David Decker says that all leaders, at some point, will learn that their success or failure depends not on what they do but on what their people do.
And when that happens, you will be better able to engage your employees’ loyalty and set them up for success.
“Then you have to respect the loyalty that you are able to develop in people who work for you by not placing them in situations where they can’t succeed — so establishing realistic expectations for people,” he says.
Decker follows these rules with his 960 employees at Franklin University, which has an operating budget of $52 million and three campuses in the Columbus area.
Smart Business spoke with Decker about how to respect your employees and set expectations that they can achieve.
Take time to say thank you. You have to honestly believe that the contributions that people make at all different levels are important. People don’t have much difficulty in identifying false opinions and reactions, and they can do that from a leader just as easily as they can with anyone else. If you don’t actually believe in the value of the contributions of others, then that will become evident.
You have to make a conscious effort to say thank you a lot more than almost anyone else you’ll ever meet. Thanking people, and complimenting them in public, is important in engaging their loyalty. There’s a promptness aspect to this — when people do something good ... you ought to acknowledge that when it happens and not six months later. There’s a value in being current and prompt in your expressions of gratitude.
It’s also important to people to have their peers hear the thanks that are expressed to them by people above them in the organization. You want the people who you work with to know that what you’ve done is appreciated by the leadership. Complimenting people openly and in front of others has a multiplier effect.
Establish realistic expectations for employees. You want to establish goals that represent a challenge, but at the same time, you don’t want to establish goals that are just not achievable.
There’s a trap in all of this. ... If you ask people to set goals for themselves, often they will set goals that are too aggressive. Sometimes, of course, they do the opposite — they set easy goals for themselves. It’s the responsibility of the leader to adjust those.
You have to have the ability to recognize when someone has put out a goal for themselves that they can’t achieve, and you then have to gently and sometimes indirectly adjust that so it’s a goal they can achieve.
Learn how your employees work.
Some people are steady and methodical workers, and they’re working their way calmly and steadily through everything and keeping their nose to the grindstone. Other people work in spurts — they put out huge output for a few days or weeks and then go for some time when they’re not doing much of anything.
If you have someone who’s steady and methodical, then you set goals that are consonant with that. You set a large number of intermediate goals, so they’re always working toward the next one.
Whereas with people who work in spurts, sometimes you’re better off just giving them the general objective and time frame and letting them use their own waves of energy to tackle this thing. I don’t think it’s a good idea to try and jam everyone into the same cookie cutter.
You have to observe their behavior. Sometimes they’re aware of it themselves, but oftentimes they’re not. You might have some person who’s in the second category ... and they might not even think of themselves that way.
You have to be conscious of the actual behavior and performance of people, rather than relying on their own self-assessment or presentation of themselves and their work habits. Everybody wants to present themselves as steadily working and never having any down-time, and of course, we know that’s not true; only a small number of people are like that.
Create an open atmosphere. If somebody feels they can’t get something done by the time they thought they could, they will tell you that well in advance. If you give someone a project and say you’d like to have the project done in two weeks, there’s a big difference between them coming to you after the two weeks are up and saying, ‘I wasn’t able to get it finished, and it’s going to take two more weeks,’ that’s one thing. Another thing is for them to come to you after three days and say, ‘I looked at this and scheduled it all out, and there’s no way it can be two weeks, I need four.’
You’re better off knowing that earlier than later. If people think that they can’t honestly tell you about what their capabilities are and what they think they can do, then they won’t tell you, and you’ll be scrambling at the end.
If people see that’s what happens when you honestly say you need an extension on a project, then of course they won’t ask for one. You have to refrain from doing those things.
You have to convey the message that if somebody honestly says that they need to change the schedule of something that they’re working on, you need to have it be seen and known that they get credit for that.
HOW TO REACH: Franklin University, (614) 797-4700 or www.franklin.edu