The end of the year is always a bit stressful. We are confronted with the pressure of finishing the business year strong while planning for a new, and even more successful, year. All this while juggling the season’s activities from mailing cards and buying presents to attending holiday events, working out who’s hosting family dinners and organizing the white elephant exchange. Wait, this year we might have to decide if we are doing any of those things. We’re certainly still experiencing increasing uncertainties. What will 2021 bring, where are we going for the holidays, and will my business be impacted by any more shut downs? All this weighs heavily on a leader, and yet much of the stress is often pushed aside while we endeavor to keep a stiff upper lip to appear positive and optimistic for the people we lead.
Much has been written about the importance of employee engagement and boosting morale. Most of the responsibility for engaging employees falls squarely on the shoulders of the direct manager. Managers and supervisors set the tone and the climate of the team – by keeping employees informed about what's going on in the business, setting priorities, and providing on-going feedback and recognition. But what happens when you, as a manager, start burning out?
Let's look at the history of employee engagement for a moment. Since 2000, Gallup has been tracking employee engagement. The metric has been relatively steady, without sharp ups and downs, until this year. The upset and uncertainty around the on-going pandemic and related restrictions, mounting political tensions, and social unrest created a perfect storm of uncertainty and fluctuating employee engagement levels. As of October 2020, the good news is that employee engagement has returned to pre-COVID levels for all groups except managers. Manager engagement has continued to decline. Why is this a critical point?
This is concerning for several reasons. Currently, 41% of employees strongly agree that their manager keeps them informed about what's going on in the organization. That's great, for now. However, managers are reporting higher levels of stress and burnout than the people they manage. High levels of stress lead to reduced engagement, a drop in productivity, and burnout. This stress, in turn, can affect approximately 70% of the variance in team engagement. In short, we're overstressed and on the verge of burnout, so it's only a matter of time before that impacts the entire team.
So, what do we do about it? As leaders, we hold the key to keeping employee engaged and productive, which means we need to make sure we are in good shape ourselves.
Managers – be sure to take a break! Need more encouragement? We've got it.
In an interview with Admiral John Richardson, former chief of naval operations, discussing strategies for leaders to avoid burnout and prevent pandemic fatigue, he notes, "the stakes are really high, and when the stakes are high, many leaders naturally tend to feel they have to be there all the time, to make all the decisions. But if you can't conserve your energy, you're in trouble." Sound familiar? Of course, it does. But remember, even military admirals must take breaks!
Admiral Richardson continues, "recovery is essential to mission effectiveness. That must include both taking time off to reenergize and to have the team and structure in place so that this time off can be protected, and the mission will continue."
Throughout the challenges this year, the front-line managers have shouldered the burden of carrying out and communicating the tough decisions businesses have made to stay afloat. We've had to make difficult decisions about layoffs, furloughs, and reduced hours. We've been uncovering new ways to get work done with fewer resources, staff, and funding.
Managers and our teams have moved to work remotely, making it harder to connect, communicate, and get work done collectively. We've had to look for new ways, through new technologies, to hold meetings, work on projects, track productivity, and communicate.
2020 has accelerated business innovations, technological advancement, and virtual communications to a degree we previously thought impossible. It's been possible, though the accelerated pace has landed significantly on leadership, and there may not be a protocol or structure to protect time off at this time. However, it's "mission-critical" to protect downtime for leaders and employees. The science proves it. In fact, before the pandemic, global surveys revealed: "burnout arguably is reaching epic proportions in many industrialized countries."
If your new strategies and structure haven't taken time off into account, go back and build it in.
It's a great time to take an inventory of your strengths and make sure you're leveraging them. If you are a hard-charging driver who is always thinking about the next hurdle, lean on your support team to be sure you are setting realistic timelines, planning the logistics and following through on the execution. Nothing will burn you or your team out faster than setting new goals when yesterday’s goals are still in progress.
The Omnia Assessment is a fast, unintimidating, unbiased, and accurate way to reveal a person's natural behavior. Understanding individuals on a team can help managers alleviate stress for everyone. While some groups have worked cohesively for years, most have not. Between average turnover rates, the population aging into retirement, and the shift to remote communications, it can be challenging to understand everything about your team.
The Omnia Assessment breaks this down into easy-to-read, easy-to-interpret graphs focusing on four behaviors: assertiveness, communication style, pace, and structure. For example, if you know who's fast paced and big-picture focused, you can pair them with someone more cautious and systematic to ensure tasks are completed but also proofed for accuracy. Understanding people's natural abilities can take years; with The Omnia Assessment, it takes less than 10 minutes.
Let's go to back to stress and burnout. How can we protect managers and, by extension, all employees? Here are a few strategies other companies have employed:
Leaders need to conserve energy and take care of themselves. Review the five strategies above; the first bullet is on us. Set and enforce work boundaries, including taking time off. Then, lead by example. Our mental health and well-being are our responsibilities. Snap out of the martyr mindset. We aren't helping our teams by exhausting ourselves, and we aren't earning badges for the number of hours worked. It's time to reevaluate how we approach work. It's time to replace "busy" with productive and healthy, and 2020 may have given us all the opportunity to make that shift a reality.
Fourth-quarter has always been a huge push for sales teams to finish strong while helping clients spend the year end budget. This 4th quarter is more critical to the success of so many businesses than we’ve ever seen. It could make or break them. Focusing your team on doing what they do best will make a difference.
Selling isn’t easy in the best of times. So, what do you do when you are selling in more challenging times? Most of us remember, not without a certain amount of cringing; the impact 2008 had on sales. It was an economic disaster that required even more, fortitude and grit than usual. Those who succeeded did so because they powered through the tough times using their natural sales strengths, traits like competitive drive, ambition, and resilience. And now, we find ourselves in 2020: new challenges, new economic stressors, both big understatements. We’ve had to adjust, quickly and often, over the last several months. We’ve found new ways of doing business and felt lucky if we could even keep doing business.
While some companies only felt a blip and a few have even done better than before this global health crisis, the truth is that most of us have experienced some serious problems. The economic downturn has severely impacted sales. For a time, finding new business was next to impossible, and holding on to existing business was a significant concern. To borrow from Dickens (sort of), it was the spring of despair, and now we are looking for an autumn of hope.
Salespeople have never had to rely on their sales strengths more than they do right now. And that means you need people with natural behaviors to do well in our new reality. Sales is a constant endeavor of finding opportunities, building a pipeline, and converting leads to sales. It takes a lot of energy. The better suited your salespeople are to the job demands, the less resistance they’ll face internally. As it is, they’ll be facing a lot of resistance externally.
Let’s talk about just what those natural sales traits are.
A high level of assertiveness is critical. On an Omnia, that’s shown as a tall column 1. It’s the single most important trait in most successful salespeople. Naturally, assertive people are win driven and me-oriented; they push for what they want, especially if doing so increases their stake. That’s why salespeople are motivated by commission. They are natural risk-takers who can drive for results that earn them the rewards of a sale.
People with a low level of assertiveness have a high degree of caution, so they are always fighting past their inhibitions when nudging people, including themselves, towards a decision.
It’s harder than ever right now to get a hold of people, and the impact of COVID provides an ideal excuse for prospects not to take or return sales calls, and of course, the face-to-face meeting has been paused for a lot of us. Nonassertive personalities might dial back their efforts to avoid upsetting people, while those with natural ambition and drive are committed to getting up and doing what they’ve always done... find new business. And if that means finding new ways to get or keep business, they are prepared to do that.
Resilience plays a close second to assertiveness. Resilience is the ability to brush off rejection and keep moving forward. Sure, no one likes rejection, that’s a given, but you want salespeople who don’t take it personally. Resilient salespeople understand that rejection is an unavoidable part of sales and that for every “no” they hear, it gets them that much closer to the next “yes.” They learn from every situation, and they don’t let obstacles, objections, or rejections keep them from performing the sales tasks needed to secure a commitment. Coupled with assertiveness, resilient people take rejection as a challenge.
Individuals who lack resilience often struggle to perform the proactive tasks needed because they want to avoid rejection. This is the salesperson who hides behind pre-call planning, documentation and account research rather than putting themselves out there. They also need a lot of time to regain their confidence after they lose a sale. Natural resilience provides the backbone to assertiveness.
Sociability opens doors but isn’t necessarily a critical trait. Social sellers are great at building personal connections with prospects and creating rapport. Analytical sellers, who are socially reserved, are great at providing consultation and solving problems. Both styles are effective, and both appeal to different types of prospects. The problem arises when you have salespeople whose sociability is stronger than their assertiveness. This creates the infamous close reluctance. We call that the networker tendency when the need to be liked is stronger than their need to win. These individuals put the relationship ahead of the sale. They build an impressive list of contacts and collect friends. When they sense hesitation, they tend to back down rather than risk losing their new buddy. People whose assertiveness is stronger than their sociability put the emphasis on the sale. They value the relationship, but they don’t let it get in the way of the deal.
Now that we know what works, what do you do with the information?
Sales Actions in the Age of COVID
As a sales leader, it’s important to tap into that natural drive of your salespeople, especially since it can be hard to feel driven right now. Let’s face it; they are getting shot down more than usual. And while that can’t be an excuse, it does require some new tactics.
Weekly Sales Huddles
Begin each week with a sales huddle to connect your team and start the week with focused goals. These are an effective tool for keeping people stoked and motivated. Sharing wins creates positive energy and a little competitive spirit. Plus, it’s a wonderful way to share ideas and tactics that are working or figure out how to improve on anything that isn’t yielding results. Set weekly goals and post progress against these goals – there’s nothing like a published dashboard to drive energy, build momentum, and fuel the competitive spirit we all have in sales.
Redefine What Winning Looks Like
Assertive salespeople crave challenges; they need ways to win and keep score. If sales are in a slump, look for other ways for them to win. Set weekly challenges and celebrate the wins at the end of each week. It’s getting the most prospects to call you back. It’s securing a demo, making the most calls, filling the pipeline with qualified leads, contacting existing accounts, or other activities relevant to your business. Speaking of existing accounts...
Take Care of Your Clients
Nurturing existing business is always important, but it might look a little different for a while. Encourage your sales team to show their clients that they care about what they are going through. Look for ways your team can support their clients and help solve problems, even if it doesn’t result in a sale at that moment. Now’s a great time to also have those year-end budget discussions with your clients as they develop their strategies for 2021. Look for ways to help them streamline, simplify, and save if you can. Many of your clients may be struggling in their businesses. Doing everything you can to support them and bring forward value could help keep your company off the chopping block when costs get cut, and competitors come calling.
Decide if Your People are Still Your People
Take a hard look at your team. If someone on your team wasn’t cut out for sales before, this environment might be close to impossible for them now. Are you going to invest your time and energy into coaching them, or is it better to release them and look for replacements who are naturally aligned to selling both in good times and bad?
As you head into 2021, it’s important to be sure you have the right people in the right roles to thrive in these challenging times. Natural assertiveness drives salespeople toward new opportunities, while resilience keeps their confidence intact. It’s a winning combination, and leaders need to be confident that their team has these traits. An Omnia assessment is a quick, effective method that quantifies these inherent traits, giving sales leaders knowledge about their salespeople and powerful insight that can drive solid decisions on how you organize your team, possibly change out some of the team, and how to can motivate your sales reps to be their very best.
As an eternal optimist, I’m grateful I’ve managed to keep my optimism through these past few months. And my optimism is always fueled by hope. So here’s to an autumn of hope. Hope for a surge in sales, a return to thriving businesses, a strong economy, a healthy global population... and new sales!
Close your eyes and picture this: you’re standing in the middle of a room screaming at the top of your lungs, you throw a stapler and repeatedly slam drawers. Now imagine that room you’re standing in is your office…and your employees are looking at you.
Of course, none of these things are acceptable ways to deal with anger, especially not in the workplace. It wouldn’t be OK for ANY employee to act that way. When you’re the boss, though, you really don’t have the luxury of losing your cool… at all. Even in the tensest situations, you are expected to keep things running smoothly and provide a professional example for your team. But you’re a human being, and sometimes those frustrations start to bubble up, threatening to erupt.
They say the best offense is a good defense. When it comes to anger, this is as true in business as it is at home. Everyone needs a productive outlet to let those frustrations go. But more importantly, they need a tool to help them take the interpersonal conflicts that come up in every office and turn them into growth opportunities.
Part of staying calm in stressful situations is gaining understanding, not only of yourself but about the people around you.
When people picture a behavioral assessment, they often think of something given during the pre-hiring stage to determine the fit between the applicant and the job. Or, they think of assessments as a way to uncover the strengths and coaching opportunities for an existing team. All of those things are true and are incredibly powerful tools to have in your arsenal.
But one of the greatest things that a behavioral assessment (like the Omnia Profile) can do is help you learn about yourself - where your own strengths lie and the areas where you might need development - not just as a leader, but as a colleague. This is why the assessment shouldn’t only be given to your employees; you can use it for your own personal growth as well.
Once you have the results, take the time to speak to an analyst to help you better understand how those seemingly abstract scores translate into real-life actions and behaviors.
This perspective is especially useful when paired with the assessments of your team. Not only can it help pinpoint areas where they might struggle with each other, but it also provides action plans to help you work through it.
For example, Some people value hands-on supervision and input; for others, this comes across as micromanaging. A misstep in either direction can create resentment and mistrust. Knowing Carlie needs structure to feel secure in her daily routine, whereas LaToya feels valued when she can showcase her subject expertise is practical insight. You might tend to focus on the big picture, avoid the weeds, and thus get frustrated when confronted with both of those employees' needs. None of these characteristics are “wrong.” They are all perfectly normal traits that, as their leader, it’s up to you to successfully navigate.
Knowing where your own quirks and traits might conflict with your team members means you have the best defense when things get heated or when frustrations arise. You can get ahead of any problems.
In these situations, knowing the behavioral preferences of those around you is invaluable for giving each individual what they need for success. Knowing your own traits is a fundamental part of a good defense, one that allows you to channel your emotions - even your frustration - into positive examples for others. You've got all the pieces to put together a game plan for when things get tense, which makes it easier to keep your cool.
Now close your eyes and picture this instead: taking a moment for yourself.
Assessing what is being said and who is saying it. What do you know about their behavioral tendencies that might be influencing the response? What do you know about yourself that might be complicating the situation?
Turning a tense situation into something positive will help you and your team grow, positively affecting the company’s bottom line.
You know them. You know yourself. You've got this.
Using Personality to Break Down Communication Barriers at Work
You’ve probably heard of The Five Love Languages, a bestselling relationship book by Gary Chapman. In it, he talks about better ways of engaging with your romantic partner based on how you each express yourself romantically and by understanding each other’s needs.
Some people really like being surprised with a gift. Others might rather you show your affection by helping out around the house – nothing says I love you like emptying the dishwasher or cleaning out those rain gutters! While some need to hear how much they are loved, others want to sit together and enjoy the comfort of being close… while binge-watching Game of Thrones, of course.
Understanding what makes our partners tick and giving them what they want, in a way they will appreciate, helps forge stronger relationships. If you know who your partner is and what they need to thrive, you are better prepared to prevent and resolve conflicts. It’s why the love languages have become so popular over the years, and why people keep coming back to those core traits.
As much as people hate to admit it, we spend more time interacting with our co-workers than we do at home with the people we love… which is why it is important to understand the people you manage to ensure the environment you are creating your office thrives as well.
Much like problems within a relationship, a lot of problems at work come from A) not being able to read minds (we can’t help with that) and B) not understanding the underlying “work language” of your employee. We can help break down that barrier.
A behavioral assessment, like The Omnia Profile, interprets that work language. It translates a person’s traits and preferences into a how-to guide on properly incentivizing, communicating, and engaging your employees, telling you what the individual needs to be successful.
The first trait is assertiveness; it determines what motivates you. Individuals can have varying degrees of assertiveness, from the bold and forceful to the meek and mild. Naturally, assertive employees are focused on personal accomplishment. These are the kind of people who excel in commission-based sales positions and are on the lookout for opportunities for advancement. In contrast, cautious employees are team-oriented and look for ways to help other people.
The “assertives” can come off as being pushy or forceful, especially to the cautious crew, not because they are a jerk, but because, based on past successes, they are motivated to get the job done their way. On the flip side, someone with a high level of caution could be seen as a pushover because they are willing to compromise and take direction. Neither are necessarily fair assessments.
The next trait is often simplified as an Extrovert vs. Introvert, but that really scratches the surface. Socially reserved employees are analytical and fact-driven; their conversations tend to get to the point and give you just what you need to know. When you want specific information imparted to a customer, clearly and concisely, the analytic is the one to go to every time. Sometimes they can seem aloof to their gregarious counterparts, though.
Socially confident employees are more emotionally based on their responses. It’s about how things make them feel and the connections they make with other people. They are great in positions where you need to network and have a lot of face time to build and maintain relationships. They can come off as being needlessly chatty to an analytic, though. The analytics want to get right to the task, while the sociable want to get to know each other better because that is how they build the bonds needed to feel a part of the team.
Then there’s pace, which is all about a sense of urgency and patience.
I’m sure everyone knows that person who, if they aren’t working on ten things at once, keeping all of the balls in the air, they aren’t happy. Those are the multi-taskers; they tell you they work best under the pressure of a deadline. On the other hand, single-taskers need to have things ordered and deal with them one at a time. They often come off as being overwhelmed in a hectic workplace, because they most likely are. They need to be in a job or environment where they can get through each thing on their plate before moving on to the next. This can be frustrating to someone with a dizzying sense of urgency, who may not understand that everyone is not wired the way they are. They often run into folks who see them as a whirlwind who doesn’t know how to relax, and who takes on more than they should.
The last language clue comes from an employee’s need for structure and attention to detail. Look at this as having either “results-oriented” or “procedure-oriented” priorities. An independent, big-picture person is not about, “Is this done perfectly?” but rather, “Is this done?” A structured, meticulous person, on the other hand, is viewed as a perfectionist who wants to make sure every procedure is carefully followed, because “That is how things get done right.” Often they end up with the same result but take different ways to get there.
Structured workers are often annoyed with an independent’s inclination to “wing it” and wonder why they have to go back over procedures with them to correct mistakes. Whereas an independent is more likely to wonder, “Why are we still talking about this?” and if a mistake is made, where possible, correct it and move on.
Very few people are completely off the charts in any of these four categories, but seeing where each individual is, and how that relates to the rest of the team, can help a manager better assess where personnel resources are being allocated and how to get the best out of them. It can also help co-workers understand why people do things a certain way, and what they can do to assist each other in a way that would be constructive rather than counterproductive.
Using an assessment as a pre-hire tool can help you avoid making costly mistakes, like hiring an aggressive competitor for customer service or a methodical single-tasker for a job where workload priorities are constantly shifting. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hire them; there are many reasons why someone might otherwise be a great fit for a position, but understanding where potential conflicts are can help you smooth out concerns before they become an issue.
Much like a love language, it is not just a single component that makes a relationship work. We have to think about how all the components of behavior interact inside the same person. It’s about understanding what motivates each unique member of your team and how to adjust to that to make sure everyone is getting what they need to be the best they can.
Forget all the “bootstraps” stories with which we Westerners love to amuse ourselves. No one has ever achieved any level of commercial or material success without help from someone else. That’s the main reason “why you need a mentor.”
Here are the little whys.
A Mentor Knows Things You Don’t
A qualified mentor has experience and knowledge that surpasses yours, and she’s willing to share. This is not to be taken lightly. It’s amazing what we can accomplish when someone is inclined to show us how. Want to break into a particular field? Learn the right way to ask for a raise? Position yourself for a promotion? Be considered for that high-visibility assignment? A mentor who’s been there can help.
A Mentor Knows People You Don’t
A mentor can introduce you to others who may provide guidance, advice, information, or even access to still more helpful people.
A Mentor Can Offer Perspective
Even the most gifted problem solver can get stuck when she’s too close to an issue or has been pondering it too intensely for too long. A good mentor can help you get unstuck by presenting an alternate perspective. Even if you find yourself disagreeing with your mentor’s view, hearing another opinion can help confirm your position while providing food for thought.
A Mentor Can Offer Encouragement
Before transitioning from editorial into human resources, I ran the idea by my mentor Caroline, a veteran trainer. I thought I’d pitch my administrative, organizational, research, and writing talents to the President of the company where I worked, but having no HR background whatsoever, I lacked confidence. This was truly a good idea. In fact, I was almost ready to bag the whole thing! To my surprise, Caroline encouraged me to go for it. Her enthusiasm bolstered my confidence, I made the pitch, and the rest, as they say, is history.
It’s no secret that far too few employers offer formal development programs, including formal mentoring programs. However, that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck. Potential mentors are everywhere. Here’s how to nab yourself one.
You can’t meet people if you don’t put yourself out there, so make it a point to mix it up now and again. Go to that professional seminar—volunteer for your neighborhood, Yard Sale Committee. Join groups on LinkedIn that speak to your interests and start participating. The next time your friend or professional acquaintance mentions so-and-so who does such-and-such (and you’ve wanted to meet someone who does such-and-such), ask for an introduction.
Don’t Force It
Once you meet a potential mentor, don’t force the issue. Chemistry and mutual interests must be genuine. If you’re friendly, but something seems off, scratch that person from your mental list. He or she most likely isn’t the mentor for you. Those willing to mentor are special kinds of folks. They have a sharing personality. Not everyone does.
Test the Waters
Let’s say you met a potential mentor at a professional workshop. You talked a bit, and the chemistry is good.
The next step is to invite the individual out for coffee or lunch (your treat) and see what happens. Does he or she accept the invitation but then cancel at the last minute … a few times? Say yes to the idea but never respond to your follow-up email messages? Move on. This guy or gal is not mentor material.
On the other hand, what if you have coffee with your potential mentor, but the conversation seems stilted or awkward? Again, move on. You’re looking for a genuine connection, here. A forced anything just won’t do.
Don’t Get Discouraged.
The world is full of flakes, phonies, narcissists, and folks just too busy to extend themselves. Don’t get discouraged when a relationship that seemed promising fizzles. It happens, but there’s a mentor out there for you.
Remember the Rule of Reciprocity
Be prepared to give as good as you get. By definition, the mentor is more experienced and knowledgeable than you, but that doesn’t mean you have nothing to offer. Be a listening ear to your mentor. Be a good company. As your relationship progresses, the student may become the teacher!
Having a good mentor and professional development goes hand in hand. In the meantime, why not take a look inside yourself and discover what drives you and what you can do to ensure your own personal and professional growth.
Managing a career takes discipline. If you’ve obtained some degree of success at work, you probably didn’t do it by leaving a bunch of stuff to chance. Instead, a good bit of your actions were likely planned.
That’s okay. Self-control is a virtue—there’s no doubt about it.
However, difficulties can arise when the need for self-control crosses the line and becomes the need to control everyone else.
Dr. Taylor Hartman, the author of The People Code, says that each person is primarily motivated by the desire to pursue one of four things: peace, relationship, fun, or power:
As Dr. Hartman points out, each color has strengths and limitations. Reds can be impressively productive, for example, but also insensitive, selfish, demanding, critical, poor listeners, impatient, and manipulative.
That’s what happens when your desire for control takes control of you.
There are two enormous problems with needing to always be in charge.
First, others tend to resent it, which negatively affects your ability to elicit cooperation. Like it or not, you’re no island. Instead, you need other people to advance your goals. Not surprisingly, those people are more liable to offer their assistance when they don’t hate you. (And if you’re the boss, don’t count on being able to “make” people help you. It just doesn’t work that way. Disgruntled employees will find all kinds of ways to resist your instructions—without coming off as openly insubordinate.)
Second, even the most gifted individual has less than perfect vision, and no one knows everything. That means it’s generally to our advantage to be open to input from others. Customarily dismissing your coworkers' opinions and ideas or direct reports is sure to result in poorer quality work.
The irony of always needing to be in control is that the need controls you while preventing you from making the best decisions possible.
Think about it. If your primary motivation is to assert your superiority or authority—rather than find the best solution to a problem, for example—your personal interests are bound to interfere with your ability to do work well, even if only on occasion.
How can you rid yourself of this bad habit? If you believe Dr. Hartman, even someone born with the tendency to crave control, can change and learn to temper his or her natural inclination with a concern for others.
Our workplaces need take-charge people, especially when there are hard decisions to be made and not a lot of time to make them.
However, when you lose control of your need to take control, what should be a virtue becomes an unfortunate and career-stumbling vice.