Dreaming of Greener Pasture

How do I find personal satisfaction in an organization that doesn't seem interested in being effective?

This is a very important question for all of those who have spent time working in seemingly heartless or meaningless organizations.  In January’s newsletter we defined an effective organization as one that meets its stated goals and accomplishes its stated mission.  But of course, by this definition, low goals and unimportant missions can create effectiveness and this would miss the point, therefore we add that effective organizations are those where the mission and goals are ones that people would want to invest in and/or participate in because they bring value to not only the individual, but also customers and society in general.

So what about the employee who is stuck in an organization that doesn’t seem to meet these criteria?  The easy answer is to simply quit and find a better organization.  While this may seem to be the prudent decision, is it the right one?  Let’s now refer back to the original question and focus on a key word in the question - “seem”.  Often times employees can only guess as to what their organization’s goals and mission may be because they have not been clearly articulated (our February Newsletter topic).  Until one clearly understands where leadership is wanting to take the organization, employees should not make bad guesses about their willingness to be effective.  This is where candid and frank conversation with leadership is critical to clearly understand the mission.

For argument’s sake, let’s make the assumption that the employee is actually working in an organization that simply has no intention of meeting our definition of an effective organization.  How do we find personal satisfaction without simply leaving for greener pastures?  At this point the employee needs to focus on what they can control and influence within the organization.  They have control over their own performance and influence over the performance of their team.  To this end, an objective setting and strategy exercise can help the person move toward higher satisfaction.  We would recommend that the employee set short, intermediate and long term objectives for themselves and, where possible, their team.  These objectives should meet five SMART criteria.

  1. Specific
  2. Measurable
  3. Attainable
  4. Relevant
  5. Time Bound

Once we have SMART objectives in mind, the next step would be to create a task list which would take us step-by-step to the accomplishment of each objective.  The key to reaching our objective is to stick to the plan while measuring its effectiveness.  These measurements of effectiveness are critical to determining if we are on the right track.  If the measurements are in-line, we should continue on course until the objective is met.  If the measurements show that we are somehow failing, we need to either tweak the task list, or reassess the objective.

We find that those who focus on individual and team objectives, with a sound strategy for attaining and measuring, have greater satisfaction and better performance than those who simply go to work every day, counting the days until the next paycheck.  In the end, organizational effectiveness is impacted by both organizational mission and employee performance.  Not all of us have control or even influence over mission, but we all have considerable impact on our own performance and the objectives that we set can help improve that performance and ultimately our satisfaction.

Deal with Employee Failure -- the SAFE Way

Have you ever worked for someone who seems to notice every small error you make (and points it out), but almost never says anything when you are successful?  We call this leadership style “The Persecutor” and we see it a lot in both industry and parenting.  We have learned by talking with Persecutors that they are trying to motivate people to improve by holding them accountable for their results, but the exact opposite actually occurs because of the way they do it. Employees become demotivated because there is no balance between positive and negative feedback, and because they feel disrespected in the process.  People need both correction (what we call “Redirection") for failure and positive feedback for success.  So how can you avoid persecution and create the results that you need?  We suggest that you use the following redirection guidelines when correcting performance.

  • Remain calm.  Emotions such as frustration and anger only make us less effective in thinking and communicating.  Most of the time those emotions are the result of a “guess” about why the person failed.  Avoid guesses and you will have much more control over your emotions.
  • Conduct the session in private.  One of your primary objectives is to reduce defensiveness so that you can get the employee to help you examine the reason(s) behind the failure and develop a “fix” for the future.  Calling someone out in public almost always leads to defensiveness, so make every effort to find a private location for this discussion.
  • Eliminate interruptions and distractions.  Gaining the full attention of the employee is critical for an effective conversation.  Make sure that you control as many distractions as possible and you will get much better attention from your employee.
  • Point out positive aspects of performance first, followed by identification of the inadequate performance.  Typically the employee will have had some success that you want to continue in the future.  Positive feedback helps to strengthen those behaviors, so take this opportunity to create repeated success with positive feedback.  Then point out the specific result, action, lack of action, etc. that you have identified as failure.  Avoid ambiguous terms such as bad attitude, unmotivated, etc.
  • Follow the SAFE* approach to giving feedback.
    • Step Up:  When you see failure, say something, but say it with respect.  If you don’t step up, then the things that have led to this failure will continue to create failure in the future and if you say it the wrong way (disrespectfully) you will create defensiveness and less desire for improvement going forward.
    • Ask:  Learn the real reason for the failure.  Was it motivation, ability, pressure, lack of support, etc?  Evaluate the total context that led to the failure before you come up with a plan for improvement.
    • Find a Fix:  Find a fix for the real reason for the failure.  Work with the employee to determine a way to create success in the future.  Don’t create the plan yourself, but rather create it in concert with the employee when possible.  This brings more ownership and more motivation for improvement.
    • Ensure the Fix:  Keep an eye on improvement and give feedback accordingly.  If the “fix” works and you observe success, then give positive feedback to strengthen performance.  If you observe failure, then work your way through the SAFE approach again until you find the real reason for failure and the right fix going forward.
*SAFE Skills are a component of The RAD Group’s PerformanceCOMPASSTM training.