Three Organizational Strategies that Improve Employee Performance and Strengthen your Team

Culture has become cliché Part 2 of 3:

Last week I said that people need more than basic survival in the company culture; they must be given the opportunity to thrive. They must thrive not only as employees inside the office but also as people who contribute to the community outside the office.

You may already know that the two most costly components of any business are employee turnover and customer attrition. Both result from a poorly designed or implemented work culture. We can prevent these losses by investing in long-lasting, valuable relationships that build strong organizations and have positive impacts throughout communities.

In this article, I’m going to share three organizational strategies that will improve employee performance and strengthen your team. These strategies will help you get started on redesigning your current culture or starting a new one. 

As leaders, we get to design a work culture that supports employees, not because we have to but because that’s what leaders do: they serve those around them. We cannot sacrifice employee relationships and hope to build valuable companies.

I’m sure that you could name a few companies that have sacrificed employee relationships in the name of increasing transactions and the bottom line. Some have probably made the headlines, or maybe this hits a little closer to home and you’ve been in a company where you felt like a number or felt you were just occupying a seat.

I believe that if we focus on our internal customers and give them a culture that supports them as people and not just employees we’d build more valuable companies and stronger communities. But, how do you do that?

One of the fast and easy ways to get everyone on the same page is team building that sets the tone for a cultural change. I’m not talking about going to a movie, scavenger hunt, escape room or any number of outdoor activities. Those methods can work, but you must build your team every day right inside your office. 

One Way to Start: Read a Good Book Together

I’ve found that reading a book as a team is a great way to get us on the same page. It’s a great way to bring the team together.

We’re reading “Excellence Wins” by Horst Schulze, the co-founder of the Ritz Carlton. This particular book is great because it’s easy to read and discusses proven strategies. The results are amazing! 

This fantastic book describes how Schulze created a culture based on the concept of ”We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentleman” and it’s a fascinating must-read for any business leader looking to build a new office culture or revise a poorly designed one.

Here’s the key: you must read the book first. It’s important to read it through the lens of your organization or department. Make sure the book aligns with your company culture and explores concepts you want your staff to learn and practice. Take notes on the overall impacts for your business and pay particular attention to themes and passages that may support individual team members.

Reading a book with your team might sound overly simple and maybe a little weird because it isn’t talked about in common circles but it’s a simple way to get started. If you want to implement a new culture you have to start somewhere, and a book by a respected, successful business person especially a book about how the Ritz Carlton became the hotel icon it is today was an intentional choice on my part.

Learn, Practice and Teach Emotional Intelligence

What is emotional intelligence and why does it matter for your business? 

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is “ the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.” Supporting your employees’ development of these skills is the surest way to strengthen communication among your staff and ensures a high level of meaningful interaction with customers.

The first and possibly the hardest practice in improving emotional intelligence is called the “Power of the Pause.” It will serve you well and be worth your effort to learn, practice and teach this valuable tool. 

“The pause” is the interval between a stimulus and your reaction. More simply put, it’s the time that elapses from the moment someone says or does something to when you respond. It’s the space between communication from one human to another.

Typically, many of us are on reaction autopilot. Think about the news, social media and even political debates; all elicit reaction on top of reaction. The EQ approach, though, encourages us to be intentional about our response in every situation rather than mindlessly following our “gut reaction.” 

Let’s say your coworker makes a comment that hits you the wrong way. Rather than reacting from your gut, the power of the pause is the time when you choose, intentionally, to respond rather than react. This simple change in behavior can lead to a lot more harmony in your workplace and in your personal life

Think about how frustrated you become before you finally pick up your phone and call a tech help desk for support. At smadatek, that’s our business– tech support. And let’s be honest: sometimes those frustrations get projected onto us. 

Our employees can get blamed for many issues they don’t actually control. As a result, sometimes there’s a point during a support call when we become triggered and our gut wants us to react. This makes us an ideal example for the benefit of POP training.

That basic skill, pausing, teaches my employees to bypass the inner turmoil that typically results after a heated conversation or interaction. Instead of reacting negatively to a customer’s anger and opening the door to toxic emotions such as resentment, I teach my staff the power of the pause. They learn to substitute thoughtful response instead of gut reaction.

When someone reacts and then you react, and then they react again with more tone and volume, the conversation has entered the nuclear reaction point and things are going to be said that really are unnecessary, typically irrelevant, toxic and etc. Does that serve anyone? 

You can’t take emotion out of the workplace, so let’s embrace it and start to understand it. We need to teach employees how anger can be understood and managed. Teach them the power of the pause and the art of responding instead of reacting.

Implementing Employee Feedback Loops

In order for culture to continue to grow and mature, you’ll need a way to constantly evaluate it: a way to take the culture’s temperature and check its pulse. Feedback loops are a tool that can be used throughout your organization and within your own personal life.

I learned this powerful technique during a personal development workshop in Chicago a few years ago from J.T. DeBolt, a combat-decorated Navy Pilot. It was profoundly powerful and I implemented it immediately in my professional and personal life. It has become my most frequently used and powerful tool in coaching my own staff and other business owners to achieve excellence. 

I use these three simple questions in every circumstance involving performance: 

  1. What is working or did work?
  2. What is not working or did not work?
  3. What is one thing you can do to improve your desired outcome?

These three questions can be used in one-on-one coaching, in a small team discussion, or with the entire organization for strategic planning. We use them in employee performance reviews because it’s a great way for the individual employee to self evaluate. We can use them on projects or even certain milestones within the project. We can use them in marketing and sales.

Question 1 is simply a way for people to start with a positive and teach people to recognize their achievements and reflect on the good work they’ve accomplished, milestones they’ve met, goals they’ve achieved and any other recognition relevant to the situation. There is no limit to finding these successes and celebrating them.

Question 2 invites an honest assessment of any breakdowns in employee performance or operating deficiencies. A key here is to first invite the employee to self-assess and demonstrate that honest discussion will not be met with a negative response. We don’t want an entire list of things that didn’t work. And, if we did, maybe we need to revisit question no 1.

Question 3 is the most challenging and arguably the most important. It requires the most discernment on my part. Identifying how to improve is the genesis for all subsequent change and growth. Discerning just one thing to change in order to achieve a different outcome requires me, as a leader, to assess the capacity for the employee to practice this different response and improve their performance. 

It’s crucial to select just one behavior for improvement. The danger here is identifying too many things at once that require attention. This loss of focus sets the employee up for failure and discourages real change. Growth requires focus.

Choosing just one thing allows us to measure success. When change does occur, or when a problem is resolved, tracing the success back to one change provides valuable information about what actually fixed it.

Relationships Require Intention

Smadatek started out the same as a hundred other technology businesses. But there are some critical components that we’ve implemented and continue to practice to gain market share by improving relationships with our employees. Focusing on employees has resulted in a strong and powerful business built intentionally though creating a culture of empowerment, choice and celebration.

What I’ve found works, with incredible results, is for me to show up daily as a creative, encouraging leader and demonstrate commitment to my employees’ success. My words and actions encourage learning, thoughtful discussion and connection.

Business is about people. People are about relationships. Relationships are about connection. Connection is cultivated through your office culture.

Next week we’ll explore successful operational strategies that ensure our culture supports a high level of employee development, customer service, innovation, excellence and customer retention. Stay tuned for Part III as we conclude this series.

Chris Adams

Chris Adams, President Adams Technology Group, Corp. My companies are smadatek: managed IT & consulting; smadaLabs: computer sales & service; and smadaPro: customer service consulting.