Engaging Employees in Order to Get Feedback

Make sure that you allow employees to put in their two cents. Look the person you’re talking to in the eye. Practice patient stillness. You’ll find it only takes a few seconds for someone else to jump into the discussion.

Employees may speak more freely when the Owner isn’t in the room. Or they may play safe and keep silent altogether. Dealing with employees is a never ending struggle for me as a business owner. When things go wrong I’m least likely to get honest feedback – just when I need it the most.

Thoughts of the Day: Communication is a 2 way street. Deal with the frustrating situations, so you can get them out of the way. It takes time and practice to build a culture of open, constructive feedback. Sometimes it’s hard for owners to accept criticism. Sharing information openly with employees is a good start. Find a major payoff through idea sharing, collaboration, and engagement.

Most business owners are as uncomfortable with silence and anyone else. They rush to fill the quiet spots, thinking people are waiting for them to provide information and guidance. Could be that people are only waiting for a pause so they can get a suggestion in edgewise.

Make sure that you allow employees to put in their two cents. Look the person you’re talking to in the eye. Practice patient stillness. You’ll find it only takes a few seconds for someone else to jump into the discussion.

Acknowledge that you heard what someone had to say by playing it back. Try repeating the last word as a question. Or, ask them to keep going, to clarify, to expand on the thought. Do it with a smile and a nod of the head.

Recognize that because you’re the boss, people need to be encouraged to speak up. And they need to know that if they express an opinion, they won’t get in trouble for it. If you don’t like what someone has to say, bite your lip instead of snapping back with a contradiction. Sleep on it before responding.

Ever felt stuck, frustrated, unwilling to get on board with something? Be honest with yourself. It’s a common reaction.

Without an opportunity to have a say, it’s hard to be in a positive frame of mind. It’s normal to want to walk away and not be involved. That happens to employees all the time, as they wish to be heard and get frustrated when they’re not.

Reading about South Africa’s experiment with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, led me to some observations about how to engage people in working through difficult circumstances. Encourage:

  • Accurate and complete sharing of information
  • Impartial conduct of hearings when problems arise
  • Accountability
  • Inclusion of all parties in economic advancement and political power sharing
  • Follow up designed to move people from airing grievances to planning a way forward together.

Share examples of when employees told you not to do something and they were right. Talk about how their taking a risk to stand up to you helped the company to succeed. Show people you can accept being wrong.

Make it safe for people to bring issues forward by allowing them to be heard without rebuttal. Practice saying thank you when the news delivered is critical, even when you don’t think it’s well deserved. If the employee is wrong, take them aside and discuss the issue one-on-one.

Speak to employees as grown ups. Treat each person with respect, honesty and dignity. Give them information they need to do their jobs. Let them sort out the details and learn from their mistakes.

There are significant payoffs to the company for getting employees to provide honest and open feedback. Here are just a few examples: lower turnover, better payoff for training budgets, higher output for similar paychecks.

Employees who are heard are more likely to engage and collaborate. Recognition for speaking up reinforces the behavior, leading to greater degrees of risk-taking contribution. People start looking for the next opportunity to step up, going from avoidance to garnering additional recognition.

Looking for a good book? Try… It’s OK to Be the Boss: The Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming the Manager Your Employees Need, by Bruce Tulgan.


Irreplaceable? Think again…

When I hire people, after awhile many of them get comfortable with their jobs. Even worse, some of them come to think they’re untouchable. I know they’ve grown into important roles, but that kind of attitude isn’t good for the company. What should I do?

Thoughts of the Day: Build an organization of team players by giving people goals and challenges. Remember, no matter how key an employee may seem to be, everyone is replaceable. Use regular reviews to tell people where they stand. It all comes down to what you’re willing to accept, and whether or not you’re willing to make and enforce demands.

A team of employees focused on a common goal, working together to understand and overcome a set of challenges, can accomplish substantially more than any single individual. Assign all employees to teams. Look for opportunities to have people overlap duties and back up other positions.

Target the people who are isolated, either by job function or by personal choice. For starters, ask them to join a group project, with a clearly defined goal and a leader who is good at including team members. Make it clear that part of their performance review is based on how well they perform as a team member. Ask the team leader for regular updates. If necessary, provide one-on-one counseling to the people you’re working to turn into collaborators.

Sometimes you may run into a fit issue: as in, the persons you’re counseling are having trouble fitting in as productive team members. Document the work they do. Start cross-training others to do some, or all, of their job. Keep in mind that your responsibility is to the company overall. With enough documentation and cross training, even key players can be replaced.

Meet individually and explain that sub-par performance on a team could get in the way of making progress in the company. If behavior is especially disruptive, or if you’ve been through multiple counseling sessions and there’s no real progress, make sure that person knows that they could be facing consequences up to, and including, termination, if they don’t shape up. Don’t be subtle at this stage. Make sure the message gets across.

At the same time that you’re telling people they’re in trouble, post their jobs and look for potential replacement candidates. Many times managers and business owners hesitate to draw the line with disruptive or uncooperative employees because they fear no one else can do the job. Looking for replacements, and training others to do some, or all, of the job will give you options.

In general, it is wise to conduct reviews with people once or twice a year. Try to keep people on their toes by finding the balance between giving them new tasks to master, and allowing them sufficient time to get good at existing assignments. Everyone should have a mix of some new things to learn, some things they can do really well, and a bunch of things that they’re working towards mastering.

Set the tone for the company as you conduct reviews. Give people realistic stretch goals. Put it in the context of what the company has to achieve in the upcoming year, and how their success at mastering new goals is essential to that progress.

Make time to review company results, and to plan out what’s needed for the company going forward. Make it your job to demand excellence from everyone around you, starting with yourself. Create a culture of accountability, responsibility, and striving to achieve.

Limit the time you spend with marginal performers, energy suckers, and self-serving individuals. Recognize and reward the people who perform in an atmosphere of collaboration, cooperation and acting in the best interests of the company. Give them 80% of your time. After all, the team players are your future.

Looking for a good book? Try HR from the Heart: Inspiring Stories and Strategies for Building the People Side of Great Business, by Martha Finney.


Motivating Employees to Try New Things

Understand employee motivation. Talk about the importance of growth. Address problems, don’t let them fester. Use reviews as a tool to discuss the future and document plans. Offer employees regular opportunities for growth.

One of our key employees is still tentative about trying new things. She has to figure it out or she won’t progress . How can I help her?

Thoughts of the Day: Understand employee motivation. Talk about the importance of growth. Address problems, don’t let them fester. Use reviews as a tool to discuss the future and document plans. Offer employees regular opportunities for growth.

A June, 1998 paper by James Linder, Ohio State University, titled Understanding Employee Motivation, looked at the theories of 5 motivational gurus: Maslow, Adams, Herzberg, Vroom and Skinner. He then came up with a hierarchy of 8 employee needs:
1. interesting work
2. good wages
3. full appreciation of work done
4. job security
5. good working conditions
6. promotions and growth in the organization
7. feeling of being in on things
8. personal loyalty to employees
9. tactful discipline
10. sympathetic help with personal problems
Work your way through this checklist, for each employee. Look for things that are on track and for dis-connects.

Help employees understand how they fit into the big picture. Ask yourself: Is it clear that the company is on a growth track? Does each employee have their own set of goals consistent with the company’s goals?

Make sure employees are looking at themselves realistically, not just for today, but also for the future. Everyone hopes to earn more in the future than they do today. Most people also need to lighten up on physical demands and shift more to knowledge work as they get older. Staying in the same job too long means lower pay and promotion opportunities relative to personal expectations

Some employees prefer to stay in a comfort zone. They get caught in a trap between the need for appreciation and playing safe to get it, versus engaging in newer, riskier, more interesting work where things might go wrong. Letting employees fall into this trap can lead to lower levels of performance over time and decreasing job satisfaction. Challenge employees to stretch, and make it safe for them to do so.

Sometimes the employee and the company may be heading towards two separate paths. Don’t ignore it when the employee demonstrates interest in other areas and ignores the need for growth in areas that matter to the company. Not every employee with stay until retirement.

Address the issues around job fit in reviews. Have an open and honest conversation about what can be done to help each employee get where he or she wants to go. Talk about how long it might take before that is no longer a fit with where the company wants to go. Plan for transitions by asking each employee to train a replacement, and by showing interest in where employees might be going next.

Spend time in reviews discussing education opportunities and agreeing to next steps that will enable higher performance. What about a college course? How about adding a technical skill? Is it time to practice soft skills such as proficiency in communication or writing? What about personal needs such as stress reduction or time management? Document specific education plans. Compare plans to actions taken in the next review.

Don’t assume you know best where an employee fits in the business. Regularly expose employees to other parts of the business. Cross train in other areas as a backup in case of emergency. See who lights up when given another assignment, even if it’s outside their current scope of work.

Encourage experimentation. Don’t come down hard on people when they try something new and make mistakes. Remember that making mistakes is a hallmark of a growing, striving organization. When mistakes are repetitive, find out why and fix the problem. Teach everyone in the organization to constantly evaluate what goes right, what went wrong, and brainstorm what to do to fix the problem.

Looking for a good book? Understanding Employee Motivation

Andi Gray is president of Strategy Leaders Inc., https://www.strategyleaders.com, a business consulting firm that specializes in helping small to mid-size, privately held businesses achieve doubled revenues and tripled profits in repetitive growth cycles. Interested in learning how Strategy Leaders can help your business? Call now for a free consultation and diagnostic process: 877-238-3535. Do you have a question for Andi? Email her: AskAndi@StrategyLeaders.com 

Acknowledging the People Who Make it Happen

Things have been getting busier. That’s a good thing. However, I find that when we get busy we forget to acknowledge the people who are making it happen. Any suggestions on how to keep that top of mind, and use it as a tool to motivate everyone to achieve greater results in the upcoming year – we sure could use the push!

Thoughts of the Day: Acknowledgement is a powerful tool to motivate behavior. Make sure it’s honest feedback. Schedule time to review performance and recognize results. Help everyone to stay focused on their ability to contribute.

Build a positive culture. Make sure that what you stand for is what you’d want written on your tombstone. As you look around the company ask yourself:

  • Are my people truly happy doing what they are doing?
  • Do our suppliers and customers mirror our positive outlook?

Then move on to a rigorous personal assessment:

  • How does my attitude influence everyone around me?
  • What can I do to build an upbeat environment by realizing that employees, customers and vendors all strive to benefit each other?

Finally, ask about recognition systems:

  • Can my people trust that their efforts will be appreciated?
  • What can I do to make people more comfortable giving positive feedback?

The answers to these questions will speak volumes about how well your company does in the acknowledgement department.

As CEO you have tremendous influence. The tone you set leads to more of the same. If you are always criticizing, always looking at the down side, your people will pick that up and mirror it. Regularly recognizing people when they do their best can lead to an environment where people stretch to do their best consistently.

Start by giving credit where credit is due. No company would be where it is if the only person working in the company was the CEO. Give people positive feedback they can build upon by noting their efforts to do a good job.

Don’t overlook problems. Pose them in the context of, here’s what you’ve done right, here’s what I need you to work on next, I’m confident that given your successful performance on other tasks that you’ll be able to master this one as well. If someone is struggling, figure out if they should be in the job or if they should move on. Don’t spoil the mood in the company by tolerating poor performance and then being frustrated by what you see.

Acknowledgement isn’t just something you do while walking around the company. Set up goals and reports to review performance. Look for specific examples of where people achieve results. Revenue, service levels, profit and productivity are easy to measure and recognize.

Have a monthly meeting where you go over reports, hand out gold stars, and thank people for their contributions. Ask managers to share specific examples at company meetings. Teach all your employees how to give acknowledgements. In addition to recognizing performers, use job-well-done examples to teach other people what you’re looking for.

Each day make a list of people you’ve observed doing good work. Send out thank you notes. Each week spend time walking around, observing and commenting on the good things you see happening. Also make notes on things that need improving, in the context of, “Now that we’ve achieved x, it’s time to work on y.”

Encourage people by showing them the upside – the appreciation that goes with a job well done. Reward people when they take initiative by making them shining examples in front of their peers. Make sure that your employees, customers and vendors all know how much you value them.

Looking for a good book? Grateful Leadership: Using the Power of Acknowledgement to Engage All Your People and Achieve Superior Results, by Judith W. Umlas


Want to print this article? Acknowledging the people who make it happen


Are My Sales People Too Comfortable?

I know that a productive sales force is one of the keys to our future success. It’s time for them to put things in gear. I worry that things may be too comfortable around here. Any suggestions?

Thoughts of the Day: Agree on goals and measure performance against cost. Involve people in solving tough problems to get engagement and growth. Be clear about your Conditions of Success© and make sure your company’s needs get met.

Good news is that there is a sales team in place. Any company looking to grow has to have people in place to help bring in new business. Now it’s time to figure out what your company needs. Put your sales people on a mission. Compare the payoff of sales to the cost of acquisition.

Here’s an example of how to calculate a sales goal.

  • Let’s say that the sales person costs $100k, including salary and benefits, travel costs, desk, phone, managers time, etc..
  • Assume that the company’s gross profit is 60% of revenue.
  • Assign a minimum standard multiple of 3x cost to what a sales person should bring in.
  • Multiply sales person’s cost of $100k x 3 (minimum standard multiple)  = $300k.
  • Divide the $300k by the company’s gross profit of 60% to get a revenue goal = $500k minimum revenue sales goal.
  • Compare that to what sales people in your company and industry are already producing today – is that high, low or in the ballpark.
  • Adjust the goal up, if you think there’s room to produce more. Resist the temptation to bring the goal down to make it more realistic. If you’re not making money on your sales people’s efforts, you have to figure out what else to do.

Now work backwards. What’s an average sale for your company? Divide the minimum revenue sales goal by the average sale. That’s the number of sales per year this sales person has to produce.

Wondering how many sales people you need? Figure out the company’s overall sales target for the year. Deduct the amount of revenue that will just roll in the door, from existing clients, from the website, any other non-sales force related activities. The remainder is what the sales force has to bring on board. Divide by the minimum revenue sales goal per person. That’s the number of sales people you’ll need, if all sales people are just hitting minimum performance.

Want to break through to more than minimum performance? There’s real value in giving people challenges. Gather your sales team to brainstorm how they could kick sales into high gear.

When measuring and managing people it’s best to know how high to set the performance bar. Take a look at what people on the sales team have produced in previous years. Find out what competitors demand of their sales personnel.

Take a look at how sales conditions have changed over the past few years. For many companies the sales cycle has gotten longer. The number of sales per sales person has also gone down, as sales people spend more time nurturing potential sales along a longer path to close. That’s lost opportunity, unless you can shorten the sales cycle.

Is there anyone on the team who seems to be getting any performance breakthrough? What can be done to model their behavior, attitude and skills?

Maybe it’s time for some sales training. Everyone gets rusty. Getting into a structure to exercise and build sales skills could be exactly what the sales team needs to get their game on.

Make it clear what you expect. Make sure people know you’re watching what’s going on. Put performance reports in a place where everyone can see what’s going on. Don’t hesitate to make changes if someone isn’t trying.

Ask people to make incremental performance improvements. Increase sales results a little each month. Push for one more sales call, one more prospect, one more referral request. They’ll add up over the course of the year.


Looking for a good book? 52 Sales Management Tips: The Sales Managers Success Guide, by Steven Rosen.

Want to print this article? Are my sales people too comfortable