The First Step to Anything: Care.
We’ve been having a number of conversations around the office about excellence. What does it really mean? Who gets to define it? Why is it so hard to achieve?
Everyone says they are in search of it, but few can clearly articulate what that means to them as individuals or as an organization.
Thinking about excellence, and how we talk about it with our clients, led me to review the blog An Excellence Agenda—a thoughtful site on the topic that was created by Delta Partners associate, Francis Loughheed.
The first post I saw was titled, Caring. This short piece really resonated with me.
The bit that focussed my attention:
An Excellence Advantage is about an investment in committment and effort, not about capital expenditure.
It doesn’t cost anything to care. There are no Net Present Value spreadsheets to update. A 100% increase in caring will not cause anyone to miss their quarterly earnings estimate.
If you spend any time at all in a bookstore, you can’t avoid Seth Godin. He’s published 12 bestsellers. He is also a powerhouse on the Internet. Godin is a founding partner in Squidoo, one of the top 500 sites online, and his marketing blog is daily required reading for many.
Francis’s post reminded me of this gem from Godin on caring:
You’ve probably been to the hotel that serves refrigerated tomatoes in January at their $20 breakfast, that doesn’t answer the phone when you call the front desk, that has a shower curtain that is falling off the rack and a slightly snarky concierge. This is in sharp relief to that hotel down the street, the one that costs just the same, but gets the details right.
There is famous, and there is ‘Internet Famous’. Merlin Mann is Internet Famous.
I’m sure that many of you are familiar with Merlin’s work. He made his mark as the Inbox Zero guy, and created a very successful site on productivity called 43 Folders (based on the Getting Things Done techniques of David Allen).
Anyway, thinking about this idea of caring reminded me of a post that Merlin wrote a couple of years ago titled First, care. It is a topic that he still returns to often:
You “focus” on the one thing you care about, as you “unfocus” on everything else. If not for every minute of your life, at least for the time you set aside to pursue the thing that matters.
And what does this focus on caring have to do with excellence?
The human condition requires that we care about a thing—anything—if we are going to pay attention to it for any length of time.
Do you want your employees to care about the quality of the work they do, the service they provide, the face they present to peers and public?
Then it is up to you, as their leader, to give them a reason to care. And we have seen, time and again, that a paycheck alone will not suffice.
Yield to Oncoming Traffic
So where do most organizations drop the ball? Caring is a two way street.
When individuals do not feel that their supervisor, their department, or their organization at large, care about them, the result is entirely predictable.
When companies—specifically the board and executive managers—view their employees as nothing more than a variable cost on the income statement, the corporate culture will quickly come to accept this as the norm.
You don’t care about me.
“So why should I care about…”
- your new ‘excellence’ initiative?
- your latest change project?
- being pleasant with your customers?
- giving an extra effort?
- your new software implementation?
- finding savings for you?
- etc, etc?
The good news is that the greatest impact on employee attitudes toward their work is reflected in the relationship between them and their immediate supervisor. It is possible for strong relationships at the micro level to overcome many of the organizational weaknesses at the macro level.
The bad news is that it takes exceptionally strong middle management to create this umbrella to shield their people. And, unfortunately, those individuals who are shielding their people are, themselves, people. An organizational culture that does not value or care about its people is not likely to keep quality leaders for an extended time.
What does all of this have to do with employee engagement?
Engagement is really just management code for caring.
Have an employee who is ‘actively disengaged’? Co-workers would simply say, “Jimmy doesn’t care.”