Gulf Breeze, FL — January 6, 2010 — No doubt about it: 2009 has definitely been a tough year. You need to turn things around, and that means making some big changes in the very near future. Problem is, you're not sure what they are. A new improvement initiative? A hot new product? A new executive team? Quint Studer has a suggestion: Make 2010 the year you focus on leadership. Not leaders, mind you — leadership.
"Solid business results that stand the test of time do so for one reason and one reason only: consistently excellent leadership," insists Studer, author of the new book Straight A Leadership: Alignment, Action, Accountability (Fire Starter Publishing, 2009). "Products and services change with the demands of the market. Individual leaders come and go. The key is to create an organizational culture that ensures great leadership today and tomorrow."
In other words, you need a long-term fix, not a magic bullet, a trendy "program du jour" or a charismatic leader. You need a culture built on good, solid, time-tested leadership principles. Studer urges organizations to institute proven across-the-board behaviors that don't depend on particular individuals. He says that the tried and true "best practices" he shares with his readers and clients — collectively called "evidence-based leadership" — enable companies of all types to create results that last.
These practices are not complicated, according to Studer, who suggests that they're simple, commonsense tactics that leaders can get their hands around and start doing right away. In fact, the author says if you implement these five "biggies," you'll see dramatic changes by the end of 2010:
Get rid of low performers. Now. Yes, despite the layoff ax so many companies have wielded during the past year, low performers still work inside many organizations. And they are causing big problems. Let's say your employee Carol consistently comes in late, gets "headaches" every other (non-payday) Friday, and spends more time cheerily chatting up coworkers than she does working. Others will notice — and they will be resentful. But worse than merely causing contention in the ranks, turning a blind eye to the "Carols" in your organization squelches profitability. Why? Because middle performers get pulled down to the low-performer level, while high performers either disengage or leave.
"Too many of us give low performers a pass," says Studer, whose remedy involves implementing a structured series of high-middle-low performer conversations. "It's easier not to confront low performers, and trust me, a leader can find a thousand other things to do instead. But until you move them either up or out, your company will never advance beyond short-term gains. The low performer is an anchor holding everyone else back. Make this year the year you quit looking the other way."
Accentuate the positive. The next time you're having lunch in a restaurant, listen in on the conversations at nearby tables. Chances are, you'll hear people griping about their workloads, difficult clients, annoying coworkers or the ridiculousness of corporate policy. Everyone does it, but if they realized how harmful it is to their company, perhaps they'd think twice. The solution, says Studer, is to hone the fine art of managing up.
"Managing up means positioning your people, products or company in a positive light," says Studer, who teaches clients how to hardwire the technique into their corporate leadership practices. "Managing up doesn't just happen; you have to make it happen in a systematic way. Help employees understand what can happen when negativity is allowed to breed — good people quit and customers leave — and they'll be more likely to stop doing it."
Make a real connection with employees — every day. Studer is a big proponent of what he calls "rounding for outcomes." Like many of his tactics, this critical leader behavior reveals his healthcare industry roots. (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, says Studer, 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 employees," explains Studer. "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."
Say thanks. In fact, put it in writing. Studer is 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," says Studer. "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."
He explains that 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.
Don't just recruit great employees. Re-recruit them