Change is hard. But these days it’s required and inevitable. Yet, in my daily role as an advisor to entrepreneurs and small business owners, struggling to boost revenues, profits, and earnings, I still see too many managers falling back on command-and-control, a focus on weaknesses, and not enough time for people. The result is lost productivity and a poorly engaged workforce.
For example, it may seem quicker and more effective to hand your service desk employees the store policy manual and tell them to follow the rules, rather than spend time coaching them on how to really listen to customer feedback, and use their strengths to build customer loyalty. Most team members want to do the right thing but may not have your insights or years of experience.
I just finished a new book, “It’s The Manager,” by Jim Clifton and Jim Harter, leaders at Gallup, who have assembled feedback from the largest study of its kind, including over 37 million people from businesses around the world. It says we still have a long way to go in improving workplace cultures and moving up workplace engagement from the worldwide current dismal 15 percent level.
They provide abundant details and examples but net out nicely the top six key changes in culture that I also see and recommend on a regular basis to business managers and leaders that I work with. These are changes in culture that we all need to recognize and adapt to, most clearly driven by the growing percentage of millennials and Generation Z, including the following:
- Employees need a purpose as well as a paycheck. For a growing number of workers today, compensation is important and must be fair, but it’s no longer their primary motivation. The emphasis for these people has switched from just a paycheck to having meaning, and so should your culture.
For example, when John Mackey of Whole Foods made it clear to employees that his larger purpose was helping people live a healthier life, his team and his customers found a new excitement beyond groceries, resulting in growth and profitability that easily outpaced the industry, as well as awards as one of the best companies to work for.
- Team members want development plus satisfaction. Just offering perks, like fancy latte machines and ping pong tables, does not create lasting team engagement. They want personal and career development. That means you need to pinpoint the right goals for each employee, develop a plan, and commit to taking their careers to the next level.
If you have an employee potentially ready for management, executive shadowing can be a great way to expose them to critical elements of other jobs, while they are still learning in their current role. It is also a great way for employees to more formally explore potential career opportunities internally before they jump ship to a competitor.
- Your people will expect more coaches than bosses. They demand to be valued as individuals and coached to understand and build their strengths, rather than treated as soldiers and directed to march into battle. The best managers give targeted feedback in their areas of expertise and make connections to others who are better suited to the task.
- They want ongoing conversations, not just annual reviews. With modern technology, employees communicate constantly with people who count and expect their managers to do the same. Annual reviews alone have never worked as a substitute for regular feedback on things done well, and not so well. Meet team members on their own turf.
- Don’t fixate on team weaknesses – capitalize on strengths. Gallup research shows that weaknesses almost never develop into strengths, while strengths develop infinitely. You need to recognize and understand weaknesses, but double-down on strengths. A strengths-based culture will also help you attract and keep star team members.
- A job can no longer be treated as just a job – it’s your life. All employees spend the majority of their waking hours on the job. For their engagement, they expect support, relationships, appreciation, and satisfaction. With workers now at multiple locations, including home, office, and around the world, it’s impossible to separate work from life.
Even the best business strategies will ultimately fail without the proper business culture and great managers, to give employees what they want most – a great job and a great life. As a technologist, it took me a while to learn that managing people is a lot harder than managing technology, but much more satisfying in the end. I also found it’s never too late to start.