12 Rules for Managing Your Employees As Real People

Vintage tin toy robot

 

Think your people are your greatest asset?

Do you survey your employees but ask the wrong questions?

Is corporate engagement one of your goals?

 

Widgets, FTE’s and Assets

What I think I love most about Rodd Wagner’s new book WIDGETS: The 12 New Rules for Managing Your Employees As If They’re Real People is his clear, unambiguous writing that calls it like he sees it. He upends common practices and wisdom, throwing out what you know and replacing it with what just makes sense. Our conversation is likely to change your position on a few subjects and have you rethink your practices. It did for me.

Why did you call the book “Widgets”?

If you spend enough time at enough companies, the bad terms used to refer to people start to accumulate. “Human capital.” “Full-time equivalents” or “FTEs.” “Headcount.” “Aprons” at a home improvement store. “Blue shirts” at Best Buy. I could barely contain my shock when leaders for one temporary staffing firm referred to the people they place as “inventory.” And the department responsible for people? In most companies, it’s called “Human Resources.” At one company, a mass layoff is called a “resource action.”

These are euphemisms, and euphemisms are most dangerous when used to refer to people, because they make it easier to disregard that we are talking about someone’s son or daughter, brother or sister, and they deserve the respect and dignity of being referred to as people. I used the title “Widgets” to take a hard whack at these bad habits and all the dehumanizing practices that flow from that perspective.

 

“Your people are not your greatest asset. They’re not yours, and they’re not assets.” –Rodd Wagner

 

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

What is wrong with many employee engagement efforts today?

Employee engagement is in a rut. It’s become hackneyed. It’s routinized.

Commission a survey. Beg people to participate. Get the results back. Distribute scorecards. Train some trainers; unleash them on the company. Cajole the CEO into using the word “engagement” in his next speech. Ask managers to do some team sessions, which maybe half will do before tucking the forms in a desk drawer. Leave the way managers are selected, coached, supported, and held accountable untouched. Let the executives feel good that they checked the employee engagement box. Go quiet for 9 or 10 months until it’s time to start the Sisyphean cycle all over again. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

JacketBut the most pernicious problem with engagement initiatives today is the way some consultancies and companies talk about the people who are neglected and, when the survey comes around, tell the truth. So-called “disengaged” employees are vilified, their motivations and character questioned. They’re said to be “more or less out to damage their company” or trying to undo what the more “engaged” accomplish. Our research contradicts these assertions that those who are most frustrated are some kind of “cancer” inside the organization.

Of course, recognizing that they will be suspect if they give low marks to their company, many employees have realized it’s career suicide to tell the truth. So they don’t. Who would under those circumstances? “Just mark five to survive,” one admin advised her colleagues. In many places, it’s now difficult if not impossible to even get a true measure of engagement. That’s the mark of a fundamentally flawed and broken system.

 

If an employee does not give high marks on a survey, look first at the manager, not the employee.

 

Inside the Head

Getting inside their heads is your first rule. It’s individual; it’s unique; it takes up significant time. And yet, it’s the most important of all. Would you share why this rule is the first?

I’ve been fielding and analyzing employee surveys and other data from more than a decade-and-a-half. Every time I plot the numbers on a new study, the first thing that strikes me is the massive range in individual responses. You simply cannot predict how a person will feel about his or her job based on generation, age, gender, race, tenure, industry, company, or any of the other group statistics that are used so often to stereotype employees.

Engagement is an individual phenomenon. Everything – how much money people want, what they consider a cool place to work, how they like to be recognized, what they envision for their future – is unique to that person. Therefore, applying all of the other New Rules depends on first understanding that one person and responding to his or her personality and ambitions. This is the reason that every good piece of research on employee engagement finds that a person’s direct supervisor is one of the key players. That manager is in a unique position to know the employee well and match him or her with the resources and opportunities inside the company.

 

“When recognition is common, employees develop resilience against adversity.” –Rodd Wagner

 

Best Friends at Work

Having a best friend at work appears in most surveys, and we repeatedly hear that it is critically important. You argue otherwise. Help us understand.

First, asking about friendships – particularly sticking your nose in an employee’s “best” friendships – is quite intrusive when the relationship between company and worker is increasingly transactional. One week you’re asking about their best friends, the next week you’re sending a few thousand of them home with severance packages. So if they either had best friends at work or were the best friends of someone still there, you’ve opened yourself to some well-founded criticism that you abused their trust.

More important, in the studies my teams and I have conducted, the “best friend” concept does not hold up well in driving results compared with more

business-related questions such as trust in leadership, perceived future of the company, and collaboration. Asking about those is your business and is better connected to your results than asking what The Washington Post once called a “high school” popularity question.

 

“Transparency tells people you trust them and you can be trusted.” –Rodd Wagner

 

What can a professor teaching more on the left side of the classroom teach us about motivating teams?

Creating a Wide-Awake and Engaged Workplace

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The Conscious Leader

We’ve all seen the depressing statistics about employee engagement.  People are not fully engaged at work, not happy, not being utilized, and not fully using their talents.

What’s a leader to do?

Dr. Shelley Reciniello is the author of The Conscious Leader: Nine Principles and Practices to Create a Wide-Awake and Productive Workplace, a leadership approach designed to apply psychological tools to improve individuals and corporate culture.  She works with senior leaders in a wide variety of fields.  She has provided services ranging from employee assistance programs, executive coaching, leadership and diversity training seminars.

 

“What is going on unconsciously is often more important than what is on the surface.” -Dr. Reciniello

 

What is a conscious leader?

A conscious leader is someone who understands that people don’t leave their psychological selves at home when they come into the workplace and that includes the leader.  This kind of leader accepts that all human beings are not rational and that our rational minds are constantly influenced by our unconscious motivations, hidden agendas, unresolved childhood issues, fears, anxieties, fantasies, prejudices, obsessions, and complicated emotions like anger and guilt.  Conscious leaders understand that what is going on unconsciously, out of awareness, is often more important than what is happening on the surface. They know that the rational mind, both the individual one and the corporate one, can only be strengthened by dealing with unconscious issues, not by pretending that they don’t exist.

Starting with themselves, conscious leaders seek to make what is unconscious conscious.  They want to know the whole story about themselves – what emotional baggage they carry, what defenses they habitually use, how others really see them, what their Achilles’ heels are. They are committed to self-development and increasing self-awareness.

Conscious leaders know that in order to create workplaces where people will want to be, they must understand the psychological principles of people at work and apply them daily.

 

The Power of Honest Feedback

Give us an example of one way a leader can be more conscious.

A leader who is open to honest feedback is going to really know how others see him or her.  They may not like what they hear, but they dig down deep in themselves to understand the root of the behavior in question, and then they can begin to fix it.  We have a lot of what we refer to as “narcissistic leaders” — probably the same amount that we have always had, but our culture seems to condone and even admire their grandiosity and bravura.  When I work with a leader like that, it is usually because the board or some other entity has insisted that this person curtail their behavior.  It is not easy for them to change because they cannot believe that their charisma and success aren’t enough.

Cub_TheConsciousLeader-altaI worked with someone like this and I knew that underneath the fascinating façade, he was quite damaged, never felt loved for himself from an early age, so he compensated by creating a larger than life self that he believed would be worthy of love.  In the coaching, he worked hard to understand how others saw him and how he made them feel. He began to see what good behavior looked like. So although we couldn’t change the structure of his personality at such a late age, he was able to become conscious of what the right behavior would be and he would mimic it.

He is actively engaged in trying to modify his behavior and his impact on others.  He uses techniques like active listening to help him have real conversations with his direct reports.  He understands that it isn’t “all about me,” and the discipline it takes for him to listen has been rewarded by the input and ideas that are growing his company.  He tells me that he reminds himself of his story every two hours!

 

Understanding How We Deal With Change

What is one commonly misunderstood psychological principle? How does it relate to organizational leadership?

It is generally acknowledged that more change has occurred in the last decade, largely due to the advances of technology, than at any other time in human history. And there appears to be no end in sight. Principle 8 focuses on the fact that change is a constant in every workplace. Whether the change is initiated by a world event, the marketplace, or comes from within, it will require a particular kind of leadership if it is going to be accepted and implemented on both an organizational and individual level.

 

“All change is loss, and all loss must be mourned.” -Harry Levinson

 

Our natural, evolutionary response as human beings is to fear change and to resist it. It represents the unknown and unfamiliar and carries with it the possibility that we will suffer harm. Over time, we have learned that change can also be positive and lead to good things. The complete truth about change is that it is always hydra-headed; it is about both winning and losing.  In corporate restructuring, for example, change usually results in two groups, those who will win and stay and those who will lose and leave.  But it isn’t as simple as that in reality.  For even the people who get to stay often talk about how things were before the restructuring because something was gained but something was also lost.

My mentor, Harry Levinson, used to say it this way: “All change is loss, and all loss must be mourned.” When we do not allow for the mourning appropriate to the occurrence, successful change is jeopardized. Mourning seems like a natural thing to do.  Think about the crying and other shows of sentimentality at any high school or college graduation.  If leaders jump the gun and demand the swift, dispassionate adherence to change, resistance will kick in and there will be corporate consequences.  The recent recession brought dire economic consequences to many, accompanied by anxiety, depression, and in some cases, suicide. The extent of the changes that occurred, and the speed with which they happened, did not give people the time and resources they needed to adjust to their drastically altered circumstances.

A swift-moving, action-oriented business model leaves little time for people, whether they are going or staying, to readjust and acclimate to a changed environment.  No one is immune and everyone feels vulnerable.  The unspoken contract between employer and employee, and the trust that goes with it, are forever broken.

 

The Family Dynamic at Work

Procrastinate on Purpose

Learn How to Be A Multiplier

If you’ve tried all of the tips, tricks, tools, apps, checklists, planners and technology gimmicks to improve your productivity, you may wonder why it is that you still haven’t mastered your time.

 

“Creating the next level of results requires the next level of thinking.” –Rory Vaden

 

My friend Rory Vaden, cofounder of international company Southwestern Consulting, NYT bestselling author of Take the Stairs: 7 Steps to Achieving True Success, says that:

  • Everything you know about time management is wrong.
  • The most productive people in the world do things differently.
  • We need to understand the emotional aspects of time management.
  • We need to learn how to multiply our time.
  • We need to learn how to procrastinate on purpose.

9780399170621His new book, Procrastinate on Purpose: 5 Permissions to Multiply Your Time has just been released. A few weeks ago, I sat down with Rory to talk about his extensive research into time management.

If you want to be more productive, more effective, more impactful – and who doesn’t – Rory’s research will propel you along.

3 Types of Procrastination

Learn about the 3 different types of procrastination:

3 Ways to Motivate Your Team

successful business team winning an award

What are the best ways to motivate a team? Are there best practices that managers can use to lead?

 

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I’m always asking people these questions, trying to improve my understanding of team motivation.  Entrepreneur, speaker, and CEO of MyEmployees, David Long, is an expert on motivation and rewards.  His company specializes in helping managers link rewards and recognition to the desired goals of the company.  The firm he founded has been working at this for twenty five years.  His new book, Built to Lead: 7 Management R.E.W.A.R.D.S Principles for Becoming a Top 10% Manager, is David’s view of what it takes to become a Top 10% manager.

I asked David:  what are three ways to best motivate a team?  His answer:

 

Value Opinions

1: Show your employees you value their opinions.
Anytime we seek to improve something in a particular department or process within our company, we always tell the employees what we want to happen.  Then we ask them, “In an ideal world, what changes can we make to improve the process and make your job easier?”  Why do we ask them instead of just telling them what to do?  It’s quite simple really.  We want buy-in to the needed changes being made, and we insure that by involving them and their input.

 

“Success leaves clues.” -Tony Robbins

 

Note: Your front-line employees should always be involved in the process when developing the system in which they are expected to produce and perform.  If they help create the system, it greatly increases the likelihood of them adopting any changes that may be created as a result.  Without that happening, there will definitely be unnecessary resistance.

 

“No man will make a great leader who wants to get all the credit for doing it.” -Andrew Carnegie

 

Recognize Excellent Work

2: Recognize excellence at every opportunity.
Someone once said, “What gets recognized gets repeated.”  You want more innovation within your company, then recognize it.  You want more employees to take ownership of their responsibilities and care about the success of the company as if it were their own, then recognize it!  You want to improve any quantifiable metric of success within your company, such as sales, increased profits, higher dollar per client, then recognize it.

 

Research shows that every employee should be recognized at least once every 7 days.

3 Smartcuts to Accelerate Your Success

Maze Shortcut

Are you looking for a shortcut?  Or the secret that will unlock your career?

Why do some companies launch to huge public success while others are never discovered?  Is the secret of success hard work and determination?

Or is there something else at work?

 

Take A Smartcut

Entrepreneur, cofounder and chief creative officer of media technology company Contently, Shane Snow, has just authored a book called Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success.  Every week, I’m asked by executives for the most recent, most thoughtful book I have read.

I now have the answer:

Smartcuts.  It is an extraordinarily interesting read, full of insights and yet entertaining.  The book was just released.

Let me introduce three of Shane’s smartcuts that will make you think about success differently.

Your book is full of hacks, ways to become successful much faster than average.  As I read your book, I noticed that you often upended traditional thinking over and over.  We can’t begin to hit them all, so let’s talk about just three of them:

 

The secret to success is not hard work and persistence.

 

Hard work.  Persistence.  Put in your dues.  You throw all the commonsense wisdom out and instead offer “Smartcuts.”  What is a smartcut?  Would you share an example of one?

Smartcuts are a smarter way of doing things.  Essentially, it’s the mindset that the conventional path everyone else takes in business (or any career) is by definition average.  To beat the average, you have to think differently.  Shortcuts, or cheating, tend not to be sustainable; Smartcuts are a faster, often counter-intuitive way that manages to speed success while providing value.  For example, it turns out that some of the most successful U.S. presidents, CEOs, and entertainers manage to get to the top and make game-changing breakthroughs without having paid as many dues as their counterparts.  They do incredible things and change lives but without having slogged it out in Congress for 30 years, etc.  This demonstrates what we humans are good at doing: correlating the wrong things.  Time spent, it turns out, does not equal merit.  The danger, of course, is that no time spent does not equal merit either.  There’s something about these “ladder hacking” success stories that makes the difference, and there’s something about their nontraditional journeys that lead them to be good leaders and players without having to go the needlessly slow route.  I get into the nuances of how they “hack the ladder” in the first three chapters of the book.

 

Time spent does not equal merit.

 

 

Positive feedback is not always the best way to improve performance.

 

“You did really well!” says the parent, thinking that positive motivation is the way to build self-esteem.  Instead, you say that negative feedback is a better route to success.  Why?

SmartcutsResearch shows that negative feedback helps us learn and grow more quickly than positive feedback.  Muscles build when you test their limits.  However, negative feedback only works if we’re in the right mindset, otherwise it can be catastrophic.  You see experts in many fields accelerate their growth by craving negative feedback, and that’s because they’ve managed to de-personalize feedback—make it about the thing they did and not about them.  That depersonalization is hard to do, and it’s why our bowling game gets worse when our friends tell us everything we’re doing wrong (and we start to get in our heads about it).  You have to be really secure to feel good about yourself if all you’re getting is critiqued.

So really, the key is to build up your kids’ self-esteem muscles by showing them that they are ok when things go wrong, and that feedback is about what they’re doing and not who they are. De-couple the performance from the self-esteem.  When you can do that, you can push them like the Karate Kid, and they’ll grow much more quickly.

In the book, I talk about how The Second City comedy school puts this principle into practice, to take frightened students and turn them into stars in a short time.