The best executives with whom I have worked make a point of hitting the road.
Executives who get out of their offices and make treks to the front lines, as well as to customer locations, get firsthand impressions of what is happening, as well as what is not happening. And it’s not enough to show up.
You need to engage. Have real conversations about how the work is going, and especially listen to how people respond.
Ask questions. And, most important, listen to what you hear.
Hitting the road to discover what’s going on is time-consuming and wearying, but it is necessary for any executive who expects to lead with a clear head, and an even more clear vision of the future.
Some of the most engaged employees in your organization are your worst performers. And some of the least engaged are your highest performers.
This conclusion comes from new research by the consulting firm, Leadership IQ. The study “matched engagement survey and performance appraisal data for 207 organizations.” According to CEO Mark Murphy (who I interviewed via email), “We had long suspected that high performers might not be as engaged as has traditionally been assumed. But seeing that, in 42% of cases, high performers were even less engaged than low performers was a bit of a shock.”
This conclusion runs contrary to conventional wisdom as well as many studies (including this one from Gallup) that show high engagement — that is, how much employees are committed to their work — correlates with better bottom line results, including productivity and profitability.
You could think of these low performers as hamsters on a wheel, spinning fast but actually going nowhere. Conversely, high performers may be coasting like swans on a pond, just gliding by. You don’t see their effort because it’s below the water. As Murphy says, “in our study, high performers gave very low marks when asked if employees all live up to the same standards.”
Research by Hay Group, culled from its 17,000-person behavioral competency database in 2012, finds that when it comes to empathy, influence, and the ability to manage conflicts in the executive level, women show more skill than men. Specifically, women are more likely to show empathy as a strength, demonstrate strong ability in conflict management, show skills in influence, and have a sense of self-awareness.
“Women often face barriers throughout their careers that require them to develop these skills to excel and advance in their organizations,” says Ruth Malloy, global managing director for leadership and talent at Hay Group. Malloy adds that the shift from hierarchy where individual achievement matters to matrix organizations where teamwork counts put a premium on the skills that women have mastered.
If you are, you may suffer a drop off in engagement, innovation and productivity. At the same time if you don’t spend enough time with the boss, the same can occur.
So what’s the optimal time spent with a boss? Well, according to a study by Leadership IQ, a leadership and training firm, six hours per week is optimum. More hours can hinder an employee’s productivity and engagement just as too few hours can.
By contrast if you spend too much time with an employee, then you likely have not hired the right person.
Or you don’t trust them. It’s OK to keep a new hire close, but if you never let go that person will not develop his or her skills. And if that individual does have talent, he or she will migrate somewhere else. No one likes to be micromanaged.
Spending six hours per week with the boss is a good idea, sure, but more important is time invested by the leader — together with employees — in building an enterprise where people can work with intention and purpose that deliver results that are mutually beneficial.
Improving employee engagement is not simply about improving productivity — although organizations with a high level of engagement do report 22% higher productivity, according to a new meta-analysis of 1.4 million employees conducted by the Gallup Organization.
In addition, strong employee engagement promotes a variety of outcomes that are good for employees and customers. For instance, highly engaged organizations have double the rate of success of lower engaged organizations. Comparing top-quartile companies to bottom-quartile companies, the engagement factor becomes very noticeable. For example, top-quartile firms have lower absenteeism and turnover. Specifically, high-turnover organizations report 25% lower turnover, and low-turnover organizations report 65% lower turnover. Engagement also improves quality of work and health. For example, higher scoring business units report 48% fewer safety incidents; 41% fewer patient safety incidents; and41% fewer quality incidents (defects).
While people define engagement in various ways, I prefer a plain and simple definition: People want to come to work, understand their jobs, and know how their work contributes to the success of the organization.
Jim Harter Ph.D., a chief scientist at Gallup Research explained what engaged employees do differently in an email interview: “Engaged employees are more attentive and vigilant. They look out for the needs of their coworkers and the overall enterprise, because they personally ‘own’ the result of their work and that of the organization.”
Finding a good working relationship with people different from you is good advice.
It’s not always easy finding opposites to work with. Here are three attributes to look for when seeking opposite types for your team:
Curiosity. Curiosity is the stimulus that drives people to ask questions that begin with the word “Why?” These are types who question assumptions.
Capacity. People who are hungry for challenges are those that have a capacity to work hard. You want people who will put themselves into their work.
Cooperation. All of us have different likes and dislikes. That’s what makes us uniquely the people we are. That’s good. What is not so good is the feeling that we must do things our way all of the time.
By putting mission first, the savvy executive ensures that individual differences are channeled to improve probabilities of success.
A great many organizations invest a significant amount of money in trying to improve themselves. This commitment to getting better is laudable, but many times organizations overlook something within their organization that, when tapped, can sharpen focus, tighten alignment, hone execution, and — in the process — deliver better results. It’s called purpose.
While a veritable tsunami of resources — many of them first-rate — exist to help individuals discover purpose, a mere trickle of resources are available to help organizations discover theirs. This dichotomy led me to research ways to help organizations discover their purpose, and upon discovering it find ways to put it to good use. The result is Lead With Purpose, Giving Your Organization a Reason to Believe in Itself.
Purpose, as savvy leaders know, is the foundation for creating vision, executing the mission, and abiding by the values of an organization. Culture emerges from purposeful organizations, because purpose is what shapes individual’s beliefs and organizational norms. That foundation is essential, because it opens the door for organizations to do four important things, all of which are vital to success…
When things go wrong, blame – and solutions as well — begin with people at the very top.
Such is the case with the water supply for the city of Flint, Michigan. It is undrinkable because of high lead levels. How it happened is a study in expediency as well as arrogance.
Governor Rick Snyder appointed an emergency manager in an attempt to revive the city’s finances. In April 2014, the emergency manager, decided to replace the city’s drinking water which came from Detroit with water from the Flint River.
River water was cheaper but far more corrosive and as a result the harsh water damaged the city pipes allowing lead to leach into the water supply. Damage done to the pipes was discovered but it was ignored for months allowing Flint citizens to continue to use it.