5 Reasons to Cut Your Employees Some Slack.

Remember the first time you were in charge?

Someone promoted you to supervisor or lead or manager or Chief French Fry Cooker. You were then Chief PooPaw and everyone had to bow to your desires. You promised to make sure that everyone on your watch had their nose to the grindstone! And you, the Chief, would squeeze your direct reports to death to make sure you had the greatest productivity.

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Not so fast.

There is recent evidence that holding the reigns too tightly on your employees might be the worst thing you can do for their productivity. Happy employees make for more productive employees and, in turn, more profitable businesses. I’m not suggesting you have a daily corn hole tournament but cutting your employees some slack might just get you that next promotion. Validation and empowerment are the secret sauce to success. Don’t you want to be acknowledged for your efforts and know that you can make a difference? So do your employees.

So what are the reasons? Here they are:

1. Short breaks actually rejuvenate employees to be more productive. This was found in a study at Baylor University. Emily Hunter and Cindy Wu looked for ways to enhance breaks. The employees who were studied who completely left their work (i.e. not multi-tasking) and were permitted to use their time to engage in activities like social networking or meeting with friends’, experience greater recovery. I knew a manager who unilaterally I outlawed breaks. Anecdotally, I found that her employees were less productive, called in sick more and generally had lower morale. Make sure your employees have time for breaks.

2. Give employees autonomy. This is one of the main drivers from Daniel Pinks’ book, Drive. From the age of two, you exercised the right to say “No.” Your employees have the same need. They want to be able to choose. And being able to choose means being able to say, “Yes or No.” I’m not talking about insubordination. I’m saying that if your assistant wants to do the report in Access versus Excel, give him the autonomy to decide. When your employee decides on the best avenue for success, they will have been brought in and make sure it’s a success.

3. Stay away from working lunches. Employees are most restored when they actually get out of the building. Staying at one’s desk and plodding through some project will invariably lead to poor quality. Even thirty minutes outside of work can help you focus better when you return. Some employees may feel like they have to work at their desk during lunch from a work culture standpoint. Be the manager who is making sure that Jane has left her desk for lunch. As a consequence, you will get better quality end products from Jane.

4. Give your employees the tools to be more productive. I have facilitated Franklin Covey’s 5 Choices to Extraordinary Productivity. After learning how to fully utilize Microsoft Outlook in the class, employees reported being 50% more productive and the main reason was how they used Microsoft Outlook. With a clear understanding of how to use the Outlook tools (there are hundreds), I can tell you that when they reported back to me sequentially after 5 weeks, 2 months and 4 months they were much less stressed out. Who do you think is more productive? A stressed out employee or a knowledgeable, trained employee? Right.

5. Understanding the SCARF model. As developed by David Rock, the SCARF (Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness) model shows that when an employee is in the same room as their boss, they immediately have a fear reaction. Fear is not good when it comes to productivity. Your employee is in the back of their head or in their “lizard” brain as it is frequently referred to. You want to make sure that you have your employee working in the front of their brain or the prefrontal cortex. This means you need to make clear instructions and then get out of the way. The more you pester or micromanage, the worse your employee will do.

I have found in my career as a manager that, the most difficult thing is to get your manager to loosen the reigns on employees. I hear manager’s say that “if you want it done right, do it yourself”. Not delegating in the long run is a career killer. Empowered employees end up making you look good. Loosen the reigns and watch everyone grow. What has been your experience?

You Aren’t a Doctor, Those Are Not Your Monkeys

You’ve worked for bosses like this. They dole out all the advice. They tell you precisely how to do everything; never let you make a decision. They keep your hands tied tight so that you don’t make a move without permission. When you do take a chance and make a small decision, they slap your hands so it never happens again. Your motivation drops and essentially, you give up and stay at your job, waiting for the next edict to come your way or the next prescription to be written by your boss. They aren’t really doctors but they play them at work.those are not your monkeys

So think about it. Where are you prescribing to the people in your life? “Honey, can you mow the lawn before it gets too hot out?” “Suzie that work around is ridiculous, do it this way.” “You should use Excel, it’s much faster and ask Joe for help.” Sounds harmless. You’re just getting things done. But how do the people on the other end of that exchange feel? Perhaps more robot than human. “I don’t get paid to think. I’ll just sit here and wait for the next set of orders. I wonder what’s happening on Facebook.” Yep. Checked out.

So how to stop prescribing? Here are some ideas.

Ask for help in solving the problem. This is part of the essential skills suggested by Development Dimensions International (DDI). When you ask for help people feel more confident, more empowered. I know this requires a bit of vulnerability. You’re thinking, “But I’m the boss. I will look weak if I ask for HELP.” Help is not a four letter word. OK, it is but it’s not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of engaging your employees. Who would you rather work for or with? A prescriber or an empowerer? Make sure you ask for help.

If humanly possible, use your employee’s idea. Why is that? Buy in. Whose idea do you think that employee is going to bust their tail to make sure it works? That’s right, their idea. “OK Suzie, so you think Access is the better route for using this data?” Suzie will jump hoops to make sure Access is the right software for the data. If the whole idea seems too expensive or will take too long, be sure to use a piece of their suggestion. Maybe they know an internal resource that can help with the project. Use your employee’s idea. And be the team player you want them to be.

Don’t remove responsibility. When I teach this concept in workshops, I refer to the responsibility as “monkeys”. So when you are done with the conversation who is responsible for the care and feeding of the monkey going forward? If you look up on your shoulder and there is a monkey sitting there, be sure to clearly delegate that monkey back to your coworker or direct report. It doesn’t mean you don’t check in on the monkeys to make sure they are clean and fed. They aren’t sitting on your back. Clearly keep the responsibility with your coworker.

Share thoughts, feelings and rationale. This is another caveat from DDI. When a doctor prescribes you medication, you want to know why the heck you are taking it. What’s in it for me? In an organization, this means over communicating. Constantly. By all means necessary. As I tell my Human Resource students at Duke University, Human Resources is in charge of the communication piece. So if there is a new corporate strategy, tell them, email them, call them, and meet with them. Over and over and over again. Everyone will stay in lock step if they all know the mission. Share the rationale. If something does inadvertently get prescribed they are much more likely to follow through.

As Daniel Pink wrote in his book, Drive, “Harnessing the power of intrinsic motivation rather than extrinsic remuneration can be thoroughly satisfying and infinitely more rewarding”. An employee who is being engaged and allowed to direct their own ship is far more motivated and successful. Don’t dampen that spirit so that you can have the last word “as the boss”. Put your prescription pad away.

The Engagement Wizard

I think so many businesses, in today’s economy, figure employees “should be happy they have a job.” The truth is that, according to Inc. magazine, 70% of your employees are job hunting. They might smile and nod and laugh at your jokes, and at night they are on CareerBuilder and asking for recommendations on LinkedIn.  Their resumes are up to date and they are ready to jump ship at the first sign of a decent paying job. They aren’t just looking for more money; they want a place that encourages engagement.  As Dan Pink espouses in his book Drive, “autonomy, mastery and purpose” are the ingredients for the Engagement Wizard. Engagement Wizard

The Engagement Wizard is the secret to holding onto those employees who are phoning it in while they search for greener, autonomous pastures. It is far better to employ some engagement tactics to hold onto your veteran employees than to search out a perceived better fit. I realize that some folks are too far gone to turn around and they are the poison in the kool-aid.  Employing a few tactics to create engagement for those who are salvageable, is well worth the effort when you figure that turnover can cost you anywhere from 50 to 200 % of the positions salary (and the replacements likely to cost you 10 to 20% more that the incumbent anyway).

So what are the techniques of the Engagement Wizard? Here are a few:

1. Thumb.  Quit keeping your employees tightly under your thumb.  It’s time to loosen the reigns.  As Dan Pink said at a recent conference, no one ever said “my favorite boss was the guy who breathed down my neck”.  People leave bosses.  If you are dictating an employee’s every movement and deed and watching the clock to make sure they are constantly at the grind stone, your employee will not be engaged. Loosen up your thumbs.

2. Don’t prescribe.  You should not view yourself as the doctor who is prescribing all the answers.  As Liz Wiseman said in her book “Multipliers”, you want to shift from being the Tyrant who has all the answers to the Liberator who is listening.  Listen; don’t talk.  This encourages the autonomy that Dan Pink prescribes.  If your employee is thinking for themselves, they are happier.  If you don’t believe me, tell your partner how to make the bed.  See how that goes over; and if they ever make the bed again.  Don’t prescribe.

3. Learning.  One of the downfalls in the recent economy is the slashing of training budgets.  We keep the Sales and Marketing budget status quo, and cut the non-essential training and development budget.  This, especially for Millennials, is a bad idea.  Employees, who have a “Growth Mindset” as espoused by Carol Dweck, are constantly looking to learn new skills.  “The Investor” as written by Liz Wiseman is the leader who is investing in resources for their team.  Encourage learning so that your employees are gaining “Mastery”.

4. Monkeys.  Delegate the monkey (as in task, project or duty) and check up on their care and feeding.  Leaders need to delegate and give ownership to their team.  This is another trait of Wiseman’s “The Investor”.  You can’t develop Pink’s “Mastery” without letting go of the monkeys.  This doesn’t mean you aren’t responsible for checking in on the monkeys, however you shouldn’t be the one filling the water dish.  Delegate the monkeys.

5. Big Picture.  Does your team know the big picture?  Jon Gordon at a recent conference suggested handing out 3 X 5 cards to all your employees and asking what the purpose of the company was.  What would your team answer?  We all need to know the purpose of the organization for which we work.  It is much easier to align with an organization and be engaged when we know what the purpose it.  If you answer, “To make money”, your team is not engaged.  Make sure they know the Big Picture.

6. Non-Commissioned Work.  One of the best examples of how effective autonomy is to creating better outcomes was a study that Pink refers to in his book “Drive”.  They found that in a blind evaluation (they didn’t know which art work was commissioned versus non-commissioned) paintings that were commissioned (i.e. I want it to match my couch, I want flamingos and it needs to be 6 feet wide) were of less quality and creativeness as opposed to non-commissioned work.  So make sure your team has some time to just create instead of keeping them “in the box.”  It’s not practical to have all non-commissioned work all the time, however some time left to one’s own devices is critical to engagement.

Once you’ve found your magic wand, get out of the way.  You will be amazed at what folks can do if they are given the freedom to find their own path.   Find your Engagement Wizard and start waving the magic wand.

Carrot or Stick?

How do we get people to fall in line?  Is it best to use a carrot (incentive plan, appreciation or chocolate cake) or a stick (“you’re grounded”, late payment fees or speeding tickets).  As Daniel Pink outlined in his book “Drive”, it can be a puzzling question.  There is a study outlined in a book done by Dan Ariely where three different groups in India were given tasks to do in a same period of time but they were compensated at three different rates.  The equivalent of $.50 (a day’s pay), $5 (two weeks pay), or $50 (five months pay).  The group at $.50 and $5 were comparable in results but the $50 group underperformed! More compensation had the opposite affect.  Those who receive the larger amount of incentive actually perform slower.  This really doesn’t seem to make sense.  Wouldn’t more money mean more output? Wouldn’t 5 months pay drive performance in an underdeveloped  country?  It didn’t. Carrot or Stick

I was in training at a “Telling Ain’t Training” workshop taught by Harold Stolovich.  In one of the sections of the training, we all did a Boggle challenge with 16 letters to use to make as many 3 letter+ words as possible.  On my page, it stated that “You have 3 minutes to make at least 20 words of 3 letters or more.  People at your level usually obtain this result.” Half the group had this instruction, the other half did not have it.  I was in the group that had the expectation that I would be able to make at least 20 words.  My brain locked up!  The expectation for performance shut my brain down.  The group that didn’t have the expectation of 20 words out-performed my group. So how do we go about motivating people?  How do we get them to perform in a maximum way?

Here are some tips to drive performance:

1. Simple.  If the job is simple, the carrot will work.  If it doesn’t take creativity, imagination or analysis, then use the carrot.  I have a very weak stomach.  If someone says their kid is throwing up at home, I immediately feel queasy.  I inform you of this because once my beloved dog got sick in the middle of our living room.  I went to my purse and took out a twenty dollar bill, gave it to my son and said “Take care of it.”  Simple and straight forward.  Telling him to clean it or be grounded, would not have worked. There are times when a carrot will work.

2. Pain.  There are some things that require pain to drive performance.  Pain generally will work if the result is immediate and is obvious.  If there is going to be a painful result, such as a late fee, or loss of use of a cell phone (oh no!) and the person knows that will be the result of paying the bill late or staying out past midnight; it will drive performance.  I implemented a wellness program some 4 years ago in which the penalty was up to $200 more per month additional for health insurance premiums.  We had 100% participation.  Most other wellness programs with a reward attached were considered successful with 30% participation.  Pain works in the right situations.

3. Autonomy.  Most of us want to decide for ourselves what we are going to do today.  Micro managers who dictate every “dot of an i and cross of a t”, in the long run actually diminish performance.  I can assure you that if I come in the house and tell my son to clean his room “right this instant”, I am not likely to have a great outcome.  But, if I say, “I’d like your room cleaned.  Can you get it done by 6PM when your grandparents arrive?” the outcome will likely be better.  Now my son understands the rationale and is given the latitude to decide when and how he will get it done.  Autonomy sparks performance.

4. Time Warp.  I get my best work done early in the morning after I have mediated, eaten and exercised.  My daughter gets her best work done in the afternoon and rarely is well rested.  My son is a night owl.  His peak performance could be from 8PM until 2 AM.  Here is the problem.  Many bosses, teachers and organizations want you to work a certain set of hours….or else! So what are we giving up in creativity and performance by shoe horning folks into certain hours.  Find your (or your employee’s) best time warp.

There is a time and place for all carrots, sticks and autonomy.  They all don’t work for all situations.   If you want to drive the best performance, you might want to try out a few of these ideas to see if you can move the needle on performance.