Thursday, May 14, 2009

Employees more engaged, hunkered down

In a recent survey by Towers Perrin, employees are more engaged than they were three months ago. This is a surprising stat considering the cut backs and layoffs and fear of more job losses.

On the other hand, if you look further into the data, you will find stats that seem more in line with what you’d expect. The number of employees “who felt top management provides good leadership fell seven percentage points, to 50% from 57%. Only 63% felt their management gave a clear sense of direction. That is down from 71% the quarter before.”

It sounds to me like employee engagement is up because people want to keep their job in a tough economy not because they are more into their current work, manager or company. Employees seem to be hunkered down and do not want to look for another job.

What will happen when the economy turns around and companies hire again? The economy will recover and job growth will increase at some point in the future.

Companies should be asking themselves what they are doing to retain employees when the economy turns around. They should be asking that now because before they know it, employees will begin to leave for better jobs

I spoke to an HR manager friend of mine, who was promised a promotion to senior manager 18 months ago when business was good. When times turned bad, the promotion was put off indefinitely. Although my friend understands the reasons for it, she still has a sour taste in her mouth. Wouldn’t you?

What is the company doing to retain her? Her company should have everyone who was close to a promotion on a watch list. There should be retention activities targeted at these high-potential employees now, before they leave. In a few months, it will be too late.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Just do your job, that's what you’re paid for

This headline sure does not give me extra incentive to come to work early, energized and engaged. How about you?

“Just do your job” is a common motivation technique used by managers every day. I have seen it in action, and it works so infrequently as to border on being one of the top causes of de-motivation. And yet managers do it every day.

When a manager says this they mean, “I am not interested in what you have to say. Leave me alone. I am too busy to stand here and listen to your complaints. Just go do your job, that’s what you’re paid for.”

Managers who want to improve performance on their teams should banish this phrase from their vocabulary immediately. Managers puzzled over low team performance should consider that by banishing this phrase…and more importantly…this attitude, most of their low performance problems could be solved.

Monday, May 11, 2009

What is your manager doing to retain you?

Look around the office today. Look at people’s faces. Listen to them in the break room. Listen closely. Many are disgruntled. Many would leave their job now if they could, but the job market will not permit it. On the other hand, they are thankful to have a job. Perhaps not thankful enough to be engaged in their work, but just enough to keep their existing job until the economy turns around when they can find something better.

Are you one of these people? Do you intend to leave your present job when the economy turns around? If you are, leave a comment below and tell your managers what they can do to retain you.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Doing more with less

Doing more with less is often heard around the office as a battle cry for “we’re not going to hire more people or increase the budget…just get it done.”

There is nothing inherently wrong with the concept of becoming more efficient or more effective. But as is often the case, we try to solve the problem with the wrong solution…just make people work harder.

If a project scope increases and the team is losing a member, who will not be replaced the project manager is told, “Look we gotta make this happen. We’ll have to figure out a way to do more with less.” Without much further debate on the issue, the business owner tells the PM to get his team to do a little more over-time. After all, it is just for a short period of time and “we just have to buckle down and all pull together on this one.”

The team was already working a lot of over-time, so as a VP I reported to once asked his team in a similar discussion, “aren’t we trying to squeeze water from a rock?”

More over-time as a solution to doing more with less is a great way to burn people out, cause people to quit and increase poor quality, which leads to re-work.

Try giving a graphic designer or a writer or an instructional designer half the time to complete a project and tell me if you think quality can remain “our number one priority.”

Telling people to worker hard in sprints can work well. But sustained gains in efficiency and effectiveness can only be improved by changing the processes.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Gain employee commitment

I was asked by a potential client in a meeting recently, “How do you get people to do more than just process customer orders and do more than just get by?” Understand that I was there to get them to hire me to help improve their training programs and thus the effectiveness if their people…to help improve people performance. And I answered the question as follows, “Frankly, most of that comes in hiring the right people.”

Perhaps, I had just talked myself out of a job.

I did go on to talk about ways that training can help improve people’s attitude about why taking care of customers is an important thing to do. The more I thought about it afterwards, the more I realized these lessons also apply to how managers should lead their teams. In other words, these are behaviors of good leaders who engage employees in the higher purpose of the job rather than as just a job to do.

Integrate company values throughout company life

Integrate company values throughout training programs, meetings, and employee communications. Companies often teach training classes as separate modules independent of each other, for example, Customer Service skills from 9am to 12pm; Product Training from 1pm to 3pm; and Systems Training from 3pm to 5pm. The customer service skills vital to company values should be integrated throughout all training, so it becomes part of the language of how employees should operate in their jobs.

These customer service values should be used similarly in team meetings, and managers should use this language when speaking with employees in any type of communication.

The golden rule

Make it personal, by asking your people, “how do you feel when you call a company for service and they don’t help you?” Do you want to treat someone else that way? Most people will answer no.

Set goals that encourage people to make customers happy

Watch how you set goals and recognize great performance. It is easy to set up policies that actually discourage helping customers. Set up your goals so that if a customer leaves your store happy or hangs up the phone happy, your people did a great job. Then, shout from the rooftop to everyone in the company, what a great job that employee did to make the customer happy.

Listen to your people

Listen to your people’s ideas about how to improve how customers get serviced and implement the good ideas. Your people talk to customers every day and often know more than you about what customer are complaining about and what customers want. People love to be heard. Show your people that respect, listen to them, and involve them in the process. They will surely be more committed to your cause, if you do.

Although it is true that the best way to get people to care deeply about servicing customers is to hire people with that attitude…think Southwest Airlines, Nordstrom and Charles Schwab…but there are ways to train and manage people to improve their willingness to care about your customers as you do. It all depends on defining how you want people to treat your customers, integrating that message throughout company life and creating an environment and incentives that encourage people to want to treat customers as you want them treated.

Not an easy task, but it can be done.