SE VII : When Ends Make Room for New Beginnings

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I am up at 36,000 feet, leaving Las Vegas en route to Chicago – after a very emotional and tiresome weekend.  Which brings me to beginnings and endings.  Each time I visit Las Vegas I am reminded of both.  At one point Las Vegas was a new beginning, exciting, anticipatory, and scary.  Twelve years later it was an ending, sad, melancholy, and bittersweet, but also as I moved onto something new it was exciting and new and fresh.  I revisit these feelings every time I visit Vegas, still surrounded with amazing friends and ever evolving experiences.

This weekend, I helped my closest friend with an ending as she moved on to a new beginning.  Her store, a passion project from the start, closed this weekend.  For those who know me well, you’ll know exactly who this friend is and the store.  I showed up Friday morning after a long commute, about 4 hours in flight time alone, and surprised her.  She had no idea I was coming to help her, but how could I not be there for such an important occasion? I did throw her off track a bit… for the days leading up I avoiding speaking with her, I sent her a “sorry I can’t be there” gift basket and had a good friend beef up the story of how I regretfully could not make it.  So, when I walked in, video recording all the while, there was no question shock would be her first reaction.

The remainder of the weekend included long hours, dust, dirt, grime, memories, friends, laughs, and tears.  We worked well into the night and drove to her home together and laughed about the confusion and emotional reactions of others. We traded stories of what we experienced when the other was not in earshot.  We planned for the next day and what we would hope to accomplish between the trash runs, donations, returns, and the many items that would secretly sneak past her husband into her garage for later enjoyment or the future potential projects that may or may not come to fruition.

My friend was leaving something behind to move on to her next chapter.  An exciting and exhilarating chapter, but closing the doors to her passion project, her brainchild, her heartbeat for five years, was not easy.  A natural packrat, it was hard to give things away and even harder to throw things away.  Every item picked up with a quizzical look – “Can I make something out of this?”, “Who could use this?”, “Can I sneak this in the car when no one is looking?”.

As this blog is never just about a story, but a life lesson, here is my lesson that I was fondly reminded of this weekend:  All endings are not associated with failure. This is such a hard life lesson.  In so many ways, relationships, jobs, and arts and crafts stores, we feel like when we end something, whether or not deliberate, we must have failed in some way.  This puts such a negative connotation on endings, but I see it differently.  To start something new, sometimes we need to make space in our lives, somethings must end. It didn’t mean we necessarily failed or should feel guilty about the ending.  And, its ok to feel sad when things end, because it’s hard to say goodbye.  But, let’s not assume endings are directly related to failure, because oftentimes they have to be the thing to clear that empty space to let the new exciting stuff in.

 

Jennifer Holley : Maintaining Your Assets

I met Jennifer Holley several years ago when she was the Manager of The Country Club at Wynn Las Vegas and I was Director of Hotel Operations also at Wynn.  We immediately connected and have been friends ever since.  I value my relationship with Jen so very much and find that we often get in conversations about work ethic, commitment, and empathy.  Plus, she’s super fun to go shopping with!

 I asked Jen if she would offer some words of wisdom on encouraging leaders to create an amazing employee and customer experience.  As expected, she knocked it out of the park!

 Thank you Jen for your contribution, and please, enjoy Jen’s article:


Now that Alyse has set the stage and we have outlined a company culture that supports a healthy work environment, trust, motivation, empowerment and accountability, I want to discuss how we create longevity and sustainability of that environment. Specifically, what is being done to motivate the motivators?

Companies commit time and resources to recruiting and capturing management talent but they often fall short in nurturing and inspiring the talent once they’ve gotten them. You can have the best foundation in place for your company, but if your leaders do not feel a personal connection to your company goals or vision, eventually it will negatively impact your employees and ultimately your customers. Have you ever heard the phrase “People quit their bosses, not their jobs”? Managers leave because on some level, they do not feel connected or valued. Connecting with your leaders can be accomplished in some of the simplest ways. Let’s break it down into three different categories: Time, Talent and Treasure.

Time

The best example of using time as a way to connect with leaders comes from a large corporation where I previously worked. Our Executive Vice President would schedule a lunch or coffee with a different member of management from his team once a month. This allowed the EVP an opportunity to learn about his subordinates in a way that a department meeting would never permit, and it provided the manager direct access to a member of the Executive Team. The investment is minimal, but the impact is tremendous.

Talent

In a well-rounded management team, each person has a unique set of strengths. It’s zoning in on those strengths and identifying how they can be leveraged that can help build connection with your team. One way to leverage individual strengths for the success of the team is to identify a challenge one of your teams is currently facing. Identify a team that is excelling in that area and assign the head of the successful team a ‘special project presentation’ to explain their success and possible hurdles they had to overcome to get there. Then provide a forum to workshop, brainstorm and collaborate. By encouraging peer information sharing in a structured and measured way, you find approachable solutions to obstacles and challenges, highlight valuable talent within your team, and make your teams feel valuable and empowered.

Treasure

Not every company can afford raises, profit sharing or 401k matches. There are creative methods to recognize employees that are meaningful (and effective) and do not require a large investment. For example, my company awards each manager with an additional $100 for every year they have worked with the company, on the anniversary of their hire date. It is accompanied with a card with personal sentiments of gratitude hand-written by our owners and CEO. They also send hand-written cards for birthdays to each manager. My husband’s company also sends hand-written cards with personal sentiments and a gift card (for coffee or lunch) from the CEO on birthdays and work anniversaries. If you are able, award experiences or products as incentives, better aligning your team with the experiences of your customers.  Any of these methods inspire pride and validation. In turn, your team is more inclined to remain loyal to the company and motivated to contribute at a higher level.

Good leaders inspire, motivate and encourage. When they feel supported, valuable and appreciated, their spark is ignited. It is paramount to find ways to support their spark to prevent them from burning out or disconnecting all together.  Having a clear plan in place to continuously connect with your management team will ensure that their personal growth is aligned with the growth of your company. It does not have to cost a lot, but the return on investment is priceless.

Please join the conversation….

 

Vol X: Accountability

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The final question I ask in the article, Setting the Stage is whether accountability exists within your organization, ensuring your employees feel fairly treated.

Accountability is being responsible for what you are expected to do and for the actions you take. Holding yourself and others accountable ensures that everyone fulfills their responsibility, and that there is fairness, making sure actions are applied consistently and without prejudice.

Understanding what you are accountable for.

The exact responsibilities will naturally vary based upon a persons role, but at a high level it breaks down into two categories:

Individual contributors or team members are responsible for their work and for supporting the rest of their team.

Leaders are responsible for the work of their entire team as well as for how they hold their team members accountable for their actions.

Understanding the expectations of one’s role sets the foundation for accountability. When your team members understand what you expect from them and what is expected of their peers, you’ve set the stage for creating consistent accountability. My article on Clarifying Expectations has some examples of things to consider when setting those expectations.

The next step, once expectations are clear, is to ensure your team members understand how they will be held accountable. There are two sides to accountability, most people think about the negative accountability – what happens when someone does not meet expectations; there is also a positive accountability – what happens when someone does a job well, or exceeds the expectations.

When employees do not meet the expectations that you’ve clearly defined, they should understand what that means in terms of coaching, feedback, and discipline.

For more ideas about positive accountability, I’d refer you to my last two articles: Motivation Through Recognition and Creating a Recognition Program.

The most important thing is that accountability, positive or negative, needs to be clearly communicated and applied consistently.

To evaluate your own accountability process, consider these questions:

  1. Does everyone have clear expectations of what their role is and what you need from them?

Without clear expectations, you have no foundation for accountability. Remember not to assume here, not everyone approaches situations the same way.

  1. Do you give feedback to employees? Do other leaders in the organization provide feedback? Do team members have an avenue for providing peer feedback?

Self-awareness is difficult for most people. If you are not giving feedback on performance, an employee can think they are doing something well, even if you do not agree.

  1. Do you have a consistent method of tracking employee performance? Is an employee’s performance transparent to them?

In environments where an employee may be supervised by several different leaders it is important that any coaching or feedback is documented so other leaders are aware and meaningful follow up can occur without being redundant.

  1. Is retraining or job shadowing available to help build performance for those who need it?

Not everyone gets it the first time. Having an opportunity to retrain employees after they’ve had some on the job experience might help an employee who didn’t quite connect the lessons of training with the real world environment.

  1. Are the steps that you take with one employee the same for all employees?

To be fair to all employees, the same steps should be taken, regardless of the person. For example, if with Mark you give several coaching opportunities and many chances but with Jane, her mistakes result in write-ups you are being unfair. That’s not to say that you need to write Mark up right away, but are you giving Jane the benefits of your time and feedback?

Employees want accountability to be consistent. By ensuring accountability is fair, employees can trust your actions and comfortably perform at higher levels.

Please join the conversation…

 

Vol IX: Empowerment

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In my article “Setting the Stage”, I asked whether employees feel empowered to help customers and whether they have the tools to do so. Empowerment manifests itself many different ways, in this article I’ll focus on empowering employees to successfully navigate service recovery.

When I was charged with the responsibility of a hotel front desk, there was an existing empowerment policy where agents could compensate a guest up to a certain dollar amount without a manager’s approval. There was nothing wrong with the guideline per se, but front desk agents were quick to compensate their allotted amount and avoided what the customer was really seeking: an apology, empathy, and compassion. Ultimately, while the customers got compensated, they weren’t satisfied, and while the agents stayed within the budget, they weren’t truly helping the company build customer loyalty.

I’ve always found that genuinely listening, apologizing regardless of fault, coming up with personalized solutions, and following up with a customer is the recipe for great service recovery.

Ensuring your staff feels empowered to help a customer is about more than money and tools, it’s about how much your employees feel like they can take responsibility for fixing mistakes and righting a wrong.

Here are some questions to think about when you consider if your team feels empowered:

  1. Does your team do a good job of listening to customers when they are dissatisfied? Are they able to act empathetically and compassionately to customer concerns?

Employees that are quick to jump to conclusions instead of truly listening may miss important details about what is important to that particular customer.  Service recovery is best when a customer feels like someone personally connected to them, if employees are rushed or made to feel like it’s not okay to spend time listening, they will likely not address the customer’s true concerns.

  1. If a mistake is made, do your employees take responsibility on behalf of the entire company even if they or their department did not make the mistake?

From a customer’s perspective, internal divisions within your company are irrelevant, and pointing fingers doesn’t help the customer.

  1. Do you have a policy that clarifies for your staff what compensation they are able to provide for given situations?

Letting employees know what they can and can’t do gives them the freedom to act without looking over their shoulders or worrying about being second guessed. Having too many layers of approvals necessary for an employee to provide compensation or other solutions to a customer may keep short term expenses down, but could ultimately wind up hurting long term revenue opportunities.

  1. When an employee goes above and beyond to help a customer, what is the response from leadership?

An empowered employee, if they are within the guidelines of your policy, should be thanked for helping the customer. If the employee made a decision that seems out of line with policy, treat it as a coaching opportunity, not an inquisition.

Empowered employees develop a sense of ownership and pride from doing their job, representing your company culture, and ensuring that your customers are satisfied.

Please join the conversation….

 

Vol VIII: Creating a Recognition Program

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In last week’s article, Motivating through Recognition, I discussed the importance of recognizing employees as a form of gratitude and a teaching tool. One of my suggestions was to personalize the recognition, to make it more meaningful for the person receiving it. This week, I’d like to share the guidelines I follow when setting up a recognition program that helps make it meaningful.

Do you even need a recognition program?

It’s OK to ask if it’s necessary, but ask yourself these questions:

  • Is recognition happening consistently?
  • Can others learn by example?
  • Do your employees FEEL like they are being recognized?

If each answer is not an immediate “yes” – then putting a recognition program in place could reinforce those behaviors until they become habit and are happening organically and consistently.

Is recognition sustained?

There is nothing worse than starting a great recognition program, making a few people feel really special, and then having it be forgotten or lost to other priorities. Having a process that is open and communicated will ensure recognition is sustained.

Here are some questions to ask about any process you set up:

  • Is it explicit that leaders look for opportunities to recognize as part of their normal routine?
  • Is recognition documented, staying with employees for future opportunities like promotion or annual evaluations?
  • Do employees know what your form of recognition looks like?
  • How is recognition shared with others so that they can learn from it?

Answering these questions can help lead you down a path to determine if your recognition program is sustainable, purposeful and deliberate.

Is recognition personalized?

Many companies use employee profile systems to allow for staff to express their personal preferences, whether it’s their favorite coffee order, their hobbies or any other information which you can use to personalize the recognition experience if they are to be recognized and thanked for a job well done.

A couple of low/no budget examples:

  • For an employee who likes to read, maybe instead of a traditional thank you card, you create a fun ‘thank you’ bookmark.
  • To recognize someone who takes a regular “coffee break” maybe you can accompany them to get their favorite coffee drink.
  • For someone who offers ideas at meetings, maybe providing some one-on-one time with decision makers so they know their ideas are being listened to.

By learning from and listening to your team members, you have the opportunity to personalize your recognition.

Is recognition fair?

People who are consistent high performers may get recognized multiple times, and you don’t want to play favorites, but it’s not true recognition if everyone “gets a turn” regardless of their contribution.

Here are a couple of ways I look to balance recognition:

  • Recognizing an improvement rather than an absolute contribution.
  • Recognize someone who was able to think outside their normal boundaries for a solution.
  • Recognize someone who is consistent and dependable.

If you have no reason to recognize an employee, you should consider whether they need coaching to get the behaviors you want to reward. The communication, attention, consistency, and support you provide will likely make a significant difference in their job performance.

Recognition connects people

People want to feel connected to people and personalizing recognition helps build relationships. In thinking about recognition, remember that not everything happens naturally and sometimes you have to be deliberate. By creating a program that is sustainable, consistent, personalized, and fair, you can ensure that your employees feel appreciated and valued.

Vol VII: Motivation Through Recognition

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Recognizing employee performance is one of the cornerstones of keeping employees motivated and engaged. In my article, “Setting the Stage”, I referenced positive recognition as being one of the key factors in creating a positive employee environment.

Recognizing your employees helps all your employees, the ones who are recognized feel appreciated and noticed by your thanking them for their level of effort and accomplishment. For other employees the recognition reinforces your corporate values by creating examples of the types of behaviors and efforts that you’ve rewarded.

In the best of environments, recognition will happen organically because managers pay attention to what their teams are doing and will notice which team members are excelling. In many situations, recognition can drop off of the radar as managers at all levels focus on efficiency or profitability, something the business is measuring explicitly. The importance of thanking people for doing their job well or going above and beyond expectations goes to the sidelines.

Recognition can take many forms, and not all employees will respond the same way to the same incentives. If you feel like you do praise and reward your employees but your employees don’t feel the same way, then you might not be recognizing them in a way that resonates with them. Once you understand who your employees are as individuals, you will know what’s important to them and what will make them feel recognized and motivated.

Here are some forms of recognition that can be used to personalize the experience for your employees based on what they are most comfortable with:

  • Public recognition – being positively recognized in front of peers and/or to other leaders
  • Monetary – bonuses, gifts or gift cards, increase in wage
  • Private moments – time with the boss – this could be one-on-one walking around the operation, coffee at a local shop, or even dedicated office time.
  • Added responsibility/empowerment – for some, added responsibility shows you trust them, so pile it on! They are ready, willing and able to show you they can succeed!

Understanding your employees as individuals will help you determine which form of recognition is appropriate for each person. For example, one person may take public recognition as form of motivation and continue to exceed expectations, while someone else may shy away from taking chances in the future out of fear of embarrassment.

Recognition is in the eye of the recipient, get to know what motivates your team and try to personalize your recognition to motivate and highlight to others what it means to be a high performer.

Please join the conversation….

Vol II: Setting the Stage

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In my last article, we discussed the importance of clarifying expectations by defining and communicating the company’s “true north”, the directional vision your employees can look to in order to better understand performance expectations.

Clarifying expectations and communicating them effectively is the start to a successful employee and customer experience.  It is equally important to create the right employee environment.  The time we spend at work often outweighs the time spent with friends and family.  To have a team work together successfully they should feel valued, respected, recognized, and there must be trust.

Over the years, I’ve heard leaders say things like, “they get paid to do that, why should I recognize employees for doing their job?”, and “we don’t have time to do anything extra, it’s just too busy”, and worse, treat employees inconsistently – unintentionally playing favorites.

From the outside looking in these statements seem ridiculous – how can a leader think this way?  It’s really not that surprising… when we specify our goals in terms of getting the job done, money, time, and efficiency, our leaders respond to those priorities.  For those leaders who have trouble multi-tasking and have trouble with empathy, how we treat our co-workers can take a dead last in comparison.

Building a strong employee culture, environment, and experience is not easy because it may require change, but understanding where you are today and where you need to get to is a good first step.  In determining if the employee environment has a strong foundation, you may have to do some corporate-soul searching:

  1. Do employees have clear expectations on what you want from them?
  2. Do your employees have trust in your leadership team? What is the relationship between leaders and frontline employees?
  3. Are conditions for employees valued – should they be improved or innovated?
  4. Do employees feel recognized when they do a good job?
  5. Do employees feel empowered to help customers? Do they have the tools to do so?
  6. Does accountability exist so that employees feel like everyone is treated fairly?

These are some of the questions you can ask yourself and leadership team to determine if you have a strong foundation for your employees.  If you are a customer-facing (frontline) employee, what would your responses be to these questions about your workplace?

What are your thoughts… please join the conversation.