Leadership Tactics to Make 2008 a Pivotal Business

s you look back over 2007, you’re feeling a vague sense of discontent. Business is sluggish. Several key employees have left. And with new competitors springing up every day, you need to be at the top of your industry. Things are not terrible, but they could be a lot better. You need to turn things around, and you know you need to make some big changes in the upcoming year. Problem is you’re not sure what they are. A new improvement initiative? A hot new product? A new executive team?

Quint Studer, president of Studer Group Consulting and author of "Results That Last: Hardwiring Behaviors That Will Take Your Company to the Top" has a suggestion: make 2008 the year you focus on leadership, not leaders, but providing exemplary leadership.

"Solid business results that stand the test of time do so for one reason and one reason only: consistently excellent leadership," said Quint Studer, president of Studer Group Consulting and author of "Results That Last: Hardwiring Behaviors That Will Take Your Company to the Top." "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. His book reveals some tried and true best practices that enable companies of all sizes 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. Implementing these five best practices will enable employers to see dramatic changes by the end of 2008.

Get rid of low performers…now. Let’s say an employee consistently comes in late, gets "headaches" every other (non-payday) Friday and spends more time cheerily chatting up coworkers than they do working. Others will notice and they will be resentful. But worse than merely causing contention in the ranks, turning a blind eye toward the disruption squelches profitability. Why? Because middle performers get pulled down to the low-performer level, while high performers either disengage or leave.

"Too many of us give low performers a pass," Studer said. "It’s easier not to confront low performers. A store manager or company 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 visiting a store or having lunch, listen in on the conversations nearby. Chances are you’ll hear people griping about their workloads, difficult managers, 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, Studer said, is to hone the fine art of managing up.

"Managing up means positioning your people, products, or company in a positive light," said 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." Think of a doctor making 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, 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, vice president or regional manager makes the rounds daily to check on the status of his employees," Studer said. "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," he said. "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."

Studer explained 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 anonymously left in a mailbox or in a paycheck envelope.

 

Don’t just recruit great employees, recruit people. If you plan to hire in 2008, 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% 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%," said Studer, who suggested 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 companies start implementing tactics like these, "results quickly follow," Studer said. "Your employees will see that you care about them, which boosts morale, improves performance, and leads to happier customers, which eventually leads to higher profits."

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