Archive for August, 2010
I recently attended a workshop sponsored by my local SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) chapter on Employee Engagement and Retention. There were nearly 100 in attendance, including a prominent thought leader, Dr. Thomas Mahan, of The Work Institute. There was a particulary exciting (as these things go, anyway) exchange between the panelists who included Margaret Morford, President of the HR Edge, Inc., Gardiner Gruenewald, First Tennessee Bank, Sara McManigal, EMMA, and Gail Southwell, PhD., Belmont University. There was a lot of data tossed back and forth, and for someone like me, who wants to “confirm and verify,” I was trying hard to keep up and really wanting a handout with some reference citations.
The one thing everyone could agree on was that managers are key to engagement of employees. And, that engaged employees are productive employees.
It’s Management 101!
OK, most of you reading this already know about the 4 functions of management And, many of you, will challenge that there are only 4 or that these are the right 4, but, I hope we can all agree that leadership, or at the very least, interaction with our employees, is a fundamental element of the management function. If you don’t, then skip the rest of this article. If you do, then let’s look at how paying attention to our employees impacts productivity.
The very act of observing, noticing, paying attention to workers can increase productivity. There is much research to support this. The most familiar study came out of The Human Relations Movement of the 1930s, the “Hawthorne Effect”.
If you’ve never heard of this study, or if it’s been awhile, simply put, this study examined the effects of environment on worker production. So, they changed the conditions. When the conditions were improved or “nicer”, productivity went up. However, when work conditions worsened, productivity still went up. To conclude, being observed, noticed, seen, increased worker productivity.
Now, if you’re a science geek, you might want to ponder if the Observation Effect, in quantum physics, is behind all this, but, I think the real opportunity for the rest of us is to pay attention to whether we are paying attention to our employees.
What is the impact on performance when managers pay informed attention, when they observe and reinforce desired behaviors, or as Ken Blanchard describes it, “catch them doing something right?” Many companies outsource the “paying attention” element of the management function by hiring trainers as coaches to work with employees. However, observation, interaction, “coaching” needs to come from managers. This is not something that can be outsourced as it is directly tied to company production and impacts the bottom line.
Management, done by engaged managers, has a multiplier effect. In my thesis, Workforce Training and Development Evaluation Trends: is the grail in sight? I wrote, “For example, the function of management itself is noted by Bechtel (2007), Bassi, et al. (2001), and Charlton (2005) as having a considerable effect on training programs. They described how good management is able to multiply the training effect, thus having a synergistic effect on financial performance. In contrast to Ulrich and Smallwood (2005), who see organizational performance as a key responsibility of the Human Resources function, Bechtel (2007) emphasizes the importance of good management for effective resource utilization and shifts the responsibility for organizational performance from the HR function (p. 61).”
Management Development—a wise investment.
If you’re a manager, invest in getting better. Learn how to coach yourself. Don’t outsource it to someone else. If you want engaged workers, be an engaged manager. Don’t rely on sending your employees to a one day motivation seminar; they will come back all charged up, then become discouraged when they see the gap between your words and behavior. The best book I’ve ever read on coaching is “Coaching for improved Work Performance” by Ferdinand Fourneis. Another short, quick read is “The One Minute Manager” by Ken Blanchard. They are classics for a reason.
Look at the old stuff from behaviorists. Get good at recognizing and acknowledging good work. Toastmasters is a great place to practice and see how powerful this can be. Schedule regular face-to-face meetings with your staff. If you’re a virtual manager, schedule regular phone calls. Get to know your people.
If you are responsible for hiring, training, or selecting management candidates, make sure they can understand and apply fundamental concepts. Use behavior based questions when interviewing managers.
C-Suite residents, manage your managers. Model good management and don’t hide out on executive row. In my experience, 90% of the managers I’ve known had the Planning, Organizing, and Controlling elements covered. The “leading” or coaching piece, the piece where they spend “quality” time with their direct reports, was something for which managers rarely make the time.
One of the nicest and smartest bosses I ever work for, didn’t have time to have coffee with me once a week. I was his only sales person. He needed me to be able to make his numbers. When he did spend time with me, I felt more energized and motivated to make things happen. I needed time with him. I needed to be observed, to feel seen. When I asked if we could schedule a 30 minute coffee time once a week, he asked me “Why? What do we need to talk about?” Because he didn’t spend time with me, I started looking for other opportunities. If you’re not spending time with your employees, then you’re not getting the full benefit of the multiplier effect.
So remember, pay attention, first to yourself. Ask for feedback from your staff. Do they feel they get enough time with you? Talk to your peers. Find the manager with the best reputation within your company, go out for coffee, and find out what she or he does to pay attention. Talk to your HR Business Partner. Discover what resources are available to help you step up your game. Buy (and READ) some books on the leadership element of management. Don’t be afraid to take a class. Believe it or not, academics actually have some good things to say on the subject. That’s why managers subscribe to the Harvard Business Review.
Then, begin to pay attention. Get out from behind your desk and walk around. Leave your ego in your office. Go “visit” your employees. Be prepared. They will wonder what they’ve done wrong. And, that should tell you more than anything I’ve written here. Talk to them. Listen to them. Ask them questions. Find out what they think. DON’T argue or disagree or debate. After all, your ego is in your office, right? Just listen and observe. Don’t judge. Do this for a week, then look at your metrics (which most managers track) and notice the changes. You know, there’s actually a term for this: “Management by Walking Around.” Remember?
Once your employees feel comfortable talking to you, once they know that offering their opinion won’t get them in trouble (and the kind of manager who would do that stopped reading this article in the first few paragraphs), then ask more probing questions and challenge their thinking. The goal is NOT to prove them wrong, but to help them think better. Remember your critical thinking class? We all need to challenge our assumptions and get better at thinking and problem solving.
I contend that if you do this for 4 weeks, you will change. Your team will change. You will see things differently and see opportunities to have greater impact on your organization. I invite you to post your findings and comments to this blog. Let’s discover how you can unleash the power in yourself and the power in your people.