According to a survey conducted this past month by the American Psychological Association, “Despite uncertainty in the job market, the top reasons working Americans say they stay with their current employers are work-life fit and enjoying what they do…” The report also notes that, “Fewer employees cited concrete reasons for remaining on the job, such as benefits, pay and a lack of other job opportunities.”
What does this mean? David W. Ballard, PsyD, MBA, the head of APA’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program who conducted the study, suggested that, “To engage the workforce and remain competitive, it’s no longer sufficient to focus solely on benefits. Today, top employers create an environment where employees feel connected to the organization and have a positive work experience that’s part of a rich, fulfilling life.”
Keeping employees, and getting their best performance, is consequently a function of understanding and approaching workers in concert with their psychological functioning. It requires an acceptance of what people need and derive from work. This framework of what people need and how they function is the six principles for the people side of business.
When employers pay attention to the needs of their employees, help them find the right fit in the company, and care about work/life balance they create an atmosphere where people not only feel connected, they take ownership of their work and the company mission. When employees want to stay, they are more likely to creatively solve problems, build the company, and participate in teams. They need less supervision and operate more autonomously. And, satisfied workers who stay save the incredible cost of new hires and their associated training needs and learning curve.
Attending to the people side of business is not just a nice thing to do for your employees; it is what creates the dynamism and performance of a successful company. The survey confirms it.
Tom DeMaio, PhD
A number of years ago Lee Hersch and I began working to coalesce the consulting ideas we regularly share with business people. We found that as psychologist consultants there were “fundamental” notions we kept repeating through each consultation process.
We also realized that we were talking about the third domain of organizational excellence. Almost everyone we worked with was a specialist in business and in their unique product or trade. Few of those same business people had trained in how to effectively manage and lead the key component of their business – their people.
So, we have constructed a kind of psychological primer for business people. It contains what we believe to be the six essential psychological principles needed to manage and lead. The principles are based on the notion of accepting the way humans are designed and building systems that work with that design. People need to be nurtured, tend to work from a family-like perspective, and should be encouraged to develop and grow. They also need limits, guiding rules, and rewards – structure – to produce at peak performance. Utilizing these principles requires that one manage with a balance of support and structure. Finally, managers and leaders must appreciate that there are differences among people in how they respond to support and structure.
To convey the principles in context, and to provide a case vignette, we constructed an engaging story about a new CEO. He realizes that there are personnel problems in his organization and must learn the six principles to solve them. The book is filled with work characters you see every day in your workplace.
The book is now available through Amazon and other fine retailers.
Tom DeMaio, PhD
Sounds odd, but not all employers appreciate individual differences among their workers. What do we mean by that? Well, too often employers want their workers to fit the mold, to do their jobs in a particular manner, and, well, to be interchangeable. On many levels this makes sense, especially if you want to deliver a product with consistency.
It is just that people at work are unique, quirky, and like to be thought of as special. It is the way people are. Consequently it only makes sense to accept this fact, embrace it, and honor individuality. Luckily, appreciating individual differences in your employees brings a host of rather positive consequences.
The People Side of Business, our book about understanding people in the workplace, proposes six psychological principles. The sixth of which is that Individuals are Different from One Another. Appreciating individual differences makes the implementation of all the other principles possible. One cannot truly accept and nurture people, build family and support growth, unless you like people the way as they were designed in their own unique way.
Nurturing employees depends on accepting individuality. You can’t just walk around saying you care for everyone interchangeably. People feel cared about because you recognize something in or about them. You have to see their uniqueness in some way. Then you can acknowledge “Betty”, the most special assistant in accounting, or “Sally”, who tries harder than everyone. People hate feeling like worker #283, who should produce reports that look the same as others.
People like to be recognized for something special about themselves. “Bob always has a spring in his step. We need that around here.” Otherwise they experience their work world as a place where they are not needed and where they don’t make a contribution.
When people feel appreciated for who they are, they are proud, more confident, and think more creatively. It takes nerve to express oneself through problem-solving on a team or through suggesting organizational changes. You want people to feel safe so they can fully contribute. Appreciating them in some special individual manner helps make that more possible.
Tom DeMaio, PhD
As a psychologist/business consultant I get to see how most of us are more comfortable finding and working with people who are similar to ourselves. “Hey, he thinks like me!” It makes it all so easy. But it is the differences between us that can be a tremendous source of work pleasure and problem-solving dynamism.
Our social networks are populated with similar, like us, friends. You know: similar values, politics, hobbies, or work endeavors. But in the workplace it is a learned skill to appreciate and utilize the differentness in others.
A few years ago I was asked to consult with a service delivery team. They all had essentially the same job: they needed to supervise a group of employees providing probation services to teenagers. Problem was that they were very different people expected to perform alike. One supervisor was stricter about the rules for his workers and the kids they managed. One had a unique gift for understanding others and counseling them about problems. And the third of the group was considered slightly obsessive; he focused on the reports and procedures expected of his staff. These collective differences were driving the Director batty (and tending to have her favor the “counselor”).
Personally I thought I’d been placed on the set of the Wizard of Oz. Could these guys be the cowardly lion, the tin man, and the scarecrow? Well, real or not, I knew it took all three of those guys to get Dorothy to Oz.
I set out to build a true team of all four in the leadership group. With prompting, each committed to appreciating the perspective of the others, and each agreed to learn skills from the others. One supervisor shared his long history of what techniques worked with kids, including the need for strong structure (probation rules). The second supervisor focused on developing the supportive (counseling) skills needed by everyone in the organization. And the third supervisor kept everyone reminded of the technical requirements of the system for reports, planning, and organization.
Individual differences are essential in the workplace. They bring the variety of perspectives and skills needed to accomplish a complex work task. Learn to utilize these differences and you won’t find yourself in Oz anymore.
Tom DeMaio, PhD
Creating a strong and vibrant organization requires a willingness and diligence to measure the work product. Every person’s effort needs to relate to the goals and success of the organization. Measure, measure, measure.
Obvious, right? Every business book talks about accountability to the outcomes of the organization. Oddly enough, my consulting experience indicates that it is a common weakness in many organizations. There are often measures of aspects of the work (like the cost), but not always the kinds of measurements that answer the real questions about whether the team is doing the right thing in the right way.
One reason for a failure to measure is avoidance related to fears underlying measurement. Workers are often worried that measurement will show a failure at performing their job. You know, kind of like getting a grade at school. Unfortunately grading systems in school tend to be used to rank kids rather than help them improve areas of study. Measurement doesn’t have to be about ranking or failure. It can be the greatest feedback for improving one’s work.
Another common reason for failing to measure is the misperception that it is a pain in the hind quarters. It can be seen as getting in the way of production. Measuring does take some energy to devise the systems and then to maintain them. The payoff is enormous.
Profit-making companies do measurement best. In the end they know if they are making a profit or not. This “end” measure spurs them on to look at efficiencies and at customer satisfaction. Non-profits, governmental offices, and educational institutions all need metrics. How well are we serving the public? Are we using public dollars efficiently? Are our faculty members productive in terms of research and teaching? These are hard questions to answer, but they require creative effort to quantify and determine success at goals. And, just about anything can be measured.
Now, measurement in itself is not accountability. Measurement is the necessary condition for accountability. It need not turn into grading employees. It is an essential way to know that people are succeeding at what they are trying to accomplish, and, in turn, having those accomplishments produce a successful organization. Like other aspects of structure, it also matters how you implement your measurement systems.
Tom DeMaio, PhD
While the guiding premise for communications in the workplace is that they are aimed at implementing the six people principles, communications processes should be structured throughout the organization. Okay, that’s a mouthful, what do I mean?
Almost everywhere I have consulted we have examined the communication process in terms of how often it occurs and how it is structured. Staff meetings typically take place on a regular basis, be it weekly or monthly. Regularity is critical because it establishes predictability for processing work and managing interpersonal process. The meetings also have a standard flow or agenda that helps everyone move through the business at hand. Of course, this includes not just the actual technical business, but also the support elements of taking care of people.
As essential as the transaction of business is the provision of support to staff. It is this component generally not seen as critical to the ongoing well-functioning of the team. Meetings are an opportunity for management and leadership to check in with the team, build a sense of family, and cull for personal issues floating around. For example, too often there are rumors or hearsay that creep into the group. These need clarification, correction, or denial. Oddly enough, all work groups seem to spontaneously generate “emotional stuff” (worries, concerns, or feared consequences).
There are whole books written on conducting a useful and successful meeting. In short I encourage meetings to be brisk and move through needed topics. Meetings should generally start with a brief support message (as explained in my previous post on communication sandwiches). Next would be what I call the “administrivia” portion of the meeting. These are the announcements, informational details, and reminders; they are like condiments on the meat. It is better to get them out of the way as soon as possible. In the meat section of the meeting is the hard technical business (“how do we meet our quarterly goals” or “how do we refine this process”). Finally, the meeting concludes with support.
That final support section can (and often should) be extended, especially if the work business is accomplished quickly. “How is the team getting along?” “Does anyone have a concern about our teaming they’d like to bring up?” “We have a new team member, maybe we could hear from Julie about how she got here?” “Are there topics for our next meeting?”
Communications works best when they feel natural and not formulaic or scripted. When they happen regularly staff gets a chance to participate in developing the organization and to process any personal issues related to that work. Communications are the essential tool for building a work team that functions comfortably and with personal satisfaction.
Tom DeMaio, PhD
The guiding premise for communications in the workplace is that they are aimed at implementing the six people principles. That is, the purpose is to provide support and structure for the employees. Communication must be intended to nurture, build a family-like environment, and offer opportunities for growth. It also should reinforce the structure needed to accomplish the work; not just defining policies and procedures, but clarifying outcomes.
The communication process might be thought of as a sandwich. The bread on both sides is supportive, with the center filling or meat being structure. Here’s how it looks. The communications between manager and employee should generally start with a greeting or a check in, or some sort of personal connection. At a minimum there is a “hello”, or a “how are things”, or a “nice to see you.” It might include an “I’d like to cover these topics, do you have something?” These comments make a personal connection that optimizes human receptivity for the discussion about the tasks of work.
The center of the sandwich is the meat of the conversation. “Let’s look at these technical processes together,” or “I need some changes to the report you gave me.” This part of the conversation is the business at hand. It is focused on what needs to happen for the organization to succeed.
Not to squeeze the metaphor too hard, but the bread is always personal, and the meat is generally impersonal. When going over the business at hand, you are never judgmental or derogatory about the person. It is all focused on the needs of the business. You are not critical of the person, but you may express the need for the work product to change.
The communication interaction or meeting closes with some form of personal connection. It can be as simple as “great” or “good luck” or “nice talking with you.” One of the best examples of this type of ending occurred weekly on Hill Street Blues, a show about the work of an inner city police precinct. At the end of every assignment meeting, before sending his men into duty, the Sergeant would invoke, “Hey, let’s be careful out there!” Now, there’s a meeting end that communicates the importance of its members.
Great leaders know how to put these sandwiches together. Buon appetito!
Tom DeMaio, PhD