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No doubt about it: 2009 has definitely been a tough year. You need to turn things around, and that means making some big changes in the very near future. Problem is, you’re not sure what they are. A new improvement initiative? A hot new product? A new executive team? Quint Studer has a suggestion: Make 2010 the year you focus on leadership. Not leaders, mind you – leadership.
“Solid business results that stand the test of time do so for one reason and one reason only: consistently excellent leadership,” insists Studer, author of the new book Straight A Leadership: Alignment, Action, Accountability (Fire Starter Publishing, 2009, ISBN: 978-0-9840794-1-4, $28.00). “Products and services change with the demands of the market. Individual leaders come and go. The key is to create an organizational culture that ensures great leadership today and tomorrow.”
In other words, you need a long-term fix, not a magic bullet or a trendy program du jour or a charismatic leader. You need a culture built on good, solid, time-tested leadership principles. Studer urges organizations to institute proven across-the-board behaviors that don’t depend on particular individuals. The tried and true “best practices” he shares with his readers and clients – collectively called evidence-based leadership – enable companies of all types to create results that last.
These practices are not complicated. They’re simple, commonsense tactics that leaders can get their hands around and start doing right away. In fact, Studer says if you implement these five “biggies” you’ll see dramatic changes by the end of 2010:
• Get rid of low performers. Now. Yes, despite the layoff ax so many companies have wielded during the past year, low performers still work inside many organizations. And they are causing big problems. Let’s say your employee Carol consistently comes in late, gets “headaches” every other (non-payday) Friday, and spends more time cheerily chatting up coworkers than she does working. Others will notice – and they will be resentful. But worse than merely causing contention in the ranks, turning a blind eye to the “Carols” in your organization squelches profitability. Why? Because middle performers get pulled down to the low-performer level, while high performers either a) disengage or b) leave.
“Too many of us give low performers a pass,” says Studer, whose remedy involves implementing a structured series of high-middle-low performer conversations. “It’s easier not to confront low performers, and trust me, a leader can find a thousand other things to do instead. But until you move them either up or out, your company will never advance beyond short-term gains. The low performer is an anchor holding everyone else back. Make this year the year you quit looking the other way.”
• Accentuate the positive. The next time you’re having lunch in a restaurant, listen in on the conversations at nearby tables. Chances are, you’ll hear people griping about their workloads, difficult clients, annoying coworkers, or the ridiculousness of corporate policy. Everyone does it, but if they realized how harmful it is to their company, perhaps they’d think twice. The solution, says Studer, is to hone the fine art of managing up.
“Managing up means positioning your people, products, or company in a positive light,” says Studer, who teaches clients how to hardwire the technique into their corporate leadership practices. “Managing up doesn’t just happen; you have to make it happen in a systematic way. Help employees understand what can happen when negativity is allowed to breed – good people quit and customers leave – and they’ll be more likely to stop doing it.”
• Make a real connection with employees – every day. Studer is a big proponent of what he calls “rounding for outcomes.” Like many of his tactics, this critical leader behavior reveals his health care industry roots. (Think of a doctor making her daily rounds to check on patients.) Rounding helps you communicate openly with your employees, allowing you to regularly find out what is going well and what isn’t going well for them at the company. But remember, says Studer, it’s not just empty “face time” – it’s rounding for outcomes, which means the process has a serious purpose.
“In the business world, a CEO, VP, or department manager makes the rounds daily to check on the status of his employees,” explains Studer. “Basically, you take an hour a day to touch base with employees, make a personal connection, recognize success, find out what’s going well, and determine what improvements can be made. Rounding is the heart and soul of building an emotional bank account with your employees, because it shows them day in and day out that you care.”
• Say thanks. In fact, put it in writing. Studer is a big advocate of sending thank-you notes to employees who do an excellent job. But that doesn’t mean just sending the occasional note when someone goes far above the call of duty. It means literally mandating a specific number of thank-you notes for leaders to send to the people they supervise. “Thank-you notes don’t just happen,” says Studer. “If they aren’t hardwired into an organization, they don’t get written. And a thank-you note is just too powerful a tool not to use. People love receiving thank-you notes. They cherish them.”
He explains that the best thank-you notes are:
* Specific, not general. A thank-you note that focuses on something specific the recipient has done is far more effective than one that reads, “Hey, nice job!”
* Handwritten, if possible. Most people would rather receive a three-sentence handwritten note than a two-page typed letter. It’s more authentic and special.
* Sent to the employee’s home. When an employee receives a thank-you note at home, it feels more personal than one laid on her desk along with a stack of reports and memos.
• Don’t just recruit great employees. Re-recruit them. If you plan to hire in 2010 – and as the recovery (hopefully) picks up steam, many will – here’s a relatively easy step you can take that will pay off in a big way. We all know employee turnover is expensive. But did you know that more than 25 percent of employees who leave positions do so in the first 90 days of employment? To retain a new team member, the leader needs to build a relationship. Studer Group has found that scheduling two one-on-one meetings, the first at 30 days and the second at 90 days, has an enormous impact on retention that directly turns into savings for your organization.
“If these meetings are handled successfully, new employee turnover is reduced by 66 percent,” says Studer, who suggests using a structured list of questions to discover not only what’s not going well, but also what is going well. “You can be certain that your new employee is comparing her first few weeks of work with your company to her last week at her previous job – which was filled with well wishes, tearful good-byes, and probably a going-away party. Clearly, your company will get the short end of an unfavorable comparison. These meetings will help you shore up an otherwise tenuous relationship.”
Once you start implementing these tactics, results quickly follow. Your employees will see that you care about them, which boosts morale, which improves performance, which leads to happier customers, which leads to higher profits. Studer says creating satisfied employees is of critical importance, especially right now.
“When things aren’t going so well, a lot of leaders panic and start doing things that make employees less satisfied,” he notes. “Don’t make that mistake. Your leaders’ job is to create happy, loyal, productive employees. They, in turn, will create happy, loyal, profitable customers. They are two sides of the same coin – and that coin is the currency that buys you results that last.”
About the author:
Quint Studer not only teaches it, he has done it. After leading organizations to breakthrough results, Quint formed Studer Group, an outcomes firm that implements evidence-based leadership systems that help clients attain and sustain outstanding results. He was named one of the “Top 100 Most Powerful People in Healthcare” by Modern Healthcare magazine for his work on institutional healthcare improvement. Studer was named “Master of Business” by Inc. magazine. He is the author of BusinessWeek bestseller Hardwiring Excellence: Purpose, Worthwhile Work, Making a Difference; 101 Answers to Questions Leaders Ask; Wall Street Journal bestseller Results That Last: Hardwiring Behaviors That Will Take Your Company to the Top; and Straight A Leadership: Alignment, Action, Accountability. For more information, visit www.studergroup.com.
About the book:
Straight A Leadership: Alignment, Action, Accountability (Fire Starter Publishing, 2009, ISBN: 978-0-9840794-1-4, $28.00) is available at bookstores nationwide, major online booksellers, and directly from the publisher by calling 866-354-3473. Copies also can be purchased online through the Studer Group Web site at www.studergroup.com.