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Phrases To Increase Staff Engagement, part 2

Connecting with employees to boost morale and motivation.

May 22, 2014
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Click here for the first seven phrases.

“I have bad news.”

You certainly don’t mind sharing good news with your employees, but bad news is a different story.

Your instinct might be to play down negative developments, or even keep them to yourself entirely.

Nobody wants to be the person who says, “We’re going to have to eliminate some positions over the next six months,” or, “Unfortunately, our company can’t afford to provide raises or bonuses this year.”

“Nevertheless, your employees deserve to hear the truth from you as soon as possible,” Todd Patkin, author of Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and — Finally — Let the Sunshine In, confirms. “They aren’t stupid and will be able to tell when something is ‘up’ even if you don’t acknowledge it. By refusing to share bad news, you’ll only increase paranoia and anxiousness — neither of which are good for engagement or productivity. But when you treat your people like responsible adults by being honest and open, they will appreciate your transparency … and often, you’ll find that they’re willing to voluntarily double their efforts to help you turn the tide.”

“What do you think?”

Maybe you’ve never put much emphasis on the thoughts and opinions of your employees.

After all, you pay them a fair wage to come to work each day and perform specific tasks.

As a leader, it’s your job to decide what those tasks should be and how they should be carried out, right?

Well, yes — strictly speaking.

But according to Patkin, this unilateral approach to leading your team sends the impression that you’re superior (even if that’s not your intent) and also contributes to disengagement.

“Employees who are told what to do feel like numbers or cogs in a machine,” he points out. “Often, their performance will be grudging and uninspired. To unlock buy-in and achievement, make your employees feel like valued partners by asking them for their opinions, ideas and preferences. Again, they’ll be much more invested in your organization’s success because they had an active part in creating it. And guess what? Your employees probably won’t care as much as you think they will if their suggestions don’t become reality. Mostly, they just want to know that their voice was heard by the people in charge.”

“Here’s how our company works and where we stand.”

In many companies, employees in sales don’t know much about what’s happening in accounting.

Likewise, the folks in accounting aren’t really familiar with how things in the warehouse work … and so on and so forth.

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Generally, this state of affairs doesn’t cause too many problems.

But according to Patkin, helping your employees make connections regarding how your company works from top to bottom will streamline internal processes, reduce misunderstandings and promote team spirit.

“Again, this is all about transparency and treating employees like partners,” he comments. “When you make a point of showing everyone how your business ‘works’ and how their specific job descriptions fit into the overall ‘machinery,’ you’ll find that us-versus-them thinking tends to decline, and that profit-minded solutions begin to proliferate.

“At Autopart International, one of the best management decisions I ever made was showing my employees ‘the numbers’ on a regular basis,” Patkin continues. “I made sure that everyone understood the relationship between their performance and the bottom line — and thus their own pay. Several employees told me that my transparency prompted them to think more carefully about how their own everyday choices and efforts affected the bigger picture.”

“That’s okay. We all make mistakes. Let’s talk about how to fix this.”

In business, mistakes are going to happen.

And in many instances, the impact they have on your company revolves around how you as a leader handle them.

Sure, lambasting an employee who has dropped the ball may make you feel better in the short term, but it’ll negatively impact that employee’s self-confidence, relationship with you and feelings for your company for much longer.

“Don’t get me wrong: You shouldn’t take mistakes, especially those involving negligence, incompetence or dishonesty, lightly,” Patkin says. “But when your employees have made an honest mistake, try to be as understanding with them as you would be with your own family members. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that the employee feels very bad already, and that yelling or lecturing won’t change the past. Instead, focus on figuring out what went wrong and how to keep it from happening again. Did the employee (or the company as a whole) learn something? Should a process or procedure be tweaked going forward to reduce the chances of something similar reoccurring?"

“Also, never forget that mistakes are an essential part of growth,” Patkin adds. “The innovation and creativity it takes to grow a business will be accompanied by setbacks and slip-ups. You don’t want to create an environment where people don’t take potentially productive risks because they’re afraid you’ll get mad if they screw up.”

“You deserve a reward.”

Patkin is adamant that simple things like gratitude, respect and autonomy make people far more happy than, say, big salaries and corner offices.

However, he isn’t denying that more tangible rewards like bonuses, vacation time, prime parking spaces, benefits and more have their place in raising employee engagement.

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The truth is, you’ll be hard-pressed to find an employee who doesn’t appreciate these things.

“When resources allow, look for ways to reward your employees for their hard work,” Patkin recommends. “Remember, nobody wants to work for a Scrooge! At Autopart International, I thanked employees with everything from sports tickets to door prize drawings to lavish company parties to vacations on Martha’s Vineyard. I found that when I treated my employees like kings and queens, they worked extra-hard to be the recipients of these perks … and they were much more resistant to moving when offers to work for ‘the other guys’ occasionally came their way.”

“I know you can do it.”

Of course you should try to hire employees who are confident and self-directed.

But even the most self-assured individuals appreciate an explicit vote of confidence from their leaders!

“Constantly challenge your people and push them to improve while reassuring them that you believe in them,” Patkin advises. “Everyone, no matter how capable or experienced they are, appreciates encouragement. At Autopart International, I found that tying verbal votes of confidence to something more concrete — specifically, employees’ pay — was one of the best ways to motivate them."

“Specifically, I told my employees that I believed in their ability to help our company grow — so much so that I wanted to introduce the concept of performance-based pay with no cap,” he shares. “I found that when a leader is willing to bet large amounts of money on employees’ potential achievements, those employees will work harder for you — and for themselves — than you ever thought possible. With this strategy, everyone wins.”

“This task is in your hands — I’m stepping back.”

Most micromanaging leaders don’t set out to annoy or smother their employees.

The problem is, they care — a lot — and want to make sure everything is done just so and that no balls are dropped or opportunities missed.

The problem is, excessive hovering can give employees the impression that you don’t trust them or have faith in them — a belief that actively undermines engagement.

“Once you’ve delegated a task, step back and let your employees do what you’ve asked of them,” Patkin instructs. “Yes, I know that can be easier said than done. If you have to, lock yourself in your office or go for a walk around the building to keep yourself from hovering. It may also help to remind yourself that you hired each of your employees for a reason, that you have faith in their potential, and that if they do need help, they know where to find you.”

“Remember, business is always personal,” Patkin concludes. “Specifically, it’s about reaching and motivating each of your employees on a personal level so that they care about contributing to your organization’s ultimate success. Which phrases will you be adding to your at-work vocabulary?”

 

Todd Patkin, author of Finding Happiness:One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and — Finally — Let the Sunshine In and Twelve Weeks to Finding Happiness: Boot Camp for Building Happier People graduated from Tufts University. He joined the family business and spent 18 years helping it grow. After it was purchased by Advance Auto Parts in 2005, he was free to focus on his main passions: philanthropy, giving back to the community and more.

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