Making Progress? If Not, Be Worried About Your Employees

progressI am always behind in my reading. I try to stay up but then I fall back. I was reading a short article in Harvard Business Review’s Reinvent January/February issuetoday and I was so struck by one “breakthrough idea” I read that literally a light bulb appeared above my head.

What really motivates workers….recognition? Try again. Incentives? Mmmm…they are important but not quite. It’s progress! And, when researchers Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer asked leaders what they thought, all said recognition was first and progress was dead last.

I feel like shouting this from the mountaintops. Amend every management course. PROGRESS! Yes! Don’t we feel frustrated when action isn’t taken? Or, politics gets in the way? Or, cumbersome approval processes prevent us from moving forward? Yes. This all affects our engagement levels and motivation because our ability to succeed, contribute and create value is inhibited.

So, as managers, and leaders especially, to improve employee engagement and retain high potential staff members, ensure that progress is being made and obstacles to progress are removed immediately.

Ensuring progress means:

  • Breaking down silos
  • Communicating frequently
  • Providing tools and technology access
  • Setting achievable goals
  • Fostering creativity
  • Securing resources
  • Involving your people in decisions

These sound so easy but they can be difficult depending on culture. But, I can’t think of a more important charter for a leader than being able to retain top talent while moving the ship forward in the right direction.

Flexing Your Style

flexibilityIn a knowledge management role, it is important to understand a company’s culture, technology infrastructure and processes. But, everything starts with people. How a culture influences people management styles is critical if you are trying to change behavior, increase adoption new things and inspire collaboration.

A person’s management style is unique to them. I have managed people for years and certainly have a “style” about the way I do that. I believe in collaborating across the team, adequately defining roles and responsibilities to prevent toe crunching, setting goals and allowing employees the freedom to work on their own and propose recommendations and solutions to me. Then, I get out of the way. I manage this way because that’s how I like to be managed.

I have always known that sometimes you have to flex your style a little bit to engage your employees in the manner that suits them. Some employees want to be left alone and others need frequent touchpoints and more direction. I pride myself on being fair. It’s taken me years in people management to realize that fair does not necessarily mean equal. That flexing is necessary for continued employee engagement.

However, recently, I have found that sometimes you not only have to flex your style to meet an employee’s needs but also to fit within a culture especially if it’s new to you. A long-standing culture generally has dictated a management style – command and control, hands-off, hands-on, touchy feely, etc. So, how do you balance your style, your employees’ needs and the culture’s paradigm?

I’m not sure I have all the answers. I think this is why managing people is so difficult, why it is truly a discipline and why it’s not for everyone. Finding simple and small ways to flex for all of these reasons without compromising you and your abilities is the secret. 

For example, if a culture is command and control, perhaps you should try to be a change agent here. I actually have never found command and control to be effective. Touchy feely – Check in more than you’d like to with your employees if it’s expected; spend time talking about the weekend. Hands-on – offer to review things more than you’re used to. Hands-off – delegate and let a few things go!

I think finding these small items to flex on makes a world of difference. Stretching ourselves as a people manager can only help us succeed.

The New Score: Work 32 | Learning and Development 8

baseballI recently read an opinion in AIIM’s Infonomics magazine by Mike Knoll, a specialist in resource management. He argues that we too often reward people for working long hours and that we interpret sacrificing weekends, personal activities and time with friends and family to mean people are dedicated, effective and successful…a real hero!

He posits that if you have to work 60 – 70 hours a week, you must need training or time to improve processes. Or, potentially, you are hoarding work that could be delegated because you’re afraid you’ll lose your value. Instead, he states that we should embrace the 32-hour work week for the sake of employee health and happiness, not to mention better efficiencies and results.

I say Bravo! Mike.

Shouldn’t we reward people for getting the job done right, on budget and on time…time that was properly forecasted to begin with? I don’t think giving kudos to someone who says I can get that done in week when it would really take 8 days is good business sense. You set unrealistic expectations and it shows lack of planning and poor estimating skills.

So, if we budget 32 hours a week for “work”, what can the other 8 hours be used for? Learning and development.  We want our people to be smart and stay up on the latest trends. Well, this takes attending webinars, reading books and articles, monitoring blogs and Twitter streams and even writing their own content as an expert.

Growth is a key ingredient for success and growth takes thinking, reading, brainstorming and tinkering. And, the most effective time to do these activities is not at 9 pm at night when you’re juggling kids, watching the 9 pm news and cramming a sandwich down your throat. The most appropriate time is in the morning or afternoon on, say, a Tuesday.

Schedule learning and growing into your day. Start estimating work at 32 hours a week and see how efficient and effective you can really be. And then go catch a Cubs game on Saturday!

Opportunities in Down Times?

My previous entry applies to large, conservative organization that is truly closed to new ideas and just trying to keep their head above water. Let’s not kid ourselves…unfortunately, they are out there. For those braver and more entrepreneurial souls, by all means take now as an opportunity to help sell how we can make things better internally, which may include different technology.

Some companies may have made very short-term decisions in their recent RIFs that may come back to haunt them. In a year, they may find themselves scrambling to locate good talent to help position themselves well in the new marketplace.

If you have leadership that will listen, then by all means pitch social technology as a means of engaging surviving talent – posing yourself for the great recruitment adventure to come as well as positioning your products and services within the marketplace.

If you’re looking to stretch your dollar, then borrow public social tools for now until you can procure something more sophisticated if that’s needed. If the lawyers don’t allow you to do that, then it’s time for all Learning and Knowledge Professionals to become sales professionals. We want to stay afloat but occasionally waves come by and we need to have a sea-worthy craft to ride them out. If your craft is 10 years old and not sea-worthy, then negotiate for small, trial implementations to prove their value.

Now, if we put our neck on the line for wish list items like this, then we MUST bribe, persuade and cajole our test groups to use the heck out of these tools so not only do we get to keep them but we get to expand them when the waves start to diminish.

We all have an inner Salesperson. We sell everyday, don’t we? We may not make any revenue or claim more marketshare but we seek something more important – mindshare. I’ll never forget the first time I heard that term…almost 10 years ago. It struck a deep chord with me. YES! That is what I sell – getting people to agree with my ideas