Archive for May, 2010

Critical Success Factors for Effective Surveys

Monday, May 31st, 2010

In order to achieve accurate and actionable results from surveys, certain critical success factors must be present. Absent these factors, the endeavor will fail miserably at one or more levels. For example, the results will be unusable or inaccurate, management will lose credibility, resources will be squandered, and/or the organization will be worse off than it was before the survey.

In my upcoming booklet on developing and implementing effective surveys, I identify eight critical success factors for an effective survey process. Here are three of them:

1. Answers the “What’s in it for me?” question

The biggest motivator for adults that I know of is enlightened self-interest, also known as “what’s in it for me?” The word ME is key: prospective participants must see the benefit that accrues to them personally, not to their team or their organization or their family members. With a plethora of competing demands on people’s time, you have to let them know why it’s in their interest to respond to your survey.

2. Management’s promise to act on the results

One of the biggest credibility wreckers I know is asking people to take the time to respond to a survey, then doing nothing with the results. Conducting a survey creates expectations that something will happen. While responding doesn’t necessarily mean agreeing to make all suggested changes, taking action is NOT optional. Two of the questions management must ask and answer truthfully are, “What are we willing to do with the responses?” and “What will we be able to do with the responses?” If the answer to either question is “Nothing,” do everyone a favor and stop right there. Personally, I will not undertake a survey in an organization whose leaders refuse to promise to take action on the survey’s results.

3. Quality of the questions

The quality and reliability of the survey items are critical to your ability to elicit accurate and actionable information from the respondents. The biggest mistakes I see people making with surveys are related to the questions they ask, which is why I spend so much time addressing this issue in my upcoming booklet. Quite simply, if your questions are not phrased in ways that enable participants to provide useful answers to the issues you are trying to address, you are wasting everyone’s time as well as squandering the organization’s resources and credibility.

For a preview of what will be in the booklet, I invite you to read my article Little Known Secrets of Effective Employee and Customer Surveys.

What questions do you have about how to make surveys more effective? Let me know!

© 2010 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

Supervisors: First Responders of the Workplace

Sunday, May 23rd, 2010

In my interview with one of the psychologist experts in my series about how to set and implement priorities, Dr. Michael Seskin and I agreed that in general, most people in the U.S. are ill prepared to handle emotions, and employees who become emotional, in the workplace. This shortcoming has been highlighted by the recent economic downturn, which has thrown a monkey wrench into millions of lives and resulted in chaotic emotional situations that cannot be confined to non-working hours.

Perhaps the silver lining to this cloud is that the need to treat employees as human beings with feelings and emotions that must be addressed now is on the table. Organizations are going to have to start dealing with the fact that people need to be able to go to someone in the workplace with their concerns, anxieties, and fears. Because first-line supervisors interact and work with employees constantly, they are the most logical people to whom workers turn when they (employees) are distressed or have difficulties. In this sense, Dr. Seskin says, the supervisors are like first responders. Unlike fire fighters or police officers or emergency personnel, who receive extensive training before they go out on the job, however, supervisors often find themselves ill-equipped to handle workplace challenges and difficulties. Their organizations simply fail to provide them with the tools necessary for them to be effective, especially when they must manage employees who are in distress. In that sense, organizations are failing both employees and supervisors.

So what should management do to ensure that their workplace first responders are ready to rise to the challenge at a moment’s notice? Here are four suggestions to get started:

1. Create an environment that encourages openness to dialogue and discussion.

Employees need to be able to express their concerns in appropriate ways, and to be referred to resources where they can receive assistance. People who are preoccupied with fears and anxieties cannot possibly be productive workers, so it is in employers’ best interest to help them address the issues that are diverting their attention. Make sure your supervisors know how to create an environment in which employees feel it is safe to ask for help.

2. Ensure that supervisors have the tools they need to be successful.

It doesn’t make sense to dispatch emergency first responders who are untrained or who lack the necessary equipment, yet many organizations take an equivalent action when they fail to properly equip their supervisors. My experience is that training for supervisors often ignores or minimizes the human aspects of the workplace. Though supervisors are not counselors or therapists, they should learn how to address a variety of emotional states appropriately and effectively. When faced with a situation that goes beyond their expertise, they need to know what resources they can bring to bear to help the individual – e.g., referral to an employee assistance program (EAP).

3. Provide specific training in active listening.

Supervisors’ abilities to listen effectively to people’s concerns and struggles and to respond appropriately are critical to organizational success. Developing the capacity to listen creates an environment in which we acknowledge one another as human beings rather than as “resources” through which goods and services are provided. In order to evaluate a situation accurately, first responders must be able to process, assess, and address what they hear.

4. Establish on-going support systems for supervisors.

I do not know of any individual who automatically became an expert in how to manage people when he/she was promoted to a supervisory position. Nor do most people retain skills without using them. Management should institutionalize developmental opportunities for supervisors that go beyond training – e.g., create a mentoring program, provide one-on-one coaching, or develop networks across the organization. These programs help supervisors at all levels, not just those who are new to management.

Employees are key to organizational success. Supervisors interact most closely with workers and are best positioned to intervene quickly when things go awry. What are you doing to support your workplace first responders?

© 2010 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

13 Life-changing Lessons for High School and College Graduates

Sunday, May 9th, 2010

Below are thirteen lessons that have transformed my life. The sources of these lessons represent a variety of wise people, some of whom I know personally and others only through their writing. As a former university professor, I offer them to graduating seniors as they set out on the next stage of their journey through life. Others are welcome to them as well!

1. Sometimes we have to let go of the good things in life to make room for the really great things.

2. Focus on your strengths, not on your weaknesses.

3. Face your fears; they never are as bad as you imagine they are.

4. We find the things we search for: whether we choose to look for the positive or the negative, we will find it.

5. Harnessing the power of the subconscious mind enables us to realize our dreams.

6. Life is much richer when we realize we live in a world of sufficiency.

7. Focus on the “what;” the “how” will take care of itself.

8. Who I am is good enough.

9. We’re looking for success, not perfection.

10. Allowing age to be a barrier to your dreams is a travesty. How old will you be in __ years anyway?

11. While we can’t always control every situation, we always get to choose how we experience it.

12. We are the only ones responsible for our feelings and our happiness

13. Use this criterion for decision-making: does [name the action or outcome] make your heart sing?

© 2010 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

10 Things Every Employer Should Know about Compensation Systems

Saturday, May 8th, 2010

I was with some small business owners recently who were trying to establish formal, equitable compensation systems for their companies. As a result of our conversations, I came up with some suggestions that every employer, regardless of the size of his/her organization, should consider.

1. Align pay with organizational goals.

Make sure that the things you are rewarding support the organization’s mission and goals. For example, if you want employees to act as a team but you pay them based on their individual performance, guess what you’ll get?

2. Make sure you communicate the message you want your compensation system to send.

Every compensation system sends a message to employees. Make a conscious decision about what message you want to send, and ensure all elements of the system are aligned with it.

3. Think broadly.

Define “compensation” as including more than just pay and benefits. I encourage my clients to include everything that rewards or recognizes employees for their performance.

4. Leverage the power of recognition.

In my experience, recognition unfortunately is a “best kept secret.” Find out what non-monetary forms of recognition are meaningful to your employees (e.g., autonomy, challenging work, the ability to learn new skills) and incorporate them liberally into your total rewards system.

5. Connect rewards with performance that employees can control or influence.

Few things are more de-motivating to employees than being offered rewards for achieving outcomes over which they have little or no control. You are better off not offering any reward at all.

6. Watch the timing and form of rewards and recognition.

Desired performance should be rewarded as quickly as possible so employees see the cause-and-effect relationship, and are more likely to repeat the behavior. Annual bonuses, such as profit sharing plans, are notoriously ineffective in helping employees make this connection (except possibly at a senior level).

7. Establishing a clear line-of-sight is priceless.

You have established a clear line-of-sight when every employee is able to articulate clearly the contribution he/she makes in achieving your organization’s mission or goals. When this happens, you will have a workplace in which people are engaged, motivated, committed, creative, and have high morale. Money cannot buy this type of environment.

8. Ensure the compensation system is procedurally fair.

Managers often cannot control the outcomes of the compensation system – i.e., the amount of pay they can provide. However, there is one key factor over which they always have control, namely the process by compensation is determined. When employees perceive that the process by which they are paid is fair – i.e., it is transparent, free of bias, and allows for their input – they will accept the outcomes even when they are not entirely happy with them.

9. Formalize the system, then don’t mess with it.

Once you have established your pay structure(s) formally and identified clearly how and when pay and other forms of rewards will be changed, do not change it arbitrarily. Your compensation system is a reflection of management’s strategy and its philosophy about how it values its employees, both of which should be relatively stable.

10. Implement an excellent and measurable communication plan.

No compensation system can succeed without a clear, concise, and comprehensive communication plan. Two measures of such a plan: (1) every supervisor and manager is able to explain it accurately and clearly to their staff, and (2) individuals can articulate how and on what bases they are rewarded and recognized.

© 2010 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

Go Team!

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

On Saturday I signed up to walk the Nike Women’s Marathon on October 17th and to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Team in Training is the Society’s fundraising arm that trains regular, everyday people to complete endurance events that include running or walking marathons (26.2 miles) or half marathons (13.1 miles); biking 100 (or more) miles; and participating in triathlons.

This will be my eighth marathon with Team in Training. Two years ago, I decided that seven marathons were enough, and I resolved to limit myself to walking half marathons. However, the news that a former colleague had been diagnosed with lymphoma made me realize that seven marathons, in fact, were not enough: we still have a long way to go to eradicate blood-related cancers, especially in adults. So I will be purchasing a new pair of running shoes (even though I’m a walker), and beginning my training for this marathon on May 22nd. As I begin to log the miles over the next five months in preparation for the hills of San Francisco, I will be dedicating my training to my colleague as he fights his battle with lymphoma.

If you would like to support my efforts, please make a donation on my Team in Training web site or offer some encouraging words on this blog. Either way, please check back often to follow my progress!

© 2010 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.