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.

Measuring Trust

I attended a Social Media Roundtable yesterday morning and the question of trust came right to the forefront of the cultural debate of why companies should use (or don’t use) social media. A lawyer can poke holes into any argument for or against social media but leaders need to instill a culture of trust in order to see success with social tools and collaborative processes. They need to understand the risk attorneys point out but, ultimately, it is a business decision as to how and when these tools can be used.

A fascinating study was presented at this Roundtable: Edelman’s Barometer of Trust. I never thought trust could be measured but this study shows that people are tending to trust “People Like Me” more than their leaders. I find this shift of placed trust very interesting. Is this phenomenon a result of social media or have people always trusted their peers and social media enabled that to happen?

I would argue with the dawn of social media, people suddenly feel like they have a voice…maybe for the first time at least in consumer circles if not at work. This feeling of desired empowerment is trying to make its way into the business world and so a great struggle ensues in some companies. People want more say and responsibility and some leadership teams are hesitant to trust their employees with decision-making and expertise sharing.

Presenting this barometer of trust idea to leadership may help fuel the business case for why we should integrate social tools into our work processes and communication flows. The command-an-control, top-down method of operating is fading. In the years to come, “People Like Me” will be influencing our decisions and shaping the way we work and share. What an exciting time to be in the middle of knowledge management and collaboration!

Real Change?

Every month, I enjoy reading “The Future of the Future” column in KM World. In April’s article, Art Murray wrote part one of a two-part piece on Real Change and how companies should be transforming their way of doing business.

I loved all of his ideas: move from hierarchies to networks, eliminate silos, make learning systemic, focus on systemic improvements not band-aids, and be positive about how to make things work. Common sense tells us that, yes, these are all great ideas to make the organization run smoother and employees happier.

So, why do silos still exist? Why do we implement bandaids knowing they will peel off eventually? Why don’t people share information with each other freely?

In a word…FEAR. I hoard information to make myself more valuable. I don’t share in forums because I am afraid of looking stupid. I implement band-aids because doing something quick looks better than taking time to plan, which looks like I’m doing nothing.

I have spent my entire career championing ground-up, organic change. And, once leaders saw the degree of  crowd approval and desire, that was the tipping point to making that change a reality but it always needed an eventual leadership endorsement to become a business practice.

Lately, I have found that grassroots efforts aren’t enough to tip the scales if leaders aren’t willing to acknowledge and listen to the fear that permeates their employees. I think it takes a brave soul, willing to take a risk, to point out to leadership how to alleviate people’s fears.

I still think real change takes real leadership. Plain and simple. Real leadership is:

  • Setting expectations to share; in fact, hoarding should be disciplined
  • Empowering people to make mistakes…..once
  • Giving time to properly plan and discouraging band-aids, unless they make business sense
  • Assuring people to share ideas; don’t penalize if they are off the mark
  • Empowering people to make decisions
  • Delegating authority with tasks