Employee or Customer Engagement
“Treating people with respect and valuing them is a universal language. Culture trumps strategy.”—Howard Schultz, Starbucks’ CEO
Written in an easy-to-read conversational style, this short book will inspire you to spread respect far and wide.
The book is also available in print format ($8.00).
Corporate giant Big Cheese had been around for generations. Upstart Little Cheese was new in town.
Both companies were ramping up seasonal hiring, getting ready for the holiday influx of orders for cheese balls, cheese logs and cheese platters. Big Cheese had higher starting salaries, slightly better benefits and served wine and cheese at job fairs. But much to Big Cheese’s consternation, Little Cheese, which humbly offered prospective employees macaroni and cheese, was hiring all the top applicants. Even more troubling for Big Cheese was when some of its best employees decided to switch to Little Cheese.
Big Cheese then spent big bucks hiring a consultant to tell them what to do. The consultant designed, analyzed, and suggested programs and best practices based on an employee engagement survey and industry data. This took months to do. But nothing much changed. Big Cheese’s lackluster fourth quarter earnings created panic among the top mice in the company. Big Cheese’s CEO rallied the ranks, “Smile. Say ‘cheese!’” Managers squeaked to their groups: “Must. Work. Harder.”
Meanwhile, Little Cheese’s profits grew so much that the seasonal workers were kept on.
All of Mouseville marveled at the minor miracle of Little Cheese’s success.
Why was Big Cheese floundering and Little Cheese flourishing?
In desperation, Big Cheese’s CEO, Gorgy Zola, invited Little Cheese’s CEO, Monty Jack, to the Hole-in-the-Wall Bar.
“Monty, there’s enough mice here to support 10 cheese factories,” said Gorgy. “I don’t want to steal your business, but I’m hoping you can share some ‘best practices’ for how you have had such success in hiring and keeping your employees.”
“Best practices . . .” mused Monty. “We haven’t been in business that long! Our business has grown too fast to always be looking to the past for best practices.”
Gorgy’s whiskers drooped. “So, you don’t have any advice for me?”
“Well, Gorgy, I do, but you might not like it,” said Monty.
“It’s OK. If I keep on doing things the same, it won’t matter in a few months,” said Gorgy. “I won’t have a job.”
“It’s good that you realize you have to change,” said Monty. “Probably the biggest challenge with looking to the past to decide on the future is that you are never really present in the moment, looking at what is and what could be. Maybe you need a brand new corporate culture code. Mice, especially the younger mice, want different things now from work: purpose, meaning, flexibility, great coworkers.”
“Entitlement. That’s their attitude!” squeaked Gorgy. “In this economy, they should be grateful for a well-paying, steady job with good benefits.”
“Well, you maybe can attract some workers with those things, but you might not keep them.” Monty paused, looked Gorgy in the eye. He slowly smiled. “Plus, if money and benefits are the only reasons they’re there, they probably won’t work at their highest level.”
“What else do they want? Recognition? More training? Free lunch on Friday?” Gorgy asked. “We are pushing employee engagement, but it’s not having the results we had hoped.”
“Maybe that’s the problem, you’re pushing too much and not pulling enough,” said Monty. “You’ve been so focused on the goal of retaining and hiring workers that perhaps you have forgotten to inspire them, to energize them with your vision, and then empower them to accomplish it.”
“You know that sounds good, but I don’t know what I should do differently,” said Gorgy.
“I can hazard a guess that one of the big differences between your company and my company in terms of employee engagement is simply a matter of size,” said Monty. “You have more levels of management and bigger teams—that adds layers of communication and process that can be frustrating. Maybe Big Cheese needs to think more like a small company and have smaller teams. That’s one possibility. Why don’t you ask your people? And, why not try asking from the bottom up? Ask the maintenance mouse what he likes and doesn’t like about his job, and if he were the top mouse what he’d like done differently? You might be surprised at what you find out.”
Gorgy squinted at Monty, “Me, the CEO, chat with the maintenance mouse? What could he possibly know about running the business?”
“Just give it a try, Gorgy,” said Monty. “As you said, you have nothing to lose! Go back today, give it a shot and call me next week to let me know how it went.”
A week later, Gorgy called Monty.
“Monty,” said Gorgy, “Thanks for your advice! I actually did start with the lowest position at our company—the new intern in maintenance. She had an idea involving our factory lighting that will save us thousands of dollars in the next year and it should improve productivity to boot. And, you know what? I could tell that she felt valued that I sincerely wanted her input. I told the VP’s about the experience and they’re doing the same thing—talking with people in their departments. I can feel the increased energy throughout the company. I know it’s just a start, but it’s a good start!”
“Glad things are going better for you,” said Monty, “I guess my old-school advice on simply talking to people wasn’t cheesy!”
Gorgy laughed, “that’s a gouda one!”
Aside from sleep, work takes up most of our time. And, the most challenging aspects of work are often the clashes with coworkers, clients, management or employees.
Learning how to cope with work relationship problems strategically will reduce your stress and make your job easier.
Psychologists say you can cope by solving a problem (problem-focused coping), or you can cope by avoiding a problem (emotion-focused coping). Ideally, solving a problem would permanently remove the stress, but as some problems are not easily solved, avoiding the problem also will result in stress reduction. Often, you can engage in problem avoidance strategies while simultaneously working on solutions.
The steps are outlined below:
1. Understand the problem and determine the desired outcome. Maybe this is obvious, but don’t make assumptions about the problem and don’t try to solve a problem without knowing what you want as an outcome. Let’s take the problem of an employee who habitually comes in late as an example. You could assume that the employee is late because of poor planning or a lackadaisical attitude, and deal with the problem punitively, or you could find out why the employee is late (maybe their childcare provider is habitually late) and help them explore solutions, while setting clear expectations.
2. Plan. Consider solution approaches.
- Adapt a solution from a similar situation—consider using solutions that have worked in similar situations. Have you had other employees come in late? What have you done? If you don’t have a highly similar situation, consider a similar situation, maybe even from your personal life. If your teenager is late for school, how do you cope with that?
- Use a Process. Some relationship problems occur regularly. Have a proven process in place, and maybe even a script. Once you have had a problem, take notes! When it happens again, review the notes and develop a process. If you work for a large company, your HR department may already have processes in place. Having a process in place encourages consistency and fairness, and saves you the time you might agonize over what to do.
- Model the problem with role-playing. Practice your solution. At the very least, do a dry-run in your head. Better yet, practice with someone else.
- Divide and conquer. Break down a big, complex problem into smaller, more easily solvable problems. Perhaps there are multiple problems that contribute to the problem of being late. Consider addressing the smaller problems first.
- Use Trial-and-Error. Trial-and-Error can be preferable to doing nothing, if the steps are small and without grave consequences. In the case of the late employee, you can start with simply asking the employee to come in on time and telling the employee why it’s important (to both the company and the employee). If that does not yield the desired results, you can try having a problem-solving discussion, perhaps using a “divide and conquer” approach. Then, if lateness is still an issue, you can try something else, like a written agreement, spelling out expectations and consequences for not meeting the expectations.
- Brainstorm: You can do this alone, but you can also do it with another person, or in a group, if the issue is not confidential. Brainstorming a large number of solutions (let the Post-It Notes fly!) and then reduce the number of solutions by using the above methods.
3. Do. Carry out your solution plan.
4. Check. Check your results.
5. Adjust. If the outcome is not achieved, consider adjusting your understanding, your desired outcome and your solution approach.
6. Consider problem avoidance strategies. A few avoidance strategies:
- Ignore. Some problems, especially if they are minor and not likely to recur aren’t worth the energy to solve, or to even avoid. (e.g. someone is late to work because they were in a car accident).
- Separate. Physically separate the problem or conflict-inducing entities. Move seats. Adjust schedules.
- Redirect. Change the subject to one on which there is agreement.
- Distract. Distract yourself or the other person with something more engaging, preferably something that is fun, relaxing or mentally stimulating in a way that is very different than the problem at hand. Give yourself a “time-out” from the problem by going to the employee lounge, listening to music, or switching to a task that you are excited about.
- Reframe. Look at the problem another way. Consider the significance to the “big picture” or to a longer timeline. Ask yourself, “will this matter in 5 years?” Consider how the problem might look from another individuals point of view. Or, better yet, ask yourself, “what is the opportunity in this problem?” An employee’s poor communication skills become an opportunity for learning. Loss of a major client becomes an opportunity to grow existing clients and find new, possibly better clients.
- Delay. Put it off until “later.” Agree to address the problem at a later time, if putting it off won’t have dire consequences.
- Avoid Triggers. With experience, you will learn that certain things may trigger or escalate a problem. It’s often easy to see what triggers other people, but you have your own triggers, too. For example, when people are late for an appointment with me, I find that somewhat irritating. I used to find it extremely irritating. I have avoided triggering my anger response by modifying my own behavior. I have a plan in place. First, I almost always confirm appointments the day before with an email. Second, if someone is more than 10 minutes late, I call them and ask if they are on their way (which means that I have taken the time to make sure I have their cell phone number). Third, if I end up waiting, I always have something to do, rather than fume (with a smart phone, this is easy—email, Facebook, Kindle Reader and more are available). Finally, if necessary, I will reschedule.
Do you have any additional coping strategies for solving, or temporarily avoiding problems?
This post is 5th in the series 7 Principles of Making Relationships Work at Work.
It was a lesson I learned playing tug-of-war in gym class: None of us is as powerful as all of us.
Even the weakest of us had power that could make a difference. Nobody had to “empower” us.
Empowerment is a concept that on the surface sounds good, until you really think about what it means. The prefix “em” means to “put into.” To empower people is to put power into them, to enable them to do something. Well, that’s better than complete domination, but it is still top-down control.
What if companies went beyond mere empowerment and instead maximized everyone’s power?
Not power to dominate. Power to liberate. Power to create. Power to share.
Shared power leads to shared knowledge. Shared knowledge leads to better performance. Better performance leads to better results.
Here are 4 ways to get started with power sharing:
- Ask. Ask people, “What do you need to provide your best value to this organization?” or, “What needs to change for you to provide your best value?”
- Share information and resources. Provide information and resources (including training) that others may not even realize can help them provide their best value.
- Share roles and responsibilities. Consider co-facilitation of meetings, for example. Some roles and responsibilities could even be rotated, which will also deepen empathy and understanding among team members. Or, you could let someone who reports to you at work attend a meeting in your place.
- Share reasons. Better yet, develop the reasons “why” together. People buy in to what they help create.
How have you shared power?
“In the past a leader was a boss. Today’s leaders must be partners with their people . . . they no longer can lead solely based on positional power.” –Ken Blanchard
This post is 4th in the series 7 Principles of Making Relationships Work at Work.
This content is also featured in, The Respect Virus: How to Create a Contagious Culture of Respect
Study after study shows that greater engagement leads to greater retention, better satisfaction, better health and higher profits.
If engagement is so good, what are you doing personally, every day, to increase engagement at work or in your business?
Engagement can be not only part of an overall organizational engagement strategy, but it also can be part of your personal engagement strategy. Your engaging personally, connecting with people one-on-one, creating moments of connection, builds up an emotional bank account, which can grow your business or your career. It also can create a cushion of loyalty when times get tough.
Isn’t that worth 2 minutes a day?
Here are some simple, 2-minute actions you can take every day to build up that emotional bank account with others:
1. Chit Chat. Really. You can start talking about the weather, even. Start with something you both have in common.
Things in common = similarity –>increased connection.
Try this simple, yet effective small talk technique:
a. Observe. Make a comment on something that you and the other person can both observe or that you have in common (event, situation, something you see). It doesn’t need to be witty.
b. Transition. (optional) Make a transition comment that relates #a (your observation) to #c (the question) by revealing a tidbit of information about yourself. You can often skip the transition, but by revealing a tidbit of information about yourself, you foster a sense of connection.
c. Ask. Ask a question.
d. Comment. Follow up with a comment relevant to their response.
e. Ask another question and continue a little back and forth chit chat.
For example, let’s say you are walking by someone’s desk and you notice a family picture.
Observe: What a good-looking family!
Transition: That reminds me of when my kids were little.
Ask: How old are your kids? (response: 1, 3 and 7)
Comment: I bet they keep you busy!
Ask another question: Are you doing anything fun with them this summer?
To extend the moment of connection, take note of some details of the conversation to bring up at a later time. I know I feel more connected with people who remember some details about me or what we talked about. For my business clients, I record details of conversations on a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) tool and add scheduled tasks to remind me to touch base.
For example, I was working with a client on a presentation and I knew that the presentation was going to be in a week, on Friday. I put a task in my CRM tool to send her an email on Thursday wishing her well on her presentation. She told me twice, once in email and once in person how much she appreciated my brief words of encouragement.
2. Invite them to something you are already going to.
- Meals. You have to eat. Why not use that time to build relationships?
- Events/Activities. Do you share an interest? Why not invite them to join you?
- Volunteer effort for a charitable cause that both you and they care about.
- Meetings, if appropriate.
3. Show sincere appreciation.
Don’t just say thank you. Make your thanks be sincere, timely and show significance.
Sincere = from the heart, not just a perfunctory “thank you.”
Timely = as soon as reasonably possible
Show significance = to illuminate the significant impact their action had
When possible, make your appreciation public. Public appreciation, at a meeting for example, not only lets you express your gratitude, but you also elevate the person in the eyes of others.
4. Use multiple modes of communication.
In-person is great, but not always practical. What other ways does the person communicate? Phone. Text. Email. Skype. Google Hangouts. Chat. Direct messages on Twitter. Facebook or LinkedIn messages. A quick video. Or, go old-school and send something snail mail. Just make sure that you aren’t forcing the other person to communicate in ways they don’t want to.
You never know where attempting moments of connection will lead you! A few years ago, I did an assignment for a class which required doing an exercise on someone’s website. I was so impressed with the exercise that I blogged about it and then sent a link to that blog post to the creator of the exercise. She was pleased that I saw value in the exercise and that I promoted its use. From there, we connected on social media sites, email, phone and Skype. We eventually co-authored a book together. Several months after the book was published, we met in person for the first time.
What can you communicate to increase connection?
- Provide information or resources you think they would appreciate (but don’t sell)
- Offer congratulations
- Offer appreciation (see #3)
- Provide an introduction to someone they would like to meet
- Respond timely to their communications with you
That last one, responding timely, is a deal-breaker for me. When someone doesn’t respond to my emails, it makes me feel like I’m not very important to them. Of course, I try to give people the benefit of the doubt, realizing that my email might have gotten trapped in their spam filter or that their response time is just slower (personally, I try to get back to people within 24 hours in most cases). Even if your complete response will take a while, at least get back with people to let them know you received the email and will get back with them by a certain date.
Do you have quick ways to create moments of connection with employees, co-workers, or clients?
This post is 3rd in the series 7 Principles of Making Relationships Work at Work.
This content is also featured in, The Respect Virus: How to Create a Contagious Culture of Respect