One of my summer jobs was working at a busy warehouse, filling wooden pallets with various orders of canned fruit or juice products. Forklifts then loaded the pallets on a trailer for shipping.
I remember the day I filled out the employment application. The job was on second shift. It was hard to find anyone who wanted to work these hours, so I was hired. The woman from human resources asked me if I could start working the same night. I showed up 30 minutes before my shift for orientation. While I don’t recall everything that was said, the supervisor’s safety expectations were memorable. The speech from Lyle went something like this:
“Most of these guys have been working here for more than 15 years. So ask them anything you want to know. The work isn’t that hard, but you can expect to get a few minor injuries before the summer is over. Nothing serious – maybe a gash from a box cutter or a sore toe from a case that is dropped accidentally. No open-toed shoes, by the way. There’s a first aid kit in the break room. If you need something more than a bandage or ointment, come see me. Now look, the number one thing you need to remember is that those guys running the forklifts are moving fast. The sooner we get these trucks loaded, the more time we all have at the end of the shift to relax. So stay clear of them at all times. They have the right-of-way in the aisles. Any questions?”
What questions would an 18-year-old ask? I had none.
It’s a sad truth about the workplace: Just 30% of employees are actively committed to doing a good job.
According to Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace report, 50% of employees merely put their time in, while the remaining 20% act out their discontent in counterproductive ways. These employees are negatively influencing their coworkers, missing days on the job, and driving customers away through poor service. Gallup estimates that the 20% group alone costs the U.S. economy around half a trillion dollars each year.
What’s the reason for the widespread employee disengagement? According to Gallup, poor leadership is a key cause.
Richard Sheridan, Founder of Menlo Innovations, describes an antidote for this lack of enthusiasm. He claims that “joy” is what is missing from the workplace. In a recent interview, Sheridan spoke about some of the ways that he purposely designed joy into the way that people work.
Many people assume that all leaders have the ability to influence others by virtue of their position. This is not always true.
You can be in a leadership role, yet lack influencing skills. Conversely, you can greatly influence others without being a formal leader.
VitalSmarts includes information on their website that outlines the top reasons why leaders lack influence. This post will recap the main points for each of these five reasons. I will add my own thoughts to those of the authors.
(Note: These concepts are based on the best-selling book Influencer. I have found the model that the authors propose around the six sources of influence to be practical – as well as easy to understand and apply).
Reasons Why Leaders Lack Influence
1. Leaders think it’s not their job.
Most leaders spend very little time consciously influencing others. They believe that their primary job is to come up with big ideas and then to implement them.
The key thought here is having a conscious effort to influence others. Whether they intend to do it or not, the actions of those in leadership positions have the potential to influence others. What rarely happens is for the leader to develop a strategic action plan for how to influence their employees on the vital behaviors that they desire. The assumption by many leaders is that if we give people a direction and the resources they need, then good things will happen.
I used to work for a manager who clearly had this mindset. He became frustrated when much of his organization repeatedly performed work in ways that were counter to his preferred approach. Yet, he never asked himself how he might influence some of the employees so that they would become more aligned and working on the right things.
Symbolism can be a powerful method to align an organization to a new way of thinking. Transformational leaders know that everyone will be looking at what they say and do. One of the basic tenets of effecting culture change is to create experiences that will reinforce the beliefs that you want people to hold. These experiences can be small words of support, a well-written sincere note, or a key policy decision. But they can also be bold acts that create a lasting impression and become the basis for stories and legends. Consider the following symbolic acts – one in world politics and one in business.
At the 1995 World Cup rugby final, Nelson Mandela put on a jersey of the South African Springboks, which under apartheid had been the exclusively white national rugby team. Mandela purposely chose to wear the uniform of the sport that black South Africans had always seen as that of the oppressor. The symbolism was unmistakable. It was an overt statement to millions of South Africans that he sincerely believed in reconciliation in the new democratic South Africa.
Gordon Bethune, CEO of Continental Airlines, was trying to send a message to all his employees that the old rigid rules were history. He wanted everyone to make whatever decision they thought was right for the company and the customer. To make this clear, he staged a book burning, where the previous “rules manual” was ceremoniously set afire in a 55-gallon drum in the parking lot. This story soon spread among the employees. Message received.
The use of symbolism is not only within the purview of world political leaders or company executives. Creating experiences is only limited to your imagination and the thoughtful consideration of the message you want to send.
Humans are complicated. While some of our base emotions and behaviors are easy to understand, there are times when we appear to make irrational decisions when faced with personal change. For example, behavioral economists have identified a specific instance when we apparently place a very different value on something depending upon whether we own it or not. Consider the following scenario.
Suppose that a team performed an analysis on the layout of a work area. The team concluded that a significant amount of waste of motion and waste of transportation would be removed if the work stations in the cell are re-arranged. With a proposed new floor layout, each of the operators would walk shorter distances as they moved among the stations. It would make it easier for them to accomplish their work each day. The location of the new work stations would be comparable in every way to the existing work stations – tools, space, lighting, climate, proximity to the work. This sounds like a positive outcome for everyone!
However, when the proposed plan is shared with the crew, it is met with surprising resistance by some of the operators. This would seem to be an illogical decision. These operators would rather walk further (and therefore work harder) than accept these minor personal changes to their work flow! How can this be?
A common view is that the work required to shift the mindset of any large organization is largely the responsibility of leadership. To be sure, the senior leaders of the organization are accountable for setting the vision and supporting it by what they say and do. Unfortunately, many leaders approach this challenge by delivering a message via well-written power point slides to the masses. The assumption is that all they need to do is explain what the company is about and how everyone should be aligned to be successful. And perhaps for a short while this strategy results in an uptick in the “hoped-for” behaviors.
But it does not last. Soon enough, most of the employees slip back into their comfort zone. They see no reason to change anything. “After all,” they think, “This too shall pass. If I wait long enough, someone else will come along with a different flavor-of-the month. Maybe that one will taste better.”
There are many reasons for failing to get an entire organization aligned and to accept a new way of thinking and acting. I will focus on a single consideration.
We accept change at different rates
Everett Rogers published his theory on the Diffusion of Innovations in 1962. It is a theory that seeks to explain how, why, and at what rate new ideas and technology spread through cultures. The book (now in its fifth edition) says that diffusion is the process by which an innovation is communicated through certain channels over time among the members of a social system. The innovation or idea must be widely adopted in order to self-sustain. Within the rate of adoption, there is a point at which an innovation or idea reaches critical mass. The people in any social system who are exposed to the new idea can be placed in segments, depending upon their willingness to adopt the new idea or accept change. Rogers named five categories of “adopters” : Innovators, Early Adopters, Early Majority, Late Majority, and Laggards. These categories are depicted in this graphic.