Employees are the single most important stakeholders in any organization. So much so, that they have the power to literally make or break companies. High performing motivated employees can take companies to dizzy heights. Conversely, apathetic and poorly motivated employees can take companies all the way down to bankruptcy.
Interestingly, a lot of companies are investor/customer centric, preferring to focus on the bottom line, revenue growth and increase in investor value.
What such companies sometimes forget is- if you focus on external stakeholders alone, you are likely to alienate the key stakeholder group that actually drives your company and contributes to everything else.
This is where Employee Centered Leaders and Employee Centric Leadership come in. Employee Centric Leaders accord great importance to employees and strive to motivate, nurture, retain and grow them along with the organization. They tend to put the interest of employees first.
So what do Employee Centric Leaders do differently?
1. They share information freely with their teams
Some years ago, one of the companies that I worked for, TCS, went in for a change in its organization structure. The change was rather dramatic and understandably there was wide spread apprehension in the minds of employees on how it would impact them and their roles in the organization.
The TCS leadership rose to the occasion and did a phenomenal job of sharing information transparently across the rank and file of the organization.
As a first step they set up an internal unit to manage the change. It had participants from all the entities and groups within the organization that was likely to be affected.
And it didn’t stop there.
Chandra, who was the CEO at that time, personally conducted town hall meetings at practically every significant location that the company operated where he and a handpicked set of senior leaders addressed employees personally and allayed their apprehensions.
The result was a smooth transition that led to the company becoming a powerhouse in the IT industry that it is today.
Many people believe that information is power. I have seen this closely during my stint in the Indian Government where people were very reluctant to share any information. This is more of a mind-set and a manifestation of a leader’s insecurity.
Employee Centric Leaders see no reason to withhold information from their teams unless it is confidential. The fact is the higher you rise within an organization the higher is your access to information. If leaders routinely hold back information from their teams it could lead to confusion and loss of trust.
2. They create a clear succession plan
Good leaders do not believe in micromanaging and keeping themselves constantly engaged. In fact they often make themselves redundant by creating an empowered layer of Tier 2 leaders who are competent to manage things by themselves.
In doing so, they carve out time for themselves to focus on strategic issues and initiatives, rather than spend their time on transactional things.
The thing about a succession plan is that it gives junior executives a clear career path and also an opportunity to be groomed for bigger things.
IBM does this very well.
The company focuses on identifying suitable people who could be elevated to more responsible roles and actually invests in their development and provides them leadership training ahead of time.
What this does for employee morale is truly incredible!
3. They do not shy away from giving credit to their team
Leadership is not about oneself. Instead, it is about others. Can you imagine a leader who has no follower? You cannot possibly be a leader all by yourself.
Incentives are not always monetary. In fact a large number of valuable initiatives are non-monetary. Giving credit to people can be a powerful non-monetary incentive!
I have come across some leaders who would take all the credit for their team’s work. In doing so they severely undermined their reputation and eroded their own credibility.
They also took away motivation from a large number of their team members who had worked hard and ended up feeling cheated by the lack of recognition.
Employee Centric Leaders put the interest of their employees first and are quick to give credit wherever it is due. In turn, they inspire loyalty and command respect. They also foster amazing levels of trust and commitment in their teams.
4. They believe in reinforcing positive behavior more than penalizing negative behavior
Some time ago, a senior executive was visiting one of our offices and instructions had gone out in advance for everyone to be available in time and to avoid any untoward incident.
The executive arrived first thing in the morning, and went on a tour of the office to talk to people working there. Everything went off well until he came back to the entrance of the office. At about the same time, around 1130 AM, an employee entered the office. He was dressed rather casually and late for work.
On seeing him, the executive lost his cool and shouted at the employee for coming so tardily dressed and late for work. The employee tried to explain but the executive was simply not listening.
Much later we found out that this employee had a very important meeting scheduled with his client that day who was flying out right after the meeting. That very morning his child had met with an accident and had been hospitalized.
Since he was running out of time he decided to come directly from the hospital. Going home and getting formally dressed would have meant missing the meeting itself. He had planned to come just for the meeting and hoped that his client would understand, given the circumstances.
What happened, was completely unexpected and perhaps, insensitive.
Organizations are driven by rules and procedures. However that does not confer a right to publicly berate employees who break a rule without giving them a chance to explain their position.
While rules are important, motivating employees to do the right thing is often more than just about enforcing rules.
The real way to go about doing it is to appreciate good behavior and not let any achievement however small, go unnoticed. Reinforcing positive behavior works far better than censuring negative behavior.
5. They treat their team members with respect
Some leaders treat people with respect that is linked to their level in the organization hierarchy. What it means is that the higher you are in the organization hierarchy the greater is the respect you get.
As you move lower down in the organization even courtesy may be dispensed with, in dealing with you.
Think about it. Who would want to continue in an organization where even respect becomes a rare commodity? Lack of respect and dispensing with basic courtesy can damage relationships severely and lead to zero motivation to perform.
How would an organization grow if a majority of its’ people are in that negative state?
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”― Maya Angelou
Here are some pointers that indicate that your organization’s focus may not really be on its employees:
1. Bell curve is force fitted
Performance Appraisals are inevitable and you cannot wish them away. However, appraisals need to be done judiciously, recognize employee contribution and also account for external circumstances beyond the control of employees that impact their performance.
For instance, if the economy that you operate in is in the middle of a recession that has intensified since your targets were set then you can’t possibly surpass your previous year’s performance. At best you could match it or perhaps go close to it. Even if you were to do just that, what you would have accomplished would be sterling.
Now, if you were to be evaluated purely on your ability to surpass your previous year’s performance and achieve your committed goals, it would be an injustice to you given the fact that recession was not within your control.
In scenarios like this when organizations force fit employee performance to a Bell Curve where some people have to necessarily be placed at the bottom of the curve regardless of their performance, it may suggest that your organization doesn’t really care about you.
2. Senior positions are routinely filled by outside candidates
People who join organizations do so to learn and grow with the organization. This implies you have a chance to reach the senior management levels in your organization if you perform well.
Consider a scenario where you are in a middle management level and are performing well. You are due for a promotion to the next level where there is a position available. You are looking forward to it.
But then you discover that someone from outside your organization has filled the vacant position and you were not even considered for it. How would you feel?
Every person in an organization has to have a career path and if your career path breaks once too often inside your organization, then sooner or later you will start looking for opportunities outside.
3. Information is selectively disseminated within the organization
I once worked briefly with a leader who would share information purely on a need to know basis.
So guarded was he with even routine information that for some time I had a feeling that I was working in an Intelligence Unit of the military instead of a technology company.
I am not saying that all information has to be shared at all levels. However, information such as policies, management perception of the organizations performance, changes in its environment and new initiatives of the organization and much more, could be shared transparently across all levels.
Information is the life-blood of business and if information is not transparently shared within an organization, it could impact not only employee performance but also their perception and willingness to continue in the organization itself!
An Employee Centric Leader can do wonders to develop and nurture a highly motivated and high performing workforce. In the process, the growth in investor value can be phenomenal this way than by any other way!