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Manager’s Toolkit – Tips, Tools, and Trustworthy Best Practices for High-Impact Results
In the dynamic and ever-evolving world of management, the role of a manager has never been more critical. As organizations strive for high-impact results and exceptional performance, managers find themselves at the forefront, leading their teams through complex challenges and inspiring peak performance. Just like a skilled craftsman, a manager needs a well-equipped toolkit to navigate the intricacies of modern leadership successfully.
Welcome to our first in a series of articles, "Manager’s Toolkit – Tips, Tools, and Trustworthy Best Practices for High-Impact Results." In this series, we delve into the essential elements that make up an effective manager's toolkit, offering valuable insights and time-tested strategies to excel in the art of leadership. Whether you are an experienced manager looking to refine your skills or an aspiring leader taking your first step into this exhilarating journey, these articles are designed to equip you with the tools you need to elevate your management prowess and achieve great outcomes.
Your manager's toolkit should be equipped with a variety of tools to effectively handle different situations and challenges. Here are five essential tools that will greatly enhance a manager's capabilities:
1. Effective Communication Skills: Strong communication skills are at the core of successful management. Managers should be adept at active listening, clear articulation, and providing constructive feedback. Good communication fosters trust, alignment, and cooperation within the team.
2. Emotional Intelligence: Emotional intelligence enables managers to understand and manage their emotions and those of their team members. It includes empathy, self-awareness, and the ability to navigate emotions in a professional setting. Managers with high emotional intelligence foster a positive work environment and handle conflicts more effectively.
3. Goal Setting and Performance Management: Managers should be skilled in setting clear and achievable goals for their team members and monitoring their progress. Effective performance management involves regular feedback, coaching, and recognition to keep the team motivated and focused on achieving objectives.
4. Problem-Solving and Decision-Making: Being a good problem solver and decision-maker is crucial for managers. They need to analyze situations, identify root causes, and implement effective solutions. Managers who can make well-informed decisions efficiently contribute to the success of their teams and the organization.
5. Delegation and Empowerment: Delegation is essential for maximizing team productivity and development. Managers should know how to delegate tasks according to team members' strengths and provide the necessary support. Empowering team members by granting autonomy and trusting them with responsibilities can boost morale and foster a sense of ownership and commitment.
Additional tools, such as conflict resolution skills, time management, adaptability, and strategic thinking, can further enhance a manager's effectiveness in various situations.
Furthermore, we recognize the significance of trust as the bedrock of exceptional leadership. As managers build trust with their team members, they create an environment that encourages collaboration, innovation, and open dialogue. Our next article will share some tools for developing trustworthiness and guide managers in developing strong bonds with their teams, earning respect, and inspiring loyalty.
Developing a well-rounded toolkit enables managers to lead their teams more successfully and navigate the challenges of the modern workplace. These ‘power tools’ for managers are amazing but people need to learn how to use their power tools – that’s where our LEAP – Leadership Acceleration Program comes in. Over the course of 12 months, our Certified LEAP Coach works with a small group of leaders to draw upon real-world experiences and proven methodologies to allow managers to practice using their power tools and implement them in their daily workplace settings. As we continue this journey through this, and future articles, we hope you find a wealth of knowledge that will help you not only achieve your management objectives but also foster a more fulfilling and rewarding work environment for your entire team.
As an independent coach and consultant for 25 years now, we are always honing our coaching practice in support of helping our clients grow and achieve great things. Over the years, I’ve learned and used quite a few coaching methods, tools, frameworks, and of course assessments. A couple of tools I’ve even created myself because I couldn’t find anything out there that measured what I was looking for. I’ve been asked many times (by other coaches) what is the ‘best’ tool for X or Y when I’m coaching so I’ve decided to share our best practices and tool-kit by featuring them in newsletters and will be doing a couple of workshops for Coaches/Consultants too so be on the lookout for announcement of those!
Where to Start? At the beginning… assessment tools that get to the heart of things!
I don’t think I’ve met a coach that doesn’t use some sort of assessment. Ennegram, MBTI, Strengths-Finder, DiSC, etc. are great for looking at the individual being coached to help them discover more about their strengths, stressors, needs in their work, and workstyles but we’ve found that 360-degree feedback from people who work closely with the client is one of THE MOST POWERFUL tools to support the coaching and development plan. In fact, 360-degree feedback is so powerful – when it is done poorly (or with the wrong instrument) it causes great damage. These tools are designed to gather comprehensive feedback from multiple sources, including peers, subordinates, supervisors, and sometimes even clients, to provide a well-rounded assessment of an executive's performance and leadership skills.
Today, we’re going to share the BEST TOOL and one BEST PRACTICE for when NOT to use this very powerful coaching tool.
When selecting a 360-degree feedback tool for executive coaching, it's essential to consider factors like the assessment's validity, reliability, reporting features, and how the tool can align with the specific coaching goals and the organization's culture and values.
Our Affiliate Coaches (and their clients love) the CheckPoint360 Survey. This instrument was created by Profiles International (a Wiley company) based on research of 1000’s of leaders/managers in hundreds of organizations globally. We like this instrument because it confidentially and anonymously measures 70-key leadership behaviors that are associated with 18 skills-sets and 8 universal competencies. Most 360-surveys are overwhelming, hard to digest, and lack clear development priorities. Plus, many of them measure the leader on a scale of “dissatisfied to satisfied” or “ineffective to effective” which is very judgmental and causes the ‘rater’ to over-inflate/under-report their ratings based on their judgment of the person. It also causes the leader to become defensive and unable to see the feedback as helpful developmental feedback.
Our instrument invites the “respondent” to the survey to provide feedback on a scale of ‘frequency of observed behavior’, so they are honestly reporting how often they see the leader display a particular behavior. No judgment. Just their experience in working with the individual. The leader being coached is much more accepting of the feedback because they can envision themselves doing a particular behavior more frequently if needed. Our Coaches rely on the Profiles’ 360-Survey for many more reasons, not the least of which is the simplicity and clarity of the reports that support the leader in setting specific goals and priorities for their development. Want to learn more, contact me or be on the lookout for our Webinar Workshop!
When NOT to use a 360-degree survey tool
While 360-degree feedback tools can be valuable resources for executive coaches and leadership development, there are certain situations where using them might not be appropriate or effective. Here are some scenarios when a coach should avoid or carefully consider not using a 360-degree feedback tool:
1. Lack of Trust: If there is a significant lack of trust within the organization or between the executive and their colleagues, the feedback gathered through a 360-degree assessment may not be candid or constructive. In such cases, the feedback may be skewed or not genuinely reflective of the executive's performance.
2. Organizational Culture: Some organizational cultures may not be ready to embrace the openness and transparency required for effective 360-degree feedback. If the culture is hierarchical, authoritarian, or punitive, using a 360-degree tool could lead to negative consequences and resistance.
3. Unwillingness to Act on Feedback: If the executive or the organization is not prepared to take action based on the feedback received, using a 360-degree tool can be counterproductive. Collecting feedback without a commitment to change can lead to frustration and de-motivation among participants.
4. Coaching Goals and Readiness: If the primary coaching goals are not aligned with what a 360-degree assessment can offer, it might not be the right tool. For instance, if the focus is on a specific skill development that doesn't require input from multiple sources, other assessment methods might be more suitable.
5. Time and Resources: Implementing a 360-degree feedback process requires time, effort, and resources from both the coach and the organization. If these resources are limited, it might be better to focus on other coaching methods that can provide valuable insights without the extensive preparation required for a 360-degree assessment.
6. Small Team or Confidentiality Concerns: In organizations with small teams, it might be challenging to maintain confidentiality in the feedback process. If executives are concerned about their responses being traceable to specific individuals, they may be less likely to provide honest and constructive feedback.
7. Unstable Organizational Context: During periods of significant organizational change or upheaval, using a 360-degree feedback tool might not be the best approach. The feedback gathered in such uncertain environments may not accurately reflect the executive's performance under normal circumstances.
Before using a 360-degree feedback tool, executive coaches should carefully assess the readiness of the organization, the executive, and the team members involved. Open communication about the purpose and benefits of the assessment, along with a commitment to act on the feedback, is crucial to ensuring the success and effectiveness of the 360-degree feedback process. In some cases, alternative coaching methods may be more appropriate to address the specific needs and challenges of the executive.
For our next article for your “Coach’s Toolkit” I will do a deep-dive into the Best Practices when using a 360-survey. Until then, Happy Coaching!
At most organizations, employees are urged to be team players. But this raises an essential question: What kind of a team are they on? It might seem like a silly thing to ask. “It’s the kind of team that helps fulfill the mission of our organization,” you might say.
While this is certainly true, or it should be, teams actually tend to fall into one of four common types. Identifying precisely what type of team you’re running can help you better set objectives, communicate more clearly, build on strengths and shore up weaknesses.
The 4 Team Types
Determining a team's category is based on the degree of need for specialization and coordination.
Type 1: Swim TeamSwim teams typically have a lot of specialization. For example, one team member specializes in the crawl stroke and backstroke while another specializes in the butterfly stroke and breaststroke. As a result, their need for coordination in order to be a high-performing team is low.
In a work team, there can also be several specialties. An information technology team might have members whose individual skill sets—like website, operations, user support, software and hardware—support each other. However, they don't need to synchronize all their tasks to succeed.
Type 2: Football TeamA football team has a high need for both specialization and coordination. It needs regular huddles so every team member knows what they're doing and how they'll interact with each other. A football team usually has a head coach and then assistant coaches with special skills.
In workplaces, this type of team could be an emergency veterinary hospital staff or a software product development team. Most executive leadership teams are football teams as well.
Type 3: Bowling TeamMembers of bowling teams share the same technical skills. But their success requires minimal need to work directly together or coordinate their work. Law firms and accounting firms are great examples of bowling teams.
Type 4: Volleyball TeamVolleyball teams have the same universal skills, like bowling teams, but members must coordinate with each other to be effective. These teams are cross-trained to perform all tasks or jobs. In the workplace, examples include manufacturing assembly teams, staff at animal shelters and retail sales teams.
Of course, not every team will fit perfectly into one of these types. Some might be hybrids, depending on the work they perform and the strategic objectives of the organization. Nonetheless, these categories can be helpful guidance as leaders seek to properly distribute the work, define roles and responsibilities, train team members and manage their performance.
How To Best Support Your Team Type's Performance
The goal of any leader is to produce a high-performing team. While these productive and efficient teams share certain characteristics—mutual accountability, well-defined authority around decision-making and shared performance goals—there are important distinctions that leaders must recognize. If you take a one-size-fits-all approach to developing your team, it can lead to problems like poor performance, an inability to work together productively and disillusionment. Identifying your group's team type won't automatically turn your members into high performers, but it can help you provide the right level of care and support.
For example, if you have a football team, it usually makes sense to have short, daily meetings to communicate objectives and coordinate the day’s activities. But for a bowling team, that kind of regular meeting would be overkill; they may need only a short weekly meeting to make announcements, discuss issues and maintain esprit de corps. Leaders of swim teams should focus more on clear roles and creating "swim lanes" and handoffs for the work people are performing. Volleyball team leaders, on the other hand, must ensure everyone has the same skill set and can perform tasks equally well so responsibilities can rotate fluidly.
No matter what type of team you’re running, don't expect it to quickly reach the highest level of performance right away. Your team will likely need to undergo a multi-stage development process. In my next article, I'll discuss four stages—forming, storming, norming, and performing—that were introduced by psychologist Bruce Tuckman in 1965 and still hold true today.
The past couple of years have been challenging and have required every organization to quickly shift to remote work, shift again to hybrid, and most recently bring people back to the physical workplace. While we all accept that these measures are necessary for survival, the added stress on rank-and-file employees and their managers has been extremely painful.
Just when we thought we were making progress, the newest Gallup report shows we took a step backward in 2022. Their study shows the number of engaged workers held steady at 32% but the number of actively disengaged employees rose to 18%.
Thankfully most businesses have gotten past the pandemic-related challenges of the early 2020s, but now is the time to return the focus to employee engagement and address the structural, operational, and cultural issues that create disengagement in your organization. It’s good for your talent and your bottom line.
The difference between engaged and disengaged employees may seem to be a matter of style or personality, but the distinction is based on decisions rooted in loyalty and commitment to one or more levels of the organization. Disengaged employees not only negatively impact the bottom line, but also misrepresent an organization and its culture.
When you take active steps to listen to employees and address problems, positive business outcomes follow.
Here are some ideas to address engagement and motivate your employees to be more involved and passionate about their daily work and the long-term goals of the organization.
3 levels of engagement
There are three different levels that represent “locations of engagement” in the workplace:
1. Organizational engagement. Improving employee engagement at the organizational level is about defining the mission, core values and overall strategy of your organization and then communicating them to everyone involved. This obviously requires a serious commitment on senior staff to execute some deep soul searching: Whittle it all down to what matters and then act in the best way to bring in everyone else.
Take inventory of your engagement by conducting an Engagement Survey or Employee listening sessions to assess and evaluate the level of engagement and pinpoint where the gaps are. Surveys are great but ACTION will speak volumes to your people. You must be prepared to show simple, actionable plans to increase engagement by connecting people to your mission-critical plans, core values, leadership, and norms that align with the vision and strategy of your organization. All of this adds up to your organizational culture.
Simply put, engagement at the organizational level can drive your success forward and give you a competitive edge.
2. Managerial engagement and enablement. A healthy manager and employee relationship is essential for any business. A good manager takes the time to understand the needs and motivations of their direct reports as well as form connections and communication that bring out the best in their teams. But what happens when the leader/managers aren’t engaged?
Ever heard the phrase, “people don’t leave jobs; they leave managers?” A manager who’s burned out is a problem for any business because an underperforming manager impacts critical business metrics, including engagement, retention, and revenue.
And when a manager isn’t engaged, this creates a disruptive situation that Gallup calls the cascade effect — where a disengaged manager creates a disengaged employee, impacting the business even further. Thus, it’s worth it to pay attention to how bad managers affect employees.
Another research report from Gallup found that managers account for at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores across business units, and only 35% of managers are engaged with their job.
So how do you solve the problem of unengaged managers, manager burnout, and falling levels of employee engagement? Focus on manager enablement.
Even managers need direction and development. But don’t just plug them through the same tired tracks. Focus on developing skills like delivering feedback, setting clear expectations, delegation, and more business-focused skills such as interview techniques or financial planning to help keep managers engaged with their role.
Our clients have been providing manager enablement to their leader/managers through the comprehensive LEAP-Leadership Acceleration Program. Giving their managers a Fortune 500 development, which includes assessments, 360-degree feedback, 1:1 Coaching from a certified Executive Coach, and customized learning & tools they learn to develop the habits of leadership over 12-months with other leaders/managers.
By upskilling managers, you create a culture of continuous learning and improvement and allow managers to expand their competencies and skill-sets. Not only does this give managers an opportunity to advance their professional and personal development, but upskilling improves engagement and performance which impact the success of your business.
3. Employee engagement. A basic premise for increased engagement at the employee level is to make sure people are in positions they enjoy and have the opportunity to excel as much as they want. Doing so will result in greater productivity and commitment to the organization. This is where the work done at the organizational and managerial level pays off because now you know what success means in terms of what each individual employee should bring to the table and what the organization needs to provide for them.
You should be able to identify “target employees.” A target employee is one who is a good fit for their current job, is fully engaged in the job and whose performance exceeds your expectations. The target employee not only achieves goals, but also has the ability to elevate the performance of other employees, team members, departments and divisions.
You also need to be able to think differently about challenging your employees. Research shows that managers are up to four times more engaged than front-line employees. This is often because of the additional challenges managers face.
Provide your employees with stretch goals, avoid micromanaging and let them learn from their mistakes. In order for workers to remain engaged, they need to be continuously stimulated. Every new experience you create for your staff members is an opportunity for professional growth and enhanced engagement.
Hit the road with us
It’s impossible to create a culture of engagement without knowing the personality and characteristics of your organization, your managers, and your employees. Leaders must be aware of the engagement levels of their workers, whether each staff member fits the company culture, and how to take effective action to address any discrepancies.
Think of it like planning a long road trip. You need a map that will show you where you are and where you want to go. You must plan your route, pick an appropriate vehicle, stock up on supplies, identify stops and assign tasks to your fellow travelers with the appropriate skill sets to complete them. You need to keep everyone focused and encourage good morale. You must plan for contingencies and, yes, even disasters. You’re on a journey with a purpose. Maybe even an adventure.
If you’re looking for a guide to help you on the road-trip, we have a large toolkit, 25 years’ experience and effective methods to help our clients strengthen and improve engagement, leadership, and organizational effectiveness. Or if you’d like to talk about how your journey is going, pull into a rest stop, grab your phone out of the glove compartment and give us a call.
“Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress. Working hard for something we love is called passion.” Simon Sinek
I’m a fan of Simon Sinek (and I know I’m not alone) because he’s an optimist, he’s authentic, and he inspires. His book “Start with Why” really got me thinking about ‘my why’ – Why did I do what I did for so many years at Nordstrom? Why did I start my own consulting/coaching business 24 years ago? Why did I create the LEAP program?
What is my WHY? I want a world where people love the work they do and the organization they do it for – they feel a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment.
I worked for Nordstrom for 17 years and had some great opportunities. Early in my career the focus was on myself and how much fulfillment my own work provided in my life. Later as I stepped into the responsibilities of leading other people, it became important to me that the people on my team were there for more than a ‘job’ and were excited to come to work every day. I worked hard to learn the skills to lead and manage effectively – and learn from my mistakes along the way. It was fulfilling to see my team accomplish great things, feel that they were part of something greater than themselves, to love coming to work every day. “Extend Yourself” is a leadership motto I learned from my time at Nordstrom. Leading my team in this way was the very extension of my ‘why’.
In 1999 I made the leap into starting my own business as an independent consultant. It was exciting, scary, and a little bit lonely to be honest but my “why” propelled me to a place where I could have greater impact by working with more than one organization, one leader, or one team at a time. The first few years were amazing. I had clients say things like “I don’t know exactly what you did or how you did it, but our workplace is so much more fun and effective because of working with you.” I could have continued that path, but I wasn’t content. I saw a gaping hole in leadership development programs that were affordable and accessible for SMB organizations who were desperately in need of developing their manager-leaders. I went on a quest to find something I could recommend or provide to my clients but nothing that I found had all the necessary elements that would help managers make leadership truly a habit.
In 2003 I launched the first LEAP cohort group – a peer-group of 8-10 people who are learning together for 12 months, facilitated by an expert coach/consultant. These leaders developed best-in-class leadership skills and as their skills increased so did their confidence! The impact on creating great places to work was multiplied 10-fold by making them better leaders and managers. There was also a multiplier effect on my consulting business. By working with the emerging leaders for 12 months, their sponsor organization got to see lasting results and reached out to us for additional consulting and coaching engagements. My ‘why’ was extended even further through others and it felt amazing.
I wondered if we could have an even greater impact than what I alone could do with LEAP. Was the ‘secret sauce’ me? Or is LEAP something that other consultants/coaches can do and get the same great outcomes? Between 2008-2010, I found a couple of colleagues who were eager to provide world-class leadership development to their clients and we agreed to ‘beta test’ it. The results were as good as any cohort I ever did myself. Best of all the independent consultants told me how much more fun they were having in their work and their business grew without much effort at all.
In 2012 I took the plunge to further our reach in creating a world where people love the work they do and the organization they do it for by licensing LEAP as a turnkey program to independent coaches + consultants nationwide. Together we can realize our mission of Saving the work-world, one leader-manager at a time. I love seeing independent consultants have a thriving business, doing the work they love and being well-paid for it. It’s great to have a ‘community of practice’ with other like-minded professionals who want to help create great places to work for all the people in them.
As I look back, I can see that my ‘why’ has stayed constant while the “what” and the “how” have changed and evolved. Want to join us in ‘saving the work world’? I’d love to hear your ‘why!'
:“Are we there yet?”
Most people have uttered this phrase, either in earnest as a child or in jest as an adult. Leaders in today’s organizations are saying or thinking it, too, when pondering whether we’ve truly reached the post-pandemic working world we’ve all been wondering about for several years.
One thing is relatively clear: Hybrid work is here to stay. Simply defined, a hybrid work model is one in which at least one employee works remotely (i.e., away from the employer's office) either full-time or part of the time while other employees work full- or part-time from an employer’s office or other facility. In many professions, employees are quickly coming to expect this flexibility, and, in a tight job market, employers may have little choice but to offer it.
Hybrid work creates, or shall we say continues, an ongoing challenge for leadership. How can you excel at team building when some of your team members are working from home, others are on-site and still others are going back and forth between the two? It’s not easy, but with careful planning and diligent persistence, you can create high-performing hybrid (HPH) teams.
Perhaps the most important thing a leader should keep in mind is no matter how dispersed your team members may be, you’re still one team. To create and preserve that unity, you need to instill an HPH team with five fundamental traits:
1. Clear Roles: For employees to work harmoniously, they need clarity about their respective roles. Naturally, this all starts with the job descriptions you used to hire them. Were those job descriptions comprehensive and up to date when your organization interviewed and onboarded team members?
Moreover, has the scope or specifics of any team member’s job changed over time? Employees who have been in their positions for years might not even remember what their job description says or said. As a leader, you need to establish or reestablish the parameters within which HPH team members fulfill the responsibilities of their respective roles.
2. Mutual Accountability: Everyone on a hybrid team needs to be accountable. If any member is allowed to “go rogue” or get away with anything, trust will suffer—and the team will likely drift apart and underperform.
Accountability can be established only after you’ve ensured that team members know their roles. Why? Because accountability isn’t the same thing as responsibility. Employees are responsible for the duties and deadlines of their respective positions. Accountability is whether they fulfill those duties, meet those deadlines and are willing to own both the successes and failures of their work. On an HPH team, they must be accountable not only to you, the team leader, but also to each other.
3. Defined Decision Authority And Responsibility: It should be obvious that a team’s leader is the ultimate decision-maker. However, most employees need some level of autonomy when carrying out their work, and strong leaders are great delegators. A best practice in achieving this is to use the five levels of authority:
Level 1: Act when directed.
Level 2: Act after approval.
Level 3: Act after consultation.
Level 4: Act and report.
Level 5: Act completely autonomously.
Often, some or all these levels go undiscussed or unclarified. This can lead to confusion or conflicts among team members. As a leader, you’ve got to make sure employees on your HPH team know at all times when they can act alone (Level 5) and when they should act under the four lower levels of autonomy.
4. Shared Performance And Goals: There are two facets of this trait. First, an HPH team works together. Maybe that sounds like a painfully obvious point, but under the hybrid model, organizations can have employees working independently, miles or even time zones apart. This can result in a kind of “siloing” in which employees engage in little information sharing, collaboration or even contact with coworkers.
Leaders should strive to limit siloing and encourage collaborative work as much as possible. Of course, you don’t want to disrupt a productive team by forcing unnecessary interactions. Nonetheless, keep an eye out for ways employees can work together in positive, productive ways.
The second part of this trait is goal setting, which will drive performance and collaboration. Volumes have been written about this topic but, generally, stick to the SMART approach. That is, make goals:
Specific (and stretching),
Achievable (and agreed to),
Realistic (and relevant) and
Timed (and tracked).
5. Shared Purpose And Interdependent Functions
This final (and most important) trait involves the broader reason a team exists. If team members don’t truly understand and buy into the purpose of the team, they’ll end up either pulling in different directions or simply lacking in engagement.
Just as today’s organizations should ideally have both mission (why we’re here) and vision (where we’re headed) statements, an HPH team should know why it exists and where it’s going in terms of both day-to-day tasks and strategic goals. And, within the context of that crystal-clear direction, the team should be able to execute various functions interdependently—that is, by counting on each other.
Keep On Rolling
If most or all these things sound familiar to you as a leader, that’s because the nature of leadership hasn’t changed all that much. It’s the way in which leaders carry out their responsibilities that’s changed.
How you use technology, which communications medium you choose, the “rhythm” at which you interact with employees (that is, how often and for how long)—these things are different from how they used to be. So assuming you have adjusted your leadership style to the new hybrid reality, now’s the time to double down and keep on rolling in these challenging, ever-changing times.
Today’s leaders face a tough mandate. They’re expected to hold team members accountable for their actions—both in terms of fulfilling job duties and adhering to stated policies and standards—while at the same time practicing empathy. Leaders must help employees feel psychologically safe in their work environments and be understanding about the life challenges that everyone faces. This is a seriously tough balance to strike right now.
As the nation and world begin to find a new normal while dealing with the pandemic, stressors on leaders and employees are intense. Empathy is absolutely needed—particularly in a tight job market where workers can and will walk out the door at a moment’s notice. But organizations are also trying to get back to a “new normal,” driving a heightened urgency for efficiency and productivity. It’s not an easy situation for anyone. The first step to overcoming it is consciously recognizing that you, as a leader, need to think hard about how to balance accountability and empathy and, from there, find your own distinctive “sweet spot.”
Accountability Vs. Responsibility
Most leaders could define the words “accountability” and “empathy.” However, to conquer the challenge at hand, you need to develop a clear cognitive framework for each term beyond a simple definition.
Let’s start with accountability. Merriam-Webster defines the word as “an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions.” And therein lies an important distinction that’s a good place for leaders to start building a deeper understanding of accountability: Accountability and responsibility aren’t synonymous, at least not when applied to the workplace.
Job responsibilities are the stated duties of a given position. They’re what you’re supposed to do. Accountability is whether you fulfill those responsibilities and—this is the important part—how willing and able you are to own up to what went right and what went wrong in the course of doing so.
On Being Empathetic
Now, let’s move on to empathy. I think most people would agree that empathizing means understanding someone’s situation and being sensitive to it. In some cases, it means you’ve been in virtually the same set of circumstances and know exactly what it’s like. Of course, knowing what empathy is and being empathetic are two different things. Leaders need to develop certain traits to demonstrate empathy while they’re holding team members accountable for their job-related actions.
In 2007, the medical journal Advances in Nursing Science published an article entitled “Toward a holistic conceptualization of empathy for nursing practice” by Theresa Wiseman. It contains four traits of empathy that have since been widely discussed and accepted far beyond the healthcare sector. They are:
1. Perspective taking. This means stepping outside of your own mindset and consciously trying to see things from another person’s point of view.
2. Staying out of judgment. We’ve all said it: “Don’t judge!” However, being judgmental tends to be a reflex. During interactions, avoid inferring that someone else’s response to a situation, whether emotional or actual, was invalid or wrong—at least until you’ve gathered all the facts.
3. Recognizing the emotion. Just putting a name to how another person is feeling can lead a conversation in the right direction. For example, if an employee comes into your office clearly upset over the actions of a colleague, your initial response could be, “It sounds like you’re angry.”
4. Communication. This is probably the broadest and most challenging of the four traits. It refers to being able to effectively express everything that must come after understanding the other person’s viewpoint, not judging them and recognizing the emotions in play. Leaders need strong communication skills to articulate and enforce accountability while showing empathy.
Tips For Finding The Balance. The good news is that some of the tools for striking the right balance may already be in place at your organization. They include:
Many leaders struggle with accountability because it feels punitive. No one wants to be the school principal taking students to task. But accountability is really more of a collaboration; you’re helping employees take ownership of their work, learn from mistakes and build confidence from their successes. And empathy? Well, it sounds simple, but it’s not always easy. Taking the time to learn how to show empathy and be an empathic leader is worthwhile and, I promise, it gets easier.
Have you ever been in a business meeting where you were the only member of a particular societal group, marginalized or otherwise? If so, did you have an opinion or idea to share but decided to keep it to yourself because you didn’t feel safe or felt you had to "hide" yourself?
Perhaps you believed all or most of the other attendees would immediately dismiss or harshly criticize the notion. Or maybe you felt that expressing the thought would invite retribution or exclusion later. Sadly, many people have had this experience. And it’s too bad—not only for the individual in question but also for the organization itself.
The issue at play here is called “psychological safety,” and it’s something that more and more employers are finding to be a major driver of building positive morale, productivity and innovation.
Here are some tips on how leaders like you can create a psychologically safe workplace.
Take the temperature.
The term “psychological safety” was coined by Dr. Amy C. Edmondson of the Harvard Business School. On her website, she defines it as “a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes, and that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.”
The last few words of her description are key. Feeling safe to speak up or share in other ways isn’t only about having permission to do so; it’s about working in an environment in which one can take risks and make mistakes without worry of “losing points” on a performance evaluation or being reprimanded.
With all this in mind, the first thing leaders should do when looking to improve psychological safety is “take the temperature” of their organizations or teams—that is, assess how psychologically safe or unsafe your workers feel. This can be difficult! It’s natural to want to assume your employees can express themselves freely but... can they?
There’s only one way to find out: Ask. Start by holding one-on-ones with your people managers and honestly discuss the state of their teams. Is there strong participation in meetings? Do certain employees dominate discussions, while others hardly ever contribute? Are idea-sharing and feedback regularly encouraged?
Dr. Edmondson herself recommends that organizations conduct psychological safety surveys to gather a variety of data points and determine how much improvement is needed. Design a set of statements such as “If you make a mistake, it’s held against you” and “It’s safe to take risks on this team.” Then ask to what degree the respondent agrees or disagrees.
Throw a party.
Once you have a good idea of how psychologically safe your workplace is, you can take specific actions to improve the environment in which your employees work. These will obviously depend on your specific needs but could include:
• Openly discussing the topic to “break the ice,”
• Training or upskilling leadership or supervisors and
• Confronting problematic employees to clarify expectations or provide training and, if/when appropriate, putting them on performance improvement plans to eliminate toxic behaviors.
Generally, however, promoting psychological safety is kind of like throwing a party. That is, there are three primary things you need to do:
1. Choose and communicate the theme. This is not a “Let’s all get together and hang out aimlessly” kind of get-together. No, this is a theme party. Whether for your workplace in general or a specific meeting, you as a leader need to set clear strategic objectives and ground rules for participants so everyone is pulling in the same direction.
For example, if you’re focusing on innovation, state that up front. Identify the kinds of new ideas you’re looking for, but also let employees know that no suggestion is too big or too small. Say it and repeat it: Everyone plays a role in the organization’s success and future.
2. Send out the invites. Just as you would for a party, send an invitation to everyone. This might sound strange because, in a way, you “invited” every employee simply by hiring them. Nonetheless, some personality types need regular encouragement to really open up and share.
Many employees struggle with feeling a lack of psychological safety at work. It can arise from either negative aspects of organizational culture or personal issues of their own (or both). Participation takes practice. The more they’re encouraged—that is, invited—to participate in meetings or other types of discussions, the more their comfort levels will grow. Just be sure that when they do share, they receive positive recognition for it.
3. Be a convivial host. Just about everything you do as a host of a party you should do as a leader looking to strengthen the psychological safety of your workplace. Set the tone with your actions and attitudes. Welcome everyone to meetings or other discussions. Identify participants by name as much as possible.
As the saying goes, “Accentuate the positive.” For example, let’s say someone makes a bold suggestion in a meeting that immediately draws skepticism and counterarguments. Take it upon yourself to draw out some constructive aspects of the idea—even if it’s saying something like, “Although that specifically probably won’t work, it does help us narrow our focus.”
And, like any good host, if you identify someone intent on disrupting the proceedings in a negative or, worse yet, destructive way, move quickly to pull that person aside and neutralize the situation.
Failure is okay.
Above all, perhaps the most important facet of a psychologically safe workplace is the destigmatization of failure. Ultimately, as a leader, make it your job to help employees know and feel that failure is okay as long as they embrace their mistakes as learning opportunities and push forward with courage and passion toward the next great idea.
Keeping employees engaged has always been important. These days, however, it might be one of the most important challenges that employers face. Following “the Great Resignation” of 2021, and in a still-tight job market, you’ve got to go the extra mile to ensure workers are actively interested in their jobs or risk losing them and facing a staffing shortage.
Like nearly everything else, you can and should measure engagement. Doing so is the only way to keep tabs on whether your employees are getting close to leaving for greener pastures with another organization or starting up a gig of their own. Here are some ideas to consider.
Create A Feedback System
When one speaks of measuring anything, there’s usually a reflex to start rattling off metrics under the assumption that every organization has the data at its fingertips to perform the calculations. The truth is that to get good results, you need to first gather the right information.
So, the initial step in optimally measuring employee engagement is creating a feedback system. The key word there is “system.” Issuing an employee survey once a year and maybe discussing the results in a meeting will neither give you much to go on nor keep the issue of engagement top of mind.
A feedback system should have multiple inputs. These should include a thoughtfully constructed and carefully worded survey that enables you to quantify how employees are feeling about:
I've found that an annual survey is generally best because you don’t want to overload employees with questions or take up too much of their time.
That’s why your system needs other inputs, too. One possibility is focus groups: Perhaps you can meet with entire departments or just specific work teams to ask engagement-related questions and have a discussion.
Another input could be the performance reviews that you most likely already conduct once or twice a year. As part of the process, ask for some feedback regarding engagement.
And then there are your supervisors. These individuals interact with their employees regularly. You might design an additional survey just for them, or meet with them biannually or quarterly, to get their reads on the engagement levels of their teams.
Regularly Calculate eNPS
When you’ve set up a solid system for gathering employee engagement data, you can start choosing your metrics. One relatively easy choice, if only because it’s so immensely popular right now, is the Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS): a score Leapsome discusses on its blog.
Despite its rather cumbersome abbreviation, eNPS has drawn many employers’ interest because of its relative simplicity. It typically entails asking a mere two questions of employees and then calculating a score based on their answers. The questions typically are something along the lines of:
The second question is key. While the first one asks a rather obvious question regarding engagement, the second query gets into whether the responding employee is really interested in what you do or at least believes in the quality of the result.
To calculate eNPS, you should count:
Anyone who provided ratings of 7 or 8 is considered “passive” and excluded from the final calculation.
To arrive at that final calculation, you simply deduct the percentage of detractors from the percentage of promoters. For example, say you have 200 employees who respond as follows:
So, 47.5% - 37.5% = 10%. This is an eNPS of 10.
Generally, any score above zero is good. That would mean more employees are engaged than those who aren’t. It follows that any score below zero—particularly if you dip to -10 or below—should be concerning. On the brighter side, if you score well above zero, perhaps in the 40s or 50s, you’re doing exceptionally well.
Because eNPS is so easy to calculate, you can use it several times throughout the year to monitor engagement. Again, you don’t want to pester employees too much, but pushing out a quarterly “quick survey” via email is feasible for most organizations.
To be clear, there are other metrics you can use to gauge employee engagement, such as the ones CultureAmp highlights. These include rates of voluntary turnover, involuntary turnover and absenteeism. Some larger organizations have even turned to marketing metrics to determine how quickly and actively employees respond to organizational announcements and messaging.
Calibrate Your Approach
At the end of the day, you’ve got to calibrate your engagement measurement efforts to the size and needs of your organization. Small employers, who can more easily determine whether everyone is pulling in the same direction, might not need to expend too much time and resources on engagement monitoring. But, as an organization grows, measuring and promoting employee engagement becomes more important and challenging. Find the optimal approach and you’ll be on your way.
With each passing year, it might seem like expectations grow for employers to recognize, encourage and improve inclusivity. And, more than likely, you’d be hard-pressed to find any leader who doesn’t support the idea of an inclusive workplace. But how do you get there? Or perhaps the better question is: How do you keep getting better at inclusivity? It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the terminology and issues involved. Let’s look at some of the fundamentals of inclusivity.
Defining The Term
Perhaps the most obvious place to begin addressing inclusivity is by defining it. The Society for Human Resource Management, now known simply as SHRM, defines it as: “The achievement of a work environment in which all individuals are treated fairly and respectfully, have equal access to opportunities and resources, and can contribute fully to the organization’s success.”
An important distinction to bear in mind: Inclusivity isn’t the same as diversity. The two terms are often lumped together and, indeed, they do relate to one another. In fact, you’ve probably encountered the abbreviation “D&I” used to categorize “diversity and inclusion” content. But, in an HR context, diversity refers to recognizing and embracing the many differences that employees bring to the table. These include various cultural attributes, spoken and written languages, educational achievements and work and life experiences. Inclusivity, on the other hand, is a conscious effort by an employer to integrate diversity into the workplace by involving and giving access to all people to achieve the work environment described in SHRM’s definition.
Distinguishing “Equity” From “Equality”
And here’s where we run into another important distinction. That is, “equity” isn’t the same as “equality.” Every employer should strive to treat employees equally in the sense that policies and rules should be applied and enforced consistently. You need to ensure processes for hiring, promotion and termination are free of implicit or explicit biases.
Equity means that you acknowledge the diverse aspects of your workforce and then take steps to level the playing field so every employee can feel included and valued and is provided with an optimal environment in which to do their best work.
So, for example, if you hire an employee with a limited educational background, perhaps you could offer that person additional coursework or training to put the individual on equal footing with coworkers who have college degrees. Another common example is helping workers with physical disabilities perform their jobs by providing special equipment or allowing them to work from home.
Broad Steps To Success
When and where should inclusivity efforts begin? Of course, there are many granular moves your organization could take to expand and strengthen inclusivity. But here are three broad steps that put most employers in a prime position to succeed:
1. Start with onboarding.
The moment a new hire walks in the door—or logs in to your organization’s network, as the case may be these days—set the tone from the beginning by:
2. Focus on resources and support.
For employees who are settled in, keep a close and constant eye on their ability to use the same technology, information sources, benefits and support as everyone else. Doing so can be particularly challenging now that many people are working from home. Be prepared for questions such as:
3. Set up a system of feedback and accountability.
Among the most important traits of an inclusive workplace is that every employee has a voice in discussing the topic and improving conditions on the ground. A well-crafted inclusivity survey issued once or twice a year can give you a substantial number of data points. Occasional inclusivity meetings can also be useful and even fun.
Lastly, particularly if yours is a larger organization, consider establishing a platform that allows for the tracking and reporting of inappropriate behavior related to inclusivity, diversity and harassment in general. It should allow employees to provide detailed information (date, time, individuals involved, etc.) about incidents. Today’s artificial-intelligence-based software solutions, such as Spot, are worth a look for this purpose.
All About Community
At the end of the day, winning at inclusivity boils down to looking at your workforce not so much as regimented departments or teams but more as a united, close-knit community. After all, communities are, by definition, inclusive. And if you can build a good one, you’ll not only have a better working environment, but also a more productive organization.
Lynda Silsbee is Founder and President of the Alliance for Leadership Acceleration. She has spent more than 30 years creating and leading high performance teams. Along with the other LEAP Certified Coaches, she reports that helping managers make the LEAP to leader is one of the most fulfilling aspects of her work.