"Most leaders truly want to do the right thing," says Quint Studer, consultant and author of Hardwiring Excellence: Purpose, Worthwhile Work, Making a Difference. "They want positive, productive, trust-based relationships with their people. But perfection doesn't exist in leaders or in companies. So you put in enough 'deposits' so that when the inevitable 'withdrawals' are made—let's say you forget to say thank you, or you have to institute pay cuts—there's enough goodwill in the account to salvage those relationships."
Studer's metaphor of an emotional bank account gives an interesting twist to the concept of human capital. Here are some of his suggestions for how to make quick deposits to help your people stay in the black:
Follow through on. "One of the biggest issues we see is that people say 'Well, they measured our satisfaction, but nobody responded to what we said,'" Studer notes. Whether you're using assessment tools, suggestion boxes or regular dialogue with employees, when you get feedback and ideas for improvement, you have to show that you're acting on them.
Go for the quick wins. Is there a piece of equipment your people have wanted for years? Get it. Is there aperk that you don't really value and that your people resent? Get rid of it. Is there a low performer who's been dragging the team down? Deal with him. In his book, Studer tells how, on his first day as a hospital executive, he asked a nurse how he could make her job more satisfying. She said she was frightened to walk to her car at night because the parking lot was ringed with tall bushes. So his first act as the boss was to trim those bushes.
Combat the "us vs. them" mentality. Be careful, as you're looking for quick wins, not to define them as victories over upper management or other forces within the enterprise. Ultimately, this ends up creating reasons for the staff to be divided, or to build up resentment that quickly diminishes their reserves of emotional "capital."
Get rid of the dead weight. As difficult as it is, managers have to realize that their employees don't want to work with low performers. "Turning a blind eye to these people quickly drains the emotional bank account you're trying to build up with your good employees," Studer says.
Constantly make the rounds. "Take an hour a day to touch base with employees, make a personal connection, recognize successes, find out what's going well and determine what improvements can be made," Studer says. "It shows employees day in and day out that you care."