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employee engagement

We talk about leadership almost ad nauseum in blog posts, workshops, seminars, keynotes, webinars, anyone who will listen to us!

We do this because leadership is often lacking in the very people who are in leadership roles. So we keep beating a dead horse, in the hopes that something sticks. If we keep talking about leadership skills they will hopefully become part of our collective consciousness.

Because the sad fact remains that many bosses and managers are not inspiring, do not effectively lead, do not create employee engagement, and all of the other positive aspects we hope to find when we go to work. Typically, as an employee, you are not in your dream job and you are working for someone you don’t find particularly inspiring. You may not even like the person as a person, never mind a leader.

There are many blog posts about knowing when it’s time to leave your job, how to nail your interview; how to create the perfect resume, what to look for in your prospective employer, but the harsh reality is we are often relegated to our jobs out of necessity. We should always strive to look for something better. I don’t advocate settling, but there will most likely be a period when you are working for someone you wish you weren’t.

So how do you keep your wits about you in this scenario without losing your mind?

  1. Raise yourself up if no one else is. If you’re not getting the leadership you desire from your boss or manager then be your own leader. Lift yourself This is an opportunity to flex and develop your own skillset. Read the books and blogs on leadership to hone your leadership abilities. I recommend Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset, to cultivate a growth mindset, crucial for resilience and propelling forward in life. Vent privately if you need to, then regroup and take action. Being negative will only hurt.
  1. Raise everyone else up too if need be. If you feel your leader is operating at a lower level don’t lower yourself. Stay at your own level and have them come up to yours…respectfully. Though your ideas and views may sound strange at first to those that don’t share them they might come around in the long run. At least they’ll have been heard. Propose the ideas that you think are the best, do your best work. Combat mediocrity with excellence. Be a part of the solution.
  1. Recognize the lessons this person is teaching you. Listening to viewpoints you don’t share helps you move past biases and expand your mind. An undesirable leader teaches the lesson of how not to lead. Thank them (in your head) for showing you what not to do. Being able to see solutions through an optimistic lens will help you immensely throughout all areas of your life.
  1. Be diplomatic. Eloquence is a lost art. Much like scenarios that test our patience teach us patience, scenarios that test our discretion teach us diplomacy. This hones your communication skills, which is imperative for your personal and professional life. Resist the impulse to say or do something you can’t take back. Once you’re seen as a negative influence it’s very difficult to change someone’s mind about you. Diplomacy keeps everyone’s integrity intact.
  1. Practice empathy. When it comes down to it we’re all individuals with specific motivating factors for each of our lives. When we understand the why behind what we perceive as faulty leadership it can mitigate our frustration. There might be a very human reason for faulty leadership that elicits empathy rather than hate. We each have a past that created our core beliefs. Is yours better? For you it is. Don’t alienate yourself; ingratiate yourself, without being obsequious.
  1. Seek counsel from other leaders. Find other business owners if possible and bounce the behavior/opinions of your leader off someone else. It’s good to know where you might be wrong and skewed in your own thinking. Seeking counsel is in fact something I routinely suggest leaders themselves do. It’s important for everyone to have checks and balances in their lives to counter our own inherent biases.
  1. If you want to keep your job, do your job. You’ll know if being vocal about your opposing views is beneficial for you or not. Don’t be contrary for the sake of your ego. If you need your job and you’re not changing anyone’s mind then the best course of short-term action is to keep your opinions to yourself and do the job you were hired to do. Try not to burn any bridges.

Though it might not feel like much consolation in the moment, working for a leader you don’t believe in helps define your own needs and desires. It’s akin to dating in your romantic life: each relationship illuminates who you are, what you need, and what you want. So it goes with your professional life as well.

Understanding opposing viewpoints expands your consciousness, whether you like it or not. When you surround yourself with people of the same ilk, with the same beliefs, your worldview becomes narrow. Working for people that you don’t like or that make your life difficult are usually the best business lessons in life.

Leaders cultivate inclusivity. Become part of the solution, not the problem.

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Dear Employee,

Every night at 6PM I like to kick my heels up and take a breather from the day’s work. You might have seen me with my legs on my desk, hands behind my head, gazing out the window. As a boss it’s important for me to enjoy a moment of zen. It recharges me. At about 6:30 I resume work and then go home at about 7.

___

Dear Boss,

I’ve noticed. Right about the time as you kick up your heels I am usually about to leave for the day, that is until I see your reclining silhouette basking in a state of nirvana. I then re-open my computer to make it look like I’m still working and text my spouse that I’m not sure when I’ll be coming home. The next hour or so is one of excruciating boredom as we all wait for you to head out the door and give us the thumbs up for working so hard.

___

Why Your Torture Plan Will Surely Backfire

It’s a mental lock down. As the employee’s response above indicates, you’re not breeding harder workers per se but rather an environment that keeps bodies in chairs for an extra hour each day. The fact that this pattern occurs at the end of the workday means your employees leave the office with “Get me out of here!” reverberating through their brain, tires screeching out of the parking lot.

___

Maybe Try this Instead?

It’s easily fixable and not one of life’s major work struggles. Simply let your employees know that if their work is done and/or they need to cut out for some personal reason they’re free to go. This policy instills trust and engagement. Like most things in life communication is key. If on the other hand you’re relishing the mental lock down, completely aware that no one is leaving because you’re still in the office, you might find a career as a pig farmer more enriching.

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My colleague and I had no choice but to rent a car one night when a canceled flight left us stranded, five hours away from our destination.

Two hours into the drive, we encountered what felt like a monsoon. It was then we discovered that one of the windshield wiper blades was bare metal, sans rubber. Though I am a fan of some alternative music genres, metal scraping on glass is not one of them.

It was pitch black, the only light source coming from large trucks. At times we had to stick our heads out the window to see where we were going. We called the car rental company (a large national chain we all know) for roadside assistance, which amounted to them suggesting we find a 24/7 Walmart. No luck.

Prognosis: we were down one blade for the entirety of the trip, forced to listen to metal on glass wipe back and forth for hours. It was dangerous and excruciating.

When we returned the car, we were given a $100 gift certificate (good for one year) and went on my way. I wanted to ask for a free future rental along with a full repayment of my graduate school loans, but the customer service rep was so nice and empathetic I took the gift certificate.

One year and three days later I needed to rent a car again, but I was told that the gift certificate’s expiration was final and “absolutely nothing could be done.” We can successfully perform a heart transplant on someone but issuing a new gift certificate for a rental car, that’s beyond our human capability. For several weeks after I dealt with reps that told me there was nothing they or anyone could do for me. They saw “one year” and their brain thought, “game over.”

Here was a customer service department deeply rooted in what Carol Dweck calls a “fixed mindset.”

If you haven’t read Mindset yet by Carol Dweck I highly recommend it. I have been rather obsessed with the concept of fixed vs growth mentalities she outlines. A fixed mindset being one that, in plain terms, believes change is not possible, whatever the scenario. A growth mindset would be one that believes the possibility of change does exist, whatever the scenario.

If you struggle with your piano lessons at first and have a fixed mindset you’ll think you’re never going to get better, it’s not going to get any easier, and it’s a waste of time. Someone with a growth mindset will approach the task thinking that while it’s difficult now the fruits of their labor will ripen later.

Many of us can feel the hot breath of a fixed mindset when we are on the phone with a customer service representative for a large corporation. If you want something from Comcast or Verizon that involves anything resembling a discount before your plan is up chances are you’re not going to get it, but then tell them you want to cancel your plan and suddenly you are transferred to the customer retention department who are leading the way in growth mindset, albeit much to our annoyance.

It’s understandable why large corporate customer service departments would have rules to follow. Without them, there is no consistency. However, perhaps one of the rules should be:

“Remember that customers are calling because they need help.”

The mantra “the customer needs help” should pulse throughout customer service departments. When people need help they are in a position of vulnerability. Vulnerable people have their guard up, primed to fight, expecting their needs will not be met. It takes very little to turn a situation from bad to ugly or conversely surprise someone with just a modicum of empathy.

A fixed mindset in customer service creates a vacuum. It suffocates the interaction between customer and company. A growth mindset breathes oxygen into the conversation, allowing for empathy.

There is a story I love in Tony Hsieh’s book Delivering Happiness where he and some Sketchers reps are hanging out in a hotel room and they want to order a pizza but don’t know who to call. Hsieh has them anonymously call Zappos to prove how amazing his customer service department is. The Zappos rep they speak with does in fact find them a pizza place in their area that will deliver to them. That type of culture starts with the premise that someone is calling you because they need help. Zappos is not in the business of finding pizza delivery, but they are in the business of customer service.

After reading Mindset I am convinced the fixed vs growth mindset debate is at the core of all failures and successes, whether in business or our personal lives. With a tight fixed mindset every time you get into a fight with your romantic partner you will call it quits. You will then get into that same fight in every subsequent relationship. The fixed mindset will prevent you from ever evolving from that fight. The fixed mindset puts a stranglehold on your personal evolution.

A growth mindset will lay the grounds for emotional maturity. Even if you don’t agree with the other person’s point of view you can rise above it and think, “I don’t agree with their argument but what is it they want? Maybe we can get to where we both want to be without insisting the other agrees with us.”

When it comes to customer service, a rep can think, “I have to adhere to my company’s policy but maybe there’s something I can do to help.” It comes down to the individual. How do you want to lead your life? How stuck or unstuck do you want to feel?

If you are a customer service rep and someone calls with a request outside of the company policy it is very easy to simply say “No.” You don’t have to make up your own rules to have a growth mindset though. The reps I spoke with could have thought, “I don’t have the power to issue a gift certificate but I empathize with her experience of listening to metal on glass, and being afraid for her life. Maybe I can help her in some way, maybe I can plead her case to my manager.”

This requires more energy and verve. It requires effort. Work. That’s where the wall goes up. The aversion to effort blocks our human potential. It’s not just about being a good customer service representative, it’s about being a fellow human being, listening to what’s being expressed to you, and having empathy. And energy!

There are of course factors other than company policy at play here: how much reps are paid, the success of their personal lives, everything that has happened to them in their respective lives before getting on the phone. All of those experiences combined with their emotional make-up have contributed to them having either a fixed or growth mindset.

The good news is our stories can be rewritten – and our brains rewired – simply by encouraging, training and helping reps have some freedom of thought.

Which is why it is important to empower your customer service reps to have some freedom of thought. Establish a policy that puts service first and reminds them that people are calling – not because they love to argue and complain – but because they need HELP.

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Dear Employee(s),

 

Letting everyone know that I’ve made Bob the point person for all issues coming to and from me so that I can focus my time more effectively. If you need something from me please first email Bob who will serve as the liaison from you to me. Likewise I’ll be sending Bob things to delegate to everyone. I think this will really help with workflow in the office. Just a heads up so that you know why Bob will be emailing you things like progress update requests. OK that’s all for now!

— -

Dear Boss,

Excellent choice! This will save Bob time as well, allowing him to collectively insult us in one email rather than doing it individually, which was his previous method and honestly a real time waster for everyone! Two birds, one terrible person, I mean stone. We’re excited for the new procedure. After all, we’ve always hated Bob, and we always will. OK that’s all for now for us too!

— -

Why your plan will surely backfire

Your employees will not blindly follow any leader. A recent Gallup survey found that only one person in ten can cut it in management. Oftentimes an employee is hired due to skills while attitude is ignored. Power is a sensitive topic and promoting the wrong person can create a domino effect of inefficiency in the office.

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Maybe Try this instead

Listen to your employees. Make it a point to read the dynamics in your office. When they drop comments casually about their coworkers. Is one coworker mentioned a lot? Are the comments about the person tinged with negativity or positivity? Hear the underlying message – what F.I.T. President Joyce F. Brown calls the “third ear.”

Place value on the people skills/soft skills and not just the technical skills of a potential manager prospect. If “Bob” isn’t someone people feel safe and comfortable around, thereby negatively affecting group cohesion, then he may not be the best candidate. Trust and respect need to be present in order to build cohesion. If your employees don’t respect your appointee you might find yourself the victim of a passive-aggressive coup d’etat.

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From: boss@ourcompany01.com
Date: Mon, Mar 26, 2016 at 2:19 PM
Subject: Argh – not getting a response!
To: jodi@ourcompany01.com

Hey Jodi,

Do you have your COG #s ready to send? See below…

 

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: bob.employee@ourcompany01.com>
Date: Mon, Mar 26, 2016 at 2:19 PM
Subject: Argh – not getting a response!
To: boss@ourcompany01.com

Hey,

I’m trying to finalize the COG for this week but I need Jodi to fill in her #s for her accounts

before I can send it to you and she hasn’t responded to any emails I’ve sent her, which

is a pattern lately. Can you see if you can get her to send me what I need so I can finish?

I have so much to do and I hate waiting around for this!

Thanks!

 

Why Your Torture Plan Will Surely Backfire

“Good morning everyone, just a brief announcement to let you know who has a problem with who in the company. Dan doesn’t like the way Trish leaves things in the printer. Mike is upset that he isn’t invited to lunch with the others. Kathy thinks Carol gets special treatment and Rich thinks Tom is straight up dumb.”

You would never of course make such an announcement, but forwarding someone’s email is essentially doing this. If someone came up to you and said, “I’ve got a problem with so and so” chances are you wouldn’t go straight to so and so and say, “I know someone who has a problem with you and here’s why.” The reason you wouldn’t do this is because it’s cruel to all parties and feelings would be hurt on both sides. You would also alienate yourself and be considered untrustworthy.

Maybe Try this Instead?

At the very least you can simply copy/paste/reformat the email sent to you, reformatted to sound neutral. You could also ask the employee with the complaint to start a new email and cc you so the recipient feels the urgency. Or you could encourage the employee to try and work it out a different way with the offending party, giving them the opportunity to work on their conflict management skills. If all else fails and you can’t help yourself from engaging in this habit, let employees know that whatever they email you is liable to be forwarded, so they have the chance to consider how comfortable they’d feel if what they wrote were broadcast to the rest of the company. A good old-fashioned warning always takes the sting out of sucker punch.

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Engagement is probably one of the most critical yet elusive factors in the workplace. It’s hard to describe but we certainly all know it when we feel it or see it. People go from totally pumped and engaged to seriously deflated and disengaged because of a breach of the psychological contract.

A psychological contract is a person’s belief about the mutual obligations that exist between an employer and an employee—some stated and tangible (like you give me pay and benefits and I’ll give you work output, time and hours) and some unstated and intangible (like you will provide me with a positive work culture and opportunity and I’ll give you commitment, loyalty and effort). This contract obviously evolves, both ways, as expectations develop and as we start melding into the culture.

Disengagement often happens though when there is a breach of this contract. And these breaches, as I’m sure some of us have experienced, come about for a variety of reasons like violations of trust, actions that reveal a lack of honesty and integrity, behaviors that violate ethics or the law, promises that get broken, assignments that intrude on personal time, job descriptions and expectations that are ill-defined, environments that are difficult and depressing, and leaders who drastically alter the deal.

These breaches that lead to disengagement are critical because research has consistently shown that disengagement can lead to a decline in productivity, performance, workplace safety, loyalty and retention, organizational citizenship behaviors, and overall, the bottom line.

Some research has even found that contractual breaches influence different age groups differently. Younger employees lose their sense of trust and commitment; older ones lose their sense of job satisfaction. Regardless of what it impacts, research has shown that when an employee is disengaged, their disengagement can negatively impact the team and ultimately, negatively impact customer engagement and retention.

The reason why this occurs is a phenomenon called Emotional Contagion, which is a very simple concept: if you smile and are positive around someone they will feel good and most likely carry that positivity to the next place they go, which can create a ripple effect, and is pretty amazing when you realize how powerful a small positive gesture can be. The same ripple effect can of course occur when projecting negativity. Don’t believe me? Take a moment and think about whether you feel good or bad around a positive person and/or negative person. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure this one out.

Sigal Barsade, a professor at Wharton Business School, studied emotional contagion and observed that “People are walking mood inductors, continuously influencing the moods and then the judgments and behaviors of others.” In her research she has found that when participants are exposed to someone acting cheerfully in a group the group behaves more cheerfully. When participants were exposed to someone acting in an angry way, the group became angrier. Positive emotions created more cooperation; negative emotions increased conflict and decreased cooperative decision-making. The effect occurs in every type of organization, in every industry, and in every large and small work group.

This research confirms that disengagement, often caused by a breach in the psychological contract, can have incredibly significant unintended consequences. Often a broken psychological contract is left unrepaired, which only worsens the impact and consequences. Acknowledging the breach and making attempts to repair it is critical to regaining engagement and interrupting the effects of emotional contagion. It’s a no brainer.

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the_books

 

Nicole Lipkin, Psy.D., MBA is a business psychologist and the CEO of Equilibria Leadership Consulting. She is a speaker, consultant, and coach and has shared her expertise on NPR, NBC, Forbes, Entrepreneur, CBS, Fox Business News, and other media outlets. She is the author of “What Keeps Leaders Up At Night” and the co-author of “Y in the Workplace: Managing the “Me First” Generation.” Check out the award winning book trailer for What Keeps Leaders Up At Night.

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