Tuesday, October 29, 2013

GUEST BLOG: Are You Leading?

This is a guest post from my friend Rich Berdan - we spent a great deal of time with each other in past lives and learned a ton together!

Thanks Rich, for the lessons & the post!

Are You Leading?

The art of inspiring others

In the drive to lead in a big box store – or an entire company for that matter – the aspiring manager begins to lose his or her technical expertise. At the same time, the human relations side of their role grows to a point where it is no longer possible to perform the day-to-day tactical functions, and the leader can no longer rely exclusively on their own skills and resources to accomplish tasks. Once a manager reaches this pinnacle of his or her career, the individual either becomes a true leader and accomplishes the big things through others or becomes unsuccessful because they have failed to master the art of inspiring others.

The new leader is quickly tested, and unless he or she is a skilled leader, negativity breeds among employees, and the organization is likely to implode from within at some point due to issues such as employee turnover, poor morale, absenteeism, workplace accidents, and diminishing productivity, sales, and profits. In dealing with such problems, a leader must become increasingly agile and responsive.
It also becomes necessary for the leader to promote a certain amount of open, transparent and healthy conflict in dealing with issues.

Techniques such as focus group meetings and an open door policy allow for issues and grievances to be aired publicly and constructively so that disgruntled employees feel free to speak candidly and openly.

Once grievances have been aired, clear and decisive action on the part of the management team and the quick implementation of solutions agreed upon by all parties go a long way. Even “quick wins” should be communicated throughout the organization – whether at all-employee meetings or more informally through discussions in the lunchroom or on the sales floor. This is a skillful approach that can eventually lead to naysayers throughout the organization being silenced.

The next step for our leader is to create positive thinking and morale in the organization. The principle is this: Enthusiasm is contagious. Eventually when the optimistic enthusiasm reaches a high enough temperature, the fire becomes self-generating.

It is then critical to place enthusiastic performers in key areas to be that “burning charcoal” that ignites others and creates a sustainable fire. Senior managers who are not enthusiastic in their approach to leading the organization will be left alone to see the flame slowly flicker and eventually go out.

'Igniting’ other employees

One new manager I knew came into a store where there was poor morale, specifically on the overnight shift where the employees stocking the shelves each night were the unnoticed backbone of the store's success. This store manager made the key decision to come in early before the end of the shift and “high five” a lonely employee in one of the aisles stocking shelves for a job well done and to express his appreciation for the employee’s efforts.

A funny thing happened the next day when the store manager arrived early in the morning. The employee who received the high five the previous day was peering down the aisle in anticipation of the manager's early morning walk by. When the manager approached the employee, he was pleasantly surprised that the employee had increased his productivity substantially and was proud to show off his best work. Another big high five followed and they were now connected in achieving mutual goals of respect and a well-stocked store ready for customers.

In the above example, one “hot coal” ignited another employee and things heated up. The stocker, who at one point was a disengaged employee, was noticed, recognized, and is now a high performing assistant manager. By the way, the store manager is now a district manager. What makes a great leader memorable is the time they spend developing the next great leaders who speak profoundly of the influence their mentors had on them during their careers.

Unintended consequences of negative behaviour

Another store manager more focused on his technical skills was pulling a skid of merchandise down an aisle and scowled as he walked past a department manager working in her department. She thought she had done something wrong and was visibly upset. Shortly afterwards, the store manager was asked why he had scowled at the employee, and he explained that he was not pleased with a featured display producing very little sales and had no idea the employee was nearby or had seen him demonstrate his frustration. The department manager shared her experience with others in the lunchroom and continued to be a mediocre performer. The store manager did not create an environment of contagious enthusiasm and eventually burned out and left the business.

A positive organizational culture

The positive culture cemented in the fabric of an organization becomes quickly evident when a new employee is hired and easily falls in line with the values that instill respect for the individual, consistency, a strong work ethic, confidence in one's skills, and eliminating frustration that results in excessive turnover.

In essence, the employee should enjoy coming to work when that work intertwines purpose and fun. The enthusiastic fire becomes a self-generating furnace that pumps out “hot” employees ready to perform.

On the other hand, if the culture is mired in confusion and a lack of any real leadership, the new employee will not perform at a level of excellence and a sense of urgency. New employees joining a team simply become assimilated into the existing culture, and resistance is futile.

Leaders need to ensure members of their management team know what is expected, whether executing the tasks at hand, providing superior customer service or demonstrating values, respect and a strong commitment to a superior work ethic that sets the example for all to follow. They will, in most cases, go to great lengths to live up to those expectations and do a good job if they are provided with the proper environment. Any non-compliance needs to addressed expeditiously, or a splinter of issues will begin to widen further until band-aid solutions can no longer heal the cultural wound of accepting mediocrity, which can lead to the eventual collapse of the business unit or the entire operation.

During tough economic times, the organizations and business units that succeed are those where a distinct culture of contagious enthusiasm and positive employee engagement thrives within the organization.

It all starts with a leader. So, are you leading?

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