The Antidote to Employee Apathy

June 6th, 2019

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Few things are more frustrating than working with an apathetic teammate who constantly needs to be prompted and reminded to do their part, step up, or follow through. Most employees don’t start out indifferent or slow to act, so how do we get there?

What apathy looks like:

  • Okay with being just okay (or even poor)
  • No urgency
  • No personal investment, excitement, or passion
  • Just going through the motions

Three main causes of apathy:

1. Expectations are unclear.

      • We haven’t defined what success looks like
      • The person’s role on the team is unclear
      • We don’t know what the “main thing” is
      • Too many cooks in the kitchen; whose direction do we follow?

2. Confidence has been lost.

      • Failed and scared to try again
      • Leadership tears down rather than builds up
      • Can’t see any small wins that encourage along the way

3. Employees are not empowered.

    • No trust
    • Not allowed to make decisions
    • Input isn’t solicited or welcomed
    • No one is listening

I’ve encountered my fair share of apathetic teammates over the years. It wasn’t that they weren’t smart enough or hardworking enough; it was just that over time they slowly stopped caring as much. Apathy begets apathy, and if allowed to continue, an entire team may adopt a dysfunctional culture where low standards are accepted and positive change may be unwelcome.

Simple actions for turning around apathy:

    • Exhibit only the behaviors you are okay with your team mirroring. What would the team look like if everyone behaved like you?
    • Be clear on expectations. Define and share each person’s role on the team. Identify what success looks like. Write down the three things that, if the entire team does them, the team will be successful. Then share those three things over and over and over.
    • Don’t just dwell on the mistakes. Share the learning opportunities gained from them. Talk about how we handle our failures and what we can do better next time.
    • Ask, “What do you think?,” then listen. Then, thank them for their input.
    • Don’t give rebuttals or make excuses when feedback is given.
  • Find the fun. It’s hard to not care when you enjoy what you do. How can you incorporate some fun into your work?

An Upside to Turnover?

April 5th, 2019

An Upside to Turnover?

Employees will always come and go, but smart leaders take charge of turnover – and use it to systematically strengthen their workforce. Here’s how to transform the plague of turnover into healthy “churn”:

Conventional wisdom tells us that turnover indicates deep-rooted problems in an organization. We have been taught that when turnover is low it means management is hiring the right people, those people fit in with corporate culture, they are paid well, engaged in their work and feel positive about their jobs.

This can all be true, but low turnover can also be an indication that employees have become complacent. They may be actually be overpaid, underworked and misaligned with corporate values. Not all turnover is bad – in fact, turnover can actually deliver some important benefits for the overall health of a company’s bottom line.

The Chance to Upgrade

It can be difficult to replace a high-performing employee, but not every employee who exits your company falls into the category of an A-level contributor. When a B-Level or C-level employee leaves, look at it as an opportunity to upgrade to a more valuable employee.

A Fresh Perspective

Teams that work together for years at a time can lack a very necessary factor for creative problem solving and innovation: perspective. New employees can offer unique approaches, creative solutions and fresh ideas. Injecting new blood into a group can shake things up a bit, and provide new eyes to examine long-standing problems.

A Healthy Sense of Competition

Long-standing employees often become complacent in their work. They know how much they can produce to stay off the boss’s radar, and over time, they tend to produce only the quality and quantity of work that will maintain the status quo, but nothing more. When new employees join the team, it can ignite a healthy sense of competition in veteran employees. No one likes being outdone by a new employee, and you may find that veterans suddenly find the time and the fire to produce at a higher level.

A Reality Check for Veteran Employees

While terminations can be jarring for every member of the team, there can actually be an upside when you have to fire someone: it reminds the team that no one is irreplaceable. Though it is a harsh lesson to learn, it is an important lesson. Terminating an employee can serve as a reality check to the existing team that they need to step up their game or risk losing their jobs.

Removal of Negative Energy

Negative attitudes in the workplace spread faster than the flu virus. Negativity leads to decreased production, poor teamwork and lowered morale. No one wants to get up every morning and go to work at a place that makes them unhappy. Eventually, great employees will leave because the negative employee is permitted to stay and spread bad energy. Removing a negative employee can do wonders for morale, instantly boosting energy and productivity – and preventing the loss of positive employees.

Cost Savings

Most leaders don’t like talking about this “benefit” of turnover, but losing a highly paid veteran employee can be a help to salary budgets. It’s the reason why companies often lay off their highest-paid employees first when downsizing.

Is Your Turnover Positive, Negative or Neutral?

Should you panic if you notice turnover in your organization? Not necessarily. Here are factors that can help you determine whether your turnover is good or bad for your company:

  • Positive turnover: At least 25 percent of all turnover is positive. You can identify positive turnover when a bottom performer exits, when a bottom performer is replaced by a top performer, when a negative employee exits or when good employees who have worked hard are finally able to retire.
  • Neutral turnover: Sometimes turnover is neither good nor bad. Types of neutral turnover include turnover among temporaries and contractors, turnover of average performers who provide ample notice and turnover by employees who leave the company due to a life change that cannot be prevented.
  • Negative turnover: Yes, some turnover can still be bad. When you see signs of this type of turnover, leadership must take steps to correct the underlying issues. Negative turnover occurs when top performers leave with no warning, when a critical leader leaves, turnover of an employee who possesses the only knowledge or experience in a critical field in the organization, turnover of many employees from the same department (possibly indicated management issues) and new hires that are less talented than the employees they replace.

Is That Employee Ready to Lead?

April 5th, 2019
Is That Employee Ready to Lead?
Is That Employee Ready to Lead?

“When is someone ready to lead?”

It’s a simple, straightforward question leaders ask about their teammates and teammates ask about themselves. Although there isn’t a simple checklist that determines one’s capacity for influencing others or readiness for direct reports, there are seven characteristics I always look for in my leaders.

  1. They are viewed as a go-to person before they’re given a title. Others (including their leader) go to this person for advice, assistance, and direction on projects.
  2. They are eager to lead without a title. The individual is motivated to serve as a project lead or in some other role that enables him/her to help the team succeed. They take on these roles without expecting immediate additional compensation, and they willingly accept the sacrifices that come along with leading others.
  3. They understand and follow through on being responsible for others’ development and growth.
  4. They address conflict with care and candor, even with peers in other departments.
  5. They approach the call to lead with humility. They desire to serve well, and that desire is balanced with a high level of competence and urgency for excellent performance.
  6. Their ego is under control, and they are aware of their own strengths and weaknesses.
  7. Other titled leaders in the organization want access to or speak highly of this person.

These characteristics rank among my top qualities for up-and-coming leaders, and especially those who will be directly responsible for leading others. But what about the warning signs that point to a colleague not yet ready to lead others? Here are five to look out for:

  1. They act very different in front of other titled leaders than they do around teammates and peers.
  2. They campaign and politic for promotions because of tenure, education, money, title, or prestige.
  3. They go power-hungry nuts when given just the slightest bit of authority over other teammates on a project.
  4. Their emotions overpower their poise. They yell, ignore, blame, and/or walk out when things don’t go well.
  5. Their teammates dread or even fear the thought of having to work for them.

These signs may sound drastic, but the unfortunate reality is they are alive and well in many organizations. The good news is that not every leader who exhibits one or more of these characteristics is without hope. Some individuals simply have never been exposed to good leadership, so coach them and model it for them. Establish behaviors and non-negotiables that illustrate your expectations for how your team operates, and recognize and reinforce positive leadership when you see it.

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