Saturday, May 31, 2008

Truth 50: How to Engage Hearts and Minds

So I’m meeting my good friend, Colleen Cayes, for breakfast this morning. She has to be one of the smartest people I know (she believes that my new book, The Truth About Getting the Best From People, should be in the hands of every people leader in the corporate world, so she has to be smart, right?). And our plan for breakfast today was to brainstorm ways that we can get the word out about the book and the one-day training program that goes along with it.

True to form, she’s there before me. And as I cross the parking lot, I see she’s already deep in conversation with the restaurant owner, standing in front patio. And I hear Colleen telling “Susan” all about the book. This is what “Susan” says in response:

“Oh! I could use that book! I need everything I can get to get the best from my people. See…I am really disappointed in the quality of my employees. It used to be that whenever I put up a help wanted sign, I’d have the most wonderful people lined up down the block applying for the job. Now, I can’t get anybody good. Now I consider myself lucky that I get people to even show up for work. Forget getting the best from them….” She went on for quite a while about how she’s constantly frustrated by the poor quality of her employees.

Okay, if that’s the way it is, fair enough. But can you guess what was wrong with this picture? Here it is: Standing right next to her was a member of her kitchen staff, standing silently watering her pots of geraniums under the morning sun. And taking in every single word. I wanted to catch his eye and smile, but he didn’t look up. Not once.

Colleen and I walked into the restaurant, exchanging mutterings about “can you believe what just happened?”, sat down and ordered a fabulous breakfast served by attentive and cheerful bus and waitstaff. Except for the interaction with the owner herself, it was a flawless dining experience.

So, of course, I’m thinking, what’s the lesson here? This is it: If you want to be an engaging people leader, respect your people’s feelings. What does that mean in terms of specific behaviors and interactions? I could go on for days, but here are a few ideas:

· Be careful of what you say about your people – especially when they’re standing right next to you.

· Never bad-mouth your people to the outside world – especially to your customers.

· Double-check your own beliefs about your people. Is it really true that you’re the captain of the Ship of Fools? Or is that just some belief that you picked up somewhere like stink on your shoe? Could one or two losers or weirdos on your staff have colored your perceptions of everyone? Could it be that what you think isn’t really what you think, when you think about it?

· Notice passion; notice brilliance; notice dedication. And then let your people know you notice. When I deliver my speech, “Sustain Your Flame!”, to groups of organizational leaders, I always open with this request: “If you love your work, raise your hand.” Hands shoot up wall to wall. Then I say, “If you can think of anyone at your workplace who loves their work, raise your hand” hardly any hands appear. If you’re a people leader and you can’t think of anyone who works for you and loves their work, that says more about you than your people.

· Get in the habit of noticing. We all know about that principle that just as you’re contemplating buying a certain make of car, you see that car everywhere you go on the road. When you get in the habit of noticing employees showing their passion for their work by the way to do their work, you’re going to see little sparkles of engagement everywhere in your company. Notice, celebrate, then repeat!

And then, maybe the next time you ‘re chatting with a customer you’ll have way more positive things to say about the people who work for you! And, believe me, the favor will be returned, and a whole new caliber of excellent candidates will start appearing with your next job openings. (You may not have noticed, but your people are talking too.)

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