Employee Engagement: Ready to Call Off the Wedding?

employee engagementTired of hearing about employee engagement or ready to give up? For some companies, it is an elusive concept that’s been around for decades. So, it’s telling that companies are still struggling to figure out the magic formula for attaining employee engagement nirvana.

Perhaps the quest to attain the optimal level of employee engagement comes from the fact that “engagement”, “motivation”, and “satisfaction”, while related, are confused as the same phenomenon. I think of these terms like this: engagement is how committed employees are to taking action that will benefit the company; motivation is the reason someone will put forth effort and take action to benefit themselves or the company, and satisfaction is how employees “feel” about everything once it’s all said and done.

Engagement, therefore, is intentional, committed action taken by employees to contribute, which is the opposite of being on auto-pilot. It happens when employees are so involved in their work that they take ownership in what the company produces because the see big picture for how they fit into the whole.

It all starts with respecting employees for their talents and contributions. While there may be generational differences, every employees wants to be respected and know that their contributions to the overall endeavor count for something.

With that, Liz Stincelli, DM. of Stincelli Advisors suggests these 4 actions you can take to create greater employee engagement.

  1. Be seen so each direct report knows you as a real person. Know at least basic personal information about your employees and retain appropriate workplace boundaries in place. “I do care about you, but we’re not friends – I’m still your boss”.
  2. Communicate the big picture. Give employees information about company goals and how they contribute to achieving them, basic financials, and what’s on the horizon for the company and the industry.
  3. Ask questions and listen to the answers. Find out what’s going on at the employee issue and follow up on what you did with the information you gathered.
  4. Invest in employee professional development. Bolster their skills to further company goals and to build their capacity for future career development.

If your company is still struggling to achieve greater employee engagement, don’t call off the wedding or give back the ring yet. Be mindful that you might need to adjust the way you operate to move closer to your employee engagement goals.


WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their companies by gaining greater focus, self-awareness, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.


Liz StincelliThis post was inspired by a conversation with Dr. Liz Stincelli. Find out more about her and her company Stincelli Advisors:
Her blog site: stincelliadvisors.com
Twitter: @infinitestin
Google+: Elizabeth Stincelli
Facebook: www.facebook.com/stincelliadvisors
LinkedIn: Liz Stincelli

8 Reasons Your Employees Want to Break Up With You

February is the month we think about our relationships. While you might not go so far as to call them your “valentines”, do you have good relationships with your employees? Having good relationships with your employees increases productivity and retention of top talent. Leaders who don’t foster good relationships with employees will find themselves rejected and abandoned like a jilted lover.

Beware of these eight reasons your employees might want to break up with you:

1. You’re Incompetent. Employees want a competent leader who knows how to communicate, sets clear expectations, addresses all relevant issues (even tough ones), gets results, and holds everyone accountable. In short, they want a good leader. If you’re not at least average in these areas, you’ll see higher than average employee turnover rates for your industry as employees say, “It’s just not working for me anymore.”

2. You’re Not Credible. (Note: there is a difference between lacking credibility and being “incredible”.) Employees want a leader who says what she means, means what she says, and does what she says she’s going to do. These admired leaders have character and integrity. Employees notice when a leader’s conduct is inconsistent with her stated values and when promises are broken. In that situation, employees will dump you for someone else as soon as something better comes along.

3. You’re Not Personally Committed to the Organization’s Mission and Goals. While you ask your direct reports and other employees to give their “all” at work, do you put the effort and time into achieving your company’s goals? As a role model in your organization, you of all people should be working hard. To do this, use your time wisely and put in the planning it takes to fulfill the requirements of your leadership role. Otherwise, your employees will break it off saying, “I’m not saying it’s you; but I know it’s not me.”

4. You’re Rigid or Stuck. While “resilience” might be an over-used, trendy buzzword right now, your employees don’t want to be involved with a boss who can’t roll with the punches. Employees want a leader who can bounce back from failure, who can cope with the disappointment of an unrealized goal, while renewing their sense of hope and re-energizing them as the company gets back on track. If you can’t bounce back when you fall, your employees will break it off and find someone else they can admire on this score.

5. You Are Focused On Your Own Needs First. Do you seek personal ambition over putting the needs of the company first? When you egocentrically put your own desires and ambitions first, your employees understand that you are simply using them to enhance your own status instead of the company’s brand. Employees provide better value to customers when they feel they matter and their leaders care about their well-being. If you’re a “user”, employees will kick you (and your company) to the curb.

6. You Are Not Committed to Employee Success. Do you think your employees should just know what to do with little guidance from you? Employees want to know how they can improve. A good leader understands that talent must be continually developed for the good of the organization. Leaders who don’t, lose bench strength quickly. Without giving specific and frequent feedback and without supporting employees to gain skills, you might just miss out on some of the best employees you could have ever asked for. They will be the “ones that got away”.

7. You Don’t Admit to Your Mistakes. Can you admit when you are wrong? Or do you stubbornly insist on being right? Leaders who admit to their mistakes show humility and courage and emphasize that taking risks may not always lead to the ideal outcome – and that’s OK because you learn something along the way. Leaders who admit their mistakes teach employees that failure is a part of trying and can be more helpful than success.

8. You Need to be Liked Instead of Respected. This is the romantic equivalent of being co-dependent. These leaders curry favor with employees in the hopes of making a friend at the expense of their duty to do what’s right for the company. Of course, it’s ideal to be both liked and respected, but if you have to choose one, choose respect. Employees will see you as unbiased and consistent (fair) if you do. And you’ll respect yourself in the morning.

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman is the Executive Coach for senior leaders who want to get focused and get results. Learn more about her company Firebrand Consulting at: www.bethstrathman.com.

Three Leadership Behaviors That Increase Employees’ Happiness (and Productivity) at Work

collaborateA happy employee is a productive employee. Studies have shown that happy people are more successful generally, experience increased employee satisfaction, earn higher pay throughout a career, and exhibit enhanced job performance.

Specifically, research shows that compared to unhappy employees, those who are happy at work are:
· Twice as productive;
· Stay 5 times longer with an employer;
· Are 6 times more energized;
· Use 10 times less sick leave;
· Are helpful to colleagues 33% more of the time;
· Achieving 31% more of their goals;
· Are 36% more motivated than their colleagues; and
· Raise performance issues 46% more often.

Sounds like a manager’s dream! So, what must leaders do to create “happier” (and more productive) workplaces? The answers are simple and not necessarily easy.

1. Help Employees Use Their Strengths; Don’t Focus on Weaknesses.

To create happier places for employees, help them focus on their strengths. (This is good advice for yourself, too.) Now, this seems a bit odd, since you’ve probably believed that bolstering weaknesses would make people “better”. Although it might be counterintuitive, the research is clear.

In a psychological study, bowlers were divided into groups. After receiving instructions, the groups practiced bowling. Some groups were videotaped; others were not. Of those videotaped, one group saw only positive things they did, and the other group saw only the negative. Those who saw only the positive improved significantly over the rest of the bowlers (videotaped and not). Among the most unskilled bowlers, those who saw only the positive videotapes improved significantly more than anyone (Cooperrider, 1990). (Having second thoughts on how your company does performance evaluations and give feedback in general?)

What do I mean by a “strength”? I don’t mean simply the activities and skills employees are good at, although that’s a start. Marcus Buckingham takes “strengths” a step further when he says that strengths are the things that you are good at AND in which you lose yourself while doing them AND that energize you.

Have you ever been working on a project at home or work and looked up to see that much more time had passed than you realized? Maybe you spent an evening dancing with friends, writing, painting, listening to others tell their stories . . . if the time passed quickly and you felt energized after doing it, you were in what is known as “flow”, and that activity could be a strength for you.

Once an employee determines her strengths, help her find ways to do more work activities that them. Build more of activities that use her strengths into the job or encourage an employee to apply for another job in your company that could incorporate more of her strengths.

So, while maintaining an adequate level of competence at something that isn’t a strength is usually required on the job, employees are better served (and by extrapolation so is the company) if they can do more work activities that showcase their strengths and get more feedback about how they are doing with respect to their strengths.

2. Create a Sense of Belonging and Contribution

So, what type of work environment leads to happiness at work? According to the iOpener Institute for People and Performance, happy employees reported a stronger correlation with the 5 C’s:

Contribution– feeling your efforts make a difference
Conviction – short-term motivation
Culture– feeling you “fit in” at work
Commitment – long-term engagement
Confidence – belief in your own abilities

Thus, if employees do not perceive they are making a difference, fit in, or are having impact, chances are they are not happy. And if they are not happy, they are not as productive as they could be. These themes are echoed in the Gallup Organization’s Q12.

One way to increase employees’ sense of belonging and contribution is to allow them to use their strengths as noted above, which allows employees the opportunity to do what they do best, let’s employees know you care about them as a person, gives you the opportunity to talk about their progress at work, and lets them know you care about their skill and career development.

3. Cross the Losada Line

The final tip to creating more happiness at work rests squarely on the shoulders of those in charge. To increase happiness and productivity at work, count the ratio of positive to negative interaction you have with your employees. According to research by Marcial Losada, supervisors need to have more positive interactions than negative ones with their employees. Specifically, a phenomenon known as the “Losada Line” says you must have 2.9013 positive interactions to every negative interaction you’re your employees to make your team moderately successful. To lead teams to their very best work, you need to raise that ratio to 6 to 1! (Losada, 1999). How many positive interactions or communications have you given your employees or received from your manager lately? See. Not as easy as it sounds . . . especially if your motto has been “no news is good news”.

What small thing can you start doing today that will increase your employees’ happiness at work?

UPDATE: The validity of Losada’s research was challenged in 2013 by Nick Brown, a graduate student in applied positive psychology, who maintains there is no evidence for the ratio found by Losada.

3 Tips to Increase Your Personal Productivity

personal productivity, time managementYou’re smart. You’re hard-working. You have the necessary resources and good employees. Yet, you feel as though you get nothing done during most days. Most of the time, you feel off-balance and pulled in a hundred different directions. You spend to much time feeling unfocused and wondering why you can’t get the “important” stuff done.

In short, you feel overworked and “unproductive”.

When looking to increase employee productivity, many leaders often look at the structure of their business, employee performance and engagement, and work processes. And these are excellent places to tweak to make sure the business is hitting on all cylinders. However, when it comes to your own personal productivity, it’s something you probably weren’t taught in school.

You might underestimate the impact you have on their employees, not realizing that your energy, habits, values, and focus radiate throughout your company or area of responsibility. For this reason, any productivity gains from improving company-wide work processes and employee performance can be hampered if you haven’t examined your own ability to be more personally productive.

Being personally productive doesn’t mean you need to be pitching in and doing the work that is assigned to and more appropriately done by others. Rather, it requires you to do the work appropriate to your leadership role effectively.

To maximize your personal productivity, start with these three ideas:

1. Design your calendar to reflect business priorities.

Your company’s current goals come from the strategic plan. In turn, your calendar must reflect these strategic goals and priorities. For example, if your company is aiming to increase revenues by 10% over at 24-month period, you must schedule the appropriate weekly activities that ensure you are doing your part to achieve that goal.

Examples of these types of valuable tasks might be (1)  recognizing employees who are going the extra mile toward the company goals; (2) meeting with your direct reports to monitor progress toward the overall goal; or (3) working with a team to help them determine how work processes can be improved to help achieve the goal.

It seems like such a simple concept. Yet it is easy to get caught up in the daily swirl of “administrivia” and lose track of the next steps you must do or follow up on to keep the larger goals and initiatives moving forward.

And you really probably need to concentrate on these goal-driven activities about 20% of the time you spend at work (or about 10-12 hours per week). The remaining hours of your weekly calendar will reflect the routine activities that normally consume your time – meetings, phone calls, email, keeping up on industry trends, reviewing financials, board business, meeting with key customers, processing through the information that lands in your office, etc.

2. Create a personal workflow system.

Make sure you are comfortable with the way information flows through your office. Then, consciously and intentionally dedicate time everyday to process through the information coming into your office via your physical inbox, phone, email, and other systems in use within your company. Again, the goals from your strategic plan help you prioritize the items to do or delegate to others.

3. Delegate more.

And speaking of delegation . . . .  Because your aim is to be productive rather than merely busy, make sure you are doing the work that is appropriate to you goal. Other tasks can be delegated to others. Be sure to fully utilize your administrative assistant and direct reports. Delegating to others will free up time for you and give opportunities to develop through delegated tasks to those who have the skills and expertise. Delegate work if it is not critical that you perform it and if it’s work that is appropriate in responsibility level for the position to which you want to delegate it.

You will find that putting these simple steps in place keeps your mind clearer and more focused and reduces stress by creating a framework that helps keep your most important work moving forward and in perspective.
WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with leaders who want to confidently become the leader they are meant to be as they maximize the “people side” of business. Learn more about her at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.
thanks employee appreciation

Employee Recognition for the “No Nonsense” Boss

You know who you are.  You grew up in a family where no news was good news. When your parents had a conversation with you, it meant you had screwed up.  You’re focused on work, not that you don’t like people. You do. You just like them better when they are working. While you make pleasant conversation with others from time to time, it drives you nuts or at least makes you a bit antsy, and you feel it’s a waste of your time if the chit chat goes beyond 5 minutes.

Now, you lead others. Maybe you have your own company, you’re a CEO of a large company, or you’re in charge of a department or a small work crew. Doesn’t matter. You’re now faced with getting the most out of others, and the concept of employee recognition or appreciation comes up. The idea alone makes you crazy. Employee appreciation. After all, employees are getting paid to do their jobs.  You think, “Why should you have to gush all over them? Geez. Grow up, employees. This is the adult world. Not everyone gets a trophy for showing up to work.”

Granted, it would be a lot easier if everyone could simply show up, hit their marks, and know in their heart of hearts that they did a good job without you needing to say it.  But that’s not the way the world works.  Employees’ need to belong and to feel good about themselves and that means they need you to recognize their efforts from time to time.

Yes, some recognition programs miss the mark.  They put too much emphasis on the token given to the employee (a watch, a trophy, a bonus, etc.) than on the meaning and sentiment behind the token.  (How many of you have commemorative service pins that you don’t want and don’t know what to do with?)  If a program stresses form (getting something) over function (appreciation), then the recognition program is the problem and needs to be revamped or dismantled altogether.

Here’s what we know about employee appreciation:

1.  Performance is higher in groups where the leader shows more encouragement.
In fact, a survey way back from 1995 showed that 95% of those survey agreed with the statement, “I get a lot of satisfaction knowing I’ve done a good job.”
This indicates that to get the best performance out of employees, employees want and need to hear that you recognize their efforts and to know that you were pleased with their work.  It doesn’t mean you have to throw a party or buy them expensive presents each time they do something right.  It simply means you need to acknowledge the efforts.  How about a simple thank you?
2.  Teams with managers who were encouraging and offered praise performed 31% better than teams that did not.
Again, recognizing efforts and telling employees that they are doing well and that you appreciate their efforts is all that is needed.The research doesn’t say you need to spend a ton of money making a big deal out of every success or breakthrough. Greenberg, M. H., & Arakawa, D. (2006)
3.  Deliberate and specific recognition/praise is more motivating than money.

When you show your appreciation, be deliberate in recognizing employees and be specific about what it was they did so well and why it mattered to the company.Don’t say only, “Thank you.”  Instead say, “Thanks for the long hours and hard work you put into the ABC project.Because of your efforts, we landed the account.” Deci, E. L. (1996)

So, as much as it may irk you to recognize when employees get it right, it can pay off big for them individually. Consequently, sincerely giving a specific “thank you” will pay off big for your company, department, or team.  It’s not the fancy recognition program you design or the stuff you give people; it’s the sincerely and specific recognition and appreciation you show for their efforts.
Updated 1/21/2020
anger; confrontation

Are You Leading or Bullying?

I feel like you’re intimidating and bullying me.”  These are the words of a female employee during a meeting with her male supervisor, who intended to set expectations with her. The supervisor was taken aback and started to question his behavior.

With stories of bullying of children frequently in the news, it makes us stop and think.  So, how do you know whether you are leading or bullying?

Keep in mind that a few employees will attempt to deflect attention away from themselves, especially when a work issue is being addressed.  One thing they may say, whether they really believe it or not, is that you are bullying” them.  It’s as though some believe that no one – not even their supervisor – has a right to set or clarify expectations for them at work.

Also, some employees may use the word “intimidation” when describing what it felt like when they were called into the boss’s office to discuss a performance issue.  Well, sure, it can be intimidating, especially for those who know deep down they’ve failed in their work commitment.  But that doesn’t mean the boss was purposefully intimidating and is a bully. But it does get at the fact that the use and misuse of power and authority is at the heart of bullying when the boss is involved.

Distinguishing  Bullying Behavior

According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, bullying is a “laser-focused”, “systematic campaign of interpersonal destruction” that has nothing to do with work itself and that negatively impacts the employee’s health, career and job.  A bullying campaign targets an employee for no good work reason. Such a campaign can cause the employee, who otherwise does acceptable work, to feel hopeless about the situation. Those targeted by bullying tend to be good workers, who are “independent” and not easily “subservient”.  G. Namie, The Challenge of Workplace Bullying, Employment Relations Today, 2007, 34(2), pp.43-51.

To help clarify, these are examples of when your behavior could be that of a “bully” instead of  that of a “leader/supervisor”:

During a performance review, the supervisor is intentionally biased or gives inaccurate feedback because he doesn’t like the employee even though the employee is a good performer.
During a performance review, the supervisor shares honest, substantiated feedback with the employee, whether or not he likes the employee as a person.
The supervisor deliberately excludes an employee from workplace meetings and activities for no good reason or for a concocted reason while other employees on the same team or in the same job classification attend.
The supervisor includes an employee in workplace meetings and activities that other employees on the same team or in the same job classification attend, even if the employee is not the best performer.
The supervisor instigates, encourages, or fails to stop others from spreading malicious gossip, jokes or rumors about an employee.
The supervisor refrains from joking about, gossiping or spreading rumors about any employees and addresses such passive aggressive behavior with other employees. Instead, the supervisor addresses any problematic conduct or performance with an employee directly and privately, giving them an opportunity to give their version of the situation.
The supervisor pesters, spies, or stalks the employee with no business reason for doing so.
The supervisor monitors all employees’ whereabouts and productivity if there is a business reason for doing so, and documents and addresses any issues of attendance or productivity privately with an employee, giving them an opportunity to give their version of the situation.
The supervisor criticizes or belittles the employee persistently or allows others to do so without saying anything.
The supervisor speaks privately with the employee if there are documented conduct or performance issues, getting the employee’s explanation during the conversation.
The supervisor metes out undeserved or unwarranted punishment to an employee.
The supervisor addresses only work related issues, gathering all relevant information regarding a situation, including the employee’s version of events, before deciding whether or not to discipline an employee for workplace misconduct.
The supervisor consistently gives a good performer assignments that are beneath his position to create a feeling of uselessness.
The supervisor holds all employees accountable to job performance standards and documents/addresses sub-standard performance with interventions such as re-training, job shadowing, etc.

The manner in which the supervisor interacts with an employee in any situation can increase or decrease the employee’s perception of being bullied, even if the supervisor’s behavior is not out of line. So, as a leader and supervisor, know when it’s appropriate to address a workplace situation with employees and do it professionally and respectfully.

co-dependent manager

Enabling Versus Empowering in the Workplace

Do you have employees who are poor performers or who don’t get along with others and who have been in your company for too long?  Why?

There is no reason why you should tolerate employees who continually produce substandard work, exhibit unsatisfactory attendance, or who behave badly as a general rule.  Yet, you, like most leaders, have at least a few of these employees.  The sad fact is that you have no one to blame but yourself.  Even in the public sector, where employees are entitled to “due process” before they are fired or demoted, it is very do-able to address the performance and behavior issues and even discharge someone, if warranted.

The issue is often includes a co-dependent manager, who would rather be liked than hold the employee accountable.  Another word for it is “enabling”.  Enabling behavior encourages the “bad” employee to continue being bad.  It’s the same dynamic between loved ones and an addict, which prevents the addict from addressing her addiction –like allowing drug use in your home or giving the alcoholic money for rent because she used the rent money to buy booze.  If you are “walking on eggshells” around an employee in your organization and avoiding a necessary conversation about unmet expectations, chances are, you are part of an enabling dynamic.

When you are an “enabler”, you prevent or interfere with holding the employee accountable to acquire new competencies.  It keeps her stuck in her unproductive performance and poor behavior.  Enabling keeps the employee believing she has no power or control over her life , her work, and her self-efficacy.  You become complicit in reinforcing unproductive behavior such as procrastination or passivity by not expecting more.  In short, if you are a co-dependent manager, you are silently communicating that the “bad” employee is not capable of changing and is not capable of taking responsibility for her performance or her actions.

Here are some examples:

  • Looking the other way when the employee mistreats a customer or co-worker.
  • Talking yourself out of addressing an issue as you pretend “it isn’t that bad”.
  • Giving the employee adequate performance reviews, so you don’t have to justify your observations of inadequate performance.

By avoiding the issue, you are effectively ignoring your duty to the organization and to the rest of the employees who are meeting company expectations.

If you are enabling an employee, you might fear the reaction from an under-performer if you address the work issues. Like the addict or alcoholic, the enabled employee will most likely have an emotional outburst that deflects the attention away from herself as she points the finger at others, including you.  Not a comfortable place to be.  In short, it’s just easier to tolerate the substandard employee and hope it doesn’t get any worse than it already is.

The healthier way of dealing with the substandard employee is to expect more of her by empowering her.  But this takes guts, an acknowledgment that it’s your job as a manager to do this, and a belief that it is better to respected than to be liked.

Empowering is behavior that expects the employee to acquire new competencies for better performance.  It increases the employee’s sense of control or power over a situation, and encourages the learning of new coping abilities to replace the unwanted behavior or performance.

What does empowering look like?  Good old-fashioned management:

  1. Talk to the employee about what you are experiencing, giving her a chance to explain;
  2. Restate your expectation for what acceptable work product or behavior looks like;
  3. Offer or require training if appropriate for the issue at hand;
  4. If applicable to the situation, ask the employee for options for how she can do things differently to achieve the results you expect;
  5. Follow up and follow through with the employee to make sure the necessary changes are taking place;
  6. If the necessary changes do not occur, start summarizing your conversations about performance or behavior with the employee in writing, and escalate the formality of the written summaries from a warning to reprimands to a letter of suspension or termination as warranted and according to your company policy.

As with many things, if you want an employee to change, you might have to change first.


WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with executives and senior leaders to create team environments that optimize ownership, accountability, learning, and results. Learn more at firebrandconsultingllc.com.