Author and Educator Michael Brenner

If you saw the 2014 movie “Whiplash,” you’ll surely remember Terence Fletcher (played by J.K. Simmons), the tyrannical jazz band leader fond of profanity and humiliating his young musicians.  The film would have you believe this approach to teaching yields great performance, but that hasn’t been my experience.  As a professional musician for almost 35 years, I can report with confidence that the best music teachers I’ve had took the opposite tack.  They created harmony not by screaming at and berating their students but by inspiring them to get better.  They set a clear example of how to achieve success, provided clear and honest feedback, and continually challenged them to improve week by week, month by month.

The same holds true in organizations.  You’ve probably invested a significant amount of time and money finding the right employees, but to enable them to achieve peak performance, don’t follow the Fletcher model.  Create team harmony the same way my best music teachers did.  Start with these 5 simple but powerful ideas:

COMMUNICATE CLEARLY

Many of my clients complain about having to sift through mountains of messages when only a few are really important—and they have every right to be frustrated.  So be purposeful and methodical in the way you communicate: think brevity, clarity, and specificity in everything you say and write.  Vague or contradictory messages cause confusion and consume valuable time to interpret.  Be crystal-clear in both your written and spoken communication and you’ll save yourself and your colleagues a lot of aggravation.

SHARE GENEROUSLY

Imagine if my music teachers had withheld their knowledge from me.  My lessons would have been short and pointless!  Be generous in how you share your experiences, wisdom, and suggestions with your team, not in a patronizing, “look-how-great-I-am” way but in a manner intended to help them excel.  The great producer and musician Quincy Jones once said, “Imagine what a harmonious world it could be if every single person, young and old, shared just a little of what he [or she] is good at doing.”  He’s right.

FOSTER ACCOUNTABILITY

Make accountability a key value of your team not through fear but through setting high expectations.  When I didn’t practice properly for an upcoming lesson, my music teachers didn’t lose their temper.  They expressed disappointment and told me I could do better.  That was a much more powerful way to get me to practice than yelling like Fletcher.  Similarly, accountable cultures develop when leaders exhibit confidence in their people and not through fear and intimidation.

EMPOWER OTHERS

Empower employees to take initiative and solve problems on their own.  Most employees, especially Millennials, want the freedom to be creative, take calculated risks, and try new things.  You need to be prepared to encourage this behavior.  This doesn’t mean allowing conduct that is inconsistent with organizational values and goals but rather encouraging autonomy, demonstrating confidence in their abilities, and providing coaching when necessary.

PROVIDE RECOGNITION

Few things feel as good as receiving recognition for a job well done, yet many employees hardly ever hear it.  A thoughtful “Great job!” or “Super presentation!” can go a long way toward elevating engagement and morale.  Had my teachers shared only criticism with me without recognizing my efforts, I likely would have stopped playing music altogether.  When they know their efforts are appreciated, your employees will want to continue down the path of success.

Achieving success as a musician is rooted in finding players who not only want to make the entire group sound good but each individual player as well.  It’s the same with teams.  That’s why leaders need to make sure their people are inspired and well-prepared every day to meet the demands they face.  It’s not easy, and leadership isn’t for everybody.  But for those who accept the role, incorporating the above suggestions as part of your repertoire is the best way I know to get your team playing beautiful music together!

ABOUT MICHAEL BRENNER

Dr. Michael Brenner is the founder and president of Right Chord Leadership, a leadership development and team building company near Philadelphia.  He has worked with SAP, QVC, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Boeing, United Way, and many other notable organizations during his 20-year career.  Michael has spoken at numerous conferences and conventions around the world (often bringing his saxophone with him) in his quest to help leaders and teams find their groove, get in sync, and work in harmony.  He is currently writing a book on leadership that features some of his favorite musicians.

Author Jan Ferri-Reed

Our fast-paced world is presenting leaders with increased demands. Recruiting the best and brightest employees to help your organization respond to the challenges is still crucial, but you can’t wait for new employees to figure things out on their own.

In today’s job market, the most heavily recruited new hires are Millennials and Gen Z. Many Millennial job candidates were stymied by the great recession of 2008, and as the economy has recovered, these candidates are now ready to embark on the “dream” careers into which they have invested so much time and student loan debt. Gen Z comes to the workplace with similar expectations as their generational predecessors. So orienting Gen Y and Z within the company takes even more non-traditional approaches and creative strategies. 

This 80-million strong Millennial generation and 61-million Gen Z generation have a few things in common that need to be leveraged in our onboarding programs – technological savvy, a “work to live” high efficiency mentality, hunger for feedback, collaborative approaches, a high level of self-confidence and philanthropic outlook, to name a few.

It may have been passable to gather new employees into a meeting room and briefly relay onboarding information. Today, however, organizations thrive when they implement robust onboarding programs that quickly bring new employees up to speed as follows.

Plan it together 

It may seem counter-intuitive to established employees, but one of the most effective ways to fully engage younger employees is to involve them in planning their own onboarding. Give them options for acquiring information, let them plan the order and sequence of their onboarding program, assign them to interview key existing employees or ask them to prepare a report on a specific topic related to their onboarding experience. 

Make it visual, playful and
data-intensive with infographics

The younger generation prefers to absorb information – and a lot of it – from technology and word pictures and graphics.

Keep it brief 

Millennials and Gen Z prefer sending and receiving information through short text, sound bites and capsule summaries like Snapchat. Keep presentations focused in small bites with flash and short videos in order to retain attention. 

Automate it 

Whether the goal is to introduce new employees to organizational structure and functions or to impart corporate culture, there are technologies that can make the process easier and more effective. Consider using Facebook, Twitter, micro-learning apps, new employee blogs or chat rooms, online video conferences, facetime, etc. 

Make it interactive 

Younger people are used to kinesthetic learning via hands-on activities and projects. The more active and interactive your presentations are, the more impact they will have including simulations, project assignments and virtual problem-solving. 

“Group” it 

Millennials and Gen Z are accustomed to working in teams. Giving them learning projects to tackle as a team is a great way to engage and maximize their learning opportunities. 

Connect it 

No matter what the subject, information from company history to policies and procedures should be directly relevant. Make sure you help them make the connection to their present jobs or to preparation for future ones. 

In addition to the above strategies, consider placing your new employees in brief, temporary assignments within other departments. Cross-training and orienting will both promote better understanding among new employees and build a base for future teamwork and collaboration. And don’t forget about community involvement to build leadership and team skills in partnership with non-profit organizations in your area.

It may also be useful to assign each new employee a transitional mentor to help him or her learn about the organization in a less formal environment. The transitional mentor can be a knowledgeable veteran employee, or even a new employee with enough experience in the company to fill the role.

Extend the on-boarding process throughout the year and involve recent hires in the design and delivery of future on-boarding programs to capture lessons learned or things they wished they would have known. Employees who are onboarded the right way have longer staying power with your organization. You are engaging them right from the start which should contribute to higher engagement scores in the longer term not to mention the increased productivity and satisfaction that you and they will gain as a result.

About Jan Ferri-Reed

Jan is a seasoned consultant and President of KEYGroup, a 32-year Pittsburgh-based education leadership, teambuilding and employment testing organization with a focus on developing leadership skills. Jan has presented a variety of keynotes, workshops, personal coaching and career coaching programs to thousands of managers and employees in a diverse range of organizations across the globe. She provides guidance, wisdom and wit to leaders who are interested in finding unique solutions to unique people problems while providing a return on investment.

When someone asks your employees what they do for a living, how do they respond?  With excitement and enthusiasm or with defeat and disillusionment?

Too many employees and too many workplaces fall into the second category. But it doesn’t have to be that way, if you apply the 8 secrets found in every positive, high performing organization.

Hire right – Train right

As you well know, one bad apple can spoil the whole cart. But you also know it can be very difficult to get rid of a bad apple or bad employee.  So approach every hiring decision with the utmost discernment.

In particular, focus your energy on recruiting and retaining people who are technically skilled and emotionally competent. In fact, they had better have both characteristics or you will have a sick workplace.

When you’re in the position of having to hire someone, look for ANY signals that tell you the new job candidate may be a drag on the positive culture you’re trying to create. You cannot afford to hire those kinds of people … because they will cost you money, rather than make you money.

In fact, I’m sure you can think of several situations where you walked into a store to buy something, totally ready to spend your money there, but some employee’s behavior was so offensive that you walked out. And instead, you spent your money at a competitor’s place of business. 

Hire right.  And for heaven’s sake, if the people you hire don’t have all the people skills they need, then train them right … right now.  

Protect your positive norms

If your organization has established certain norms of respectful behavior, reinforce those norms.

If, for example, employees are expected to acknowledge every customer within 10 seconds of entering the store, make sure they do it. Or if you have outlawed negative talk about customers, call someone on his violation of the norm if he is trashing a customer.

Don’t let your negative people dismiss your positive cultural elements by saying, “That’s just plain stupid … or … That’s just the way John is.” 

Discover and share success stories

Even though your office, like every office, has some things that could be improved, you’re also doing a lot of things right. Charge everyone with the responsibility of looking for those success stories. And then share a few of those stories at every meeting. Celebrate the positive.

Surface and defuse negativity

No matter how positive, productive, and profitable your organization is, it is not perfect. There are problems and there will always be problems in your organization.

Don’t ignore them. And don’t pretend they don’t exist. As best-selling author and psychologist Dr. Sidney Simon says, “The greatest danger in any relationship is to pretend not to know what we know.”

In other words, you can’t expect to bury the problems and have them somehow magically disappear. When you bury problems, you bury them alive, and the rate of resurrection is almost 100%.

Instead, create a forum where people can safely share their concerns. Take their feelings seriously. Listen intently. And decide on one or two things that can be done to address their concerns.

Conquer one energy-zapping issue at a time

Have everyone write down the specific tasks or job situations that drain them.  Some people may not feel supported by the boss, and others may feel betrayed by a team mate who is not doing her share of the work.

Then brainstorm small immediate steps that can be taken to maintain or recapture the energy at work. And then baby-step it.

Start with a simple issue … where an easy victory is likely … such as greeting one another respectfully and professionally when passing one another, rather than ignore the people around you.

Once you’ve built some confidence and skill in one area, move on to a more challenging issue — such as having to do ten projects at once, with no sense of their priority.

Assign energy as a personal responsibility

Whatever the situation at work, you’ve only got two choices: to produce results or make excuses.  Make it clear that it is everyone’s responsibility to bring the right attitude and the right amount of energy to every task. 

Even if your workplace is somewhat de-energizing, everyone there can still choose to focus on the good, to fill their minds with positive, powerful sayings that will inspire them. It’s not silly.  Every gold-medal winner in the Olympics does it every day.

About the author, Dr. Alan Zimmerman

At the age of 7, Dr. Alan Zimmerman was selling greeting cards door-to-door. By age 14 he owned a small international import business. By age 21 he was teaching at the University of Minnesota, and during the next 15 years, he was selected as the Outstanding Faculty Member by two different universities.

At age 36, Alan had retired from teaching and opened his own speaking and training company. That position has allowed him to deliver more than 3000 programs, to more than a million people, in 49 states and 22 countries. The National Speakers Association has named him a Certified Speaking Professional and inducted him into the Speaker Hall of Fame, which places him in the top 1% of speakers worldwide.

How many times have you been frustrated by people constantly seeking your advice or approval before taking action towards a goal?  You want them to make decisions.  You delegate the decision making to them, but they are reluctant.  Why.  And how do you get them to make responsible decisions without your having to look over their shoulders constantly?

Delegating and Growing

It’s called empowerment.  Many have tried, but few succeed.  That’s because the actual process for achieving empowerment is shrouded in psychological mystery.  One has only to look at the reasons people are hesitant to make decisions independent of supervisory overview.  Most people actually do want to make decisions on their own; but are hesitant because they don’t want to make mistakes.  No one does. 

I tend to think in analogies.  I see a person standing on the yellow line in the middle of the highway.  They want to make a decision and step off the line, but every time they do, an 18-wheeler comes whistling by causing them to jump back on the line.  They say, I’m not going to take the risk again unless you tell me exactly what I’m supposed to do….boss.  So, they keep coming back to the boss to seek approval and guidance before making any decision.  It’s much safer…albeit annoying to the boss who wants the employee to make the decision on their own.

What needs to be understood, however, is that empowered delegation is actually boundary management.  The reason people don’t make independent (empowered) decisions is that they don’t know where their boundaries are.  Where/when can they make independent decisions and when do they need to check with the boss. 

True Empowerment

To achieve true empowerment, the boss and the employee must sit down together and decide several things.  First, what’s the goal/objective.  Secondly, based on the employee’s skills and experience, what are the ranges within which the person can make independent decisions.  Ranges in terms of resources they can use (money, people, technology, etc.), timeframes within which the goal must be achieved (as soon as possible but no further than the end of this month), quality of the outcome (must meet these specs), etc.  The more skilled a person is, the wider the range/ leeway the boss is going to give them regarding these parameters.  The newer the employee, the narrower these ranges become forcing the employee to go to the boss before making a decision allowing for coaching and skill building by the boss.  The boss’s job is to create multiple lanes on the highway so they employee is more likely to step off the center line and make independent decisions within the agreed upon ranges for each of the parameters.  Once you reward the employee for taking the risk of making independent decisions within the range, then they are more likely to make it a habit.

Now that you have them moving in the right direction and making decisions within agreed upon parameters, you can keep the process on track by setting up process checkpoints.  At each checkpoint, you check what their progress is towards the goal.  If they’re on track, you can reward them.  If they’re off track you can discuss ways to get back on track by determining if the holdup is due to an employee motivational issue of a lack of skill issue.  In either case tweaking some of the parameters may become necessary to fix the problem.  It’s a team effort driven by the psychological need to make successful decisions and complete goals within a pre-approved decision-making structure.

Enjoy your newly recovered lost time.

About Harvey Robbins

Harvey Robbins has been a licensed psychologist and award-winning author and consultant for over 40 years. Since 1982, he has been the president of Robbins & Robbins, a company shaped on psychology principles to coach leaders and train business teams.

Before becoming a consultant, Dr. Robbins served as a personnel research psychologist for the Federal Government and was in executive leadership positions with Fortune 500 companies, including Honeywell and Burlington Northern. He is also a Fellow at the Executive Development Center at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management and a sought-after speaker at conferences and events locally and abroad.

His clients include American Express, Mayo Clinic, Nabisco, Toro, the IRS, the CIA, the US Secret Service, and many others.

The notion that companies need to invest in their people has been around for many years, but it’s only recently we’ve begun to realize we’ve been investing improperly.  In fact, we often unintentionally do harm.  What?

Consider these common examples that were designed to help but have evolved into expensive and time-consuming affairs that are no longer justified in their current form.

Employee evaluation systems.  They are ostensibly created to keep employees informed about their performance, to offer needed feedback, and to develop longer-term career paths.  In practice, they are often a nightmare, loathed by nearly every participant.  Most should be radically streamlined.

Gamification.  Possibly the most popular engagement-related trend in years, this is a clever approach to helping employee’s win “stuff.”  Stuff (e.g., points to use for coffee mugs, t-shirts, and gift certificates) really doesn’t motivate.  It does, however, create people focused on “stuff” instead of work.

Bloated human resource policy books.  Human Resources is the home for people who care about employees, right?  One wonders.  The modern digitized policy book has become a bastion of arcane rules that does nothing but add problematic bloat.  Well, at least we all know the maximum height for plants on our desks.

These practices take tons of our precious limited time.  They suck up massive amounts of resources.  They have a net neutral, or net negative, effect on motivation.  That means morale takes a hit, indirectly impacting retention and productivity. 

Let’s think about a better way.  For most of us, there are a few givens these days.  Aside from a mission that matters, environmental stewardship, and ethical leadership, there are a few categories of employee investments that make people believe in the organization.  These are investments that attract talent and spur innovation by helping employees in ways that truly matter. 

Think about these modern examples:

Culture based hiring.  Hiring has long been lopsided, focused mostly on skills and IQ.  Understandable, but not sufficient.  Remember, chemistry trumps talent.  So, you need people who fit, not just people who are smart.  That means hiring practices that leverage employee groups beyond the hiring managers, emotional intelligence testing, applied task interviewing, and honest realistic job previews.

Facilitated breaks.  The most productive people and teams don’t work 100% of the time.  For peak performance, the brain needs a few breaks.  Step one – encourage people to take a few small (5-10 minute) breaks during their work day.  Step two – give them options the might enjoy during downtime (e.g., foosball, basketball, walking trails, meditation space, a nap room). 

Employee interest groups.  People often find it comforting and informative to gather with similar others to discuss careers and life at work.  Groups based on age, gender, ethnicity, and other categories are now quite common.  In support of diversity and inclusion, these opportunities for networking within subgroups of employees is a highly valued activity.

Real vacation time.  Regardless of how many days of vacation you actually have, the more interesting question is how many do you use?  In the US, for example, about half of workers have unused vacation time each year (and we don’t have that many to begin with).  The least we can do is honestly help them use what they have.  Managers should be evaluated based on the percentage of vacation time used.  How about a rule that requires mandatory vacation time?

Community involvement.  Offices reside in very real communities.  That means they have an impact in terms of traffic, pollution, noise, and so on.  Thus, giving back matters.  This might take many forms.  Donations and philanthropy are an obvious choice, but real involvement in the form of service projects and participation in charity work are also very popular. 

Friends and family days.  It seems that work often feels immensely separated from the rest of life, but it doesn’t have to be that way.  Bringing some elements of non-work life into the workplace can make work feel far more hospitable.  That’s why companies have bring your children to work day, bring your parents to work day, and, increasingly, are trying to make work pet-friendly. 

Concierge services.  Life doesn’t stop just because you’re at work.  Many times, people really need a helping hand getting things done in life to accommodate the time they need to spend at work.  In response to this need, more and more companies are trying to help by providing onsite healthcare, dry cleaning services, and even car washes. 

I can hear what you’re thinking.  Those things are expensive!  True, but you likely have all of the money you need to embrace these practices.  You’re simply spending it on a bloated evaluation system, excessive gamification, meetings dedicated to improving arcane HR policies, and other practices that build bloat instead of productivity. 

If you want to attract and retain a truly great team, pay attention.  Your labor force is shifting rapidly, and the new kids want more than just a paycheck.  They want purpose.  It’s time to let a few practices and policies go so that you can invest in practices that directly serve what matters most – your people.