Push-ups to Push-downs.

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Push-ups are for treats!pushup

One of my most memorable childhood treats was orange sherbet push-ups. I can still envision those pops with the plastic push sticks and the plastic bottom. Of course the plastic bottom was good for licking at the end! A paper covering with colored circles surrounded the orange sherbet that made for the tasty sweet treat.  Today, I’ve replaced Push-up pops with the push-up exercise, but I never lost my taste for orange sherbert.

Push-downs are for opportunity and growth.

At work, I prefer push-downs. I prefer to push decision making down to employees that are valued not only for their knowledge and skills but for their customer service and relationship skills as well. These are the employees closest to producing tangible output and closest to direct customer interactions. I use the word ‘prefer’ because I know there are pros and cons of decentralized versus centralized decision making. Decentralization doesn’t work best for all things (i.e. culture, philosophy, values). But a decentralized approach allows employees the opportunity to own the customer experience. That means opportunity for employee growth and a closer relationship to the company’s customers.

So push-up for strength and conditioning. But push-down for opportunity and growth.

Onward and upward!

Straight talk on developing employees

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Employee development can be easy to overlook during the flow of normal business activities. I’m guilty of this as much as anyone because I get so busy running the business that giving thought to employee development becomes secondary. I’ve seen many managers compensate for this by compartmentalizing employee development into training. That’s easy. Set aside some training dollars. Set aside a week. Go develop your skills.

But employee development is better executed as an *ongoing* part of a business rather than an event.

Training and skills enhancement is a piece of employee development, but the bigger whole is in the day-to-day run. When I made this connection I started to think about how I conduct the day-to-day departmental operations in my group. Am I developing employees? Do I create an environment that promotes and supports development?

Managing business employees has parallels to managing sports teams. Sports coaches prepare their players for games by providing time for skills improvement as well as game time strategy. When the time comes to play the game, the manager watches from the sidelines while the players execute the plan. The manager calls adjusted plays based on events of the game. But the players must execute. Managers of business should be functioning with the same type of mentality. They don’t execute the business plan, but they train and prepare the employees to execute the plan.

So as I thought it, there are several recurring situations each week that provide opportunities for me to develop employees (and develop myself!). The primary principle that drives how I approach these situations is that employees are motivated and developed through challenges when they execute the plays for themselves.

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Situation #1 – An employee comes to my office to talk about a new problem.

Translation, someone or something has done something unexpected. We need to react, adjust, or execute plan B. The first thing to do in this case is to stop what I’m doing to listen. That means stop typing on the computer or even to get up from my chair to remove all other distractions. It means I should be engaging with the employee to discuss. But it does not mean that I should inherit the problem resolution. To develop the employee and to respect their level of responsibility, the goal is for the employee to leave with a plan or an approach to resolve the issue.

Situation #2 – Approaching a skilled technical employee about the game plan.

Approaching highly technical employees can be tricky. They’re a different breed and can be temperamental. My approach for this is to first always acknowledge that the employee knows more than I do about the technology set. They are the expert.I let them know that we need to discuss and I need their guidance for options and recommendations for a solution. This accomplishes two things. First, it shows a level of respect and helps the employee to feel valued and engaged. Second, it provides an opportunity for me to share the business drivers for the technology solution. Together, we work towards a plan of action and solution.

Situation #3 – Share and discuss departmental metrics with employees.

I share company metrics and department metrics with employees to create awareness, discussion, and involvement. If there is a key metric that is below desirable levels then changing that metric is not something I do alone. It takes the full team working to correct it. Employees *are* concerned about the health of the business. One way to provide development, is to involve them in the results and plans that affect the health metrics. That’s business acumen development and something that all employees need.

The Indispensable

Every organization has them.Indispensable

You know who they are. It’s that group of tenured and embedded employees that keep the company moving operationally. These aren’t the visionaries and they wouldn’t necessarily be linked with taking the company to next level. But this group of people understand the current business inside-and-out. They know the products. They know the customers. They know the company processes. They know the company systems.

This group of people elicit conflicting opinions from management. They are often criticized for being single points of failure and unwilling to share their knowledge area.  Some have even labeled them grumpy (aren’t we all at times?). But yet, this is the group that many have also labeled as indispensable. I’ve heard quotes like, “We would be in big trouble if <insert name> were not here” and “If <insert name> leaves the company then we’ll go down”. They are considered necessary for the health and well being of the company.

But what’s the real value with the indispensable?

The real value with the indispensable employee is not the knowledge in their head. That can be replaced, in time, with others. Knowledge of key systems is not a gift that others can’t obtain. The real value is that this group of employees chooses to care enough about their job to completely immerse themselves into it. They understand how processes and equipment connect products and services to people. They don’t box themselves into a job description. They don’t see their time spent at work as merely a job. These people see the work day as an opportunity to satisfy their passion and to make their art. Others see it too. That’s why they become the “go to” employees.

Think about it. This group of people don’t complain about salaries, job descriptions, or office politics. They are more concerned with output and keeping the operations of the company moving. The indispensable employees are problem solvers. They don’t count effort by hours, rather they see results as the goal and are willing to do the work.

Being indispensable is not an individual person or group of people. Indispensable is a set of actions and attitudes.

Who wants it?

Make it happen. Get started everyday. Find that the goal is more important than set rules and frameworks. Be willing to immerse and embed within the business. Become indispensable through positivity, immersion, and service.

Employee engagement through connection and meaning

It’s true. I do still read print newspaper. It’s not so much by effort as it is by convenience and simplicity. I receive a subscription to the Gwinnett Daily Post as free benefit of continuing to pay Charter Communications a small ransom each month for cable TV.  The paper covers local news for the county I live in and picks up some AP stories for national news. What I like about it is it’s small and something I can scan quickly for news of interest to me.

This past Saturday, they published a column article from Lisa McLeod entitled People don’t like their job due to lack of connection.  Lisa points out that statistically, many workers are disengaged from their workplace because they don’t have the connection and meaning they want.

It was a timely article. Just this week I met with a co-worker on his last day on the job after he resigned two weeks earlier. Through the course of our conversation it became apparent that he didn’t have a good connection to those above him in the organizational chart and he was not finding meaning within the organization. Now understand, he’s a bright guy and a hard worker. But he wasn’t fully connected to the where the organization is headed.

I believe the point of Lisa McLeod’s article was spot-on target with what I observed from my co-worker. I don’t blame him for feeling unconnected and disengaged as I think it’s a dual responsibility between the manager and employee to find connection and meaning at work.

Since I’ve worked in IT and now marketing during my career, I have seen how business engagement works within the two organizations. In marketing and sales there emphasis is on company strategy, revenue, sales, and client resigns. In IT, the focus and business engagement is usually around systems, costs, and processes.  This creates an opportunity for IT organizations.  People value meaning in their work effort, and true business meaning comes with understanding how the work they are completing drives revenue, reduces cost, and enhances customer relationships.

Something I did recently when I was asked to manage a team at work was to define mission and purpose of our group as a piece of the larger the organization.  My intent was to provide the team with connection to each other and a connection to the work of the organization. Here’s an edited version of what we created:

Mission (why our organization exists):

Enable the value drivers of the organization to help clients:

  • Increase revenue
  • Reduce expenses
  • Enhance their customer relationships across internet, phone, and client channels.

Purpose (why we exist within the organization)

Create revenue by:

  • Enabling customer self-service web and phone channels by selling, servicing and managing company products and services.
  • Enabling clients to be more effective  and efficient when making product and service choices on behalf of their customers.
  • Helping internal stakeholders to be relevant and credible to company clients by guiding, recommending, and enabling technology that produces customer interaction.

If you’re a manager leading people, I’d be interested to know how you create connection and meaning with your employees. Is this something difficult or easy for you?