Cubicle walls. Chairs that swivel. Corkboards copiously pinned with memos to-do lists. You see these things on a daily basis, and you’re sick of them. If you’re lucky enough to have your own office, maybe there’s more space to make it your own, yet that’s not the reality for most employees (and even some employers). […]
Gear up, and get ready to walk the talk
It’s not an uncommon saying. You’ve probably heard it from the unhappy group mate who’s been complaining about the tyrant of a group leader during a school project, or the disgruntled employee who can’t seem to ever find peace with the supervisor. Walking the talk has come up time and time again, usually against leaders or heads of a team who are adept at dictating others, but often fail to practice what they preach. Yet, what is it about “walking the talk” that is so important for businesses and collaboration, apart from the fancy rhyme? Read on as we break down the importance of leaders walking the talk, and how that can bring about positive change in the workplace culture, as well as effective employee engagement.
Spike your productivity
I’m sure I speak for almost everyone out there when I say that no one likes a hypocrite. You won’t like them in your circle of friends, and you won’t like them at the workplace. Similarly, you probably wouldn’t enjoy having a boss that tells you not to leave the office before six in the evening, but is nowhere to be seen by five. A good leader, in the broadest sense of the term, therefore needs to be able to model what he or she expects of his or her employees in order to gain their respect. By doing so, there will be increased levels of engagement between the employees and their employers, so supervisors can expect higher levels of efficiency and productivity when it comes to the work produced. Having a superior at the workplace who is equally as motivated and committed to job excellence can be immensely helpful in inspiring the rest of the team to do the same.
More often than not, it is the leader in a team that is affecting the rest in terms of performance. Rather than point fingers and immediately accuse your staff of being lazy and unproductive, consider your personal conduct – have you been modeling the same type of behaviour and values you want your staff to exemplify? One great example of a leader who ran the talk is Jack Welch, CEO of General Electric. He had a vision to tear down corporate boundaries at the organisational level, allowing and empowering anyone in his company to brainstorm and come up with ideas to improve work processes. Despite being the CEO, he made sure that anyone who wanted his attention got it, creating the culture that he wanted in his company. GE’s success is plain for anyone to see, and I dare say a large part of it can be attributed to Welch’s willingness to walk the talk.
Don’t be selective!
Now that you’ve understood the merits of walking the talk, it’s crucial that leaders understand this: do not pick and choose what you want to model. Imagine a leader who, amongst other things, selects parts of good employee behaviour to exemplify while conveniently ignoring the other aspects. An inspiring leader is also a wholesome, all-rounded one. Being selective about what you want to uphold as good behaviour will probably be perceived as hypocrisy again, rendering your entire walk useless.
Having read up to this point, you might be thinking: being a leader sucks. There are just too many things to think about, apart from your own responsibilities as a worker. You are right; it’s not a walk in the park (pardon the pun). If you are fortunate enough to be put in charge of a team, you will have many sacrifices to make, and that includes change parts of your personality in order to ensure the quality of work your employees produce. For example, if you were never one for keeping things organized, yet being organized is something you want from your employees, then there is no circumventing that. You have to be the change you want to see in your team, and you have to start with yourself. Your team is a reflection of you, and being at its core, you have to start the ball rolling. There is no space for selecting particular parts that are more convenient for you to exemplify – it is all or nothing.
It’s a lot less scary than you think
It really is. Many workplace leaders – supervisors, team leaders, managers – assume their positions thinking that they must be superior to their employees, and therefore behave in a way that demonstrates that clearly. As a result, they fear walking the talk, and end up with just a whole bunch of talking. Now, that becomes a major issue: your employees will begin to think that you’re just a figurehead who pays lip service, and will accord you with less respect. Your superiority will then become counterproductive; not only are you not inspiring your employees, you’re also losing their respect and therefore your authority as their leader. No go.
Walking the talk doesn’t necessarily require you to compromise your authority. Your employees are not likely to undermine you when you demonstrate the same behaviour that you expect from them. In fact, I’m willing to bet that they will respect you even more – a boss that’s willing to get down and dirty with his or her employees is one that will command respect around the office. When your employees can see that you’re trying to understand the work done at the ground level, you eventually become more approachable as a superior, and that’s when productivity and efficiency will spike. Remember, walking the talk is a lot friendlier than you think.
None of these tips should be completely unfamiliar to the average leader out there. If you are reading this article for the first time, it may seem daunting to have to be so many things at once. No one said the path of a leader was easy, but you were not elected as a leader without reason. While it may seem impossible at first, I would like to assure you that it does get better with time and experience. Long gone are the days where bosses can strut into an office and demand respect from his or her employees. What your employees are looking for is someone they can look up to, and that’s where walking the talk can help immensely in earning their respect.
Trust yourself to be able to meet the demands of being a leader, that you will be able to be the leader that your employees need and deserve. By humbling yourself and showing them you practice what you preach, you can safely expect better employee engagement translating into better, faster results. If any, that would be the hallmark of a great leader.
Singapore has long placed an emphasis on lifelong learning and continuity in development. We’ve seen the opening of institutes that promote those values, and subsidies for those who choose to upgrade themselves professionally. The same would apply for businesses: it’s always a good idea to send your employees (and even yourself) for courses and workshops to ensure that they’re up to date about the latest practices. Most of them would have graduated from school a long time ago, and may not be as familiar with new industry practices.
Most companies sponsor these workshops and courses, and while they don’t come for free, the government does provide many subsidies for companies that do so. It’s a worthwhile investment in your employees: when you develop them towards long term career goals, you help them to develop a sense of direction, as well as better job satisfaction. The cost of training your employees is also significantly lower than hiring a new one, so there you have it. We share with you three reasons why you should do so – and do so now.
Reason #1: Training lowers your company’s turnover rate
Studies and surveys have agreed on this: not training your employees can result in more of them leaving your company due to the lack of skill development opportunities. They feel like they are not learning anything on the job (other than the technical skills required to do their job), and are thus unsatisfied vocationally.
Many employers buy into the myth that it’s cheaper to hire a new worker with the relevant skill set to do a certain job – it makes more sense to have a younger, fresh graduate than to retrain an older one right? This isn’t necessarily true – it has been estimated that it costs roughly USD$11,000 to hire a new worker. This is excluding the cost of relocation if you hire someone from overseas. Compare that to the cost of retraining here in Singapore (with the significant subsidies from the government), and you’ll realise it’s probably a better choice to opt for retraining and development.
Some also believe that employees may be resistant to such courses and workshops. After all, not every employee wants to spend an entire week learning about new things when they can work in an environment and pace that they’re comfortable with. However, employees are, more often than not, intrinsically motivated. They want to be experts in their fields, and they want to be updated in the skills that are relevant to their job scope. These skills learned at retraining courses can help them even when they change jobs, so don’t be too concerned that they might be unwilling to be retrained. Satisfied employees are more likely to be thankful and grateful to their employers – especially when they see you as someone who has groomed them into who they are. When you can show your employees that you think they’re worth investing in, I’m sure they’ll do the same for you.
Reason #2: Spiking your productivity
It is always tempting to direct budget cuts to training and development. Like our previous articles have mentioned, the welfare of employees are not always the priority of employers. It is a common trait amongst younger workers to want to be able to learn new things; it is something they look out for when they’re on the prowl for new jobs. If you’re able to satisfy their need to constantly be better than they were before, you can be sure that their job satisfaction will skyrocket. A trained and updated employee is more likely to become more independent, and thus require less supervision. Their performance is also expected to be enhanced after the training, and that means good news for productivity levels.
Especially for the senior staff, basic skills can be used so often that it becomes easy to overlook the intricate details. They may become overconfident in what they do, and as a result pay less attention to how they do it. Retraining can help with that: preventing the basic mistakes can go a long way in ensuring that productivity does not plummet.
Confidence levels are crucial when it comes to hiring employees; it is one of the crucial factors that employers look out for during interviews. Over time, employees may become less confident with the advent of new technologies and methods of practices, and may fear becoming obsolete. Training and development can help to boost their confidence, and allow them to be more enthused about what they do on a daily basis. These skills picked up are also transferrable – you may be able to save on future training if your current employees are able to teach the newer ones.
Reason #3: It’s more affordable than you think
It’s a common – and legitimate – fear that these courses will make a dent in your company’s budget. Fortunately for us, the government’s emphasis on lifelong learning means that there are plenty of subsidies available for employers who want to send their employees for training. Singapore’s very own Workforce Development Agency (WDA) offers a range of subsidies for SMEs that cover up to 95% of course fees. Non-SMEs get lesser subsidies, but the savings are still significant, making the courses very affordable.
If you’re concerned about paying your employees’ salary while they’re on course, fret not. WDA also has schemes available for application that funds their salary while they’re undergoing training. With the large amounts of subsidies, training and development courses are affordable even for the newest start-ups.
The merits of training and development for your employees are overwhelmingly positive. It is increasingly important to stay up-to-date and relevant in a country that is progressing tremendously, and we must not underestimate importance of honing existing skills and learning new ones. In a country that fervently supports such endeavours, do take advantage of the subsidies and consider maximising the potential of employees! It’ll pay off, you can be assured of that.
We are not unfamiliar with having an unapproachable boss; I cannot tell you how many times the ball was pushed around my colleagues and I just to see who would ask our boss for a simple signature. It wasn’t that he was a complete tyrannical monster who would chew our heads off if we even spoke out of turn, but rather that he was simply unapproachable. Interactions at the workplace between employee and employer are, more often than not, the relaying of instructions and tasks. Anything more than that, we fear for our lives. As employees at some point of our lives, we know exactly how that feels. But as an employer, is that the culture you want to develop amongst your employees?
Communication is key
Much like your personal relationships with your family, friends, or partner, good communication practices at the workplace has its merits. A large number of companies invest a good amount of money to hire trainers and conduct workshops in an attempt to help employees (and employers) gain invaluable communication skills, and we don’t blame them. Verbal or otherwise, proper communication skills can go a long way in improving workplace relationships, as well as spike efficiency in terms of productivity. When you can communicate well within the workplace, the skills can be transferrable to other situations, including and especially for companies that deal with international clients and customers.
As an employer, you will have to hire employees from a plethora of backgrounds. These employees have diverse personalities, and not all of them may be able to work well with you or their peers. Having good workplace communication is the social lubricant you need to ensure that conflicts in the office are kept to a minimum – your employees would be able to interact with even the most unpleasant person with tact and poise. There is simply no downside to honing your communication skills at the workplace: both employer and employee need it.
We outline five quick tips on how to encourage good and effective communication at the workplace. Trust us, it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. Read on!
Tip #1: Always choose diplomacy over deterrence
I know, it sounds like a chapter from a secondary school Social Studies textbook. The same values that our government adopts applies in workplace communication: it is always the safer choice to treat conflicts and spats with care. You would be surprised at how easy and fast it is for an argument about something minor to blow up, and leave wounds that will take forever to heal. We want to avoid that as much as possible. If a problem escalates enough that you’re notified to intervene, remember that you will either make it or break it.
Prevention is always better than cure, so here’s what you can do to minimise conflict. Setting the tone and establishing a conflict-free culture in your office from day one ensures that your employees are used to a safe and peaceful environment. Any argument will hopefully diffuse on its own, because that’s how things work in your office.
Some employers feel like it’s unnecessary, but having an open door policy at the workplace can really help to improve communication between you and your employees. Letting them know that you’re always available to listen to any problems they may have expedites communication flow, and it’ll also make you more approachable as a superior. Of course, handling conflict must be done in a non-judgemental manner, and it’s absolutely crucial to be impartial. Nipping it in the bud before the issue escalates will help you minimise conflict, and establish an environment that’s safe for you and your employees.
Tip #2: Feed them with feedback
I mean it. One of the biggest gripes that employees have of their employers is that they don’t receive feedback on the work they’ve done. Many of them spend a good amount of effort on their tasks, but never actually find out if they’re heading in the right direction. It’s not just about praising or criticising their work, but also about building a system that encourages discussion and reviewing of work done to ensure what’s done right continues to be done right, and what’s done wrong is changed accordingly.
You might have concerns about the amount of extra work that comes with giving feedback. It’s true – feedback cannot be given for the sake of doing so, it has to be constructive and helpful. Couple that with the amount of reports, forms, and proposals you receive on a daily basis, and you have yourself a new towering stack of documents to deal with. It may be extra work initially, but once you have established a proper feedback system, your employees will then be more familiar with your style of work and what you expect in their tasks. The feedback would then have done its job: setting up good communications between employer and employee.
Your feedback can be given through a few channels. For one, a weekly or fortnightly meeting to update the team on their progress can be opportune to give feedback. If that is too logistically unrealistic, a quick email reply to their submissions can go a long way as well. Otherwise, do it the old fashioned way – face to face conversations. Drop by their desk or call them into your office for a short chat, or simply do it over lunch.
Once the feedback system is working well, you can tailor your feedback to make them more concise. After all, telling your employees that they’ve gone an excellent job never hurts anyone.
Tip #3: Check your negative emotions at the door
I don’t mean be a completely emotionless drone when you enter the office. Emotions are definitely welcome when it comes to positive feedback, or when dealing with sensitive issues at the workplace. But when it concerns conflict or criticism about an employee’s work, it is important to be objective. When you let your emotions get the better of you, you end up delivering an emotionally charged statement that may not work well in your favour. It may also damage working relationships, making communication an even taller order than it was previously.
Try your best not to make criticism personal: instead of saying, “Your work has been disappointingly bad lately!” you can try a less jarring alternative such as, “I’ve noticed that you have been underperforming recently. Is there anything you want to talk about?” While this may not be your immediate response to a piece of badly done work, remind yourself that effective communication is not built overnight. Taking a more tactful and respectful approach can motivate your employees greatly, and improve your mood tremendously.
The three tips above may not be enough to convince you to undertake a reformation to how communication is done at your office. After all, it does take a lot of effort to establish a healthy communication network, especially between employee and employer. Research has shown, however, that Singaporeans prize a good boss over a fatter paycheck. It’s not surprising, though: a good leader leads to motivated workers, which eventually translates to higher productivity and higher salaries. The merits of good and effective communication cannot be underestimated; while it does take extra effort to build up, it’s good for everyone in the long run.
“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
That proverb is half right – not only does it make Jack a dull boy; it also makes him an unproductive, unmotivated boy. It may not be the employer’s immediate priority to organise team-building activities for the employees, but doing so can greatly boost productivity and motivate your employees to work harder. You might be wondering – don’t we already have compulsory staff retreats every now and then? Those count as social activities, right?
They do, but keep in mind that staff retreats are not held every other week. While they are compulsory to attend, having one every six months may not bring about the results that you want to see in terms of your employee’s emotional and mental health. There are affordable yet effective methods of organising social activities with a reasonable frequency to ensure that you are your employees have sufficient opportunities to get to know one another outside the confines of your office. Do not underestimate the benefits of bonding activities – they are essential in improving moods and working attitudes amongst workers. Besides, with the sheer amount of time you spend in the office with your employees, it might be a good idea to have everyone on good terms with each other. We bring to you four inspired ideas for bring your colleagues together – read on.
Idea #1: Monthly birthday celebrations
Make it a tradition at the office to celebrate the birthdays of your employees! Gather up the names of the month’s babies, and pool together some snacks and a cake to thank them for their contributions to the company. It is a great way to engage your employees, as well as a pleasant break for everybody to wind down and have a light bite. If you’re willing, maybe throw in some alcoholic drinks as well – enough for everyone to relax, but not enough to get them tipsy of course.
You don’t have to worry that the planning of these celebrations will fall on you. Encourage your employees to get involved in the planning, especially for the smaller companies that function without a Human Resources department. The celebrations would be a great chance for colleagues to work with each other outside of work projects.
Idea #2: Team-building exercises
I’m sure you and most of your employees have been through one of these. Maybe it was a day-long session at a local golf course, or a visit to a laser tag arena. But team-building exercises go way further than just a fun day out with you and your colleagues.
Team-building exercises must be designed with a specific goal in mind. It may be to build rapport between certain departments who are having trouble working together because of differences in personalities. It could be to mend friendships between two individuals by getting them to work together during the activity. It’s an excellent way to unite your team, discover each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and enjoy each other’s company. It is therefore important to design and plan for the activity carefully – don’t plan for a beach day out when you’re trying to improve relationships within the team. It doesn’t have to be an outdoor activity; sometimes it may be more helpful to plan indoor ones. They could be held in the office in a half-day session, and can target specific problems that you want to address in the office.
Idea #3: Make it a meal
It might get messy, but engaging your employees over a meal is not only a great way to get to know your employees better (especially the fleeting interns), but a study has also shown that negotiating deals over a meal can increase profits as well. It can help to build trust between individuals in a more informal environment. One way to do so could be to reward your employees after, say, closing a huge deal, or wrapping the financial year. A nice meal at a nearby restaurant, or catering food to the office could be possible ways to do so.
Idea #4: Celebrate the holidays
Besides birthdays, a wonderful way to let everyone wind down and exercise their creativity is to celebrate national holidays. In a diverse country such as Singapore, national holidays for the different races and religions are abundant, and could be opportunities to decorate the office and organise sharing sessions to expose everyone to different cultures. Not only does it promote and celebrate diversity, it is also a good way to mingle with your colleagues and get to know them better. The celebrations could be thematic – you can go beyond the major races in Singapore and celebrate other nationalities as well, such as a Mexican or Italian themed gathering.
Great employers are hard to come by, and many do not prioritise the welfare of their employees. Some companies, especially start-ups, may not have the budget or time to fit in as many social activities to bond with their employees. Yet, we’ve seen the merits of focussing on the welfare of your employees – companies like Facebook and Google who provide excellent welfare for their employees have seen themselves ranking at the top in terms of popular employers in Singapore. Before you brush aside social activities as a waste of resources, consider the happiness of your employees. Happier employees generate greater profits – it’s a win-win situation for all.