Old Joke: Current Relevance

By Linda Henman, Ph.D.

As the old joke goes, a reporter asked a business owner, “How many people work here?” “About half,” he responded.

Recent research indicates that estimate might have been too ambitious for today’s companies because many leaders reported that only about 29% of their workforce shows signs of strong engagement. What do the other two thirds do? And whom should we blame?

Leadership. If you tolerate low engagement, you have to ask yourself what culture you have helped to create or perpetuate. In their pivotal work on excellence, the authors of In Search of Excellence posited that the following eight attributes and behaviors caused and sustained success:

  1. A bias for action
  2. Staying close to the customer
  3. Autonomy and entrepreneurship
  4. Productivity through people
  5. Executives’ “hands on” approach
  6. Sticking with the knitting: doing only what the business does best
  7. Little bureaucracy
  8. Dedication to the company’s values

These eight attributes don’t just spring forth from the earth fully developed; leaders have to plant the seeds and then carefully cultivate them, consciously and consistently acting as the attentive gardener.

The first of August offers a prime opportunity to do just that. As the summer wanes to its close, record-breaking temperatures sweep the nation. We don’t tend toward high productivity during the summer months anyway, but when Tarzan couldn’t stand the heat we endure, you can expect the bias for action to wane too.

Mid-year reviews offer one way to return the focus. Start inspecting what you expect. Schedule one-on-ones with each of your direct reports this month to go over progress on the year’s goals. (If you skipped that step in January, it’s not too late to set them now). Give them balanced feedback about their accomplishments and readjust goals as necessary.

Have priorities stayed the same? If not, fine-tune as needed. Zero in on the critical few initiatives or actions that will help the company soar during the final two quarters. If you want more productivity, your people need better leadership. And that’s no joke.

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