What happens when you actually try out some of this LEADx advice?
If you’re a LEADx reader or listener, then you know we deliver amazing and practical advice for leaders and aspiring leaders alike. However, very rarely are we able to see the effects and changes that amazing leaders can make by implementing even the simplest of changes. From communication, appreciation, and self-awareness, let’s delve into the story of a leader who took a new approach and is reaping the benefits.
Mike Tippets is a business leader who lives and breathes so many of the topics we address on the LEADx show. He's been a leader in the technology space his entire career, starting as a quality assurance team leader at WordPerfect. His current role is as vice president of digital media at Hughes, an EcoStar company. I recently interviewed Mike for the LEADx Podcast, where we discussed the changes he implemented, and what his advice for leaders out there who need a hand. (The interview below has been lightly edited for space and clarity.)
Kevin Kruse: “Every time you lose a deal, you've got to start making the plan for how you're going to win them back.” Is that what customer retention is about?
Mike Tippets: Absolutely. You have all the adages and everything about, “It's cheaper to win an existing customer than it is to get a new one,” and on and on and on. I'm making every attempt I can now to live that learning, and learn about the customer's business, you know? Don't go in there listening for things that I can sell them. “Oh, you need my product X,” “You need my product Y,” but listen to the problems they're dealing with and then collaborate with them on how to solve them. Obviously, you hope your products, your services, will fit in there.
Kruse: My book Employee Engagement 2.0 contained some questions. You modified them and have been working to improve the engagement of your team, right?
Tippets: Yeah, that's correct. I literally remember the day, I was sitting on an airplane, I was reading the book, and here it comes; you had written it so that the individual reading could measure their own personal engagement in their current job. I did that, I went down through and was marking in the book and everything and then this light bulb went off and I said, “You know what? I'm going to ask these seven questions of the 40-some people that work for me and measure it.” I took the seven questions and basically added in our group as, “I am extremely satisfied working in our group.” “I rarely think about finding a new job in a different company.” These were the questions, and then I gave the team “strongly disagree,” “disagree,” “neutral,” “agree,” and “strongly agree.”
You've got the five, and “strongly agree” is five points and the others count on down from there. It was very interesting, so I put it out there, I said, “We're doing this anonymously, okay? Because I want as honest an answer as you can honestly give me.” I also told them, “Go home and go over this with your significant other,” because as you've talked about, work bleeds into home.
What I don't want is, you give me your work answer and then when you go home and your wife, girlfriend, whoever, says, “Well, you're not that happy,” or “You like that, remember, we talked about it.” I usually give them a week to 10 days to turn it in, and then we just do what a business person does. We take it, we numeric it, we line it up, and we evaluate it.
Kruse: Was their reaction more “Cool, we get to give feedback,” or “This is crazy.”?
Tippets: Generally, it was the former. Listen, I've given out books and I've talked to these guys, the one good thing I'll say, not to brag but I do regularly talk to these guys. All of them down through both layers. It's not like, “Oh, we never hear from Mike unless he wants something from us,” kind of a thing. If I remember correctly I think I had nearly 100% response.
Kruse: Were you surprised by what came back?
Tippets: No, well, I don't think I'd say I was surprised. I was curious because—not ever having done this before—we had been very lucky, we have very low turnover in my team. In the technology sector that's pretty unheard of, but I was excited to get the results back. When we got the results back, a “perfect score,” would be 35, right? Somebody was completely happy with all seven questions. We scored at about 26. I put these numbers together, I made a couple of charts, and I went and gathered the group together and I said, “Okay, I want to show you what you said to me.” Then I told them things that I was going to do with the other managers on the team, the leadership group that we have, and we started doing some of that.
A lot of it was just around communication. Talking to them, listening to them, and then talking to them to make sure that they're aware of things that maybe I know, and I just assume people know down the chain and they don't. Good news, bad news, direction, these kinds of things, but keeping them informed.
We did that for six months. We had some regular meetings, we talked to people, we kept them informed, we did the survey again and we bumped up about a point and a half, almost two points. We did it a total of five times over two and a half, almost three years, and my goal was to get us as close to 28 as I could. My interpretation of the data and a little bit of what I'd read is, if you're above 28 you're probably running a little bit of a Never Never Land there. It's a little unrealistic. If you're below 21, you've got problems, you've got people leaving, or they're about to.
Again, the last one we did was about a year or so ago because I was doing it every six months and I got to thinking that was a little too frequent. We're going to do it more annually now, but we were just under 28. We were in the mid 27 and change. I was pleased with that, I was very pleased with what it taught me. The biggest thing I came away from that with was ongoing communication, and then I think I built some trust by reporting back. I showed them the real numbers.
Kruse: Even when I think I'm over communicating, I'll still get messages like “I didn't know about that,” or “How come we aren't doing this?” Have you found that to be true?
Tippets: Absolutely. A couple weeks ago I was speaking and I said this: “Human nature, for whatever reason, if we hear negative news we're more likely to believe that than we are positive.” I'm sure there's a number out there that somebody's researched, but you probably have to dump four to eight times the amount of positive communication out there just to keep negative at the door. Just to keep it from crawling in, and saying “Woe is us,” and all that. Like, guys, remember last Thursday I told you we've got this great thing going on? “Oh, but you know, we had a bad day, and the weather.” I'm very much with you that you can never do too much.
Now, at the same time make sure it's honest, right? Don't just communicate, “Look, it's Thursday morning, I'm supposed to communicate, here's communication.” No, it has to be honest, which means that sometimes it may be two sentences. “Guys, this is going good and I'll keep you posted.”
Kruse: Again it's a seven question survey, you implemented it, you're sticking with it. This is the right way to do it, so great job.
Tippets: Thank you. You hear this in sales all the time, “People buy from people.” The same thing's true at work. You work for people. If you're in an organization large enough that you've got a C suite and you've got front line workers and you're distributed and so forth, those people need to know who's leading the company. They need to hear from regularly, and regularly for some companies is quarterly, regularly for other companies is monthly, and what have you, and different levels of management can take turns and so on and so forth, but I firmly believe that if the CEO is not visible, if she's not out there in front of the troops on a routine basis so they can see and hear from her, that's a huge mistake.
Kurse: What would you say to a CEO if she says, “This is just about making people happy, there's no hard ROI on this engagement.”
Tippets: With all due respect and politeness, I would say that I can show her numerically that a front line, 10 to 15 dollar an hour associate costs $3,000 every time one leaves. In the customer service industry like retail or hospitality, they're going 40% to 60% turnover. If you've got 10,0000 employees, you've got 50% turnover and every time one of them walks out the door it costs you three grand? Do the math. If you disagree with me we actually built a model and put a little website up where you can put in your numbers. Put in your hourly rates and your cost and things that we use in the model, and I promise you it's going to come out somewhere between $2,500 and $3,500 if you're honest with yourself. That's real money.
Now, no program, no survey, no anything is going to suddenly take that to zero, but if you're a 40,000, 50,0000 employee organization and you move the needle one or two points, that pays for a lot of activities and a lot of things. I'll say to that CEO, “Hey, if you had an extra million dollars because we dropped it 3%, would that open a new store, would that fund a new location, how much R&D would you do with that?” Because it goes right to the bottom line.
Kruse: Is that an internal website you created?
Tippets: No, it's external, and it's valuemodel.qsignage.com.
Kruse: We'll definitely put that in the show notes, that's a great gift to our listeners, I appreciate that.
Tippets: We originally built the model for our sales team and told them, “Go grab your prospective company's annual report and different things and plug some numbers in and you'll go in with some credibility.” It won't be perfection, but it'll be some credibility and then tell them, “Listen, if I've used wrong numbers, if I've misinterpreted your data, let's sit down with the model and plug your real numbers in.” We've done it enough now that I'm very confident in saying that your frontline employee is going to cost you $3,000. That goes up somewhat exponentially as you go up the organization chart. Not just because salaries are more expensive but you start to see the knowledge loss and things that go out the door when an employee turns over because they're disengaged.
Kruse: Not to mention if you're at a high enough level, the headhunter cost is huge at these executive roles.
Tippets: That's very true. Again, you said it and we repeat it a lot, “People join companies, they quit bosses.” The value of LEADx, one of the things that I'll tell people is, “If this helps you become a better leader—I hate the word manager—but leader or manager, you reduce your own turnover, you increase your own engagement, you're doing things for your company that are just magical.”
Kruse: You went and did it, you scaled it up because you actually created a one question survey monkey form, and you sent it out, was it to 69 people?
Tippets: I did, Kevin, and I received 57 responses, so I got about 171 words. Obviously, there were duplicates in there. Being the visual guy that I am, I thought, the best way for me to look at this is to make a word cloud. I took the list and I dumped it into a little word cloud creator, and I keep it with me now. I keep that word cloud with me.
The biggest thing, again just to go through this quickly, the biggest thing that I do with this, is, there were, out of the 171 words, probably two, three, four, that kind of pinched a little. The rest I was thrilled with. I mean, I got positive, passionate, motivational, energetic, funny, focused, things that I was very proud that people thought of me that way. There were a couple in there. One was cliquish, and one was egotistical. To be candid, close the door, be honest with oneself, I am a little cliquish. I'll work with the people I'm comfortable with, and so I'm going very hard this year to be more inclusive.
Then you know this, but I've got an ego approaching the size of Montana. I use that to drive our team into new and nontraditional directions, but I'm going to make sure this year that I don't let that become an offensive aspect of my brand or of my personality. But I read the list every Monday with the idea of, “Okay, make sure you don't do the things this week that you've said you're going to watch,” and then on Friday I read it to see how I did. It's a five-minute exercise.
Kruse: Some of my feedback pinched too, and I would just kind of remind myself of them through the year to grind off my hard edges a little bit.
Tippets: Yeah. By the way, you know, 360 is important in that exercise. I went above, lateral, and down as I picked those people, because I really wanted a 360 view. I have to be honest, I reached out to our HR department before I did that. I said “Hey, listen, this is what I want to do,” and they were laughing. They were like, “Do it. We wish more people had the courage to do it.” It was awesome.
Kruse: I always ask our listeners to get a little bit better every day, and so now it's your turn to challenge us.
Tippets: I think what I would say is, in order to get better you have to know where you are right now. Create a baseline and measure your improvement against that baseline. I would encourage users, or listeners, to use the survey, or this adjective word cloud concept, or both, to lay down a baseline of where you are today and use that to help you set some goals and then measure yourself as you go forward.
Kevin Kruse is a New York Times bestselling author, host of the popular LEADx Leadership Podcast, and the CEO/Founder of LEADx.org, which provides free world-class leadership training, professional development and career advice for anyone, anywhere.