Having Necessary Conversations with Peers

I recently read a post in talent management about dealing with a slacking co-worker. Employee to employee accountability–the ability to have the necessary conversations–is a common concern when it comes to managing the experience or culture. If employees can address anissue, it will get addressed more quickly and it can prevent ongoing negative interactions. But how can employees feel comfortable that their actions will help rather than escalate the problem? Here is what we share with our clients…

While it is important for leaders to own the desired culture of an organization–to celebrate when an employee lives it everyday and to hold employees accountable when they fall short–there is power in providing employees with the structure and means to personally address behaviors that impact them. This can be tricky and requires courage, but when done well, it can address small misalignment with the culture before the behavior needs to be escalated to a “sit down” with a manager. It can feel like mentoring rather than wrist-slapping. When the tools are in place to allow this to happen, it can also increase the consistency of the culture dramatically – there really will be nowhere for negative behaviors to “hide” if everyone is empowered to address them.

When setting up an environment of peer-to-peer accountability, we recommend companies share the following guidelines with their teams:

  1. Make it about the Experience: Look for opportunities to mention the aspect of the culture that this behavior impacts so it’s about the company, and not just you personally. “We are all committed to teamwork, and I want to address this so we can be the best team possible.”
  2. Examine your motives: Will addressing the issue benefit the experience of the team and customers? Great. Is having the conversation just an opportunity to point out another person’s shortcomings? Then you may need to take a deep breath and be more accepting.
  3. Give others the benefit of the doubt: Assume the person is working with the best of intentions and just doesn’t realize the impact of their actions. Even if this ISN’T the case it will help you keep your emotions in check and provide a better outcome.

Here is an example of a simple statement that can work to start a conversation about a previous interaction, “Do you have a minute for me to ask you about something that has been bothering me? I want to get it out in the open to ensure we can keep a positive and productive working relationship.”

Here is an example of a simple statement that can work to remove emotion when a situation is starting to escalate: “From your tone, it sounds to me like you may be frustrated. Is there something I am doing to frustrate you?

If you want employees to start managing their own culture, providing them these recommendations and conversation starters will help. Additionally, we recommend formally giving permission for these interactions so they will have the backing of leaders. For example, “If you see a behavior that impacts your employee experience or the experience we deliver to customers, we’d love it if you shared those impressions with your fellow employees. Please be respectful, but I’m sure most employees would rather hear about concerns from a peer than to have it escalated to a manager conversation. If you need help or advice on starting the conversation, please feel free to see someone in HR for recommendations.”

Of course, a great way to ensure employees can deal with interpersonal issues quickly and directly is for managers to be well versed in having these necessary conversations in a professional and respectful manner themselves.

While these conversations will require courage, the benefits of a stress-free, collaborative environment are huge – both for the productivity of the business and the employee experience.

If your company proposed, would you say yes?

Think about it, your job is a lot like a marriage – it is a commitment that requires engagement, trust, loyalty, communication, dedication and hard work. And let’s not forget time! The average full time employee easily spends more time at work then they do with their spouse. So if your job is essentially your second marriage, don’t you think it’s important for you to love that too?
With such a commitment, you can see why it is crucial for employees to get engaged (to their companies that is!) and for companies to identify and create a culture for employees who are motivated to do so. According to Gregg Lederman’s newest book, ENGAGED! Outbehave Your Competition to Create Customers for Life, 65% of workers are either somewhat or totally unsatisfied. Not only is that upsetting, it is expensive! I’m sure it won’t surprise you to hear that disengaged employees are less productive and deliver a less efficient customer experience than those that are in love with their company.
Case in point, a friend of mine recently told me that she planned to “break up” with her salon because her stylist was always late and rushed through her appointments. The term “break up” might sound silly but it’s the truth behind what happens when companies do not deliver a positive experience.
Consider the experience you are creating for your customers with your actions and behaviors. They should reflect the commitment you made to your organization and hopefully, the love you have for your company.
Marriages are meant to last for a lifetime and so should customers! Consistently delivering a positive experience shows your dedication to your company, outbehaves your competition and creates a culture filled with customers for life. Think of it as your vow to live the brand, every day, and you’ll be amazed at what it will do for your “work marriage”!

The Little Company That Could

Allow me to tell you a story. A story about people like you. A story about a company that might sound just a bit like yours.

Once upon a time there was a little widget company called XYZ Widget. The public loved their widgets. All the workers at XYZ Widget were happy because they understood why people loved their widgets; they felt like they were part of a team, making something important and good. They believed in their head widget-maker, the leader who inspired them to make the best widgets on Earth. They worked together to make not only the best widgets, but a great company. Customers loved XYZ’s widgets so much that they bought more and more of them. And the little widget company grew very fast.

Every day, XYZ Widget buzzed with activity as they made more widgets than the day before. They began to hire more people to keep up with the increasing demand. The workers liked working there so much that they told all their friends to apply for jobs. “Come and work for XYZ Widget,” they said. “It’s great here!” So their friends came and got hired. The new workers needed to be trained, so the original workers became the managers of the new workers. The trouble was . . . the original workers were not trained to be managers, nor did they know how to keep the small-company spirit as it became a big company. They only knew how to make excellent widgets.

One day, one of the widget-making machines broke down, and production was brought to a halt. By this time, the company had grown so big that it was churning out a million widgets a day. The workers were getting burned out by the pressure to keep up the pace. Workers started looking around, pointing fingers, and blaming each other for breaking the crucial machine. Arguments ensued, some people quit, customers got upset because the stores had run out of widgets, and the managers didn’t know what to do. They scratched their heads and asked, “What happened to the little company that we all loved working for?” Pretty soon, XYZ Widget started losing money.

As a result, the head widget-maker, who had been traveling the world winning awards for founding the greatest widget company ever, came back to the plant to see for himself what was going on. He looked around at the unhappy workers and substandard quality widgets, sighed, and said, “This isn’t the kind of company I wanted. No wonder we’re losing money. We’ve lost the spirit of what made XYZ Widget great. Let’s take a step back and figure out who we want to be.”

So they did. The managers, leaders, and employees at XYZ Widget gathered and defined the five values that had been most important to them from the start. They proudly announced to everyone, “This is who we strive to be.” But they didn’t stop there. You see, the head widget-maker knew that the company values wouldn’t stick unless everyone, even the new hires, knew how to live out those values, and until managers knew how to manage to those values.

So the XYZ Widget leaders and workers made a list of 15 basic behaviors that everyone at XYZ Widget could and should do every day to produce superior widgets and be the best place to work. The behaviors were simple things like, “Smile and say hello,” “Offer to help others,”  “Take initiative to solve problems,” and “Say thank you.” Thus, the XYZ Widget Experience was born. When the naysayers complained, “That’s just common sense! Why do we even have to talk about such basic things?” the head widget-maker responded, “These behaviors may be common sense, but they are not common practice. If they were, we wouldn’t have some of the problems we have.”

The head widget-maker knew he had to “walk the talk” for his people to take this effort seriously, so he led the charge to reinforce the XYZ Widget Experience by practicing the basic behaviors himself every day and making the XYZ Widget values part of his daily conversations. To help the whole company stay on track, the head widget-maker provided training and some simple tools to help his managers “Manage the XYZ Widget Experience” with their teams. He also invested in an online system to remind everyone of the basic behaviors through real-life stories and positive reinforcement. His people were able to publicly recognize each other for doing the XYZ behaviors—submitting their stories in the online system for everyone to read. Managers kept up the reminding by sharing a story from the system at each team meeting. Each week, the workers looked forward to finding out which story would be featured and to hear an example of their peers delivering the XYZ Widget Experience.

Because of that, the workers began to copy the behaviors they heard others being recognized for. They began to see each other doing the XYZ Widget basic behaviors more and more. The workers began to feel happy about coming to work again. They got engaged with the XYZ Widget Experience, they understood how they contributed to XYZ Widget’s vision, they worked harder, and they felt proud of working together for the good of customers, the company, and each other.

Until finally, XYZ Widget got back to making the best widgets on Earth, being the great places to work, selling more widgets than ever.

Oh, and yes, being wildly profitable.

This could be the story of almost any one of Brand Integrity’s clients. Will it be your company’s story?

Social Media: Ban or Leverage?

Using social media while at work: raise this topic in a work conversation and you will likely see people quietly scatter, not wanting to be associated with this taboo activity. I’m pretty sure there are employee handbooks the world over that have had to be dusted off and appended to include new policies banning its use during work hours.

I, too, will skirt the topic of the at-work personal use of Twitter, Facebook, etc.! But I would like to raise an important distinction about “social media” at work that is worth considering.

Social Recognition

Most companies look to use social mainly as a marketing tool to promote a product or a brand. But what about taking the best aspects of social and using them as a way to recognize the people who are behind the brand and products? A “micro-social platform,” if you will.

This type of organizational platform takes advantage of the positive aspects of social media that fulfill basic, universal human motivators, and some of the reasons social media is so popular:

  • Giving and receiving encouragement and recognition for good work.
  • Building rapport between colleagues.
  • Awareness of shared challenges across diverse areas of the company.
  • Ideas for how to work smarter – handling difficult situations, going above and beyond for customers, supporting teammates, etc.
  • Feeling like the work you do, even the “little” things, makes a difference to others and the bigger strategic picture.

Our Potential Point™ Experience Management Platform provides this “social engine” centered around communicating the impactful employee and customer experiences that happen every day in an organization that might otherwise go unnoticed or at least only seen by a few. This platform allows instant access to these “Living the Brand” actions and allows people to comment on, spotlight, and share nominations of other employees doing it right.

Imagine that! Rather than fighting against this compelling force, you can leverage “social media” at work to be a brand, engagement, and productivity booster. Read more about how the platform works in Gregg Lederman’s new book, ENGAGED: Outbehave Your Competition to Create Customers for Life. Ready for a revolution?

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A Harvard Business Review Recap

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A globe icon in the Ambox-content style (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An article by Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones in the May 2013 addition of the Harvard Business Review touched upon a topic near and dear to me, “Creating the Best Workplace on Earth, What employees really require to be their most productive.”  They attempt to answer the question that if you were to design the best company on earth to work for, what would it be like?  The response from hundreds of Executives all over the world is that their dream organization is a place where:

  • You can be yourself – “self-determination means setting your own path and being accountable for your success” said one HR executive.
  • You’re told what’s really going on – “In the age of Facebook, WikiLeaks, and Twitter, you’re better off telling people the truth before someone else does.”
  • Your strengths are magnified - “The ideal company makes its best employees even better – and the least of them better than they ever thought they could be.”
  • Your company stands for something meaningful - one participant said “I want to work in an organization where I can really feel where the company comes from and what it stands for so that I can live the brand.”
  • Your daily work is rewarding – “It requires nothing less than a deliberate reconsideration of the tasks each person is performing. Do those duties make sense?  Why are they what they are?  Are they as engaging as they can be?”
  • Stupid rules don’t exist – “systematization need not lead to bureaucratization…master the art of behavior codes that can help structure growing operations without jeopardizing its culture.”

These principles emerged because Executives are aware of the research:  The Hay Group finds that highly engaged employees are, on average, 50% more likely to exceed expectations than the least engaged workers.  And companies with highly engaged people outperform firms with the most disengaged folks – 54% in employee retention, by 89% in customer satisfaction and by fourfold in revenue growth.

Gregg Lederman’s new book “ENGAGED! Outbehave Your Competition and Create Customers for Life” understands this crisis in Employee Engagement and details a prescriptive Living the Brand System that can help deliver upon much of what Goffee and Jones learned from their research.  ENGAGED! moves beyond research and theory and into practical application; which enables organizations to define an experience that incorporates Goffee and Jones work, remind employees every day about the behaviors that deliver that experience and ultimately quantify results with metrics that matter.

It is encouraging to see academics focused attention on what many business leaders have understood intuitively for years regarding human capital management.  It is also

encouraging to see resources like the ENGAGED! book provide actionable steps to address such an important yet previously amorphous issue.

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