4 Actions Leaders Should Take to Prevent BurnoutStressed employees are simply not strong enough to deliver on organizational goals. Here's what leaders can do to prevent burnout.
If you were to ask a friend or family member how they’re feeling right now, their answer might be, “stressed,” “burnt out,” or “overwhelmed”. That’s what vacation is for, right? Well, two to four weeks of PTO is not enough to relieve the burnout employees are facing.
Just look at the numbers. Employees who say they very often or always experience burnout at work are:
- 63% more likely to take a sick day.
- 23% more likely to visit the emergency room.
- 6 times more likely to be actively seeking a different job.4
Clearly, that stress is outpacing PTO’s ability to deal with it. Leaders often recognize this, but don’t know what to do about it.
Burnout Is a Business Problem
According to Webster’s dictionary, burnout is, “physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress.”1 The primary driver is occupational stress, but it’s not that simple. Other factors often contribute to burnout, including unrealistic work expectations, health issues, family caregiving responsibilities, and the uncertainty of environmental and societal change.
Over time, our “energy bank” that started with a healthy balance becomes overdrawn. We might experience physical and emotional effects like fatigue, attention problems, irritability, anxiety, and depression.
In this state, we can’t show up for work as our best selves.
We become pessimistic, defensive, apathetic, disengaged, and isolated. In fact, the norms of many workplaces keep us from being nipping burnout in the bud by speaking up and seeking help. Stressed employees are simply not strong enough to deliver on organizational goals.
What Leaders Can Do
- Lead. Take an active role in preventing and addressing burnout. Feeling seen and supported by leadership goes a long way.
- Streamline. Help employees work smarter, not harder. Promote reasonable workload management, through teaming, delegation, and flexible goals and metrics.
- Empower. Set clear goals and expectations in collaboration with individual employees. Make sure work expectations consider the risk of burnout. Use an ongoing development process that acknowledges the need to avoid burnout.
- Nurture. Prioritize holistic well-being. Recognize that employees with full, healthy lives perform better. Promoting health and happiness is a great investment in your workforce.
The play is proactive reduction of stress. The goal is a culture of balance that supports sustainably strong performance.
Maintaining MotivationWhat the heck does a road trip have to do with a work project? Surprisingly, they elicit similar thoughts and reactions. Here's what I learned.
What your road trip can teach you about project success.
I recently returned from vacation. My family and I joined many of our fellow Texans in the annual summer escape from the heat and ventured to the mountains of Colorado. Sure, we could have flown, but we decided to take to the road and enjoy the freedom that comes from being in control of the journey. As we drove, the experience started to remind me of a project.
The trip started out early on a Sunday morning. We were full of energy. The SUV was packed, YETIs were filled with coffee, snacks were at the ready, and teenage sons had their phones fully charged. Things were great, until they weren’t. After five hours of driving, with five more to go, my back started to hurt. My teenagers were bickering like eight-year-olds, and everyone was starving. I even heard a few “how much longer?” comments. I started having doubts…was driving the right decision? Images of the Griswold family flashed through my head.
Fast-forward another five hours: after stops for lunch, fuel, and restroom breaks we approached our day-one Texas Panhandle destination. We made it! As we approached the highway hotel and the end of the day’s journey, I felt new energy. Sure, we weren’t in Colorado yet, our stopping point was far from glamorous, and there was more driving the next day, but we all felt a sense of accomplishment.
We hit the road after a quick, mediocre, breakfast buffet at the hotel. The good news: the day 2 trek was only six hours; the bad news: the day 2 trek was six hours. Coming off a below-average night’s sleep in a crowded double queen room filled with road noise, I felt less than spectacular. Why did we do this again?
Fast forward…Traci (my wife) offered to do much of the driving, and I dozed off while listening to music. We made it to our high-elevation destination by mid-afternoon. The mountains were spectacular, the condo was spacious with a great view, and we were walking distance from everything we needed. After a nice walk, a couple drinks, and a casual dinner with the family, all was well. It was worth it! We did it! We were ready to enjoy a week in the mountains. We even felt confident about the drive home at the end of the week.
What the heck does a road trip have to do with a project? Surprisingly, they elicit similar thoughts and reactions. Think about it. How do you feel at the beginning of a project? What about the middle? How does it feel when you hit a milestone or — even better — complete the project?
Most people are highly motivated at the beginning of a project. Sure, there is some nervous energy, but there is energy…natural energy! Leaders and team members are eager to get started and ready to take on whatever comes their way. Project leaders may even organize a kickoff event, complete with team dinner or celebration, to mark the occasion.
Change management practitioners should capitalize on the project beginning and design interventions that create even more “buzz.”
It’s a great time to seek out and engage the Innovators and Early Adopters in the organization. These people will be on board with the change and will build support from within the organization.
The middle is a slog. Middles are the time when people think, “Why did I sign up for this?” Project Managers and Change Managers must engineer wins to keep the team going. Maybe the project is organized in sprints. Sprints create natural milestones that team members rally around. Even better, they are often followed by “sprint retrospective” meetings to discuss what went well and what could be done better in the next sprint. Retrospectives give team members an opportunity to be heard and play a role in what happens next. This is essential to engagement, because people crave a sense of control.
Change Managers work with project managers to identify and create interim goals. We want team members to think “I was successful, and I can be successful again.” Interim goals feel more attainable than project completion. Team members are motivated when milestones or goals are met. They feel a boost.
Organizations should reward people when goals and milestones are met.
For example, “down days” (no meetings allowed), offsite events where the team completes a non-work activity together (e.g., a community service project), or spotlight awards – nominees are acknowledged and thanked by leadership and nominators are entered into a raffle for a prize.
Just as sprinters run a little faster at the end of the race, team members are motivated to push a little harder at the end. Natural energy abounds. Team members begin to evaluate the experience as a whole. Ends create a great opportunity to motivate through connection and impact. Are there photos of teamwork, quotes from stakeholders, events for sharing stories, or music that sums up the experience? Use them. Change and Project Managers must capitalize on desire to finish strong.
The element of time is powerful. Daniel Pink writes about this in his book, When. There are times when energy and motivation come naturally and times when they don’t. Change practitioners must intentionally capitalize on times of high performance and shore up points of lower performance. And travelers should plan their road trips accordingly.
Is Productivity Monitoring Undermining ProductivityWhen it comes to employee productivity monitoring, we say: employers, just stop it. Do the better, harder thing. Tap into the potential of employees with the freedom to be great contributors.
Be careful not to mess with the real drivers of employee performance.
Is Big Brother a new hire at your company? More and more organizations are using technology to track and enhance employee productivity.
It’s no longer just for assembly line workers. Many white-collar employers are joining the data-driven micro-managing trend. Even professionals on the soft-skills end of the spectrum are subject to this. A hospice chaplain featured in this New York Times piece said her boss requires accrual of “points” for different work activities, like visits to dying patients (1 point and up), attending funerals (1.75 points), and phone calls to grieving families (.25 point).
It’s hard to imagine that inhibiting the freedom and decision-making of a chaplain serves the people in her care. Her performance is actually harmed by the performance tracking. That’s a common complaint; employees say that these measures don’t capture or promote what the organization really wants them to do. Moreover, the experience of being tracked, watched, and judged inhibits their work.
But what are the ultimate downsides for the organization?
Employee resignations? Maybe, like Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg, your company leadership feels like that’s ok. Zuckerberg recently turned up the pressure on his Meta employees, virtually daring them to quit. “Realistically, there are probably a bunch of people at the company who shouldn’t be here. And part of my hope by … turning up the heat a little bit, is that I think some of you might just say that this place isn’t for you. And that self-selection is okay with me.” Musk says if Tesla employees don’t meet his new work standards, a minimum of 40 hours per week of in-office performance, “They should pretend to work somewhere else.”
Other than quitting, what’s an over-pressured worker to do? For some, it’s called “quiet quitting.”
The “quitting” part is misleading. It’s not quitting; more like coasting. People are recalculating what they owe their employer and doing the minimum to keep their jobs, focusing the extra time and energy on activities that give them more value. This is certainly not a new idea; it just has a new name and new momentum.
But won’t the productivity monitoring prevent “quiet coasting?” Probably not. Never underestimate the human capacity for workarounds. As the NYT article explains:
As these practices have spread, so has resistance to what labor advocates call one of the most significant expansions of employer power in generations. TikTok videos offer tips on outsmarting the systems, including with a “mouse jiggler,” a device that creates the appearance of activity. (One popular model is called Liberty.) Some of the most closely monitored employees in the country have become some of the most restive — warehouse workers attempting to unionize, truckers forming protest convoys.
The more powerful downside is the opportunity cost. Organizations using these draconian methods don’t seem to understand the human mind. They are undermining some powerful drivers of employee performance and retention.
- Control is a basic human desire. Giving people control lowers anxiety and unleashes all kinds of potential. Taking away control through onerous performance monitoring does the opposite – it reduces employees to the activities being monitored. It takes away their autonomy and limits what the organization stands to gain from them.
- Trust fulfills the human need for safety. This is really basic brain stuff. Without safety, we can’t perform properly; too much energy is diverted to finding the safety we crave. When employees don’t trust a leader or an organization, they don’t feel safe. Over-monitoring and over-measuring tell employees, ”We don’t trust you to do the right thing.” And, because trust is a balanced equation, this destroys the trust of employees for the employer. This directly undermines productivity. The Speed of Trust Summary (Stephen M.R. Covey) | Bloomsoup
- Intrinsic motivation is a natural desire to do something; extrinsic motivation is doing something because you have to or you’re forced to. Intrinsic motivation is the holy grail of employee performance. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, everyone wins. An intrinsically motivated employee is driven by internal rewards like challenge, curiosity, problem-solving, and altruism. Intrinsically motivated people are enthusiastic, engaged, and rise to new levels of performance because they love what they do. Moreover, intrinsic motivation lasts longer to sustain performance. The problem: extrinsic motivators like micromanaging snuff out that momentum. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0167487004001035
So we come down on the “no” side of the over-monitoring trend. Employers, just stop it. Do the better, harder thing. Tap into the potential of employees with the freedom to be great contributors.
Is Your Team UncivilizedWorkplace incivility is not only pervasive, it’s elusive. Fortunately our academic friends have figured out a way to measure it concretely.
In the nineties, Accenture struggled to keep women in executive positions. One theory was that women who left the firm did so to devote their time to parenting. But when they did the research, they found women were leaving to take equally demanding jobs. So, if it wasn’t the pull of family, why did women leave? Looking closer at the dwindling female talent pool, they saw something swirling beneath the surface: moments of incivility.
Here’s one way it showed up. Accenture’s informal mentoring focused on navigating office politics – whom to align with to represent you for promotions, and how to manage what others thought of you. One bit of advice was to make sure you were “heard.”
Being heard was a challenge at Accenture. During meetings, it was common to interrupt the speaker. Women found that others, including women, spoke over each other – verbally jostling to hold the floor. In fact, to avoid being spoken over in meetings, one very powerful and petite executive developed a strategy: she stood and up and circled the room while making her point. It worked, and she encouraged other women to do the same.
At many companies, incivility shows up as “throwing people under the bus.”
Recently, a friend of mine stumbled upon her direct supervisor and their Vice President deriding the quality of her work. When my friend brought it up, the supervisor invited her to drinks, begged her not to quit, and said it was a “misunderstanding” and “wasn’t personal.”
How about piñata-style management? This is when a manager believes that if they batter their people, good things might fall out. Another friend recently worked with an executive who sat back in every meeting, waiting to take a swing when the moment was right. Sometimes she yelled; sometimes she was snarky. She was known for asking questions out of left field simply to throw a person off. Yes, people did perform out of fear. But they also criticized, sabotaged, and quit in equal measure.
Christine Pearson, Lynne Andersson, and Christine Porath say what sets these experiences apart from other workplace hazards is ambiguity. Their definition of incivility is “low-intensity deviate behavior with ambiguous intent to harm… (and a) violation of workplace norms for mutual respect.”
So, incivility is not only pervasive, it’s elusive. The perpetrator can credibly deny the behavior, call it a misunderstanding, or blame the tension on the weak character of the target. It’s vague, slippery, and—because people get away with it—it builds over time.
But are discomfort and unhappiness the only down sides? No. Harmful behavior spurs people to leave organizations. And, for people who stay, the sheer energy it takes to live with incivility harms productivity.
Here’s the difficult part as a leader. You probably don’t see it.
That’s because the perpetrators are often high performers who are good at managing up. And the targets often don’t want to cause trouble. If you do see it, or you have a sense that something is off, know that it’s permeating your organization. To root out incivility, a leader must look a few levels lower and use an instrument stronger than a typical employee satisfaction survey.
Fortunately, our academic friends have figured out a way to measure it concretely. See if trouble shows up when you conduct this survey by Lilia Cortina and her colleagues.
During the past year, were you ever in a situation in which any of your supervisors or co-workers:
1: Never 2: Once or Twice 3: Sometimes 4: Often 5: Many Times
1 Paid little attention to your statements or showed little interest in your opinions. 1 2 3 4 5 2 Doubted your judgement on a matter over which you had responsibility. 1 2 3 4 5 3 Gave you hostile looks, stares, or sneers. 1 2 3 4 5 4 Addressed you in unprofessional terms, either publicly or privately. 1 2 3 4 5 5 Interrupted or “spoke over” you. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Rated you lower than you deserved on an evaluation. 1 2 3 4 5 7 Yelled, shouted, or swore at you. 1 2 3 4 5 8 Made insulting or disrespectful remarks about you. 1 2 3 4 5 9 Ignored you or failed to speak to you (e.g., gave you the “silent treatment”). 1 2 3 4 5 10 Accused you of incompetence. 1 2 3 4 5 11 Targeted you with anger outbursts or “temper tantrums.” 1 2 3 4 5 12 Made jokes at your expense. 1 2 3 4 5 13 Ignored or excluded you from professional comradery.* 1 2 3 4 5 14 Put you down or was condescending to you.* 1 2 3 4 5
If you find your team trending toward uncivilized behavior, take the following steps:
- Label it. Uncivilized behavior happens because the perpetuator can deny it. Don’t let them. Words have power. Is someone being condescending? Call it out. Are they rolling their eyes? Tell them you see it. You will remove their ability to deny and start to create accountability.
- Define the behavior you want. It’s easy to talk about respect, but how does that look in your work environment? You might have people share, anonymously, the behavior they would like to see. Then take action — make the best suggestions part of business as usual. A number of colleagues who left 1990’s Accenture have told me they would still be there if someone had acknowledged their contribution. What a shame. If the firm had heard that feedback and translated it into an expected behavior, they might have retained those A-players.
- Don’t tolerate it. You get the culture you tolerate. When you see it, stop it in the moment. And here’s the hard part – if your repeat offender is a critical contributor and/or high performer, you must let them go. They are hindering the team’s performance even while they are convincing you to rely on them. When I have done this, I have found the team’s performance improves significantly. And I’ve had colleagues ask me, “Why didn’t you do this sooner?”
Creating a civil work place is not simple, because it requires intention and confrontation. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s well worth it. Your people will spend less time focused on office politics and more time on the performance and creative solutions you want from them.
*I’ve included two items from a version of this tool from 2001, Cortina, Magley, Williams and Langhout.
What Not To Do When You Have a New CEOLet’s say you’re a C-suite executive and a new CEO is on the way. You feel nervous—is your job in danger? In our opinion, yes, but here's how to manage the change.
Your Silence Speaks Volumes
Jim Citrin, of Spencer Stuart (an executive search firm) says this will be “a record year” for CEO turnover. So far, it seems to be true; according to the firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas, CEO turnover rose 29%, year over year, in the first quarter of 2022 — the highest since the pandemic began.
Let’s say you’re a C-suite executive and a new CEO is on the way. You’re a strong performer, and the numbers support it. Still, you might feel really nervous—does this upcoming change affect your position within the company? Are you in danger? In our opinion, yes, you are.
You might be thinking of horror stories like Bed, Bath, and Beyond. After only weeks on the job, new CEO Mark Tritton fired all but one of his C-suite.
Bloodbaths like that are not the norm, but it is common for a new CEO to take a hard look at the team she inherits. She needs to prove her worth, quickly, or she’ll be the one on the way out. Studies show that this is especially true when CEOs come from outside the company, which can double involuntary departures.
So if you’re a top exec with a new CEO – or, for that matter, anyone with a new boss — what can you do to survive?
Harvard Business Review studied CEO changes of over 1000 companies and interviewed a number of new CEOs. Their accounts support something we tell our clients: not communicating IS communicating.
There are many reasons people fail to communicate.
- You don’t yet have what you think you need – the information, or a firm decision to convey.
- You feel like the evidence speaks for itself, and you don’t need to add anything.
- You’re not ready for questions, because you don’t have firm plans. Maybe you feel like so much is going to change in the near future that your plans might be moot.
- You think someone else is better suited to deliver the message. It’s not your strength, or it’s not your place.
Whatever your reason, it’s not good enough. Because people will hear something, even if you’re not speaking. When they have gaps in their understanding, they WILL fill those gaps in some way. All you’re doing, through your silence, is giving up control over what they will think.
So what does this mean for you, if you have a new leader? Say something. Communicate, even if you feel it’s unnecessary.
The HBR interviews revealed what you’re really saying when you stay silent.
- Early impressions are important, but they aren’t based on the information you might think. New CEOs won’t ask their predecessor about you. And even when they get input from valid sources, they don’t place much stock in it. They want to make up their own minds. One big mistake: not enough face time, to help them form the impression. CEOs told HBR of a variety of ways their executives missed opportunities to fill in the blanks, from ill-timed vacations to over-focus on customer relationships. Face time is critical when the new boss is forming impressions.
What you’re saying with your silence: “I won’t be there for you when you need me.”
- One CEO told HBR, “Virtually no one came to see me to ask how they could help.”CEOs are in a naturally hostile environment. They’re in survival mode, trying to quickly figure out who’s with them and who’s against them. CEOs told HBR that they did not equate lack of disagreement with support. In fact, without strong, clear agreement, the CEOs draw their own conclusions: you’re not on the same page. CEOs reported firing executives because of misaligned priorities, even though those executives had never once announced their opposition.
What you’re saying with your silence: “I don’t agree with you and I won’t support you.”
- New CEOs who deliver positive outcomes for their organizations in the first year tend to keep their jobs; CEOs who don’t tend to get fired. So it’s essential that the new CEO delivers on their first-year agenda. They say executives should actively confirm that they understand and support the plans of the new boss. And, beyond simple agreement, it makes sense to clarify what the CEO is doing and what you, specifically, can do to support those outcomes.
What you’re saying with your silence: “I won’t help you succeed.”
- It’s hard to fault an executive for painting a bright picture of their function or division to the new CEO. But resist that temptation; it will backfire. As one CEO said “I don’t have time to sort out trust issues. If you don’t show me the negatives, I suspect that either you don’t know them or that you will try to hide things from me.”
What you’re saying with your silence: “You can’t trust me.”
- CEOs have enough challenges without trying to twist their style to fit their new team. So, of course, they want executives to match their style. You can do that the hard way – many months of observation, trial, and error – or you can do it the easy way. Ask them. One new CEO had a direct-report who others assumed would be fired, but “He…asked how I wanted him to disagree with me. What kind of facts cause me to change my mind — stories from the front line or statistics? Could he disagree in public or only in private? Once he had made his case and failed to convince me, should he try again or just accept that the decision was made? How did I feel about his subordinates or peers knowing he disagreed with something?” His direct and thoughtful conversation literally saved his job and set him up for long-term success with his new boss.
What you’re saying with your silence: “I won’t make this any easier.”
We often tell our clients that saying nothing tells employees, ”We don’t know” or “We don’t care.” Or both. That’s the very last thing you want your new boss to think. Say something.
Training on the UnthinkableEffective learning experiences are realistic and repetitive, preparing well-chosen people to create the new habits they need to perform. We have trouble imagining that training teachers to use guns will meet those criteria.
Why training teachers to actively resist won’t work.
“Houston, we have a problem.” That single line, paraphrased and popularized in the 1995 blockbuster Apollo 13, revealed much more than the harrowing events of a near-fatal NASA mission. It hinted at the power of effective learning.
Without a realistic simulated environment on the ground, drilling astronauts on worst-case scenarios, the entire crew would have been lost. It is powerful proof that good training drives real results.
Talk of arming teachers, to save the lives of their students and themselves, has us thinking about the Apollo 13’s training triumph.
Could teachers be effectively trained to defend against an active shooter?
Emerson develops learning programs our clients use to teach people to follow new processes or systems, up their performance, or deliver excellence for customers. What does that have to do with training astronauts or teachers to save lives? It all comes down to creating new behaviors. We know how to do that.
Let’s examine the training principles we recommend to effect new behaviors, and how those principles would work if we trained teachers to resist a violent intruder.
Match competencies to the role.
This is something our clients do outside of training. Every role has a competency profile – the skills and capabilities a person needs to be right for the job.
This is a common-sense but critical element of great performance. Yes, training helps people perform, but there are certain gaps that are hard to bridge with training. That’s why recruiters and managers take such pains to pair people and positions.
Needless to say, we hire teachers for their excellence in instructing our kids. They need teaching certificates, along with intelligence, communication skills, perception, compassion… If we were hiring people to neutralize violent intruders, the list would be different. So, before we even approach training, we have a potential performance problem.
Make it realistic.
The closer training is to reality, the better. Why? In order for people to perform, they need to transfer what they learned in training to on-the-job performance. The further the learning environment is from the performance environment, the less likely it is that the learner will transfer those new behaviors to real life.
Part of it is the setting. “State-dependent learning” says people perform better in the physical environment in which they learned to perform. That includes all the sights, sounds, smells, tools, and people. So, ideally, the learner would receive training in his or her performance environment—the real workspace.
Part of it is the scenario. We try to present learners with exactly the inputs and stimuli they will face on the job, and give them exactly the resources they will have at hand to solve the problem.
Could we apply that to teacher response training? They could certainly train in their own school buildings. That would be critical, as—aside from state-dependent learning—each building is physically different; those differences would require a custom response. But what about the scenario? That’s more of a problem.
It’s hard to anticipate exactly what would happen when someone is literally trying to take people by surprise.
Which brings us to our next principle…
Train on the exceptional.
We build training to include both the default and likely exceptions. Let’s say we’re designing training for department store employees. We might include scenarios on accepting purchase returns. In the common situation, it’s relatively simple: (1) Scan receipt. (2) Enter return reason code when prompted. (3) Press the Return button. Great. But then we ask, “What if…?” What if the customer doesn’t have a receipt? What if it’s past the time window to accept the return? What if this makes the customer mad? What if there’s a technical issue like an error message or a system outage? We must train employees on each of these scenarios.
But what if the default situation is already chaotic? If an active shooter going from classroom to classroom trying doors is your baseline, what other scenarios would we train? Imagine teachers learning to respond to one grave possibility after another.
Create unconscious habit.
We tell our clients that knowing what to do is not enough, especially in high-pressure situations. New behaviors must convert to habits, through repetitive practice cycles made up of a trigger, the right action, and some kind of reinforcement. Consider this comment on the police response to the Uvalde school shooting:
In the past two years, the Uvalde school district has hosted at least two active shooter trainings, according to reporting by The Times. One of them was two months ago. …Law enforcement officers need to be mentally prepared before they arrive on the scene, so they can respond immediately.
Repetitive training builds practice and confidence. Big gatherings for training every few years are more expensive and less effective for muscle memory. Instead, departments should consider more virtual tabletop exercises they can run through in an afternoon. Have officers walk through schools and talk with one another about how they would respond. Require officers to check all their gear before they begin a shift.
Learning experts know that, even if you drill during training, you can’t let new behaviors go stale and expect performance. We recommend our clients train only what is needed or will be used immediately on the job, providing natural repetition. Then we extend the learning experience through check-ins, on-the-job challenges, or learning networks, giving learners as many opportunities as possible to apply new skills after training.
So how would that work, if we were training teachers to forcibly resist?
They can’t actually use those new skills on the job until the unthinkable happens. Are we prepared to invest the time, effort, and emotional energy to effectively drill teachers, over and over, on their worst nightmare? Because that’s what it would take to create the right behaviors to make any difference.
Effective learning experiences are realistic and repetitive, preparing well-chosen people to create the new habits they need to perform. We have trouble imagining that training teachers to use guns will meet those criteria.
The Performance Dip MythSteady (or improving) performance through a change event is no less possible than a sub-four-minute mile.
Does a big change have to slow you down?
How many times have you read recently that companies are in the throes of unprecedented change? We’re all tired of hearing it, but it’s true. On top of all the organic changes we face – the need for new strategy, systems, skills, and structures – the pandemic has added a layer of fundamental change.
For example, nearly every organization has had to reconsider where and how its employees work. And it’s no wonder – a large portion of the work force likes working remotely, and over half of employees would consider quitting rather than returning to the office before they feel safe.
Just when we think we’ve considered all possibilities, we see new changes on the horizon. California, for example, is considering making a 32-hour work week the law.
Business leaders need to land on a model that works for them and then help employees make the shift. No matter what leaders decide, it amounts to another wave of change.
Which leads me to change management – helping your business survive and thrive through multiple change initiatives. Approaching big change fills many leaders with resignation that, at a minimum, the organization is in for a bumpy ride.
Why? Because there is always a drop in performance after a change event.
But there isn’t. And there shouldn’t. It’s a pervasive myth. The fact that we expect one creates a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Our mindset is powerful, and it can work against us. Remember the four-minute mile? It was assumed to be an absolute limit of human performance, until Roger Bannister broke it. He broke it because he did the hard work of preparation, and because he believed he could. And after he believed, other elite runners followed. Not because they were suddenly physically stronger, but because they saw it was possible. Roger Bannister had taken the teeth out of 4:00.
Steady (or improving) performance through a change event is no less possible than a sub-four-minute mile.
Setting the expectation that there will be a drop in performance is giving your power away, just as those runners used to. It’s creating a haven for sloppy change interventions.
Drops in performance don’t have to happen. They happen when we have not:
- Clearly defined the performance required after the event. In other words, we have not described the specific actions each person must perform differently on Monday morning.
- Mapped the before and after, from each individual’s point of view. For example, where are the resources people used to depend on? What new resources are in their places?
- Let people practice the skills needed for these new actions. We haven’t let them try, fail, use the new tools and resources, and find a way to succeed.
- Convinced our people that they need to perform these new actions – that the change is vital to the organization and there’s nowhere to go but forward.
- Allowed them to demonstrate their own success, so they won’t be afraid to go all in.
Anything new here? Nope. But here’s the issue: we have spent our days believing in the performance drop, and working to minimize it. What if our change planning made the drop unacceptable? What if the metrics we talk about, but never measure, included an immediate timeframe to adoption: start-to-success within three months?
These steps take significant effort and attention to detail. They require steely commitment. I suspect we’re afraid to step up to the task. And we’re afraid to demand the same of the sponsor whose neck is on the line for delivery.
We’re afraid because we’re looking down. We expect hard times, lower performance, and lots of confusion and adjustment after the change. So our sponsors and our people hesitate.
What if, instead of asking them to weather the dip, we ask them to move upward and only upward? What if we tell them that, after all that ground work (in the bullets above), we’ll be stepping UP, not down?
When an executive has gone to the board for a transformational change, make sure they know how to lead the team in this way. Their careers hang in the balance. Give them the option to support you in doing the right work so your organization steps up — only up — to new levels of success.
Choosing Where Your Employees Work: A Five-Part GuideSome organizations allow their employees to work remotely, some are implementing a hybrid approach, others are in a “wait and see” mode. But what's best for your organization?
What’s best for your organization?
The post-pandemic work model is still being defined. Some organizations have decided to allow their employees to work remotely, indefinitely. Others are implementing a hybrid approach. Some remain in a “wait and see” mode.
Obviously, this is not a “one size fits all” situation. Each organization is weighing its options.
Normal wasn’t working. We must not think of it in terms of pushing a button and going back to the way things were. — John Kerry
If your organization is still on the fence, consider the questions below. They might help you choose the best solution for your organization.
Part 1: What do our people think?
- How do our employees feel about how they’ve been working?
- What is their ideal work setting?
- Have we asked them?
- How can we engage employees in examining the options and choosing a solution?
- How will we communicate and implement a work model change?
Part 2: What are the possibilities?
- Does the work environment have to be one way or another?
- Have we considered all options?
- Can we let departments, functions, teams, or individuals decide what works best for them?
Part 3: How does remote work serve us?
- What are the benefits for continuing to work remotely?
- What’s the down side? What’s been missing since we’ve gone remote?
- What are the business outcomes of remote work?
- Are customers impacted by remote work?
- How do our shareholders view remote work?
- Have we enabled our people to be successful in a remote setting?
- How do we ensure teamwork if we’re remote?
- How is our culture impacted if we don’t work with each other in the office?
- What tools, infrastructure, and support enable employees to flourish in a remote environment?
- What did we learn about remote work during the last two years?
- Did we make assumptions that our people know how to work remotely?
- Are there certain employee behaviors and skills that enable successful remote work?
- Will our recruiting and development change based on new skills or behaviors?
Part 4: Should we return to the office?
- What are the benefits of working in the office?
- What is the downside of in-person work?
- What are the business outcomes?
- How do we ensure we don’t lose those people who would prefer to work remotely? How can we incentivize them?
- If we decide to return to the office, are there certain business events that might drive our timing?
- If we return to the office, do we have proper safety protocols in place?
- Do we have healthcare professionals on-site? Do we have enough healthcare professionals on-site?
Part 5: Could a hybrid model work for us?
- What are the benefits of working in a hybrid model?
- What is the downside of a hybrid model?
- What are the business outcomes?
- What does a hybrid work environment look like?
- Does hybrid mean certain roles work from the office and others work remotely? If so, how will we determine which roles should work from the office?
- Does hybrid mean certain activities happen in the office and other activities happen remotely? If so, how do we make those decisions?
Wherever these questions lead your organization, grant your leadership and your employees some patience during these uncharted times. Have faith that, together, you will find the model that works for you.
Rehab Your Leadership TeamHigh impact teams result from meaningful work, not team-building exercises.
Use this four-part agenda to launch and support a strong, focused team.
We talk about the need to both perform and transform. If you only transform but don’t perform, you have no here and now. If you only perform but don’t transform, you have no future. — Frans van Houten, CEO of Royal Philips Electronics
A few years ago, a friend began a company turnaround. His first task: tell his executive team they would not receive bonuses due to missed goals, despite growing revenue and EBITDA.
The team had never met face-to-face. Some had been through three management changes; others were new hires. This is a surprisingly common problem. As Jon R. Katzenbach writes, “Even in the best of companies, a so-called top team seldom functions as a real team. The fact is, a team’s know-how and experience inevitably lose power and focus at the top of the corporate hierarchy. And simply labeling the leadership group a team does not make it one.”
My friend was up against this daunting challenge. He couldn’t afford to build a new team from scratch, so he asked for our help to build his team as they were running the company. They needed both performance, in the moment, and transformation to their vision for the future.
In preparation for our working sessions, we agreed on the following principle:
High impact teams result from meaningful work, not team-building exercises.
We met in a series of four meetings. Over the following two years, this team increased sales 50% and EBITDA 300%.
Meeting 1 Outcomes – Strategy and Working Agreements
The CEO had an overall vision for the turnaround. The team, shell-shocked from bad news, needed to hear it. Because they needed to jell quickly, we wanted them to explicitly agree on how they would work together.
At the first meeting, we:
- Defined the culture they wanted.
- Described the strategy using four key words and personal stories.
- Determined specific actions for the next 180 days.
- Agreed on how to work together.
Meeting 2 Outcomes — Momentum, Working Styles, and Profit
In the first 180 days, the team agreed on a new budget, met five new distributors, introduced three products, and hit their targets.
In this second meeting, we:
- Celebrated a successful quarter.
- Identified their preferred working styles and examined ways to adapt to their colleagues’ styles.
- Explored how to work with existing assets to increase profitability.
Meeting 3 Outcomes: A Visual Vision
People crave meaning. The most successful companies are clear on what they stand for, and why. Now that the team had worked together for a while, they were ready to clearly articulate their direction.
Here, we summarized their:
- Core Values – what they stand for
- Core Purpose – what they exist to do
- Aspirations – what they want to be
- Visual Vision – what the future looks like, in hindsight
Meeting 4 Outcomes: Focus, Goals, and Connection
The team was winning, clearly focused on a differentiator, and they had resolved factory capacity to increase profits. The CEO wanted them to sustain progress into the new year, create long term impact, and strengthen their connections as a high-functioning team.
- Examined how they accomplished what they did, and how to sustain it.
- Created steps to achieve their personal goals with the differentiator.
- Applied strategies to stay focused.
The CEO had inherited this collection of executives. Using a thoughtful structure, we created an experience that turned them into a team.
Why People Continue to Quit Their JobsHere we are in 2022 and it persists -- workers continue to quit their jobs in record numbers. Why? One word: control. So what’s a company to do?
And How To Stop Them
Vaccines are here. Hopeful for post-pandemic normalcy, employers across the country are bringing their employees back to the office. But not all of them.
To put it mildly, many people are quitting their jobs in what the media are calling “The Great Resignation.” Back in March, the 2021 resignation rate was 2.4 percent – the highest rate of quitters recorded in any March of the last 20 years. Some of this is the release of a backlog—would-be leavers who kept their jobs in 2020 to fend off pandemic-driven hardship. But, as the backlog clears and businesses welcome everyone back to the office, many are still saying, “No, thanks.” Just this week the Labor Department released its November 2021 jobs report showing a record number of workers opting out.
Why? There are several reasons. One is increased savings and debt reduction. Another reason: people hated the pandemic, but loved working from home. Faced with a choice between going back to the office and quitting, some people will quit.
And, if they have another job option, why not? During remote work, they saved a lot of money and a lot of time—no commute, no travel costs, no dry cleaning, no costly lunch, no co-worker-you-hate, no drop-ins from the boss, no sharing the bathroom with dozens of strangers… I could go on, or I could sum it up in one word: Control.
Yes, pajamas are comfy and your dog’s head resting on your lap makes a meeting more bearable. But home is greater than the sum of its perks—working from home (or a coffee shop, or a beach) gives humans the autonomy we crave. It’s not the fuzzy slippers; it’s the choice to wear the fuzzy slippers.
So what’s a company to do? Create control.
In our change management work for clients, we use the concept of control to create momentum and improve adoption of a change.
We do this by making people feel in control of a change. That doesn’t mean we’re tricking them, just building in autonomy where we can and focusing their attention on those autonomous feelings.
Here are a few ways you might create feelings of control to entice workers to stay with you.
- Flexible Hours. Giving people their choice of shifts—earlier, later, or even a four-day week—might soften the return to a commute.
- Goal-Based Weeks. Don’t make people sit at their desks eight hours a day, regardless of what they’re doing. Set realistic performance milestones and give employees the remainder of the week off after they hit them.
- Work-at-Home Days. Schedule all-hands-on-deck days, for in-person work, and let them work from home the rest of the time—but only if they want to! Choice is the point here.
- The Comforts of Home. Think about what workers will be missing when they come back to the office, and give them alternatives. Cheap lunch? Pay for it. Privacy? Create pods for people who want to get away. Kids nearby? Set up a day care. A better view? Think of your office space as a campus. Open up new spaces to work, so people can curl up on a sofa near a window, or feel like they’re at their favorite coffee house as they work.
The keys to making any of this work are genuine choice (not a top tier for some choices and a slower track for others) and communication (clear, consistent messaging on choice before they decide to quit… so get on it).
Some of these ideas sound costly, don’t they? Maybe not more costly than turnover and productivity dips.
A final thought: As they contemplate bringing the work force back to the office, the C-Suite might ask itself why. Why do you need them in the office? Is it because seeing the work and the workers right in front of you makes you feel in control?