The End of Revolving-Door Leadership
Let’s say that your organization has just finished up its most successful fundraising year ever. You’ve hit on the perfect donor-relationship strategy and donors are practically beating down the doors to give. Things are looking great. So what’s there to worry about?
Well, frankly, you’re a little nervous that today’s success is only as good as your current line-up of leaders. As today’s leadership team gives way to tomorrow’s, how can you make sure the momentum you’ve gained doesn’t fizzle out?
The answer is to focus on developing consistently excellent leadership — not leaders, but leadership.
Leaders will always come and go. That’s just a fact of life. But too often when a key leader walks out the door, the success a company enjoyed under his or her leadership disappears, too. The key is to standardize proven leadership practices that will survive in your organization longer than any individual leader or team.
In other words, organizations should shy away from “cult of personality” approaches and institute proven, across-the-board behaviors that don’t depend on particular leaders. Commonsense as this idea may sound, very few companies practice it. Those that do, however, enjoy amazing results.
Here are just a few tactics to try:
1. Re-recruit new employees with 30- and 90-day meetings.
We all know that employee turnover is expensive. But did you know that more than 25 percent of employees who leave positions do so in the first 90 days of employment? To retain a new team member, the leader needs to build a relationship. Studer Group has found that scheduling two one-on-one meetings, the first at 30 days and the second at 90 days, has an enormous impact on retention that directly turns into savings for your organization.
If these meetings are handled successfully, new-employee turnover is reduced by 66 percent. Use a structured list of questions to discover not only what’s not going well, but also what is going well. You can be certain that your new employee is comparing her first few weeks of work with your organization to her last week at her previous job — which was filled with well wishes, tearful good-byes and probably a going-away party. Clearly, your organization will get the short end of an unfavorable comparison. These meetings will help you shore up an otherwise tenuous relationship.
2. Manage up to avoid “we/they” divisiveness.
What is managing up? Basically, it’s positioning people, products and organizations in a positive light. Most leaders inadvertently practice what we call the “we/they” phenomenon — as in “Well, Rick, I fought for your pay raise but you know Human Resources makes those decisions” — which has a divisive effect on company culture. This is rarely a deliberate choice but rather the natural fallback position of someone who hasn’t had formal leadership training. (After all, you don’t want Rick to be mad at you, right?) To counteract “we/they,” learn the fine art of managing up.
Instead of blaming HR in the above example, a leader might say, “When I talked to Denise over in HR, she pointed out that health insurance premiums have risen 23 percent over the past year, so pay increases must be postponed. The company is working really hard to maintain the best possible coverage for all of us.”
See the difference? Managing up keeps energy and enthusiasm up and boosts performance.
3. Round for outcomes.
What is rounding? It’s a critical leader behavior borrowed from the world of health care. (Think of a doctor making her daily rounds to check on patients.) Rounding helps you communicate openly with your employees, allowing you to regularly find out what is going well and what isn’t going well for them at the company. But remember, it’s not just empty “face time” — it’s rounding for outcomes, which means the process has a serious purpose.
In the business world, a CEO, VP, or department manager makes the rounds daily to check on the status of his or her employees. Basically, you take an hour a day to touch base with employees, make a personal connection, recognize success, find out what’s going well, and determine what improvements can be made. Rounding is the heart and soul of building an emotional bank account with your employees, because it shows them day in and day out that you care.
4. Hardwire employee thank-you notes.
I am a big advocate of sending thank-you notes to employees who do an excellent job. But that doesn’t mean just sending the occasional note when someone goes far above the call of duty. It means literally mandating a specific number of thank-you notes for leaders to send to the people they supervise. Thank-you notes don’t just happen. If they aren’t hardwired into an organization, they don’t get written. And a thank-you note is just too powerful a tool not to use. People love receiving thank-you notes. They cherish them.
The best thank-you notes are:
* Specific, not general. A thank-you note that focuses on something specific the recipient has done is far more effective than one that reads, “Hey, nice job!”
* Handwritten, if possible. Most people would rather receive a three-sentence handwritten note than a two-page typed letter. It’s more authentic and special.
* Sent to the employee’s home. When an employee receives a thank-you note at home, it feels more personal than one laid on her desk along with a stack of reports and memos.
5. Measure customer/donor service and satisfaction … and strive to move 4s to 5s.
I am a big believer in measurement. Measure what matters, and measure it often; it’s the best way to change employee behavior. Customer satisfaction is one of the biggies, and many companies miss the mark. Most service rating systems are done on a five-point scale: 5 is excellent or superior, 4 is very good, 3 is good or average, 2 is less than average, and 1 is very poor. Too often, companies focus on the 1s and 2s when they should be targeting the 4s.
You’ll never win over the 1s and 2s, so just let them go. Here’s why you should focus on the 4s: They are quietly satisfied. They may come back again, but they won’t bring others back with them. Fives, on the other hand, are more vocal. They are advocates for your organization. The more 5s you have, the more positive word-of-mouth you get, and the more positive word-of-mouth you get, the more support you get. Great companies must have at least 70 percent of their customer satisfaction scores in the 5s.
Ironically, the same person who dials the logo police if someone uses the wrong typeface for a company’s slogan may balk at the idea of standardizing leadership. To many people, conveying an inconsistent visual message feels like a bigger sin than allowing inconsistent leadership behaviors. Perhaps they worry that implementing across-the-board rules will result in a company of soulless look-alike leaders. I disagree.
Each person will always bring his or her own personality into the workplace. What you are doing is creating consistency built on the foundation of best practices. You’re also creating a culture of excellence. A great culture outperforms strategy every time. A great culture, combined with a great strategy, is unbeatable.
And here’s the bottom line. Not only will your customers have consistently excellent experiences with your company, your employees will as well. Happy customers and happy employees are two sides of the same coin — and that coin is the currency that buys you results that last.
Quint Studer is the author of “Results That Last: Hardwiring Behaviors That Will Take Your Company to the Top” (Wiley, October 2007, $24.95). It is available at bookstores, major online booksellers, directly from the publisher by calling 800.225.5945 or online at www.studergroup.com