The Value of Trust

In personal relationships, trust is something we generally have a handle on. We know whether or not to trust a family member or friend (and how much) based on their behavior over time. In a business environment, things may not be that simple. Think about it… If you have employees, do you trust them? If you have people working under contract, do you trust them? If you work for someone else, whether you’re considered an employee, team member, associate, or staff member, do you feel as if the business owner (or your manager) trusts you? Likewise, if you’re an employee or working under contract, do you trust your manager / the business owner?

Brick by brick, we build trust over time, yet it can be lost in an instant. What creates that trust? Your pile of bricks grows as time passes based on your consistency, dependability and/or responsiveness. And what else?

What owners need to trust a team member

What do owners see in team members that provides the faith to trust them? Owners like to know you have their back. They’d like every employee to behave and think like an owner at some level. Note that I said BEHAVE and THINK like an owner.

The best employees think like an owner, even if their responsibility is limited to coffee machines, ice machines, and floors in your building. When you think like an owner, you want the machines to be cleaned and disinfected regularly so no one gets sick, even if they don’t get sick enough to take time off. Clean, puddle-free floors are safer than cluttered floors that occasionally have puddles like the one that your peer slipped and cracked their elbow on.

When you behave like an owner, you don’t walk past that puddle because you aren’t the one in charge of the floors. You mop it up before someone gets hurt.

What team members need to trust a business owner

Some owners work 80 hours a week. When owners think “behaving like an owner” means their employees should also work 80 hours a week, they aren’t really looking for people to behave like an owner.

Owners: What trust doesn’t mean

If you are thinking “I can’t trust my employees because…”

  • they don’t work as hard as I do.
  • they don’t think like an owner.
  • they don’t take ownership of their work.
  • I have to monitor everything they do.

Ask yourself if you worked as hard as the owner did in your last job. Rather than expecting them to be as vested as you (assuming you have everything on the line and everything to gain), consider your last gig as an employee. How’d you feel about it? What’d you like? What’d you dislike? Did you trust the owner? Did the owner train you to think like they did?

If your people don’t take ownership, do you encourage them to take responsibility and own their work? More importantly, do you reward them based on those actions? Do you “over-manage” them? Some might call it micro-management, but over-manage might be more descriptive.

MBWA (management by wandering around) isn’t micro-management. Training isn’t micro-management. Good hiring, middle managers, documented work processes and management systems take the place your innate need to “monitor everything they do”. It’s an adjustment as your company outgrows you – which it should do. Employees expect owners to focus on strategic work that prepares the company for its next challenge(r), not over-managing.

Employees: What trust doesn’t mean

If you are thinking “The owner doesn’t trust us because…”

  • they installed a security system, digital access keypads for some areas, etc.
  • they installed security cameras.
  • they ask us to have a peer confirm bank deposit before we head out the door with the bank bag.
  • they ask us to have a peer double check the shipping list before we close a box going out to our largest commercial customer.

… you aren’t thinking like an owner.

When you complain about these things, it sounds like you aren’t interested in protecting the company’s assets or reducing the company’s risk. The value of double checking deposits or shipments to an important customer is obvious. Mistakes happen. Security systems limit access to assets by those with no business need to access them. Increased risk increases costs. These systems impact insurance costs & provide evidence gathering capability that protects good employees from bad ones.

When a family member threatens their ex who works with you, your spouse or your kid, it’s the owner who worries about whether or not it’s safe to allow people to come to work. Before you doubt that, bear in mind that I’ve lived that situation and had those thoughts. You can’t install security cameras and harden your business overnight. You have to be “a bit more ready” when you can afford to be.

Put yourself in the other person’s place, no matter what your role.

Consistency vs. inconsistency

Consistent behavior, delivered consistently, is looked upon by your clients as a good thing. Even if your consistent behavior is patently customer antagonistic (yes – such companies do exist), at the least, the customers who continue to tolerate such behavior will know what to expect from you. On the other hand, inconsistent behavior consistently drives customers away. Think about your favorite restaurant. Why is it your favorite? Is it because the food is sometimes hot, sometimes cold and sometimes just right? Is it because the service is sometimes friendly, sometimes unfriendly? At your favorite hardware store, is the staff helpful on some visits and inane / incompetent / ambivalent during other visits?

Why does consistency matter?

Customers like a predictable outcome. They provide comfort when customers aren’t comfortable. This is particularly common when they are out of their element – such as during travel to an unfamiliar place. You’ve been flying all day, you’re tired, and you’re famished. You have a big day tomorrow. You may want some comfort food, but you also want a high level of assurance that you aren’t going to end a long travel day with a bad meal or an disconcerting experience.

One of the primary reasons that franchises do well (and that customers revisit them) is that they have an operations and training program that’s consistent across all locations. This includes a common and frequently updated operations manual that documents each job process in the business. However boring they may seem, you can generally depend on the consistency of behavior, service and product whether you’re visiting a franchise location in Springfield Illinois, Springfield Missouri, or Springfield Georgia. Franchises don’t have sole rights to having documented operations processes or a consistent training regimen for their teams. Your small business can create and use those things as well.

Over the past 20 years, there are two places where I have seen the most obvious differences in these areas:

  • the employee on-boarding process after a new hire
  • process documentation for day to day jobs.

Interestingly, these are connected, since one of the first things a new hire often encounters is a lack of process documentation for a job they’re expected to do. This doesn’t mean they don’t receive training, but without a documented process, the training they receive will be inconsistent from trainer to trainer. Each employee is likely to perform the task with slight differences and train differently as well. One of the best things about documenting a process is the discovery of nuance and surprises that occur when producing the documentation. The process being documented rarely manages to fail to produce something that the person documenting it will not be told by anyone who performs the task. There will be dependencies on materials, staff and/or timing. There will be gotchas, both known to management and most likely unknown as well.

Left undocumented, these differences in business process performance and execution become dependent on the attitude, experience and wherewithal of the staffer performing them. Consider your business. Do processes exist in your business that, when performed differently, can substantially alter customer experience? Does that experience depend on performance trifecta of attitude, experience and wherewithal of the staffer? I suspect it does. What tools or systems (even a checklist counts as a “system”) do you use to assure that quality standards are consistently achieved by your staff?

These things don’t have to be perfect on day one. Start small and implement incremental improvement, both to your processes and the documentation and training intended to improve them.

“Without a leader, there are no standards. Without standards, there is no consistency.” – Chef Gordon Ramsey

Remaining: On-boarding

One of the single biggest differences between most small businesses and high-performing businesses is their new employee on-boarding process. One of the best assets for your on-boarding program is the process documentation discussed above. While it shouldn’t be the only component of on-boarding, it’s a critical one. On-boarding needs to include delivery and configuration of work equipment, internal IT systems, mundane work space gear like phones and staplers, facility familiarization, emergency training, process training, culture (which should have been part of hiring), and how to deal with various human resource-related functions. You can probably think of others. If you’ve ever held a job working for someone else, think back. What made joining a new company stand out at the best companies? What made it regrettable at the worst of them?

Photo by Internet Archive Book Images

Employee metrics and the fantasy football parallel

My son and his friends talked me into joining their NFL fantasy league this season. A fantasy team owner “drafts” players and those players’ statistics are used to score points each week. You face off against one other team owner in the league. The owner whose players score the most points that week determines who wins. It struck me this week that gathering good employee metrics, monitoring them and taking action on the data is not unlike what you do when managing a fantasy sports team.

The last time I played a fantasy sport, the draft involved Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. It was 1986. Getting statistics for every game was laborious. You had to scour the newspaper to get the data you needed and for NBA basketball, it became a daily chore due to the volume of games. In a lot of ways, the difficulty of getting a player’s game statistics for every game for a fantasy sport 30 years ago reminds me of the difficulty of gathering the right employee metrics these days. For some data, you really have to want it.

Employee metrics should include condition

In the NFL and other professional sports, there are well-defined rules and timelines for determining whether or not a player can play, communicating their condition and deciding their availability for the next game. Scrutiny on professional sports players is very high and the data is readily available, so it’s easy to determine if a player is injured, will play this week, has the flu, is dealing with a family member’s illness or death, etc.

In your business, things are not that simple. While you’ll know about an employee family member’s death, you won’t often learn about an employee’s family drama or relative’s illness until it has progressed to a state that impacts the employee’s ability to show up at work. The impact starts well before you find out about the situation.

Sometimes it isn’t sickness. Employment situations change. Kids move back home, or go off to college, or both. Weddings, divorces, financial and legal struggles and other things can put stress on an employee, even if those things aren’t their life changes. When these things happen to an employee’s child, parent or sibling, they can affect work performance, whether they like it or not.

In the NFL, a player has to go through the concussion protocol after “getting their bell rung“. They must be cleared to play football by someone who is not associated with the team. While it’s mostly about caring for the player’s condition and their future health, it also has a big impact on the team. In the old days, a player could brush aside such concerns and play anyway. Sometimes this helped the team, sometimes not.

Your employees have the same types of issues. Who is monitoring their condition? Are the people you have “on the field” in optimal condition for the task? These things are a form of metrics, but they’re difficult to gather / measure. What would help them return to their normal performance level or better?

Typical business metrics say a lot of about day to day performance, but don’t lose sight of more personal “metrics” that can affect employee performance.

Who’s the opponent?

In a NFL fantasy league, who you “play” that week is very much determined on which team they are playing. The quality of the opponent is everything. The best quarterback in the league isn’t likely to have a huge game against the best defense in the league. To score higher, you might shift to a quarterback who’s playing against a poor defense this week.

In your shop or office, the opponent may be a work task, the sales prospect, or that meeting with partners. While you probably don’t think of them as opponents, the same ideas apply. Given the situation, task, and people involved, do you have the best available players on the field? In other words, are the right people involved?

What’s the history with those people, tasks, and situations? Does that impact who you assign to the job? Pro teams practice against an opponent’s “look” the week before they play that opponent. How do you test your team in advance of the real thing?

Metrics are situational, behavioral and yes, hard numbers too.

Which little things do you let slide?

We often let little things go because we have “bigger fish to fry”. We prioritize tasks, clients, products and services over others of the same sort because we have to. Prioritization of what’s important today over what might be important tomorrow, or even later today is perfectly normal. We have to do it.

The challenge with little things is that they add up, particularly when they’re repeatedly set aside. They have a way of ganging up and creating momentum, as if they were a colony of ants. Together, a colony can move things much larger than any single ant.

We cannot allow any error in judgment to delude us into thinking that ‘letting the little thing slide’ would not make a major difference.” – Jim Rohn

What little things?

What sort of little things come to mind for you as important for your business?

For me, the little things that matter are those things that tell me what the business thinks is important. Every business says the customer is important, but how do they prove it? Do their words match their actions? Little things are a great place to sort this out.

Little things explicitly communicate what’s important to the owners of the business. They tell me about the culture of the business and paint a picture of what’s important to the business’ management team. These things indicate how hard the ownership and management has thought about what their customers need, want and expect.

Their consideration of and emphasis placed on these things is reflected in the staff’s behavior. Their behavior is an indicator of the quality of management. It signals management’s emphasis during staff training, as well as the quality and frequency of that training. All of this points at the importance placed on serving their clients’ needs, wants and expectations.

Think about the curb appeal of a house. Consider your impression when stopping in front of a home with a weedy, un-mowed yard. Now think about the impression you have when viewing a nicely manicured one. What does that tell you about the upkeep, maintenance and care taken for the rest of each home? Your impression might be wrong – but changing that impression is tough. A business with poor “curb appeal” may never get a chance to improve the impression they’ve left.

That’s exactly what little things can do. They have a knack for sending a big message to your clients.

Prioritization by impact

Big things matter. If you think back over your career, I’m sure you can think of a number of big issues that started out as little things that were left to fester. But which ones? It’s critical to separate the little unimportant things from the little things that can fester into big ones. And how exactly do you do that? One of the most important prioritization skills you can develop is the ability to determine which of these little things are unimportant and which need to be dealt with before they create big problems.

I tend to look at the impact, rather than the size.

If something small is likely to impact a number of people, it won’t be small for long. That’s the kind of little thing that requires short term attention. Little things to you, your team and your business might be big things to your clientele, which speaks to your awareness of client needs, wants and expectations.

If something small isn’t communicated, it can become something big simply by not letting your clients know about it – and know that you’re aware of it. Even if you believe it’s a little thing, communicate anyway. This gives the client a chance to say “Thanks, no problem” or “Hey, it’s not a big deal in and of itself, but it’s going to create another problem that causes a big impact.” The incremental cost of that brief advisory to the client is tiny. The return on investment on that communication can be sizable if it helps keep a small issue from morphing into something ugly.

If you only identify one of these situations per year and it results in keeping a client you might have lost, the return on investment is obvious. If you retain one sale a month by categorizing these little things and taking action on the important ones, the return on investment is obvious.

Are you battling complacency?

One of the most serious challenges that a company can face is complacency. Whether it takes root among the leadership, the team or even their clientele, it can create permanent damage.

Complacency in leadership

You may have heard comments like these if your company’s leaders have become complacent:

  • We’re doing ok. I don’t see any need to change anything.
  • Our competition will never catch us.
  • We don’t need to invest in new tooling.
  • That new startup in our market is doomed. I’m not worried about them.
  • Our staff doesn’t need training.

Complacent leadership can produce fear, a lack of confidence and complacency among the staff. Fixing your company’s leadership, including their complacency, is part of your job as a business owner – and that includes your own leadership.

Complacency among the staff

There are at least two kinds of complacency that can creep in here: career complacency and job complacency. They’re often interconnected since someone complacent about the job may also all but given up on career growth. Not everyone has big plans for their career, so don’t assume that someone who isn’t pushing, pushing, pushing isn’t doing a good job – they may simply lack the drive, ambition or need to be your next senior leader.

If someone used to have that drive and ambition and no longer seems to, it’s possible that they’ve checked out and have succumbed to job complacency, which has more context with performance, much less with going the extra mile.

Job complacency, as noted previously, may relate back to leadership, but it may also be the person’s day to day mindset and overall quality of life will affect these things. The conditions of their life and lifestyle affect how they view life, how they work and the nature of their career aspirations. Your staff don’t become new people when they walk in the door.

Anything you can do to help them restore confidence in themselves will impact their job performance. Likewise, fixing things related to their job duties, environment, accountability and responsibility is likely to raise their self-worth outside your walls, not just inside them.

Many people take their jobs quite personally. When they’re in a situation where they don’t have the authority to do their job, or the environment works against them, it can infect their entire lives – enough to make them feel the need to move on, even though the thing you can fix seems trivial.

Complacent service

We’ve all seen it. Someone waiting on you, helping you in a store, helping you over the phone, or even on Twitter. They’re going through the motions. “Your call is important to us“, right?

What creates the complacency that gets a customer support team to that point? Their leadership, certainly. What’s the focus of the customer support manager? What metrics are important? What tools and authority to “make things right” does the team have? These are the things that make a support team vested in the solutions they provide.

A lack of these things can create a seed of cynicism, doubt or negativity that complacency can grab onto. In your service department, you simply can’t afford that.

Complacent products

It’s impossible for a product to be complacent – it doesn’t have a soul of its own.

That said, if those who design and build your products are infected with complacency, your products are quite likely to have it designed and/or built in.

This can happen whether they are “knowledge workers” or the folks in your wood or metal shop. What they design and create isn’t the point – that they have a customer-centric, long-term viability mindset when designing and building things is the key.

Leadership can affect this as well, since products might be designed and built with a strategic goal as well as a revenue goal. Cash flow and sales are important, but does that new product target a new market, a new lead source or does it increase your conversion rate? Does it serve a new tier of customers? Does it encourage the sale of services or increase the lifetime investment of the client?

Products that are not conceived, designed and built with a strategic purpose can create complacency if those who design and build them wonder “Why are we doing this?

As a leader, your job is to root out complacency at all levels.

Hiring Millennials

Are you hiring Millennials? How’s that going? Some people love them, some do little more than complain about them and their penchant for selfies. The oft-parroted “party line” is that Millennials are entitled slackers with no work ethic who don’t take initiative, aren’t responsible, etc. Meanwhile, many employers say “We can’t find qualified people who want to work.”

If that’s the case, they’ve either eliminated Millennials by default, or they aren’t looking very hard – or both.

Slacking isn’t age specific

These behaviors are not generation specific. EVERY generation has people who fit one or more of those patterns. You probably know a few. Are they all 18-34? I doubt it.

If people aren’t worthy of your job, that’s at least partly on them – no matter what generation they’re in. If you hire them anyway and aren’t doing so in hopes that they grow into the job or as part of a training effort, then their inability or lack of desire to do the job is on you – and specifically, on your company’s hiring process.

Most hiring processes spend the majority of their effort determining if someone is qualified. Once candidates are considered qualified, gut feel hiring often takes over the selection process.

A critical aspect of the hiring process is filtering out the people who won’t fit in culturally. This isn’t about you being elitist. It’s about making sure the candidate fits your company and that your company also fits the candidate. The culture at Duck Commander is different than the culture at VaynerMedia, Flathead Beacon or Goldman Sachs – and that’s OK. What’s not OK is hiring someone who is a terrible cultural fit. It doesn’t mean they’re a bad candidate, it simply means they’re not the right one for YOUR company.

One of the benefits of exposing your company’s culture to candidates is helping them remove themselves as a candidate. You want to send clear, legal signals that help people figure out if they’re a good fit. Hiring a perfectly qualified person who feels like Quasimodo when they’re at work is a waste of your time and theirs. Both of you will likely have to start over and that’s not a good thing for you or the candidate.

Culture is a big part of attracting and hiring the right people to grow your company. Millennials aren’t the only ones who care about these things.

Your hiring process reflects your culture

Remember, it isn’t the generation, it’s the person and your hiring process. Make sure yours does a great job of selecting not only the right skill set, but the right candidate for the job, your team and your company. Your process should do a great job of showing the candidate what your company is all about – and what you’re not about.

This week I heard about a company that had to fire an employee because they didn’t show up for work. They didn’t show up because they were a registered sex offender who got caught and arrested again. If the company ran a pre-hire background check, would they have declined to hire a registered sex offender?

Would you?

Would it depend on who your clients are, or whether or not the person would have direct contact with clients? Certainly. What about their contact with other employees and their families? What about the desire to rehabilitate someone who has “paid their debt to society”?

Your next applicant is a parent with small children. They’ve got the potential to be drive 10X growth of your company. How would you explain the situation to them? What if they’re a non-violent ex-convict?

Not hiring Millennials? What might you be missing?

If you eliminate Millennials from your hiring process, what might you be missing? In the group of people from 18 to 34, do you believe there are hard working, smart, ethical, motivated people who have the potential to transform your company?

If so, will you ignore that possibility due to someone’s perception that all Millennials are selfie-addicted slackers who don’t have any goals?

If so, where will your company be in 15-20 years if you’ve decided not to hire, groom and train 18-34 year olds over the next 10 years? In trouble, I’d say.

What does not hiring Millennials say to Millennials who might buy from you? Remember, Millennials currently make 21% of U.S. consumer purchases.

Hire incredibly well, regardless of age.

Culture defines who has your team’s back

How tight is your staff? What’s the culture of the team? Do they trust one another? Do they trust you? Do your employees know you have their back? Do they know their peers have their back?

Can everyone on your team depend on the processes, systems and people involved in your business? If you said yes, does every single person agree?

If you haven’t asked, don’t assume the answer is yes.

How well do they jell?

Ask your team about the qualities of the people they want to work with. Use their answers during your hiring process. You can’t allow even the smartest, best qualified prospect to join your team if they’ll create cultural conflict.

A few more questions to ask your team:

  • Is there anyone whose call you don’t want to answer? Ask them to think about why they wouldn’t answer.
  • Is there anyone whose call you will always take? Ask them to think about why they’d always answer.
  • Is there anyone on the team who makes you wonder “Why does management keep that person around?
  • Is there information about the business that you don’t have that’s preventing you from doing your job to the best of your ability?
  • If you’re responsible for local sales, do you know what parts of town yield the most profit?

Those last two questions are a clue about the information your team needs to become more effective. It’s not always about the obvious things.

Team members who are ready to grow into more responsibility will start asking (if not only wondering to themselves) if the work they’re being asked to do is turning a profit for the business. It’s critical to complete the circle of communications to your team about sales and profitability. When employees show concern about these things, feed that fire. It’s a sign that they’ve matured beyond taking home a check and are interested in growing their impact on profit.

These things contribute to your culture

While some businesses will hand wave away their culture as a meaningless foofoo thing, culture is what glues your team together. It defines how well they work together every day (or not) and that goes directly to how well they treat your clientele.

It’s essential that you use your culture as a filter for deciding who has the privilege of joining your team.

If you don’t, you’ll likely lose people who are very difficult to replace because they’ll see right through the “culture is important, employees are important” statements you might make.

To be a place where people want to work, these things matter.
To be a business people want to do business with, these things matter.

What doesn’t kill you…

I had an annual meeting conversation with a team this weekend. They’ve been to hell and back over the last year, business-wise. The ones who survived the worst part and stuck around have learned to depend on each other and expect great things of one another every day. They understand the importance of defending one another, covering for one another and expecting the best from everyone as the work together. They understand what’s important, what’s not and that they have to stick together and continue to work together or they will certainly die (employment-wise) separately.

While I won’t mention what business they’re in, I wouldn’t suggest taking them on. After listening to them and speaking with them, it’s clear they’d take punishment for one another. Best of all, they understand that the best culture in the world doesn’t mean much if profitable sales, consistent delivery and service don’t happen. It takes all of these things.

And that’s important because?

I mention this because a trial by fire will either destroy your team or bond it like few other experiences. The differences between teams that get destroyed and the ones that bond include your leadership as an owner, the team’s leadership (implicit and explicit), who makes up your team and what they’re made of. These things define your team’s culture because it defines who they are.

Which team do you lead? Do you know where the strengths and weaknesses are? Are you willing to investing in the proper hiring, training and communication to build your team into one that can take a punch?

Making employees feel safe

Gary Vaynerchuk make a safety comment in a video I was watching the other day that struck me to the core. It made perfect sense but I hadn’t really thought about it from quite the angle he came from.

While I’ve always tried to listen more than I speak (thanks Dad) as well as “praise in public, scold in private” and work within a number of Jim Rohn / Stephen Covey “seek first to understand” ways, I have found that there’s a line that you can cross when managing people that can stop the flow of accurate information from them to you – and perhaps from you to them.

The deadly part is that once you cross that line it’s really hard to erase the line or cross back over it into the nice little town of Truthville. That’s the place where Gary’s comment provided some clarity.

How do you make them feel?

What Gary said was “When you make them feel safe, they start telling the truth”.

He wasn’t accusing people who don’t feel safe of being liars. He’s saying that until they feel safe around you, within your business and its culture, you aren’t giving them the option to tell the truth. Up to that point, you’ve only given them the option to tell you what you want to hear, or perhaps the “safe” part of the truth.

When people don’t feel safe, it damages every conversation. It isn’t solely about the critical, strategic discussion you’re having this afternoon. It will affect every discussion, because they aren’t comfortable where the danger zone is.

As a result, they will often say nothing, as if they have no opinion, have nothing to add, and agree with whatever’s already been said. The reality is likely that they might have something quite valuable to share, controversial / challenging or otherwise, but they don’t feel safe sharing it. Unless you’re sensitive to what you’ve done, or more accurately, what you haven’t created for them – they might appear ambivalent, stupid, shy, unthinking, not insightful and many other things that you might see as negative.

How is this costly to your business?

The obvious problem is that your people tiptoe around and say only what they feel safe saying, instead of offering their most brilliant ideas and insightful opinions. Those things are rarely going to be middle of the road safe, so they are muted. This will change the appearance of that person and their attitude.

You might even think about getting rid of them because they aren’t intellectually contributing to important conversations at the company. Who wants an employee who doesn’t care one way or the other, or who doesn’t think about the big questions the business needs to discuss, or never has an opinion?

What could be happening is that you’ve not yet created an environment that allows them to feel safe sharing the most intelligent, valuable things on their mind. When your staff members intellectually shut down, or self-arrest before providing their most creative ideas and insights, you lose.

Eventually, you may lose them but in the meantime, you have a team of folks doing their work in an environment where they are afraid to take risks, speak their mind, share their insights (right or wrong) and take ownership of a situation. If someone doesn’t feel safe, they’ll never take ownership of something because claiming ownership means they agree to be responsible when management comes calling.

Happy, safe employees take ownership

I saw a Facebook post from an acquaintance the other day. He was getting home from work at 11:30pm on a Friday night – and all he could talk about on Facebook to his family and friends was how excited he was to work for the company he works for. While I suspect his management doesn’t want him doing that every night, I’ll bet they appreciate that he recognized something that needed to be done, done right then, and that he stuck to it till it was complete.

People take responsibility when they feel safe. Ownership matters to them. People crave it but they won’t take it if it doesn’t feel safe to do so.

Part of taking ownership is telling the unvarnished, unfiltered truth when important discussions come up. The more valuable your people are, the more valuable their insights and opinions will be.

Do your employees feel safe enough to share those things with you?

Beware national distraction season

National distraction season is upon us. Are you ready?

No, I’m not talking about bowhunting season. Work is a distraction from bow season, not the other way around, right? Seriously though – I’m referring to election / political season and the drama it brings to the workplace.

Last time, we discussed in general terms some of the trouble that employee drama can create. If you recall, I encouraged you to shut it down whenever possible, as quickly as possible before it erupts into something you can’t handle. I included some common causes of drama, but I left a few of the major ones out – like politics.

First, your employees

A particularly destructive feature of even numbered calendar years is the drama that elections and their related issues / discussions can create. I say destructive because it can not only destroy productivity for the day, or perhaps the week. It can also radically change the relationships between members of your staff, including one of the most important ones – the relationship you have with your staff.

While you and/or your staff may find substantial enjoyment from discussing election politics with friends and relatives, doing so at work is all but a no-win scenario. This may seem like Captain Obvious talking, but you would be surprised how much of it goes on and how much rapport it can damage.

You might be thinking that you don’t want any of those lefties or righties working at your business. No doubt, if you can manage that somehow, that’s on you to figure out and “police” – while doing legally, of course. Until you’ve created a 100% politically safe environment, I suggest you get your team together and address the how and when these things should be discussed in the workplace, and do so in a manner that you and they can handle productively.

On the other hand, if everyone agrees (really?), it stands to reason that full on political discussion and posturing is fair game across the entire workplace. Full political agreement among your staff doesn’t mean there won’t be conflicts or morale issues, but it will likely minimize them. Even so, is this what you want consuming your staff’s mindset and conversation as they produce products and deliver services for your clients?

You may think this is a bit of an overreach on your part. Perhaps it is. That’s for you to decide, but I’d bear in mind that everyone working for you (and their families) depend on you to keep the place productive and profitable. Your community depends on your employees and their families as well. Allowing your workplace to become a toxic political war zone may not help your business meet those needs, much less helping your people meet yours.

And then, your clientele

Speaking of your clients – if these discussions are going on, it’s pretty likely that they are going to color the tone of discussions with your clientele, or that your clientele will overhear or even become involved in a staff discussion that they stumble into at your place.

If you’re willing to lose clients over this, make it clear to your team. For those of you who aren’t interested (much less willing) to lose clients over a political discussion, that should also be made clear to your entire team. As I mentioned earlier, if you are willing to say “I don’t want any lefties/righties as clients”, that’s on you to figure out and do so legally.

If that’s not a place you want to go, then you need to make sure your team understands that their publicly accessible comments in the workplace need to stay within the bounds you set. This is no different than you laying down the law about profanity, etc. It may create a bit more frustration and perhaps will make way less common sense than “Don’t use profanity on the sales floor, on the phone, on the radio or in emails” but that’s your choice to make.

Bottom line, I would encourage you to have your team find more productive things to discuss at the workplace, like the in-state college football rivalry of choice:)

Extinguishing employee drama

One of the more potentially costly things you can encounter as a manager is employee drama. While it’s generally unavoidable, it’s critical to the long term success of your career as a manager, or as an owner, to create a culture of drama non-proliferation at your business.

Eliminating it completely will be extremely difficult. Instead, you’ve got to learn (and train others to) detect and defuse employee drama at the first sign of smoke.

Why do they do it?

Drama has plenty of causes and ignition points:

  • Pet peeves, legitimate or otherwise
  • History with prior employers
  • Frustration with how projects are being executed
  • Frustration with a lack of control
  • Frustration with a lack of responsibility when accountability is on that person
  • Personality conflicts

There are a few other reasons, but today we’re going to stick to the ones that primarily cause workplace drama. What you’ll notice is that these mostly relate to work responsibilities in some way.

One that I mention – history with past employers – is a tough one. Sometimes you’ll hire someone who has been treated terribly in the past. It will take a while to build trust with them. Expect it to take longer than you think it should. You haven’t lived what they have and you haven’t seen it multiple times. When you see these things at multiple employers, it’s easy to assume that every employer works that way. Give it time.

The accountability, control and how executed reasons are related and tend to be different symptoms of the same thing – you’re hearing from someone who wants to do a better job, but their work is threatened or undermined in some way. You can deal with those things. Ask and keep asking how you can help. Ask what they need. Ask how they’d do it.

And then let them own it.

Don’t feed the beast

The beast is the drama monster. It’s an incredibly time-consuming (and thus expensive) distraction no business can afford.

You set the tone for whether drama creation is acceptable at your place. If you contribute to the rumor mill (which often rolls downhill to drama), you’re sending a signal that it’s OK whether you like it or not.
Even if you listen and say nothing, or nod your head as if you’re trying to be a good listener and say nothing, you’re still letting the fire burn.

The manager who lets drama fester and boil over risks a great deal:

  • Losing the respect of their team
  • Losing the respect of their management peers
  • Losing the respect of whoever they report to
  • Weakening (at best) the ability of their team to work and produce effectively

Fix the what and the why, not the who

Avoid the temptation to try and fix the person creating the drama. Instead, focus on why the drama occurs. We’ve already talked about the common reasons that stir it up. If you focus on the what and the why, you won’t feel the need to “fix” the who.

Trying to fix someone will be as difficult as trying to change their religion or their politics. Most likely – a waste of time. Instead, see what you can do to eliminate the reasons why it got started in the first place.

As mentioned earlier, you may find that giving accountability for the thing that created drama will allow it to self-resolve.

Dig deeper on the pet peeves and the personality conflicts. While legitimate personality conflicts do exist, many of them are symptoms of control and/or accountability problems (there is none or it’s in the wrong place). Pet peeves are often rooted in similar situations.

Train everyone how to defuse it

Most of the drama around your place is going to get stirred up when you aren’t around. If you’re the only one who can defuse it, you’ll eventually get the opportunity but by the time you do, it’s like putting out a small forest fire – it would’ve been easier to simply drown the campfire.

When you work one on one with your team, explain what you did after you defuse it. Every few months (or as necessary) go over drama reduction as a team. Show them how to help each other extinguish the flames while they’re only a small campfire.