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Tag Archives: leadership

10 Rules for how to be a “good employee”

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”.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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).
  7. 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.
  8. 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).
  9. 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.
  10. 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?

Pic by Sxc user Clix

 

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How to give constructive feedback

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.

Pic by sxc user mzacha

 

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Listen Leaders! Show your people you value them

One of the most important elements of engagement is a feeling of being valued.  The problem is that many leaders don’t know how to show that they do value their teams.

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.

 

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Do pyjama (pajama for my US friends) days build engagement?

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.

Pic used with permission from Microsoft

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.
You can see all of these tactics are a lot more challenging and time-consuming than pyjama days, but I guarantee, if you invest in truly engaging your people, you will see a return on your investment.
 
 

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HR is essential for business success

As I was reviewing recent “Answers” on Linked In, I came across one that inspired this post.  An HR pro had posted a question asking what others would recommend as focus areas when starting or reviving HR in an organization.  An Operations Manager had answered the question by saying “None”, and going on to clarify that it sounded like the organization was smaller and therefore wouldn’t actually need a Full Time HR person, so they should probably simply contract out for services. 

Now first, let me say, there are a lot of services that I think it makes sense to contract out at times.  However, I also think that even in a smaller organization, having a dedicated HR professional helping to develop strategy and people practices is essential to success.  The unfortunate thing is that many managers don’t understand the full value of HR and what a true HR leader can bring to the organization.  There could be many reasons for this, including perhaps only having experience with non-strategic HR administrators.  In a world where change is the only constant, and companies are emerging from recession, the old days of HR as a service or administrative function are in the past.  Having a strong strategic HR partner dedicated to your business is critical.

Some examples of the value a true strategic HR professional can bring to an organization:

  • In changing times, HR pros become change agents – they work with leaders to develop the strategy for the change, how to accomplish the change, how to engage employees in the change to ensure it is sustainable
  • HR works with C-suite leaders to determine the capabilities needed to drive the organization’s strategy.  They are the experts in evaluating and developing talent, and can help leaders make decisions to ensure the right talent is getting the right develoment in order to reach the organization’s goals.
  • HR will lead the sustainability and/or change of the organization’s culture.  They will examine all areas of people processes and practices that help to communicate culture, and work with leaders to ensure all are aligned and delivering the right messages.
  • For companies looking to expand into new or emerging markets, HR will help you determine how to source and develop talent in these new markets, and how to ensure the best parts of your culture are maintained.
  • On a more basic level, HR will help to ensure your people practices are legislatively compliant, reducing risk to the organization.

I could go on (and on), but I would love to hear from others – what other value do you think strategic HR professionals add to an organization, or do you disagree?  Comment here or tweet to me at http://twitter.com/pamelamaeross.

 
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Posted by on May 20, 2011 in Human Resources

 

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Serving your Internal Customers

I think most leaders realize how important it is to provide great service to clients or customers. I often find, though, that some organizations forget about engaging and “serving” their internal customers – their employees. In fact, I would argue that the relationship that leaders cultivate with their employees is actually more important than the one they have with their customers, especially in industries where employees work directly with customers.

I recently attended a workshop led by Ari Weinzweig, of Zingerman’s businesses in Michigan.  He spoke about Zingerman’s 12 Natural Laws of Business, and one of them hits this point about serving your internal customers.

If you want staff to give great service, give great service to staff. 

I liked Ari’s way of defining this.  He said “the service your staff gives will never be better than the service you give your staff”.  Zingerman’s leaders use their same principles for serving customers for serving staff:

1.  Figure out what the customer wants.
2.  Get it for them: Accurately, Politely and Enthusiastically.
3.  Go the extra mile. 
 

Guess what?  Zingerman’s has been so successful that even in the past couple of years of uncertain economy, they have surpassed their annual planned sales.  And in 1994, they developed a business called ZingTrain, and have actually added revenue by teaching other businesses about their service model.

What do you think?  How do you and your organization serve your internal customers?

 

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Storytelling to engage your team

I recently had an opportunity to participate in a webinar, led by Anecdote, a consultant firm out of Australia.  Anecdote specializes in storytelling to bring company’s strategies to life, and the webinar was about leveraging storytelling to build engagement.  I have never worked with Anecdote, so can’t tell you much about them but I can say that the stories they shared on the webinar were engaging, and a quick look at their website seems to promise great resources.

A few things that hit home with me, especially with my strong belief that engagement has to target both the mind and the heart:

  • Storytelling leads to an emotional connection and causes people to want to do something
  • Stories remind people of things that happened in their own experience.  To me, this helps them to feel connected to the story in a way that they aren’t connected to data
  • Anger dissipates when people are listened to.  I believe that anger and frustration lead to disengagement, so by listening, we can counteract disengagement
  • Whenever a leader takes action, they are creating a story.  I would venture to say that, in fact, stories are created more by what we do than what we say.  I wrote about this in my blog on Culture being more than a poster on the wall
One of the most prevalent stories that the facilitators mentioned was extremely simple.  They shared the example of a story people told of their manager stopping what he was doing and giving them his full attention.  The simple story of a leader focusing on what the employee had to say told a story of respect, listening, and ultimately valuing people.

 

Another example they shared was from the banking industry.  A senior leader was visiting a branch and noticed that there were several empty meeting rooms.  When he got closer to one of the rooms, he saw a sign on the door stating that the room could only be booked by Managers.  He immediately pulled his team together and asked if this was necessary.  The outcome was that it wasn’t, and he personally removed the signs fromt he doors of the room.  Without having to overtly say so, this leader sent a clear message that hierarchy was not important, in the story he told through his actions.

What sorts of stories do your employees tell about you and your leadership team?  If they aren’t aligned with the culture that you’re hoping to create, how will you change the things you do to engage your team with positive stories?  

Pic courtesy of Flickr user kodomut

 

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