How Do You Recognize Your Employees?

Employee recognition can happen on a daily basis, through a variety of ways.  The trick to successfully recognizing your employees is to understand what is meaningful to each of them, and being timely when and how you recognize them.  Should be easy as pie, right? I always assumed that I was pretty good at telling my staff “Great Job” or “Thank you” for that extra effort, but recently found out that my idea of recognition and what warms the hearts of my employees are two different things.

Recent results from an annual employee satisfaction survey Recognitionperformed by my corporation showed that our company doesn’t hit the mark in employee recognition. Our management team met to discuss the results of the survey, and to brainstorm what improvement plan we could put in place to positively impact employee perception of recognition. We came away with new plans that included employee catered lunches, more frequent visits on off shifts by the management team to distribute food rewards, setting a quota of written recognition cards for employees outside of our direct responsibility. We implemented all of these great ideas, as well as a few others. After six months we decided to do an impromptu survey to gauge improvement. And believe it or not, we were all surprised when there was no improvement in employee satisfaction.  Now what?

I decided to dedicate a staff meeting in each of my departments to find out what exactly employee recognition means to each and every one of my employees. I have the honor of leading 33 outstanding individuals, and I am happy to report that I received 30 different responses to my question. A few were happy with my standard “Great Job” and “Thank You”, some were happy with written notes sent to their homes that detailed something special I witnessed them doing. Quite a few like to be fed, regardless of what the food is. Others like monetary gifts, movie tickets, or Starbucks gift cards. Some really like to get free lunches in the cafeteria, or candy bars, or even a paid day off. Some like to be recognized in public, and a few prefer it to be kept private. I even had a few who are so enamored with their jobs that their personal happiness at work is recognition enough.

What I came away with is this; recognition in any form has to be timely and heartfelt. I was given a wealth of ideas on how I can celebrate my employees. Now that I know what they want, I have to be meaningful with my efforts to ensure they know that I value them. I can truly improve their perception by recognizing them in ways that leave an indelible mark, ensuring that they know I appreciate them and their efforts on a daily basis.

How do you recognize your employees? I would love to hear your comments and suggestions.


Building Trust

Highly effective teams are led by those who are not only committed to a cause of action, but also committed to those they have the honor of leading.  Not only do they encourage creativity, they facilitate the learning process for their team. It is easy to tell people how to fix a procedure, but to gain buy-in and ownership the team has to identify issues that impede the process. Once issues are identified, they can brainstorm to find the best cause of action for improvement.

So how do you as a leader encourage this type of commitment? The first and most important function you have is to build trust relationships with each of your employees. This is easy to do with employees who demonstrate your same work ethic, have similar backgrounds, belief systems, or shared interests. It is more difficult to build trust with those that you don’t share common experiences with, but these relationships are the most crucial to build. This starts with doing what you say you will do, all the time. You have to be present in all interactions; you have to value their input. Sometimes it even means modifying your own behavior to accommodate their needs. You have to ensure that every interaction you have with every one of your staff members leaves them feeling respected and appreciated. You have to be willing to defend your team when things go wrong, and celebrate when things go well.

Everyone on your team is employed for a reason, but that in itself doesn’t drive commitment. Commitment is built when employees trust who they work for, that their leader has their best interests at heart, and that their input and contributions are valued and appreciated. Gaining trust is a slow process, but essential to building high reliability teams.

I welcome your feedback and comments, make it a great day!

Embracing Change?

In every industry, change is inevitable. The minute you think you are good enough, your competition is passing you by with some new process or service that “WOWS” their customers. To be competitive, you have to find new and better ways to serve your customers, to enhance their experience, and to keep them coming back. How do you get your employees to see the value in constant process improvement, and feel that the change is theirs to own and drive?

The obvious first step is identifying where your shortcomings are.  Since you can’t have a successful business without happy customers, the best place to gather information is from your customer’s. Ask them what they think you do really well, and ask them where you are lacking.  In my experience, face to face communication with customers is the most valuable.  They are happy to share what they love and what they dislike. Once you have a clear picture of what your customer wants, you have to find a way to give them what they value. This is where your employees become most important in improving your business, and the way you include them will either make or break the change you are trying to achieve.

Once implemented, ongoing two-way communication is imperative. Change has to be tracked, and feedback from customers and employees has to be shared. If a process isn’t working, employees need to be involved in identifying new changes, and once implemented, continue to follow-up. When processes do work, you have to celebrate the success and the efforts put forth by your employees. The follow-up process continues until the new plan is hard-wired, and you see the fruits of your labor in improved customer satisfaction.

Employees are the most valuable resource you have. They are your front line, they know what works and what doesn’t. Accessing their knowledge and talents, involving them from the beginning and allowing them to own the process will allow change to happen.  And when they are part of the solution, they are more willing to embrace change and improve your business.

As a leader I am always looking for new ways to motivate, inspire, and celebrate, and I welcome any comments you would like to share!


To Lead or Not to Lead?

I am not sure where my desire to lead originated, but my first guess would be my upbringing as an only child.  I didn’t have to share the limelight with any siblings, so being the center of attention was normal. I was a bossy child, teenager and young adult. I am certain this bossiness was not as attractive or inviting when I was a teenager, because it was very self-serving and “me” focused. As I moved into adulthood and got my first job, I realized quickly that not everyone shared my enthusiasm for my ideas.  As my work experience grew, and my focus changed from “me to team”, I realized that my desire to lead had more to do with improving the environment for those who work in it, as well as myself.

I had minor leadership responsibilities in all the positions I have held, but my first job as a true leader began when I took a position at Northern Nevada Medical Center. I was hired to lead the Materials Management department, and I had been given the privilege of heading up a team of four.  I did not meet any of my new staff prior to starting, and on my first day I arrived at work with grand expectations that I would be welcomed with open arms and everyone would be keenly interested in all the changes I wanted to make.

I learned quickly that I was an outsider, not only new to the facility but I came over from one of the competitors in town. I had two strikes before I even started. That first morning I met with my staff, provided some insight into my experience and vision. I asked my staff to give me some history about the facility, as well as information about how the department itself functioned. No one spoke, it was the first time I hoped for chirping crickets! No amount of cajoling could open my new team up. Not to be deterred, I realized that as an outsider I needed to gain their trust, so I spent that first week shadowing each position so I had a good understanding of their daily duties and challenges.

I would like to say at the end of the first week that I truly was welcomed with open arms, that they instantly liked me and trusted me, but I would be lying.  The previous manager of this department had run things with an iron fist, he had his favorites and all of the staff knew it. Even though it was such a small department, little fiefdoms had been created, and everyone was working on their own agendas. There was no camaraderie, no teamwork, and certainly no trust. At the end of my first work I clearly questioned my decision to take on this new role, and wondered if it would be too late to get my old job back.

Thankfully, I not only love to be in charge, but I also love to be challenged. At the end of my first month, I had been able to get some historical information from other managers within the facility that helped explain some of the behaviors of my staff. I made it a point not to be one of those managers that comes in and says “in my other job we did this” or “we did that”.  I spent the entire first month getting to know everything I could about my people, our processes, and our customers. At the beginning of my second month, I held a staff meeting in which I shared my observations, and then publicly stated what my visions were for improvements. I told my staff I would be working with each of them one on one to see what changes would work. I told them their feedback was vital to the success of our department, and I reinforced my open door policy.

The fact that my first month was spent observing helped my staff see that my first priority was them, and not change implementation. While the first year was challenging, we were able to make huge improvements in our internal and external customer service. I did experience the projected 25% turnover, but I learned some of my most important lessons that year. You have to understand exactly how something functions to be able to identify what needs improving. You have to gain the trust of your team to successfully implement change. And you have to have faith in your team that they see the vision and feel that they can support it to fruition.

I welcome your feedback as an opportunity to learn and grow!


The Most Important Question

In healthcare, Medicare patients are surveyed about their experience in hospitals.  They are asked questions about the doctors, the medications, the nursing staff, and they are asked about the quality of the food and service of the Dietary staff.  The survey results are used to determine Medicare reimbursement; if the facility does well on the surveys, they will be reimbursed the full allowable Medicare rates.  If the facility doesn’t do well, they can experience a reduction in reimbursement rates.  Patient Satisfaction is a huge motivator to improving the quality of our service.

In the last year, I have implemented several changes that have had a huge impact on processes within my Dietary department. We implemented a new menu program that provides more variety of choice for every meal. We took on a new acute long-term care hospital in our facility, which increased our daily meal production. And I implemented a hostess process that gives face to face assistance to each and every patient to ensure they are able to make food choices that best satisfy them.

I started observing some behavior issues with a long-term employee in my Dietary Department. Initially she made complaints to her co-workers about the changes; she didn’t see why we needed to have more than one choice for each meal, she didn’t see the value in the face to face interaction between patients and our hostess position.  Both myself and the Dietary supervisor would meet with her to see what the issues were, and she would say that the workload was too much, that there wasn’t enough help for all of the prep that was now required with the new menu program. I would ask her for examples of actual issues that caused her to feel this way, and rarely was she able to articulate exactly what was causing her frustration. I had added additional staff to accommodate both the new menus and the patient interaction, so it was hard for me to validate the statement of overwork. I observed processes on more than one occasion, just to be sure that my understanding of the workload was accurate.

As time progressed, her behavior and work performance continued to suffer, eventually resulting in a patient issue that required me to perform a written corrective action with this employee.  I was having a hard time sympathizing, as I had watched the processes and concluded that time management was more of the issue than work load. I was struggling to find a way to get to the root of the issues, while also getting this staff member back on track.

But as life happens, learning experiences present themselves at the exact time that we most need them!

During an Organizational Leadership class, the instructor stated that the most important question you can ever ask is “Why?” It is applicable to any situation, and always allows the receiver to tell you exactly what it is that is causing the issue.  The very next morning, I met with my Dietary staff member.  I started the meeting with a synopsis of why we were meeting, outlining the patient issue that prompted the intervention, and then I asked “Why do you come to work everyday?”  Out of context, this may sound like a harsh question, however I know from long-term interaction this employee has a true heart for our patients and their well-being. Her reaction was not one I expected, and it caught me totally off guard; she started crying.  She started to recount that she loves the patients, the people she gets to work with, the ability to do something creative with food.  With all of these positives, I asked her why she had been exhibiting such negative behaviors.  This really caused an emotional response, but once she composed herself, she said that she was no longer sure she could perform all of the duties required. She had some significant health issues the year before, and she was still figuring out her work abilities. She hadn’t voiced these physical concerns with anybody, which made it impossible to know what the root cause was for the behavior.

All of the behavior issues were due to the fact she was worried whether she could do the job, but it was easier for her to blame the system than it was to admit she had this fear. I also missed the opportunity to identify the issue early on, because I was focused on actual task data, but not on the emotions. Once she had voiced her fear, and realized that my mission was to fix things so that she could complete her daily tasks, her whole demeanor changed. We made some modifications to work load, moved some duties around, and agreed to meet in two weeks to see if the changes made a difference.

The change in demeanor and behavior was immediate. My employee was relieved to find that we support her as a person first and foremost, and that she is a valued member of the team. She was able to verbalize her fear about her abilities, and she saw that we were willing to make accommodations to ensure her success. Because the changes were implemented immediately, she was able to complete her daily tasks as well as provide support to her co-workers.

I was amazed that such a simple question was able to identify, define and provide a solution that met everyone’s expectations. And I was able to maintain a trust relationship with a long-term, passionate employee.