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Improve Your People Strategy

By April 5, 2021No Comments

People strategy is a Science AND an Art.

Throughout my years as a business owner and coach and in the last year recording the Top Executive Strategy Podcast, I have talked to a lot of business owners who have expressed that their People Strategy is often harder than their actual Business Strategy.

Part of the reason people strategy can be difficult is the basic fact that everyone is different with different strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes. It takes time to get to know people and what makes them tick.

Everyone who graduates from Harvard Business School isn’t a great leader. The same as how every child raised in a family doesn’t turn out the same. There is a science and an art to people strategy. Understanding: How we view ourselves; How we view others; How we interpret what we hear and what we see. We are all different.

Here are 4 basic concepts to help you improve your people strategy:

Be personal and personable with your people.

Whether you are running a company of five people or 500 people, most leaders don’t realize how they are viewed. The majority of their staff are intimidated. You “control” their destiny. You may feel like you need them more than they need the job, but most employees won’t see it that way.

So, having personal connections is vitally important. A coffee, a meal, or (during Covid-19) a socially distanced walk in their neighborhood, would mean the world to them. Can you imagine? The CEO came to my house to take a walk?!

To get you started, try asking yourself the following questions:

  1. When was the last time you had a meal with a staff person who makes less than $60,000 a year and does a crucial job in your company?
  2. Rather than tell them stories about how you used to do that job or how they should do their job, did you ask them how they do their job? And how they view other departments?
  3. Have you ever sat down with an employee six months into their tenure and asked them about their onboarding process?  “Where did you struggle the most?”  “What could we have done better?”
  4. What is the most menial thing you do in your job? Do you make sales cold calls? Do you create graphics? Do you make collections calls? Do you run payroll? Making sure you are in touch with some aspect of what staff people do keeps your connection level high.

Stop being Nice and start being Kind.

Is holding the door for someone nice or kind? Well, that depends on why you do it.

If you’re holding the door to suck up, that’s not kind though the other person might think you’re nice. If you’re holding the door just to be helpful, you’re both kind and nice. Kindness, therefore, is about concrete actions to help others. Niceness is about being pleasing to others.

While it’s certainly not a bad thing to be polite and avoid unnecessarily ruffling feathers, being nice doesn’t go very deep. It’s a smile and hello without any action (or maybe true feeling) to back it up. Kindness actually helps, even though it may do so gruffly. Or as Jordan Green put it, “Niceness is saying ‘I’m so sorry you’re cold,’ while kindness may be ‘Ugh, you’ve said that five times, here’s a sweater!’ Kindness is addressing the need, regardless of tone.”

Telling a flailing employee that they’re flailing intending to help them improve isn’t very nice. But it is kind. Calling out bias in a meeting isn’t nice, it’s awkward. It is also kind. Being chipper can even be actively unkind if your positivity is directed toward someone who is suffering and obliges the other party to hide their true feelings in the name of niceness (this is called toxic positivity).

“While niceness maintains a facade that our lives are together and assumes that same status quo for others, kindness gives permission for real success and failure. Kindness defaults to an understanding that life can be hard, but that emotional support helps.”                                                                                                                                 – Project Happiness.

No need to go wild and give yourself permission for endless grumpiness or gruffness. Niceness has its place. But kindness runs deeper and is way more valuable. If you need to choose between niceness and kindness, always aim for kindness.

Offer sincere and direct constructive feedback. And be amiable in receiving it.

Feedback is an essential component of performance management and a useful tool to enable a mindset of continuous learning in employees.

Effective people management is all about helping people realize their maximum potential by enabling and empowering them to put their best foot forward. Peer and supervisor feedback are powerful mechanisms to show employees how their work makes a difference in the pursuit of broader shared goals. It is equally important that feedback be given with the right intent, mode, and manner to have a truly transformational effect.

  • Constructive or positive feedback is best given instantly for maximum impact and significance. Feedback must be continuously and intricately tied to recognition and employee development.
  • Feedback need not be an elaborate affair. A check-in or a quick chat on being better can go a long way.
  • Overtly-critical feedback can make employees lose confidence and trust in their manager, putting them into a negative ‘flee or fight’ mindset. Hence, managers must learn how to communicate failure effectively. Managers must learn to balance praise and reprimands and communicate with objectivity and empathy with a growth mindset.
  • Feedback should be specific and purposeful while providing the employee with a clear direction for course-correction. Managers may often beat around the bush to avoid confrontation, but discussing details of what went wrong, why and how, is critical to helping employees step up.
  • Effective feedback is a two-way street. Active participation of both parties is essential to build ownership and accountability in the feedback process. Managers must let go of the age-old tendency to “direct and instruct”, and must actively seek inputs and ideas from their team members.

Feedback is not a one-time intervention. Cultivating a culture of continuous feedback is an ongoing commitment. A constructive feedback culture can go a long way in attracting, engaging, and retaining today’s employee population. Managers must, therefore, continuously work upon their performance coaching skills.

Recognize your people and their efforts, big or small.

Many employers miss the mark when it comes to employee recognition. It is easy to assume that getting a paycheck is enough. But it’s usually not.  People want to feel like someone actually cares when they come to work and notices their efforts.

According to a survey commissioned by OGO (O Great One!), 82% of employed Americans don’t feel supervisors recognize them or their contributions enough. This lack of gratitude takes a terrible toll on morale, productivity, and, ultimately, profitability. Notably, 40% of employed Americans say they’d put more energy into their work if they received more recognition for their efforts.

“Most workplaces suffer from what I call a ‘recognition deficit,’” David Novak, CEO of OGO, said.

To boost employee engagement while your team works remotely, explore ways to provide proper recognition. From acknowledging individual achievements to offering tangible rewards and incentives, find opportunities to demonstrate how much you really notice and appreciate their effort:

  • Peer-to-peer recognition – empower your staff to celebrate each other
  • Long-service awards – celebrate milestones to shout about loyal staff
  • Instant recognition – visible performance metrics to reward employees immediately, rather than delaying until a standardized time, like Christmas
  • Rewards –desirable wins, so staff will work hard to achieve them

Keep in mind though, that everyone is different in how they want to receive recognition. For example, some employees thrive on public recognition (like), where others are more private or embarrassed and prefer quiet acts of recognition (like). Understanding your employees’ drives and personalities is very important in working to increase employee satisfaction and engagement.

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