Advice for Leaders on How to Enable & Empower Employees
Your recent hire just passed a major hurdle, finding a job, and now faces a new challenge: understanding what makes a good boss. The relationship with their first boss (you) will define their future relationship with their new organization. A great first boss will create a new employee ready to go forward and grow with the company. A poor experience with the boss and the employee will head to the door and may not even let the company know they left.
For franchise marketing leaders old and new, some advice on how to create great new employees for your team from day one.
Leadership is about teams producing results with a purpose mindset. Teams exist to deliver results to the organization, not to create a “crew” for the boss. New employees want to be driven by their own resolve; given a robust understanding of the mission they are assigned to accomplish; and have the ability to apply their own initiative, leadership, skills, and training to produce results. Leadership is not about creating rule-following automatons. Leadership is about creating trained, inspired, purpose-driven, and aggressive employees who proactively seek, grow, fix, plan, and accomplish missions their leaders challenge them to complete. New employees want to quickly become critical and contributing team members.
Set a vision & give frequent updates on progress. Workers want to come to work to complete a mission and be part of something larger, not just perform a “job” that is a collection of rote tasks. One of the best things a leader can do is to lay out the compelling need, challenges, and future outcomes for the team to accomplish. This is not a 150+ slide deck from the annual planning process. It is a simple, 3- to 5-sentence paragraph that lays out what is to be accomplished – and why. A call center may set out on a quest to reduce customer calls by turning their focus to problem resolution customer education. The vision of “call reduction through customer education” can be frequently discussed, employ simple tracking metrics, and inspire the entire team. The vision and the progress of the vision need to be simple, employ weekly updates, and excite the entire team on their progress toward the mission. New employees must know that their individual roles are critical, and how their actions directly contribute to the top-line business results.
Be a coach – develop, train, & guide new employees to success. One of the best things you can do to develop your team is to throw out your annual performance review process. The Harvard Business Review, Gallup, and hundreds of companies have found that the annual performance review process demotivates, frustrates, and does not improve individual employee performance. The leader needs to be a coach, not a reviewer. As a coach, sit down in private with every employee every month and follow this coaching format. 1) Discuss how the employee’s actions directly contribute to the success and responsibility of the team’s mission. The importance is to emphasize that what the employee does daily directly affects the team’s success. 2) Using specific instances with time, date, location, and actions, highlight activity you want to see the employee continue. These should be high-impact, positive, and very specific so the employee knows exactly what to keep doing. 3) Identify areas where the employee needs to improve and how their strengths can aid in this improvement. Again, use the specifics of action, time, date, and location so the employee knows what needs to be improved. The critical part of this step is that now this is an open conversation about how the employee can leverage their strengths to overcome some of their deficit areas. 4) Important to this coaching discussion is the ratio of good items to improvement items: for every one improvement area, you should have three to five positives. Therefore, if I want to improve two items with an employee, I am going to list six to 10 strengths the employee has demonstrated. The final area is to create an action plan to help the employee accomplish their improvements.
Be flexible on the “how” & inflexible on the “why.” Listening and acting on the ideas of others is a critical aspect of effective leadership. The leader sets the vision and excites the team to adopt and engage to accomplish the vision. Great leaders know that the team and other stakeholders have the best ideas and concepts to make the vision a reality. Leaders must be flexible on the “how” a mission is accomplished, and firm on the “why” to make the vision a success. I once led a team turning around a poorly performing software product that customers had – and hated – to use. My first weeks were frustrating as none of my ideas worked. I stepped back and asked the team for their ideas. In just a few hours, the team had great ideas and a plan to transform the situation. Ultimately, customer satisfaction of the software went from below 10% to above 90% because I let the team determine the solution, while I maintained the importance and the progress of the mission we were undertaking. New employees want to be able to test and to contribute their own ideas to create excitement and commitment in the new organization.
Leader transparency: admitting mistakes & open analytics. One of the hardest challenges for a leader is admitting when they make or made a mistake. Leaders need to become comfortable saying when they made a mistake, what they learned, and their proposal to fix the problem. A leader apologizes when they made a major mistake, states what they learned, states how the situation will be fixed, and then moves on, just like in an employee coaching session. Open analytics are a great addition to leader transparency, so everyone in the organization can see the progress toward major goals and there are no “operational secrets.” Secrecy and failing to apologize will immediately destroy trust in an organization. A leader who is transparent with their own actions and uses open analytics surrounding team performance creates trust and confidence in employees.
Be afraid of ethics-ending choices, not “career-ending” choices. Leader ethics are often sacrificed for achieving business results. Every employee can recite a time when a leader took credit for someone’s success, blamed another for their bad decision, or did not protect the team from a senior leader’s wrath. Employees understand the effects of bad markets, changes in customer buying patterns, or the business effects of a competitor’s actions. Good leaders and good teams can overcome bad markets. Teams cannot easily recover from a leader’s poor ethical choices. Bad leader ethics and self-serving behavior are 10 times more destructive than poor market conditions. Leaders always need to constantly stretch themselves to fully understand the ethical decisions of all their actions on the team. New employees do not expect leaders to be perfect. They do expect them to be honest.
Show a career progression based on skills, results, & experience – not time in position. Once a new person is hired, they want to know what they can do and when they can be promoted. These are great discussions to have when they do not use the words of “pay your dues” and other similar phrases. New employees need to understand and learn the wide range of skills and knowledge required to make the next promotion possible. Help new employees create concrete plans to learn, experience, and gain all the skills and deep knowledge they need to advance their careers.
Leaders who adopt honest, open, results-focused, and coaching leadership styles with their new employees will accelerate and retain new employees regardless of industry and business conditions. Any time an employee sees “secret” discussions, unfair practices, unclear standards, no developmental coaching, double standards among employees, no development of their skills for future advancement, and an unclear understanding of how they contribute to the organization’s success, they are a when – not an if – that they will leave the company. New employees are an incredible asset to the company. Lead them as the future leaders of your company.
Chad Storlie is an adjunct professor of marketing at the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management and a mid-level marketing executive. He is a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army Special Forces (Green Berets), an Iraq combat veteran, and a widely published author. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-960-1350.
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