Do You Have a Best Friend at Work?

by Grace UengSavvy Growth

One of Savvy’s clients, Luanne Welch, the very inspiring CEO of Easterseals UCP, related so much to the latest research in Gallup’s It’s the Manager that she is applying the book’s key insights throughout her 2,500 person healthcare services organization. Gallup’s global study of the future of work found that the quality of managers is the single biggest factor in an organization’s long-term success.

Today’s employees want their work to have deep mission and purpose, to have a good job. They don’t want old-style command and control bosses. Rather, they want coaches who inspire them, are good communicators, and develop their strengths rather than focus on their weaknesses. These quality managers enable their people to achieve their fullest potential.

Traditionally, the purpose of business has been to create shareholder return. The new and future purpose of work is maximizing human potential. Therefore, Gallup recommends that CEOs and CHROs change their thinking and in turn change the way their managers have always operated. The transition is based on Millennials and Generation Z changing what it means to have a great job and a great life. They want a purpose, not a paycheck, coaches not bosses, and ongoing conversations versus annual reviews.

Companies used to focus on customers first. More companies now say that their top priority is not their customers, rather their employees. If their people are happy, then they will in turn naturally create a positive experience for customers. Having happy employees starts with having a positive culture. Culture begins with your purpose – why you are in business. While most leaders can articulate their organization’s purpose, most employees can’t. Only 27% of employees strongly believe in their company’s values. This disconnect has a negative impact on culture. And culture determines your brand – how employees and customers view your company.

Diane Adams led a powerful fireside chat at the recent NC CEO Forum with John Chambers, her boss when she was head of HR and he was CEO of Cisco. She then led the “How to Create a Winning Culture” discussion. Diane is now Chief Culture & Talent Officer at Sprinklr and shared how every manager has monthly direct report meetings where staff tell their manager their “happiness score.” These scores are then rolled up and reported out. This exercise in happiness measurement has increased retention by 60%. 

Good CEOs don’t have silos in their organizations. They are able to bring multiple teams together. They converse as often with an entry-level customer service rep and understand their goals as much as they understand one of their VPs. Last year, I was engaged to give a motivational talk to an affinity group at Cisco. Denise Cox, Cisco’s Vice President of Americas Customer Experience Centers, was the executive sponsor of the group which included mostly young people. One member of my audience told me how easy it was to talk to Denise who oversees 2,500 employees. He sat right outside her office, and she would come out and speak to him as if they were peers. The fact that she cared about what he thought was huge to him, and speaks volumes of the culture that she was creating for those around her. Having gotten to know Denise since my talk and to see her in action, her authenticity is a key to why she has such followership. She is a super friendly, action oriented leader who magnetically draws people to her.

It’s not just about making staff feel better, it’s also about making better decisions.  Good leaders who create a strong culture also make better decisions. Their organizations are “decision factories.” See Focus on the Process to Make Better and Faster Decisions.

Nearly all companies invest time and money on marketing to build a loyal customer base, but it is not as universal for companies to invest in creating an equally strong employment brand to attract the best applicants. Over a dozen years ago, my firm was brought in by the board to work on a client’s employment brand. The technology company needed to turnaround their image as it needed to embark on a heavy hiring push in order to take the company to the next level prior to their IPO. We crafted a multi-pronged plan to improve their image and successfully turn them into a favored employer.

Managers should promote a strengths based culture. In my positive psychology work, I learned about the VIA Institute on Character – over eight million people have taken their free, scientific survey on character strengths to discover with what characteristics they lead. My son, who just graduated from UNC, put his top strengths of Enthusiasm, Kindness, Humor, and Fairness on his resume to help future employers understand what strengths he would bring to them. 

Starting with the CEO, executive leaders should share their strengths and how they use them. One of our clients, Relias, which serves more than 10,000 healthcare organizations and 4.5 million caregivers, has each employee prominently display their leading colors so that groups can know how best to interact with each other.

Becoming an effective coach is the most important skill any manager can develop. Gallup discovered the No. 1 reason people change jobs today is to improve career growth opportunities. And that reason is on the rise, especially with younger people. Therefore high development cultures are critical and need to be initiated, driven and monitored by the CEO and board.

Diversity and inclusion initiatives have grown and broadened in recent years. Jenn Mann, EVP and CHRO at SAS recently shared how she was most proud of their coverage in Forbesdescribing their work in hiring those on the spectrum and how they have developed hiring practices specifically to help neurodiverse candidates. Most of us are acquainted by now with the research from Catalyst which points to how boards with a critical mass of women result in better financial performance for their companies. I’ve shared my Mr. Wonderful story of when he acquired my first start-up and why almost all of his returns are from companies run by women. Gender balanced workgroups have a greater capability to get work done and to meet customers’ needs. On average, women are more engaged than men and female managers tend to have more engaged employees than male managers.

Human beings are social animals and work is a social institution. The development of trusting relationships is an important compensation for employees. Having “a best friend at work” pinpoints a critical dynamic of great workgroups. The best employers have loyalty among employees toward one another. One of the most important keys to engagement and happiness at work according to Gallup is having a work BFF. Their research has repeatedly shown a concrete link between having a best friend at work and the amount of effort employees expend in their job. Those who have a best friend at work are seven times as likely to be engaged in their jobs, are better at engaging customers, produce higher quality work, have higher well-being, and are less likely to get injured on the job.

It’s like what I found in my undergraduate experience; MIT’s culture through the years has consistently been one of collaboration. Students choose MIT not necessarily just for its top ranking, but also for its strong collaborative culture. Even though we felt like we were “drinking from a firehose” as it relates to the workload thrown at us, we felt 100% like we were in it together.Work will always throw curveballs, so colleagues who solve problems together grow closer. Just like my friends and I who toiled through late night problem sets at MIT together, we will always feel a common bond.

CEOs also need a “best friend at work.”  We know just how lonely it can be at the top and when we are told we are their BF@W, we recognize both the importance and privilege of filling this high return role.

12 Elements of Team Success

The Gallup 12 Core Elements are derived from 30 years of in-depth behavioral economic research on employee engagement involving over 17 million subjects. The below 12 statements emerged as those that best predict employee performance.

Luanne surveyed the 300+ people managers of Easterseals UCP asking them to respond if they agreed, strongly agreed, disagreed, or felt neutral to these 12 statements:

1.    I know what is expected of me at work.

2.    I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.

3.    At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.

4.    In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.

5.    My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.

6.    There is someone at work who encourages my development.

7.    At work, my opinions seem to count.

8.    The purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.

9.    My fellow employees are committed to do quality work?

10. I have a best friend at work.

11. In the last six months, someone at work talked to me about my progress.

12. In the last year, I have had opportunities to learn and grow.

Then, Luanne led a series of NEXUS events, where she met face to face with small groups of managers throughout all the regions that Easterseals UCP serves. Over several months, through these small groups, she was able to connect with over 300 leaders. In breakout sessions, questions discussed included:

  • Did the results from the survey surprise you?
  • Which of the 3 questions do you think are the most important to improve this year
  • What can we do to improve those 3 areas?
  • Identify 3 words/phrases that represent our current employment brand.
  • Name 3 words/phrases that would describe our ideal “employment brand.”

She shared the national averages: 30% of managers are great, 20% of managers are lousy, and 50% are just there. What if a company could: double 30% to 60%, cut 20% to a single digit? Company value and outcomes would soar!

Gallup estimates only 2 in 10 workers have a work BFF today. Only 15% of employees worldwide are engaged at work, meaning they have jobs in which they are developing with rich mission and purpose. There is much room for improvement.

While Easterseals UCP results were quite good and much higher than national averages, Luanne plans to field this survey to measure progress over time and continue to improve. She knows that placing prime attention on growing managers will help Easterseals UCP have strong teams. She also plans to field this same survey at the end of this month to all 2,500 employees to have a pulse on how the 12 Elements of Team Success are trending throughout the organization she leads. Strong teams will fulfill Easterseals UCP’s purpose: providing meaningful and exceptional services so that children and adults living with disabilities and mental health challenges can live, learn, work, and play in their communities. See Luanne share her 2020 New Year wish for her team: video

Great managers make the difference. When you have great managers who can maximize the potential of every team member, you have delivered on the new global will: a great job and a great life!


About the Author 

Grace Ueng is Founder & CEO of Savvy Growth, a boutique management consultancy and executive coaching firm whose mission is to help companies and their leaders achieve their fullest potential.

Ueng and Savvy’s Managing Director, Rich Chleboski, a clean tech veteran, develop and implement strategies to support the growth of impact focused companies and then coach their leaders in carrying out their strategic plans. Their expertise spans all phases of the business from evaluation through growth and liquidity. Savvy works with your team from discovery through implementation to ensure the success of your venture.

Savvy supports senior executives and investors at impact focused for profit companies as well as non-profit organizations. They are hired by the board of directors or the CEO of companies at inflection points. They become an extension of the C-suite and develop and implement growth and transition strategies and coach key leaders. Savvy Growth has served 200 clients from emerging growth to the Fortune 1000.

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