Workers Leave Bad Bosses!

As an executive coach, I am frequently reminded that people leave bad bosses (not bad companies). I am frequently privy to the real story behind why talented people exit. In my experience, it’s not typically about the commute, the pay, the company or the work. More often, its because the employee just couldn’t stand to continue working under their current boss.

What makes for a bad boss? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder but my top ten list would include any of the following:

  1. Fails to give credit where it is due or plays favorites
  2. Fails to either promote/support direct reports with higher ups (doesn’t have the team’s backs)
  3. Fails to offer structure, direction and “order” for the team (clarifying expectations or what success looks like with work tasks)
  4. Decision making averse or wishy washy (often combined with #3 above)
  5. Fails to demonstrate a caring heart, sensitivity, compassion and attitude (no positive feedback, encouragement etc)
  6. Reacts negatively to critical feedback or bad news (i.e. retaliates, gets defensive, blaming or withdrawn)
  7. Rules with an iron fist (i.e. punitive, demeaning, condescending, passive aggressive or back biting)
  8. Micromanages (i.e. looking over shoulders, “control freak”, nit picks, can’t delegate)
  9. Isn’t open to influence
  10. Doesn’t support/coach or help direct reports advance, improve or develop

Here are this week’s coaching tips towards improving if you are a boss:

  • Demonstrate warmth with a smile or kind word. Greet your people like you are glad to see them in the morning! Offer them something to drink when they come to your office. Simply put-the golden rule.
  • Don’t be stingy with credit! Be generous with praise, recognition, Atta boys and thank you’s. The research is clear on this- humans are motivated by recognition and appreciation. Pay attention to what your people are doing well and let them know that a) you notice and b) appreciate. Good behavior unnoticed may not be continued.
  • Deliver constructive feedback regularly –not just once a year during a performance review! Accurately describe and communicate what behaviors you want continued and those you want changed or extinguished. It’s your job to make expectations clear for your employees.
  • Choose your words carefully. Loaded words that sting with sarcasm (always a double message) should be avoided. One word or action from a boss has the potential to make or break an employee’s day—this is particularly so with young or new employees. They are often starving for positive recognition and many are anxious to know how you are judging their work.
  • Noticing your team has a bad attitude? Look first to see that their attitude isn’t merely a reflection of yours. Boss moodiness is catchy and perpetual boss negativity can be deadly to morale. How you respond to a problem is a choice. Challenge yourself to deliver messages in a way that inspires vs. deflates. The most admired bosses inspire unity and loyalty with hope, optimism and workable solutions. Leaders have tremendous influence on the emotional fields of workplaces and their people. Positive emotions and words from a boss are fuel to increase morale and performance. Generosity of spirit, support and acknowledgement is also catchy. When people see the boss modeling it, they follow suit. Which would you rather have perpetuated in your workplace?
  • Be mindful about how you respond to someone bringing you bad news or critical/challenging feedback. People aren’t likely to be truth tellers a second time if they got shot down the first time. Make it safe for your people to communicate their concerns to you.
  • Earn respect and trust with these fundamentals: be transparent (explain decision making), acknowledge your own limitations (its ok to say “I don’t know the answer”), be authentic, don’t play favorites, get input from your people and maybe most importantly model the behavior you want from your people.

In my experience, most of those perceived as being a “bad” boss aren’t intentional about treating people poorly. More often it’s a lack of awareness coupled with a need for management/leadership skill development (often in the emotional intelligence arena). The good news is these are learnable skills (I teach/coach them daily).

Companies pay a high price when they lose talent under those who lack leadership skill. Bringing in a professional coach to help an otherwise valued manager learn better boss behaviors can be a solid business investment.

Why Workers Resist Change

Resistance to ChangeA client and I were recently discussing the natural resistance that accompanies most organizational change efforts when he quipped, “the only people who like change are wet babies!”  Well said.

Change is a part of our every day lives.  The pace of change is rapidly accelerating in workplaces.  Companies simply must keep up with the constant marketplace demands of change if they are to survive, much less thrive in this economy.

The ability to manage change effectively is a complex requirement of most managers and leaders in today’s workplaces.  Understanding how human’s process change is an important part of learning how to manage workplace change. The most challenging part of this equation is the “people” component.

Some of us are more receptive to change than others.  I’ve witnessed a worker revolt because of the need to move their desk by a foot! Others embrace almost any change as an exciting new opportunity or a deterrent to boredom.  Picture a typical bell curve when it comes to change.  About 20% of workers will be on the far end of the continuum of “Like change, bring it on!” while another 20% is on the other far end, “Not only no but —- no!”  The other 60% is in the middle and on the fence about the change; these are the folks you want to target your change management efforts towards.

Understanding the nature of change is important if you are going to succeed in your attempts at managing change in the workplace.  Humans seek control.  We tend to fear, dislike and avoid ambiguity.  We “react” negatively when our expectations for the way things should be aren’t met.  One rule of thumb–the more surprised we are by the change, the greater resistance you can expect.

It takes time for us to process and accept change.  Most initially respond to a change we didn’t create with disbelief and denial, “I can’t believe this is happening!”  This is usually the first stop on the change journey followed by resistance– picture arms crossed in defiance!  The next step is exploration, “OK, I guess we can try it anyway, do you have more information?” Exploration however is dependent on whether or not change is consistently well sponsored and communicated from leaders.  Once we have dipped our big toe into the change water and find it wasn’t as bad as we anticipated, most of us will finally move to commitment (“I can support the change in this way”).

A few coaching tips to increase the likelihood of your change effort sticking:

  • Most humans are tuned into their own personal radio station-WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?)  Leaders trying to manage change should broadcast on this station to answers their typical questions like:  What will get better as a result of the change?  Worse? How much control do we have over what happens?  Can we assimilate this change at a reasonable pace?  Do we understand the micro/macro implications of the change?
  • People are more likely to support and commit to change they have helped create or design.  Involve your people (particularly the front line or “end users” of the change) early in the creation of the change.  Consult with them about their opinions.  What obstacles do they foresee?  How would they like to see the change rolled out?  What will work (or not) for them regarding the change?
  • Communicate often and consistently about the change.  Yes this will mean you have to repeat yourself—in my experience, most leaders greatly under communicate about change.  Use all available forums of communication available—intranet, email, phone, meetings and of course face-to-face conversations reinforcing the need and requirements for the change.  Wise sponsors of change know that what will dictate whether or not the change is adopted is their commitment and time spent shepherding it through the organization.
  • Allow people an opportunity to talk about and “vent” their frustrations about the change.  Yes, this may turn into a gripe session but better to get it out in the open and aired than for resistance to go underground.  Truly listening to understand what how your people feel about the change is important.    Once we feel “heard” we are more likely to move on.  Your people want to know that you care about them and how they will be impacted by the change. If you don’t respect them enough to at least hear them out about it—expect ongoing and potentially damaging resistance.

Workers Are Stressed!

The past few weeks have been an economic and emotional roller coaster. The impact has been felt in workplaces everywhere. Watercooler conversations reflect the concerns and anxieties of most Americans — about job and financial security. Stress, bad moods and negative emotions are permeating the workplace, along with uncertainty about coping with it.

As an organizational development consultant and coach, I work with a wide variety of businesses, managers and frontline workers, helping individuals and organizations identify methods to more effectively deal with performance challenges. Emotions affect performance, and in these tough times fear, pain and apprehension are permeating from C-level suites on down.

Now more than ever, there is a need for organizations to proactively address workplace stress and emotions. The American Psychological Association claims that nearly two-thirds of people cite the economy as a source of significant stress. Another recent survey reports that 48 percent of all workers identify that stress makes it hard for them to perform well on the job. Workers losing sleep over financial or job worries come to work exhausted and with raw nerves, which puts them at risk for potentially dysfunctional behavior.

Most companies’ current “emotional fields” are loaded with anger, anxiety and stress. Like catching a cold virus, we are susceptible to “catching” others’ emotions. We naturally absorb the emotional states of those around us. As smiles and positive feelings are contagious, unfortunately so are the negative emotions.

When people are overloaded and hurting, they lose confidence and aren’t as effective dealing with the day-to-day frustrations and normal tasks. You may have noticed co-workers are on edge, distracted and have less patience these days (snapping at what a few months back might have been deemed minor frustrations). A domino effect can follow.

Extraordinary times like these call for extraordinary action. While most companies will focus and organize themselves around meeting targets and cutting back resources, far too few will do the critical work of paying attention to the emotional states of their employees.

Many companies in economic downturns self-implode not so much due to the market but more often because of their inability to deal effectively with the resulting internal challenges, stress, conflict, etc. Strong, wise and compassionate leadership will be critical to survival.

Workplace health and morale will depend on how companies cope with trying times, bad news and the resulting emotions. Workers will need sensitivity, understanding, empathy, support and transparent communication about what’s “really going on.” Management will need to rely on skillful delivery of clear direction while creating opportunities for employees to safely vent frustrations and fears.

Unfortunately, in much of corporate America, there is a strong bias against talking about feelings in the workplace. I couldn’t disagree more. We don’t check part of ourselves at the door entering work. Allowing people to express their feelings can be healthy for workplaces to work out core challenges, conflicts and issues. We often connect to each other, strengthen relationships and understand each other better through expression of feelings. With all the stress out there, a little understanding and empathy goes a long way.

I keep hearing politicians talk about putting emotions aside — as if that is really possible! We are emotional beings. Emotions aren’t simply good or bad, right or wrong — they just are. To suggest that we ignore them is simply bad advice.

Feelings are important for sound decision making; the problem is, many people either ignore them or are not conscious of them. Feelings have served humankind since the caveman days as a survival warning or radar system. For example, fear can alert you to an impending threat (like the robot in the 1960s classic “Lost in Space” did when he signaled, “Danger, Will Robinson,” for Will to take immediate action to protect himself).

Emotions inform us as to the importance and meaning of situations and interactions. Once you allow your feelings to inform you, the challenge is what you do next. It’s behavior that causes a problem for most people in workplaces. People who keep emotions bottled up or unexpressed are at risk for expressing them in dysfunctional ways.

By the way, if managing your behavior appropriately is a problem, you will need to get help learning new ways of coping or risk being out of a job.  I can help- call me: 360 682 5807.

Leaders can make change easier

THE CURRENT ECONOMY has created an unprecedented need for companies to adapt and change. From the big automotive companies to Wall Street to small Main Street businesses, this is no time for “business as usual.”

To succeed, companies big or small will need leaders who can support and manage the necessary change successfully. Resilient teams get through tough times because they have leaders who are effective in getting their teams off the dime with focus, creativity, commitment and alignment (everyone rowing in the same direction), and actively engaged in problem solving and “making it happen.”

Harvard change management guru John Kotter, in his book, “A Sense of Urgency”,  equates leading successful change with the ability to establish a sense of urgency with employees. As a coach I know by experience that behavior change doesn’t happen easily. Most humans resist change unless they have a compelling reason to change, or put another way, until the pain of not changing exceeds the pain of changing. Leaders who establish urgency around workplace changes provide an incentive for people to act now versus acting when it’s convenient or “when I can get to it.” In this economy, embracing and acting on this urgency may well define the difference between success and failure.

Here are some coaching tips to help bosses manage change:

Let your team know what’s at stake. Being candid and straightforward about current challenges will help you to maintain loyalty, trust and commitment — people both deserve and appreciate honesty. Be forthcoming about where things stand and what will happen if the change doesn’t happen. Communicate the vision, focus and plan for how the business will move forward. Let employees know a) they are an important part of that plan, b) what their part is, and c) that success depends on everyone doing their part.

As the boss, behave like you mean it. In other words, walk your urgency talk and be the model for what you are asking others to do. Your people will be watching you closely to see if your actions are aligned with your words. How you spend your day-to-day activities must be congruent with what you have asked of your team. If you are asking your team to work extra hours, expect skepticism and resistance if you aren’t in there with them.

Bring your team together for a problem-solving session. People are naturally more supportive of change they were involved in developing. Harness their collective wisdom, skills and experience. Re-emphasize the fundamentals or core values of what your team (or company) does best. When identifying who will be doing what, capitalize on and leverage the strengths of your team members. Identify and prioritize projects that will generate the most value and benefit to the company. Have the team also identify any broken, costly or inept procedures and processes so these can be eliminated.

Rally your key influencers (those who can bring people together to get it done) and don’t put up with those who put up roadblocks to the necessary change. Successful change requires all hands on deck to win; deal with naysayers directly.

Engage their hearts and minds. Sadly, according to a Gallup poll, a mere 29 percent of the U.S. workforce is engaged (i.e., loyal, enthusiastic and productive), while 55 percent are passively disengaged. Don’t rely on the numbers or the business case to move people. Humans have emotional needs. While people need to see and understand the need for change to be inspired and moved, they also need to feel the need for the change. As the leader, how you show up emotionally matters.

Help your team see how to make lemonade from all those lemons! It’s easy to get sucked into the negativity, doom and gloom. Help your team reframe the current scenario by identifying strengths to capitalize on and market opportunities that can be taken advantage of (vs. business as usual or continuing to ignore market opportunities due to bureaucracy). Encourage out-of-the-box thinking. Putting everyone’s head in the game often can lead to creative and winning solutions.

Recognize achievement and short-term wins to build momentum. Find a way to measure and acknowledge even the small successes. Don’t overlook the importance of verbal recognition. Tell your people that you recognize how hard they are working and that you appreciate what they do.  My executive coaching services are available to help you manage change more effectively.  Invest in yourself with my services by calling 360 682 5807.  I regularly coach via Skype anywhere in the world.

Tough Times Define Leaders

TOUGH TIMES often define leaders. There is a big difference between managing and leading. Leaders provide direction, the road map for change and inspiration for even the most difficult journeys. The most effective leaders are good at influencing others — often with their contagious passion. They motivate us to do our best by engaging our minds and hearts in their vision of a preferred future.

Difficult times tend to distinguish great leaders from the mediocre ones. When the going gets tough, the best leaders rely on clear, deliberate and inspiring communication rather than a “command and control” management style. They know that bullying and punishment rarely result in sustainable performance improvement and more frequently result in good people simply leaving. The most effective leaders instill confidence with their solid judgment, integrity and setting clear direction and expectations. During trauma, drama and chaos, they discern priorities and rally the troops with best strategies for solution.

Guidelines for leaders during difficult times:

  • Challenge your perspective and assumptions. If you aren’t confident that you know what is going on in the layers below you, find out — directly and personally. This is not the time for tunnel vision or relying solely on those who keep telling you everything is fine. This could be as simple as managing by walking around. Get input from everyone — especially the front line. Employees will be more motivated to do their best when they identify their leader’s willingness to be in the trenches with them. Getting out there can provide valuable insight into current challenges and opportunities for improvement. Consider bringing employees together to identify what their outlook is and their challenges and potential solutions. And don’t forget the customers — ask them how your organization is doing.
  • Revisit the company’s vision and strategies and revise them if necessary to meet conditions. The only constant is change; being adaptive and communicating change effectively within the organization remains a key management skill. Communicate authentically and frequently. Be straightforward and transparent. Avoid hidden agendas and sugarcoated messages — adults can handle reality.
  • Use the current condition to challenge “business as usual.” Tough times present excellent opportunity for change. Address traditional and outdated policies and procedures, including “minor” challenges that employees and customers have been requesting you fix. Get rid of the minutiae that get in your people’s way of success. Challenge the organization to find ways to make life easier for everyone. Seemingly small improvements frequently result in big payoffs.
  • Proactively identify and support those who demonstrate both the ability and willingness to take creative initiative and lead in tough times. Managers and employees who challenge the status quo while demonstrating they can inspire others while doing so are solid-gold keepers. Support, promote and enhance the skills and capability of these critical resources. These are the people whom senior leaders should be making an extra effort to acknowledge, retain and protect.
  • Identify what — or who — is part of the problem and what is part of the solution. Act accordingly.
  • Demonstrate appreciation for even small efforts and contributions. Most employees will respond by giving you their best if they know you are noticing and appreciating their hard work.

·  Like it or not, it’s often during really tough times that difficult decisions (finally) get made. Leaders who bury their heads in the sand or hide out in their offices frequently find themselves with greater problems and in the end can fail everyone.