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Over the years of being an employee, having employees, and coaching employees and Managers to build positive relationships, I’ve learned some common things that make an employee a “good employee”. Here’s my list. If you have others to add, please do so in the comments! And don’t worry, there will be a future post on how to be a “good boss”.
- Do every job to the best of your ability, regardless of how boring or simple it may seem. There will be times that you’ll have to perform less strategic tasks like data entry or filing. Do these things with as much focus as the tasks you enjoy, and present the completed work to your boss in a form you’re proud of. Large companies are always looking for people with potential, and this will help to show you have what it takes.
- Be curious. If you don’t fully understand something, ask! I’d much rather someone ask me about things than smile, nod, and walk away bewildered and unable to complete their work. No matter where you go to work, there will be phrases, acronyms and a whole language that is new to you. Ask what people mean, be curious about what people do, and you will be better set up to do your own work.
- Be solution-focused. There’s no doubt, you’ll encounter problems. But before complaining to your boss, think about some possible solutions. And don’t despair – there is always an answer. Things will always work out somehow – maybe not exactly how you initially planned, but they will work out.
- Challenge your boss (respectfully) Their opinion is not always right. It’s true. The boss is not always 100% right. Bosses make decisions, form opinions, and see things in a certain way based on their experience and knowledge. Just because your boss proposes something doesn’t mean it’s the gospel. Don’t be afraid to offer an alternate view. This will be seen as courage by a good boss. In the end, though, know what you are willing to “fall on the sword for” and what isn’t worth it.
- Get things done on time. If your boss doesn’t tell you a deadline, ask. If you are worried about meeting it, first look at what else you’re working on and re-prioritize. If you’re still worried, let your boss know ahead of time. Don’t leave them hanging or wait until they ask for your assignment. Show them you’re responsible enough to manage your time, and you’ll be rewarded with more flexibility and responsibility.
- Inform your boss of roadblocks. There will be times that you have gone as far as you can without your bosses help. Don’t be afraid to ask for support. If you don’t, you may run the risk of missing a deadline (see above).
- Figure things out. OK, this seems somewhat contradictory to being curious and informing your boss of roadblocks, but be resourceful. If you’re not sure how to do something technical, use the “Help” function. If you aren’t sure of the style of something you need to write, checkout previous examples. Of course, if you’re stuck, ask, but do what you can to figure it out first.
- Have your boss’ back. If you’re providing information that your boss will be presenting or making a decision based on, make sure it’s accurate. Your boss is not going to have time to dive into the detail, so point out anything that she might not see upon first glance. Make sure she’s ready for opposing viewpoints (remember, your boss’ opinion is not always right).
- Take initiative. If you see something that needs to be done, do it. If you have a solution that will make a process easier or more effective, bring it forward.
- Listen to constructive feedback. Even if you don’t agree with the feedback you’re being given, your boss is perceiving your actions in some way that is causing it. Listen. In my experience, most bosses think about the feedback they’re giving you and only do so to help you improve. Reflect on it, and use it to improve your actions or at least other people’s perception of you.
What other “rules” for being a good employee have you discovered?
I recently wrote a post about receiving feedback, because I think this is an important art that many leaders lack. Even more important for a good leader is to master the art of giving meaningful (A.K.A. constructive) feedback.
Giving honest, meaningful feedback with the goal of helping others to improve will engage their hearts and minds and build your leadership credibility. Unfortunately, giving constructive feedback is something that many leaders shy away from. Others use the “seagull” style of feedback. Here are some of the things I’ve learned about effective feedback. Please feel free to add your thoughts in the comments!
I believe in all forms of feedback, three principles hold true: Feedback must be sincere, specific, and timely.
Be Sincere. Think about the feedback that you’re giving. What’s the purpose behind it? How will improvement help them and your business or team? Is the feedback about something you’ve seen or experienced or is it second-hand (this is never as effective). It is much more sincere to explain “I noticed you did ____” rather than “I heard that you did ____”. If you have to use second hand information, make sure you fully understand the situation. Start the discussion by asking them to tell you about what happened. Probe for how it went, would they do anything differently, what did they learn. Often, by simply asking thoughtful questions, you can get them to give themselves their own meaningful feedback.
Be Specific. There’s nothing worse than getting feedback that your performance is substandard but not knowing what part of your performance is below standard. Feedback without specifics will simply de-motivate, kill confidence, and lead to further substandard performance.
Be Timely. Don’t wait until an annual performance review to give feedback for improvement. Not only have you wasted a year of work that could have been improved, but you are not being fair. Give feedback when it happens, regularly. The more often you give feedback, the more comfortable it will be for you and for them.
Some ‘do’s and ‘don’t’s when giving meaningful feedback:
Do make it a two-way conversation. Don’t practice seagull management (fly in, poop on them and then fly away). Ask for their perspective, and whether they would do anything differently or whether they learned anything from the situation. Listen and respond with empathy.
Do think about what’s in it for them. Don’t make it about you. How will improving this help them develop and grow? Watch out for turning this into a conversation about how you have improved or done things in the past. It’s about their behaviour and how improving will help them.
Do maintain their self-esteem. Don’t make it personal. The feedback is about their actions or behaviour, not about the overall value they bring to the team.
Do be honest and direct. Don’t give a “feedback sandwich”. Managers are often taught to give positive feedback, slide in a little constructive feedback, and finish with more positive feedback. Please don’t do this. The outcome is that either they miss the constructive, meaningful piece, or they dismiss any of the positive. Either way, you convolute the message and lose credibility. Instead of sandwiching constructive feedback between to pieces of positive feedback, separate the two discussions. Make the constructive feedback positive on its own by sharing your confidence in their ability to improve and committing to helping them.
Do meet them personally, in private. Don’t give this kind of feedback in public or by email. Have enough respect for the person to meet face to face to give meaningful feedback.
Finally, don’t forget positive feedback! Always take the opportunity to build confidence and positivity by recognizing work well done. What you recognize will get repeated. My three rules of sincere, specific, and timely feedback also apply to praise.
When I’ve discussed this essential need of feeling valued, managers often think that they’ve done all they can to make employees feel valued. “I got business cards made for her”, “He got the raise he asked for”, “I gave the whole team tickets to a baseball game last month,” “I don’t know what more they want.”
The funny thing is when I discuss the same need with the employee, they rarely mention any of these things. What they want is to be listened to. I often hear “I’ve been asking for a performance review for months now”, “He’s always too busy for me”, “She doesn’t care about my ideas or suggestions”.
Leaders often make the mistake of thinking that giving employees tangible things will make them feel valued, when what really makes a difference is taking the time to listen to them.
My advice for leaders: Listen!
As long as your employees are paid fairly both internally and compared to market, that’s not the most effective way to engage them. And in fact, the impact of giving them a raise will last no more than a couple of weeks. So save a little money and spend a little time listening to members of your team.
Pic used with permission from Microsoft.
I am turning 37 next month, and have been reflecting on life and where it has taken me. I’m not married, have no kids, and am working my a$$ off in corporate Canada.
I am not spending enough energy on the things that engage my heart & mind.
I neglect my dog and don’t spend enough time traveling, spending time with friends, family, and my dog, volunteering, golfing, and laughing. (Alright, if you know me, you know I laugh a lot, but more doesn’t hurt!) I find I don’t have time to do things that are good for me, like working out, cooking, and eating right.
Am I where I thought I’d be at this point in my life? Absolutely not! Am I unhappy with where I am?
Sure, there are times when I think “Gee, it would be awesome to be (Cameron Diaz / Duchess Kate / my friend Lesley)” But then something happens (JT dumps her / paparazzi chase her / her job sucks) and I realize actually she is just a person who has ups and downs like I do.
I can’t think of anyone with a “perfect” life, and I’m generally pretty happy. I love my job, my house, my dog, my family, and I have a great boyfriend.
Life hasn’t taken me here.
I’ve made choices throughout my life that have gotten me to where I am.
The things that I’m missing are things that I can change. I can make different choices in order to focus on engaging my heart and mind.
My plan for 37:
- Come home from work earlier, at least 3 days per week. (baby steps)
- Laugh even more.
- Make more time for family, good friends, and Piper.
- Take a trip to Europe.
- Find a new volunteer gig.
- Join a new gym, and use it!
What choices are you making to engage your heart and mind and create a better life for yourself?
I was chatting with friends the other night and one of them mentioned that morale was poor at their workplace, so they were having a “wear your pyjamas to work” day.
Will having a pyjama party actually improve morale? No way.
In fact, my friend was dreading it, and thought it was somewhat impractical in a work environment where half of the employees worked in a warehouse setting.
Events like this only scratch the surface of employee engagement. Unless you get to the root cause, you won’t make a long-lasting improvement. In fact, you could make things worse. My guess is some people may have fun that day, others (like my friend) may hate it. Regardless, any positive impact this type of event will have will be temporary.
The trouble is, this is the direction many organizations turn when they want to increase employee engagement. In a recent study by Aberdeen Group (2004), Employee Events was the most commonly used strategy to improve hourly employee retention, with 68% of companies investing in them. The same study also found that this had the most uncertain return on investment.
The path to engagement is much more strategic, long-term, and challenging. You have to engage their Hearts and Minds.
Here are a few ways to start.
Engage their minds:
- Evaluate your compensation practices. Are people paid fairly and equitably, both internally and compared to market? Pay is not a motivator, but it can de-motivate people.
- Improve your internal communication. Do people have access to the information they need to complete their work?
- Ensure that everyone has all of the necessary tools to do their job. Fix technology, provide access to resources.
AND Engage their hearts:
- What is your organization’s vision, mission, etc. Do they resonate with employees? does everyone in the company know where your headed and what their role is in taking the organization there?
- Take a look at all leaders’ style. Make sure they’re aware of their strengths and opportunities. Have them share this, candidly, with their teams. An introspective look and a leader who is self-aware is much more able to flex their behaviour and engage people.
- Empower people. Hire people who are aligned to your vision, train them in your standards, and set them loose to do their jobs.