5 Clever Ways to Get Turnover Under Control

5 Clever Ways to Get Turnover Under Control

Looking to stop the “corporate death spiral” and get turnover under control?

Quick recap from last week:

There’s more to the cost of turnover than recruiting, hiring, and training expenses.

  • You lose tribal knowledge, connections, and intellectual property.
  • Additional pressure is put on top performers which leads to frustration, reduced productivity and innovation, and lost opportunity.
  • You also face the potential risk of a bad new hire.

All of this places you smack dab in a “corporate death spiral.”

The corporate death spiral means you’ll never get turnover under control. The loss of one employee (good or bad) feeds the flame. You end up stuck in a cesspool of negative effects. Which leads to the loss of another employee. And another. Throw in the loss of a customer or two (or twenty). Massive collateral damage.

What can you do to stop the bleeding? I thought you’d never ask.

Here are 5 Action Steps to Get Turnover Under Control

One: Be Approachable.

You probably guessed this one. But the fact is employees of Approachable Leaders have 71% lower turnover intention. And the main reason people quit their jobs is because their boss is a jerk. (Hot tip: don’t be a jerk.)

Unapproachable leaders are in the eye of the corporate death spiral. They can’t attract or keep talent. Even the company hesitates to place decent people in their department. And things just get worse and worse.

Approachable leaders have no problem keeping their talent together. It’s harder to quit a job when you have a real connection with your leader. When you feel valued and important. You know they believe in you and they encourage your growth. Which just makes the team even more valuable.

These are the three pillars of our leadership model: openness, understanding, and support. (This article dives into these concepts a little more.)

Two: Touch Base with your Hiring Process.

Sometimes turnover is a good thing. Like when the person who leaves wasn’t a good fit or they are a “B or C” level player. When this happens, turnover is an opportunity. If you handle it right.

Get in too big of a hurry to fill the position and your new employee may be worse than the one you lost. Or just as bad. In either case, you set your organization up for failure.

In 2010 Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh said bad hiring decisions cost his company “well over $100 million.” Ouch! And it all starts with management. Bad managers make bad hiring decisions.

Chances are good your talent acquisition process could use an upgrade. Do you feel like your process is about average? I’ve got bad news for you:

Organizations fail to choose the right talent for management positions 82% of the time.”

Three: Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself.

Remember when I said a lot of people quit because of their boss?

When leaders get frustrated, stressed, and overworked (sound familiar?) is when things fall apart. Your patience plummets and you close off from your team. You become hard to approach and communication skills take a nose-dive.

That’s why it’s so important to take care of yourself. Give yourself what you need (time, space, an hour to yourself, or even a day off) so you can be the kind of leader your team needs.

You’ve got yourself in check. Now you need to get your turnover “early warning system” in place.

Four: Look for Signs an Employee is “On the Fence.”

Quitting a job is a huge decision for most people. It involves a lot of preparation. It takes courage to leave the stability and financial security of a job. Even if the next step is in place, it’s still unknown and uncertain.

Most people think about quitting quite a while before they pull the trigger. And if you pay close attention, you should recognize when you’re on the verge of losing someone. Signs to look for include:

  • a drop in performance;
  • changes in relationships; and
  • decreased enthusiasm about the company and management.

We are releasing an Early Warning Toolkit on these “tells” soon. Stay on the lookout for that.

Five: Focus on Ways to Include an “At Risk” Teammate.

After bad leadership (and often in addition to bad leaders) there are three main reasons people quit a company:

  1. They don’t feel they belong;
  2. They don’t feel they matter; or
  3. They feel stuck.

These three areas are where to focus if you notice the signs someone is looking to jump ship. Help them see that they are a valued member of the team. Make sure they connect their work with the mission of the company and the value it brings to your customers and the world. Work with them on making progress and give them more say in their work life.

Engaging employees is an important way to reduce turnover, but it’s tricky. We broke it down for you in two recent blog posts here and here.


To get turnover under control you must understand why people quit in the first place. Here are the 5 action steps you can take to turn around your turnover problems:

  1. Be a more Approachable Leader. People rarely quit leaders they love. Approachable Leaders know what’s going on with their team.
  2. Touch base with your hiring process. Hire slow. Be patient. Get the right person, not the next person. If you get this right this person will be on your team a long time.
  3. Check yourself. Don’t be the reason your turnover rates are so high. Remember to take care of yourself so you can be the kind of leader your team needs.
  4. Look for signs an employee might be “on the fence.” People rarely quit out of the blue. Look for the tell-tale signs your team members might be looking for greener pastures.
  5. Focus on ways to include an “at risk” person. Once you’ve identified a dissatisfied team member, do your best to turn it around. Find out what they need more of. Or less of. Act on it.

What’s your experience with retention? Are your hiring and onboarding processes effective? Do you have any leaders driving away top talent?

Turnover Costs: 8 Hidden Costs of Employee Turnover You May Have Missed

Turnover Costs: 8 Hidden Costs of Employee Turnover You May Have Missed

Turnover costs a lot.

Turnover is a huge headache. It’s also expensive. You know turnover costs a lot, but do ever wonder what it costs you? Experts project voluntary turnover will hit 20% this year with direct costs over $11 billion. Yes, $11 billion.

But these direct costs are just the beginning. In addition to the hard costs of recruiting, hiring and training new hires there are many hidden costs.

8 Hidden Costs of Employee Turnover

One: Knowledge Gap

When you lose a member of the team, you also lose that person’s “tribal knowledge.” Tribal knowledge is the know-how a person accumulates in the trenches. Every person develops tribal knowledge as they learn their job and react to things that pop up. This unwritten playbook helps them be better, faster, and more efficient. Much better than standard procedure. And when they walk out the door, so does all that knowledge.

Quick Tip: Honor all this knowledge and try to document it. You’ll recognize your teammate, capture knowledge, and increase the value of your business. You will reduce the time it takes to train a replacement. And you make it a lot less likely they’ll jump ship in the first place!

Of course, there’s the darker side of tribal knowledge. Someone who’s been around knows the good, the bad, and the ugly of your company. They know where all the bodies are buried. You may prefer to keep that knowledge inside the tribe 😉

Two: Lost Connections

We talk about this all the time. Relationships and connections. When you lose a team member, you not only lose their connections with teammates. You also lose the connections they’ve built with your customers and vendors. The UPS guy and the people who cut the checks.

Each of these lost connections can damage your company. It can hurt morale and customer relationships. Things slow down because connections are often the lubricant that smooths out frictions we may never see. Some of the effects will be obvious right away. Others won’t emerge until the iron strikes the coal. These are the “thousand cuts” we don’t notice till it’s too late.

Three: Lost Intellectual Property

Taking trade secrets is unlawful. Yet it happens every single day. Customer lists, processes and procedures, formulas, sales strategies, and much more floats around the heads (and cell phones and home computers) of your team.

Often this happens unknowingly. Even when on purpose, it is very hard (and expensive) to prove. Every time an employee leaves your company you must ask: Is your “secret sauce” walking out the door?

The costs of lost intellectual property may not be obvious until months or years later. They play out in the business headlines every day. And trying to put this genie back in the bottle is difficult and expensive. These cases costs companies millions of dollars every year.

You can try to keep this valuable information from your competitors. But the best solution is the simplest. Don’t lose the talent in the first place.

Four: Added Pressure on Top Performers

When you lose an employee (even a bad apple), the best members of your team suffer. Your top people step in to carry the weight of the person who left. After all, that’s one of the reasons they are your top people. But this is a dangerous bargain. It can leave your top folks feeling unappreciated or taken advantage of. They get frustrated with other team members who don’t step up.

If these feelings get too strong you have a bigger problem. Your top performers start looking for greener pastures themselves. After all, if that slacker Karla found a better-paying gig with less stress and a more flexible schedule, why can’t I?

Maybe you feel like this isn’t too big a concern because you will reload. You can get a replacement for Karla into the game quick, right? Well… maybe yes. Maybe no. That’s the next two hidden costs.

Five: Cost of a Bad Hire

How effective is your hiring process? Do you bat a thousand at getting only “A” players? Or do you sometimes bring in a “B” player? Or the occasional “C” player?

Most companies focus too much on getting a new person in place and too little on getting the perfect person in place. After all, the business wants the position filled. Finding good people is hard. Finding the perfect person? Well, that’s nearly impossible. And that’s a very costly problem.

The hard costs of turnover can be tough to pin down. What’s your share of that $11 billion?  It varies by type of business and the position. But the financial cost of a bad hire is normally one to five times that person’s salary. (Here’s a great infographic detailing the staggering cost of a bad hire.)

But I’ve got bad news. That $11 billion figure is conservative. That’s because it focuses on the hard costs of recruiting and getting a new person in the door. But if you replace an “A” player with a “B” player (or heaven forbid your new recruit is a “C” player) you haven’t begun to figure the costs correctly.

Topgrading and the Cost of a Mis-hire

One of the best books on hiring “A” players is Brad Smart’s book Topgrading. In it he makes the case (and offers a great process) for hiring “A” players. In a study of over 100 client companies Smart and his team found that an average managerial mis-hire cost companies nearly $1.5 million per manager (14.6 times base compensation). Hiring costs were only $31,643. The cost of failure, mistakes, wasted and missed business opportunity? Over $1.2 million.

Turnover costs are much more than the cost of replacing lost talent. Do you end up with worse talent when you finally get the replacement up to speed? Do that consistently and you end up in what Smart calls the corporate death spiral:

“… we are sometimes asked to help correct an insidious corporate “death spiral” in which poor executive hires result in lower-level A Players quitting, leaving B/C Players who hire and promote more B/C Players. The shareholders are left bleeding and wounded, and the company may become moribund. Mis-hires can kill companies, individual careers, and real people whose stress causes heart failure.”

A team is only as good as its weakest link. So guess what happens to team productivity when you start adding a bunch of B/C links to your chain? That’s hidden cost number six.

Six: Productivity Plummets

Companies in the “death spiral” don’t just get poor performance from the new players. Everyone’s performance drops. Your team picks up the slack for the new players, which slows down their normal pace. They get frustrated training and re-training recruits that don’t get it. They stop helping new people, figuring they won’t last long anyway.

This reduced productivity is inevitable once turnover picks up. The entire team is stressed. They fail to meet team goals. Individual goals falter too. Rinse and repeat.

Seven: Lost Opportunity

Turnover costs business opportunity too. Time spent picking up the slack for lost teammates or training new ones is time not innovating or looking for new business opportunity. This cost is not just hidden from view, it’s enormous. Brad Smart calls it the single biggest cost of turnover:

 “The single biggest estimated cost in mis-hiring is the wasted or missed business opportunity. For decades I have witnessed multi-million-dollar fiascoes that clearly could have been avoided had an A Player been hired instead of a B/C Player. Gross neglect by a B/C Player salesperson resulted in the loss of the #1 customer in one client company. In another, incompetent information technology consultants were hired. Why? Because they were friends of a B/C Player CIO. The losses in information technology bankrupted the company. In companies that Topgrade sales departments, the sales of new A Players are sometimes twice that of the replaced Non-As; the “wasted or missed business opportunities” are easily estimated in sales organizations.”

How many multi-million dollar fiascoes and lost sales opportunities can your company withstand before it breaks? That’s what I thought. But we’re not done.

Eight: Hurts Overall Work Environment

All these challenges make for a pretty crappy work environment. Poor performance, lousy habits, and lack of engagement spread like wildfire. And they negatively impact a team even if you replace the bad hire. As Falon Fatemi mentions in Fortune, bad hires erode work environments:

“A bad apple spoils the bunch, so to speak. Disengagement is contagious, which may be why employers can’t seem to defeat it. …In many ways, a bad hire’s effect on company culture echoes beyond the employee’s tenure. Poor performers lower the bar for other employees, and bad habits spread like a virus. I once hired a manager who built a chaotic, everything’s-a-fire-drill environment. Even after removing the employee from the equation, we still had to invest time and resources to reset the behaviors of team members who emulated the manager’s approach.”

Action Steps to Turn Around Turnover

Is your company facing any of these hidden turnover costs? Next week we will offer some practical tips on how you can stop the “corporate death spiral” and get turnover under control.

5 Research-Backed Ways to Improve Employee Engagement

5 Research-Backed Ways to Improve Employee Engagement

How Do You Increase Organizational Citizenship (and Employee Engagement)?

Quick recap from last week:

  1. Chasing employee engagement (especially employee happiness) doesn’t work. Engagement is too squishy to define and often your unhappy or frustrated employees are your most engaged.
  2. What does work is increasing Organizational Citizenship Behavior (OCB). That is the only observable way to know whether your employees (or you) are engaged or not.

Which brings us back to the key question: How do you increase Organizational Citizenship?

Here’s 5 Research-Backed Steps to Increase OCBs for Your Team

One: Focus On Progress, Not Engagement.

Have you ever struggled with meditation? You sit and tell your brain to be calm, but instead your “monkey-mind” goes into overdrive thinking about… well, everything but being calm. The masters know the answer is to stop forcing the issue and to just notice what’s happening. Each time you catch your mind wandering now is a sign of progress. Which ironically makes the distractions less concerning and, in a way, welcome.

Engagement works the same way. You can’t force people to be engaged organizational citizens. Engagement is voluntary. No matter what you pay or offer in benefits. How cool your product or service. Whatever perks you offer. Everyone still chooses how much of themselves they are going to give from day to day. And in that sense, “everyone is a volunteer.”

But there still has to be something you can do to encourage people to bring their volunteer spirit with them to work each day. The good news is that there is. Help them see they are making progress in their life. Here is a model to guide you in doing just that.

Two: Ask “What’s Next?” To Blaze the Trail

Step one to helping a team member make progress in his or her life is to ask one simple question: “What’s next?”

If you’ve ever gone on a hiking trip, you’ve noticed the trail is usually marked with blazes. These blazes are painted or hung on trees. They are a sign you are on the right path. Often, they are spaced pretty far apart so it’s not abnormal to walk for a while without seeing one. But you know that if it’s been too long, you are lost. And that you need to retrace your steps in order to find where you got off the path.

“What’s next?” is a way for you to blaze the trail for your teammate. This question helps you figure out what path they are on, and what series of steps they’ll need to take. Notice how this question avoids looking too far ahead. That’s on purpose. Focusing on a big goal is often counterproductive. It makes it easy to give up (as in “I’ll never lose 100 pounds, so why not eat that third helping”). And even more interesting, sometimes reaching a big goal can be depressing. And have the ironic effect of making it easy to quit after all the progress is made.

Asking “what’s next” gets your teammate thinking about progress, and that’s a HUGE motivator.

Progress becomes a self-reinforcing, virtuous circle.

People who are making progress in their lives are more motivated personally. They are also more motivated to help their team.

Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer studied the power of progress at work in their recent book The Progress Principle. The main conclusion of their study is that when we make progress, we improve our “inner work life” – the way we internally experience our work. And inner work life is directly connected to engagement.

So step one is to stop focusing on engagement and start focusing on progress is by asking “What’s next?”

Then, the question is, how can a leader help refine a goal into a proven way to manage progress? We’ve developed the Win, Know, Show model to help you do just that.

  1. What is their next small win?
  2. How will they know from the work itself whether they are making progress?
  3. When and how will they show their progress?


Ready to learn more? Let’s start with small wins.

Three: Identify a Small Win

So you’ve asked “What’s next?” And just like a Zen master you’re no longer focused on the end result of engagement. Instead, you’re focused on small steps your teammate takes each day. The next step is to help your teammate identify a small win.

A small win isn’t a big ambition. It’s the next logical improvement they need to meet their “what’s next” goal. It should require a little bit of a stretch, but nothing too far out of reach.

Setting a small win helps make sure your teammate can see progress.  What kind of small wins work best? Progress that relates to improving on a task. Or deeper involvement in a project. Maybe even process-related goals like working harder or longer.

Here’s what the professors have to say:

“We discovered that the inner work life effect operates in three primary ways: attention to tasks, engagement in the project, and intention to work hard. When inner work life is good, people are more likely to pay attention to the work itself, become deeply engaged in their team’s project, and hold fast to the goal of doing a great job. When inner work life is bad, people are more likely to get distracted from their work, disengage from their team’s projects, and give up on trying to achieve the goals set before them.”

One other critical point. Your teammate’s next small win (or their “What’s Next?”) might not be work related. That’s cool. If it’s something you can help them with, do it. Progress won’t always be work related. And occasionally, progress on personal goals might even mean your employee leaves to pursue some other life ambition. You may not like that, but here’s the good news.

That person will run through brick walls for you while they do work for you. They will be your biggest fan (and recruiter) when they leave. And leaders with a reputation for developing talent will attract more of it.

Four: Know When You’re Headed the Right Way (or the Wrong Way)

Making progress is motivating, but daily frustrations can easily overwhelm any progress you make. Professors Amabile and Kramer note:

“The connection between mood and negative work events is about five times stronger than the connection between mood and positive events. Employees recall more negative leader actions than positive actions, and they recall the negative actions more intensely and in more detail than the positive ones.”

That’s why it’s important to establish your “right way/wrong way” yardstick. How will you and your teammate know whether they are making progress? Ideally this feedback will come from the work or task itself. You also want to ask up front about what sorts of obstacles or frustrations could get in the way of progress.

Make sure to talk about how to measure progress.

A good place for inspiration? Video games. The reason video games are so addictive is that they give you immediate “right way/wrong way” feedback. It’s easy to see whether you are improving or getting worse. You can watch your score, the damage you’ve sustained, and the damage you’ve invoked upon your opponent.

What measures are available that can help your teammate see progress in real time? If there aren’t any visible “production” measures, how about process measures? What other ways are there to get feedback?

If you’re having a hard time identifying ways to get feedback, that might be a signal that you should re-think the small win. If you can’t measure progress it’s going to be easy to get stuck.

Don’t forget to look for obstacles and possible frustrations up front. Then, come up with a plan to overcome them. There are two important reasons for this. First, as the good professors suggest, you need to make sure the “steps forward” to “steps back” ratio is around 5:1 in favor of progress. Second, the best research shows that if we plan for obstacles we are way more likely to “grit” our way through them (even if we plan for a different obstacle than the one we eventually face).

This is why it’s so important for leaders to work every day to reduce daily frustrations. It doesn’t matter how much progress you make doing good things for your team. The daily frustrations will outweigh them all day, every day. Avoid taking one step forward, just to take four steps back. Really focus on discovering and reducing daily frustrations for your team.

Five: Show Your Work

You and your teammate have blazed the trail and identified the next small win. You know how you’re going to measure progress. But that’s not enough. Perhaps the most important step is for your teammate to show their progress.

Austin Kleon wrote a brilliant book called Show Your Work. While he focuses a lot on people who work in the visual arts, the lessons he teaches apply to all of us. His basic idea is that the “finished” project is perhaps the least interesting part of the work. What is most interesting are the steps taken to create the project. So his advice: Show Your Work.

This advice can really apply to any field. There are reality TV shows on almost every network today that take us behind the scenes of virtually every kind of work (car shops, kitchens, remodeling, dirty jobs, and so on). People love the chance to show off what they’re working on. It gives us a sense of pride. Honors the craft we dedicate our lives to. Not only that, the feedback you get by sharing your process creates the opportunity to teach and motivate others. It also gives you the chance to learn from others who may have a trick or shortcut you never thought of.

Some people feel like showing their work is showing off.

There is a little element of that, too. But it’s showing off in the best sense of that word. It’s not bragging or taking a victory lap. It is saying, “here’s what I did – the value I created.” It gives others permission to shine a light on the value they create too. Kleon created a great way to do this. Simply take a picture of your work (or of you working) and post it somewhere with the hashtag #ShowYourWork.

Whether your teammate posts their work for the world to see, or just shares it with you or the department, the important thing is that they get a chance to share. Building that into the progress management process helps to set a time-frame for progress. It gives them a reason to get something done (and let’s face it – sometimes that’s the motivation we need to get our noses on that grindstone). If your teammate isn’t ready to show at the designated time, that’s a great signal to check in and see if something is in the way or if they are off the trail.

The Takeaway

Everyone’s a volunteer – so look for OCB instead of engagement. You can’t force people to be engaged. In fact, engagement is such a squishy concept, it is nearly impossible to measure. Which is why leaders should focus on Organizational Citizenship instead.

There are 5 ways leaders can help create more organizational citizenship at work:

  1. Focus on Progress: Nothing motivates more than progress. Managing progress manages inner work life, and generates both internal motivation and motivation to help your team (aka organizational citizenship behavior).
  2. Ask “What’s Next?” This blazes the trail for progress. Make sure your teammate is focusing on the next blaze, not the end of the trail (big goals often kill motivation and progress).
  3. Identify the Next Small Win: Once you know where your teammate is headed, identify the next small step they can take to get there. Focus on task, process or effort-related goals. And it’s OK if the goal isn’t work related.
  4. What’s Your Yardstick? Make sure your teammate can measure progress, ideally from the work itself. Having trouble figuring out a good yardstick? That’s a sign you might want to revise your small win.
  5. Show Your Work: Take a victory lap. Figure out how your teammate can show their progress to you and others. Remember this isn’t bragging. It’s a way to honor the work and to get feedback and advice from others.
Bonus tip:

Don’t forget to lead by example. We’ve already established you can’t force people to engage in OCB activity. But you can help get the ball rolling by volunteering yourself. Organizational citizenship is contagious. Volunteering encourages others to volunteer. Also, make it a priority to zealously remove small daily frustrations. This shows OCB on your part (you don’t have to care about “the little stuff,” but you can choose to). It also shows your team that you value their daily experience. And you recognize that their struggles are real and valid.

Leading by example is the simplest and most effective way to develop and nurture the culture in your workplace. You are watched more than you realize. And, like us all, your actions speak much louder than your words.

Which of the 5 tips for encouraging OCB at your workplace do you see the most room for improvement? What’s your next step? How will you know if you’re making progress? Who can you show that work to? See what I did there 😉

The Only True Measure of Employee Engagement

The Only True Measure of Employee Engagement

Sometimes Your Unhappy Employees Are The Most Engaged.

Think employee engagement just means making employees happy? Nope. Often your unhappy employees are your most engaged ones. Don’t believe me? I’ve got a quick story that might change your mind.

This may come as a surprise to those of you who don’t know me personally, but I haven’t always been the picture of health and wellness that I am today (#irony). I somehow convinced an Ironwoman triathlete to take me on as her lifetime project (#oppositesattract).

Years ago Janet somehow convinced me we should do an “adventure race” together. On the fateful morning of the race Janet went to check us in while all 250 pounds of me sat in the truck wondering what I had done. She quickly returned with the race packet. Inside was the jerseys we had to wear. I watched as she sheepishly pulled my jersey out of the bag and immediately noticed two things:

  1. My jersey was about 3 sizes too small; and
  2. It was a HALF-SHIRT (think Chris Farley’s “fat guy in a little coat” and you’ll get the picture).

Needless to say, I was not happy. But we went on to compete in a two hour race. Well, a two hour race for us (Janet would have finished in under an hour).

The Low-Light (and the Triumph)

The low-light of this day full of low-lights was the blow-up kayak event. Blow-up kayaks are unstable and quite cramped. Especially when the person in the back of the kayak outweighs the person in the front by more than 100 pounds. My legs quickly started falling asleep. Every time I tried to adjust, the kayak took on water, which I would then try to bail out using a small water bottle. This was hilarious to everyone but me.

I decided about halfway through the kayak event that the best way to preserve my marriage was to quit speaking to Janet. When we finally made it back to shore we struggled to dump what felt like 75 gallons of water from the kayak. Janet turned to me and whispered, “We can quit if you want to.” In one of my less approachable moments as a husband I said (OK, I yelled), “We are finishing this fudging race!” Except, like Ralphie, I didn’t say fudge.

But here’s the thing. While I was the slowest, fattest and angriest person on the race course that day I was, without a doubt, the most engaged. If a pack of wild coyotes came between me and that finish line I would have tore right through them. And we did finish, to the cheers (and some jeers) of… well, everyone else who showed up to the race that day.

The Problem with Measuring Employee Engagement

I’m not suggesting you should motivate your team by piling them into your version of a tiny blow-up kayak. But the old adage isn’t necessarily true. Happy employees are not the key to employee engagement. We often get this completely backwards, thinking our job is to be the Chief Happiness Officer of our company. Happiness and satisfaction are often the opposite of employee engagement.

Think about yourself for a second. Do you consider yourself an engaged employee? Okay, then are you always happy? Or do you get frustrated that things aren’t going as well as you know they could? Upset when you see the company or your team settling or not living up to its potential?

So happiness is a poor measure of engagement. Here’s some more bad news. Your “engagement survey” isn’t really measuring employee engagement either. Sure, every survey company out there (including mine) offers an engagement index. But these all measure work conditions that should lead to employee engagement (or disengagement).

The Only True Measure of Employee Engagement

Frustrated or unhappy employees are sometimes disengaged. But often the opposite is true. It depends on why the person is frustrated or unhappy.

One recent article suggests using the “net promoter” score, or whether an employee is likely to refer someone to work or do business with the company. We’ve been measuring net promoter in our surveys for many years now. I like this measure over others because it is a solid predictor of actual behavior. But even this isn’t actually measuring employee engagement. Likelihood to promote is just another precursor to engagement.

Are You Making Diamonds or Coal?

Sometimes friction and high pressure leads to diamonds. Other times you end up with coal (or just ground up dirt). How do you know if you’re creating diamonds or coal? How can you tell if you’re employees are actually engaged?

There is only one way to get a true sense of how engaged your team members are. You must focus on observable behavior. What do they choose to do to help out their teammates? Do they volunteer to help others when they don’t have to? Are they always looking for ways to make things smoother, even outside of their normal job?

That’s the true measure of employee engagement. It’s called Organizational Citizenship Behavior (OCB). And I think it is the best observable way to spot engagement.

Professor Dennis Organ originally defined OCB as, “individual behavior that is discretionary, not directly or explicitly recognized by the formal reward system, and that in the aggregate promotes the effective functioning of the organization.” OCB has 3 critical components:

  1. They are discretionary (not part of the job description) and voluntary or chosen by the employee;
  2. They go above and beyond the requirements of the job (they aren’t just performing your job above expectations); and
  3. They contribute to the overall effectiveness of the organization.

How do you get people to engage in OCB? I thought you’d never ask 🙂

Next week we’ll cover 5 steps (including our “Win, Know, Show” Model) you can use to increase Organizational Citizenship among your teammates.

Have you ever been frustrated or angry and engaged? Do you ever mistake frustration of a teammate as a sign of poor engagement? How much organizational citizenship behavior do you notice among your teammates?

How to Upgrade Your Self-Control as a Leader: 3 Research-Backed Steps

How to Upgrade Your Self-Control as a Leader: 3 Research-Backed Steps

Leadership Takes Self-Control

You ever had one of those days where NOTHING goes right? Alarm doesn’t go off. GPS sends you to the wrong address. You walk in the door only to realize your well-planned day just got blown to smithereens. Or in my case last week, get caught in a monsoon during a measly 6-block walk to a presentation. Nothing like showing up to a speech looking like you just ran a marathon in your suit. Nice.

If you’ve been a leader for any length of time, you know how it is. But leaders pride ourselves on rising to the occasion when the chips are down. Keeping calm under pressure. In my case I found a bathroom, changed my shirt (twice… my clean shirt for the next day also got soaked through my suitcase). I didn’t look my best, but I didn’t look homeless, which was a solid upgrade from a few minutes before. And I didn’t snap or vent my frustration to anyone.

Those are the good days. But there are bad days too. The days you do snap. Say something you regret. Use your “outside” voice while yelling the wrong F-word. Respond when the right move is keeping your mouth shut.

How well do you exercise self-control? It’s a challenge for most leaders. It requires self-awareness and observing yourself through another person’s eyes. You may feel good about your self-control. Does your team feel the same way?

Poor Self-Control? I’ve Got Some Bad News

One of the world’s most important and influential psychologists, Roy F. Baumeister, teamed up with New York Times science writer John Tierney to write Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. It is the go-to book on how to master (well, at least improve) your self-control. Here are a few of their findings:

  • Managers who scored high in self-control were rated more favorably by subordinates and peers;
  • People with good self-control were exceptional at forming and maintaining secure, satisfying attachments to other people; and
  • They were more stable emotionally and less prone to anxiety, depression, paranoia, psychoticism, obsessive-compulsive behavior, eating disorders, drinking problems, and other maladies.

Master self-control and you’ll be better rated at work and enjoy better relationships. Plus you won’t end up depressed because you’re a fat, drunk psychopath. And if that’s not enough, a recent HBR article cites peer-reviewed research that suggests:

“At work, leaders with higher levels of self-control display more effective leadership styles – they are more likely to inspire and intellectually challenge their followers, instead of being abusive or micromanaging.”

That same study – which is supported by Baumeister and Tierney’s research – explains the 3 ground rules for self-control:

  1. Self control is a finite cognitive resource;
  2. Different types of self-control tap the same pool of self-control resources; and
  3. Exerting self-control can negatively affect future self-control if it is not replenished.

OK, you’re convinced. This self-control thing is worth working on. You know the ground rules. But how realistic is it to maintain self-control all day long? What’s your strategy for managing this precious resource?

3 Research-Backed Steps to Upgrade Your Self-Control as a Leader:

Step One: Don’t Fail the Marshmallow Test. Watch for Signs of Willpower Depletion.

The classic study on self-control is basically torturing children. You put kids in a room with a bunch of marshmallows and tell them not to eat them. Then you leave and watch them struggle to avoid eating them (or not struggle at all and watch the little heathens pound fistfuls of marshmallows).

The marshmallow test turns out to be an incredible predictor of performance later in life. It’s basically the only test you can give a child that predicts how they will perform as an adult (not even IQ does that). Another illustration of the power of self-control.

One of the most important points Baumeister and Tierney make through their research is that willpower becomes depleted as you use it. Think about it like exercise. When you work out, you use up energy. Before you can exercise again, you must rest and refuel. If you hit the wall, your performance drops and you “bonk.”

You don’t want to bonk as a leader. Here are 4 questions to ask yourself to determine how much willpower gas you have left in your tank.

  1. Are you getting frustrated more easily?
  2. Is the “volume” on your life turned up? (Do you feel extra busy? Spread too thin?)
  3. Are you struggling to make decisions?
  4. Is your overall energy down?

Once you recognize your willpower reserves are running low, move on to step two.

Step Two: Slow Down And Eat Some Humble Pie.

If your self-control is running low, it’s likely your relationship with your team is struggling because of it. You don’t want that. Remember, employees perform better for leaders with higher levels of self-control.

How can you refuel your relationships? Recognize that you are not at your best. A lot of leaders will fall back on their power or positional authority in times like these. That’s not a good place. Instead, focus on being humble. For tips on this you should check out Edgar Schein’s book Humble Inquiry. Here are three actions you can take:

  • Do less telling and more asking. Schein observes, “Telling puts the other person down. It implies the other person does not know what I am telling and that the other person ought to know it.”
  • Practice “Here and Now Humility.” This is the idea that when someone in a higher power position asks someone in a lower power position to do something for them, their roles switch. The person in the higher power position becomes dependent on the other and thus, inferior. Schein suggests that you embrace this dynamic as often as possible. Or check out the Recognizing Gaps Tool in our Leadership Survival Toolkit for practical ways to “flip the script” and show humility toward your team.
  • Stop being so task-oriented. Task-oriented relationships encourage individualism and competitiveness. On the flip side, person-oriented relationships encourage cooperation, teamwork, and putting group (or business) before self.

Step Three: Make Your Bed. Work On Building Your Willpower “Muscles.”

How do you maintain self-control? Here are 3 practical tips to get you started.

  1. Start your day off right. Get some early positive momentum by building habits that start your day on the right track. Tim Ferris’ terrific new book Tools of Titans mentions this simple tip from Hindu Priest Dandapani: finish your sleep each day by making your bed. Ferris also recommends journaling about things you’re thankful for each morning. This is part of my daily practice too. I’m such a fan that it’s included in all of our Learn and Lead Journals. Accomplishing small steps gives you the feeling of control.
  2. Take care of yourself. Baumeister and Tierney found that sleep restores willpower. So get plenty of rest. Ferris offers many practical tips on this too. Also organize your workspace. Being in a clean room increases self-control, which is why you should keep your physical and virtual desks under control. Finally, eat right. Will-power is directly affected by your glucose levels.
  3. Pre-commit. Baumeister and Tierney also suggest pre-committing to the steps you’ll take to overcome anticipated obstacles. Let’s say hypothetically that you drive by a Sonic on your way home from work. What’s your plan to keep that voice on your left shoulder from talking you into grabbing a cookie-dough Master Blast after a hard day? Decision-making depletes self-control. Having a plan in place makes it much more likely that you’ll follow through and avoid the temptation (not that I have any personal experience with this :)).

The Takeaway

Leadership takes self-control. And self-control is like any limited resource – it must be conserved and replenished. Here are 3 tips for upgrading your self-control as a leader.

  1. Don’t fail the marshmallow test. Watch for signs of willpower depletion. Learn to recognize the signs that your self-control is running low.
  2. Slow down and eat some humble pie. Take some time to reflect on how your low-willpower moments impact your team. Practice humility and use our tools to flip the power relationship.
  3. Make Your Bed. Work on building your willpower “muscles.” All good things take effort. Practice behaviors that increase your chances of acting from a place of self-control.

How far into your day do you usually make it before your self-control reserves burn out? Can you think of examples where your lack of control has had a negative effect on a team member? What are 2 or 3 things you can do to build up your self-control muscles?