Archive for August, 2011

Words in the Workplace * What We Say Matters

Recognize This! – Words matter. Choose them carefully.

One of my favorite blogs is Respectful Workplace. Posts are always thoughtful, well considered and inspiring.

A recent post on The Power of Words struck a chord with me. Author Jay Remer uses the schoolyard taunt “sticks and stones may break by bones, but words will never hurt me” as a the launching point for the true power of words.

That childhood playground refrain brings back so many memories. Several years ago now, as an adult, I heard someone explain the truth of that phrase (which is born out in Jay’s post). The phrase should be:

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can break my heart.”

Jay goes on to emphasis the importance of thinking before we speak as well as the importance of conveying and hearing positive messages. A key point he made:

“The words we choose reflect how we feel about ourselves and our place in the world. By making some mental notes about the words we use, we can begin to appreciate them even more and then begin to change them if necessary. We develop more compassion for our friends and for ourselves.”

In terms of the workplace, think how powerful it would be to create a culture of recognition and appreciation in which employees at all levels regularly express and hear positive words – words of commendation and appreciation with specific details on why that person and their efforts matter.

For too many years, the aphorism above has been allowed, if not actively encouraged, in the workplace under the false belief that “hardness” – cracking the whip – inspires employees to work more.

This couldn’t be farther from the truth. When employees know their work has meaning and that someone has noticed their efforts and appreciates them, they are far more motivated to continue down that path.

Being thankful and appreciative becomes a habit. Employees who may not experience positive recognition and appreciation in their personal lives but begin to experience regularly at work often carry these new skills in appreciation and thankfulness into their home lives as well.

What words are more commonly used in your workplace? Words of affirmation and appreciation or “bully” words used to tear down and intimated?

How Confident Are You in Your Leaders?

Recognize This! – Listening and courage are two primary ways for managers  to restore employee trust and confidence.

Employee trust in their management is critical to employee engagement and performance. After all, would you give your best to a manager you don’t trust?

The trend for decades now, however, has been a reduced level of trust in management. Korn/Ferry tracks the level of confidence in leadership and the impact on economic data. While Q1 2011 showed favorably, I think the latest data will show a downward trend again.

Here’s an interesting quote from Korn/Ferry Leadership and Talent Consulting CEO Ana Durita:

“We continue to track confidence in leadership against economic factors, but this wave of data suggests other environmental influences may override the impact of economic data. With many different types of economies, the most important question is how and why factors such as financial, geo-political, and ethical volatility are destabilizing confidence in corporate leadership with varying intensity in different parts of the world.”

That’s an important factor to always keep in mind. When employees begin to lose confidence and trust in company leadership, it may not be leadership’s fault (or, at least, not entirely leadership’s fault). As the economy still slowly recovers and many employees are not seeing a lessening of the burden they first felt during the aftermath of the recession, they may blame their managers and senior leadership for factors out of leadership control.

What can leaders and managers do to counteract this slip in trust and confidence? Dave Logan offered suggestions in a recent BNET article:

“Many of the worst leaders I know don’t listen, don’t like to listen, and hide in their offices talking to a small circle of people who think like they do. … Courage goes far beyond avoiding moral lapses.  It means finding a set of principles that the leader will use to make decisions, so that no one doubts where they stand.”

Listen – even when you don’t like what you’re hearing. And have the courage to do what needs to be done. These are two excellent ways management can restore employee trust and confidence.

If you don’t, you may end up in the same boat as Newt Gingrich whose entire campaign team left him when he didn’t listen to their wise counsel and who didn’t have the courage to do what needed to be done.

Do you have trust and confidence in your management team today? What do your managers do (or should they do) to build your trust?

Show Employees Their Value with Recognition

Recognize This! – Employee recognition is not a grab for attention. It’s a powerful way to motivate and encourage employees by communicating their value within the organization.

Why is employee recognition important? There are many reasons, not least among them the ability to reinforce company values and strategic objectives through frequent, timely, specific recognition.

One reason not often discussed, however, is recognition helps employees feel valued. A recent article in TVNewsCheck noted:

Employee recognition programs work. They help employees to feel that their contributions and efforts are valued by the company and make a difference in meeting company goals. Programs where employees are nominated by their peers are particularly effective. As [Anna] Schiefer [human resources director for McGraw-Hill] observed, it only takes a few minutes to compose a personal note thanking or recognizing an employee, and the return on that investment is quantifiable and significant.”

Too often, people view recognition as a grab for attention. It is not. Employees (at all levels) need to know their work is necessary, needed, valued and appreciated. Recognition is the optimal means for conveying that value and appreciation — preferably frequently, specifically and as soon after the event worthy of recognition as possible.

Increasing productivity while keeping headcount the same is a primary goal of CEOs (as reported by Hay Group). Employees are wearing thin. Simple acknowledgment and appreciation of hard work well done is something we all need if we are to keep delivering at the top of our game.

Do you feel valued at work? What do your colleagues or managers do (or do you wish they did) that make you feel valued and appreciated?

How to Treat Company Culture as Strategy

Recognize This! – Company culture has more impact on business outcomes than any other factor.

Long-time readers of my blog know how passionate I am about the importance of a strong company culture of appreciation and how wise leaders use strategic employee recognition to proactively manage their company cultures.

SmartBlog on Leadership recently featured the results of a LRN survey on this topic. Key findings include:

  • 68% indicated that creating long-term value for the business is a principal benefit of promoting an ethical culture
  • Yet 57% are still not giving ethics the same weight as business outcomes in performance evaluations
  • 54% never formally celebrate acts of ethical leadership

LRN executive vice president David Greenberg suggests as a solution:

“Treat culture as a strategy: An ethical culture is not created by accident. It is deliberately crafted at many levels of the organization under the guidance of leaders who hard-wire it into the processes and practices by which business gets done.”

This is quite true. Doing just that – hard-wiring ethics and values into the daily work – is what many find challenging. The most effective and positive way of achieving this is through frequent, timely and appropriate recognition and appreciation. Strategic recognition uses the company values as the reasons for recognition, encouraging all employees at any level to frequently and very specifically recognize their colleagues and peers any time they demonstrate those values in their daily work.

This approach makes the values real for employees – not just a plaque on the wall. And the most success is achieved when this is encouraged from the CEO down through the ranks.

Winning with a Culture of Recognition, the book I co-authored with my CEO Eric Mosley, describes in much greater detail how you can build a culture of recognition based on your values so you can proactively manage your company culture to become what you want and need it to be.