“If you believe it, you’ll see it.”
The first time I heard this nugget of wisdom was from Dewitt Jones in his film, Celebrate What’s Right with the World. At the time I thought it was a neat concept, but really didn’t believe it would have much impact on how one would choose to interact with one’s world. That was in 2003 and today, I must admit, these seven words do make a difference. They make a difference in my life, and everyday I see how they impact the lives of many others – particularly in a person’s willingness to change and take risks despite evidence that a current venture may not be working.
The alternative view is: “If I see it, I’ll believe it.”
The same seven words, but the order makes all the difference. And depending upon which order you subscribe to, it will impact your life and the lives of others in significant ways. For instance, I recently had the opportunity to encounter and observe how dramatic a difference these two views can have on one’s power of influence and leadership when trying to improve employee performance and engagement.
I’m currently assisting two different organizations in improving their workforce engagement and performance. Phase one of the project involves extensive interviews with management staff and employees to get firsthand feedback on what issues are affecting performance and engagement, and to listen to input on what could be done from their perspective to address these issues and concerns. The goal in both organizations is to address specific factors that are negatively impacting organizational climate in regard to employee engagement and performance. The vision at both organizations is to create a culture of engagement and performance that will sustain itself and withstand the foreseen and unforeseen challenges of the 21st century.
The CEOs of these two organizations are very bright and experienced individuals. These attributes, along with their extensive expertise in the technical aspects of their industry, helped them rise to the top levels of their organizations. If you were to review their resumes you wouldn’t notice any significant differences; both on paper are highly qualified. And both are sincere about wanting to succeed in achieving their goals and vision. The differences begin to emerge as you interact with them and begin to notice their particular view or philosophy on motivation, work and change.
One of the organizations has a history of workforce disengagement, which is documented in employee surveys and in operational metrics such as turnover, accidents and injuries and sick time utilization. During the employee interviews many employees used the phase, “I don’t think the leadership of this organization cares about us.” Others would identify specific areas such as not caring about our safety or developing our skills. One person stated, “They say they care, but their actions say the opposite.”
In the debrief session with the leadership team, one manager commented, “We are a group that is very driven by data and we don’t see any evidence that this workforce cares or wants to improve.”
After the debrief meeting we reviewed a philosophy and approach that attacks the causes of disengagement and performance. Much of it is based on Edward Deci and Richard Ryan’s research and work in Self-Determination Theory; the work of Paul Marciano in Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work: Build a Culture of Employee Engagement with the Principles of RESPECT; and Winning With A Culture of Recognition by Eric Mosley and Derek Irvine. One core element of each of these models and approaches, which research supports a positive return on investment, is the use and implementation of appreciation and strategic recognition initiatives. After the review, one of the managers said, “I’ll believe it, when I see it.” Rich the CEO followed that comment with, “There’s been very little that we can appreciate and recognize about this group.”
The other organization had a history of what one employee described as a tyrannical approach to leading and employee engagement. A comment that was attributed to the former leader was, “If your employees like you, than you’re not a good manager.” For the last few years the organization has been under new leadership and has seen a rise in all the metrics and indicators that something positive has taken hold.
During our interview with Ron the CEO, he commented, “The tone of this organization starts at the top. If I model the behaviors I want from my employees, they will respond in kind. If I show them I care about their safety, they will care. If I set high expectations for myself, than they will also accept and deliver on the expectation we set for them.”
One employee made the following comment, “Everyday Ron tells me he cares about me.” Literally this is not a true statement. This employee works the second shift and in reality only sees Ron on his “walk-abouts” and at employee meetings. How could he make the claim that Ron tells him everyday that he cares about him? Part of the answer is the power of, “When I believe it, I’ll see it.” Ron has influenced his employees through his words and actions that he believes in them and they respond reciprocally. Because he believes Ron cares, he hears Ron everyday telling him that he cares.
When we reviewed our program, and in particular the initiatives on appreciation and strategic recognition, Ron’s response was, “I can do a lot better job in this area. When can we get started?”
The difference is in the order of the seven words. Rich and his team believe that “When they see it, they’ll believe it,” which shifts the burden of accountability, risk and change on to the employees. The attitude of the employees is, “Why should we change?” Both the leadership team and the employees have adopted the same philosophy: “When I see it, I’ll believe it.”
Ron’s belief is that if he models the behavior he wants, he’ll see it in his team and employees. He believes that people want to be engaged and want to perform; “I just have to give them the reasons and permission to do it.” Ron stated in our first interview, “The tone is set from the top.” He accepts full responsibility. He doesn’t shift the responsibility to his employees to prove to him that they deserve his respect.
What Ron gets in return is what Rich and his team wants! If Rich and his team would be courageous enough to change the order of those seven words and take the risk of putting that belief into action, the road to achieving an engaged workforce would have fewer potholes.
Carrots and Sticks Don't Work, Paul Marciano
Why We Do What We Do, Edward Deci
Winning with a Culture of Recognition, E. Mosley and D. Irvine