The first six months of this year have been quite inspiring for me. I have worked with leaders from many countries around the world, including; Poland, Germany, Romania, France and South Africa. In this mix there were countless ethinicities, sub-cultures, religions, countries of origin, languages and expectations.
In this time I have learnt, all over again, the power of connection, of tolerance and of unity. Especially with the leadership group in South Africa where this group of blacks, whites, and their various subsets of ethinicities are responsible for role modeling for their workforce what it means to work together, and to win together.
Dialogue is powerful. Dialogue that is nurturing and adult by nature leads to rational and self-sustaning outcomes. How can it not? In these states dialogue has its best chance of being thought through and empathic. It has its best chance of being authentic...real.
I have witnessed people, through dialogue, realise that they didn't have to give up their culture...who they are. Rather, they could bring the best of who they are to the creation of a shared identity. An identity founded on understanding what is important to each of us. An identity created out of a desire to want the best for each other, and for ourselves...and realising that you can't have one without wanting the other. After all; how we see ourselves, is how we see the world.
I am grateful that I have been able to create an opportunity for these people to do things differently. The ability to create healthy choices can never be underestimated...and in business, this is the job of an effective leader.
The Business Review Weekly and the Great Place to Work Institute Australia have released the top 50 companies in Australia who are considered the Best Places to Work. It’s really interesting, but not surprising, to see that the common theme that seems to run through the top fifty companies is how they connect with their people to add value to their lives on a daily basis. Some, like Google, have kayaks that staff can use during lunch to paddle on Sydney Harbour, whilst others provide benefits like short massages, flu shots or flexible working conditions.
Whilst this is nice, and it is easy to get envious reading lists like this, the reality is that not everyone is able to work in this type of environment. But that’s not to say as a leader you can’t add value to the lives of your employees in far simpler, and maybe more meaningful ways.
You can be a “Value Add Leader”.
Here are some tips, that are pretty straight forward, but often forgotten; consider them the basics of effective leadership, that are as essential as your ability to perform the technical side of your job. Most importantly they help you add value to the lives of your employees.
Value-Add #1 Talk “with” Your People
Don’t stick to the rituals of “water cooler talk” where you gossip about what is happening in the company and maybe share what you did on the weekend. Take the time to meet each of your team, one on one. Find out what the interests are of your team members, and be prepared to share your own...look for common ground. You will be surprised at the richness that comes from this; there is the opportunity to learn more about the things that motivate each person, what jobs or hobbies they have done in the past and their wider range of skills and capacity that isn’t easily seen whilst performing their current job.
It is this connection where the value add commences. The value you add as a leader in the life of your people…and in return the value your people offer the team and you as their leader through their higher levels of engagement.
If you have greater knowledge of those in your team, and their history, it is easier to share the burden of problem solving, or delegating, in ways that you hadn’t thought of. I remember a few years ago, I was leading a team responsible for designing and implementing a company wide change initiative in a short space of time. By really “knowing” who I had in the team I was able to involve the team in creating a solution that engaged and motivated the individual members, and then had them take on tasks that were suited not only to their skill set, but their personal style and interests. A great example in this team was the guy who was our IT expert. I discovered he had a special interest in leadership and leadership development models, even though this was not something that he normally shared. Given the project we were working on was developing a leadership development model for our organisation, that would have an intranet interface, it meant that I was able to involve him in the design of the model itself and not just the online portal...naturally this meant that the interface was far more intuitive than in may have been; and he was fully engaged. A real value add for him, the project and me.
Value-Add #2 Timely and Customised Recognition
Beyond talking with your team, take the time to be interested in the work they are doing, and recognise them by offering real time feedback on performance. Offer positive strokes (eg, pat on the back, "well done", "great work" etc) at the time that you spot great performance, or offer constructive feedback if you think that the performance could be enhanced, changed or needs to be improved. Don’t wait until appraisal time to offer feedback for something that occurred months before; it will carry no relevance or impact months (or even weeks) after the event. This is as much about respect for the individual as it is good management practice.
A common sticking point with giving feedback or positive strokes is that not everyone is used to doing this. Usually because it hasn’t been done so well for them in the past; there hasn't been the opportunity to learn, and shape healthy beliefs and attitudes around the value of giving positive strokes or feedback. So in simple terms, it isn't a natural leadership trait for all people.
But is easier than you think, and you can make it natural. Just like anytime you wanted to change a way of thinking or behaving, you had to start somewhere... and the best place to start is with the first point mentioned above. Get to know your people. It is easier to have conversations, and give recognition in ways that are more meaningful if you know your people. It is also easier to start one on one before moving to bigger and more robust “go for it” team speeches… not everyone is cut out for that sort of thing!
Just by getting to know your people you are giving very powerful strokes. Once you know a little more about the people in your team, customise the way you recognise them. If you know that one of your team members has a young family and they value their work life balance, then offer give them the ability to work from home for a day, or let them get away a little earlier on a Friday afternoon so they can spend extra time with their family. If someone in your team is interested in a career path away from their current job, organise for them to meet with someone from the department they want to work towards to learn more about it, or organise some mentoring.
Easiest of all is to use those two little, often forgotten, words...“thank you”. A simple "thank you" can carry great weight; just think of the times your manager has thanked you for the work you’ve done…it works.
Above all, keep it simple and customised to the person.
The best thing of all is that you don’t need to work for Google, or other high flying companies to bring this value to the lives of your employees. And; there is an added perk that comes back your way. Loyalty. You will be surprised how much more people will be prepared to do for “you” and not just the role you represent. This can never be underestimated, especially in times when many organisations are asking their leaders to do more with less.
My final word on this is simple. In many companies the question on the lips of the sales, marketing, operations and production teams are around how we can optimise the value chain. This is absolutely critical, and I offer one more dimension to these conversations. Before we can expect true value to be experienced along the supply chain and with the customer, it probably needs to start inside...by investing your efforts as a "Value-Add Leader" in your teams knowing that the value will be returned two-fold, and in ways that you often don't expect.