Tools, Teaching & Trust: The 3 gifts for Happy, Productive Employees.
By Skip Potter, CAE
“The 3 Ts” for Happy Productive Employees: Tools, teaching and trust. These are three of the greatest gifts you can give to your employees when all you want from them is their best effort.
There are entire academic disciplines to address productivity so don’t expect me to cover all the aspects of industrial psychology and an MBA in this one simple feature. In fact, I don’t have either of those degrees. I just have a happy and productive membership department and that is what qualifies me to share with you my philosophy of “The 3 Ts”. To better underwrite my credibility, however, I find that Russell R. Day, PhD (R.R. Day & Associates, Chicago; firstname.lastname@example.org), an Industrial Psychologist specializing in executive coaching and employee evaluations summarizes his view in this area saying: “Good supervisors/leaders create a work environment that inspires and motivates others to excel”. In a recent interview, Day revealed some important factors in employee satisfaction and motivation discovered in a proprietary study he had conducted for a large client. Among them are familiar terms like “resources”, “coach”, and “empowered”, coincidentally similar to the Tools, Training and Trust philosophy I profess for happy and productive employees.
Being a boss is a big responsibility. Not only is your own boss or board of directors depending on you to synthesize their needs into a vision and then to organize and motivate a staff to execute solutions, you have staff that depend on you to provide for their needs, as well. Employee needs include many basic and personalized motives but a manager that provides a challenging and learning environment will likely be rewarded with the happiest and most productive staff.
So how does a manager build that challenging and learning environment? Is it in the Gestapo organization dominated by the boss who barks out “my way or the highway” commands? Is it in the kind but disorganized manager whose staff must wait like firemen for a task to arrive as an emergency? Is it in the micro-managed team? While these types of organization can often get a job done, high turnover, not happy and productive employees is generally their measure.
All productivity and time-management books and speeches proclaim you to “delegate”. Most of us know, that is easier said than done. Few managers are skilled at really “letting go” of a task. They “dump” rather than “delegate” tasks to their career-minded staff who are hungry to show what THEY can do for them. Dumping a job on an employee is often necessary if the supervisor has not effectively provided the tools and teaching so that they could trust the employee to exceed their expectations. In a sense, dumping is delegating without the tools, teaching and trust and is certain to frustrate the employee and disappoint the employer.
Application of “The 3 Ts” assumes that a manager has already cataloged the interests, talents, and skills of their employees and matched them into a position that will best satisfy both them and the organization. You can’t expect fish to fly so don’t make your introverted scientist the sales manager. Both of you will be miserable and little success will ever blossom.
The happy, productive staff needs to feel they are an important and appreciated part of their professional team, each with valued talents and welcomed opportunities to contribute. The old adage, “Two minds are better than one” is most valid when it comes to productivity. The boss that uses his/her employees only to support his/her own creative agenda is limited to achieve the extent of his/her own knowledge. A boss that provides his/her staff with the tools they require to do their work, the wisdom of his/her experience (teaching), and the trust that they will do their best will achieve goals well beyond the limits of his/her own contribution.
Tools of the Trade
Tools are not just necessary for generating productivity. They are the toys of professionals. Certainly you have seen the excitement of “tools” for the hobbyist. At home in the kitchen, the household chef finds great pleasure in having the counter space to spread out and the special pots, pans, spoons, knives, and cutting boards all at the ready. To the amateur gardener or the weekend mechanic, a cruise through the tool section at Sears is a thrilling amusement ride. To the professional at work, having the best tools of the trade are the playground that keep them interested and excited about their job. Greater productivity is an assumed benefit of tools like a computer or membership software but do not overlook the value those tools have as incentives to employees. Day’s research found that (employees) “want resources and support necessary to do a ‘good job’. High performers … want to excel and they become very frustrated when the organization is not willing to provide them with the necessary ‘tools’ to do the job ‘right’.”
But just buying the tools is only the beginning in reaping their reward. Fully integrating those tools into the daily routine is essential. Like most associations, mine has long had an elaborate database management system to handle our membership administration. Selecting membership software to meet our needs was the easy part. (And that wasn’t easy, at all.) The most difficult challenge was in the adaptation of that stock, out-of-the-box software to the specific process needs of our association and in the adaptation of our staff processes to take advantage of the productivity promise of the software.
Giving your employees the best tools of their trade is best done in collaboration with them. By now, you understand the term “tools” here is very broadly defined to include the entire working environment. In adapting our membership software to our processes and vice versa it is a group effort. Often I would stand at the workstation of a membership administration staffer and ask them to “show me” how they handled a membership call. As they demonstrated the series of actions they would take, we would examine extensively alternative steps or note additional information that might be helpful in accomplishing the task more quickly and to a higher level of customer satisfaction. In one such review we examined how difficult it was to process a product order from a member. As a result of our review we made several improvements including the addition of a dedicated printer to this work area, a simple software modification that quickly discriminated between member and non member pricing, a change in process regarding credit card processing, and a change in process involving our mailroom. The result was a 90% improvement in order processing time and a 75% reduction of order errors.
Employees with the best tools, customized to fit the needs of their job will have the best opportunity to be the happiest and most productive.
Teaching occurs on two fronts: staff development and transfer of knowledge. Employees and, indeed, many organizations make staff development a key ingredient of their employee benefits package. Support for an employee’s pursuit of a college degree, encouragement to absorb the education of seminars and conferences are proven as both valuable employee incentives and as effective means for improving the organization’s capabilities.
Perhaps of greater value to both the employee’s career and to the organization’s capabilities, however, is the transfer of knowledge based on job-specific experience that lives in the mind and habits of the tenured supervisor. Seldom is this “teaching” opportunity organized into a planned and intentional education program and when it occurs, if at all, is often incomplete and accidental. For me, this transfer of knowledge from my 18 years of corporate sales and marketing and another 14 years of membership development and administration is one of my most important responsibilities both to my employees as their boss and to my organization as a senior staffer. I was reminded of the enormous value in this teaching role when one of my customer service specialists recently said: “I have learned so much from you. Thank you for taking the time to teach me. I really appreciate it”. Another factor noted near the top of the Russ Day research was that “Employees want to work for managers who are good coaches”.
The boss as a teacher who unselfishly shares the wisdom of their experience with their staff is most likely to have the results of that staff’s efforts match or exceed their expectations.
Even underwritten by the best tools and coached with the most enlightened wisdom, however, an employee will not contribute to the limits of their possibilities if their supervisor does not delegate or “let go” and trust that their employee will go on to build their own “better mousetrap”. Trust, in one sense, means, “to let go” and we hear this lament in the frequent reminder that effective managers must delegate tasks to their employees. I asked my own staff about my leadership style and one manager indicated that “one of the major things” that made their job fun was that “you let us take ownership of our projects. You are there for guidance--to bounce ideas off of--but you never take the project back and it continues to be our baby.” The environment that results from true “delegation” is both a productivity gain for the organization and an appreciated employee incentive.
On the flip side, however, employees must understand that trust is earned; and, in this sense, trust means that the supervisor has mentored that employee long enough and effectively enough to feel certain that the employee will build on the boss’ vision rather than create a new vision all together. In recent years I have had more than one very skilled and highly promising employee quit my staff because THEY failed to invest enough in earning my trust. In each personal case, my anxious staffer insisted they should be assigned the general task and left to do it their way. In the long run, “their way” may well have been the best way and even “my way”. But they didn’t give me a chance to teach them what I have learned in my years in their position and to convince me that they could provide additional creative solutions to the problems that will face us in the future. After all, I am the boss and the one ultimately responsible for the costs and quality of the output of the department. Developing trust is a mutual responsibility.
The Experts Agree
Day notes that “More important than compensation and benefits, employees want to be empowered. Give them the tools and the direction; then let them do the work without being micro-managed.” This is the essence of “The 3 T” philosophy. Tools, teaching, and trust: Successful delegation of a task depends on full provision of these three gifts. A happy and productive staff will be a likely result.
The Role of Association CEO
Whether your association budget is large with many staff or your budget is small with few or no full-time staff, the responsibilities of the CEO are common and many. The difference is the CEO of the small association is responsible beyond the level of leadership but also involved directly with implementation down to the administrative task. Consider these major responsibilities: Membership Development, Membership Benefits, Membership Administration, Governance, Volunteer Development, Meeting/Event Management, Government Affairs, Market Development, Education, Operations, Communications and Cheerleader.
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