Coach, Cheerleader Or Referee?

Coach, Cheerleader Or Referee?

Burnout Conflict Resolution Leadership Leadership Effectiveness Stress

Effective leadership requires effective conflict resolution skills. A team in conflict is a team that is not functioning at its best. While a great deal of conflict can be anticipated and artfully avoided, circumventing conflict isn’t always possible or even desirable. Living in the real world, you will inevitably face conflicts in your team

Not all conflicts are created equal. As an effective leader, you need a variety of strategies to address problems as they arise and to play different roles in resolving conflicts. I think successful conflict resolution requires leaders to be coach, cheerleader and referee. See if you agree.

Coach. Coaches ensure that team members reach their full potential as individuals and as a team. Coaching your team through conflict includes establishing a climate of mutual trust and respect and strong communication skills such as civility, open-mindedness and active listening.

Helping identify and craft win/win solutions is another way to coach your team through conflict. When conflict hits a stumbling block, you can suggest alternate strategies that may make the team more successful in resolving the situation. Additionally, you can lead the team in post-conflict analysis and apply the lessons learned to support improved performance and avert similar conflicts in the future.

Cheerleader. Cheerleaders provide support, encouragement and praise from the sidelines, rather than participating directly in the competition. Wise leaders know there are times that interfering in a disagreement only makes matters worse. When the conflict calls for you to be a cheerleader, express your support and your confidence in your team’s ability to steer themselves through the conflict. Praise the progress made along the way to keep your team’s spirits high and focused on the desired outcome.

Referee. Referees ensure good sportsmanship and that players follow the rules of the game. So it is with leaders in conflict situations. When team members are unable to resolve conflict on their own, they may need your intervention as a neutral party. While it might be tempting to take sides, as a leader you need to protect the interests of all parties equally.

Enforcing ground rules and calling “foul” on inappropriate behaviors during the conflict process is critical. Declaring a time out when things get too heated can also be useful. Finally, as a referee, you may need to exert your authority to declare a winner if the team or individuals can’t reach a shared resolution.

While your preferred leadership style in conflict may lean more heavily to one of these roles, effective leadership means that you are capable of being a coach, cheerleader or referee depending on the needs and capabilities of your team. Knowing when to be coach, cheerleader or referee empowers you to lead your team to success and to Increase your impact!

Dr. Sherene McHenry, Relational Leadership expert, is a widely acclaimed speaker, author and coach that demystifies how to lead, motivate and resolve conflict for optimal results. Known for being wise, witty and highly practical, Sherene provides instantly implementable tips and strategies for enhancing leadership effectiveness, increasing engagement and decreasing burnout, frustrations and miscommunications.

OUT WITH THE OLD – IN WITH THE NEW

OUT WITH THE OLD – IN WITH THE NEW

Achievement Conflict Resolution Employee Engagement Leadership Uncategorized

In a few short days we will be saying farewell to 2016 and greeting 2017. The phrase, “Out with the old, in with the new,” is echoing everywhere, describing the transition that is marked by the change in the calendar. What does this mean for you and for your team? Are you ready for the change that is coming?

As a leader, your role is help your team navigate the transition from old to new in the best way possible. Successful transitions require careful reflection, not just wholesale change. Here are a few suggestions for ringing in the New Year in the best way possible.

  • Recognize that it is okay to let go

There are some attitudes, behaviors, and experiences that are best left in the past. Work with your team to clearly identify what will be left behind – and why. Long-standing traditions may have outlived their usefulness. Lingering conflicts need to be resolved. Disappointments or failures should become important as lessons rather than regrets.

Honor the value of what will be released. Appreciate the effort that was expended, even when the result was not what you had hoped. Make sure that team members who invested time, energy and emotion in something that is ending are recognized for their contributions. Help your team understand that letting go frees space for something better to come along.

  • Plan the transition with intention

Reflect carefully on what will be different in the future by making an honest assessment of what worked and what didn’t in the current year. Set new goals and expectations that are realistic, but require a bit of a stretch. No one gets excited about standing still or falling backward. Make a renewed commitment to the good things that you will be retaining for the future – they are the foundation upon which your new success will rest.

Make sure to look at the changes to be made from both the big picture and the small details. Engage visionary team members in forecasting the big picture for the future and charge detail people with looking at the components of each area to be adjusted. Work together as a team to craft a complete vision of the year to come.

  • Prepare for the in-between time

Making change is not like flipping a light switch – off one minute, on the next. It takes time for people to become accustomed to a new normal, even when it is a happily-anticipated change.

As a leader, you need to recognize that not everyone on your team makes adjustments at the same pace or with the same attitude. Work closely with team members who are reluctant to let go or hesitant about what is to come.

What might ease the transition for them? Do they need more information, support or time? Is the gap between old and new too wide for them; do they need an interim or adjustment period? Model the attitude and approach to change that you want to see in your team.

  • Embrace the new with energy, excitement and enthusiasm

Your team members look to you to help shape their attitude and acceptance of what is ahead. If you cling to the past or seem reluctant to let something go, you can be certain that others will follow suit.

If there are rough waters ahead it is particularly important for your team to feel your confidence that together, you all will find your way to smoother sailing. As a leader, when you acknowledge that change is not always easy, you give the team permission to feel the same way – and then you can cheer yourselves on as you make the change anyway!

At this time of year, when it is “out with the old, in with the new,” be a change leader for your team and Increase Your Impact!

Dr. Sherene McHenry, Leadership IQ expert, is a widely acclaimed speaker, author and coach that demystifies how to lead, motivate and resolve conflict for optimal results. Known for being witty, wise and highly practical, Sherene provides instantly implementable tips and strategies that get real world results.

Great Leaders are Grateful People

Great Leaders are Grateful People

Leadership Motivation Uncategorized

Leadership experts (including yours truly) spend lots of time identifying the characteristics that great leaders have in common – vision, courage, charisma, energy, insight. I’ll bet you have your own list you measure yourself against, checking to see where you excel and where you still have work to do. Me, too.

Here’s something new to consider – Great Leaders are Grateful People.

Most leadership checklists don’t include this characteristic – but they should! Here’s why living in gratitude is an essential quality for effective leadership:

  • It makes you happy – Five minutes a day keeping a gratitude journal can increase your overall happiness quotient by more than 10%. That’s the same impact as doubling your income! Happiness attracts others – great leaders know this.
  • It affirms others – People like being appreciated for who they are and what they do. Great leaders make their team feel important and valued, which keeps them connected and committed to the goal.
  • It enhances resilience – Living in gratitude increases your ability to cope and adjust when things get rocky. Great leaders are able to change course without losing direction, keeping their team on an even keel, even when things feel uncertain.
  • It improves decision-making – Gratitude clears away the mental clutter and helps you focus on what’s important. Great leaders keep their eyes on the prize and help their team to do the same.
  • It expands possibilities – Living in gratitude creates a sense of optimism and an expectation of positive outcomes. When leaders believe they will succeed, their team follows suit.

Of course, gratitude is not just an inside attitude. Living in gratitude becomes an outward expression – the way we meet and interact with others in the world. Finding and naming points of gratitude in a relationship, whether business or personal, deepens and affirms the connection.

I am grateful for my connection to you. Whether I have spoken on your stage, trained in your boardroom or taught in your classroom – I am thankful for you. If we met as friends or colleagues, at a conference, in the community or online, I am appreciative our paths have crossed. If you found my blog on the web, I am grateful to be found.

Be a better leader– Live in gratitude and Increase Your Impact!

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Dr. Sherene McHenry, Leadership IQ expert, is a widely acclaimed speaker, author and coach that demystifies how to lead, motivate and resolve conflict for optimal results. Known for being witty, wise and highly practical, Sherene provides instantly implementable tips and strategies that get real world results.

Be A Better Boss

Be A Better Boss

Achievement Conflict Resolution Employee Engagement Leadership Motivation Stress

I’m sure you’ve already noticed that the world is full of two types of people: those who get things done early and those who put things off until the last minute. Those who get things done early prefer structure, deadlines and plenty of breathing room to finish assignments. Their mantra is, “Once it’s off my plate, I can relax.”

Those who procrastinate prefer freedom in how and when they approach tasks, time to passively noodle the assignment and gather as much information as possible, and the adrenaline that accompanies an approaching deadline. Their manta is, “Relax, the deadline isn’t here yet.”

Managing those who get things done early is a dream. You give them a job and it gets completed in a timely manner. Unfortunately, the strain is transferred to employees who can’t bear to have unfinished projects, and who run themselves ragged to finish jobs only to be assigned additional tasks.

“If you want something done, give it to a busy person,” is the adage of most business owners and managers. Wonderful for the business and the manager, but not so great for the dependable employee burdened with one more task. In addition to not being fun or fair, it’s demotivating to be repeatedly asked to pick up other people’s slack.

What your persistent, getter-done-or-die-trying employees desperately need is protection from you, other employees and even themselves. As a wise leader, knowing they will sacrifice and suffer rather than be late or fail to follow through, you’ll want to keep tabs on their workload and how they are holding up.

High performers who keep getting additional jobs are at huge risk for burnout. Once that happens, they either quit, find a different job, or take their heart out of the workplace. At a bare minimum they’ll start doing “an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay,” nothing more.

All it takes for your Rock Stars and Steady Eddies to soar under your leadership is for you to protect them. Do this by monitoring their workload, dividing up assignments so everyone is sharing the load, and giving them a bit of breathing space before dumping another task on them.

I can almost hear you panic at the thought of spreading out the workload, particularly to employees who procrastinate, turn things in late and always have a good excuse. While panic isn’t necessary, you will need to manage and train your Last Minute Lucys and Larrys to meet deadlines.

While they might not like it, procrastinators need you to set and hold appropriate deadlines and work boundaries. Without them, they will drop the ball and needlessly cause extreme frustration and stress.

It’s helpful to understand that procrastinators actually need the adrenaline that accompanies a deadline. Deadlines propel them to work smarter, faster and more effectively. Deadlines kick in their creative juices. Working on deadline is their preferred and most effective work mode.

Here are seven tips for bringing out the best in your procrastination-prone employees:

1. Set clear deadlines.

2. Ask for their commitment to meet the deadline.

3. Ask when they would like for you to check their progress.

4. With clearly outlined expectations, allow great freedom to determine how and when they approach the task.

5. Refrain from doing it yourself or reassigning a task before the deadline.

6. Hold them accountable for missing deadlines by letting them know the physical, financial and emotional cost of their actions. If this doesn’t bring about desired results, set consequences. No matter how brilliant or charming, if they can’t meet deadlines, they aren’t a good fit for your company.

7. Lastly, recognize the immeasurable gift they bring your company by being able to nimbly respond to anything that gets thrown at them. You need and want them on your team.

While boundaries and deadlines are your best friends as a manager, remember to refrain from rewarding your persistent rock stars with yet another job. Effectively manage both types of employees and you’ll set yourself and everyone else up for long-term success.

Originally published in Garden Center Magazine, February 2015, http://www.gardencentermag.com/article/garden0215-managing-procrastination-prone-employees/

Are Your Dreams For Your Life And Organization Big Enough?

Are Your Dreams For Your Life And Organization Big Enough?

Achievement Dare To Dream Dream Employee Engagement Leadership Motivation

For as long as I can remember, my father has given me the gift of encouraging me to dare to dream big dreams. When an opportunity to win a trip to Europe through our middle school magazine drive was presented, I knew that would win it. All I had to do was sell a copy of Reader’s Digest and submit a 25 word essay on what I would learn from the experience trip abroad. No problem. I eagerly rushed home and asked my mom to buy a copy. “No, dear. Grandpa gives us a yearly subscription.”

Undaunted, I canvased the neighborhood. Everyone turned me down. Mom suggested I try doctor offices and helped by driving me around town. Repeated rejections followed from doctors and staff. Unwilling to give up, I pressed on. Finally, I sold the coveted subscription to Dr. Brown.

After batting about ideas as a family, I sent my essay off praying, “Please, Lord, let me win.” Months came and went without word, but deep inside I knew I would win. I even turned down an invitation to a prestigious competition, saying, “I think I’ll be in Europe.”

Then came the announcement. “All students please report to the auditorium.” Upon entering, I immediately spotted the man from Reader’s Digest. Someone had won. Heart pounding, I anxiously awaited my fate.

After thanking everyone, he declared, “Out of 13,500 submissions, we selected 17 winners. One is from here.” He paused for dramatic effect … then, he called my name. Overjoyed, I took the stage. While it may not happen every time, don’t let anyone tell you that dreams don’t come true.

As an adult I read Barbara Sher’s “Wishcraft: How To Get What You Really Want.” Promising good things would result, she suggested identifying 100 things that I wanted to be, have or do. So I created my first Top 100 List in 1996 with dreams ranging from the dramatic, to the mundane, to the fanciful and the heartfelt.

About five years later, I found my list. Amazingly, 40 of my wishes had come true with little or no effort on my part. I don’t even remember writing down one of my favorites, “Overdose on the theatre in London.” Mom and I had a fantastic trip and even got upgraded to first class on the flight over.

Before you’re tempted to think I get everything I want, I don’t. Several of the deepest longings of my heart, haven’t and won’t come true. I, like everyone else who walks the planet, have mourned unfulfilled dreams. The good news is we humans are incredibly resilient, and our dreams can change over time.

What about you? Do you have lofty dreams for your business? For the people you lead and serve? For your life? For your community? For your family? Do you have a Top 100 List? Do you encourage your staff to dream? To set grand goals for their departments and individual performances?

Or, have you forgotten to dream? Did you learn along life’s way that dreams are for other people? That it’s safest not to dream or expect good things? That if you don’t dream, you don’t get hurt? Worse yet, do you squelch the dreams of those around you, particularly those who work for you?

I encourage you to compile your personal Top 100 List. If that’s too daunting, do a Top 25 List. Additionally, create a Top 25 List for your business and/or department. Then, ask your employees to create a Top 10 List for the business, their department and/or their job.

Depending on the size and structure of your organization, combine appropriate employee groupings and work together to determine your priorities for the business and/or department. You’ll be amazed at the creativity, energy and teamwork that result. You’ll also know where to focus your energy, time and other resources required to turn lofty and yet worthy dreams into reality.

Originally published in Garden Center Magazine, January 2015, http://www.gardencentermag.com/article/garden0115-top100-priorities-list/

Reduce Workplace Conflict Like A Rock Star

Reduce Workplace Conflict Like A Rock Star

Conflict Resolution Employee Engagement Leadership Stress

Is the vast majority of your time spent babysitting people who can’t get along? If so, you are not alone. Studies indicate that managers spend anywhere from 20 to 42 percent of their time trying to manage employee conflict. In addition to tying up valuable time, workplace conflict increases absenteeism and health care costs, reduces the quality of decision making, pushes good employees to leave, increases the likelihood of damage and theft, and lowers morale.

Did you know that strained work relationships cause 65 percent of employee performance problems? That more than 50 percent of employees waste work time worrying about how they’ve been treated? That 22 percent of employees deliberately slow down their work in response to conflict?
Until leaders learn to step up and effectively handle conflict, and corporate cultures are changed, employee conflict will continue to negatively impact the bottom line of otherwise great organizations.

While I believe the learning curve can be significantly decreased, research indicates it takes 16 hours of hearing about conflict resolution for individuals to begin acting on what they’ve learned. Master resolving conflict as a leader and you’ll enjoy a happier, more productive workforce and a better bottom line. Fail to master conflict and things will get progressively worse.

Here are three rules I’ve uncovered through over a quarter of a century of experience equipping leaders for success in and out of the workplace:

1. Nip problems in the bud. Just as weeds are easily picked when small, conflict is most easily resolved in its earliest stages. The first time a problem arises, have a conversation. That enables you to address it in a calmer, more collaborative manner than when it has happened multiple times.

You’ll know you need to say something when you’ve spent more than 15 minutes thinking about what happened. Your energy and attention will no longer be focused on moving forward, but on looking backward. And, if you know you’ll be angry if it happens again, assume it will and nip it in the bud.

2. Avoid piling on. As in football, not piling on provides protection. Additionally, it helps ensure that the message you need to send will be heard.

Years ago, as I was leaving to start my doctorate, a colleague informed me that I had upset him. I listened and apologized. He then told me something else he believed I’d done wrong. Again, I apologized. Feeling beaten up, my reply to his third complaint was, “OK.” Having no interest in being his punching bag, I politely ended the conversation when he started his fourth concern. Were his complaints valid? Perhaps, but his piling on resulted in me self-protecting by tuning him out and dismissing the entirety of what he had shared.

3. Reflect back the key points you’ve heard before responding to someone’s concerns. People will more easily accept your viewpoint or a decision that they don’t agree with once they know you’ve heard their thoughts. Ignore this step and they’ll either shut down, believing there is no point in talking to you, or they’ll increase the volume and intensity of their argument in an effort to help you better understand what they are trying to say and its importance.

Follow these rules for not throwing gasoline on the fire of conflict and you significantly increase your likelihood of being heard and of resolving conflict quickly and civilly. As you cut down the static inherent in conflict, you empower the involved individuals to create win-win solutions that will benefit you, your employees and your organization.

As you create an environment that ensures each employee feels valued, respected and heard, your productivity and profitability will soar.

Originally published in Garden Center Magazine, December 2014, http://www.gardencentermag.com/article/garden1214-resolve-workplace-conflicts/

Resolve or Revolve Conflict: The Choice Is Yours

Resolve or Revolve Conflict: The Choice Is Yours

Conflict Resolution Employee Engagement Leadership Motivation Stress

As a leader, you and the individuals you serve are either going to resolve or revolve conflict. It’s that simple. Unfortunately, far too many leaders to engage in the same disagreements over and over again. Week after week, month after month, year after year. Equally bad are the leaders who bury their head in the sand, hoping disagreements and problems are going to disappear on their own.

Leaders with respectful and well-developed conflict resolution skills maximize employee engagement and performance by refusing to ride the Ferris Wheel. Leaders lacking these skills have unhappy and underperforming employees and continue to stay stuck on the ride. The good news is if you’ve tended to bury your head in the sand or keep reengaging in the same argument, it’s never too late to do things differently.

Dr. Arnold Lazarus in his Rules for Fighting Fairly offers the following tips to help you successfully address problems and resolve conflicts:

Use “I” instead of “You” messages. “You are lazy and incompetent. You never get your reports in on time,” is going to be received differently from, “It frustrates and concerns me that your report is late. I need for you to complete your work on time. Can I count on you?”

Formula for Sending “I” Messages:

It frustrates, concerns, scares, angers… me, (insert impact)

When you fail to follow safety standards(insert problematic behavior)

I need you to follow procedures. (insert desired behavior)

Can I count on you? (ask for their commitment to the requested behavior)

An opening sentence you will use over and over as a leader is, “It concerns me.” Other common impact words include frustrates, frightens, angers and disappoints. As a leader, you are responsible for what happens on your watch. If someone isn’t pulling his or her weight, is treating others poorly or is actively causing problems, concern, frustration, disappointment and anger are appropriate responses.

In one sentence, state the problematic behavior (i.e. tardiness, incomplete/subpar work, raising their voice in anger, etc.)

Again, in one sentence let them know the desired behavior. Just as knowing where the dartboard is greatly improves accuracy, you set yourself and others up for success when you let them know exactly where to aim their efforts.

Lastly, ask them to commit to the desired behavior. Then stay silent. It’s their turn to talk. If they say yes, great. If they say no, there is still a problem that needs your attention. Bottom line, a personal commitment significantly increases the likelihood the desired behavior will actually happen.

Be direct and honest. Say what you mean, mean what you say. Sending clear messages increases trust, cuts confusion and frees others from wasting time trying to figure out what you mean and want. Mixed messages confuse, frustrate and decrease productivity. Clear messages promote desired results. As productivity goes up, so does profitability.

Additionally, while it isn’t always possible or advisable to tell employees everything, if you want peak performance, everything you tell them needs to be honest and accurate. While your employees might not like what they hear, trust enables them to more easily roll with the punches.

All parties count. It’s not okay to win at another’s expense. Take the time and creativity needed to negotiate win-win solutions between individuals and departments. Can you always create win-wins? Of course not. There will be times you’ll need to draw the line. Your employees will respect and follow you even when they disagree if you regularly create win-win solutions.

While you can’t control how someone else responds, you significantly increase the likelihood of getting desired results when you handle conflict directly and respectfully. The next time conflict rears its head, what are you going to do differently?

Originally published in Garden Center Magazine, October 2014, http://www.gardencentermag.com/article/garden1014-positive-workplace-tips/

#1 Reason People Quit Their Jobs

#1 Reason People Quit Their Jobs

Bad Boss Burnout Conflict Resolution Employee Engagement Leadership Motivation Stress

A recent Gallup Poll of more than 1 million U.S. workers indicates the #1 reason people quit their jobs is a bad boss or supervisor. Wondering if you or one of your managers is struggling as a boss? Look at your turnover rates. If they are low, you’re doing well. If they are in the middle, it’s time to start paying attention. If your turnover rates are high, you’ve got a problem. Unfortunately, turnover rates are often overlooked or explained away with a, “They’re leaving for more money.” Research indicates otherwise.

Your ability to communicate and resolve differences is key to your leadership success and employee satisfaction. For almost a quarter of a century Dr. Arnold Lazarus’s “Rules for Fighting Fairly” has been my go-to guide for teaching people to respectfully resolve conflicts.

If you want to maximize your effectiveness as a leader and strengthen relationships:

Rather than criticizing the person, address specific behaviors. While it may be accurate, telling someone, “You’re inconsiderate, lazy, or rude” only escalates problems. Instead of attacking their character and forcing them to either shut down or become defensive, state the problematic behavior. “When you are late,” “When you interrupt,” “When you leave customers waiting,” all clearly identify a problematic behavior without attacking someone’s personhood.

Addressing problematic behavior allows you to get to the heart of the matter quickly, decreases defensiveness and significantly increases your likelihood of being heard, which is critical to resolving conflict.

Refrain from telling employees what they are thinking/feeling, how they’re going to react or what they do/don’t know. Sentences that start with, “Now don’t get mad, but…” or “I know you think you know best, but…” are pretty much guaranteed to escalate into arguments. While you might be spot on, it’s not helpful or productive to micromanage another person’s emotions or thoughts. Instead of throwing gasoline on the fire, say what you need to say, then allow the person to respond.

Avoid saying, “You always” and “You never.” Unless you’re complimenting someone, “You always/never” is guaranteed to escalate emotions and derail disagreements. Instead of coming to a resolution, you’ll be hearing about the time(s) they did or didn’t do “xyz.” Drop these two phrases from your vocab and you’re well on your way to a productive disagreement.

Avoid right/wrong, good/bad categories. Most of how you desire things to be done as a business owner or boss are a preference rather than a rule that exists proclaiming there is only one way to do things. While cheating, stealing and lying are non-negotiables for most, how and when something gets done is generally a preference.

Determine your non-negotiables, values that are unshakable if someone wants to work for you and things that must be done in a precise way. Then, with clearly established goals and expectations, give your employees the freedom to determine how to best accomplish their tasks. They’ll be less argumentative, feel respected and be far more productive.

You’ll want to be prepared with appropriate consequences for employees who are chronically late, treat others poorly or do subpar work. As painful as it is, good leadership entails holding people responsible for their actions or lack thereof. Other employees take their cues about what is and isn’t acceptable behavior from you.

While conflict may not be pleasant, it doesn’t have to be destructive. These four guidelines are a great starting point for productive disagreements. If you’re thinking, “Wait, Sherene, there’s got to be more,” you’re right. Stay tuned. I can hardly wait for the next blog.

Originally published in Garden Center Magazine, August 2014, http://www.gardencentermag.com/article/garden0814-leader-employees-relationships/

Bickering Or “Bliss”?

Bickering Or “Bliss”?

Conflict Resolution Employee Engagement Leadership Stress

I worry about two types of organizations: those with constant bickering and backbiting and those where everyone passively gets along “perfectly.” While the “perfect” environment might sound great, it’s important to know that a lack of conflict is actually an indicator that something is wrong and it isn’t safe to disagree or speak the truth. On the other end of the spectrum, incessant arguing and backstabbing indicate a lack of productive conflict resolution skills and the safety necessary in order to bring out the best in each employee. Only environments that utilize conflict productively are able to maximize productivity and profitability.

So what about you? What kind of environment are your currently working in? What kind of an environment are you promoting through your leadership?

Everything Is A Battle

High conflict organizations are characterized by constant bickering, bullying and disrespect that trickles down from the top between owners and/or senior managers, all the way down the line. Unfortunately, customers often get caught in the crosshairs.

High battle departments and companies struggle with low morale, frustration and fear. If this is happening under your watch, here’s what your employees want to say: “The fighting is embarrassing and stressful.” “I don’t get paid enough to babysit adults.” “I just keep my head down and do what I’m asked.”

What You Can’t See CAN Hurt You

On the opposite end are organizations without conflict. While seemingly ideal, such organizations are characterized by disengagement, stagnation and fear. Fear that if a dissenting opinion is voiced or there is an argument, things won’t go well, relationships will be ruined or they’ll be ostracized. Your employees may hint, but won’t directly say: “Work is boring.” “We could be so much better.” “I wish you’d ask my opinion.” “If we don’t innovate, we might cease to exist.”

The Sweet Spot of Constructive Conflict

The sweet spot for maximizing profitability and productivity is between the two extremes. In high-functioning work environments, respectful, constructive conflict is the norm. Employees are encouraged and expected to bring their “A Game,” to voice disagreements, and to tell the truth. Bullying and abusive behaviors aren’t tolerated, and employees are expected to say what they mean and mean what they say.

A key benefit of such a culture is that better solutions emerge as differing opinions are batted about and built upon.

Additionally, when employees aren’t walking on eggshells, babysitting or constantly on high alert, their energy is freed to focus on the task at hand, improve the business and boost the bottom line.

Take a look around

What about you? Where is your organization?

If you’ve got ongoing, unresolved conflict, if disagreements lead to personal attacks, if absenteeism is high, if your staff is ducking and covering or relieved when you’re on the road or when a bully is absent, it’s time to bring constructive conflict into your business.

It’s hard to do this without conflict resolution skills, but you can begin to change cultures immediately by modeling and asking others to be civil. The faculty and administration constantly bickered at the university where I taught. If one said “black,” “white” was the kneejerk response. Things immediately improved when a new president stated, “My door is open and you can say anything you want to me, but you will say it civilly.”

If your workplace is stagnant and stuck in the status quo, or you have polite but disengaged employees or passion is lacking, create a culture where your people are utilized to their full potential, where it’s ok to disagree and where your people work together to create better solutions and products. It’ll take courage and consistency, but it can be done.

If morale is high, business is growing, absenteeism is low, your employees are fully engaged, bringing up new ideas and refining processes, congratulations. You’ve created an environment that brings out the best in your employees and promotes your bottom line. Now protect your culture.

Originally published in Garden Center Magazine, July 2014, http://www.gardencentermag.com/article/garden0614-motivated-employees/

7 Ways To Improve Employee Engagement and Productivity

7 Ways To Improve Employee Engagement and Productivity

Employee Engagement Leadership Motivation

How are you doing as leader? Is your enthusiasm high or are you feeling overworked, underpaid and in need of a vacation? What about your staff? Are they motivated or has their zest been zapped by being asked to do more and more with fewer and fewer resources? Unfortunately, the footprint of the average job has mushroomed over 30% since the recession started in 2007. How are you and your people doing? Has relief ever arrived, or are you all still being asked to continuously perform above max capacity?

Just as plants need fertilizer to maximize growth, employees need nourishment to stay motivated, engaged, and highly productive. Lots of books and articles address ways to motivate employees. Here are seven of my favorite easy, low cost ways to immediately improve employee engagement, morale and productivity:

Take time daily to interact with your employees. Walk about as they are working. Say hello and thank them for all they do. Look them in the eye, shake their hand or give them a pat on the back. You’ll be amazed at how valued they feel when they know you care and truly see them.

Ask what they need to be more successful. Regularly ask your staff if there’s anything they need to be more successful. Most will smile, say things are fine and get back to work knowing they have a great boss. Others will share concerns. Some you can take care of with little or no cost. Do so and you become someone they want to please even more.

If you can’t do something easily, but it makes sense, let them know you’ll work on it and when they can expect to see the request met. If it’s not something you’re ready or able to do, thank them for their input and let them know you’ll consider it.

Then follow up with them at a later time. If it’s not financially feasible, you can respond with “While it’s cost-prohibitive at this time, I appreciate your suggestion.” If it’s an outlandish request, you can laugh good-naturedly and say “Wouldn’t it be nice?”

Keep them informed. Good information is critical to job satisfaction and success. In its absence, the rumor mill kicks in and conclusions are drawn, often erroneously. The better the communication, the more effective your employees will be. Being in the know allows them to keep their focus where it should be, on their job.

Find out your employees’ passions. People who are doing what they love perform at the highest levels. Any time you can tie in their job to their passion, you’ll have a super motivated employee. Is this always possible? Of course not. And, when you can, you’re an ever bigger hero.

Let your people come in one hour late, or leave one hour early, one day a week. Your industry is demanding. Think how happy and motivated your people will be if one day of the week they have an extra hour. Their loyalty, motivation and productivity will far exceed the hour they are gone.

Have a contest. Create a contest for almost anything that can be measured and produces results. For example, largest increase in sales, best idea to cut out waste, the lowest accident rate… Couple it with a prize such as a trophy, plaque, pizza party or something reflective of the value added to your bottom line. Do this individually or by department. Post results, create a buzz and watch how a good-natured competition promotes productivity, fun and hustling to win.

Offer an incentive. Set a high but reachable goal for your individuals or departments, and offer a meaningful reward for those who accomplish it. Increased sales, employee safety, quality control and on-time deliveries all positively impact your bottom line. Pass some of the savings and profitability along, and your employees will work even harder.

While it’s not easy to keep your employees motivated, working hard and feeling valued. And, a motivated workforce is critical to success and a better bottom line. Think outside of the box and let me know what happens as you intentionally cultivate employee engagement.

Originally published in Garden Center Magazine, June 2014, http://www.gardencentermag.com/article/garden0614-motivated-employees/