With an increasingly aging workforce there is an even greater need to create organizational cultures where all ages work together to maximize the performance of each person. Hoping for this culture is not the answer……actively intervening gives us a much better chance of success!
Neurological research has helped us better understand some of the developmental and age related changes in cognitive functioning and performance, including risk tolerance (see Complexity, Age and Performance). We have proposed that these findings provide additional support for the need to have older and younger workers learn to work together so as to capitalize on their age-related strengths, i.e., older workers + younger workers = better decisions. The problem is that there are also very strong age related stereotypes that inhibit the effectiveness of this suggestion. Therefore, we need to understand the role that stereotypes play in the interactions of various age groups in the workplace so that we can create environments where negative stereotypes are minimized or overcome. Stop for a moment and describe the characteristics of people who are 20 years of age, 40 years of age, 60 years of age, and 75 years of age. If you are honest with yourself, you will have some overlap in your descriptors, but you will also have differences and if you are also honest you will find that there are more negative characteristics identified for age groups to which you do not currently belong. If you think about it you will also most likely find that your descriptions don’t necessarily accurately describe every person that you know within each of those age groups. We all function with age related stereotypes but we also know that there are individual differences. The problem is that until we know a given individual, our stereotypes tend to guide our perceptions and expectations of that person. In fact, when our expectations are strong, we will overlook invalidating evidence of our stereotypes and foster what is called a “self-fulfilling prophecy (SFP)” through our actions toward the other person. In other words, our stereotypes will tend to override our search for individual differences, or exceptions, and simultaneously help create the behavior that we expected in the other person. For example, research has demonstrated that performance is improved when it follows an interaction driven by a positive stereotype but decreased when it follows an interaction driven by a negative stereotype (e.g., Hausdorff, et al, 1999). Likewise, the behavior resulting from the interaction will strengthen our stereotype and if that behavior is perceived negatively, e.g., inflexible, know-it-all, etc., we will likely become less willing to work with or listen to the other person and this makes our objective of “better decisions” more difficult to attain.
So how do we overcome the negative impact of our stereotypes?
We have been helping supervisors and managers deal with the impact of their negative stereotypes for the past 30+ years and the process, while simple requires understanding and effort. First, we help them evaluate and understand their stereotypes, especially their negative stereotypes and the role that they personally play in creating SFP’s. Second, we help them think about specific individuals with whom they interact and then have them honestly evaluate the role of negative stereotyping on both their expectations of the person and the impact of their interaction on the behavior of the person. In other words, we help them understand that because everyone is different we need to look for those individual differences rather that viewing everyone of a certain age as the same. Third, we have them evaluate the positive aspects of these individuals, especially those characteristics that can be beneficial to other team members and the organization. Finally, we have them commit to a regular review of their stereotypes and evaluation of how those stereotypes are impacting their relationships. Our objective is to improve interactions and relationships by minimizing the impact of negative age related stereotypes. If we are going to create “better decisions” through the interaction of older and younger workers we will first need to positively impact stereotypes that are currently leading to reduced respect and willingness to listen, learn and depend on each other.
In our last blog, we explored how team members can support each other by intervening effectively in unsafe situations. [Your Organization’s Safety Immune System (Part 2): Strengthening Immunity] Now we will look into something slightly different: How coworkers can prevent risks by supporting each other. In other words, how helping each other improves safety performance. There are clear safety implications when, for example, an experienced employee goes out of her way to teach a new-hire how to use a tool correctly, or when an employee drops what he is doing to help a coworker lift a heavy object. While the organization's culture can impact people's helpfulness (or lack thereof), people either do or don’t help for other reasons as well.
It is generally recognized that there are two forms of helping behavior, both of which are present in the workplace. One is referred to as "egoistic helping," in which the helper does so because he either wants something in return or desires the positive feeling that comes from helping. The other form is referred to as "altruistic helping" because the helper expects nothing in return and helps only to benefit the other person.
Altruistic Helping: The helper adopts the perspective of the other person (which is called "empathy") and helps out of a desire to benefit or reduce any negative impact on that person. For example, people donate money to a disaster relief effort because they empathize with and want to alleviate the suffering of those affected.
When team members truly care about each other's wellbeing, altruistic helping is more likely to occur. This is sometimes referred to as "active caring" and it is an important foundation for teamwork and team support. Organizations that take steps to increase empathy among team members will likely see an increase in altruistic helping behavior.
Egoistic Helping: The helper does not adopt the perspective of the other person, but helps in an attempt to further his own positive feelings, secure personal gain or create indebtedness. For example, people donate money to a disaster relief effort because the donation is tax deductible and it feels good to support the cause. Egoistic helping isn't bad...just less "noble" looking than altruistic helping.
Research has shown that positive emotional states increase helping behavior (e.g., Cunningham, 1979). Workplaces that produce pleasant, optimistic, hopeful feelings (in other words, "high employee morale") will have people helping each other more often. An explanation for this phenomenon is that people want to maintain their good mood, and helping others is one way of accomplishing that desire. As such, a workplace that promotes positive feelings also appears to increase egoistic helping behavior.
The Point: If an organization wanted to increase helping behavior within it's workforce, it would do well to set its sights on (1) interpersonal empathy and (2) employee morale. It might at first seem that these are too "wishy-washy" to have any place in safety management, but there are quite tangible steps that can be taken to improve both.
*Looking back on our previous blog, we see implications for safety intervention as well. Interpersonal empathy and employee morale may also increase the likelihood that people will intervene in unsafe situations; but neither is sufficient. Even when people want to intervene, most will not until they are confident that they can do so effectively and without creating social tension. People also need to learn how to intervene.
In a recent blog (Your Organization’s Safety Immune System) we talked about people being the “white blood cells” of our "safety immune system", but also that we have to help them become competent to do so. People care about the safety of others, but most people do not have the natural ability to conduct a successful intervention discussion. Isn’t it ironic that most organizational leaders assume that their employees have that very ability when they tell them to intervene when they see something unsafe. It takes skill to successfully tell someone that their actions could lead to injury. Many times people don’t intervene because they are afraid of reactance/defensiveness on the part of the other person. Having the skills to deal with defensiveness is essential to being willing to enter into this potentially high stress conversation in the first place. Success involves understanding where defensiveness comes from, how to deal with it before it arises and what to do when we encounter it both in others and in ourselves. The intervention conversation is not a script, but rather a process that involves understanding the dynamics of the inhibiting forces and development of a set of skills that lead to effective communication. Defensiveness. We have all experienced defensiveness both in ourselves and in other people. Defensiveness arises because we perceive that we are under attack. We are naturally inclined to defend our bodies and our property from danger, but we are also naturally inclined to protect/defend our personal dignity from criticism and our reputation from public ridicule. When we perceive that our dignity or reputation are threatened, we defend either internally by retreating/avoiding or externally by pushing back either physically or verbally. Thus we enter the Defensive Cycle™.
When we see someone doing something undesirable, such as acting in an unsafe manner we automatically attempt to understand why they are doing it and most of the time we automatically attribute it to something internal to the person. This leads to the well-documented phenomenon of the “Fundamental Attribution Error” (FAE), whereby we have a tendency to attribute failure on the part of others to negative personal qualities such as inattention, lack of motivation, etc., thus leading to the assignment of causation and blame. When you fall victim to the FAE you will likely become frustrated or even angry with the other person, and if you enter into a conversation, you will likely come across as blaming the person, whether you mean to or not. When the other person perceives you blaming, they will most likely guess that you are attacking their dignity or reputation, whether you mean to or not. When this happens they naturally become defensive. In turn, if the person gets quiet (defends internally), you will guess that you were right and they took your words to heart so you will expect performance changes which may or may not occur. If, on the other hand, the person becomes aggressive (defends externally), you will guess that they are attacking your dignity or reputation and you will then become defensive and either retreat or push back yourself. And the cycle goes on until someone retreats, or until you are able to stop the defensiveness and focus not on the person but on the context that created the unsafe performance in the first place. You have to change your intent from blame to understanding and you have to communicate that intent to the other person.
Recognizing that we are in the Defensive Cycle™ is the first step to controlling defensiveness and conducting a successful intervention. It is at this point that we need to stop and remember that when people engage in unsafe actions it is because it makes sense to them (local rationality) given the context in which they find themselves. When we commit the FAE we are limiting the possible causes of their decision to act in an unsafe manner to their motivation and/or other internal attribute and then allowing that guess to create frustration which causes us to come across as blaming the person. Recognizing that there could be other contextual factors driving their decision will reduce our tendency to blame, stop the defensive cycle before it begins and significantly increase our chances of having a successful intervention discussion.
Over the past decade we have trained many frontline workers and supervisors/managers in the skills needed to deal with defensiveness, hold an intervention discussion and create sustained behavior change. We have also found that following training, interventions increase and incidents decrease as a result of simply creating competence which leads to confidence, thus strengthening the “white blood cells” needed for the "safety immune system" to work.
Research and personal experience both demonstrate that people are less likely to intervene (offer help) when there are other people around than they are when they are the only person observing the incident. This phenomenon has come to be known as the Bystander Effect and understanding it is crucial to increasing intervention into unsafe actions in the workplace. It came to light following an incident on March 13, 1964 when a young woman named Kitty Genovese was attacked by a knife-wielding rapist outside of her apartment complex in Queens, New York. Many people watched and listened from their windows for the 35 minutes that she attempted to escape while screaming that he was trying to kill her. No one called the police or attempted to help. As a matter of fact, her attacker left her on two occasions only to return and continue the attack. Intervention during either of those intervals might have saved her life. The incident made national news and it seemed that all of the “experts” felt that it was "heartless indifference" on the part of the onlookers that was the reason no one came to assist her. Following this, two social psychologists, John Darley and Bibb Latane began conducting research into why people failed to intervene. Their research became the foundation for understanding the bystander effect and in 1970 they proposed a five step model of helping where failure at any of the steps could create failure to intervene (Latane & Darley, 1970).
• Step 1: Notice That Something Is Happening. Latane & Darley (1968) conducted an experiment where male college students were placed in a room either alone or with two strangers. They introduced smoke into the room through a wall vent and measured how long it took for the participants to notice the smoke. What they found was that students who were alone noticed the smoke almost immediately (within 5 seconds) but those not alone took four times as long (20 seconds) to notice the smoke. Just being with others, like working in teams in the workplace can increase the amount of time that it takes to notice danger.
• Step 2: Interpret Meaning of Event. This involves understanding what is a risk and what isn’t. Even if you notice that something is happening (e.g., a person not wearing PPE), you still have to determine that this is creating a risk. Obviously knowledge of risk factors is important but when you are with others and no one else is saying anything you might think that they know something that you don’t about the riskiness of the situation. Actually they may be thinking the same thing (pluralistic ignorance) and so no one says anything. Everyone just assumes that nothing is wrong.
• Step 3: Take Responsibility for Providing Help. In another study, Darley and Latane (1968) demonstrated what is called diffusion of responsibility. What they demonstrated is that as more people are added the less responsibility each assumes and therefore the less likely any one person is to intervene. When the person is the only one observing the event then they have 100% of the responsibility, with two people each has 50% and so forth.
• Step 4: Know How to Help. When people feel competent to intervene they are much more likely to do so than when they don’t feel competent. Competence engenders confidence. Cramer et al. (1988) demonstrated that nurses were significantly more likely to intervene in a medical emergency than were non medically trained participants. Our research (Ragain, et al, 2011) also demonstrated that participants reported being reluctant to intervene when observing unsafe actions because they feared that the other person would become defensive and they would not be able to deal with that defensiveness. In other words, they didn’t feel competent when intervening to do so successfully, so they didn’t intervene.
• Step 5: Provide Help. Obviously failure at any of the previous four steps will prevent step 5 from occurring, but even if the person notices that something is happening, interprets it correctly, takes responsibility for providing help and knows how to do so successfully, they may still fail to act, especially when in groups. Why? People don’t like to look foolish in front of others (audience inhibition) and may decide not to act when there is a chance of failure. A person may also fail to act when they think the potential costs are too high. Have you ever known someone (perhaps yourself) who decided not to tell the boss that he is not wearing proper PPE for fear of losing his job?
The bottom line is that we are much less likely to intervene when in groups for a variety of reasons. The key to overcoming the Bystander effect is two fold, 1) awareness and 2) competency. 1) Just knowing about the Bystander effect and how we can all fall victim to this phenomenon makes us less likely to do so. We are wired to be by-standers, but just knowing about this makes us less likely to do so. 2) Training our employees in risk awareness and intervention skills makes them more likely to identify risks and actually intervene when they do recognize them.
Emails have become a valuable and indispensable part of our lives, both personally and at work. We provide information, seek information and maintain a record of the email communications that we have had so that we can go back and remember those “conversations”. Most of us don’t think much about the form of our emails, we just write and send them. But have you ever received an email that made you angry, or made you feel disrespected? I have had several conversations with people about this very issue over the past few weeks, so I thought it might be an issue that needs addressing. I remember that when email first came on the scene it was viewed as an electronic version of a letter. Formal business letters have a certain format including a salutation, a body and a closing. Following this format was/is expected and as a result helped shape the individual and company image and simultaneously communicated respect to the person receiving the letter. Emails have changed over the years and I think have taken more of a “text” or “message” format. These latter formats are based on brevity and often include abbreviations and even acceptable “bad grammar”, and many times exclude the salutation and/or the closing. People have come to expect that type of format in texts, but what about emails? I think the answer to this question is that “it depends on who is communicating with whom about what”. It goes without saying that if you have something to say to someone that has negative emotional content, don’t send it in an email, rather do it face-to-face or at least over the phone when face-to-face is impossible. But even non-emotionally laden content can be misunderstood. For me, the key is to always think about how the other person could interpret (or misinterpret) the message and always communicate with respect. A salutation as simple as “Hi, Joe” or “Good Morning, Joe” can help to set the stage for a more positive reading of the content. Likewise, clear communicative language in the message body even to the point of clarifying your intent can help to eliminate misinterpretation. Obviously your relationship with the person receiving the email will guide the language and format that you use, but it never hurts to be polite, even with those with whom you have a good long-term relationship. Also, when receiving an email, don’t be so quick to jump to negative interpretation of ambiguous content. Give the person the benefit of the doubt by assuming that they did not intend to be disrespectful or otherwise negative and check it out before responding back with a short, curt email of your own that was intended to “get even”. Emails can be a valuable, time saving tool unless they create misunderstanding and conflict that is unnecessary and counterproductive. Take a moment to think about what you are writing in your email and then re-read what you have written before you hit send. It could save you a lot of time and relationships if you do.
Our loyal readers are quite familiar with our 2010 research into safety interventions in the workplace and the resulting SafetyCompass® Intervention training that resulted from that research. What you may not know is why we started that research to begin with. For years we had heard client after client explain to us their concerns over their observation programs. The common theme was that observation cards were plentiful when they started the program but submissions started to slow down over time. In an attempt to increase the number of cards companies instituted various tactics to increase the number of cards submitted. These tactics included such things as communicating the importance of observation cards, rewards for the best cards, and team competitions. These tactics proved successful, in the short term, but didn’t have sustainable impact on the number or quality of cards being turned in. Eventually leadership simply started requiring that employees turn in a certain number of cards in a given period of time. They went on to tell us of their frustration when they began receiving cards that were completely made up and some employees even using the cards as a means to communicate their dissatisfaction with their working conditions rather than safety related observations. They simply didn't know what to do to make their observation programs work effectively. As we spoke with their employees we heard a different story. They told us about the hope that they themselves had when the program was launched. They were excited about the opportunity to provide information about what was really going on in their workplace so they could get things fixed and make their jobs safer. They began by turning in cards and waiting to hear back on the fixes. When the fixes didn’t come they turned in more cards. Sometimes they would hear back in safety meetings about certain aspects of safety that needed to be focused on, but no real fixes. A few of them even told us of times that they turned in cards and their managers actually got angry about the behaviors that were being reported. Eventually they simply stopped turning in cards because leadership wasn’t paying attention to them and it was even getting people in trouble. Then leadership started giving out gift cards for the best observation cards so they figured they would turn a few in just to see if they could win the card. After all, who couldn’t use an extra $50 at Walmart? But even then, nothing was happening with the cards they turned in so they eventually just gave up again. The last straw was when their manager told them they had to turn in 5 per week. They spoke about the frustration that came with the added required paperwork when they knew nobody was looking at the cards anyway. As one person put it, “They’re just throwing them into a file cabinet, never to be seen again”. So the obvious choice for this person was to fill out his 5 cards every Friday afternoon and turn them in on his way out of the facility. It seemed that these organizations were all experiencing a similar Observation Program Death Spiral.
The obvious question is why? Why would such a well intentioned and possibly game changing program fail in so many organizations? After quite a bit of research into these organizations the answer became clear, they weren’t intervening. Or more precisely, they weren’t intervening in a very specific manner. The intent of observation programs is to provide data that shows the most pervasive unsafe actions in our organizations. If we, as the thought goes, can find out what unsafe behaviors are most common in our organization, then we can target those behaviors and change them. The fundamental problem with that premise is that behaviors are the cause of events (near misses, LTA, injuries, environmental spills, etc.). Actually, behaviors themselves are the result of something else. People don’t behave in a vacuum, as if they simply decide that acting unsafely is more desirable than acting safely. There are factors that drive human behaviors, the behavior themselves are simply a symptom of something else in the context surrounding and embedded in our organizations. Due to this fact, trending behaviors as a target for change efforts is no different than doctors treating the most common symptoms of disease, rather than curing the disease itself.
A proper intervention is essentially a diagnosis of what is creating behavior. Or, to steal the phrase from the title of our friend Todd Conklin's newest book, a pre-accident investigation. An intervention program equips all employees with the skills to perform these investigations. When they see an unsafe behavior, they intervene in a specific way that allows them to create immediate safety in that moment, but they also diagnose the context to determine why it made sense to behave that way to begin with. Once context is understood, a targeted fix can be put into place that makes it less likely that the behavior happens in the future. The next step in an Intervention Program is incredibly important for organizational process improvement. Each intervention should be recorded so that the context (equipment issues, layout of workplace, procedural or rule discrepancies, production pressure, etc.) that created that behavior can be gathered and trended against other interventions. Once a large enough sample of interventions is created, organizations can then see the interworking of their work environment. Rather than simply looking at the total number of unsafe behaviors being performed in their company (e.g. not tying off at heights) they can also understand the most common and salient context that is driving those behaviors. Only then does leadership have the ability to put fixes into place that will actually change the context in which their employees perform their jobs and only then will they have the ability to make sustainable improvement.
Tying it back to observation programs
The observation program death spiral was the result of information that was not actionable. Once a company has data that is actionable, they can then institute targeted fixes. Organizations that use this approach have actually seen an increase in the number of interventions logged into the system. The reason is that the employees actually see something happening. They see that their interventions are leading to process improvement in their workplace and that’s the type of motivation that no $50 gift card could ever buy.
We have spent a lot of time talking about the side of accountability that involves correcting failure. But if you will recall our discussion in January, accountability actually involves an examination of the facts/reasons underlying a specific event/result (accounting) followed by the application of appropriate consequences for those actions and results in an attempt to more predictably have success going forward. In other words, accountability involves first the identification of both failure and success, followed by an examination of the underlying reasons for the failure/success and then the determination of the appropriate consequences to help sustain the success or eliminate the failure in the future. This month we would like to discuss the appropriate application of consequences following success so that we will have a greater chance of sustaining good performance going forward. But why is this important anyway? When we ask supervisors/managers what they really want from their employees we get a very consistent response…..”We want employees who give us good results and who take initiative!” My response to this is that the two are highly interrelated. Let me explain what I mean by this. People who take initiative are people with high levels of Self-Esteem or Self-Confidence which is developed from meaningful (to the person) accomplishment followed by recognition by someone significant to the individual. In most cases the supervisor/manager has a significant level of control over both of those variables, i.e. they control the tasks that the employee is allowed to engage in, they control recognition and they are significant to their employees (in most cases). Obviously, for success to occur while engaging in meaningful tasks, there needs to be support through training, necessary resources, etc. and when success occurs there needs to be the appropriate application of recognition, or what psychologists call “reinforcement”. Reinforcement by definition is a consequence that when following a behavior increases the likelihood that the behavior will reoccur in the future. If that reinforcement is recognition by a significant person then it will also serve the function of increasing self-confidence and the likelihood of initiative. It is important that the recognition follows some important guidelines however. Let’s look at four important aspects of reinforcement; What, When, Where and How.
WHAT. The rule here is to reinforce the behavior/performance that you want to continue and not the person. This focus on behavior ties the reinforcement to that behavior in the future and is what increases it’s chances of reoccurrence. This will also act to increase self-esteem even though you do not focus on the individual. For example, saying….”Thank you. You got that report in on time and with no errors” is much more effective than, “Thank you. You are becoming a very reliable employee.” While the latter may make the person feel better, it does nothing to point out exactly what you want going forward.
WHEN. Reinforcement is not always appropriate as we will discuss below, but when it is it has been demonstrated that reinforcement that immediately follows an action is in most cases the most powerful and effective. While some delay may be necessary in some cases, waiting until the annual performance appraisal is certainly not the best option.
WHERE. While failure should always be redirected in private, success should be reinforced in public in most cases. Public recognition does two things, it makes the person look good in front of peers and at the same time demonstrates your expectations to others on your team. It must always however be appropriately done as we will discuss below.
- Keep it brief and simple. It should, in most cases take only a few words and therefore a few seconds to reinforce performance. If you feel it is necessary to explain in more detail the exact performance/result then do so, but don’t carry on forever. You will lose the person’s attention and perhaps even embarrass the person in front of peers.
- Be genuine. Let the person know that you truly appreciate their success and expect it to continue into the future. Sarcasm has no place in the application of reinforcement.
- Make it appropriate to the level of performance. Most of the time a simple “thank you” with a connection to the successful performance is appropriate, but when the result is significant and worthy of additional recognition, just make sure that it fits. For example, if the person has contributed beyond expectations and their impact has had a noticeable impact on revenue, then a bonus might be in order. Failure to evaluate the appropriateness of recognition could lead to reduced performance in the future.
- Be consistent among employees. While meaningfulness varies among employees the need for recognition doesn’t. Make sure that you find what is meaningful for each employee and apply recognition where appropriate in a consistent manner.
- Avoid scheduled or predictable recognition. Psychological research shows that variable (unpredictable) reinforcement is more effective for behaviors that have been learned. While teaching a skill the application of continuous reinforcement is best, but after the skills is learned change to a less frequent, less predictable schedule and you will find that employees will be successful for a longer period of time.
What’s the point?
Sustained successful performance accompanied by initiative requires self confidence. Meaningful accomplishment followed by recognition by a significant person helps to create that self confidence and thus sustained success. If you are a supervisor (or a parent) you have more control over this process than you might imagine.
If your organization is like many that we see, you are spending ever increasing time and energy developing SOPs, instituting regulations from various alphabet government organizations, buying new PPE and equipment, and generally engineering your workplace to be as safe as possible. While this is both invaluable and required to be successful in our world today, is it enough? The short answer is “no”. These things are what we refer to as mechanical and procedural safeguards and are absolutely necessary but also absolutely inadequate. You see, mechanical and procedural safeguards are static, slow to change, and offer limited effectiveness while our workplaces are incredibly complex, dynamic, and hard to predict. We simply can’t create enough barriers that can cover every possible hazard in the world we live in. In short, you have to do it but you shouldn’t think that your job stops there. For us to create safety in such a complex environment we will have to find something else that permeates the organization, is reactive, and also creative. The good news is that you have the required ingredient already…..people. If we can get our people to speak up effectively when they see unsafe acts, they can be the missing element that is everywhere in your organization, can react instantly, and come up with creative fixes. But can it be that easy? Again, the short answer is “no”.
In 2010 we completed a large scale and cross-industry study into what happens when someone observes another person engaged in an unsafe action. We wanted to know how often people spoke up when they saw an unsafe act. If they didn’t speak up, why not? If they did speak up how did the other person respond? Did they become angry, defensive or show appreciation? Did the intervention create immediate behavior change and also long term behavior change, and much more? I don’t have the time and space to go into the entire finding of our research (EHS Today Article) , just know that people don’t speak up very often (39% of the time) and when they do speak up they tend to do a poor job. If you take our research findings and evaluate them in light of a long history of research into cognitive biases (e.g. the fundamental attribution error, hindsight bias, etc.) that show how humans tend to be hardwired to fail when the moment of intervention arises we know where the 61% failure rate of speaking up comes from…… it’s human nature.
We decided to test a theory and see if we could fight human nature simply by giving front line workers a set of skills to intervene when they did see an unsafe action by one of their coworkers. We taught them how to talk to the person in such a way that they eliminated defensiveness, identified the actual reasons for why the person did it the unsafe way, and then ultimately found a fix to make sure the behavior changed immediately and sustainably. We wanted to know if simply learning these skills made it more likely that people would speak up, and if they did would that 90 second intervention be dynamic and creative enough to make immediate and sustainable behavior change. What we found in one particular company gave us our answer. Simply learning intervention skills made their workforce 30% more likely to speak up. Just knowing how to talk to people made it more likely that people didn’t fall victim to the cognitive biases that I mentioned earlier. And when they did speak up, behavior changes were happening at a far great rate and lasting much longer that they ever did previously, which helped result in a 57% reduction in Total Recordable Incident Rate (TRIR) and an 89% reduction in severity rates.
I would never tell a safety professional to stop working diligently on their mechanical and procedural barriers, they should be a significant component of the foundation on which safety programs are built. However, human intervention should be the component that holds that program together when things get crazy out in the real world. It can be as simple as helping your workers understand their propensity for not intervening and then giving them the ability and confidence to speak up when they do see something unsafe.
Last month we discussed how to determine the “real” reasons behind performance failure. Now that we have determined causation, this month we are going to examine one of those possible reasons for performance failure: motivation, or lack of it. But before proceeding we first need to be quite sure that motivation is indeed the driver of the poor performance. Keep in mind that the Fundamental Attribution Error leads us to make bad guesses about why people do what they do and that bad guess is often lack of motivation. Therefore, ensure that you’ve drilled down enough to determine that motivation is indeed a cause. Once you have done this it is time to motivate. What is Motivation?
I have been working with and training supervisors and managers for the past 30+ years and the issue of how to motivate employees is an issue that is always high on the list of concerns that they have. First, let’s look at what motivation is and where it comes from, and then we will look at a couple of skills that you can apply to generate the energy necessary to get the performance that you want.
For our purposes, we will define motivation as “the level of eagerness to engage in and accomplish a specific task”. We have all had situations where we couldn’t wait to get involved in an activity (motivated) and conversely we have all had situations that we dreaded and put off engaging in as long as possible (unmotivated).
Motivation comes in two forms: Extrinsic and Intrinsic. Extrinsic motivation simply means motivation from outside of the person and includes things like positive feedback, praise, money, negative feedback, etc. Intrinsic motivation comes from within the person and is commonly referred to as “self” or “achievement” motivation. It is the desire to succeed simply because you value succeeding. It is a sense of “personal pride”.
We all need and for the most part have both in our lives. We need money (extrinsic) and we like to succeed (intrinsic). When people fail because of lack of motivation, we first need to determine the source. Is it extrinsic or intrinsic? The reason for having this knowledge is because the “fix” will vary with each?
Fixing Extrinsic Motivation
Fixing extrinsic motivation is easier than intrinsic fixes because you have more direct control over extrinsic fixes.
You can provide praise for success. You can at times provide financial reward for success but throwing money at the issue is not always the best approach. You can also provide negative feedback for failure. In other words, if you determine that the problem is extrinsic motivation and you know what specific extrinsic factor is involved, you can just fix that factor and most of the time the issue will be resolved.
Often the person is not motivated because they aren’t aware of the likely extrinsic consequences of their actions. A very useful technique in this case is to “Bring Consequences to Life”.
- Help the person discover the “natural” consequences of failure.
- What impact can their continued failure have on the team? On profits? On salary increases? On their future? On their family? Etc.
- When appropriate you can also bring “imposed” consequences to life such as their continued employment, but using “threats” is less powerful than their understanding of the natural consequences of continued failure.
- Additionally, it is always better to have the person identify the consequences on their own rather than telling them. Self discovery creates more ownership and understanding which in turn creates more motivation going forward.
Fixing Intrinsic Motivation
It is much harder, however, to fix intrinsic motivation issues. When the person just doesn’t like the task or see the need to perform up to standard you have an intrinsic motivation issue.
While there are many techniques for dealing with this, I would suggest one that I have found to work most of the time: “Connect to Self-Respect”. Intrinsic motivation is directly tied to a person’s sense of self-worth, self-esteem and self-respect. The idea here is to find what the person values - how the person wants to be seen by others - and make the connection between their performance success/failure and that value.
For example, I am not intrinsically motivated to mow and trim my yard but I do want to be seen as a good neighbor who takes pride in my property and who wants to abide by city ordinances. Understanding that failure to take care of my property would be incongruent with my values motivates me to do something I don’t really like doing.
I bet you have something that you don’t like doing, too. Think about how failure to do it can impact the way you are seen by others and how it can impact the way you see yourself. In other words, when holding someone accountable for failure that is due to an intrinsic motivation issue, help them understand how continued failure is incongruent with what they value most, and how success is congruent with their values. Motivating others is more than simply giving and taking away. It is helping them understand the real impact of success and failure.
What’s the Point?
Successful performance requires both skill and motivation. When you determine that failure is due, at least in part to motivation, then your job is to determine the best approach for getting that motivation. Start by determining whether extrinsic or intrinsic motivation is the issue and then apply the appropriate tool to energize performance.
In our May Newsletter we described a Contextual Model designed to help us understand how people make decisions that impact their performance. You will recall that we focused on four general contextual factors (Self, Others, Surroundings and Systems) as primary contributors to determining performance success or failure. The salience or "relative weightiness" of specific factors within these general factors create what we called “local rationality”. Local rationality is a term to describe the fact that individuals perceive and interpret the contextual factors weighing on them in a way that is uniquely their own and makes total sense to them, irrespective of how "irrational" the interpretation appears to an onlooker. This locally perceived and vetted interpretation of the contextual factors weighing on a person, in turn, determines how the person decides, behaves, or performs.
Therefore, to accurately (and thus effectively) hold someone accountable for performance requires that we examine their context before we attempt to “fix” their performance.
We suggest four skills that when applied during an “accountability discussion”, or what we also refer to as a “re-direction” discussion, will help you get an accurate picture of the person’s context.
We have a natural tendency to want to understand and explain what we see as quickly as possible, so we have a tendency to make a guess about the causes of poor performance.
Thus the first skill:
Whether you are right or wrong in your guess, you are likely to create defensiveness and we have already talked about the negative impact that defensiveness can have on communication (Read the Blog: Dealing with Defensiveness in Relationships).
Additionally, when you guess you can unintentionally influence the person to agree with your assessment even if it is incorrect. So, instead of guessing, become curious and think to yourself...”I wonder why it makes sense to him to do that?”.
This question also weakens the influence of the Fundamental Attribution Error and allows you to entertain factors other than motivation as a cause for failure.
This leads to the second skill:
“Ask Opening Questions”
Start by making sure that your tone of voice is respectful and not accusatory which would most likely be interpreted as a guess and lead to defensiveness.
Don’t ask “Yes” or “No” type questions which would also be seen as guessing, rather simply ask the person to help you understand why they did what they did (a reflection of your curiosity question above).
For example “Can you help me understand why you are doing it this way?”
If you show genuine curiosity and not judgement you will be much more likely to get at the real reason behind the decision and behavior.
Sometimes you will only be able to identify a general contextual factor with your Opening Question, so this brings the third skill into play:
“Ask Drill Down Questions”
Remember, the objective of this discussion is to determine the real reason or reasons behind the poor performance so that you can fix it. If you didn’t get enough information from your first question, then just ask a second, more specific question (i.e., Drill Down Question).
For example Let’s say the person used the wrong tool for the job and when you ask them why they say they didn’t have the right tool. You might drill down by asking something like...”Why didn’t you have the right tool?”.
Just telling them to use the right tool might not fix the problem if the reason they don’t have the right tool is because there is only one available and someone else is using it!” Remember, drill down far enough to find the real reason(s) before you attempt to fix it.
And finally, during the whole conversation apply the fourth skill:
Listening to “what” the person is saying (their words) is only half of the process. To listen completely, you must also pay attention to “how” they are speaking, e.g. their tone of voice, their willingness to maintain eye contact, their body posture, etc. These help you understand the “real” meaning behind what they are saying and will also help you get to the real context that led them to perform as they did.
What's the Point?
Only after you have ascertained the real reason(s) do you have a sufficiently complete and accurate “accounting” of the failure. With this "accounting", you can now help find a fully informed fix that will lead to sustained improvement going forward.
If you are a normal human, then you are regularly stuck dealing with defensiveness in relationships, both in yourself and in others. Defensiveness is the normal human reaction to threats to a person’s reputation and/or dignity. We are hardwired to protect ourselves both physically and emotionally and we do that by either fleeing or fighting. We call these “retreating” or “pushing” and both are signs of defensiveness. When we feel threatened, some of us, at times, get quiet and don’t say anything. Others argue back or provide justification for their actions. Depending on the situation and the person with whom we are interacting, all of us can, for the most part, resort to either defense mechanism.
The bottom line is that defensiveness, while normal, is also harmful and disruptive because it doesn’t help us think or communicate effectively. As a matter of fact, it causes us to “dumb down” and become cognitively less effective in the moment.
We call this process “the Defensive Cycle” and it looks like this:
- It starts when we see or hear someone do or say something.
- We then make a bad “guess” about why they did it. That bad guess is what is called the “Fundamental Attribution Error” because we mistakenly attribute the other person's action to some internal state of theirs that puts them into a bad light (e.g. poor motivation, selfishness, personal satisfaction in insulting or devaluing you in some way).
- That interpretation then creates a desire in us to defend.
- We then do so by either retreating (sulking, withdrawing, looking down, etc) or by pushing back (using harsh words, giving a harsh glare, etc).
- The other person observes our action.
- They interpret our response as offensive.
- They likewise defend by either retreating or pushing.
- We in turn respond and the cycle goes on until someone “wins” (actually until both lose because there is always a winner and a loser and when we lose we like to get even with the winner which leads to another defensive cycle).
Notice that the defensive cycle begins when one person does or says something and the other person “guesses” bad intent. It is that “guess” that is the problem because we can't determine the true intent unless we communicate. Unfortunately, the bad guess leads to anger or frustration which impedes the very communication we need.
Dealing with Us
We suggest that the key to defusing your defensiveness is to “Learn Your Trigger”. When you become angry or frustrated, let that emotion trigger curiosity rather than blame.
When you become angry or frustrated, think to yourself, “I must be guessing something bad. Why would this person have done or said that?”
Simply stopping and asking yourself this question interrupts the defensive cycle, re-engages your brain and keeps your cognitive skills at a higher level so that you can hold a more effective, less defensive conversation. So that is how you can help control your defensiveness, but what about the other person’s defensiveness?
Dealing with Them
Remember that defensiveness starts with a bad guess, so when the other person becomes defensive it is because they have attributed bad intent to what you have done or said. Your job is to help them understand your true intent which you can do by simply telling them what that intent is.
Use what we call a “Do/Don’t Statement” to accomplish this. Tell them what you do mean and, if necessary, tell them what you don’t mean.
You and your spouse are planning to attend some event and it is time to leave. You are not sure that she is aware of the time since she doesn’t wear a watch, so you say to her…”Do you know what time it is“ and she responds with “I can tell time!”
To this you could respond with a Do/Don’t statement to clarify what you really mean…”I certainly don’t mean to insult you or make you feel rushed, I just wanted to know if you were aware that it is time to leave.”
Dealing effectively with both your defensiveness and the defensiveness of others will lead to happier, healthier relationships and a lot less “getting even”.
As we discussed in our March Newsletter, we often fail to “Step Up” to accountability discussions even though we know that speaking up can mean the difference between good and bad results, even life and death in some cases. Why is that? Flawed Approaches
It’s usually because we have spoken up in the past and the other person either became defensive or angry or they didn’t change their performance. This was probably because we used one of three flawed approaches.
Female boss pointing a pen at her male employee
Charm We may have attempted to be really nice or charming so that the person would want to change. In other words, we tried to motivate the person to “want” to change to please us.
Push We may have attempted to push or force the person to change by using whatever power or authority that we had. Again we are attempting to motivate the person to change, but this time out of fear.
Neither of these approaches work reliably to change poor performance for the long-term, especially if the reason behind the failure is not a motivation issue. (We will have much more to say about how to determine the “real” reason for the person’s failure in our May & June Newsletter discussions).
Retreat And this leads to the third flawed approach which is to retreat or say nothing because it wouldn’t make any difference anyway. We have tried the “charm” and “push” methods and since neither worked it must be because the person is flawed…..so what is the use. It is now on them to change and if they don’t, then it is their fault, not mine.
Play it S.A.F.E.
Effective redirection of performance - which produces longterm behavior change - is possible and we have broken the process down into four practical steps.
Find a Fix
Ensure the Fix
So let’s look in more detail at how to Step Up and effectively enter that accountability discussion so that you don’t get defensiveness and/or fail to get improvement.
Our Step Up objective is to engage the person at the right time, about the right issue, in the right way, to change the poor performance.
Let’s first address the basics: Who & When and then we will examine How.
Who? The answer: You!
You can redirect anyone if you do it with the right intent (to help the person improve) and in the right way.
When? Our first reaction is to do so immediately, but there may be situations in which you should wait. If the person is doing something that presents an imminent risk (e.g. could cause them to get hurt), then intervene immediately.
Immediate redirection is usually best unless it will distract the person and put them in danger, or unnecessarily put the person on the defensive (when others are watching, for example).
So if there is no imminent danger and the person can’t pay attention or intervention could lead to “loss of face” then you should probably wait until the person can give attention to the discussion without being embarrassed by the conversation.
How? We suggest the use of three skills that will create the right environment and minimize or eliminate defensiveness.
1. State the Problem The problem statement includes two components:
“What the person is doing” & “Why it is wrong”.
When stating what the person is doing it is important to focus on the actions or results, and NOT the person. Your goal is not to blame the person for the failure, thus creating defensiveness, but rather to have a discussion around the behavior/actions that are creating the failure.
Stating why the action is wrong helps the person understand more about the context of their failure.
For Example “You haven’t turned in your report (What) and the company president needs that information for the board meeting in 10-minutes (Why)”.
Notice in this example that there is nothing about “Why” the person is failing. We don’t know that yet, so any reference to it would simply be a “Guess”. Guessing almost always leads to defensiveness and should therefore be avoided. We suggest that you always employ the next skill instead.
2. Stick to the Facts Facts are what you see and hear, and what can be seen and heard by others as well. They are not up for debate.
In the example above, it is a fact that the person either has or has not turned in the report.
It is a verifiable fact that the president needs the information contained in the report.
It is a verifiable fact that the board meeting will begin in 10-minutes.
It is a “Guess” that the person is too lazy to finish the report and suggesting that he is unmotivated would most likely lead to defensiveness.
Stick to the facts and you will have a much better chance of creating an environment that will allow for a calm evaluation of the real cause(s) of the failure when you get to the “Ask” step. However, if you still get defensiveness you can use the next skill to help diffuse it.
3. Use a Do/Don’t Statement We talked about this skill in our March Newsletter discussion of why we tend to avoid intervention discussions in the first place.
Remember, defensiveness is a perceived attack on the person's reputation, dignity, or both.
So when you sense that the person has misunderstood your intent or when you have failed to stick to the facts and made a guess, you can simply state what you 'do' mean and/or what you 'don’t' mean.
For Example “I don’t mean to imply that you are lazy at all, but we do need to get the report to the boss in time for his meeting.”
Remember, our objective is to create a setting where you and the individual can calmly explore why the failure occurred and what can be done to correct it going forward. Eliminating defensiveness is a key to making that happen.
What's the Point?
Once you have "Stepped Up" to the accountability discussion and entered it without creating defensiveness, you are now ready to explore why the failure occurred in the first place.
This requires an understanding of a contextual model of causation which we will explore in our May Newsletter.
Giving feedback to employees is critical for improvement to occur, but effective feedback involves avoiding these four pitfalls.
1. Avoiding feedback all together or waiting too long to give it
Research has demonstrated that feedback that follows immediately after the action will have the biggest impact on the behavior. Immediate negative feedback will weaken unwanted behavior and immediate positive feedback will strengthen behavior. But don't let not being able to give immediate feedback keep you from giving it at all. Later is still better than not-at-all!
2. Over-or under-boarding
Have you ever seen a manager call someone up in front of a group for some success and go on-and-on about the success, totally embarrassing the recipient of the praise? That is what we call "over-boarding" and it should be avoided because the praise actually becomes punishing and has an effect opposite of that which is desired. On the other hand, failing to provide enough feedback for significant success can lead to reduced motivation in the future. For example, you just saved the company $2 million and the boss, in private says, "Hey, thanks." Make it appropriate to the level of success.
3. Blaming the employee for a failure
Blame rarely fixes anything; it usually only de-motivates. Focus on finding the real reason for a failure and fix that. Blame may be quick and satisfying, but it is not effective.
4. Punishing in public
No one likes being "made an example of" or humiliated in front of their peers. Such humiliation leads to "getting even" and employees can be very creative when getting even ... like work slow-downs, fake injuries, bad-mouthing the boss behind his back, or talking bad about the company to potential customers. Negative feedback should always be given in private. There are instances when a witness will be present, but the witness should not be a coworker of the person receiving feedback.
Have you ever failed to hold someone accountable for poor performance? Perhaps it was a server in a restaurant who failed to provide good service. Perhaps it was an employee who didn’t meet stated expectations. If you are like us and the thousands of participants in our Performance Management in the Workplace™ and PerformanceCompass® classes over the last 30+ years, the answer is a resounding “YES”!
So why do we often fail to step up to the conversation needed to hold another person accountable for failure?
Female boss pointing a pen at her male employee
Well, there are probably a lot of reasons, but a research project that we conducted in 2011 sheds a lot of light on a couple of those reasons. Our research project focused on one form of workplace performance failure (unsafe actions), but the results serve as a model for any form of failure in the workplace.
The question that we posed to more than 2,600 employees was, “When you see someone doing something that is unsafe and choose not to intervene in what they are doing, what is usually the reason?”
We asked this question (and several others) to both supervisors and non-supervisors with a negligible response difference between the two groups.
Survey Says? The two primary reasons that respondents gave for not intervening (i.e. not holding the other person accountable) when they see something unsafe:
- The other person would become defensive or angry
- It would not make a difference.
These two reasons indicate a common, underlying problem. Namely, a large number of employees, including supervisors, do not hold others accountable when they see something unsafe because they either are or believe themselves to be incapable of doing so effectively. They do not believe that they can intervene in a way that stops and sustainably changes the other person’s unsafe behavior, while also preserving a respectful working relationship.
Anecdotally, when we ask supervisors in our training classes why at times they don’t step up to hold their employees accountable for other forms of performance failure, they give us the same two reasons.
Reason #1: Defensiveness All of us, at some time, have been defensive and have experienced defensiveness on the part of others. Defensiveness does not occur because of the words that are used, but because of the interpretation of the intent behind the words.
If you, or the other person interpret the intent as an attempt to harm dignity, reputation, or both, then defensiveness is most likely to occur.
Think about it; when you think someone is out to harm your dignity or reputation, don’t you become defensive and either shoot back at the person, or retreat with your feelings hurt? If you do, then you are normal.
The Solution Successfully handling defensiveness in others is critical to having the confidence to step up to accountability conversations. We suggest a simple tool/skill to help you deal with defensiveness and we call it a “do/don’t statement”.
When you sense that the other person has misinterpreted your intent then just clarify what you really intended. For example, “I don’t mean to imply that you are incompetent. I do want to make sure that we get the results that were expected.”
Notice that the order of the “do” and the “don’t” doesn’t really matter as long as you clarify your “real” intent. Of course if your real intent was to harm dignity or reputation, then an apology might be in order.
Reason #2: It would not make a difference Most of the time we don’t speak up because we have failed in our attempt to get improvement before and assume that we will fail again. This is because we have not helped the person “find a fix” for the real cause of their failure.
Stay Tuned We will talk about this in more detail in a future newsletter because there are several skills required to accurately understand the real reason(s) behind the failure and thus find a fix that will create sustained success. For now please understand that there is a simple, easy to use set of skills that will create success in accountability conversations and help create sustained performance improvement in others.
What's the Point?
While there are probably other reasons why we don’t speak up when we observe failure of all types, the two primary reasons both have to do with our doubt that we can either successfully deal with defensiveness or get sustained improvement.
Both of these reasons have associated skills that can predictably lead to success.
As we discussed in our January Newsletter, the first step to Accountability involves an examination of the facts/reasons underlying a specific event/result (accounting). In order for this process to bear fruit, it is important that we accurately and fairly evaluate the causes of the poor performance. To effectively examine the facts/reasons for a specific event/result requires that we understand how our biases could affect that evaluation. This is where Cognitive Biases can come into play. You may be saying to yourself…”I don’t have any biases. What are they talking about?”
Well, the truth is that we are all impacted by biases and much of the time for that matter.
What is a Cognitive Bias?
A Cognitive Bias is anything in our thought process that can distort the way we view things including the actions of another person.
There are a multitude of cognitive biases that have been identified and studied by psychologists, but there are two that directly impact accounting for the actions/results of another person.
One of these is what is called Confirmation Bias or the tendency to search for, interpret, focus on and remember information in a way that confirms one's preconceptions. In other words, we are predisposed to look for causes that confirm what we expect.
This means, for example, that if we are predisposed to view another person as competent, a hard worker and motivated, then we will tend to look for these types of behaviors in that person and also overlook behaviors that are in conflict with our preconception. Additionally, we would be more likely to account for poor performance on the basis of external factors such as lack of resources, lack of support, etc. rather than internal factors such as knowledge, ability or motivation. In other words, we would be likely to conclude that the failure was out of the person’s control.
On the other hand, if we are predisposed to view another person as incompetent, lazy and unmotivated, then we will tend to look for support of this preconception as the cause for failure and perhaps blame the person for the failure.
The Confirmation Bias is the underlying driver for a phenomenon commonly referred to as the Self Fulfilling Prophecy. This phenomenon has been demonstrated through research and personal experience in various environments and is notably reflected in the positive correlation between a supervisor’s expectations of a subordinate and that subordinate's performance.
Low, negative expectations tend to result in poor performance, whereas high, positive expectations tend to result in good performance.
Therefore, how we view an individual not only can color how we evaluate performance, but it can also determine how the individual actually performs. To fairly hold others accountable for failure we must be aware of our predispositions/biases regarding the individual and how we may have contributed to the failure in the first place.
Fundamental Attribution Error
The second Cognitive Bias related to Accountability is called the Fundamental Attribution Error.
Have you ever been driving on a three lane highway, going the speed limit in the right hand lane (left hand lane if you are from the UK) approaching an exit that you are not taking, only to have someone cut dangerously close in front of you to take the exit? What were your thoughts about the person doing the cutting? If you are like most of us you called the person a “jerk” or something worse and honked your horn or gestured “politely”.
You just attributed the other person’s actions to an internal attribute related to carelessness or some other bad motive. In other words, we view the other person as “bad” in some way.
Now, have you ever cut someone off in a similar circumstance when you were needing to get to an exit? If you are like us, and everyone else we have asked this question, then the answer is “yes”!
So why did you do it?
Probably because that “jerk” in the right hand lane wouldn't get out of the way and let you exit. In other words, your poor performance was due to external causes and not your carelessness or bad motive.
This is the Fundamental Attribution Error which says that we tend to attribute internal/motivational causes to the poor performance of others but not to our own poor performance. This cognitive bias can cause us to “jump to the conclusion” that the cause of the poor performance was due to motivation and thus interfere with our complete evaluation of other causes. Failure to accurately evaluate the “real” causes will most likely lead to consequences or corrections that will not lead to success in the future.
What's the Point?
Simply being aware that these two Cognitive Biases exist will help reduce or hopefully eliminate their impact on the accountability process.
As we will discuss in a future newsletter, starting your accounting of poor performance without “guesses” as to the cause(s) will almost always lead to a more accurate evaluation.
How many times have we seen professional athletes come back from serious injury only to perform even better than they did prior to the injury? Think about Minnesota Vikings running back, Adrian Peterson, who suffered a season ending ACL/MCL knee injury on December 26, 2011. Peterson fought back to start in Week 1 of the 2012 NFL season and ultimately finished just nine yards short of breaking Eric Dickerson’s single season rushing record!
There is something about adversity that, for champions, increases desire to succeed rather than desire to give up.
The same is true for highly effective organizations, i.e. they are resilient. They bounce back from significant (even catastrophic) events to resume the same or even better performance than they had prior to the adversity. They use the adversity as a catalyst to innovate and improve.
Break Through or Break Down
Why do some organizations demonstrate resilience while others collapse in the face of adversity? The simple answer to this question is that the resilient have already created a culture based on the characteristics that we have been discussing throughout this 2013 newsletter series. Resilience is not a characteristic that can stand alone, but rather is the result of creating an environment of effectiveness that can not only withstand adversity, but can improve because of it.
Let’s review the other 10 characteristics of an "Effective Organization" in light of what they mean for resiliency.
1. Clearly define and communicate mission, goals, values, and expectations.
- In the face of adversity, resilient organizations stay true to their purpose, but not necessarily to their strategy.
- That is, they find another way to achieve their reason for existence rather than stubbornly adhering to the way they have done it in the past.
- In other words, they innovate.
2. Align all aspects of the organization including people, systems and processes.
- In the face of adversity, resilient organizations re-align the organizational components with the new strategy.
3. Model and develop Facilitative-Relational Leadership throughout the organization.
- Leadership style doesn’t change because of difficulty, rather it becomes even more manifest.
- In the face of adversity, facilitative-relational leaders actively solicit ideas from team members in an attempt to identify the most effective tactics and to increase commitment from those required to implement those tactics.
4. Hold everyone accountable with both positive and negative consequences for results.
- Resilient organizational leaders understand that accountability, not blame is the key to improvement and success.
5. Build a collaborative and empowered environment based upon teamwork.
- Just as in the “good” times, “hard” times require that people work together and make judicious and timely decisions for success.
- Organizations that already have this type of environment are more likely to weather difficult situations.
6. Tolerate appropriate risk taking and learn from both success and failure in an attempt to be innovative.
- Effective organizational leaders understand that while implementing a new or modified strategy there will be risks and that there will be both successes and failures.
- They also understand the need to learn from failure and to celebrate success.
7. Focus on meeting customer expectations and needs.
- Customer focus is essential to success all the time, but especially in the face of adversity.
- Understanding the customer's perception of the organization's response to that adversity is critical to both the development and implementation of the new strategy.
8. Create a culture based on honesty, integrity and mutual respect.
- It goes without saying that trust is the basis for success and organizations that have it are much more likely to succeed in the face of adversity than those who don’t.
9. Identify meaningful measurements and timely feedback.
- Strategy change often requires different measurements to determine how the strategy is working and likewise requires feedback to determine whether change is required moving forward.
10. Insist on open communication throughout the organization.
- It is very easy to become focused when times are tough and to forget to communicate, but resilient organizations are diligent in increasing communication when faced with adversity.
- Leaders understand that failure to communicate will create an environment of “guessing” and much of the time that guessing is wrong and counter productive.
What's the point?
Organizations that are effective in the good times are much more likely to have created a culture that will respond effectively to adversity. There is a good chance that they will become even better because of the adversity. Those organizations that are not effective in the good times will be much more likely to fail when the times get tough.
While it can certainly be argued that revenue is the “life blood” of an organization, it can also be argued that communication is the Central Nervous System (CNS). Just as with the human body, without a functioning CNS the blood will not flow. The CNS (effective communication) creates a connection with every component of a healthy, effective organization and allows the individual components to function as a whole. My physician friends could probably find holes in my analogy, but I think it makes the point that without effective, open and flowing communication throughout the entire organization there will be a higher probability of system failure. Leaders of effective organizations understand the critical importance of open, clear and flowing communication to the success of their organizations and they insist on it.
For 30+ years we have asked our students in both management and communication courses to tell us why they think communication is so important and we always get responses like the following:
- You can’t get good results without it.
- It is central to being both efficient and effective.
- You can’t have a high level of job satisfaction without it.
- It is the key to providing quality products and services.
- It is the key to creating a safe workplace.
- It keeps everyone going in the same strategic direction.
- It is critical to healthy relationships.
- It is critical to happiness.
...just to name a few. The value of open communication has been easy enough for our students to identify, but experiencing those benefits requires intentionality -- at the individual and organizational level.
Hardware & Software
Open communication involves the flow of information between departments and individuals that is required to achieve the results needed for organizational success. To accomplish this, effective leaders put in place the communication hardware needed within the organization. Highly effective organizations also provide the necessary communication software in the form of training to utilize the hardware and to deal effectively with the conflict that can arise in the normal flow of everyday work life.
Effective leaders know that conflict, if handled well, can lead to innovation. They also know that if conflict is not handled well it can lead to organizational failure. They know that when people are not talking, they are usually “guessing” about the intent behind the actions of other people and that those guesses are usually negative and thus conflict producing. So to deal with the conflict before it can create failure, they teach team members to:
- stop the guessing
- ask to determine true intent
- and then resolve the conflict in a mutually beneficial manner.
If you have attended either our SafetyCompass® or PerformanceCompass® training, you will recognize this as the SAFE process for dealing with any form of failure. This applies to dealing with unsafe actions, but it also works when dealing with conflict.
What's the point?
Understanding that our bad guesses can lead to closed communication is the first step to helping to open up communications within an organization. This process is what “open communication” is really all about.
“Respect” does not necessarily mean to admire or even to like the other person, but it does mean to see the other person as worthy of special consideration. Mutual respect therefore means to be considerate of each other as a means of building trust. The primary way that we show respect is through the way that we listen to the other person and the way the other person listens to us. There are four keys to effective listening that impact the perception of respect.
1. Look like you are listening. It has been said that up to 80% of what you communicate about your interest in what the other person is saying is carried by the way you look. This includes appropriate eye contact, facial expression, body posture, arm position, etc. If you don’t look like you are interested and that you are really listening, then the other person is very likely to feel that you aren’t and that is communicated as lack of respect. You may be listening but failure to look like like you are listening is almost always viewed as lack of respect.
2. Ask clarifying questions. One of the quickest ways to demonstrate disrespect is to interrupt the other person with comments or judgement about what they are saying, but interrupting to ask a clarifying question communicates that you are listening and that you care about really understanding what the other person is saying.
3. Paraphrase to demonstrate your desire to understand. Paraphrasing is not repeating back exactly what the person said but rather your understanding of the meaning behind what they said. This, like clarifying questions, indicates that you are interested in truly understanding both the content and intent behind their message and in doing so, it demonstrates respect.
4. Apologize when you are disrespectful or perceived to be disrespectful. Sometimes we say things that are either clearly disrespectful or could be viewed to be disrespectful by the way we said it. In such cases it is appropriate to apologize. We suggest that you use a “do/don’t statement” such as “I am sorry I came across that way. I certainly don’t intend to be disrespectful, and I really do want to make sure that I understand what you are saying.”
If you work in an organization, you have customers. Your coworkers are your “internal” customers and their performance in many instances is dependent on your performance and support.
If you sell anything (product or service), the people who pay you are your “external” customers and their willingness to continue paying you is dependent on their perception of the value that you provide.
Both internal and external customers are important to success and leaders in effective organizations understand this.
Customer service is what you do to meet or exceed customers' expectations in an attempt to create customer satisfaction both internally and externally.
Many of The RAD Group’s external customers are in the service business and everyone of them has a stated objective of providing “service quality” to their customers. When we ask them to define their customers' views of service quality, they often hesitate and say that they really haven’t asked them.
If service quality is a significant component of customer satisfaction, then it would seem that understanding the customers' expectations in this realm would be critical to success.
"Because Knowing is Half the Battle!"
So the first step to customer satisfaction is to understand the customer's expectations, but how?
It’s really pretty simple, Ask and Listen!
The asking part can be done either informally, in conversation with the customer, or formally through surveys. I don’t know about you, but it seems that every time I buy something at a store, the cashier circles a web address for me to complete a customer satisfaction survey for a chance to win something. These organizations know that if they don’t understand what drives me to buy from them, they will have less chance of meeting my expectations and I will most likely take my business somewhere else.
How many times have you been in a restaurant and had your server stop by your table to see if you need anything or if the quality of the food met your expectations. They are simply asking to understand customer expectations. They also know that you feel valued (and consequently more satisfied) when your opinion is valued.
Don't Listen for Validation
The listening part is also really pretty simple, but many times difficult to execute. If your objective is to get validation that what you are doing is correct, you will probably stop listening to criticism and only focus on positive feedback.
Effective organizations know that the opportunity for improvement lies in the criticism and not in the positive feedback. When they get criticism, they take that opportunity to explore even deeper to determine what is causing the failure to meet expectations.
Train Employees to Value Feedback
Effective organizations don’t leave customer service to chance, but rather train employees on how to meet or exceed customer expectations.
At a minimum they teach their employees to be Helpful, Courteous and Knowledgeable. Really effective organizations teach their employees how to monitor customer perceptions through Observation and then how to Ask and Listen.
Deal Effectively with Complaints
Effective organizations also teach employees how to deal effectively with complaints.
They teach them that complaints are simply a symptom of failure to meet expectations and that exploration of the complaint is an opportunity to improve their service or product in the future. This means more success for the individual and for the organization.
What's the point?
Effective organizations don’t stop with simply meeting customer expectations, they “Go the extra mile” and, where possible, attempt to exceed those expectations. But they also understand that exceeding expectations starts with understanding those expectations in the first place.