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Beating the six-month slump

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in Leaders & Managers,People Management

As front-line managers, we know this better than anyone: Our direct relationships with our team members are the key ingredient of success, not just of our teams but of our entire enterprises. We may have talented and skilled people and the resources we have to do our jobs well. But if our employees aren't interested in peak performance, or feel they can't achieve results that they find satisfying, it's going to be reflected in our declining productivity and bottom line.

The biz-school metric of the moment for this is "engagement." Recent research from folks such as the Gallup Organization suggests that only 30 percent of employees are "engaged," with a smaller proportion being "actively disengaged" and the majority being neither here nor there.

Different researchers vary on how they define "engagement," but basically, as front-line managers, you know it when you see it. You probably have a good idea on your own teams about who's engaged, who's working against success (intentionally or not), and who's just phoning it in.

A key thing to understand is that most employees start out where you want them to be and then disengage over the first four to six months. "This is basically due to the perceived realization that their expectations are not going to be met," notes author and consultant Michael McKinney on his LeadershipNow Web site (leadershipnow. com). "They feel powerless to fix the situation and give up, but stick around at your expense." McKinney, in turn, cites author Keith Ayers, who, in his book Engagement Is Not Enough, identifies four "obsessions" that drive front-line leaders to make decisions that promote the spread of the "cancer of disengagement":

The bottom line. A "myopic" focus on profit or budget, "ignoring the needs of employees, customers and the culture and the values of the organization, is very costly to results."

Control. Too many leaders "assume that people cannot be trusted and send that message to their team— squashing natural enthusiasm, creativity and ambition and driving away the most talented employees."

Avoiding responsibility. That is, blaming the team members entirely for their own performance shortfalls. "If your team is not performing the way you want it to, first look at whether the leadership they are getting from you is what they need."

Logic. Managers need to avoid thinking "that emotions don't belong in the workplace" and remember that "people can be passionate about their work. Emotional intelligence and rightbrain thinking are critical skills to become successful leaders in the new global economy."

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