Great Leaders Make Time For Their People
By Roshan Thiran
A school teacher one day spots a scribbled paper of her son and suddenly gets emotional. Her husband, who had just walked in, saw her crying and asked why. She quickly shows her husband the essay and asks him to read it. The husband reads it thinking it is an homework assignment of one of her students. The essay goes as follows:Dear God, Grant me a favour. Please make me into a television. I want to take the place of the TV in my house and I want to have my family around ME. To be taken seriously when I talk. I want to be the centre of attention and be heard without interruptions or questions. I want to receive the same special care that the TV receives even when it is not working. I want to have the company of my dad when he arrives home from work, even when he is tired. And I want my mom to want me when she is sad and upset, instead of ignoring me. I want my brother and sister to fight to be with me. I want the whole family just to spend some time with me. And lastly, I want to make my family all happy and entertain them, just like the TV. Please grant me this wish to be a TV.
At that moment the husband paused and said, “Poor kid! What horrible parents he has!’ The wife looked up at him and said, “That essay is our son’s work!” Many businesses are just like this family who care more about their TV sets than their kids. Many businesses have leaders who hardly spend time with their employees and are shocked and surprised when their top talent leave their organisations. Just like the frustrated kid lacking attention, care and focus, your top employees similarly crave your attention, care and focus.
A Conference Board survey reported 55 percent of workers are unhappy with their jobs and bosses. Another study finds that “two out of three employees would rather work elsewhere” as they were disappointed, especially with their boss’ lack of care. This is alarming as most organisations rely heavily on their people than on any other resource. In the old world, employees needed the company far more than the company needed the employee.
But today, many employees know far more than their bosses do and you need to have an engaged, committed workforce to succeed. Jack Welch, voted Manager of the Century, understood the value of engaging with his workforce. He spent more than 40 percent of his time internally with his people–teaching them, reviewing his people, talking to them, and even learning from them. And even though he was always busy with the chores of being a CEO, he never missed his teaching sessions or his employee roundtable sessions.
At Leaderonomics, we’ve realised that the relationship with our talent is a strategic alliance and that our top performers can leave the company anytime. But we know it’s the nonmonetary benefits that keep them. At the heart of the matter, most people stay if they are engaged. And these four basic engagement steps will ensure your employees (and your family too!) is engaged to achieve your goals:
- Know Me
- Focus Me
- Care For Me
- Grow Me
Bill George in Authentic Leadership says, “The capacity to develop close and enduring relationships is the mark of a leader. Unfortunately, many leaders of major companies believe their job is to create strategy, organisational structure and processes. Then they just delegate the work to be done, remaining aloof from the people doing the work.” Getting to know your employees– their goals, their pressure points, what excites them and their strengths–is critical to great leadership. Don’t patronise or pry on your staff but show your interest in their well being and enable them to feel fulfilled. Every good leader knows employees want to feel valued. Know what is important to your staff and show your people you value them. Walmart is the world’s largest retail store and yet have maintained a sense of “family” through clear channels of communications including frequent store visits by senior leaders.
Employees need your time to focus them on essential work. Many times, frustrations in the workplace are due to unclear directions and expectations. In fact, employees constantly feel overwhelmed when management unwittingly deems every initiative as urgent and important. Leaders need to focus their employees by keeping things simple and direct. When employees know their priorities and what they should spend their time on, they achieve desired outcomes and are engaged by their success. At Google every Friday, Larry, Sergio and Eric (3 key leaders at Google) spend time with employees answering their questions and helping people focus on priorities. It is not hard to help people prioritise and focus but it can only happen if you spend quality time with your people.
Care For Me
Indra Nooyi, CEO of Pepsi, played lead guitar in a rock band, plays cricket, and sings karaoke at corporate gatherings. She hails from Madras and worked as a receptionist once. Former Pepsi CEO Reinemund, notes that her secret to success is that “she is a deeply caring person” who “can relate to people from the boardroom to the front line.” She told the BBC that she calls her mother in India twice a day. “At the end of the day,” said Nooyi, “don’t forget that you’re a person, don’t forget you’re a mother, don’t forget you’re a wife, don’t forget you’re a daughter.” And she makes sure everyone in her organisation is similarly caring. Peter Drucker loved to study volunteer organisations where the key to attracting volunteers is about showing care and gratitude. Even if a volunteer achieves something trivial, praise is heaped, engaging the volunteer to do more. We should do likewise with our employees. Instead we hear comments disengaging comments when someone performs well like, “So what – isn’t that what he gets paid for?” You can also show care by being brutally honest with your employees. Engagement expert Jim Haudan claims leaders must tell the truth, enabling trust. Haudan adds, “Telling the truth conveys that leaders understand the predicament our people are in, in such an empathetic way it creates a connection to go forward.” The key to caring for your employees is to create a bond with them. They must feel an emotional bond to you and the organisation. Achieving results through relationships brings higher returns than just managing the bottom line.
Growing your employee means growing your business. In First Break all the Rules, Buckingham and Coffman said, “What should you do to speed up a person’s progress? Great manages would offer you this advice: Focus on each person’s strengths and manage around his weaknesses. Do everything you can to help each person cultivate his talent. Help each person become more of who (they) already are.” Enabling employees to acquire new competencies requires your time and attention. Your role is to keep pushing them out of their comfort zones, which may seem contrary to engagement myths stating you need to be nice to employees all the time. Research proves beyond a doubt that the best companies retain their employees by pushing them to growth. P&G, HSBC, Shell and GE all practice job rotations to ensure employees are always challenged to learn and grow.
Ideas for Engagement
Here are my top 10 practical engagement opportunities:
- Know each employees’ contribution to your organisation and let them know you know
- Constantly reward your best performers even if it’s just a pat on the back or recognition. We tend to neglect high performing employees that don’t need much managing.
- Bonding with them. Allow open and honest communications
- Create a great workplace – learn from Google or check out ideas for fun workplaces at http://leaderonomics.com/lifeatleaderonomics
- Listen to their ideas
- Treat direct reports as you would like to be treated yourself.
- Explore flexible work practices
- Challenge your employee constantly (also helps as they will not have time to update their resumes with all the challenges you throw their way!)
- Keep asking your employee for advice on how best to retain them. They will give you some great ideas.
- Implement mentoring and learning programme
Employees’ level of engagement is directly related to the relationship employees have with their immediate manager. People don’t leave companies, they leave managers. Remember, the way you treat your employees, is the way they will treat your customers. As Bill Marriott says, ““Take great care of your people, they’ll take great care of your customers, and your customers will come back and back and back.” So, start your journey to becoming an engaging leader. It’s easy–simply spend time with your employees. If the Jack Welch had time to know, focus, care and grow his people, you need to make time for your people too.