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Two Simple Words That Help Drive Employee Engagement and Company Results

Employee EngagementWhen you put people first, profits follow.

You don’t get to be in the 100 Best Companies to Work For, for 19 years in a row, just by luck.

So when I saw that one of my local firms had achieved that goal, I went to meet with them to find out just how they had done that.

When I asked Stephanie Slate, Director of Talent Acquisition at JM Family Enterprises, a $14.9billion company, how they achieved such great levels of employee engagement, Stephanie’s put me straight right from the get go.

“Firstly,” Stephanie said “we don’t call people employees, we call them Associates. This is critical to our corporate culture because we want people to feel that they work with us, and not for us.”

“Secondly our high associate engagement comes from a simple philosophy of People First. This is has been embedded into our culture, and it’s this that really makes the difference.”

Now, to be honest, People First is not a concept that I was hearing of for the first time.

In fact, I would say that the majority of CEO’s talk about People First cultures, but given that 68% of staff in the US are disengaged, clearly not everyone is walking the talk, so what is JM Family doing differently.

Stephanie said, “To create the People First culture, you need to have leaders who live the culture, which founder Jim Moran did, as does current CEO Colin Brown, and you need to recruit people that fit into that culture to both to maintain and strengthen it.”

Cultural fit is the most important recruitment quality that JM Family looks for in potential.

If a candidate has amazing skills but won’t fit the culture, then they don’t get hired. Stephanie mentioned that JM Family would even hire people with a great cultural fit and train them in the skills needed for the position, such is the importance of cultural fit to them.

So what does a People First culture look like?

During our conversation, there were several key themes that kept re-emerging, and these were.

  • Respect
  • Caring
  • Communication and Connection
  • Empowerment
  • Opportunities
  • Appreciation

Respect

JM Family wants their associates to feel both valued and respected. They encourage the new associates to ask questions, to be curious, and they listen to them, even the new associates.

With every new change that comes along, one of the first questions to be asked by senior management is “how will this impact our associates?’

Caring

The company cares about its associates, and it shows that by offering an excellent benefits package, but the caring extends well beyond that. They have medical staff and daycare services on site at main locations; they have several programs they have implemented and support that helps associates in times of hardship.

They even have a LifeCare Program, which is like an Associate concierge service that helps with non-work related issues. Stephanie said that she had used that service to help find a florist for her wedding.

Communication and Connection

Communication is key to ensuring that your associates feel like they work with you and not for you. During the onboarding process, all new Associates get to meet with a Vice President for a day, the Executive Management Team and are invited to a group Q&A session with the CEO.

They get to speak with them and ask them questions first hand. This not only helps the communication flow but also helps to make good connections between the new Associates and the Executive Management team.

I was also surprised to see that everyone calls the CEO by his first name and are very comfortable to approach him. This was something that I actually witnessed rather than was just told about.

Empowerment

Associates are encouraged to ask questions and to challenge things, although this has to be done constructively and in ways that will benefit the company. They also encourage associates to try new things and to learn from their mistakes, rather than to punish or criticize them for it.

This helps to create an empowered workforce that is proactive when they see opportunities to benefit the company.

Opportunities

One of the key reasons people cite for leaving their employers is a lack of career development and opportunities. When a company takes an approach where they hire for cultural fit and willing to train for a position, and they have five different divisions, there will always be opportunities to either advance or to try something different.

Appreciation

Appreciation is one of our most basic needs, after food, shelter, and safety, and JM Family do a great job at showing their Associates that they are appreciated. They have regular appreciation dinners and awards, and they also have a peer to peer appreciation program which allows people to recognize their colleagues for great work that they have done. Sometimes great work goes unseen by management, but programs like this allow for people to be recognized by their peers and for their efforts to be brought to the attention of the management.

So it’s great that JM Family has been ranked in the Top 100 companies 19 years in a row, but what does all this mean to the bottom line?

JM Family’s staff turnover rate is 7.1 percent, which is well below their competitors, which helps to reduce cost, which increases profit.

Their staff stays with the company 10.1 years on average, which compares very favorably with the national average of 4.2, and are happy to recommend the company, and the majority of new hires come from referrals which help to keep down recruitment costs and ensures that any open positions are filled quickly.

They have achieved record revenues in each of the last five years, with an average revenue growth of around 12 percent per year since 2011.

When you put your people first you create an engaged, excited and empowered work force, which helps to keep costs down and revenues growing.

Original Article by Gordon Tredgold- here

 

Leaderships good intentions have a big blind-spot.

Leadership and CultureModern organisational leadership requires a whole new set of perspectives and competencies. Competition is no longer just for market share but for the right people. The performance of those people must be leveraged through developing engagement which means ensuring empowerment and motivation.

Leadership strategy in the business schools emphasises Vision and Mission first – which are different things – although surprisingly so many leaders do not get the difference. They are about purpose and direction. The Vision sets the purpose and the Mission the direction/goals/objectives. This difference is critical particularly as new generations of knowledge workers are more interested in the former than the latter.

Microsoft’s vision, famously, was ”a computer in every home”. It was about empowerment of the individual, in a time when computers were available only to large organisations. Great idea, great purpose, great results.

The challenges for large organisations are based around the ability to innovate, the ability to adapt (agility) and the ability to attract and retain great talent. Organisations which have the first two tend to have the third. Why? Because a company that is good at innovation has the space and ability to take risks that allows autonomy and learning to blossom. Environments like this allow people to make a difference and to grow and learn and they are highly motivational. The opposite of this approach kills companies. Read this report on Nokia for example: Nokia.

We do not motivate people, we create the environments that allow them to be self-motivated.

Agility means the ability to adapt, so autonomy and authority must be pushed out to the coal face, to the people that work with the customers or consumers. If you give your people these freedoms and coach them to enable accurate risk assessment and decision making you again create that motivating environment.

The millennial generation, today anyone below 35 years old, own many of the competencies required to thrive in purposeful organizations and are coming up on 50% of the available talent pool. Organisations must provide the motivational environment to attract this talent or they will wither and die.

But most good Leaders know this. The challenge is how to implement this in their organisation. Where to start? One issue is the lack of recognition of the culture that exists. Like a fish in water they are not aware that water is all around them. I know myself of the highs of gaining an understanding at a training course or conference and going back to the organisation full of good intentions. And then slowly and surely forgetting them as the organisational norm floods in and quenches the fire.

The main blind-spot is culture recognition. As Peter Drucker famously said:

Culture eats strategy for breakfast.

Cultural change is key to improving organisational performance. It must be done in tandem with the process. Processes are easy to see and change particularly for the solution finding leadership style. Culture is the Mammoth in the room.

Culture change is possible of course with a plan, a communications strategy, time, and the will to make the changes. It requires true emotionally intelligent leadership; walking the talk, resonating the why and communicating the purpose throughout the organisation while sustaining the will to make the changes against constant opposition. This is the secret to turning good intentions into great results.

Aidan Higgins BE MBA of ADEO Consulting is a Leadership, Emotional Intelligence and Teamwork specialist working with Leaders and Teams in Ireland and the UK. He has over 25 years experience working in various capacities with individuals, teams and organisations of all sizes.

Amazons work culture raises interesting questions.

amazon-warehouseAmazon’s work practices, as detailed in the recent controversial NYT article generate interesting questions on Talent Management, Innovation and Culture.

Inside Amazon- Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace” in the New York Times made unsettling claims about Amazon through interviews of 100 former and current employees. Jeff Bezos, founder (1994) and CEO of Amazon (now a bigger retailer than Walmart at $250Billion) refuted those claims is a rather short and uninspiring memo which has led to criticism of his response and gives weight to the claims made in the article.

The article explores the culture of Amazon where it seems consistent and bruising conflict, tension and pressure are the norm. It claims that the company is conducting an experiment in how far it can push its white collar workers, who are encouraged to tear one another’s ideas apart in meetings, toil long and late (up to 80 hour weeks and emails arriving at midnight followed by texts querying why they are not answered).  They also have an internal system (they claim frequently misused) where people can do anonymous performance reports on their colleagues to their colleague’s bosses without their knowledge. Those who do not meet what Amazon call their “unreasonably high” performance standards are forced to leave or fired in annual cullings – called “purposeful Darwinism” by one former employee.

 

It would seem customer service and innovation is a major focus of and driver of the culture at Amazon. Amazon consistently drives to innovate and want to create opportunity to do so, for any employee with a good idea. Conflict is encouraged. However one interviewee reported his “enduring image was watching people weep in the office”. He continued “nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk”.  Some interviewees, however, said they liked the culture because it pushed them past what they thought they could achieve. In 1997 Bezos wrote to shareholders “you can work long, hard, or smart but at Amazon.com you can’t choose two out of three.”

 

Bezos open memo in response to the article is short. He says he does not recognise the Amazon described and that it is illogical. “I don’t think any company adopting the approach portrayed could survive, much less thrive, in today’s highly competitive tech hiring market”. He also linked one employee (of 18 months) who openly refuted the article.

 

This is an interesting article and response for a number of reasons. It raises questions about HR practices, talent attraction, talent retention, new world business cultures, monopolistic environments, conflict and innovation.

Is this the best way to attract and manage talent?

21st century organisations understand there is a “War” for talent. Talented people create competitive advantage for their organisations. This means attracting and retaining the best people. It has also been long recognised that most of the core competencies of an organisation reside in the heads of their people. This means we should treat our people well, create an environment for engagement, loyalty and collaboration to give the organisation the best chance to continue to be successful.

“Rank and Yank” policies which were fashionable in some companies with household names have been discontinued in many in recent times due to significant flaws. The idea is that the company continuously evolves by cutting the bottom 10% say, of their people. They ask managers to rank their teams and fire the bottom rankers. Sounds harsh? It is.

I worked with a management team last year whose company still did this. The upside they said was that “dead wood” was removed. The downside we agreed was that good people were also fired, that there was often unhealthy competition in teams leading to lack of collaboration, fear and lack of flexibility because the team members were too focused on the metrics which determined their fate. In the “rank and yank” philosophy, there can also be a lack of perceived fairness due to the subjectivity of the team managers who obviously can have favourites and were more likely to keep the politically savvy. Constant loss of team members also means there is constant grieving and probably unrecognised anger in the team. One might also mention the simple lack of humanity of this process.

Keeping people working too-long hours is counterproductive due to its unsustainability and diminishing returns. Henry Ford is reputed to have designed the 40 hour week for this reason and recent research has shown that after 40-50 hours work per week the work done becomes far less effective. It also shows that burnout occurs if renewal time is not included in the working week. There are specialists who make a career out of helping talented people return from burnout and breakdown an expensive fix in many ways. Practices like midnight emails and such interrupt the quality of the rest people are getting, damaging problem solving ability and creativity, and making burnout more likely and talent retention less likely.

Does Innovation require this much conflict?

Conflict is required to innovate but so is safety and agility. Discussion and argument must take place in a safe environment or people will not take risks. Innovation is as much about failure as it is about success. It is also well known that true creativity often requires white space and time, not pressure. Those who are under huge competitive pressure in an adversarial environment are watching their back, not what’s in front of them.

Companies who recently changed their environments from adversarial ones have seen team performance and collaboration rocket. Collaboration, sharing of ideas and innovation go hand in hand.

Where did this culture come from?

It was Richard Branson who said, “Look after employees and employees look after customers”. How does this align with the practices identified at Amazon? It is a well-known adage that customers will never think more of your company than the people that work for the company.

One wonders what sorts of people survive and thrive in this environment.   The theory of Darwinism has been used before, particularly in the 19th century, to justify the mistreatment of people for the “greater good”. Later far more dangerous ideologies used this work as a justification to judge and eliminate the “weak” also.

Measuring and treating people like machines is a hangover from industrial era thinking as is Social Darwinism. Darwinism used socially is a misappropriation of the ideas of survival of the fittest. It is a pseudoscience completely lacking in empathy and out of touch with any modern behavioural thinking. Smart Authentic Leadership gets power into the hands of the team – with leaders being servants of the team, empowering their success rather than being autocratic top down managers treating their people like automatons. That’s not good business.

Amazons culture is relatively new. Having been founded only in 1994 the culture developed from there. Cultures (how things are done around here) evolve over time. One wonders if Bezos background on Wall St and in financial data influenced the culture. Amazon admits it is driven by data and they took advantage of the capabilities of the internet to not only serve customers but to understand customers. Metrics, data and data analysis are the order of the day. Great when applied to marketing data, products, accounts, process and internet behaviour stats. Not so good for measuring and understanding and managing the complex interactions of employees perhaps?

It could be posited that Amazons massive first mover advantage and the competitive advantage it has developed over time does not allow the company to see in financial terms the reported negative impact of its culture and policies. It is recognised that big brand companies have pulling power for talent. However if Amazon had to wrestle with other similar sized companies in its niche for talent and ideas, it may have had to work harder to keep its talent. Talent bleeding out of the company and taking ideas and competencies to competitors who offer a work life balance may have forced them to address the issues a little earlier in their growth cycle, impacting how their company developed.

So what does it all mean?

Amazon was born in a fast moving, changing environment and wants, correctly, to stay ahead of the curve and the competition. They have been innovating and “improving” in order to do this. Perhaps they should also be focusing on staying ahead of the curve in terms of HR and talent management practices.

Bezos is correct in that the sort of culture described seems illogical. The culture does not best support the aims of innovation, talent attraction and retention or customer service.

As an outsider one cannot know how much of the article is subjective and painting a severe interpretation of how things are done at Amazon. One wonders, if it is true, how Amazon can survive with such a harsh inhuman culture. It does not seem to align that the people that thrive in such a culture truly seek to serve and empower others, a sine qua non of modern successful organisations.

Aidan Higgins

2019-04-10T09:21:25+00:00September 16th, 2015|Authentic Leadership, Discussion, Strategy, Team Performance|

Emotional Intelligence improves ability to generate revenue

Emotional-Intelligence-value1At Work, Emotional Intelligence Pays

When it comes to achieving career success, emotional intelligence probably isn’t the first trait that jumps to mind. Particularly in Silicon Valley, where technical, intrapersonal skills are so celebrated that industry leaders are increasingly self-diagnosing themselves as autistic, the ability to decipher other peoples’ emotions is often dismissed as a fringe benefit.

But a new study published in The Journal of Organizational Behaviorsuggests the opposite: Emotional intelligence is a skill that, quite literally, pays. According to the paper, employees who are better at reading their coworkers’ emotions make more money than their less emotionally perceptive peers.

To gauge emotional intelligence, the researchers showed 142 study participants – all working adults, holding various level-positions in a broad range of jobs – a collection of images and voice recordings, and asked that they pinpoint the emotion being expressed in each case. “On average, the participants succeeded in 77 percent of the cases,” Gerhard Blickle, the study’s lead author, said in a press release. Participants who correctly identified 87 percent of cases were deemed good at recognizing emotions, while those that identified more than 90 percent were considered very good. Meanwhile, those that correctly identified less than 60 percent received low marks for emotional intelligence.

Next, the researchers asked one colleague along with one supervisor to rate each participant’s social astuteness on scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). Sample statements included: “She always seems to instinctively know the right things to say or do to influence others” and “People believe he is sincere in what he says and does.” Participants who received high marks on the emotions test were perceived as more socially skilled by their co-workers than those who registered lower scores, and even after controlling for factors such as gender, age, weekly working hours and hierarchical position, the researchers found that they also tended to make significantly more money.

In other words, emotional intelligence is a prerequisite for wielding social influence, a skill that, in turn, is important for successfully navigating work dynamics to achieve career success as well as a higher paycheck, says Yongmei Liu, a professor at Illinois State University and one of the study’s co-authors.

Interestingly, while emotional intelligence has a warm and fuzzy ring to it, the ability to easily and accurately decipher others’ emotions doesn’t necessarily make you more empathetic – it just makes you adroit at navigating the social playing field. Like any skill, says Liu “people can use it for good or evil.”

While the study did not examine various career contexts, it makes intuitive sense that emotional intelligence is more valuable in some jobs than it is in others. For example in positions that require a lot of social interaction and/or where there are fewer objective performance indicators, emotional intelligence is likely very important, says Liu.

In fact, the researchers conclude, more emphasis should be placed on emotional intelligence when selecting managers, a role that typically requires a large amount of interaction with employees. “Often we hear managers speak of understanding and esteem,” Blickle said, “but when we look at their management behavior, we realize that they have neither.”

Original Article by Laura Entis – entrepreneur.com

Leadership Development – is leadership doing or being?

Leadership DevelopmentWorking in Leadership Development as I do, I find a lot of material on leadership skills. There are countless advisors pointing out what leaders need to do – top ten of this, top ten of that, the five most important the other. A lot of this information is correct and well intended too but most of this is about what a leader must “do” to become  successful. Little of it is about who to “be”.

There have been a number of Leadership models over the years, some of which now look ridiculous in the light of modern psychology and some which would never have worked leading people who have a strong sense of self and view of life  and completely reject the “I told you so” philosophy. Generations such as X, Y and the Millenials need to clearly see the vision and to trust their leaders to become engaged with the goals of the organisation. This is particularly true of knowledge workers, where the core knowledge and key competencies of the organisation are in their hands.

Many leaders at the top of organisations or leaders who are in charge of large teams are task oriented, and often they love a list to tick off to feel they are moving forward. Its all do do do – “Today I will make sure I will do some trust building exercises with my people”, and “tomorrow I will act more Authentic.” I am reminded of the old line  about sincerity … “The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that you’ve got it made.”

Leadership Development -Emotional Intelligence and Leadership Brand

I have found over the years that good leadership development results come from working at the core  – so that improving it means working from the inside out. Working on Emotional Intelligence is one part of this – and improves leadership through awareness of the  emotional environment, awareness of the needs of others and the ability to connect with people on an emotional level. This is necessary to lead others and to gain the trust required, particularly for difficult times.

Leadership development should also focus on leadership brand,  a second key facet, which is the leader understanding what they represent and being true to that. This has been coined “leadership brand” and is something very important to followers – “What is this person about?” “Can I trust them?” “Are they all about the results or do they care about me?” “How do I know?” “Is what they say consistent with what they do?”

The pathway to success in leadership is therefore for the Leader to “Walk the Talk” to “Become” rather than to “Get” and to “Be” rather than to “Do”.

Aidan Higgins

Business transformation is about people, people!

Business transformation is defined as a key executive management initiative that attempts to align People, Process and Technology initiatives of a company more closely with its business strategy and vision to support and help innovate new business strategies. Of this the People part is by far the most difficult and time consuming if its to be done right. It is important to take the time. Fudge the issue and you fudge the outcome.

We all know about “changes of strategy” and “responses to market demand” and “downsizing” and “new company initiatives” and such. We hear them all the time in the workplace and in the media and after years of promises gone awry, sceptics deliver a sigh everytime such terms are used. In reality most initiatives fail to reach even 50% of their target goals, and Mergers for instance fail in over 70% of cases to reach a goal where the combined unit is worth more productively than the two independent units. This is because of the implementation. The plan often does not allocate sufficient time and resources to handle the soft factors which are required to address peoples concerns, motivations and critically does not give the time required to adapt.

What looks great on a spreadsheet is often a nightmare to staff who suddenly are not sure:

  • They have a secure job
  • Who they will work with (their social group)
  • Where they work and where they sit (their place)
  • Whether they will be let do their job
  • Having established a comfort zone that works for them they are now asked to change it and it often is not communicated to them how much. They can be left for months at a time with these stresses hanging over their head. What about motivation?

I have experienced in conversations over coffee that many execs find soft skill learning difficult to pin down. Perhaps its because it needs more than academic understanding? Perhaps its because those good with numbers can be by definition poor with people?  Is it taught well? Or is the theory too new?  Remember it was not so long ago that Taylorism was in vogue. Most of the theories I was taught in College in the late 80?s are invalid now.

My view is that for many Managers and Experts the idea of engaging with people brings them out in a sweat. They prefer the predictability of numbers or technology or knowledge to real engagement and while the predictable part of the change is expertly managed they hope this will be enough to allow them to fudge the people issues. They hope the answer to the ultimate question is indeed 42.