How do you keep your employees engaged and playing team ball?

Unemployment remains elevated, according to The Wall Street Journal, even as millions of jobs go unfilled. Part of the reason for this seeming incongruity is that people have a lower tolerance for bad work environments. People are voting with their feet to get away from bad bosses and unfulfilling work. 

I’ll be interested to see the 2021 Gallup study on workplace engagement. The 2019 data is revealing: two-thirds of American employees report being UNengaged at work. Imagine the productivity your team could achieve if you had 67% or more of your people giving a hundred percent.

What interests me the most is what inspires people to cross the line from disengaged to engaged and prevents people from crossing in the other direction. How do you fill the ranks of the engaged and keep them there?

An NFL coach showed me part of the answer this weekend. Each year, Gregg Williams hosts a golf tournament near Kansas City to raise funds for youth activities in Excelsior Springs, Missouri. I sponsored a team for the event. 

I rode in a van from the hotel to the golf course with four of Williams’ former players. Williams coached their high school football team. That was thirty years ago. One was a fourth-string quarterback who had to step into the starting role when others were injured. “He believed in me, and that gave me the confidence to win.” Another one told me that Williams “taught me life lessons that I’ll never forget.”

A third former player broke into tears. He grew up an orphan and was getting into trouble in high school. Coach Williams became the father figure he never had. “We come every year,” he told me, “Coach Williams changed our lives.” He’s now the mayor of his hometown.

Coach Williams brings out the best in his players by customizing roles to people’s natural strengths. “Put people in a position to succeed, and they will amaze you,” Williams said, “put them together in the right combination, and they’ll win.” That philosophy is how he gets people to cross from unengaged to engaged.

Agency keeps them engaged, Blake (Gregg’s son and also an NFL coach) tells me. When people know the bigger picture, how everyone contributes, and the essential role each individual plays, they can make smart decisions during the game. Agency is the ability to make decisions about the nature and outcomes of your work. 

People get engaged when you customize roles to their natural affinities. They stay engaged when they have agency. Assemble them in the right combinations, and you’ll have a winning team. 

BREAKTHROUGH OPPORTUNITIES

People have seen that remote work can work and are creating solo- and expert-businesses in record numbers.

The next FOCUSED program begins the first week of August. This 8-week group program is for principled leaders who want to grow their businesses using the right focus, the right strategy, and the right team. 

Click here to see if the program is a good fit for you. Email me to apply: [email protected]

This program’s clarity and focus resulted in more high-payoff work that we love and less wasted time and energy. We expect 33% growth to reach $100k in monthly revenues and expand from there.
Matthew Hargrove and Barry Lingelbach, Black-Grey-Gold Consulting 

CEOs are struggling with their return to the office policies. Employees “who are least engaged,” WeWork CEO Sandeep Mathrani told The Wall Street Journal, “are very comfortable working from home.” 

Cathy Merrill, the chief executive of Washingtonian Media, wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post warning employees about the risks of not returning to the office. “The hardest people to let go are the ones you know.” Her employees staged a work-stoppage.

A friend who works in the high-tech industry stated that their company will use a 75-25 rule: employees need to spend 75 percent of their time in the office and work from anywhere for the remainder.

Leaders can do better than use proximity to make judgments about value, issue veiled threats, and come up with arbitrary rules that will waste time and energy in the monitoring.

Here’s a better way.

There are plenty of jobs that are done mostly in isolation, such as research-oriented work. Other jobs, like manufacturing, need to be performed in person.

Companies also have roles in which employees perform recurring tasks: assembly-line work, IT monitoring, coordinating activities, and the like. You also have to handle non-routine requirements, including innovation, crisis management, and product development.

When you put these variables together in a quad-chart, you get a better way to organize your return-to-office requirements. 

Recurring work that employees can do in isolation are prime candidates for very permissive work-from-home arrangements. 

Roles that require innovative work that employees can perform in isolation should have permissive arrangements, too, but less so than the former because the free exchange of ideas improves quality and reduces the risk of science projects taking on lives of their own.

By contrast, innovative roles requiring substantial collaboration should probably be performed more at the office than elsewhere.

Recurring, on-site roles often require the highest in-office frequency. 

Apply a commonsense method like this one, and you’ll boost productivity, retain your top talent, and make smart choices about office space.

P.S. How action-oriented are your company’s values? Slogans mostly create cynicism. Actionable values boost accountability for employees doing what’s right, the right way, without you having to watch.

I’m teaming up with leadership expert Jan Rutherford on June 2 at 1 pm US Central time to offer you a Values Do-in-Ar. Inc magazine recognized Jan as one of America’s Top 100 Leadership Speakers. 

You will come away from this Do-in-ar with action-oriented, accountability-inspiring values that enhance your company’s performance, reputation, and well-being.

To get your invitation, please donate to your favorite charity and let me know that you’ve done so (I work on the honor system).

I’ve just donated to the Milwaukee War Memorial, which is holding a special event in honor of Memorial Day.

I chuckle every time I meet a science-defying person on the sidewalk who hurriedly pulls up their mask when approaching and pushes it down after we pass. 

The probability of catching COVID while passing someone on the sidewalk is equivalent to being killed by a lightning strike. Over a year into the pandemic, this behavior reflects virtue-signaling rather than values. 

Virtue-signalling, like the facades on a Saddam Hussein palace, obscures the realities within. CEO hang-wringing apologia about diversity last year often resulted in no follow-through or change. Harvard business review articles show that most diversity training makes things worse. Still, CEOs throw money at the failed approaches. Plato described the behavior as “seeming over being.” 

You want values that work, and you want what you value to be working. 

Business values are behavioral norms that guide your profitable customer-centric solutions. Some are internal-facing, oriented on how people work together, while others are external-facing to expand your base of loyal customers. The true tests of your values are whether they are profitable for your business, your employees, and your customers. 

If your values set specific behavioral norms that lead to profitable customer-centric solutions, you are going to gain delightful customers and attract employees who will do what’s right, the right way, without you having to micro-manage. Vague values, on the other hand, are slogans that create cynicism. 

The vital step is to set business values that work. To help you do so, I’m hosting the “Never Suffer from Vague Values Again” do-in-ar with leadership expert Jan Rutherford on June 2 at 1:00 pm US Central. 

You’ll come away from the event knowing precisely how to set values that are the right fit for your business.

Here’s the game-plan: 20 minutes of format with Jan; 20 minutes working on your values assignment; 20 minutes of advice and support from Jan and me.

To get the meeting link, please donate to your favorite charity and email me ([email protected]) to me know you’ve done so (I use the honor system, so your word is good enough).

P.S. VALUE-ADDING Leadership(TM) is a master program for leaders and entrepreneurs who want to inspire people to contribute their best and drive the business to new heights. The next program begins in mid-May. More here.

Jeff Marquez recently authored this article on LinkedIn.

Do you have a jerk, bully, or slacker among you? Like weeds, you have to manage or prune away their behaviors. Chances are the face of a person is coming to mind. What feelings does this person evoke–stress, negativity, anxiety, or anger? Their toxic behavior is harmful to your Team. So how do you deal with difficult or toxic people? Step one is to determine the observable actions and behavior of such an individual and the effects on your organization. Then what?

My colleague and friend Chris Kolenda teamed up with executive coach, international best-selling author, and former FBI/police hostage negotiation trainer Mark Goulston, M.D., to share ways to deal with toxic behavior. It was pure gold.

Mark described a typical approach of a toxic person. They charm, frustrate, anger, and outrage you in that order. They use innuendos, and when you respond to it, they got you. Instead, look them in the eye and listen for a question. Then and only then do you respond. He says, “expect difficult people to be difficult, expect them to push or prod.” When they do, he advises holding a little bit of yourself back. They often do not have substance because they rely on provocation.

I have had the unfortunate experience of a toxic boss, and Mark described their behavior to a tee. Now, here you are in the throes of chaos, in the moment, face to face with the toxic one. What do you? Mark says pause and say to yourself, “opportunity for poise,” and do the following three steps:

1. Do not act on the first thought that comes to mind because it is your defense.

2. Do not act on the second thought that comes to mind because it is your attack or retaliation mode.

3. Act on the third because it is getting closer to solution mode.

I reflected on my experience and how I thought that the boss was just having a bad day. That day turned into weeks, then months. Toxic behavior can cause tremendous damage ranging from losing employees, decreased productivity, losing sleep, and impacts on family and loved ones. To prevent or minimize the damage, Mark offered the following ways to deal with a toxic or difficult boss, employee, or peer.

The Boss – If you have a difficult boss, use what Mark calls assertive humility. The tone is important, so a bit of emotion might be necessary.

1. Approach him or her with, “I need your help with something that is affecting my results. When would be a good time to talk?” He or she is likely geared toward results, so they will be curious.

2. At the time, find something positive, flatter them. “Do you know how smart you are in ______ (goal setting, vision…pick something they do well)?” They will become disarmed.

3. Tell them you are bringing that up because you do not want them to distract others from the potential that the specific skill or talent can bring to the organization. In other words, their toxic or difficult behavior is distracting and preventing employees from seeing the boss’s skills and talent.

4. If necessary, follow up with, “You have a little control of what you say and how you say it, but you have no control of how it is heard. I and others have observed that you are triggering flashbacks in people. Those flashbacks are not always positive like an angry parent, and they can be tough for people to work around. Try to trigger flashbacks that are positive and remind others of a positive parent, coach, or mentor.” 

5. Finish it with, “You have no idea what kind of productivity you can get from people who, when you trigger them, either want to kill themselves or kill you. And you turn them into people who want to kill for you. It will blow your mind!”

Employee – If you have a difficult employee, again, use assertive humility with the appropriate tone. 

1. Approach him or her with, “I need your help with something.”

2. Then say, “I’m really getting close to rooting against you, and it pains me. In fact, I do not want to work with anyone in this company I do not root for. The reason I’m getting close to rooting against you is because…” and tell them of the observed toxic or difficult behaviors.

3. Let them know that you do not believe that is the person they really are, that they are better than that. “Let’s consider this a wake-up call conversation that could lead to another one because if I get to a point where I am rooting against you, we will have to make changes.”

Peer – If you have a difficult peer or colleague, use assertive humility with tone.

1. Tell them, “I am getting really close to avoiding you. And I do not want to avoid you. It is bad for our Team and for our cooperation.”

2. Say, “The reason I am close to wanting to avoid you, why I am having this conversation is…” and tell them of the observed toxic or difficult behaviors.

3. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Let them know that you do not believe that is who they are or that something must be triggering them. “Instead of taking on the behavior of avoiding you, and I am not the only one, I am bringing it to your attention.”

Finally, Mark has a formula worthy of remembering: aggression + principle=conviction and aggression – principle=hostility. “Conviction makes you strong; hostility makes you wild.” If you have toxic or difficult people among you, manage or prune away the behavior. Let these tactics help you confront them, and get you back to focusing on your powerful Team and sustainable success. 

Jeff Marquez recently authored this article on Trust on LinkedIn.

When you are asked a question and are uncertain of the answer, frustrated, or are short on time, how do you respond? We all have short-circuited answers that allow us to respond and move on. Or so we think. These so-called default answers—“Let’s talk,” “We’ll have an answer soon,” “Don’t ask, just get it done”—can damage the trust between mid-leaders and Team members. While these default answers might allow a leader to provide a response quickly, they can unintentionally send signals of uncertainty and mistrust to the receiver. Put yourself on the receiving end of these defaults and consider the feelings and anxiety they may create:

1.     Let’s talk—uncertainty. Is this positive or negative? How should the employee prepare?

2.     We’ll have an answer soon—ambiguous. Is soon next week? A month?

3.     Don’t ask, just get it done—lack of confidence, trust, and value in the Team member.

Provide context and drive meaning to motivate people. Experts say it takes five hundred milliseconds, or half a second, for sensory information from the outside world to incorporate into conscious experience. So, we can still get an answer out quickly, but if we take a few extra seconds to be more transparent, we can change the meaning of these defaults and bring clarity, understanding, and commitment to our work. Consider how the three defaults from above, but now with context, change the feeling:

1.     Let’s talk about this at 4 p.m. I like your idea of involving the staff because it gives them ownership of the process—You specify why you like the idea, you set the expectation for time, and the employee feels valued.

2.     We have not decided yet but will by the end of the day on Wednesday—You are honest about not having decided and have set expectations so that the Team member has a clear idea of how to proceed.

3.     Here is what we thought when we made the decision—The Team member is going to have a better understanding of the conditions and will likely give their best work because they feel like they are part of the team, trusted, and valued.

Trust comes from words and actions, but it must be felt by others to resonate. Take the few extra seconds to be transparent, honest, and only promise what you can deliver. Think about the work environments this crisis has created with back-to-back virtual meetings and online overload and consider how these conditions impacted your organization. Think about what is before us as we enter the renewal and new opportunities. Do what you can to remove uncertainty. Invest those few seconds to help your people feel trust. 

My UN-heroes of the pandemic award goes to big city public school teacher union officials.

Teachers can make a lifelong impact. Mrs. Brayman, Mr. Brayman, Mrs. Evanoff, Mrs. Schneider, Ms. Peterson brought out my best and helped me be who I am today.

Millions of kids, mostly from low-income neighborhoods, have missed the opportunity this past year. The teachers have done their best. Many public school teachers’ unions have kept them out of the schools and away from kids who need them most. The Milwaukee public schools are still not doing ANY in-person classes.

I’m fascinated by how “the science” works differently in private and public schools. My niece and nephew in San Diego have been in person for almost the entire year, and everyone’s been fine. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, there’s no evidence of schools being superspreaders.

Data-denying teachers union officials, however, have fought tooth and nail to keep schools shuttered. The effects on kids who’ve missed a year of school will be long-lasting.

There are some good lessons here for small businesses. As the massive economic renewal gets underway, you’ll want to avoid un-heroes because they are subtraction-by-addition productivity and morale bandits.

1. Say no to selfish talent. A team or unit leader who cares only for their fiefdom will damage your team. I’m sure teachers union officials think they are protecting their dues-paying members, but they’ve forgotten about the common good. My mentor, Alan Weiss, pointed out that attorneys are officers of the court and advocates for their clients. The justice system breaks down when lawyers neglect one of these responsibilities. The same goes for your subordinate leaders.

2. Mind the customer. Had teachers union officials cared about kids and parents — the real customers of schools — they would have fought to get schools open safely instead of throwing up roadblocks. Grocery stores stayed open by putting common-sense measures in place to keep employees and customers safe. Single-issue advocates provide self-interested advice that’s good for their narrow interests but most likely damaging to your community.  

3. Beware of perverse incentives. What you measure creates workplace behaviors, so be careful to avoid metrics and awards that discourage teamwork. Too many teachers union officials felt accountable to dues-paying members and not to the community. Use one-on-one check-ins and meetings to have your senior leaders frame their work in terms of advancing company goals and objectives.

Say no to selfish talent, keep the customer in mind, and avoid perverse incentives so that you can make sure un-heroes don’t make their way onto your team.

Amy Mizialko, head of the union in Milwaukee, said in a March 14th television interview, “We will not legitimize this notion of learning loss. Our students in Milwaukee Public Schools and students across the nation have learned skills this year that probably families and educators never anticipated that they would learn in terms of self-direction, organization, working with peers in a new way, so we’re not going to agree that a standardized test is somehow a measure of learning or somehow a measure of learning loss.”

I rest my case.

Winterization is the technical term for preparing your home, car, business, or person for extreme cold weather.

My Norwegian friends tell me that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.

Winterization is a set of preventative actions you take so that your pipes don’t burst, your engine doesn’t seize, and you don’t get frostbite.

Corrective and adaptive actions are measures you take when these problems occur. 

You replace the pipes (corrective), repair the damage to your home (adaptive), replace the engine (corrective), or get surgery for a damaged limb (adaptive).

Preventative action is always less expensive than corrective or adaptive action.

Don’t be distracted by the blame-game as Texas politicians and energy officials point fingers. 

The failure to winterize facilities and ensure a reliable power baseload has resulted in a deadly and expensive nightmare for Texans.

You can’t control the weather, pandemics, or many other factors that affect your business.

You can control whether or not you invest in sensible preventative action.

Think of preventative actions in three categories:

Leadership: Investing in your people (and board of directors) so that they make good decisions and inspire people to contribute their best.

Culture: Strengthening your team’s operating system of values and expectations – improving how you work together and serve your customers. 

Strategy: Governing your organization’s purpose and direction and executing a solid game-plan to reach your goals.

Ten years ago, Texas had an energy freeze like it’s experiencing today. 

They failed to take preventative actions afterward.

What preventative actions will you take to protect your business?

It was a horrifying and despicable scene, the violent mob egged on by a sitting President, ransacking our Capitol to disrupt the final act of confirming the 2020 election results.

I used to live 6 blocks from the Capitol and briefed members of both Houses. To see those halls damaged was shocking. The loss of life deeply saddens me. I’m troubled by the state of affairs that led to this incident. 

A democracy is only as strong as the willingness of its people to protect it. Americans will need to rise to the occasion. 

The same divisive and intolerant practices that have characterized both sides of the partisan divide will not yield different results. 

Things can get much worse if we let them.

______________________________________________________________________

What are some practical leadership takeaways? 

1. A leader serves everyone on the team.

There’s a difference between a demagogue and a leader. 

A demagogue is one who gains popularity by whipping-up animosities. 

A leader inspires each person to contribute their best to the team’s success.

You’ve met this standard when your most vulnerable employees feel the safety and confidence to contribute their best and most authentic selves.

2. Character counts. 

You don’t have to be perfect. The only people who’ve never erred are the ones who’ve attempted nothing. 

You build character in the arena of life, making mistakes and learning from them.

The person who repeats and doubles-down on awful behavior is one to get off of your team. 

I’ve seen leaders rationalize toxic behavior. “The jerk gets results.”

The chickens always come home to roost – sometimes with the toxic leader present, other times you realize it after the fact. 

Toxic leaders damage people, teams, and institutions.

3. Values matter. 

Don’t handwave your values with feel-good statements. 

Be clear on your standards and expectations. 

Set the right example. Every employee should know what right looks like, and your actions should be the model.

Let people know that violence, bullying, and name-calling are unacceptable, too. 

No matter how self-righteous a person thinks they are, the physical, mental, or emotional abuse of another human being is wrong and damaging. 

Politically-correct bigotry is still bigotry, and it’s not OK.

4. Build bridges, rather than walls.

Right now, your employees—like many Americans—may be bitterly divided along political lines. 

A diverse team with buy-in to a common purpose, shared objectives, and respectful dialogue has resilience.

Belittling or lecturing people who disagree with you is the fast-track to resentment and paralysis.

If you want to get things done, you need to go to the other person’s bus-stop and see the issue from their point of view.

When you can describe their view back to them and get, “that’s exactly right,” you are ready to find solutions to challenging problems.

Empathy is fundamental to gaining buy-in and getting things done.

5. Keep calm and don’t recycle outrage.

In social and broadcast media, outrageous is contagious. 

Peddling outrage undermines civil discourse. 

Competing animosities escalate and eventually explode. 

What is your #1 leadership lesson?

Jeff Marquez authored a 4 part series in Hispanic Executive entitled “The Crisis Life Cycle: Where Are You Looking?” This series of articles covers working through a crisis and where to look to shape success. It can help assess your leadership, culture, and strategy.

Part 1: RAMP: React, Adjust, Manage, Prosper

Part 2: Engage Middle Management, Work On Your Business, Prepare for the New Normal

Part 3: Trust

Part 4: A New Culture Paradigm