Leading the Emerging WorkforceOrganizations are operating with their most diverse workforces ever. A mix of generations, genders and cultural backgrounds is making it harder to bring teams together while also bringing out the best in every employee.

Regardless of the challenges, leaders are still accountable for results. A fresh approach is often necessary to continue living up to their leadership responsibilities.

“You can’t lead people you don’t understand,” said Elaine Cullen Vandervert, PhD, president of Prima Consulting Services during AEM’s most recent Product Safety & Compliance Seminar.

“Success looks different to different types of people. Leaders must know what those differences are,” Vandervert added.

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There are three foundational elements that influence how people think and behave:

  • Basic human nature – an inherited trait that is universal from person to person
  • Culture – a learned characteristic that is specific to a group
  • Personality – a characteristic that is both inherited and learned that is specific to an individual

Personality has a big impact on how an employee interacts with others. While personality is partially inherited, much of it ties back to the environment in which the individual grew up. There are also left-brained (analytical and logical) and right-brained (creative and emotional) people.

The bottom line is that today’s leaders are likely to encounter many different personality types within their teams. Understanding how to recognize different personalities is requisite to knowing how to train, motivate and lead a diverse team.

Identifying Leaders

With today’s more diverse workforce, companies need effective management and visible leadership. Management and leadership are two separate things. Managers “do things right” while leaders “do the right things.”

“This is why great management can still provide poor leadership,” Vandervert pointed out. “People are inherently resistant to management, especially as they move up in their careers. Resources need to be managed. People need to be led.”

Every company has both formal and informal leaders. With formal leaders, employees follow because they have to. With informal leaders, employees follow because they want to. An informal leader’s authority derives from credibility.

To effectively manage the emerging workforce, a company must identify informal leaders. Informal leaders are especially vital with respect to things like safety. For instance, when a company’s respected informal leaders always wear their safety glasses, it is much more likely that other employees will follow suit. By identifying its informal leaders, a company can ensure that those leaders are helping to encourage the right beliefs and behaviors amongst the workforce.

Improving Employee Motivation

There are some relatively simple things both formal and informal leaders can do to better motivate the emerging workforce:

  • Lead by example.  Leaders must be exceptionally good at their jobs so they can gain credibility. When employees respect their leaders, they are more likely to be inspired by their leaders.
  • Recognize their real needs.  Leaders must understand what matters to their employees and, in turn, what motivates them. “Employees will tell you what these things are, but not until they trust you,” Vandervert said.

Vandervert pointed to an extensive survey of both employees and supervisors that was conducted a few years ago. The results speak for themselves. The top three motivational factors identified by employees were the bottom three identified by supervisors. Talk about a disconnect.

Supervisors assumed that wages, security and promotions are an employee’s biggest motivators. But the employees said that being appreciated, feeling included, and having their personal issues understood are what matters most, followed by job security and wages.

“This underscores the difference between an internal locus of control and an external one,” Vandervert explained. “When an employee complains, it is often about something extrinsic (external) because that is what the employee’s supervisor seemingly has control over. But what about the employee’s true issues that are intrinsic (internal)? Leaders also have control over those issues, but need to recognize this and focus on it.”

The great thing for an organization is that the top three intrinsic motivators for the typical employee do not cost a dime.

“Leaders must get to know their employees on a deeper level,” Vandervert said. Ask employees what they value. Identify what motivates them. These feelings can sometimes change as an employee grows into a job, so it’s important to stay on top of it. For instance, sometimes an employee is eager to move up in the company, but sometimes they just want to enjoy the job they are doing and feel appreciated. Open, honest and ongoing communication is essential to understanding a given employee’s needs.

  • Feedback.  Likewise, providing employees with open and honest feedback should also be ongoing. This is another no-cost way to improve motivation. “Specific, on-the-spot praise can go a long way,” Vandervert said. After all, the survey referenced earlier point outs that “being appreciated” is the top motivator for most employees.
  • Help reach goals.  Great leaders partner with their employees on achieving goals. “Ask employees what their goals are and offer related assignments,” Vandervert recommended. Leaders can also look for additional training opportunities, such as pairing an employee with a mentor. “When you’re a good leader, you know what your people want — and help them get there,” Vandervert says. “That is how you cultivate a highly functional team.”
  • Keep employees informed.  According to the survey referenced earlier, “feeling included” is the second most important motivator. This is why leaders of the emerging workforce must keep employees informed. “Keeping employees informed also helps increase their belief in the mission of the organization,” Vandervert said. “Furthermore, it helps employees feel more connected to the mission and recognize their own importance. When an employee can come to feel this way, they will work harder for you.”
  • Use rewards wisely.  Vandervert said today’s leaders should use rewards that have a mutual benefit. Skills training is a great example because both the employee and company benefit. Monetary rewards can also be effective, but should be used sparingly. “Money can become a self-defeating thing,” Vandervert said. Once an employee gets a raise or bonus, it isn’t long before they begin craving another one. That is why monetary rewards should be tied to performance and recognition. This keeps everyone focused on doing the things that make the overall team more successful.

Dealing With Underperforming Employees

As hard as leaders strive to bring out the best in their employees, the desired results are never a 100% guarantee. It’s important to identify the root cause of why a given employee is underperforming.

In many instances, the employee did not understand the task. Personality and cultural background can have an influence. Perhaps the employee didn’t feel comfortable in speaking up and asking for more guidance. “This is quite common in the Latino culture,” Vandervert pointed out. “This is a communication issue. The leader should always check in and make sure the employee has everything they need. Keep that continuous feedback loop going.”

In other instances, the employee may not have known how to complete a task. This is a training issue. Personality type and culture can play a role here, too. Sometimes the employee is ashamed to admit that they don’t know how to do something. It’s the leader’s job to make sure that isn’t the case.

“Remember that training can come down to very simple things that don’t require hours of effort,” Vandervert said. For example, a client once told her that an employee spent a long time looking for a Phillips screwdriver, but to no avail. Come to find out, the employee thought Phillips was a brand name, and was puzzled that he could only locate Snap-on and Craftsman. “That little bit of extra training simply came down to changing ‘Phillips screwdriver’ to ‘Phillips screwdriver with the star shape,’” Vandervert added.

On the topic of training, it’s important to note that there are three adult learning styles. Visual (seeing) is the most effective, followed by kinesthetic (doing) and auditory (hearing).

“Think about the typical pre-shift meeting,” Vandervert related. “Most are almost entirely auditory, which means 3/4 of the employees don’t properly absorb the message. A leader could change that by adding some visual aids such as pictures.”

Accountability and Vision

Data shows that visual training is the most effective. Employees remember what they see. The same can be said for what employees see in their leaders.

“Leaders set an example through their own actions,” Vandervert said. Non-verbal communication is crucial. Impactful messages can be sent to employees through the eyes, body posture, hands and attire. Non-verbal communication must match what the leader is saying.

For instance, telling an employee that you “really appreciate what they’re doing” while glancing at your phone will not come across as sincere. Thus, an opportunity to make an employee feel appreciated could potentially do more harm than good.

Today’s leaders must be especially careful in how they conduct themselves. Leaders must enforce policies and compliance, but also demonstrate the values of the company.

“Leaders cannot badmouth the company and expect employees to believe in the company,” Vandervert said. “Leaders must also define, communicate and model desired behaviors in order to influence employees to behave a certain way and produce certain outcomes.”

When leading today’s more diverse, emerging workforce, achieving the right amount of influence is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Today’s leaders must lead by example, discover what really matters to employees, and then take the right steps to bring out the best in each member of the team.

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