Podcast: The What, How, and Why of Emotional Intelligence

Tune in to this episode to join Charles Rogel and Dave Long discuss the holy grail characteristic of leadership: EQ (Emotional Intelligence).

They will be diving into the what, how, and why of Emotional Intelligence, including:

  1. The definition of EQ
  2. The why behind the importance of EQ
  3. How to measure EQ and appropriate assessments
  4. How to develop and improve EQ as an individual and a leader

To learn more about increasing Emotional Intelligence with 360-Degree Feedback, visit: https://decision-wise.com/increasing-emotional-intelligence-with-360-degree-feedback/

Managing Up: How to Do it Successfully

One thing we have learned from years of administering 360-degree feedback assessments is that people can be perceived in vastly different ways depending upon who is giving them feedback. People receiving a 360 assessment benefit from understanding the different perspectives provided to them from various groups. As a 360 company, we have seen the benefit of understanding gaps in perception and how to close those gaps. One troubling gap that 360 participants occasionally see is a gap between how they see themselves and how their manager sees them. When coaching an individual with lower scores from their supervisor compared to everybody else, we have conversations about the importance of managing up.

Many people may feel—in a perfect world—that the concept of managing up would not exist. Most people want to assume that any difficulty, hardship, or success they encounter would be noticed and recognized by their managers without having to say anything. People may also wish to have complete trust from their managers to make impactful decisions without having to check in. In reality, even the most dutiful and trusting managers will have difficulty fully recognizing and buying into the efforts of their employees without help.

5-15 Reports: Your Success is Your Manager’s Success

The founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard, created a system of managers gathering reports from their employees each week. He called them 5-15 Reports. Each week employees take 15 minutes to write about their current work, progress, challenges, and general feelings about how things are going. Managers then take 5 minutes to review each report. Managers then create their own 15-minute report to send to their managers, incorporating the information in the reports from direct reports. By doing this, information flows upward in an organization, and employees keep leaders informed about and bought into what is going on. You can use Patagonia’s system for upward feedback as a template for managing up.

Assume your manager cares about your ability to successfully navigate and manage your work. Your success is your manager’s success. This means, like Yvon Chouinard, most effective managers will care about critical aspects of your job. Using the Patagonia system, you might think about what sorts of things you ought to consistently communicate to your manager. You might also think about how and when you should communicate those things. Here are some ideas:

  1. Major or impactful decisions you have made or will make
  2. Challenges or roadblocks you are facing
  3. Progress you have made on major projects or initiatives
  4. Your personal accomplishments

Let’s look at each of these categories and examine why and how to communicate them to your manager.

Major or Impactful Decisions

Your manager is ultimately responsible for your performance. A major part of your performance will be based upon the decisions you make. That does not mean that communicating every decision you make to your manager is part of effectively managing up. In fact, for the most part, you should work to build enough trust from your manager that most of your work decisions will be made without their knowledge or consent.

Choosing which decisions to communicate and which decisions to keep to yourself is more art than science. Here are some questions you might ask yourself before determining whether to communicate a decision to your manager.

  • Would your manager disagree with the decision you made?
  • Does the decision have significant impact on profit or loss in your area?
  • Does the decision directly impact other departments or leaders of other departments?
  • Are you having difficulty making the decision?

Simply communicating decisions to your supervisor does not qualify as managing up. You should communicate these things with the purpose of building buy-in from your manager, and to solicit support for the decision you have made or will make. You might also communicate prior to making the decision to make sure your manager’s opinion is considered when you ultimately make the decision.

Challenges or Roadblocks

Part of managing up is informing your supervisor of the challenges you face. You do this for two reasons. First, when you inform your manager of a challenge or roadblock, you also invite them to help solve the issue. Your supervisor likely has authority or relationships you do not have. Communicating challenges allows your manager to help solve the problem before it drags on for a long period of time.

The second reason to inform your boss of challenges is to make sure they understand what could prevent you from delivering optimal results. Ensuring that your boss knows the degree of difficulty you experience is a critical part of managing up. Without that context, your manager may unfairly judge your performance to be unsatisfactory. The key to presenting any challenge or roadblock to your manager is to do so with a solutions-oriented approach. You may solicit recommendations from them, but you might also think about providing your own recommendations for how to clear the roadblock.

Progress on Major Projects or Initiatives

As you manage up, remember that your boss also needs to manage up. Equipping your manager with the information they need to effectively communicate with their managers or peers should be a part of your managing-up strategy. Your boss needs to understand the progress you are making on major work projects or initiatives, so they can communicate that progress to other stakeholders in the organization. By regularly communicating progress on major projects, you proactively hold yourself accountable to the timelines and milestones you set for yourself. You also provide your boss the opportunity to provide input and to support what you are doing.


As you can imagine, managing up effectively requires that you find ways to appropriately inform your manager of your accomplishments. Many people struggle to walk the balance between keeping their managers informed of successes in the workplace and coming across as overly pompous or arrogant. While nobody wants to be seen as overly arrogant, you might think about how being a little loud and proud about your accomplishments might positively impact your career and your relationship with your manager. So much of the narrative that is built about you in your organization comes down to anecdotes. Other people form opinions about you based upon a few meaningful stories. You can gain experience by overcoming obstacles and accomplishing great things, but you can’t build your reputation unless other people know about those accomplishments.

Sharing anecdotes about the things you accomplish will help build your brand with your supervisor and with others in the organization. Informing your manager of your accomplishments provides them with positive anecdotes about you that can be shared with other people in the organization. You cannot manage up effectively without regularly informing your manager about your accomplishments.


The perceptions of critical stakeholders around you have significant impact on your ability to succeed. One of your most important stakeholders is your manager. You can significantly improve your manager’s perception of you by effectively managing up. You can manage up most effectively when you consistently communicate the right things to your supervisor at the right time. Create a regular process for yourself to keep your supervisor informed and appropriately involved. Managing up will improve your managers perceptions about you, and it will help you move your career forward.

Podcast: How to Influence Others as a Manager

In this episode, Charles Rogel and Jefferson McLean discuss one of DecisionWise’s core leadership competencies: Influencing Others. They will be diving into the definition of what it means to influence others, whether as a leader or a peer, and how to identify who the influencers in your organization are using a 360-degree assessment.

Best practices for how leaders can use their influence with purpose and improve the employee experience include:

  • Build rapport within relationships
  • Become an active listener
  • Demonstrate commitment to your team

How to Influence Others as a Manager Transcription

Charles: Hello and welcome to the Engaging People podcast. My name is Charles Rogel. I’m a Senior Consultant here at DecisionWise. Our presenter today is Jefferson McLean.

Jefferson: Hey, glad to be here.

Charles: Jefferson is our Director of Studies and Research. I am constantly bugging him with questions about our survey data, and he’s very helpful at giving me good insight in terms of employee survey results and the other data analysis we’re doing with clients.  Today we’ve got an interesting topic – we’ll be doing a series of podcasts along different leadership competencies that we measure on our 360 surveys. The one we’ll be talking about today is Influencing Others. So, Jefferson, I guess before we jump in, I want to set this up, talk to me about how we’re defining that and what we measure around that topic.

Defining Influence

Jefferson: Yeah, totally. So probably the easiest way that we could do this is go straight to the dictionary. Merriam Webster defines influence as the power to change or affect someone or something without directly forcing those changes to happen. So, one way that I really like to think about it is if you walk outside during the middle of the day, you can see the direct sunlight coming from the sun. But if you walk out in the middle of the night and it happens to be a full moon, you can see the indirect light from the sun that’s being reflected on the moon. That’s what we’re looking for with influences; that indirect effect that you’re having on someone or something to bring about some type of change.

Charles: Excellent. And how do we typically measure that? So, we measure that on our 360’s and we tend to have kind of an angle as it applies to leadership influence.

Jefferson: Yeah, exactly. So, we use four items, the first one being, “communicates in a way that inspires others to change attitudes or behaviors,” and that goes along with the definition that we just gave, as well as “makes well-reasoned, persuasive arguments.” That’s how articulate you are and your persuasion. The other two items that we use are “trying to control for things that you should not do” when you’re trying to influence and that is the next item, “avoids manipulation and coercion when engaging in conflict” or “gains support of others without relying on personal position or status.” One of the reasons why we don’t want to influence through manipulation, coercion, personal position, or status, or rely too heavily on your status is changes happen in the organization all the time and once that status has gone, then that influence or opportunity to influence is also gone.

 Charles: That’s a good point because the word influence has a lot of baggage associated with it because of those reasons.

Jefferson:  Exactly.

Charles: So, let’s talk about the importance of influence. Why does influencing others matter as a leader?

Jefferson: Okay, great question. There’s a lot of broad, general topics that we could go into, right? If you’re able to influence as a leader, you’re able to change the environment, hopefully in positive ways. As a leader, you often have ideas that you want to progress or maybe strategic decisions that need to go forward, but you’re not necessarily the one who’s going to be implementing those decisions. So, you really need to help influence those who will be implementing it. You can reduce obstacles through influence, and you can often get around office politics through it. But there’s a lot of this downstream effect of influence that I don’t believe we really think about a lot. The fact of the matter is you’re influencing people, whether it’s purposeful or not.  At DecisionWise we conducted a study where we took couple thousand managers from half a dozen organizations or so, and we looked at the relationship between the managers level of engagement or overall perceived happiness and job and their teams. We found that when managers were engaged, we found 87% more than expected number of fully engaged, direct reports. But when they’re disengaged, we found 75% more than the typical number of fully disengaged direct reports. So, there’s this relationship between the manager being engaged and involved and happy and positive and their subordinates..

Charles: ..kind of feed off of it.

Jefferson: Yeah, exactly. They feed off of it. But the real surprise that we found was when we took a look at the manager’s manager or a director. We found that when the director was fully engaged, that there were 49% more fully engaged people on the individual contributor team than we would expect.

Charles: So, if you skip a level down, they’re still influencing engagement.

Jefferson: Yeah. 49%, that’s almost half more than we would expect to find, so that’s pretty big. If that director is fully disengaged, then skip a level down, we find 40% more disengaged individual contributors.

Charles: Interesting. So, the level of excitement and passion you have towards your job even if you’re not actively trying to influence people still has an impact.

Jefferson: Yeah. So, it then becomes this idea that if you’re going to have influence, you might as well try to be purposeful about it. It might as well bring about some change or some good or some benefit to yourself, your team, and the organization in general so that people can feed off that.

Identifying Influencers Within an Organization

Charles: So, we’ve been conducting employee engagement surveys for 26 years now. Lately we’ve added some additional analysis, or a section to the survey to measure or try to capture the number or identify the number of influencers within an organization. We call it the organization network analysis. Do you want to explain how that works and some of the research that we’re finding there?

Jefferson: Yeah. So, the organizational network analysis or what I call ONA, what we’re really trying to do is go in and identify the hidden influencers in an organization. What I mean by that is in any organization, you have individuals who will automatically be influential, right, because of their position in the organization or their hierarchical status. But there’s an informal structure to the employees of, “Hey, who are you going to go to for information?” Or “who do you find is really motivational?” or “who helps you with change efforts?” And those are the individuals that we trying to identify. And what it becomes is at the end of a survey, we’ve got three spheres of influence that we look at, the first being an Expert. These are the individuals who usually are hubs of information, whether that is specialized information or more general information that’s really vital to you or your role or the organization. They might be really good at problem solving..

Charles: A lot of experience?

Jefferson: ..yeah,a lot of experience, perhaps they’ve been there for a long time  or perhaps they hold advanced degrees. So that expertise can come in multiple dimensions, but it’s who you go to really, when you need help. The second one is Change Agents, and those are individuals who aren’t necessarily in leadership positions, but who, you know, have political or social credit we’ll say, in the organization to be able to pull others along. So those might be individuals who you find, more often or not, people go to talk about others or to….

Charles: ..roll out initiatives sometimes are involved. I think in some of the committees or other kind of initiatives that are going on in an organization to roll out changes. Their influence is interesting because they tend to be a little bit more maybe creative or assertive in how they’re positioned, as opposed to an Expert, where less assertive people go to them, Change Agents kind of push more things.

Jefferson: Yeah. Almost the concept of a social butterfly, but with purpose. The last influencer that we take a look at or sphere of influence that we measure is Mentors, those who are role models, career development, similar to Experts, right? Well, I guess they’re more of a hybrid between Experts and Change Agents, right? Because they’ve got some expertise so that they can be a mentor. They might not necessarily go and seek out people to mentor, but they could, but it’s often individuals who are more advanced in their careers who have a little bit more life experience and who others feel comfortable and safe going to for help and advice.

Charles: Yeah. And this is interesting because as we’ve looked at this and I’ve, and I’ve done this with a few organizations and looked at the breakouts, people aren’t necessarily too surprised when they see the list, you know, cause we’re able to kind of  depending upon the number of mentions an individual gets as an Expert or Change Agent or so on, you can see kind of the hubs or how it kind of plays out in the organization. And we always say, be sensitive to the workload, the amount of projects these people are on because they can burn out pretty easily if you’re not careful in managing their environment. But when you’re thinking as a manager, look at these categories. Think of yourself as a manager, are you an expert that people go to? Do your people rely on you for help? Are you helping to drive change in the organization? And then are you really trying to be a mentor to them as well? In terms of career development, those are all kinds of ways you influence effectively in an organization.

Jefferson: One of the things to also think about is as you say, these individuals who are identified as key influencers in your organization experience burnout. Those feelings, that emotion, it’s contagious. Like we talked about earlier with managers being engaged and finding their direct reports being engaged. So it’s really crucial that if you are an influencer or that you’ve identified influencers in your organization to really take care of them And I think that management is often the place where we’re talking about overburdened overload, how do we manage all these different tasks and responsibilities? And then what’s coming to me and I want, I want, I want, I want and trying to make sure that your influence is always purposeful and positive towards what end goal you’re looking for.

Charles: I think it applies to the manager’s team as well, because you probably have experts or change agents or people on your team, and you might tend to give them more work and projects because you know, they can get it done and they have the expertise, but then again, they get overburdened, and workload increases burnout. So, you have to spread the load. You have to be sensitive to those people.

Jefferson: Yeah, definitely.

Best Practices for Influencers

Charles: All right. So, let’s change gears a bit. We wanted to set this up and define and talk about the different aspects. Now we want to get into what can you do as a manager to be better at being an influencer and exercise some good behaviors in this area. So, what kind of research do you have for us here?

Build Rapport within Relationships

Jefferson: Looking at an HBR article by Dr. Laker and Patel, who are professors from the Henley school of business, that’s in the United Kingdom, they have an August 2020 HBR article, where they talk about different types of influence and at the end, they give a really good summation of things that you can do as a manager. One of them is to build rapport with the people you want to influence. If we go back to those four items, right, that we use to measure influence in our 360 assessments, two of them are directly related to what type of relationship do you have? And you really want to make sure that that relationship before you start to influence, or before you start to try to sway someone to the left or to the right, you need to build that solid foundation of the relationship on trust. Spend lots of time asking them questions, really get to know them, make sure that they feel heard and listened to. You want to make sure that you strengthen those interpersonal connections. One question they suggest asking that can be really powerful, especially when you’re new to management, is what have your past managers done that you’d like me to do or not to do? Even just going through and finding out those individual preferences is going to automatically help someone else be like, “Oh, this person cares about me. They want me to succeed. They’re looking for ways to make my work experience better,” And that’s going to help you when you go and try to influence, whether it’s their day-to-day decision or to bring about a change.

Charles: Yeah. And this is important, talking to your manager. So, managing up, how do I have that indirect influence? But I think it also applies across departments like your peers that you work with. You know, a lot of times we don’t pay too much attention. We have trouble with collaboration between teams. So the more you can do to also say, “Hey, what can I do?”, you know, “What do you see me as doing in my role that can better assist you helps to build that trust and then allow you to then have greater influence in decisions?” and things like that.

Become an Active Listener

Jefferson: Yeah, I completely agree. And that goes really well into the next step that they bring or next suggestion, which is to become an active listener rather than a transmitter. I think it is often so easy, especially when we’re in leadership or a new collaboration effort to walk in and to go, “Okay, I’m going to listen at the beginning and then, okay, I’ve listened now. It’s time for that. Then dah, dah, dah, dah, we’re going to take care of all these things.” But what you really want to do is maybe put aside that bias and continually try to practice some active listening based off of consistent communication so that you can really understand on an ongoing basis, how are they doing? What’s going on? What’s the water temperature of the team or the department that we’re working with? And one of the crucial aspects of that active listening is you absolutely have to act on what you hear. Not just, “I, listen, I hear you. Okay. Thank you.” And then you go shut the door and you’re think, I’m going to do whatever I want.

Charles: Right? Right. Thanks but no thanks..

Demonstrate Commitment to Your Team

Jefferson:  Exactly. You need to take that advice, that input that they give and act on it and be clear on making sure that they understand: I heard you, I went and thought about it and these two or three steps are what I’m doing because of that conversation. The last one that we’re going to talk about is that they suggest to commit to your team. This is one that we find often in our employee experience data, right? Individuals want to make sure that they’re in organizations and they’re on teams where they know the team and the organization is on a pathway to success. If you, as an influencer, do not believe you’re on a pathway to success, then either you need to use that influence to get everyone on that pathway to success or perhaps abandon ship. But if you really want to be influential, you need to show that commitment to the team. You need to show that, “Hey, we’re going to get through this together. I’m here. I’m committed. I’m in here for the long run, not just passing ship in the night.” And one of the ways that you can really help is to share your vision of success. You know, here’s what we’re doing as a team. Here’s what we’re doing as a department. Here is our vision for success, but also here’s your specific role, right? And here’s what important part you can play in the success, and really use that opportunity to influence them, to see the big picture, see their role in it. And then let them go and fulfill that role in the way that they see best.

Charles: This is a tough one too, because sometimes managers are split. Like there’s a decision that’s made, they have to go with it. They might not agree with it. And then they have to deliver the bad news to their team and support management, right? So, they can’t just undermine and throw them under the bus and say, “Well, this is what the boss said, we have to do it.” And so, in a way, you’re trying to play both sides and you’re trying to do it sincerely. You have to deal with some integrity. Without just saying, “Hey, you know I believe in this”, or whatever. So, I think it’s important to be honest, but also show that, “Hey, this is the direction we have to go. Here’s how I think we can navigate it the best. Here’s how I’m trying to support you as a team. And here’s the pushback I’m giving to management as well.”

Jefferson: That’s an interesting situation that you bring up because it happens often and in the academic literature, we call that a necessary evil, something that a manager has to do, that’s going to benefit the company overall. Have to do layoffs, have to do a promotion, have to fire someone. But you’re causing harm to another individual. So, the great question for managers then is, “Well yeah. I want to use my influence, but hey, this is an emotionally really difficult message for me to deliver”. One recommendation that’s come out of the academic literature to deal with those necessary evils – when management hands you down, you have to enact this, there’s no other way to do it – is to, prior to going and talking to the individual to whom you have to deliver the news to, is to take a moment to be by yourself, calm down your own emotions, and think about it from a large perspective. What our research at DecisionWise has shown is if you can tie whatever that hard decision is back to the mission and goal of the organization, not in a “Hey we’re promoting so-and-so and not you because our vision is that they’re way more awesome”. Right? You don’t want to put it like that, but you do want to say, “What we’re looking for here at company XYZ are leaders and managers who are going to be able to fulfill these following competencies….”, dah, dah, dah, dah, and then tell them those competencies. And “we decided to go with someone else”, and then give them a roadmap of things that they can do, once again, going back to that commitment to your team here, things you can do to get over this slightly discomfortable, unfortunate situation. And then you’re using your influence in the moment. That’s really, I would say really impactful because those types of moments hopefully don’t happen every single day. You don’t want to be passing down those necessary evils all the time, but if you use your influence in key moments, the stickiness of it, it’s going to last for a long time.

Charles: Yeah. It builds trust. It ends up being a positive.

Jefferson: Exactly.

Charles: Yeah. So, it’s interesting. So, in all three of these, as we kind of summarize and say, well, what am I supposed to do? Well, it’s about relationships and building rapport, about being a more active listener, and then showing more commitment to your team. It differs in terms of how you influence up, down, or across the organization as a manager, so you need to apply these principles in different ways.

Jefferson: Yeah, definitely. Situation matters and context is everything when it comes to influencing.

Charles: Excellent. Well, Jefferson, this has been great. Anything else you want to add as we close?

Jefferson: You know, the only thing that I would add is that one of the key things I think, that you really want to be conscious of with influence is make sure that everything you do is purposeful. Once again, going back to that idea of if I’ve got this negative attitude or feeling, that’s just as contagious as the positive attitudes and feelings, so make sure you’re influencing purposefully on what you want to.

Charles:  Right. Where’s my mindset right now, before I try to act.

Jefferson: Exactly.

Charles: Good point. Great. Well, Jefferson, thank you very much. Everyone else, thank you for joining us. And we look forward to having you join us on a future podcast. Thanks everyone.

How 360 Degree Feedback Helps Organizations

development-centered leader

For many, a 360-degree feedback assessment is a go-to tool to help individual leaders in their personal development. Indeed, millions and millions of leaders have benefited from understanding how their colleagues perceive and experience them in the workplace. Some, however, do not realize that 360-degree feedback helps organizations as an excellent data source to help leaders better understand their workforce.

To be clear, we are talking about using aggregate results only—not individual scores. Examining scores at the individual level would break confidentiality. Examining aggregated data, however, does not break confidentiality and can help us see trends as they occur across different divisions or groups.

This article will explore how talent professionals and other leaders can use existing 360-degree feedback programs to gain insights into key organizational areas, such as their company’s culture, training opportunities, and succession planning needs.

Engaged employees

How 360 Feedback Helps Company Culture

Because organizational culture is influenced most by its leadership, aggregate 360-degree results provide unique insight into how leaders think and what matters most to them. For example, in one company we found that overall scores were high in the areas of results orientation and performance management. This translated into a culture where micromanagement was high, and innovation and creativity were low (also shown in the 360 results).

In this instance, 360-degree aggregate data was available to senior leaders to assist them in shaping company culture by helping them think through the leadership competencies that were vital to their success and those which were distracting. Senior leaders were then able to focus on establishing and measuring those competencies that mattered the most to them. As Peter Drucker would say, “What’s measured improves.” 

How 360 Feedback Defines Training Needs

The second area where aggregate 360 data can help an organization is by assisting leaders in defining training calendars and programs. When analyzing aggregate 360 results we might see, for example, that managers generally scored poorly on “Delegates both routine and critical tasks or responsibilities.”  This trend, however, may not necessarily mean that leaders need further training in delegation techniques. Instead, by looking at other competencies and behaviors in the combined reports, we learn that what we are seeing is really an indicator that managers need to learn how to better coach their direct reports and that there is a general lack of trust throughout the organization.

When analyzing multiple 360 feedback reports, rather than simply viewing individual questions, we can see a story emerge from the data. These insights can then be used to create training plans that address the latent problems that exist within most organizations.

woman reviewing her 360 results

How 360 Feedback Improves Succession Planning

Our third area centers around how 360 feedback helps organizations improve their succession planning. With succession planning, we may want to see individual scores—but be careful. Individual 360-feedback results should only be used for succession planning if participants understand up-front that their scores may be used for this purpose. Even then, individual results should only be used to confirm what the aggregate data is telling us.

With 360 feedback group data you will be able to see the characteristics of your high performers. For example, do they primarily excel at managing change? If this is the case, then identifying those that handle change well (early in their careers) may be a good way to start winnowing a field of high performers.    

On the other hand, if your established high performers generally score low on decision making, then you may need to think about how decisions are made within your hierarchy. Are leaders actually empowered to make decisions, and what other steps might be taken to shore up this weak point?


Many companies conduct 360 assessments but do not fully utilize the potential of their aggregate 360 data. We have found that some of the most powerful insights come from understanding your leadership profiles and leadership competencies, which can best be derived from group 360 data.  Also, knowing what your best leaders are doing and how that is different from your average groups can be vital.

In summary, aggregate 360 data is a rich source of organizational analytics and should be regularly analyzed to provide leaders with the data points they need to improve their culture, training, and succession planning activities.

Contributors: Charles Rogel and Matthew Wride

6 Steps to Make Professional Growth a Powerful Tool for Employees

At the center of our efforts to build employee engagement and retain employees is the question of professional growth. Unfortunately, many organizations struggle with this part of the employee experience. Why is that?

Most organizations certainly value and benefit from their employees’ growth and professional development. Of course, employees also value and benefit from various growth experiences. Given that this is such a mutually beneficial activity, you might think organizations would be going out of their way to provide ample opportunities for growth and development, and that employees would have their pick of attractive opportunities. And yet our efforts still often fall short.

At DecisionWise, we find professional growth to be a key driver of employee engagement. To understand why, let’s reframe this discussion by referring to two basic questions:

  1. What is Professional Growth?
  2. Who owns Professional Growth?

Answering these two questions for your organization will provide clarity on how to improve this critical part of the employee experience.

What is Professional Growth?

Most people are comfortable with “professional growth” as a general concept. Rather than define it generally, however, I suggest we reframe the question into two separate questions.

  1. What is professional growth to the organization?
  2. What is professional growth to the employee?

Splitting the question is necessary because how an organization defines professional growth may be completely different than how an employee defines it. I learned this important lesson from my own career. 

Early on as a manager, I paid close attention to the growth and development of my team. I tried to challenge them, and I monitored their progress. My goal was to help them to grow, so they could meet the challenges of their demanding jobs. Then, one day, my perspective on professional growth changed during a one-on-one I had with an employee. She told me that since she had been in her position, she felt challenged every day. She felt that she was experiencing a tremendous amount of growth, but she added, “I am growing in ways I don’t want to grow.” In other words, the growth that I needed from her to make my team and the organization better did not align with the direction she wanted to grow. She left the organization for a different opportunity a couple of months later. 

Clearly not all professional growth carries equal value in employees’ minds. Organizations need employees to grow to better fulfill their current roles and responsibilities and to prepare them for future roles and responsibilities. Whether an employee finds this type of growth attractive is predicated on whether they find the growth to be an opportunity or an obligation. Thus, whether growth results in engagement depends upon how an employee perceives the growth challenge.

Look Through the Employee Lens

Accordingly, the first step is to look at each individual growth experience through the lens of the employee who is experiencing it. Will the employee look at the experience as attractive or unattractive? Will the experience help them improve in their current role or prepare them for some future role? If they can see no application for the challenge and painful stretching now or in the future, it will be viewed in a negative light.  

Paint a Compelling and Connected Picture

Many professional growth plans fall short because they do not paint a compelling picture for the employee’s future. Often, development plans are a series of disjointed and unrelated goals for improvement. They do not connect to organizational initiatives and they do not build toward a realistic future vision of what the employee wants to become. When employees have a vision of what they can grow into, it becomes easier for them to mentally endure the day-to-day grind. It becomes easier for them to see how the challenge and stretching they are presently experiencing will make them better now and in the future. The challenges they are going through on a day-to-day basis may very clearly be making them better now and preparing them in the future, but if they do not make that connection, the challenges will just feel like stress. 

Defining professional growth is difficult, because the definition will be different for every employee in the organization. This means that individual employees play a critical role in determining how happy they are with their own growth, which leads us to the next basic question.

Be Clear on Who owns Professional Growth

Part of understanding professional growth is to define who is responsible for it. Is it owned by the organization? Is it owned by each individual employee? Is it owned by managers? If I asked most executive teams who owns professional growth, they would tell me that employees are responsible for their own growth. If I asked employees in most organizations, they would tell me that their professional growth is owned by the organization. Neither party takes ownership of professional growth, and many employees end up leaving the organization to find it. Obviously, the organization cannot completely own the professional growth of its employees, and employees are powerless to own their own growth without resources and opportunity. Managers are also reliant upon resources to be available and upon employees to take initiative.

The employee, the manager, and the organization all have roles to play in bolstering professional growth. Defining the role of each party can clarify where disconnects might be happening. For example, employees might be responsible for understanding and clarifying their long-term direction. They may also work to identify opportunities to pursue, goals to achieve, and the mentors to help them move toward their long-term direction. The role of the manager might be to facilitate regular discussions with employees about their long-term goals and how they are making progress toward them through daily challenges and stretch opportunities. The role of the organization might be to supply the resources and opportunities for managers and employees to leverage in building professional development plans.

Conclusion and Recommendations

By defining professional growth from the employee’s and organization’s perspective and by defining who owns professional growth in your organization, you can begin to develop a plan for how to improve it.

Consider taking the following six actions to help improve perceptions around growth in your organization:

  1. Clearly define the roles of the organization, the employee, and the manager in the professional growth of employees.
  2. Provide organizational resources to allow for people to own their individual growth (i.e., training budgets, mentors, professional development plans).
  3. Ensure managers have a clear understanding of the short and long-term career and growth objectives of their direct reports.
  4. Build professional development plans with the long-term vision of the employee in mind.
  5. Help employees see how the challenges and stretching they are experiencing now will help them in their future careers.
  6. Empower employees to seek tasks and assignments that fit their long-term growth objectives.

In most organizations, employee growth happens organically. Naturally, some employees are happy with the growth they are experiencing. Many others will struggle to find meaningful growth. Being intentional about understanding what professional growth means in your organization and who owns it can be the beginning of building a culture of growth that will benefit many more employees. When employees feel good about the opportunities in front of them, they are more likely to stay and engage in their organizations.

Want to Strengthen eNPS? Give Employees a Voice and a Future

In the American West, cattle ranches have long been identified by their livestock brands, the symbols seared into the hides of their animals. Ranch brands were primarily created to help identify lost or stolen animals, but over time they took on a larger meaning for the cowboys employed by the ranch. The phrase “ride for the brand” became a call for all employed by the ranch to work for something larger than themselves, to positively represent their employer in all that they do.

Feeling a deeper sense of connection and purpose with your work is not only important in ranching. It is critical to any organization seeking to foster employee engagement. The Employee Net Promoter score, or eNPS, is one technique organizations use to understand monitor, and improve this sense of purpose. This simple metric is based on a single survey item, “I would recommend this organization as a great place to work.” To calculate eNPS, a score between -100 and 100 is derived which can indicate to leaders how favorably employees feel about their overall employee experience, based on employee responses. In other words, do they ride for the brand?

The eNPS is a helpful lag indicator of the high-level health of the employee experience. But how does an organization strengthen their eNPS? Based on our (DecisionWise) experience surveying and consulting thousands of organizations, two consistent strategies emerge: give employees a voice and give employees a future.

leader increases eNPS by showing his team he cares

Give Employees a Voice

At DecisionWise we define Employee Voice as the extent to which employees believe their thoughts and opinions are heard and reasonably considered in organizational decisions. Voice is a key component, along with growth, belonging, and organizational commitment, of the DecisionWise framework for measuring Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). Employee voice is a core component of an employee’s overall experience. How does voice impact eNPS results?

When we run statistics on our pool of employee survey results, a database of over fifty million responses, we see which items are most positively correlated to healthy eNPS results. One of the strongest correlations is the item, “This organization cares about employees.” Employees reciprocate the level of care shown for them by the organization. Further correlations tell us that employees feel cared for when they feel they are heard. Some of the employee voice items we include in organization surveys include:

  • This organization values employee input, feedback, and suggestions.
  • I feel that I can speak up without fear of retribution or negative consequences.
  • Senior Leaders know what is going on in the organization.
  • My opinions are sought on issues that affect me and my job.

Employees are constantly looking for evidence that they are heard and valued by their employer. Small moments matter.  A one-on-one with a manager where an employee can share concerns, questions, and ideas, or a communication from a senior leader that reflects an understanding of the realities of their role can have a tremendous impact on an employee’s experience. These moments influence perceptions around employee voice and organizational care and ultimately the eNPS results.

woman feels she has a future with her company

Give Employees a Future

One of the best things leaders of an organization can do to spark engagement is to build a strong sense of optimism about the future of the enterprise. Another primary correlate of a strong eNPS is the survey item, “I am confident that this organization has a successful future.” This survey item also frequently shows up as a statistical driver of employee engagement. When employees feel like they are part of a winning team or organization, they naturally want to align themselves with that success. Interestingly, when this happens, engagement goes up and the company’s success is magnified. It becomes a virtuous cycle of engagement building success, and success building engagement.

There is another component necessary to paint a compelling future for employees – the role of the employee in that future. It is not enough for the entity to win. Employees must win with the organization. A compelling future must also hold a role for the employee. A leader or manager must be able to communicate, “We’re doing big things as a company, and you have an important role to play in these efforts and future success.” Growth and development conversations must be tied to the future success of the organization. When this happens, an employee’s sense of meaning, impact, and connection increases and they become more likely to engage. This has a tremendous impact on your eNPS.

The Employee Net Promoter Score is an important measure to track. It is tied to the experience of real human beings. Giving employees a voice and a share in a bright future improves their experience and will, in turn, inspire them to do more to build and promote the organization’s objectives. In other words, they will ride for the brand.

How to Become a Development-Centered Leader

A development-centered leader works with her team

My 2-year-old son is the ultimate leadership teacher.  

On any given day, I have tasks I need him to perform. I have tried many different strategies to get him to do the things I ask him to do—some more effective than others. The least effective sequence of events:  

  • Ask him to complete a task. 
  • Get reluctance and excuses (his current line “Not today, Dada.”). 
  • Tell him what to do. 
  • Motivate him with bribery and incentives. 
  • When this does not work, use my authority and position to get him to comply. 

Do we see elements of this behavior in the workplace?

A team works more cohesively with a development-focused leader

My parenting strategy is an example of what some leaders do to motivate team members to accomplish role objectives. My 2-year-old wants what everyone wants: A leader that empowers decision-making in others that leads them towards personal growth. Our data shows that team members are eager to find leaders willing to help them develop personally and professionally.

Development is motivating because we all want to progress and gain a sense of mastery in both our work and life. Workplaces need leaders that can balance the development and growth of others while still achieving business demands.  

So, how do you continue to become this kind of leader? 

Leaders often fall prey to the siren call of results, and their focus on developing others gets pushed to the back burner. Again, most leaders have good intentions of leading from a development-focused approach, but business demands are always the priority.  

Here are two principles to help you lead with a development-centered approach.  

#1: Avoid Telling Others What to Do

Most leaders go through a phase where they rely heavily on a command-and-control style of leadership, where the focus is on this core idea, “do what I say.” Orders and directives are issued down the hierarchy chain. This style of leadership often produces immediate results.  

Tasks are completed, but what is the cost? Morale can suffer with a heavy dose of top-down instruction. Input, innovation, and discretionary effort wane. Power struggles can ensue, and individuals may carry out instructions but only because they are compelled to do so.  

There is a time and place to give instructions and directives, but it should not be your default leadership orientation. One appropriate example of when to offer more guidance and instruction is to newer employees that are not up-to-speed in the role. 

Employees engage more with their development centered leader

A primary objective of a development-centered leader is to create employee experiences where people feel empowered to make decisions and advance in their careers. If leaders give orders and micromanage procedures, it removes the individual’s ability to make decisions, problem-solve, and ultimately, progress. Humility and patience are qualities needed in a development centered leaders’ approach to allow direct reports to learn and grow. Individuals will make mistakes; tasks may not be accomplished in the way you would have instructed, but individuals will learn and become better. They will feel a greater sense of ownership in the process and the result will be increased engagement and discretionary effort. 

#2: Co-Create Instead of Dictate

Ask yourself how often you do the following? 

  1. Lead with questions to clarify, explore, and guide other’s thinking. 
  2. Give suggestions rather than commands to allow individuals to make decisions. 
  3. Establish clear guidelines and outcomes less focused on excessive rules and processes. 
  4. Give warnings about potential pitfalls. 
  5. Hold individuals accountable for both correct and poor decisions. 
  6. Support, recognize, and reward strong performance. 
  7. Double down on compassion throughout the whole process. 

Leaders that follow these principles will benefit in both business results and team member development to confront the next wave of workplace challenges.  

The development-centered leader approach focuses on the long-term success of individuals and companies that will produce sustainable teams, leaders, and organizations. The ROI will be worth the additional time and focus it requires.  

As I continue to work at this approach, I still get “Not today, Dada.” from time-to-time but, I am finding a shared engagement, commitment, and decision-making orientation unfolding in my 2-year-old son’s behavior. Individuals on your team will value your dedication to their success. You will find a greater commitment and self-directed nature in your team.

Leading Remotely – 6 Ways to Increase Connection and Engagement

Leading Remotely

Will half of people be working remotely by 2020?” That was the title of a prescient article written in 2014. Another report stated that between 2005 and 2018 remote work increased 173%. Still, no one could have predicted what the business world is experiencing right now.

When it comes to the current work from home (WFH) reality, many are enjoying the change. However, working remotely, especially when sudden and required, comes with challenges. For example, one report noted that face-to-face requests are 34 times more successful than email. And while many employees are saving on commute time, they are missing in-person interactions and the sense of belonging that comes from social connection.

While we long for normalcy after this earth-shaking event, the trend toward working remotely is likely to continue to some degree or another. A 2019 survey revealed that about 75% of workers consider flexible working to be “the new normal.” That was in 2019! Now, more than ever, leaders need evolving strategies for leading remotely.

Our DecisionWise research of more than 40 million employee survey responses has shown that “connection,” which we define as “a sense of belonging to something beyond yourself,” is one of the five keys of employee engagement. In fact, it is the key found to have the greatest impact on the overall employee experience(as well as engagement outside of work—in community, family, social groups, etc.).

So, that raises the question: assuming we will see a greater push towards a WFH population, how do we continue to ensure connection? Based on our research into engagement, we have found that a few baseline items must be met.

Ensure Baseline Communication

Leading remotely for high performance certainly includes enabling healthy communication. Communication goes beyond simply issuing an email memo from the top of the organization. Communication also serves a social purpose, especially when leading remotely. In other words, communication propels connection and collaboration but also is needed for basic efficiency. When face-to-face interaction is limited, communication can suffer. Below are three suggestions to help keep information flowing for remote teams:

1. Encourage Proactive Upstream Communication

Reduced communication, especially in terms of frequency, means that understanding who is contributing to which initiative can be challenging. What’s more, leaders who want to understand how employees are doing now lack the time to reach across the wider “digital hallway.” Similarly, employees may feel that their individual efforts go unnoticed. They may also wish to share findings from the front line but lack the structure to do so.

Encourage your team to proactively communicate with you and their team. In addition to social updates (well-being check-ins), help them report relevant and timely operational information on progress, roadblocks, and weekly lessons learned. There are technology tools that can help. For example, DecisionWise created the Manager Weekly Check-in Tool. It’s a free tool based on the 5-15 framework developed by Patagonia’s founder Yvon Chouinard. Technology can be a valuable tool in upstream communication, but whether the solution involves technology is less important than the idea that information (and, therefore, trust) is a two-way flow.

2. Cultivate Organic Information Sharing

Basic communication often flows organically—up, down, and across the organization. Colleagues encounter each other in the hall or stop after a meeting to collaborate on projects. These interactions are generally unplanned and unintentional, although extremely valuable on many fronts. Many of those informal interactions are now suddenly non-existent in a remote setup. Without these natural interactions, employees may hold onto questions and concerns or delay sharing ideas until the next structured encounter—or not bring them up at all.

In order to mitigate this loss of organic information sharing from direct reports, managers must make these previously unintentional interactions intentional. For example, we know of some leaders who hold “virtual open-door hours,” which involve optional call-in times, held on a regular basis. These managers leave a conference or video line open so that team members can easily hop on and share their feelings.

There is also something to be said for peer-to-peer touchpoints –– one author called it “serendipitous collaboration.” Recently, a colleague scheduled a short remote call with me to catch up on projects and maintain social connection. We shared ideas, benefited from connecting, and then went back to the day’s tasks. There are simple ways to reach out to colleagues in a spirit of “What are you working on? How can I help?” We often discover the solutions to our own issues just by talking them through with another person. This is not to say that we should drastically increase the count of weekly meetings. It is simply that a little effort to touch base can go a long way.

3. Lower the Social Cost of Speaking Up

“Does everyone agree?” We often hear this phrase just before the close of a meeting. This approach for building consensus and getting the best ideas may work when everyone is physically present and contextual clues and body language are easy to identify. When leading remote teams, however, louder voices will likely dominate those who exhibit a stronger preference for introversion. Additionally, managers can lose track of who hasn’t contributed to a conversation because team members aren’t within their customary line of sight. Without a prompt, some employees simply won’t risk “taking over the screen” and speaking up.

The concept of psychological safety play into all of this. Our current DecisionWise benchmark database suggests that one-third (34%) of employees indicate that they are “hesitant to speak up for fear of negative consequences.” That, in itself, is a problem. Compound this concept with the idea that online meetings tend to reduce interaction, and you can see the problem. Managers must be intentional in lowering the social cost of speaking up and be mindful that remote communication may naturally stack the deck against openly contributing to meetings.

To lower the social cost of speaking up over digital media, managers might encourage individuals to post comments in simultaneous text chats. Online voting and polling tools offer anonymous solutions for those who prefer a low-key approach. Keep in mind that more time for silence may be needed after asking a question to a remote audience than would otherwise be the case.

Encourage Energizing Connection

Leading remotely doesn’t just mean efficient information sharing. With basic communication in place, leaders can interact with teams in a way that drives a sense of belonging to something beyond one’s self. That sense of connection leads to greater engagement in the workplace. In fact, a Decisionwise analysis revealed the positive correlation between connection, as defined above, and employee engagement to be .83 (which, in layman’s terms, means that there is a strong relationship between feeling I belong to the organization and my overall engagement). This also means that employees who experience a sense of connection are far more likely to be productive, innovative, and remain with the organization. Here are three aspects of belonging and engagement to consider for leading remotely.

1. Maintain Regular Recognition

Without regular face-to-face interactions, and while in the throes of the current pandemic, employee recognition is more likely to slip. For remote teams, and especially those operating at high speeds, the communication that does take place is often limited to issues surrounding the work itself. Just as organic communication decreases in remote environments, so does the habit of recognizing the work and efforts of others.

Letting recognition slip can slow things down. One classic study showed a strong link between recognition and motivation, claiming it to be the second-highest intrinsic motivator for employees. Recognition is important from supervisor to direct report but may be of more value when coming from peers. Recognition is also closely tied to those core feelings of belonging and engagement mentioned above. Consider how a phone call only to offer recognition might help an employee feel engaged.

2. Manage Workload and Engagement

“Meaning” and “Impact” are two additional keys to engagement, as found by our engagement research and recent book, Engagement MAGIC (spoiler alert: these keys spell “MAGIC”– Meaning, Autonomy, Growth, Impact, and Connection). Engagement will drop when teams don’t feel their work has purpose or impact, or when there simply isn’t much to do. On the other hand, many employees report feeling over-stressed and near burnout.

Recently, a colleague shared the story of a client who, in an overwhelmed state, abruptly phoned his supervisor to say, “I quit!” Although the client ultimately chose to remain, the pressure had built up and exposed the underlying issue: severe stress, to the point of burnout. Such are the current circumstances of many who are silently suffering. Current pandemic concerns are hitting employees in their personal, non-work roles as well. In addition to wearing us out, such stress can lead to reduced effectiveness in our decision-making functions (when we need them most)! Being afraid of stress is not the answer, but managing severe stress is vital.

So, we have a bit of a conundrum to be aware of; too little meaningful work means disengagement, but too much can mean burnout. Being aware of that line between challenge (the “G” or “Growth” key in MAGIC) and stress is a critical skill for today’s leader, particularly with the inability to physically interact with employees multiple times a day.

Here’s Where to Start

While there are things we can do ourselves, in order to positively affect this aspect of engagement, supervisors play a decisive role. The right help begins with awareness of each team member’s current state. Compassionate awareness will lead to empowerment, delegation, reshuffling of tasks–whatever helps achieve rebalancing. Sometimes simply listening is the answer. When burdens cannot be lightened and tasks simply must be done reminders of the meaning of our work can help us find the wherewithal to press on.

But managers do face barriers to even being aware. Consider (1) the common fallacy that a supervisor’s most important contribution is his or her individual contribution (rather than working through the team); and (2) the remote status of teams, which can breed fewer one-on-one meetings and far less attention paid to overall engagement and workload. These and other forces can draw managers away from the people and mentoring dimension of their roles. Nevertheless, deliberate work to compassionately be aware of the workload and emotional states of employees will lead to a state of engagement and flow, not to mention longevity.

3. Trust Versus Command and Control

Finally, amidst the chaos of the present COVID-19 pandemic (and even before), some are asking whether old-school directive leadership models are more relevant than ever. We have heard this question arise in circumstances of confusion as teams adjust to new environments. Many current employees face completely novel issues; many are yearning for direction.

Leaders should consider providing more explicit instruction while facilitating quick decision-making to move things forward. Nevertheless, a command-like approach has potential long-term consequences. After all, who likes to be controlled? If employees perceive managers as mistrusting, they will likely not feel that they belong and consequently not fully engage in their work. On the other hand, our research tells us that trust and autonomy (the “A” in MAGIC) energize employees to use more of their discretionary thinking to accomplish their work.

Keep in mind, however, that autonomy fails without clear boundaries and expectations (on both sides). We refer to this as Expectation Alignment. Autonomy is not anarchy. Trust is not simply laissez-faire. Both trust and autonomy come via clear expectations. The goal is to grant autonomy while requiring accountability. To strike this balance we have seen instances when the aforementioned Manager Weekly Check-in Tool has helped. Another group we know of relies on daily check-in and coordination calls with the whole team (for which the team has been grateful). Whatever the approach, make it routine and direct (vs. subtly checking on employees to see what they’re up to). An indirect approach can communicate I don’t trust you—we have seen this approach lately too.

With more frequent check-ins, supervisors may feel they are bordering on micromanagement, but if done with transparency and in order to empower your team with direction, increased structure need not be mistrust or micromanagement.

Empower Success

Besides getting results, leading remotely calls for fresh thinking around how to get those results. Such thinking will include how to mitigate new barriers to communication. Remember that communication is also for spurring engagement and that managers will greatly benefit their teams as they cultivate belonging and connection. We have found repeatedly in our research that connection unlocks engagement, and thus increased innovation, organizational citizenship, and productivity. We are confident that success in our current circumstances will be achieved by the everyday work of individuals, working remotely, but empowered by their managers to solve our current challenges.

Video: Why Listening to Your Employees is Now More Important Than Ever

In this video message, DecisionWise President, Matthew Wride, talks about the importance of employee feedback during a crisis and the DecisionWise pledge to help your business listen, understand, and act, even during tough times.

Hello, my name is Matt Wride, and I am the President of DecisionWise. Before I get to my main message, I want to touch briefly on the COVID-19 pandemic. If feels like we are making some progress. This is encouraging, and I hope you are well and safe.

Despite the stress and heavy disruptions to our way of life, I am struck by the good I witness each day. For example, just a few days ago I waved to a man standing in overalls to walk through the drive-through lane ahead of me. As I waited, I wondered why he was walking through the drive-through lane, but I figured that in a COVID-19 world, he probably had a good reason. So, I nodded and smiled. When it was my turn at the window, the worker told me that the man in overalls had already paid for my lunch. I smiled as I watched this Driver saunter over to a big, loaded Kenworth. Now, I understood why he couldn’t get his vehicle to fit through the drive-through lane. So, here I was – I didn’t need his help, but he gave it anyway.  So, to this unknown Driver, I flash my four ways.

This simple story illustrates why we will rise from COVID-19 better and stronger, because the vast number of employees are good people, and they are doing their best in challenging times and circumstances. It’s easy to forget them amidst the stress, the draining cash balances, and slumping sales reports. We can’t. We mustn’t. We must acknowledge them, and the best way to do this is to listen to their feelings.

At DecisionWise we survey employees. You might raise an eyebrow and say, “Of course they are going to tell me to survey my employees.” You’re right. We are. We know that budgets are tight, and we know that employee surveys seem unnecessary when we are focused on keeping jobs. We get it. We promise to work with you to identify the essential services you need to stay on budget and continue working towards achieving your organizational goals.

Humans aren’t resources. They aren’t widgets to be tracked on a spreadsheet. They are people who represent an organization’s pathway to success. Now, more than ever, we need to engage with our workers, so they will engage in their jobs. We are trying to keep their hearts, hands, minds, and spirit with us. We need them so that we can meet the challenges that lay ahead.

At DecisionWise, we have adopted the phrase “The Obstacle is the Way,” as our COVID-19 metaphor.  We know that if our clients are to overcome their obstacles, it will be through the hard work and engaged efforts of their employees – those good people, just like the Driver that paid for my lunch!

Please reach out to us.  We have experienced consultants ready to assist, and we will do what we can to craft a employee listening program within the budget you give us.

Thank you for all you are doing and a big 10-4.


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