employee focus Tag Archive

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When Does Empowerment Become Entitlement?

Do you sometimes feel that some of your employees exhibit a sense of entitlement? Have you questioned whether it’s you or them? Did you do something to cause it, or are they just inherently that way? Or do you just chalk it up to the nature of the current generation? All of these generalizations might be missing the point – I’d like to posit that it might be your fault!

Let’s start with a simple analogy. Imagine a sausage factory with two kinds of jobs – sausage-stuffing jobs and sausage-counting jobs. Sausage stuffers come to work every day and are told to stuff sausages working on this machine or the other for eight hours. They take breaks when they are allowed to and stop for lunch during their lunch hour. At the end of the day, they go home and don’t think about stuffing sausages. When they take their allotted vacation time, they expect that somebody else would’ve stuffed those sausages when they were gone. They really don’t care who was stuffing them. It isn’t their job. They expect to come back and stuff new sausages for the new week.In contrast, sausage counters have to count the sausages, make sure they are making enough to meet the demand, ensure that the stuffers are stuffing enough sausage to meet the specifications (but not too much to drive down the margins), and the like. Sometimes they have no time for lunch, and sometimes they have plenty of time to discuss the previous night’s ballgame. When they go home at night, they take their job home with them, worrying whether they had ordered enough casings for next week’s sausages, whether they have too much capacity for the slowing demand and what they should do about it, etc. When sausage counters return from a vacation, all of their sausages are piled on the floor to be counted. Nobody counted them when they were gone. They have to count the previous week’s sausages and the current week’s sausages. I suspect you get the point.

Most companies have both sausage-stuffing jobs and sausage-counting jobs. However, identifying which is which might not be as simple as it may appear. A common misconception is to equate this distinction with workers and management. For example, a software developer, who is considered a worker-bee at a digital design shop, might still take her work home and be brooding over a menacing software bug all night long. Conversely, a shift supervisor at a construction site might leave his work at the construction site when he goes home. Additionally, two individuals with the same job description might treat their job differently: one as a sausage stuffer and the other as a sausage counter.What does sausage stuffing and counting have to do with entitlement? A lot. Sausage stuffers are committed to doing a very good job of stuffing sausages. They don’t want more responsibility. Sausage stuffers expect that for a job well done, they will receive their negotiated slate of compensation, including their pay, benefit plans, vacation and sick time, etc. If they are due five sick days in a year, and by the end of the year they have not utilized all five, a sausage stuffer is likely to find a way to use the remaining sick days they’re entitled to. After all, they do a good job for the employer and they expect to receive the entire slate of compensation they were promised. You might view that as entitlement, but the sausage stuffer views it as their implicit contract.

Sausage counters view their jobs differently. They’re committed to the success of the business and are willing to do whatever it takes, whenever it needs to be done. They look for increased opportunities to contribute and view their compensation beyond that of monetary and benefit plans. For them, part of the compensation is the challenge in the job, growth of themselves and their career, and the freedom to operate independently rather than be supervised. Sausage counters value the freedom of independence and associated empowerment. They also recognize that with it comes an obligation: the success of the company.To illustrate this, imagine one of the machines in the sausage stuffing plant is leaking sausages. The conscientious sausage stuffer working at that machine might yell out to his supervisor, “Hey, Counting Boss, this machine is leaking sausage grind. You need to do something about this.” After simply reporting his observation, the sausage stuffer feels that he has completely discharged his responsibility. In contrast, the Counting Boss is up all night thinking about whether the machine can be fixed, or if she needs to buy a new machine, how much the new machine would cost, whether there is room in the company’s capital budget for the new machine, and so on. Does the sausage stuffer want to deal with the headache? Absolutely not. Does the sausage counter like the challenge and independence of being able to make that decision? Absolutely.The ownership of the company might want to empower and provide greater autonomy to their sausage counters in terms of how they manage their time, when they take breaks and if they can go to their child’s afternoon soccer game. But, afraid to label people as either sausage stuffers or sausage counters, they might provide that autonomy to their entire staff. Lo and behold: for the sausage stuffer, this is now part of the overall slate of compensation – their ability to manage their own time. A few months later, ownership looks at the behavior of their sausage stuffers and complains that they seem to feel entitled. Of course they are entitled: the owners enabled them.

So how do you solve this distinction? In the old days, manufacturing companies had a clear demarcation – hourly employees and salaried employees. In fact, the U.S. government then defined the concept of non-exempt and exempt employees (other governments have similar concepts). This worked well as long as we had sausage factories where the stuffing jobs were distinctly different from the counting jobs. But with the decrease in manufacturing companies and the increase in automation, most of the employees in your companies are now either service workers or knowledge workers. In other words, they are either serving a customer or using their thinking to create value. Both types of jobs appear to be sausage counting jobs. But are they really? Even if they are, do the individuals behave as sausage counters?

Interestingly, most new-economy companies have taken the position that all jobs are sausage-counting jobs and expect their employees to operate with the associated level of autonomy and obligation.

Now look at it from the employee’s point of view. If you gave them a choice, what do you think they would want to be? Of course, you would have to explain the limited responsibility and authority that comes being a sausage stuffer and the broader privileges and obligations that are associated with a sausage counter. What would likely happen is that everybody would want the privileges of a sausage counter, yet not everybody would sign up for its obligations.

Here is an illustrative example. At Think Shift, we have a simple vacation policy: “Vacation is good, take some. End of policy.” Is this a privilege or an obligation? It’s both. Yes, the employees get to decide when and how much vacation they take. However, their job remains their responsibility even when they are away. So before they go on vacation, every employee makes sure that all of their tasks are either completed ahead of time, or negotiated with a colleague to complete while they are gone. Even after that, do you think they have full peace of mind that they had covered all the bases? No. During their vacation, they worry that they might have missed something. Every employee checks their email when they are on vacation. Management doesn’t ask them to do so. The employees feel a sense of obligation to do so. Is our vacation policy a privilege or an obligation? It’s both. We find that this policy works well as long as all employees view themselves as sausage counters – with the attendant authority and obligations. But if you administer such a vacation policy to a group of employees, some of whom behave like sausage stuffers and others as sausage counters, it might be ill-advised.

At the end of the day, your desire to give people authority and to empower them requires that they rise up and accept certain obligations. Have you communicated those obligations? Have you empowered the right kind of people? Or are you unwilling to distinguish between sausage stuffers and sausage counters, and have thus empowered a few who will never rise up to fulfill their responsibilities? Has empowerment led to entitlement?

We welcome your comments on our Food for Thought mailings and encourage you to explore the Food for Thought archive. We hope your business is doing well. We’re happy to chat about the content in this article or anything else with which you’d like assistance.

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Employee Performance is not just about Results


Happy New Year! I hope you had a relaxing holiday and are back to an exciting start for 2016. For some of you this might also be the start of a fiscal year and you might be considering employee performance appraisals.

This topic is a logical, structured way to approach performance appraisals.

In appraising an employee’s performance over a period of time, say over the past year, we tend to focus on what the individual accomplished – the results. Yes, results are important, but equally important is how much the employee has grown during the year, and how positioned the individual is to produce even better results the next year.

To drive home this point, let me recall the definition of stewardship, as framed by my friend, Glenn Mangurian.

Stewardship is the responsibility to protect, preserve and enhance assets that do not belong to you, but have been temporarily entrusted to you.

One of the biggest assets a company has is its human capital. You, as a manager, have been asked to be a steward of your employees. You have a stewardship responsibility to leave behind a richer set of assets at the end of the year than what you inherited at the beginning of the year. Your assessment of the employee’s performance over the past year should clearly reflect your collective success – the success of you and your employee – in accomplishing that.

With that as the backdrop, I offer the following model for writing performance appraisals:

1. Results: The employee’s accomplishments over the past year.

This is like the employee’s individual income statement. That is, the employee cost the company a certain amount and, in return, they produced certain results. It is the manager’s assessment of the balance between the benefit received and the cost incurred, in this period of time.

This assessment makes no claim about their past or future contributions or their ability to make such contributions. It only speaks to this period’s contributions. That is why I view this as an income statement.

Results should be assessed in both the “what” and “how” dimensions.

Not only should you comment on what the employee did, but also how the individual achieved those results. This is an opportunity to communicate to the employee the consequence of their conduct on others around them. So, compliment the employee who rallied the group to achieve that goal that the team had resigned to being impossible. Likewise, comment on the value destroyed by the employee that trampled on everybody in their path to achieve their individual goal.

Both the “what” and the “how” speak to what happened, not what the individual is capable of.

2. Skills: An assessment of the employee’s natural skills and abilities, as related to the employee’s assigned job or potential future assignments.

This is like the tangible items on the employee’s balance sheet, both the assets and liabilities – just the tangible items that can be seen and evidenced.

These would include assessments like being a good salesperson or having good analytical skills. It would also include liabilities like not being able to write well or have difficulty in public speaking. These skills are intrinsic to the individual and are unlikely to change overnight. They can be improved, but it takes time, work and a commitment to doing so.

These skills move with the individual and are likely to be present if the employee undertakes a different assignment – although how useful the skill is in the other assignment is a different matter.

This is where you should reflect on your stewardship of this individual. How much has this balance sheet grown in the last year?

Has the employee increased their assets or reduced their liabilities? Both the manager and the employee must take ownership for this assessment.

3. Style: An assessment of the employee’s interactions with the environment.

This is like the intangible items on the employee’s balance sheet. Unlike skills, which can be demonstrated, evidenced and clearly shown, style is a bit more amorphous and difficult to establish unequivocally.

Style can be broken up into Attributes, which are intrinsic, and Conduct, which is circumstantial.

Attributes would include such things as an employee’s integrity or compassion. A compassionate employee is likely to be so in the workplace, on the sports field and drinking beer with their friends. Attributes of an individual, like skills, move with the employee. They are a statement of the employee, not of the environment. Attributes, like skills, cannot be changed overnight. One might even argue that they are very difficult to change in mature individuals.

In contrast, conduct is the result of the interaction between the employee and the environment. Examples would include an employee’s attitude, their ability to get along with their co-workers, their commitment to the company’s goals, etc. An employee might be dismissive of another individual because of a relationship they have built with that individual. An employee might be a naysayer to all ideas because of their lack of confidence in management.

Whereas the skills and attributes are likely to transport with the employee to any other job, the conduct is a reflection of the employee’s connection to the environment. Neither the good nor the bad will move to another job they take. So a disengaged employee at your workplace could well become very engaged at the next job.

The conduct is a product of the individual employee and the surrounding environment. To change the conduct, one or both of those have to change.

The individual can choose to change. Or you can change the environment surrounding the individual. Unlike skills and qualities, conduct can change practically overnight. It is often a matter of an individual’s attitude and desire, or a matter of something in their environment that is eliciting that behavior. This part of the assessment should include the changes you plan to make for any conduct deficiencies identified.

So results, skills and style. An income statement view and a balance sheet view, with the balance sheet broken up into the tangible and intangible items.

employee performance

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3 Ways to Help Keep Your Dental Office Staff Happy

Happy staff, happy life? Quite possibly. Although there’s no guarantee that a happy staff leads to a happy dentist, you can be sure that a happy staff strengthens your practice. When your staff is unhappy, that unhappiness manifests itself in the form of turnover, which is something you don’t want to see with any level of frequency.

Turnover is bad for your practice for a few reasons. First, it costs you money. You’ll have to recruit new staff and train them. You may even have to turn down appointments because you don’t have enough staff on hand.

Turnover also hurts morale in both your employees and your patients. Employees see the turnover and start to wonder whether they too should look for a new job with another practice. Patients see frequent turnover among your staff and wonder why their favorite hygienists or receptionists are no longer around.

You can limit turnover by making your office an enjoyable place to work.

3 Tips to Keep Your Staff Happy

  1. Give praise. Study after study has shown that employees – regardless of industry – view praise as the single most rewarding benefit they can receive. In a recent study, 83 percent of all surveyed employees said that individual praise was more rewarding than any form of bonus or gift.

    There are a few ways in which you can offer praise. You can do it in a standardized way that’s open to all employees. Popular forms of this kind of praise include an Employee of the Month award or contests that are tied directly to some performance metric.

    Another good way to praise is in one-on-one conversations. Performance reviews present a perfect opportunity to offer praise. You can also do it when it’s not expected. Pull a high-performing employee aside and let them know how they’re doing. Tell an improving employee that you notice and appreciate their efforts. These actions may seem small, but they pay big dividends.

  2. Help them with retirement. Your employees are worried about retirement. They’re concerned that they won’t have enough saved and that they’ll have to continue working long past their desired retirement date.

    You can show your appreciation for their efforts by helping them save for retirement. A 401k plan can be an effective way to do this. It gives your staff the opportunity to save money for their own retirement and it gives you a vehicle to contribute. If your office is small and you think a 401k may be too complex or expensive, you could talk to your financial advisor about alternatives like SEP IRAs.

    Many employees expect some kind of group benefit plan at their place of employment. If you don’t have one, you may have difficulty recruiting quality talent. Similarly, your employees that you do have may view their benefits as being inferior to those offered at other practices.

  3. Create a bonus plan. Your staff knows that you make significantly more money than them. They’re likely fine with that. After all, they also know that you bear all the risk of owning the practice.

    However, they also know that they contribute a great deal to your success. When your business is operating at full speed, they like to be recognized for their contributions – and not just in praise.

    A bonus plan can foster the feeling that you’re all working for the same team. It can create a direct link between your employees’ performance and their compensation. You can tie the bonuses to the practice’s overall performance or you can tie it to specific job functions.

    One note on bonuses, though. Whatever system you put in place, be sure to make the system easy-to-understand and transparent. If employees feel that bonuses aren’t fair, bitterness and resentment could develop.

It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day management of your practice. However, always remember that your staff is a crucial part of your practice’s success. Invest in their happiness and you’re likely to see the benefits.

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