Tuesday, August 13, 2019

5 Ways Management Styles Impact Employee Engagement

It’s been said that people don’t leave companies, they leave managers. In fact, according to a Gallup study found in Gallup’s 2017 “State of the American Workplace” report, 51% of currently employed adults in the US say they are searching for new jobs or watching for new job opportunities. Some of the ship-jumping is due to a particular management style. That doesn’t mean that a particular management style will be detrimental to your workforce, but that some management styles may not be conducive to a specific workforce. The ultimate goal we should all strive for is to adopt a management style that improves and increases employee engagement. 

Another Gallop study found that 70% of employees in America are disengaged costing the US over $550 billion a year in lost productivity. To keep employees engaged requires looking at the workforce and work processes from various angles to determine what could be improved, changed, or simply eliminated to increase engagement. Many areas such as empowerment, work environment, reward processes, and others should be analyzed regularly. But one area of concern that can be dealt with immediately and that will provide instant results is that of management style.

The Styles
There is a time and place for all management styles. No style is good or bad, but it is how and when leaders use them that determines success or failure. Understanding your style of management and how it impacts employee engagement is crucial to the success of your company. What follows are five management styles typically associated with almost every type of business. Depending on where you research, most of these styles can be found to some degree in every organization—and some have different headings, but most styles fall under these categories.

1. Autocratic Management Style
The Autocratic Management style is a traditional style that has been around for a very long time. This is the style that allows the manager to have a “Because I told you so” mentality. In some situations, (think military or firefighting situations), that demand error-free outcomes, this style may be applicable, but is not the best style to be used on a full-time basis. The Autocratic manager doesn’t solicit input from others, believes rules are extremely important, and dictates all methods and processes. 

An example of an Autocratic style is Sam Walton when he was building his Walmart empire or Football legend, Vince Lombardi when he coached the Green Bay Packers. This style was needed to for streamlining processes and growing a customer base. The Autocratic style has proven useful in factory settings or jobs requiring few skills, but is being phased out as managers realize that to create future leaders within the organization, a new approach should be adopted. When the Autocratic style is used in small does as in heavy industry or emergency room situations, it is useful, but it should only be added as cumin is added to dishes when cooking—too much will ruin the outcome. A full-time Autocratic style is not conducive to increasing employee engagement. Use it only as needed.

2.) Coaching Management Style
With the Coaching Management style, the manager helps team members develop their strengths to improve performance. It is a style that motivates employees by providing tools and resources for growth. This is a favored management style for improving employee engagement. The Coaching manager says, “Let me show you how it’s done.” Examples include Tony Hsieh’s style of guiding his customer service team at Zappos or as how philanthropist Andrew Carnegie  coached Charles Schwab who would become the first president of US Steel.

To build Coaching Management style muscles, you must first build a relationship with your team members. According to a Harvard Business Review article, you must, “Understand that before you start coaching, you need to develop a culture of trust and a solid relationship with the people you will be coaching. In spite of your good intentions, all the techniques in the world will make little difference if those you are trying to coach don’t feel connected to you in some way.” 

3.) Affiliative Management Style
First coined by Daniel Goleman in 2002 as one of his six leadership styles, the Affiliative style manager strives to create harmony, not just between employees and manager, but between employees. This style of management puts people first and tasks second. It is very useful in creating a more harmonious work environment and therefore opens pathways to a more engaged workforce. 

Obviously less stressful than the Autocratic Management style, the Affiliative style has its downside when performance falters or a project deadline isn’t met. It’s hard to keep the friendly, people-first attitude without accountability when profits are down. This style is good to adopt and one way to increase it’s effectiveness is to strive to know your team members to build a relationship that caters to their needs while still getting the work done. Former manager Joe Torre of the New York Yankees displayed a Affiliative style recognizing the various contributions of individual players, and then expressing his gratitude for the talent regardless of the score in the game.

4.) Participative Management Style
The Participative Management style encourages the involvement of employees in analyzing problems and strategizing for solutions. Because it creates a sense of ownership in the company, instills a sense of pride and motivates employees to increase productivity in order to achieve their goals, employees become more engaged in their work. Employees feel like they are a part of a team with a common goal, and this builds their self-esteem and generates pride and loyalty.

If you want to create an atomic reaction in your employee engagement, embrace the Participative Management style. To do this, you must be secure in your position and be willing to relinquish some control to your employees. This is not as easy as it sounds, especially if you’ve held most responsibilities close to your chest for a long time, but with an open mind and trust in your team members, it is worth letting go.

When Steve Jobs was fired from his job as leader of Apple, he was using an Autocratic style of leadership. When Jobs was brought back in the mid-1990s, he had adopted a more Participative style, hiring experienced leaders and giving them room to shine. With this style, Apple soared to even greater heights than before as employees were empowered to make decisions. 

5.) Pacesetting Management Style
The last style, as listed in Daniel Goleman’s book, Primal Leadership, is Pacesetting Management style. This is when the manager sets the pace for others to follow. Employees get motivated to keep up with the manager increasing performance and output to please the manager. As Goleman writes, “The [pacesetting] leader holds and exemplifies the highest standard of performance. He is obsessive about doing things better and faster and asks the same of everyone. He quickly pinpoints poor performers, demands more from them, and if they don’t rise to the occasion, rescues the situation himself.”

This style serves as a great motivator, except for the ones who fall behind and is short-lived in serving as a style to increase employee engagement. The long term effect leaves employees exhausted and feeling as if they’ve been pushed too hard. It is useful in spurts and is dependent on the culture of the organization and the products or service they provide. Use cautiously and when conditions are right for an all-out sprint. 

With the Pacesetting style, Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric comes to mind. Welch vowed to lead by example and encouraged his executives to do the same. Welch, nicknamed “Neutron Jack,” managed by what he coined the four E's of leadership: energy, energize, edge, and execution. Employees followed his pace and GE excelled to greater heights under his leadership. 

Hone Your Style
Obviously, the manager relationship is highly correlated with employee engagement. A good marker for the strength of the relationship is how comfortable an employee is approaching their manager with any type of question. One example of this is the subject of goal setting. A Gallup survey uncovered that when employees were asked to rate their feelings on the statement, “My manager helps me set performance goals,” 69% of employees who replied “strongly agree” were considered engaged in their work, compared to 8% who responded “disagree” or “strongly disagree.”

The best managers seem to adopt a few attributes of almost every style listed above to use in various situations. But management styles don’t just happen. Managers are made, not born so consistent quality training is required to hone a great management style. According to a Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) article, “Developing and Sustaining Employee Engagement,” middle managers need to be trained for their roles, empowered by being given larger responsibilities, and more involved in strategic decisions. The article states that if an organization's executives and HR professionals want to hold managers accountable for the engagement levels, they should:

  • Make sure that managers and employees have the tools to do their jobs correctly.
  • Periodically assign managers larger, more exciting roles.
  • Give managers appropriate authority.
  • Accelerate leadership development efforts.
  • Ask managers to convey the corporate mission and vision and to help transform the organization.

The Goal is Engagement
Learning what styles are most effective for engaging your workforce is crucial to your organization’s success. In a recent Forbes article, former Navy SEAL, Brent Gleeson writes that great managers ensure they acquire and develop great talent by getting the right people on the bus and making sure they are in the right seats. They actively prioritize engagement. Their team’s activities align perfectly behind the mission narrative of the organization.

The management style you use is dependent on the circumstances you and your team may be encountering at that precise moment. Is there a need to be more autocratic because a crisis is at hand? Is it time to set the pace or is this a situation where coaching is more appropriate? Often managers must take on the role of a chameleon and change colors as the environment changes. But the ultimate goal of any style is to aim for 100% employee engagement.

Read more of my management articles at Bonus.ly

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Being In Great Company

Being in Great Company: Finally Reaching the Elusive Goal of Employee Engagement

Every company worth its salt is trying, or should be trying, to reach 100% employee engagement. If you’ve been a business leader long enough, you know there are no shortages of how-tos for obtaining the elusive goal of employee engagement—even if successful for only a small percentage of the workforce. There are books, classes, seminars, and consultants all offering touchy-feely practices for getting employees to fall in love with their jobs. 

Unfortunately, they don’t work, at least not for the long term. According to Gallup’s recent State of the Global Workplace report, 85% of employees in the US are not engaged or actively disengaged at work resulting in an estimated $7 trillion in lost productivity. The antiquated use of annual reviews and performance appraisals still in use today don’t, and cannot, provide the interconnectedness of work and life that employees crave today, and the newer, feel-good BandAid tactics only inflame a stronger desire for something real. 

The 25 years experience I’ve received as a business writer and consultant qualifies me to say that this shilly-shally approach to employee engagement sucks. It simply doesn’t work on a permanent basis. Any positive changes to the workforce in respect to employee engagement hasn’t gone deep enough to impact company culture, nor has it provided any real solutions to the core of the employee where it counts—the heart. 

And what about culture? Are the yoga classes, free afternoon massages, and game rooms really what constitute a company’s culture? I’m certain it helps employees relax and offers the impression that the company does care a little about work-life balances. But a recent Harvard Business Review article titled, “Why Employees Leave Great Cultures,” addresses the issue of companies that espouse to have a great culture, but really only provide window dressings. In fact, for many organizations looking to hire in the current great economy with a shortage of qualified applicants, bragging about culture appears to be the winning tagline. 

Prolific Approach to Employee Engagement
Thankfully someone has provided a breakthrough in achieving the ultimate goal of employee engagement. Louis Carter, founder and CEO of Best Practice Institute, has come up with a new approach to employee engagement that addresses the emotional connection employees have with one another, and with supervisors, managers and leaders that truly alters their perception of the workplace. It is a highly effective approach that is generating more fruitful employee experiences and producing greater engagement. 

Generating a disruption of sorts, Carter has provided a revolutionary approach for getting employees— in fact everyone—deeply engaged in the work they perform. In his new book, In Great Company: How to Spark Peak Performance by Creating an Emotionally Connected Workplace, Carter shares how it is possible to create a business atmosphere where employees are so deeply engaged that they love performing at their job everyday. 

Carter’s background as an organizational psychologist, an executive coach, author of several books on best practices and organizational leadership, creator of a social networking, on-demand learning and benchmarking tool, with accolades from Human Resources Executive Magazine and others, I figured he was probably offering more in the way of solutions to achieving employee engagement than others have in the past. He has after all provided HR solutions to the C-level of companies like Kimberly Clark, Roche, Shire, the Pentagon, and the United Nations. 

Finally, after all these years and with a glimmer of hope, I had to connect with Mr. Carter to see what is new that others may have missed in the chasing of the dream of having employees who are engaged in their work:

What exactly is it like to be in great company?
You are In Great Company when you experience a spark that lights your desire for peak performance. The spark originates from the deep connection you feel to the people you work with, with your customers, and with your company. It is reaching down to the emotional core of the individual and touching that part of what drives them.

Okay, I’ve heard similar strategies in the past. How do the concepts of In Great Company differ from others who have tried in vain to reach a certain level of connectedness?
In my research for In Great Company, I polled 100 major executives and asked, “What is the one factor you need most from an employer to motivate your job performance?” Nearly 90% answered that the one thing that would motivate them is a feeling of respect. After more research and probing for a more defined definition or reason for respect, and asking executives to define respect for me, the number response is that respect is directly related to a feeling of emotional connectedness. 

But how does one achieve that emotional connectedness? 
You can achieve emotional connectedness by aligning your values with colleagues you work with. By making an effort to collaborate, co-creating a positive future for all involved, everyone begins focusing on achievement while giving respect to one another. When this dynamic is set into motion in the workplace, everyone becomes aligned and willing do whatever it takes to preserve and grow the business together. 

What are some tips you can give for getting this emotional connectedness started in any organization?
There are several I have listed in my book, In Great Company, but I’ll share three with you here. The first one key element for generating emotional connections is to make an effort to align values. This happens when leaders and peers all embrace common values, and everyone holds each other equally accountable. Some everyday practices include things as simple as doing what you say you are going to do or speaking truth instead of avoidance, and more conceptually complicated practices such as living the values and ethics the company espouses. Good leaders know that the people they are leading are watching them. They are watching how you work, how you talk, and if you walk your talk. Honesty is the very first step to aligning values.
The next key element is showing respect. Companies such as Starbucks, SolarCity and Warby Parker, are just a few that practice this concept. Studies show that employees who are respected love their workplace and are more engaged and loyal to the organizations where they work. When employees are treated with respect, they have more confidence, they provide more of themselves to the company, and they reciprocate in kind. 

The third key tip is create and communicate a positive future. Employees are in great company when they work in a environment that communicates positive messages about where the company is now and where it wants to go. People want a reason to get up and go to work other than a paycheck. Because positivity is a cultural contagion, emotional connectedness is achieved when individuals use it in a unified way to move forward together to achieve results. 

I like the concepts you offer, but wonder why so many organizations are not applying these ideas.
There are many organizations that are adapting these concepts to their businesses, and I mention several in the book. But unfortunately, there are still many that believe a salary increase, bonuses, flextime, and other perks are the where they should place their efforts. Of course, some of these things do work, but only temporarily. They don’t offer long-term solutions for obtaining 100 percent employee engagement. They are simply intermediate pacifiers that offer little in the way of emotional connectedness. 

My brief interview with Louis Carter uncovered some great pointers to achieving complete employee engagement. On the surface, many of his ideas appear basic in nature, and that’s probably because we have heard them at one time. For example, I remember as a child learning some of these same principles. But as we mature into adults, we all know how silly it is to think that showing respect for one another, working with a positive attitude, and aligning values for ultimate achievement really is. And that’s where the problem lies….

When we get too big for our child britches, we think we have all the answers and that leadership has to be complicated. Mr. Carter reminds us that to lead well, we must get back to the basics. Being human and working with humans means we must apply the human touch to leadership. If we want to create a great company and have our employees work in great company, it will do us well to heed this advice and apply these concepts. 

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Achieving the Vision: Understanding the Emotionally Connected Coach

By Louis Carter

With its origins as far back as 1830 when Oxford used the term coaching as slang for, “A tutor who carries a student through an exam,” coaching has been used in various forms in business. Through the 1950s and 80s, business coaching began to catch on and CEOs and managers began to understand the importance of having an outside view from a professional who is not constantly in the day-to-day weeds of the leader’s business. Over the past 30-plus years, executive coaching has rapidly evolved into a must-have for business leaders desiring to have greater insight, professional guidance, and more clarity for successfully fulfilling their leadership roles.
The Emotionally Connected (EC) Coach
One of the most requested tasks asked of executive coaches is, “How can I get my employees more engaged in their work?” Though not a simple task to undertake, consultants and coaches alike have tinkered with and devised various processes and systems to offer solutions to the engagement challenge. These efforts have provided good, temporary solutions at best that, although beneficial to the organization, most of them offered only a morsel of hope.
But it turns out achieving employee engagement is really not as complicated as we make it out to be. In all my years of coaching, consulting, writing, inventing, leading, advising and teaching, I have found that a cohesive work environment where people are engaged in their work, is the result of people experiencing a true sense of respect. This sense of respect is the result of a feeling of emotional connectedness. Without a connection emotionally, employees don’t, and can’t, feel respected. This is truly what that often elusive target of employee engagement boils down to. All of the other tips, tricks, and training seem somewhat peripheral once leaders grasp this concept.
Stakeholder Centered Coaching (SCC) for Emotionally Connected Leadership
Stakeholder Centered Coaching is a transformational executive coaching process that is extremely effective because it is based on co-creation with stakeholders and the active practice of change.  The process has proven to have a 95% success rate with leaders. The process of SCC involves five steps:
  1. Defining focused leadership growth areas important to the leader and the organization
  2. Soliciting buy-in from all stakeholders to be part of the process
  3. Stakeholder-based planning
  4. Leading change involving monthly stakeholder input
  5. Measuring leadership growth as perceived by stakeholders using the mini-survey process
Overall the SCC model brings more accountability and results to the coaching. It also creates a culture where growing others is the responsibility of the organization and not just the management team. Any good executive coach worth his salt could make a difference in the performance of the leader by focusing on leadership assessments and action planning. This is a good strategy and does provide some positive change in the short term. The problem is that it doesn’t change the environment’s perception where others see that change has occurred.
SCC takes the leadership change process further, outside the leader’s office, and into their work environment with the stakeholders. Because of their outside-looking-in view, stakeholders can provide important and insightful suggestions for behavioral change that would be beneficial for the leader. An added benefit is that the stakeholders’ begin focusing more on the desired change and then their perception changes as their focus grows stronger. Utilizing SCC creates change that is sustained and that is recognized by stakeholders in the workplace, creating true value for the stakeholders, the leader, and the organization.
Know Thyself
None of us plan on disrespecting our team members. It’s just that our focus is on other things like providing direction for the company and improving shareholder value. This is why taking a time-out to tune-up is so essential. You need to know how others perceive you and if you are showing respect for others and developing the needed emotional connectedness. In other words, you need to be more self-aware.
Successful CEOs and other leaders are those who can see themselves more clearly regarding their balance of trust and respect as seen by their employees. Research has shown that self-awareness was highest among the most successful CEOs and lowest for CEOs of the worst performing companies. The overarching goal of self-awareness and knowing yourself is to understand your strengths and to determine any of your development needs.
There is a process of co-creation and transformation that happens with SCC that doesn’t happen with other executive coaching methods. Involving stakeholders is critical to the change process because it creates shared accountability for change. Additionally, SCC creates more interdependent and trusting relationships with supportive stakeholders. Because stakeholders are specifically asked about behavioral shifts, they become more involved in your growth, which is extremely beneficial because they now become a part of the shift in perception you’re creating by actively assisting you through the process.
To ensure you are doing your part as a change agent, I have devised a tool for measurement that consists of a dashboard to mark progress along the five elements of EC that is explained in my upcoming book, In Great Company: How to Spark Peak Performance by Creating an Emotionally Connected Workplace.” But regardless of the system you use, some form of measurement needs to be assessed regularly that will provide reliable data.
Implementing In Great Company: Emotional Connectedness (EC)
To understand the concept of emotional connectedness is one thing, but to adopt it, embrace it, and live it is another. A good coach will help bring to light any weaknesses and areas where improvement is recommended. This person will offer tools that will help the leader improve on particular skills. However, as mentioned earlier, Stakeholder Centered Coaching provides the leader with a panoramic view of their status as a leader. It allows the leader to see the things that are unknown because no one has had the outlet to share them before.
In my years of conducting research for my various books and consulting with many businesses in various industries, I’ve found that the number one thing that motivates people to high performance is a feeling of respect. Remember, it is that emotional connectedness that everyone craves. But how do you as a leader provide EC? What can you do now to begin the EC process and instill it in others?
Here are five pointers that are necessary for implementing EC:
  1. Open Communication
To begin, the leader of the organization needs to immediately open lines of communication between teams, department heads, and everyone who contributes to a project so that information and advice is shared freely. The point is that you are trying to create connections, a sense of belonging to the bigger picture.
2. Generate a Positive Future
Employees love to work in an environment where every day there is a sense of possibility and positivity in the air. From the CEO down, people are making positive, forward-thinking statements about what is possible now and in the future. Employees are sure of their strengths and receive regular feedback on their performance. Everyone knows the direction the company is heading and all oars are paddling in the same direction. This sense of positive attitudes is foundational for generating emotional connectedness. 
  1. Walk the Talk
Many business leaders have values that they hold dear and communicate with their department heads and employees on a regular basis. But how do these stakeholders perceive the leader? Do they see the CEO walking the talk? Have they witnessed the leader living these written or spoken values? Unfortunately, the answer to these questions for many organizations would be in the negative.
To ensure the leader is not only communicating their values but living them, I combine SCC with my Sparking Peak Performance through emotional connectedness model (as outlined in “In Great Company”), to create a platform whereby guaranteed and measurable leadership growth is attained. 
  1. Establish Respect Early
Successful companies that win awards for best places to work have interwoven throughout the organization a sense of respect at every level. There is respect for the leadership team, respect for the customers, respect for vendors, respect for the community, and respect for one another. Leaders in companies like Zappos, American Express, and Mayo Clinic make it a priority to lead the way in creating a respectful environment by being the first to show respect. Respect is the result of emotional connectedness and emotional connectedness is the result of respect. 
  1. Set Up People for Success
When projects are completed on schedule, when sales quotas are met, when quality goods and services are provided to the customer, the company and the employees win. Allow team members to succeed by giving them the necessary tools and time and empower them to make critical decisions. Some of the best work is accomplished when employees are given permission to fail. This empowerment is fuel for EC.
Beginning the Process
Executive coaching has been around for a number of years producing excellent results for leaders in nearly every industry and nation. As with so many developments resulting from new data collected from the study of leadership processes and management strategies, the use of Stakeholder Centered Coaching is true “the next best thing.” As a top advisor to C-level executives of major companies, I’ve seen SCC produce amazing results and I know that it works.
But taking SCC to another, even more, results-producing level, I combine SCC with EC to help leaders connect the dots of not only self-awareness and self-improvement based on assessments from other stakeholders, but also to understand how to get employees more engaged in their work and the company through creating EC.
Based on the information above, you already have the necessary tools to make this happen, but studies have found that having a coach increases your likelihood of success because the coach provides a structure for continuous follow-up and the practice of change. Because of my background, expertise, and experience, I can guide you toward lasting behavioral change to have the greatest impact of success in your organization. Quoting Oxford, I can be your “tutor carrying you through the exam.”

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

WorkFusion’s Free Automation Training: Catapults Users Ahead of the Competition

Keeping pace with ever-changing technology, business leaders look for better, more convenient ways to learn about new technologies and how to implement them. A Harvard Business Review article revealed that American companies spend a lot of money on training and educating employees at all levels. In fact, in 2015 over $160 billion was spent in the United States and close to $356 billion went out globally with disappointing returns on their investment. With more and more businesses adopting robotic process automation (RPA), and artificial intelligence (AI) to improve the efficiency of some business functions, business leaders are looking for an edge to jumpstart their entry into this new world of business. Thankfully, WorkFusion, the company that offers solutions for digital operations, has put together a free online training program that brings leaders up to speed in a short about of time, giving those businesses an edge over the competition.

Back to School
Online training isn’t new and has been used by major universities worldwide for over 20 years. Not only does online training offer convenience, saving travel time, tuition fees, and more, it’s been proven that online training also offers a better style of learning over many subjects. In an MIT study supported by Google, it was discovered that the amount of information learned using online training was somewhat greater than what was learned in traditional, lecture-based courses. In addition, those students who were least prepared, as revealed on their pretest scores, showed the same level of increased improvement as the prepared students or those already processing particular skills.

In a nutshell, RPA is the application of technology that allows employees to configure computer software (the robotic phase), to interpret already existing applications, manipulate data, and communicate with other digital systems. Although it may sound too futuristic to get one’s head around, it is a very simplistic way to automate many routine, mundane tasks so they are accomplished with fewer mistakes. It is painless to learn. Last summer, WorkFusion launched an education portal called ‘Automation Academy’ to assist IT and Operations teams worldwide to learn more about RPA and how businesses can improve efficiency, therefore streamlining labor costs. The training materials are available for free and there are other classes and exams offered to help grow and fine-tune new automation skills. 

According to a recent Deloitte article, business leaders considering implementing RPA should follow a five-step process to develop an automation strategy that looks beyond the initial deployment and defines how automation will grow within every aspect of the organization. These include:
  1. Assess for automation opportunities
  2. Build your business case
  3. Determine the optimal operating model
  4. Identify your automation partner(s)
  5. Plan the automation roadmap

But the first step is to get familiar with the overall process so that you can understand how RPA and AI can give your business a boost ahead of the competition. The Automation Academy lets you learn at your own pace and keeps track of your progress. The courses are divided into modules and once you complete one, you can either go onto the next one or go back at any time and review previous courses. There are quizzes at the end of the modules to test your knowledge and you get five attempts to pass them, giving you ample time to understand any missed questions before going forward.

In the fast-paced world of business, RPA is simply a wise business decision because it breaks down previous barriers to progress and provides greater efficiency and accuracy. Learning how RPA can benefit your business and how to implement it is easy and painless. You simply sign up at Automation Academy, and begin learning at your pace.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Making Small Businesses More Profitable Through Machine Learning and AI

Image from Yusp.com
In today’s competitive business environment, small businesses are always looking for opportunities that will give them that certain “oomph,” that special something that gives them an edge over the competition. Developing a great product and providing over-the-top customer service is still foundational to success, but implementing tools and systems such as machine learning and artificial intelligence that streamline time-consuming tasks can help to increase that success. 

It doesn’t take a Stanford graduate to see the use of robotic process automation (RPA) in businesses like Amazon, or automation software being used by Facebook and Google, but it can be a little mind-blowing to consider that the same machine learning technologies can be used in your business. It’s not as large an endeavor or as big an expense as some imagine. If it can help your business to profit more, it is worth examining the realities of its implementation. 

What is Machine Learning?
For those of us who grew up watching the Jetsons, much of today’s business techno tools can seem a little out there. But like the operation our smart phones, iPads, air conditioners and cars, we don’t have to know how it works, just that it does. Machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence are technologies the can provide business solutions today without really understanding the ends and outs, but here is a quick, and extremely brief lowdown on ML and artificial intelligence.

In simple terms, machine learning is basically a class of algorithms allowing computers to perform pattern matching extremely efficiently. Even simpler, it is the machine’s ability to keep improving its performance without humans having to explain exactly how to accomplish what it accomplishes. Rather than being specifically programmed for a particular outcome, the machine learns from examples. These machines are built by humans, but the machines are learning from examples and using structured feedback to solve on their own problems. 

Around since the 1970s, with more being developed and refined over time, these machine algorithms have proven to be too costly for small businesses in the past. But now access to cloud computing resources, including vendors who make ML models available with a wealth of data generated by SaaS products, make it possible for small business to design their own machine learning models.

Machine learning improves business productivity because it allows you to automate different things. For example, if your business is one that has encountered various customer fraud issues, through machine learning, you can set parameters in your online checkout system that flags the finance department when a particular order is deemed to be medium to high risk. You can even set it to cancel high risk orders automatically before the order is processed.

Artificial Intelligence
Another futuristic term, artificial intelligence (AI), has finally gained some traction since Dartmouth math professor, John McCarthy coined the term in 1955. AI is providing advances in the areas of cognition and perception, currently creating breakthroughs in voice recognition. We see AI generating continuing improvements in products such as Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant. In fact, Stanford computer scientist James Landay conducted a study last year and found that speech recognition is now about three times as fast as typing on a cell phone.

The speed of AI developments is snowballing. Landau’s study uncovered that the improvement in speed of voice recognition didn't occur over many years, but during the summer of 2016 and is expected to gain even greater momentum over the next few years. 

Making ML and AI Work For You
To begin integrating ML and AI into your business, begin with your most pressing pain points. Where are they?

  • Compliance control issues?
  • Improving operational speed and accuracy?
  • Reducing or eliminating fraud?
  • Improving salesforce success rate?
  • Increasing customer integration?
  • Reducing employee turnover?

Implementing ML and AI into your business doesn’t mean you have to be a data scientist and start from scratch developing your own systems. Companies such as Microsoft, Amazon, Salesforce, Google and others sell or rent the necessary algorithms and hardware. And the competition heat is on with more and more companies offering products and services creating competition and lower prices. One good resource is WorkFusion. With WorkFusion’s Smart Process Automation (SPA), businesses can digitize operations with RPA bots, cognitive bots, intelligent automation, analytics and more.

You don’t have to go big with ML or AI or wait until you become a $60 billion business. You can start small and allow your systems to improve themselves as more data is gathered and built into the systems. The future is here and the smart business leaders are learning to embrace and experiment with the various ML and AI innovations available today.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017


In this litigious age, many employers are naturally reluctant to interfere with employee conflict.  However, since employee quarrels can often entangle and polarize entire groups and lead to low morale, destruction of company culture, and productivity loss --- among other undesired collateral damage --- it is imperative that a leader take control of these types of situations at once.
Mark Twain said, “Always acknowledge a fault frankly.  This will throw those in authority off their guard and give you opportunity to commit more.”   Too bad more employees have not learned to confess when they are at fault.  There is no doubt that most conflicts would resolve themselves if this were the case, but since the opposite is true, we need to educate ourselves and implement best practices to be followed when the time calls for it.
It is literally impossible to convey all the likely reasons why conflict arises in the workplace, but below are a few of the most common.  Familiarity with the reasons behind the discord assists us in guiding others towards a resolution.
Different values- Since we all embrace a set of beliefs or principles we hold as true, when we discuss an issue with someone who has incompatible views, there is a high potential for friction and conflict.  Being emotional creatures, when faced with these types of situations, we often let our feelings guide our reactions, rather than letting our intellect help us respond in a more cognizant way.  Reactions are the words that literally spill out of one’s mouth and are often regretted; responses are the words that evolve after careful consideration and thought processing.  
Need for power and control- Conflict often pushes its way into the workplace when one or more people try to make others change their mind, vote a certain way, or do other things contrary to their beliefs.  Some people feel that they must always come out on top in order to prove their superiority, while others have a difficult time fulfilling the role of follower.  This power struggle is sometimes noticeable but quite often it works its way into the meeting room like an invisible rip current.  It eventually becomes a swift killer of morale and productivity as minds and souls quickly drown and revert to their “I-just-work-here” mode.
Employees bullying their way through work- Unfortunately, the bullies we grew up with are now in the workplace and still vying for control.  Dr Gary Namie, co-founder and president of the Workplace Bullying and Trauma Institute, conducted an online survey of 1,000 people who claimed to have been bullied at work.  He found that, of these victims, 37% were fired, and 33% quit their jobs.  In a reversal of the typical childhood bullying scenario, in which unpopular kids are picked on most, adult victims in the workplace tend to be capable and charismatic people.  The bully sees them as a threat, and strives to get them out of the picture.  Most workplace bullies are thought to be women-58% according to those Namie surveyed, and so are their targets-80% of those surveyed.  It is estimated that half the adult population will experience severe conflict at least once in their working life.  However, many managers and leaders don’t expect conflict and are not prepared to deal with it when it intrudes.
There are five basic steps an employer can take to resolve dissonance in the workplace within safe legal territory.  
Acknowledge the conflict- This seems obvious at first glance, but more often than not, the employer or HR manager may sense the tension in the office or shop, but with so many fires to put out, they usually hope that the dispute simply fizzles out.  Inaction is likely one of the worse and costlier choices.
Meet, Share and Agree- Meet with the parties involved and have them list situations in which they must work together.  Ask both parties to carefully listen to what the other says and repeat it in their own words to make sure both sides are communicating and understanding each other.  This can take time, but it defines the issue and builds the foundation for resolving it.  Legendary communicator, Dale Carnegie, said “Seek first to understand and then to be understood.”  That is the foundation of step number two.  Get agreements on the type of behaviors employees will exhibit in order to get their tasks accomplished.  Behind closed doors, let both parties agree in the process and also emphatically let them know what’s at stake: no one wants to be perceived as a trouble maker or as difficult to handle.  To some extent, expectation defines the result.  If you indicate, by your actions, content, or voice tone, that you expect less than full adult behavior, that’s what you are likely to get.  Remind them that words, even idle chitchat, have meaning and consequences. 
Create an issue resolution process- This fundamental tool for reducing wasted time spent on what is often frivolous quarreling should be incorporated into your employee handbook.  Several templates to accomplish this task are available through SHRM and other online resources.  Giving appropriate praise to employees willing to navigate this process within a positive frame of mind will divert the attention they get as either the victim or perpetrator.  At Delta Faucet, in Jackson, Tenn., it is understood that team leaders should not be involved in refereeing disagreements on the team because it takes time away from important tasks.  Instead, employees are trained in conflict management and required to follow a specific course of action when conflicts arise.  Perhaps not all companies have the time to invest in this kind of training, but having a process in place is an acceptable runner up to achieve the desired result.
Focus on behaviors, not personalities- This is a crucial tool that helps others understand that their entire person is not coming under scrutiny and that the challenge at hand is solely based on one or more particular behaviors instead.  By understanding this concept employees walk out of meetings feeling engaged instead of defeated.
Strike an open-door policy balance- Encourage accountability and growth and let employees know that open door does not mean “open dumping ground.”  But also remind them that you are available to coach them on how to work through specific situations.  This will give them a sense that they truly are your most valuable asset and will ignite a desire to self-arbitrate future challenges.   
It’s been said that conflict is inevitable and resentment is optional.  Protecting your business begins with creating a culture that understands this and values conflict management.  In addition to including conflict-resolution action steps in your employee handbook, be sure to clearly communicate that management or HR must always be notified of and involved in certain types of conflicts.  Particularly those in which there are indications of physical violence, harassment, theft, or illegal substance use.
Conflict is not always the evil it is made to be.  In fact, when teams learn to capitalize from this friction is when groups take positive action, reexamine decisions, and ground-breaking ideas are born.  A good fire is impossible without friction; it is up to you and your leadership teams to funnel this friction into a catalyst for innovation and productivity.  

Johnny Duncan, PHR, is President of Duncan Consulting, Inc., a human resource capital firm that partners with business owners to provide workforce management solutions.  Specialties include personalized training, job analysis, people-to-job matches, and conflict resolution.  He can be reached at johnny@duncanconsult.com or by calling 407-739-0718.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Eliminating Cultural Contradiction

"I have a foundational belief that business results start with culture and your people." --- Douglas Conant

The culture of a company plays more of a role toward the success of a business than most people know. The stale, dictionary definition of culture is,"The totality of socially transmitted behavior, patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and other products of human work and thought." All true, which is why cultural issues is the number one reason people leave a company--not compensation and not job fulfillment.

Creating a culture that embraces the company's vision and mission as well as satisfies employee's desires for belonging ensures the success of the business. Just how to do that eludes business leaders as they attempt to apply the latest gimmick to get employees to buy into their ideas and increase job engagement.

Thankfully there is a solution: Use this simple three-step process to jump start your desired business culture. Applying these steps will help you set the foundation for creating a culture that supports your business ideas and provides an inviting and encouraging work environment. 

I. Know and communicate your Mission, Vision and Values statement.
If you haven't already formulated these, do so today. One of the best ways to do this is to form a Mission, Vision, and Values committee to gather input from your team members and brainstorm until completed. Make this a priority and try to knock it out in a couple of weeks. 

Three things to remember when designing these statements:
  1. Make sure it fits your business
  2. Keep it short and easy to remember. (Edit it and cut out unnecessary words, then edit again and make more cuts).
  3. Have majority, if not unanimous buy-in. If not, go back and start again.
II. Once your statements are complete, reinforce that culture.
The reason many businesses fail in establishing the desired culture is because they typically post their Mission Statement on the wall and then forget about it. They expect everyone to know it and follow it's principles and it is simply not that easy. 

Make it a priority to reinforce your Mission, Vision, and Values throughout the week. In your weekly meetings, show examples of how an employee's or team's work reflected the company's values. Illustrate through customer surveys how the company's vision is coming through. Encourage feedback from team members on just how the culture of the company is viewed in the eyes of the community or vendors or even the competition. 

III. Give your culture the freedom to evolve.
Tony Hsieh, former CEO of Zappos, experimented with his company culture for many years before realizing that if you hire great people, share your values, and then let them run, a lasting culture eventually evolves. All you have to do is steer the company in the right direction. Try to remember that although the company has your values as the foundation, implementing your message may take many courses. For example, you may prefer separate offices with doors that will close, while your team may agree that an open environment without walls allows them to produce a better product or service. Or you may prefer white walls with doctor office paintings but your team members bring in a stuffed zebra, balloons, music, and even their pets. The bottom line is to develop a culture that works and not necessarily get wrapped up in the journey it takes to get there.

Try this three-step process today to begin creating a company culture that breeds success. It takes time, but is well worth it in the long run.

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