Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Compliments help Achievers over and out-perform!

There is this nice, feel-good video that is currently going viral on Social Media. It shows Chris Ulmer, a young teacher at Mainspring Academy in Jacksonville, Florida - a School for Special Children, beckon his wards one by one every morning. The teacher goes on to say to one boy, "You're an amazing student. I love having you in my class. I think everyone in here loves you." And to the second, "You're funny. You're athletic. You're a great soccer player. You're very smart. You've been doing a great job reading." And so on, one after another to every special boy in his class before sending them off with a high five. 

Chris opines that this simple practice helps shape his students’ world view turning them into better human beings. “If they have a mean, jaded teacher, they will think the world is mean and jaded. But if a teacher displays love, harmony and peace, that will become their norm. After a few weeks of this practice, my students started complementing one another consistently. They praise each other for accomplishments as if it was their own," Chris shares in his video.

You can see the body language of each student change from the time Ulmer calls for them to the moment he High Fives the little tots. It is quite evident that as Chris speaks his fine words to them these differently-abled children transform into confident, beautifully square-shouldered, enthusiastic, sprightly butterflies emboldened to take on any challenge that their uniquely special day throws at them. 

And therein lay a master class in Management Best practice and one of the finest strategies for Talent Retention. Sincere words of praise from people of authority – Super bosses, direct reporting, team leads, managers and people of significance – Top management, mentors, industry bigwigs, even prominent peers, are known to have a lasting impression on the recipient.

Several studies have shown that many a time, well-deserved compliments that are truly and well-delivered by the management – conveying acknowledgement of good work, recognition of the value the employee brings and appreciation of his talent - rate higher than even salary and perquisites. Moreover, using a public platform or a larger audience to express admiration of a great worker and his admirable output creates stronger bonds, reinforces mutual trust and respect, motivates other team members and instills a higher drive in the recipient.   

Compliments and acknowledgements can take varied form. They can be verbal pats on the back in official forums; they can be written affirmation on those formal appraisals; they can also be very visible endorsements of your special talent put up as showpieces for all to see and emulate from.

I was in a closed door once with my General Manager, the Company CFO and the irrepressible Mr. O, owner of the eponymously named chain of hotels, easily considered one of the finest in the world. We were discussing PR budgets, decision-making autonomy, our media engagements and some hairy issues when Mr. O’s eyes rested on the latest issue of Chronicle, the Hotel Newsletter. He quizzed me about how much we spent on it and right away got on the hotline to another hotel GM in his Chain. Without batting an eyelid, he told the gent how ‘our’ Chronicle was the finest in the Chain and produced at a lower cost too. Of course, our GM’s chest swelled with pride but Mr. O won a lifelong fan in me and an employee who would be a Brand Ambassador of his fine Company whether she continued working for him or not. To this day I remain an Oberoi loyalist.

Compliments or recognition of one’s performance must be genuine and sincere; otherwise, it is just meaningless fluff that gets blown away easily without having the desired effect. And it should not always be premeditated, practiced and pro forma. Truthful, honest praise comes straight from the heart and is an instant reaction to a job that has been done well and beyond the brief.

During Australia India New Horizons 1996-97, Australia’s biggest Country Promotion thus far, I was on the media team of Alexander Downer, the then Hon’ble Foreign Minister of Australia. At one of the national Press Conferences held at FICCI (Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry), the Minister was very pleased with the success of the Press meet and the huge number of press folk from prominent media that had gathered there. At the end of the Conference, the Minister turned towards Gai Brodtmann, the Counsellor Public Affairs, who was also the Head of PR & Publicity at the Australian High Commission in India and my immediate boss, to congratulate her for one of the best Media interfaces he had ever experienced. Gai, true to her form and character, got up, turned towards me and told the Minister that she “had nothing to do with it. That it was all my hard work;” in full attendance of the Australian and Indian Government officials and the Mission staff. With that profound gesture, my mentor-for-life, left behind some indelible management lessons for me and all others who were present – lessons in leadership, being secure in one’s own role and position, being proud of one’s team, giving credit where it is due at the right time in the right forum, best techniques in employee motivation and instilling the highest form of accountability in her team mates.   

Compliments need not be direct. Sometimes, a fine word let out by your significant others at work that travels back to you is the finest and most promising music that you need to hear to put your best foot forward at all times. I was meeting this journalist friend for lunch and during the course of our conversation, she recounted that she had met my boss at an Art exhibition the gone Sunday and how they got talking about me and how he had such great things to say about the kind of work I did. The fact that I remember the conversation to this day and that what the boss had to say about me still motivates me even when I have had several experiences under my belt since, shows the importance one can attach to such wonderfully inspiring feedback. Fair words of commendation not only serve to be great pick-ups when you are feeling low, but also, always, serve to maintain your confidence in yourself.

Compliments need not always be verbalized. Often times, actions do speak louder than words and leave a stronger mark. I had just joined this hotel as part of the Change Agent team with the mandate to turnaround and present the hotel with a completely new Brand Image and positioning. Before I joined the place, the Owner and the VP & GM had contracted all PR, Communications, Publicity and Advertising work to two agencies – A PR & Image Consultancy and an Advertising Agency. In my introductory briefing session, Pierre Jochem, the VP & GM (who I call my second mentor) thought aloud, “We will keep the agencies for three months. That should allow you enough time to warm up and begin earnest work on the PR roadmap.”  We had a catching up meeting on the fourth day in his lovely, glass-walled, mezzanine floor Corner office. Monsieur Jochem, carrying the Guest Services Directory mock-up I had given to him for his review, was happy to note the media coverage that had started to happen (with luck on my side one had got the hotel covered every single day of those first four days). And this is what he uttered to me, “You seem to have achieved what these folks had collectively done in three months. I guess we will just terminate their contracts and let them go. I think this way you will get more work done.”

Yes, this decision went into his report to the owners. After the initial sense of high and euphoria it brought in a higher sense of responsibility in me. Such trust and conviction must always be proved right. 

Compliments are the very vocal and visible endorsement of an employee’s good performance that is laudable and to be encouraged. Such validation of commendable work ensures that the employee continues to feel motivated, accountable and responsible. He/she becomes more result-oriented and holds a stronger level of ownership for his role and responsibility; endeavouring to maximize the wins and diminish the fails towards his/her goals achievement.

Compliments are, indeed, one of the finest strategies for retaining good talent and reshaping average work into stellar feats. Use it often, but judiciously. Compliment your team profusely at every given opportunity but with sincerity and deservingly!

So how have compliments helped you perform better and exceed targets? Tell me in your comments.


Monday, 2 November 2015

Can a Leader Make or Break an Organization?

More times than not, the shape and personality an organization falls into directly depend on the dominant traits of the top leader at its helm. So whether the top dog is fair, biased, aggressive, assimilative, open-minded and inclusive or clique and coterie centered, insecure or confident, the organization tends to take on similar features and harbour the climate that screams of the same defining set of behavioural facets.

Leadership Key to Healthy Organization

In one’s career history, while growth and better opportunity are often the crucial reasons for moving out from one and into another organization, the other main reason that seldom gets talked about openly is a huge sense of disenchantment or dissatisfaction or unhappiness stemming from a sour equation with an immediate boss or the super boss or the politically charged peer group that makes it difficult for one to perform optimally. Complicated and unreasonable bosses or a set of ogre-like colleagues is, in fact, a bigger, often unspoken reason for people to move and seek greener pastures elsewhere. Several HR studies, globally, have proved this fact time and again.  

In the early 1990s, as a young, sprightly fresher with rose-tinted glasses, I joined the Public Affairs Section of a Diplomatic Mission in Delhi. This was my second job and I had often heard that it was Asians who were more cliquey, gossipy, with inherent biases and prone to apple-polishing. So, imagine my astonishment when I found some of my Western colleagues as guilty as their Asian counterparts. My first reaction was, “Hell, Here too!” And the second reaction post some thought, “We all are the same beneath the veneer.”

My first boss here was a grouchy, somewhat mean, cranky man given to favouritism and an unpleasant disposition.  He was tendentious towards one single person – obviously his favourite – instead of treating the entire team fairly; so much so that this person embodied the same attributes as the boss, adding extra doses of her viciousness to it. At one time when I was working along with her, she would rejoice in giving me some of the most menial tasks – “just do the filing,” “get me connected to so and so on the phone,” – and had the audacity to keep the official files hidden away and stashed under lock and key lest I lay my hands on them even when I had to file. Mind you, this was no confidential data but the ludicrous behavior continued, fanned by the boss’ strong inclination towards this person that allowed for many such unprofessional acts to flourish in the department. 

Then one day this boss was transferred out and in came a breath of fresh air in the form of a youthful, dynamic lady who brought in a sea change in the department in terms of how we viewed PR work, how we regarded each other as colleagues, how our work was perceived by other departments and the parent Government we had to report back to. 

What came across bright and clear were two different modes of leadership, two distinct personalities who contributed in their own way to the manner the department looked, breathed, felt and delivered. 

While one was a negative influence, the other used her high standard of skills, fine leadership style, fair & equal opportunity approach to make every work day a fun and productive day and ended up turning the Public Affairs Department into a highly respected and sought after department in the High Commission.

Leaders can Make or Break an Organization

My next stint for a period of more than a decade and a half has been with hotels. Now, hotels are completely multicultural organizations where the workforce is truly international, hailing from different countries; but of course, the largest base is of the countrymen from the place where the hotel is located. Yet, in hotels, it becomes extremely pertinent to know how to work together with people from as far and wide as France and Germany to Sri Lanka and China. Despite the cultural differences, this ends up adding a lot of fun elements to one’s day in the life of the organization as you end up learning about these cultures and understanding what makes the ‘other’ people tick. This, however, is a subject matter of another discourse.

In hotels, while the owner or the CEO of the hotel chain is the defining personality, the GM of the unit hotel where you may work is the lord of his own fiefdom. The team and staff pick out from this leader’s personality aspects and way of running his hotel as much as the top boss’ style percolates down. 

On hindsight, having worked with six different GMs across three hotel chains, I have been fortunate to sometimes thrive and at times strive & struggle in as many organizational climates. And where there has been striving, it really has been a battlefront that has made one as hard as a rock, yet more understanding of the complexities and dynamics of a fire-pit organization.

It has also brought home the point that leaders can really make or break an organization. Not just what corporate literature may tell you, from personal experience, too, I can list out the following – 

1. The organization can be a happy and fun place to which you look forward to returning every morning and to which you willingly want to give extra hours at the end of the day. Such organizations create an overriding sense of job engagement and satisfaction. 

2. It can be such that each day, nay, moment is difficult to pass with an impossible boss breathing menacingly down your neck; and a wicked set of colleagues rubbing their hands in malicious glee every time they pull you down like the proverbial crab.

3. The organization can be healthy, conducive to work with unsurpassed functionality and highly ethical work practices. Responsibilities and recognition, exemplary output and rewards go hand in hand in such places.

4. It can be sick, divisive, undermining and demoralizing. What might get you ahead is hoodwinking and proximity to the influential people like the bosses or the boss’ right-hand man; even if such easily ill-gotten prizes are short-lived and open to scrutiny.

5. The organization can be a place that allows you to blossom as a star worker with positive strokes that help germinate your skills and talent into wonderful fruits of productivity.

6. It can also be a place where there is so much of negative energy that all that can flower there is more bad blood splattered about by parasitic employees who eat into the climate.   

7. The organization can be a place where workers breathe in fresh air, enjoy positive influences, are allowed space to make mistakes and grow, have access to information, become a two-way process in clear communication and are given learning opportunities.

8. Then there are organizations that live in the dark zone of fear, punishment, connivance and control. They operate like secret missions where unnecessary stuff is hidden and kept out of reach of the employees thereby acting as a major impediment in the processes and execution of duty.

9. There are healthy and buzzing organizations that promote good work practices, innovation and creativity and encourage workers to take ownership of their actions.

10. And there are organizations where flattery, manipulation, bad performances, terrible attitudes and overall downward slope in almost all areas rule the roost.  

It is widely seen that the top man maneuvering the reins of the Organization can really lead by example, allowing for the finest personal and professional traits and benchmarked business best practices to shape the organization into an exemplary company; that boasts happy, engaged and optimally delivering team.