Improved Leadership. Competitive Advantage.

In January we suggested that you spend more time in the field. As we enter Q4 it is worth revisiting this extremely important leadership activity.

We frequently ask leaders, "What behavior do you need to work on that would have the biggest improvement on organizational health and performance?" What is your answer? The number one response we receive, regardless of industry, is time in the field. Some responses were: "I need to be in the field to ensure the folks know how important what they are doing is." - - "How do I know they understand our expectations if we don't observe our associates in the actual performance of their jobs?" - - "Praising or coaching a behavior in the moment is so much more powerful than after the fact." - - - "Money is made . . . or lost . . . in the field, not behind my desk."

Who could argue with these reasons? However, when pushed a little more to understand what a typical week looks like, we find that leaders spend 24-44 hours a week in meetings or reviewing reports and metrics. Unfortunately, this does not leave much time to be close to your associates in the field.

What does ‘time in the field' mean? The truth is it should mean different things to different people. If you are the first line supervisor of a maintenance crew, it means having the correct PPE (personal protective equipment) on, and being in the field where the work is taking place. If I am leading a customer service department, it might mean walking the floor where calls come in and periodically listening in on a call. In all cases, it means providing real-time, and specific, coaching and feedback! "Good job reviewing the check-list prior to performing that task!" or "To be even more effective next time, you might try . . ."

Stephen R. Covey would call ‘time in the field' a Quadrant II activity, not urgent, but important. Ironically, we say "YES" to the urgent because we give it a false sense of importance. Some people go from one urgency to another, and in the absence of urgencies don't really know what to do. It is true that some things arise that must be handled, but the challenge most of us face is saying "NO" to the unimportant.

We all want more hours in the day, but the truth is we get the same twenty-four as everyone else. What can you say "NO" to, so that you can say "YES" to getting in the field? What is the consequence (positive or negative) if you miss one or two meetings a week? Conversely, what is the consequence (positive or negative) if you spend one or two hours a week in the field?

So, here is the challenge: finish your Q4 strong with a purposeful presence in the field.

We all need to ramp up our time in the field. ELP Founder and Principal Robin Bichy is ready to share how ELP can improve yours. Her first name is her email:

Okay, now that we got your attention, we do, in fact, mean that, but with some major caveats. Allow us to explain.

Over the last several years, both academics and those of you in the field, have talked more and more about this notion of Employee Voice. It’s a straightforward concept. Simply, it means inviting and encouraging employees to converse and engage in addressing organizational problems and challenges. There is a prevailing view out there that the more employee voice, the better, and healthier the organization. We disagree.

Perhaps the worst way to imagine employee voice is to view it as a one-way communication stream—one where employees communicate to management. That’s weak. A stronger way to conceptualize employee voice is to get some two-way communication going. Here, employees and managers speak and listen to each other in a productive, healthy, and constructive manner. However, this stage of employee voice can be especially problematic. When employees believe that managers are listening, they begin to get their hopes up. When those hopes are dashed by a lack of action or follow-thru, employee voice can quiet quickly. Morale often tanks, and cynicism usually surges. There’s a third way—a better way—to enact employee voice.

ELP can help foster a dynamic where employee voice is enacted correctly—in a way that is sustainable. First, invite employees to communicate and challenge management. More specifically, encourage them to avoid voicing about people and focusing instead on processes, procedures, or systems. Second, leaders should listen to this voice and challenge back in a professional way. But, we’d argue, that a third step is the most important step. It is the follow-thru step. Here, you set appropriate expectations and then deliver on them.

Take, for example, a client who added this third step to their communication system. Notably, this client would conduct quarterly communication meetings with all employees. Here, the General Manager would relay information. At the end of his communication, the General Manager would allow plenty of time to hear the voices of his 1100 employees. Just recently, though, they started to capture action items from this dialogue. Within about a week, the management team would send out a newsletter along with communication down through first line supervisors that would state the following—“This is what we think we heard during the communication meetings, and based on our resources, we are going to pursue answers for the following three items: a, b and c. We promise to share what we found with you at our next communication meeting.” And that’s what they do. Because of this, there are fewer “false-hopes,” expectations are clear, and the employees know and feel that their voices are heard. Even if the action items, resulting from their input, don’t result in a change of policy, they at least have the courtesy of the follow-up. They feel valued, and are likely to continue with a constructive voice.

Whatever you do, don’t ask or solicit an employee’s voice if you aren’t going to respond—either in dialogue or in action. Employees ONLY deserve a voice when managers and leaders are committed to valuing it. Without that, it is a hollow exercise. So, listen, act, and follow through on initiatives and efforts to capture the voices of your employees.

Of course, to hear the preeminent voice on employee voice, call Robin Bichy, an ELP founder and principal, at 703.999.5676 to learn more.

... their first name.

This is so simple it seems absurd, even ridiculous. But it isn’t. There are a few books that are seminal. And there are a few leadership experts that are truly iconic. Dale Carnegie and his book “How to Win Friends & Influence People” fit those descriptions.

One of his maxims is that people value one word over all others—their first name. People want to feel valued, different, and special. They want to feel a connection to another. Perhaps, the easiest way to build that human connection is to use a person’s first name. At ELP, we commit to using first names with each other, with our clients, and with everybody—across all mediums: texting, emails, face-to-face, etc.

We spend a lot of time in nuclear, and we received some feedback that one senior engineer was failing at building some connections with his 30 or so direct reports. We got feedback from those that he led that, “he seemed distant” and other responses that included, “I feel like a number to this guy” and unfortunately some input that said, “I don’t even know if this guy knows my name. I’ve been here for six years, and he’s yet to call me by my first name in-person or over email. It seems so disrespectful to me.” Based on some of this feedback, we intensely coached this individual to use first names in any and all correspondence. He said that it wasn’t his style, and he’d need a day to think about. The next day, he came back with some data—if you can believe that—regarding our request. He said that he’d lose between three and six minutes each day by having to use first names in text, email, and face-to-face. We thought he was joking. He wasn’t. We asked him to sacrifice six minutes a day and try this small act.

It worked. Or, at the very least, it made a dent. People forget that when we address someone by their first name, it makes the recipient feel good and valued. Surprisingly—or not—it also affects the leader. By using first names, the relationship must get more personal. Trust us here. There’s nothing that you can do that is easier. That demonstrates more respect. That closes the social distance. Than using the first name. So, unless you are in the military, where first names are off-limits and where high social distance is desired, consider this small tactic to build some bonds.

By the way, and speaking of first names, email Robin to learn more on how ELP can change your culture. Her first name is her email: