How to “take a hard line on the soft issues”
Many of those who get “fired up” about a new job, a new assignment, a new promotion, etc. eventually become “burned out” by it. What we have in this volume, written by Michael L. Stallard with Carolyn Dewing-Hommes and Jason Pankau, is a remarkably thoughtful and sensitive examination of the causes and effects of this familiar workplace situation. Stallard observes that, “Although people generally enter their organizations fired up, over time most work environments reduce that inner fire from a flame to a flicker.” Why? They lack “connection” with others, especially with their supervisors and immediate associates. As a result, they have unmet needs; more specifically, to be respected, recognized, included and accepted.
In this context, I presume to share a complaint I hear constantly: Being held accountable to achieve results without receiving any explanation of the ultimate objectives, much less an explanation of the given assignment’s relevance to achieving those objectives. Worse yet, not being provided with sufficient resources. And even worse yet, having no “say” about how the given work will be done. Jean-Francois Manzoni and Jean-Louis Barsoux have much of value to say about all this in The Set-Up-to-Fail Syndrome: How Good Managers Cause Great People to Fail.
Stallard asserts that “the lack of connection will gradually burn [employees] out. Organizational environments where connection is low or absent diminish [employees'] physical and mental health. They create a low level of toxicity that drains [their] energy, poisons [their] attitudes, and impacts [their ability and willingness] to be productive.” It is difficult (if not impossible) to calculate the total cost of such a situation, including its impact on customer relationships and retention of valued employees. The potential damage and (yes) cost of a group’s disconnection must be at least the number of people in a given group compounded by a factor of 3-5, if not greater.
Over the years, various questionnaires and surveys have been conducted among many millions of people, asking respondents to rank what is most important to them in a relationship with an organization either as an employee or as a customer. With very few exceptions, “feeling appreciated” was ranked among the top three…with compensation or cost ranked anywhere from 9-14, depending on the given feedback mechanism. Stallard cites one Gallup Organization study that suggests that only 25% of employees are engaged in their jobs, 55% of are just going through the motions, and that 20% of them are undermining efforts to achieve their employers’ objectives. He also cites a study of 50,000 employees at 59 global companies conducted by the Corporate Executive Board. One of its most significant revelations is that “emotional factors were four times more effective in increasing employee engagement rather than rational ones.” I presume to suggest that it is no coincidence that many of the companies listed on Fortune magazine annual list of those “most admired” are also on its annual list of those most profitable and many of them are #1 in their respective industry.
In collaboration with Dewing-Hommes and Pankau, Stallard carefully organizes the material within four Parts: “What Fires Us Up?”; “The Three Keys to Connecting Your Team and Lighting Their Fires: Vision, Value, and Voice”; “The Fire Starts with You: become a Person of Character and Connection to Ignite the Team Around You”; and finally, “Learn from Twenty Great Leaders Over Twenty Days.” Appendix A provides “Questions to Assess Organizational Culture and Connection.”
Stallard and his collaborators focus almost all of their attention on “how” when addressing challenges such as these:
1. How an individual, a group, and (eventually) an entire organization can establish and then sustain emotional connections others
2. How a clear and compelling vision can “ignite” commitment throughout the given enterprise
3. How shared values can nourish human development
4. How giving “voice” to an individual, group, and organization can expedite knowledge flow
5. How to become “a person of character and connection who ignites the team around you”
Of special interest to me is the material provided in Part IV. (That said, I must emphasize the obvious: The value of this material can be maximized only if the material that precedes it has been carefully absorbed and digested.) Stallard and his collaborators offer a self-improvement program that the reader completes with several “collaborators”: Stallard, Dewing-Hommes, and Pankau as well as “20 great leaders from various fields who fired up people by increasing connection.” These leaders do indeed comprise a diverse group. They include the Marquis de Lafayette, Ann Mulcahy, Ed Mitchell, Harriett Beecher Stowe, Howard Schultz, Frances Hesselbein, Fred Epstein, and Bill Belichick. (If at least a few of these names are unfamiliar to you, you will welcome the introductions to them in Part IV.) Over a period of 20 days (one leader per day), the reader is asked to consider what can be learned from each about firing up people by increasing connection (i.e. mutually-beneficial relationships) with others. At the conclusion of each profile, there is a follow-through section that will facilitate effective application of the given lesson(s).
My congratulations to Michael Lee Stallard, Carolyn Dewing-Hommes and Jason Pankau for producing such a thoughtful, sensitive, and eloquent as well as practical book.
When concluding this brief commentary, however, I do feel obligated to make one final point of my own: At one time or another, to one extent or another, everyone gets “fired up” only to experience “flame out,” if not suffer severe” burns” from the experience. That is true of Stallard, Dewing-Hommes, and Pankau and it is also true of every one of the 20 “great leaders” whom they discuss. What then? Long ago, Jack Dempsey said that champions “get up when they can’t.” In the business world as well as in competitive sports, that is as true of groups and even entire organizations as it is of individuals.
Note: Since this book was published in 2007, several other excellent books have addressed several of the same issues and I highly recommend three of them, also.
The Why of Work: How Great Leaders Build Abundant Organizations That Win
Dave and Wendy Ulrich
Be Excellent at Anything: The Four Keys To Transforming the Way We Work and Live
Tony Schwartz with Jean Gomes and Catherine McCarthy
The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work
Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer