes the cleaner their desks. As you climb up the corporate ladder, the problems you solve usually take up less space on your desk, but become more numerous and complex as well as mental capacity. Before you were promoted, no one told you that the problems at the next level would be far more challenging than the ones you had already solved.
Some days, dealing with a myriad of ongoing problems can be overwhelming. If this is the case, I have two thoughts for you. First, if employees keep bringing problems for you to solve, look at it as job security. Second, think about delegating more responsibility to your employees so they can help you proactively address the root cause of the problems.
We know from our own benchmarks that the Best of the Best organizations typically score 10 points higher when it comes to empowering their employees to make decisions and solve problems. Clearly, the Best-of-the-Best organizations recognize that they can’t be successful in today’s competitive business world without creating an environment that encourages employees to not just do their jobs, but also think and take the next step. It is also important to know that employees who feel they have the autonomy in their job and feel included in the decision-making process, are more likely to support decisions made, as well as have higher levels of engagement.
While you need thinkers on your team, you can’t mandate more initiative or engagement, especially if you’ve traditionally been the problem solver. Initiative and engagement, like motivation, are not something you do to others. People have to engage themselves. While it may not be possible to empower every team member, there certainly are things that can be done to create a work environment where people have the confidence to begin to take initiative beyond their job description and over time, confidently display discretionary thought and action, contributing to the success of the team and organization.
Here are our recommendations for developing an environment where employees are engaged to take the initiative and solve problems.
Avoid using the term ‘empowerment and engagement.’ The worst approach you could take to encourage more initiative, creativity and risk-taking is to say, “I need empowered/engage people on my team. From this point on, you are all empowered.” Moving quickly to an empowered environment can be scary for team members who suddenly realize that you expect them to shoulder more responsibility, particularly if they have been shot down in the past for suggesting ideas or sharing opinions.
Thank people for bringing you problems. When people come to you with problems, positively respond with, “I appreciate you bringing that to my attention.”
Get in the habit of asking questions. When people bring you problems, discipline yourself to not respond with a solution, but ask questions like:
What do you think we should do to address this problem?
What has worked in the past to resolve this?
Have you ever experienced this in other places you’ve worked? How was it fixed there?
Why do you think this continues to be a reoccurring problem?
If you were me, what would you do?
Give away power. Your role is to give your team members the resources and tools they need to make good decisions on their own. Over time, those leaders that give away the most power, end up with more power, not less, as they have earned the trust of their people who are willing follow them.
Define the boundaries. Creating an environment that encourages initiative, engagement and responsibility doesn’t mean that there are no rules or boundaries. Be clear, from the outset, about how much authority a team member has; how far they can go without including you in the decision making process; the dollar limit of their decision making; which policies might be overlooked; and which policies will not be subject to individual interpretation.
Accept mistakes. If your team isn’t occasionally making mistakes, there is a good chance that they are not pushing themselves to achieve their full potential. When mistakes occur, routinely respond first with, “What do you think we should do to fix this?” and then, when the problem is resolved, ask, “What did we learn from this?” followed by, “What would you do differently next time?
Be a coach and mentor. In order to gain discretionary effort from your team members, they need to know that you care about them personally and professionally. Make it a priority to regularly meet, one-on-one with your employees. Ask them to talk about: What is going well for them, what they think their growth opportunities are, and how you can support them in achieving their goals. Clarify your expectations and give them feedback on their performance.
Value your people and recognize success. If this is going to work, people need to know that you value their contributions. On a daily basis, look for opportunities to genuinely recognize and praise team members who are going beyond the minimum expectations for their job – people who are thinking, taking calculated risks, and pushing boundaries to make improvements.
It’s tough and often scary to give away your power to your employees in order for them to take on more and more of your responsibilities. However, over time, the benefits outweigh the challenges, resulting in:
Better decision making
Creative solutions to challenging problems
Higher levels of engagement
Higher levels of employee morale and job satisfaction
Employee retention and loyalty
And… best of all, less stress for you. As you create an empowering environment, your desk will clear up and you will be able to focus on higher level leadership activities.
What is your leadership brand and why is your leadership brand so important? … It’s important because your leadership brand is all about your reputation as a leader. When it comes to your reputation as a leader, there are only two types of reputations…good ones and bad ones.
Your reputation is the perception of how people see you and talk about you when you are not in the room. What this means is you need to create a positive vision for your leadership reputation and then manage your brand. If you don’t manage your leadership brand, then others on your team and in your organization will manage your reputation for you.
Henry Ford was dead wrong when he said, “You cannot build a reputation on what you are going to do.” You can actually build a very strong, although negative, reputation of what you are going to do when you do not make decisions, resolve conflict, produce results or meet your goals.
So how do you build a leadership brand and your reputation as a leader? Your reputation is built by the actions you take each day. This means that your leadership brand is not built by your values, your intentions, your education or even your brilliance. People cannot see all those qualities that make you the person you are. They can only see your actions. Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best when he said, “Your actions speak so loud, I cannot hear what you are saying.”
What are the actions you need to take to build your leadership brand and reputation as a great leader? Below are eight actions that will build you a positive reputation as a leader:
Create a Compelling, Positive Vision for Who You Want to be as a Leader: A vision is a fancy word for a clear mental picture, described in words, of the outcome you want to create. Your vision then serves as the picture on the cover of a jigsaw puzzle box top of what actions you need to take to make the picture a reality. For example, if you want to be a leader who is vision directed, customer focused, and who serves and supports team members well in getting the job done, then you know what actions you need to take. Different actions may be needed if you want to build a reputation as an innovative, creative leader who works well as a cross-departmental team player and produces extraordinary results.
Lead by Example: Think before you act. Know the “why” behind what you are going to do. One guiding principle to build your reputation is by doing the right thing and operating with integrity at all times. Being a great leader because you want to be promoted is not the right reason to take action. Being a great leader because it is the right way to treat people and everyone accomplishes more and feels better is a excellent reason to build your reputation as a great leader. If you consistently do the right thing, even when it is tough to do, or it costs you to make the right decision, you never have to look over your shoulder and worry that people are going to question your positive reputation as a leader.
Be a Caring, Servant Leader: Great leaders know that they have one job; to continuously improve their people, their team, or the organization. To improve your people, team and the organization, you have to really care. You have to take actions each day that demonstrate you care. Check in on your team members. Ask, “How are they doing today?” or “What projects are they working on and do they need any support from you?” Recognize to be a great leader, you need to ensure team members are clear on the goals, and then serve team members to ensure they have the skills and resources to be successful in their jobs.
Collect and Act on Feedback: Since your reputation is all about how others think and talk about you when you are not in the room, you need to know what people are thinking and saying. Even if you don’t like, or agree with the feedback, it is important enough for you to know. And, if you hear the feedback from different people or the same person on multiple occasions, you might consider that they are right. As my dad once said, “If twenty people tell you that you have a tail, you might consider turning around and take a look.” If two people tell you that you need to talk less and listen more and your vision is to be a leader who is a great communicator who values and respects all people, this would be great feedback to act on.
Admit Your Mistakes and What You Do Not Know: When you find yourself in a hole, the fastest way to get out is to stop digging. Admit your mistakes and ask for help. Most team members want to go out of their way to help you when you are able to say, “I screwed up and I need your help.” On the converse, when leaders defend what they have done wrong, they place a target on their back that whole groups of people love to aim and shoot at from behind the scenes. Leaders who can admit their mistakes and admit that they do not know something, are able to build trust with others. Great leaders know that admitting mistakes is a sign of strength, from which the leader, and the team, can more quickly move forward.
Be a Continuous Learner: Great leaders are continuous learners who help others to develop, learn and grow. It is impossible to maintain a reputation as a great leader and stay stagnant or stationary. Great leaders do not maintain the status quo.
Follow Through: Leaders with great reputations do what they say they are going to do, when they say they are going to do it, long after the feeling to do so has moved on. It is easy to tell someone you are going to do something in the moment. It is a lot harder to execute when you leave the immediate moment of commitment and then all of your other priorities in life take precedent. Great leaders put systems in place so they are able to honor their commitments.
Be Grateful: The greatest need almost everyone has is to be valued and appreciated. For many leaders who did not grow up getting a lot of praise and recognition, they find this skill hard to practice. The easiest way for me to be genuinely grateful is to visualize your world without your family or your team members there to support you.
Warren Buffet is right. Reputations can take years to build and, in today’s world, social media can destroy reputations in a heartbeat. Put these eight actions to work. Your leadership brand is all about defining your leadership identity that describes your reputation…and how others can depend on you to behave and deliver, consistently and confidently in every situation.
It is a given to say that technology has changed the way we communicate and conduct our daily lives. At home and at work. My kids are perplexed by the idea that I grew up in a world without the today’s technology of smartphones, computers and tablets, or of course, how could they ever live without the internet. We are so used to having the information at our finger tips and in seconds. In some ways it has brought us closer. My kids can text or facetime their grandparents anytime, whereas we use to call long distance and my mom would stand over me counting the minutes till I had to get off as it ‘cost a fortune’ to call long distance.
Technology has provided leaders with some new challenges. Instead of letters, mail and face-to-face interactions. We are now emailing, texting and video conferencing. In some ways it has made communication more distant and disconnected. As a leader, it is harder to gain non-verbal cues from an email or text. It has also changed where some people work with telecommute and virtual offices.
Leaders have had to learn to communicate in multiple mediums. Technology allows us to respond to people in a way that we would never respond if we were meeting with people in person. For example, not responding at all is much more difficult face-to-face than it is over email or text. Also, people are willing to say things in a written email–emphasized with all caps, highlighted in red–that they would never say in person.
When used effectively, technology can enhance your success as a leader, and, when used ineffectively, technology can undermine your success as a leader. When should you come out from behind the veil of technology?
When dealing with difficult topics or conflict. When conflict is involved, the best thing you can do is meet face-to-face. If that’s not possible, schedule a conference call and talk to the person over the phone. As consultants, we make a good portion of our living by people who refuse to deal with the conflict head on and instead, send an email and copy numerous people so they can also be involved and enjoy the turmoil.
When it’s a leadership issue. Any time you need to talk with one of your direct reports about topics such as:
Professional growth and development
Coaching and counseling
Significant changes in the job or reporting structure
When your direct report is not aware of a concern you might have
In meetings. Whether they’re one-on-one or team meetings, do your best to keep your devices out of your view and only answer crucial calls, texts, or emails. Sitting there with your face in your phone doesn’t portray professionalism or respect, and sends a message that the people in the meeting that they are less important. When we coach struggling leaders, being on their phone and not present is a common complain we hear from peers and direct reports.
When you need to focus or be creative. Many smartphone apps come with settings to automatically alert you when you have a new notification: a Facebook tag, a retweet, or maybe even a LinkedIn update. These notifications are great for the app makers, but bad for you. Constantly being notified and distracted during work, even during your spare time, could hamper your success. Consider this: Einstein came up with the theory of relativity while daydreaming. What if he had used up every spare minute to check his email or phone? Free up some time away from your cell phone and turn off unnecessary automatic notifications on your phone and computer so that you can have time for uninterrupted strategic thinking.
When others have a strong preference for face-to-face. Consider the preferences of others when communicating. Instead of using the golden rule, use Tony Alessandra’s Platinum Rule: do unto others as they would have done unto them. Basically, as a leader, communicate with them, the way they seem to prefer. You can usually tell what this is by the way they communicate with you. Do they email you, walk into your office, or text you? When you’re not discussing a difficult topic or a leadership issue, you can freely choose your method of communication.
To be effective as a leader, and earn followership from direct reports, you need to decide what is the right way to most effectively use technology. There is one question that’ll help you in determining the right method to communicate: If my goal is to build a relationship with a direct report who I truly care about, the best way to communicate this information is ________.
In most instances, the answer is going to be face to face. When that’s not possible, pick up the phone and talk to them personally or schedule a video conference. If that is not possible, then get a time scheduled in the immediate future to talk.
If you don’t do this, then you’re making a decision to use technology as a leadership tool to either avoid the conflict or take the easy path, but not the right thing. Being a leader is difficult. If it was easy, every manager would be a leader and, as a consultant, I would be unemployed.
In a recent organizational assessment our firm did for a client who wanted to improve their organization’s culture, several employees told us in the interviews that they felt little hope the culture would improve and they were actively looking for another job. Each of the five highly technically skilled team members who shared with us they were seeking employment with another company earned over $100,000 a year. If you know recruiting math, it is estimated that it costs organizations between one to two times an employee’s salary to recruit, hire and train a new employee. So, this organization is looking at between $500,000 and $1,000,000 if they don’t fix this culture problem. What is even more concerning for the leadership team of this organization is that it is a very real possibility that other employees were also actively seeking other employment, but not comfortable telling us.
The assessment revealed two major findings. First, there was a lack of communication, collaboration and cross-departmental teamwork among members of the team. And second, employees did not feel listened to, or recognized for the good work they do as being valued by members of the leadership team. The good news, both of these problems are solvable by great leaders.
As a leader, every time I hear about an organization that is challenged by either team members who do not feel highly valued, or teams that do not do well communicating, collaborating or working as a united team, I get excited. Why? Because a leader who is doing their job well, in this situation, has the opportunity to become a hero. As a leader, are you up for the challenge? The following 8 strategies will help you in turning your organization’s culture from toxic, to one where employees love coming to work.
Communicate the results of the Employee Opinion Survey or Organizational Assessment to all employees. A C-Level leader asked me once, “Why would you share the results with the employees. Won’t that make things worse than they already are?” In reality, the employees already know what the results are because it was their feedback. The only person who is usually surprised by the severity of the results is the C-Level leader. Share the results. When everyone knows the truth, everyone can be a part of the solution.
Create a compelling positive vision of the culture you want your organization to be. Visions are clear mental pictures, described with words, of the outcome you want to create. As a leader, I have a vision that our firm will be a place where everyone feels valued and appreciated for their contributions, treated with dignity and respect, all on the same team…with a mission to deliver extraordinary service to our clients and with the mindset that it is the right thing to do.
Create an action plan. To move the culture forward, an action plan that involves both leaders and team members is a must. Change includes all parties to be on board. During your session, prioritize the biggest issues that need to be fixed. Then, setup meetings to brainstorm possible solutions. When developing actions, ensure they are measurable and timebound in order to turn the vision into a reality.
Have the tough conversation. Some managers like to blame the lack of employee engagement on things they cannot control like pay and the competition stealing their best people. Leaders need to focus on what they can control and recognize that cultures do not change on their own. When team members do not do a good job communicating, collaborating and working well as a team, as a leader, you need to lean into conflict and have the tough conversation with individual team members. The first time, you can have a conversation about the problem and what the team member plans to do differently to be an even stronger team member and team player. The second time the problem reoccurs, you may need to have the conversation again, followed up with in writing documentation. If the behavior does not change, you may need to terminate the employee. When you have the guts to get human resources involved and terminate an employee who is unwilling to change, you will find that people will align quickly to the new vision.
Conduct Stay Interviews with each employee. Leaders needs to ask each one of their employees what will it take to have them want to stay. Most companies only ever ask these types of questions in exit interviews. Each leader, not Human Resources, is responsible for employee engagement. Our research has indicated that about 75 percent of an employee’s engagement, or lack of engagement and reason for leaving, is in direct control of their immediate supervisor. Some great questions to ask include: What parts of your work do you find challenging and meaningful? What can I do to enable you to feel even more valued, recognized and respected on our team? What is one thing you would change about me, our team or the organization that would make your job even better? Last, what do you want to learn so that you accomplish your development goals and become an even more valuable member of our team?
Be grateful. It is easy for me to be grateful and value each member of my team because I know it is impossible to be a great leader without people who follow and support you daily. Think about this from another angle. How successful would you be tomorrow if none of your team members showed up for work? Give people ample doses of positive feedback for the great work they do. Take time to listen to your team members. Take action on their suggestions. If you demonstrate how grateful you are by giving positive feedback, listening and taking action off what you learn, people will know they are highly valued and follow your leadership.
Provide monthly updates. Keep track of the actions that are being taken to improve the culture. Provide employees with monthly updates of what actions have been taken, what actions are being planned, and the timeframes for resolution. This helps employees connect their feedback to the actions being taken and shows them they are listened to and their feedback is valued.
Conduct a follow-up assessment at six months. Negative team members are hoping that nothing changes so they can continue to complain about the organization and the poor leadership. When leaders know that a follow-up assessment has already been scheduled, they are more motivated to quickly take action to improve the culture.
Changing the culture is hard. Changing a negative or toxic one is even harder. But, the benefits are highly engaged employees who are excited to follow your leadership and look forward to coming to work each day. Your workplace culture is a million-dollar problem you can’t afford to ignore.
In our Employee Opinion Surveys, one question we see low more often these days has to do with the systems and processes in the organization supporting employee’s ability to do their job effectively. When we find this question low, some of the complaints we hear from employees are that there are multiple systems and they overlap; having to input the same information in multiple systems. Or that there is not a formal process for doing some tasks, so each area does it differently, making it hard to find things, or know how to do things. These are just a few.
When system and processes are not working right, it can be frustrating for employees and takes them longer to do their job. When this is left unaddressed, we then see the scores around teamwork and staffing decrease as well. There is a trickle-down effect. When it takes longer to do your job, you have less time to help other people and less time to do your job. This results in a false belief that we need more staff. Which may or may not be true, but you won’t know for sure until you are able to address the systems and processes that are keeping employees from being effective.
In a recent study by TinyPulse, they reported employee’s top 10 pain points. In this list, technical issues with software or other tools was rated #1; and disorganized and time-wasting systems and processes was #4. This is not a surprise to us and mirrors our benchmark findings as well. In the last 18 months, a large portion of our survey clients have seen scores drops an average of 6 points regarding systems and processes supporting employee’s ability to do their job. Likewise, our clients have seen similar drops regarding employee’s belief that the company makes timely improvements to systems. The end result, when systems and processes interfere with an employee’s ability to do their job, it decreases productivity, teamwork and engagement.
These are really the bureaucracies of an organization. Systems and processes are usually created with good intentions to either fix an issue or help unify a process. When they are done in isolation and without sight across the organization, it can wreak havoc on an employee’s daily work. Processes are usually put in place to help employees make decisions, but in reality, they usually keep them from making decisions as the decision-making process is sometimes replaced with a long process to follow. So now what.
Below are some tips to help your organization stay on top of the bureaucratic of systems and processes and bring back productivity, teamwork and engagement to your organization.
Issues Vary from Team to Team – When you tackle systems and processes in an organization, there is one important factor to remember. What employees see as the issue, will be different from area to area and team to team. It may be a copier in one department, policy for handling orders in another, and yet something completely different in another area. This is why it will be important for each area of the organization to tackle this one individually. Each area needs to create an action plan of what will help them. What would success look like for their area?
Re-visit Regularly – Are your systems archaic? Do your processes and procedures support the accomplishment of timely work or do they slow down productivity? Ask team members for input. After all, they work most closely with your processes and have the best ideas about how to create efficiency. One leader we know ran a contest with her team to see which employee could come up with the best idea to improve efficiency. In the process, they turned out many timesaving ideas. The team voted on the best idea and a prize was awarded to the team member that generated the best timesaving idea. It goes without saying, everyone was a winner in this contest!
Check for Effectiveness – Does your equipment support accurate and efficient work? Does everyone on your team have the equipment and resources they need to meet their goals in a timely manner? Would a new computer program speed up work? Is your equipment up and running more than it is in the repair shop? If you can’t answer yes to these questions, it might be time for a capital investment before you lose your human capital.
Share Information Between Departments – It is critical that teams establish open and regular lines of communication within your department and between other departments. Nothing undermines employee productivity like not having the information needed to perform their jobs. Lack of communication can cause errors and constant reworking of completed tasks; and this spells time and frustration. If your organization has a culture of sharing information with each other in a timely manner, it will greatly improve the teamwork and reduce the number of issues each team will have to deal with.
Address Problems Early – Problems that are allowed to linger chew up valuable time and result in frustration and reduced motivation. Lean into conflict and set an example that everyone is part of the solution. Be open to concerns brought to you by your team members, take action to resolve issues and hold everyone accountable to the selected solution.
Delegate and Empower Employees – In bureaucratic organizations, there is a belief that people might make a bad decision and assume that it’s better to take the decision-making power away from front line employees and channel the decision up the ladder for some true expertise. Tech support is a classic example of this. If you have every call tech support and had to wait until the tech has gone through their check list by reading a script and checking the boxes, this is a lack of empowerment. An empowered tech support team would be able to problem solve in real time and save everyone frustration. But this requires them to be empowered to make decisions. There is also an upside for leaders that delegate and empower their employees, you will have more time in your day to take on more strategic, higher valued responsibilities. You will also demonstrate to your team that you believe in them and build trust.
Education and Provide Resources – By educating your people, they can have the knowledge to make decisions and achieve positive outcomes. If they have the resources as well, they have the tools to provide extraordinary service to customers.
Accountability: If you are going to provide your team members with education, resources and the ability to make decisions and take action, then you need to hold team members accountable for the results achieved.
Research has clearly shown that an engaged and satisfied workforce is a more productive workforce. By tackling the systems and processing issues on your team it will result a decrease in frustration and increase in productivity. And possibly less pressure on the need for more staff. Creating workplace excellence takes a sincere commitment on the part of every member of your leadership team, but the results are a win-win for everyone involved.
We are working on several coaching projects where managers are having a difficult time holding their team members accountable. When we ask these leaders why they don’t hold employees accountable to do the things they are responsible to do and in the timeframe they have set for accomplishment, some of the common excuses include:
They are too busy getting the operational parts of their job done and have not had the time to sit down and coach and counsel the employee.
Their schedule has not aligned with the employee’s schedule. Both the manager and employee have had vacations or scheduled PTO and it has been hard to find a good time.
So much time has passed since the issue with the lack of accountability occurred that the leader feels like it would be inappropriate to bring up the problem now.
The manager does not see the problem as that big of an issue but peers and direct reports are not happy with the employee’s performance in the areas of communication, collaboration and cross-departmental teamwork and have voiced their concerns to the manager.
The manager has not been honest with the employee in the past and did not share their concerns with the employee in one-on-one meetings or in their performance review.
The employee is well liked by the leader’s boss and every time the manager has tried to coach the employee in the past, they ran to the manager’s boss and complained about the poor treatment from the manager.
The manager and the employee are friends and they don’t want to hurt the employee’s feelings.
Although each one of these reasons sounds legitimate to the manager we are coaching, all of them are excuses that undermine both the success of the leader and the organization. We have written previous blogs on how to coach an employee and hold them accountable. This blog is focused on the most important reasons why leader’s need to power through their excuses, lean into conflict and be accountable to hold their direct reports accountable to being a great team player who has a reputation for high quality, on-time performance in their job. Here are 6 reasons we hope will motivate you to raise your bar on accountability.
Bad Reputation: There are only two types of reputations; good ones and bad ones. When you do not hold all members of your team accountable, you develop a bad reputation as a leader.
Lack of Respect: One of the responsibilities of your job is to hold all members of your team accountable. When you do not do your job, you lose the respect of your team. Your initial thoughts may be that the accountable team members are the ones who lose respect for you. You are correct, but that is not all; the team member who is not doing their job does not respect you either or they would be doing their job and making you look like a great leader.
Lower Results: When the members of your team are not accountable, your department/branch results suffer and that negatively impacts the results of the organization.
Conflict Increases: When team members don’t do what they are supposed to do, it negatively impacts others in the organization, including you. When people are negatively impacted by an employee who is either not producing quality, on-time, work, or they are not a good team player to work with, almost always people are going to come and directly or indirectly tell you that you are not doing your job (holding your team accountable).
Unhappy Team Members: When you do not hold people accountable, no one is happy. This includes the team member who goes to bed each night knowing they are not doing their job and are letting fellow team members down, as well you and everyone else on the team that have to deal with the fallout.
You Hate Your Job: When team members do not do what we pay them to do and you do not hold them accountable, you are guaranteed to have more long-term stress in your life. When stress continues over long periods of time, most people start to dislike their job and especially coming to work and having to look at someone they are not holding accountable.
That is it in a nutshell. If you want to have a lousy reputation as a leader who is not respected, producing poor results, with unhappy team members who thrive in conflict and stress; if you want to hate your job, then you now know the formula…don’t hold your employees accountable.
When you become a leader, it is a given that you are putting yourself out there and are, in-turn, opening yourself up to criticism. But does that have to be a bad thing? The only way to avoid criticism is to say nothing and do nothing that upsets the status quo; but even that isn’t a guarantee. If you are going to be a status quo maintainer, you will be also setting yourself up to have a team that lacks creativity, innovation and doesn’t generate new ideas. Criticism can be a good thing. In fact, some leaders thrive on it. If you’re proposing new ideas and taking action to implement changes to improve the organization, you are guaranteed to generate a fair amount of criticism. And, the more successful you are, the more criticism you are likely to generate as a leader. Criticism can be tough to deal with when emotions, personalities, and egos come into play. However, being on the receiving end of criticism doesn’t have to be a negative experience. We encourage you to embrace it and learn from it.
So, how can great leaders benefit from criticism and take their leadership to an even higher level? Below are six tips to help you not only deal with criticism but thrive on it and become an even stronger leader.
On the Right Track – Winston Churchill once said, “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” When someone criticizes something you wrote, said, or did, consider the source. It may confirm your belief further, and give you the confidence to keep moving forward.
Look for the Lesson – Although you may not agree with the overall criticism, there may be a piece of the critique that is accurate and could help you improve. Great leaders are set on their vision, but flexible on the details. If someone points out an area you could improve on, take advantage. They just helped you get closer to achieving your vision.
One Day Rule – Criticism can create strong emotions that drive you to respond immediately. Don’t do it. Avoid the temptation to meet their level of emotion – or up it. That immediate response is usually one of defense. Read, listen or acknowledge instead. Then, wait a day. After the initial emotions have dissipated, you’ll be in a better position to respond to the criticism in a constructive and positive way.
Don’t Get Derailed – Great leaders don’t let criticism throw them off the tracks leading to their vision. One reader of our blogs recently sent me a nasty email disagreeing with one of my points. I wanted to email him back defending my point of view. Recognizing that the email would trigger another round of disagreements, it was a whole lot more productive for me to write next week’s blog instead. When you feel yourself getting defensive, quickly take action to remind yourself of the bigger picture – your vision.
Reverse Paranoid – If you truly believe that everyone is out to help you, not hurt you, it makes it a lot easier to listen to criticism and figure out if there is a piece of it you can use to further your vision and goals. Your critics did all the work to identify potential weaknesses – take advantage and make improvements.
Price of Success – In today’s electronic world, just about anyone can scrutinize your work – anonymously – which is a whole other level of brutality. Some of the criticism will be helpful, and some criticism will be provided simply to hurt and discourage you from taking risks or making changes. If your goal is to avoid criticism, then strive hard to do nothing, say nothing, and above all else, maintain the status quo. Great leaders know that criticism is inevitable and learn how to deal with it in a productive way.
We know criticism is inevitable in leadership. A thicker skin may certainly be a valuable asset, but don’t let your skin grow so thick you become arrogant. Arrogant leaders truly believe, to their own detriment, that they have nothing left to learn. Stay focused on your vision, learn what you can, and allow criticism to be just another piece of feedback that motivates you to reach even higher levels of success.
Have you ever had an employee tell you: “I can do it correctly, or I can do it on time, but not both.” My kids use this on me all the time, “I can do my homework or my chores, but not both.” Clever for a kid. My response is always, “Then, I guess you don’t have time for your iPad and Xbox either.” Somehow, they now find time to get their homework, chores and electronics all in. It is a little easier to negotiate with a kid than an employee. I have had many executives tell me similar stories with their employees. I was recently advising an executive who shared with me an employee told him, “I can either do the job right and miss the deadline, or I can produce poor quality work and meet the deadline.” If you have had this strategy used on you, they used the “either-or” tactic.
You have also probably seen this tactic used in the service industry. I was in an award shop the other day and they had a plaque on the wall that read: “Quality, Quick, Price. – Pick two.” Meaning, you can have it fast and at a low price, but you give up quality. Or you can have quality and receive it quickly, but you pay a higher price. This is also the “either-or” strategy at play. In today’s world, to be innovative and successful, you have to work to continuously improve all three. If you don’t, a competitor will, as well as swoop in and steal market share.
We find that difficult employees (or teenagers) are masters at utilizing the “either-or” strategy. When this is used, remember one thing. This strategy is typically used by an employee (or child) to avoid accountability or change. The minute someone resorts to an “either-or” strategy there are three things that happen. First, options are limited down to only two alternatives. Second, the possibility of obtaining both options is now gone. And third, the possibility of any innovation or creativity is now eliminated.
If someone is using the “either-or” strategy on you, use the following tips to avoid the “either-or” trap and create a win-win outcome instead.
Ask “is it possible” questions: When someone tells you that your option is either X or Y, ask them a question that starts with, “Is it possible that…” For example, you can ask, “Is it possible that we could make a high-quality product at a lower price?” Apple had to ask that question when they developed a cheaper iPhone XR and XS.
Ask “what happens if” questions: When people are stuck in an “either-or” decision-making mode, a good strategy is to ask a “what happens if” question. For example, “What happens if you meet your boss’s deadline for the report but there are a lot of errors in the report?” When I asked a manager this question recently, he responded, “I’ll be fired.” When he agreed that being fired was not his goal, we figured out how he could get an error-free report turned in on time.
Switch ‘or’ with ‘and’: Recognize that creating a win-win outcome requires you to start using the word ‘and.’ An “either-or” strategy divides people into camps. A strategy that discusses and connects two points of view is the use of the word “and.” It brings people together and doubles the number of people committed to finding an innovative and successful solution.
Clarify expectations: If the “either-or” scenario is used by a difficult employee (or in my case, a challenging teenager) to circumvent accountability, firmly remind them of the expectations. Say something along the lines of, “I need someone in your position who is able to run a profitable team with high employee morale.” If the employee continues to debate that this isn’t possible, you can ask an even tougher question. “If I need someone in your position who is able to run a profitable team with high employee morale, and you are telling me it’s impossible, are you also telling me that you are not fully qualified for this position?” Most difficult people will realize where this train of thought could ultimately lead, will tell you that they are fully qualified, and will start coming with additional options.
Take a break: Stress breeds “either-or” decision making. When you are tired or stressed, you lose your ability to think creatively and truly believe that you only have one option, and your options are limited. Take a break. Get creative. There are probably five more ways you can resolve this problem but when you are stressed or tired, it is not a good time to break the grip of “either-or” decision making.
The only time when the “either-or” strategy is beneficial and should be utilized by leaders is when the decision is value-based. For example, a leader may tell an employee, “Either, you’re going to provide consistent, outstanding service to our customers, or you might not work here anymore.” That would be an appropriate use of the “either-or” strategy.
The “either-or” fallacy is sometimes referred to as the false dilemma because rarely are there only two possible outcomes to an issue. Great leaders push themselves to think creatively for more and better solutions to what appears, on the surface, to be an “either-or” decision.