What Do Your Employees Really Think? – Grow Great Daily Brief #105 – November 19, 2018

What Do Your Employees Really Think? – Grow Great Daily Brief #105 – November 19, 2018

On Monday night, October 29th, some Senators NHL hockey players were taking an Uber ride in Phoenix. The driver’s onboard video captured the conversation of the players mocking how poorly they’re being coached. The driver pushed the video to YouTube and that’s when the trouble began. For starters, this father of 6 was fired by Uber. The players scrambled into “damage control” mode to backtrack. Too late. The damage was done.

A private conversation that went public – and viral – proved that employees, even professional athletes, often see their leaders and companies in a different light than management likely wants. The truth hurts. And when it’s delivered unexpectedly and outside of a safe environment, it can cause harm. But…

That shouldn’t be the case! Ever.

But I realize that’s impractical and unreasonable. Even so, I know it can be drastically improved.

Leaders think and feel one way, but so often employees think and feel very different. The first question is…

Do you care what your employees think? Does it matter to you how they feel?

Let’s think about it. What difference does it make? Well, let me ask you if it matters to you how you think and feel about anything? Can you just do whatever needs to be done, or whatever you’re told needs to be done without letting your thoughts and feelings interfere in any way?

I guess that’s possible if you’re a mindless doofus, but I’m fairly confident you’re not intentionally trying to build a team like that. You know the answer. Thoughts and feelings impact everything we do, every single day! You, me…everybody. Including your team.

Armed with that truth, we can conclude that the thoughts and feeling of our team members matters. Not because we’re touchy-feely business owners, but because it matters to performance. I’d add my 2 cents here, since this is my podcast, it’s also the right thing to do – to care about your team members enough as people to give due consideration to their thoughts and feelings.

What is due consideration?

It’s not an escape hatch for us to slide through so we can justify our tyrannical leadership, but it is an honest viewpoint that recognizes leadership has a perspective that isn’t always aligned with every segment of our team. Fact is, we see things and know things they don’t.

For years I coached hockey – particularly inline or roller hockey. Whether the players were 8 or 18, as a coach I could see things the players simply couldn’t see. But they could see things I couldn’t see.

For them, the game was primarily a series of 1-on-1 play. That is, they were either defending the player in the front of them (or things went badly, behind them) OR they were attacking (a term of offensive play meaning our team had the puck) the player in front of them.

For me, the game was primarily macro – meaning I was looking at the overall position and strategy. They saw things up close. I saw things more zoomed out. Together, if we had the talent/skill and an accurate perspective, then we could compile a winning strategy.

My job as the coach was to put the players, individually and collectively, in the best position possible for success. That included a game plan that would allow them to play a winning game. It was up to them to execute that game plan. But first, they had to believe what I believed – this is our best opportunity to win. I needed them to always deeply believe in what I was asking them to do. Mostly, they did and my teams enjoyed success because of it.

Professional hockey players who make millions of dollars need the same thing. Your employees do, too. They need to believe that leadership is putting them in the best position possible for success, both at the individual level and at the team (or company) level. If they don’t, we’ve failed as leaders.

Those Ottowa Senator players clearly don’t feel that way about their head coach. They can apologize all they want for what they said on that Uber ride, but I don’t think they should. Should have they shot their mouths off in public like that. Who cares? I think by doing it they gave their head coach a gift. The TRUTH.

“You can’t handle the truth.” It’s a famous line uttered by Jack Nicholson in the movie, A Few Good Men.

As business owners and leaders, it’s our role to find, figure out and handle the truth. To see things for what they truly are, not how we wish they were. To figure out ways to better handle the truth. To devise and implement strategies that will best serve the purpose and mission of our companies. But there’s more.

It’s also our role to help each team member see where they fit. Some years ago I began to do some work with clients around this notion of an individual team member who desperately wants to know, “How do I fit in?” Not socially, but in reality. How does this team member as a person, with the contributions they’re able to make and the ones we’re asking them to make – how do they fit in and make a positive difference?

Like those hockey players in that Uber ride, you may have team members who don’t believe in what you’re doing. They may not understand what you’re doing. Or why.

Maybe they no idea what you expect them to do, or how you expect them to do it.

People can be filled with questions and emotions around things that are so fundamental, but we neglect them because as leaders we either don’t know or we don’t care. So first, start caring (if you’re not already). Care what your people think and feel because it’s good business (and it’s the right thing to do).

Next, find out what they think and how they feel. Understand their viewpoint. See what they see before you impose on them what you see.

I’ve never been a hockey player. I’ve been a hockey coach for years though. I’ve studied it more hours that I care to admit. Spent years talking with coaches around the world. Learning. Because first I was a fan. Interested in the nuances of the sport. Talking with amateur and professional players, coupled with my study, I learned a lot about the game. And what it takes to win.

The micro level of the game – the details at the player level – had to come from the players. Years ago I realized as both a business leader and a hockey coach that they weren’t much different. The perspective of the person doing the work (the player) is important. They think what they think. They feel what they feel. My job was never to convince them otherwise, but first to understand it. THIS IS WHERE MANY LEADERS FAIL.

The Senator’s head coach is failing to do this. Like many leaders who view things in a classical hierarchical environment – I’m the boss, do what I say – he’s neglected to gain the insights of his players. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with them. It means you must try to understand them.

Then, digest them. Don’t immediately go into sales mode of your ideas, thoughts and feeling. That’ll just signal your team a very bad message, “No matter how you feel or think, I’m going to impose on you how I think and feel.” Open your eyes and ears. Listen and learn. Understand.

Think about the best ways to help your team – both individually and collectively – understand what you’re asking them to do. Begin by answering the question on everybody’s mind, “Why?” Don’t wait for them to ask. Explain to them why you’re doing what you’re doing. Help them understand their contribution and why it matters so much.

Some team members are more compliant than others. I realize we can have employees who are contrarians. Some aren’t going to understand no matter what you do. It’s a topic for another day, but I’m going to tell you to get rid of the chronic contrarians. I’m NOT talking about the person who doesn’t agree with you, or the person who may be difficult to convert. I’m talking about the person who always lacks an open mind. They will never see what you see, or understand it because they refuse. These are toxic employees who will kill your quest for a high performing culture.

One team member at a time. That’s where it begins. We’ve talked about it before, but you have to figure out a way to scale the human talent on your roster. Every coach or leader must do the same thing. Find out how they feel. Find out what they think. Communicate that you understand. Make sure you understand them accurately. And make sure they understand how much you care about them and their contribution, then make certain they believe that your direction and leadership is capable of winning.

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

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Grow Great a public sector leadership podcastAbout the hosts: Randy Cantrell brings over 4 decades of experience as a business leader and organization builder. Lisa Norris brings almost 3 decades of experience in HR and all things "people." Their shared passion for leadership and developing high-performing cultures provoked them to focus the Grow Great podcast on city government leadership.

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