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RISMEDIA, January 4, 2010—Do your agents say communication could be better? Would they like more input into corporate decisions? Do they wish their contributions were more appreciated? If so, consider focusing more attention on what Quint Studer, CEO of Studer Group,SM calls “building an emotional bank account” with your agents. Not only is it the right thing to do, its good insurance for the future. Eventually, your agents will feel let down—so you must ensure there’s enough emotional capital in the account for that metaphorical rainy day.

“Most leaders truly want to do the right thing,” asserts Studer, author of Straight A Leadership: Alignment, Action, Accountability. “They want positive, productive, trust-based relationships with their people. But let’s face it: perfection doesn’t exist in leaders or in companies. You put in enough ‘deposits’ so that when the inevitable ‘withdrawals’ are made—let’s say you forget to say thank you or you have to institute pay cuts—there’s enough goodwill in the account to salvage those relationships.”

The following tips will help you build an emotional bank account with your employees.

-Diagnose employee satisfaction—and act on the results. Use a proven, respected assessment tool to figure out where your problems lie. Then, commit to solving them.

-Harvest best practices. If assessments reveal that a high number of your agents cite “poor communication” as a problem, dig deeper. You may find that one department manager got great communication scores. Find out what she is doing right and reward her. Then, work to apply her communication practices throughout the organization.

-Announce that you’re making changes. Accept skepticism, but not cynicism. “Tell your agents specifically what you are going to fix,” says Studer. “Naturally, they will be skeptical. You can even tell them that skepticism is fine, even expected, but ask that they try not to be cynical. If they start rolling their eyes and say, ‘Oh, we’ve heard all that before,’ tell them, ‘Look, you can be part of the problem or you can be open to change and see good things start to happen.'”

-Go for “quick wins” to establish credibility. A quick win is an action that shows your agents you really are committed to meeting their needs. If you are trying to establish an environment of fairness, for instance, don’t “pull rank” as a senior leader and cut in line. Don’t insist on having the parking spot nearest the door. (Not only will it send a signal that you’re no more important than anyone else, the longer parking lot trek gives you the opportunity to talk to your agents and stay on top of what’s going on in your company).

-“Round” relentlessly. Studer is a huge proponent of leadership “rounding,” a process similar to the one doctors use to check on their patients. In the business world, leaders “make the rounds” daily to check on the status of his or her employees. “Basically, you take an hour a day to touch base with your agents, make a personal connection, recognize successes, find out what’s going well, and determine what improvements can be made,” says Studer.

-Get rid of low performers. Make no mistake: your agents don’t want to work with low performers. Nothing makes agents as discouraged and resentful as having to co-exist with people who don’t pull their own weight. In fact, low performers usually drive high performers right out the door.

-Avoid creating a “We/They” culture. The temptation to get on your agents’ good side by saying (for instance), “Well, I fought for the budget increase but this is all I could get,” can be huge. It may feel easier or more comfortable at the moment, but ultimately you’re dividing the staff instead of uniting them. Of course, few leaders deliberately foster a “We/They” mentality, but it can be easy to do subconsciously.

-Be open and truthful with your employees, no matter how difficult it may be. “Let’s say you know that part of your organization is going to be outsourced in the next few months, or that there are going to be major cuts in benefits,” says Studer. “Even if it doesn’t directly affect your team, it certainly impacts them on an emotional level. Once the decision is final, you owe it to your agents to tell them. Don’t wait for them to read it in the paper. They will know that you knew all along—and a huge amount of trust will be lost.”

About the Author
Quint Studer formed Studer Group®, an outcomes firm that implements evidence-based leadership systems that help clients attain and sustain outstanding results. He was named one of the “Top 100 Most Powerful People in Healthcare” by Modern Healthcare magazine for his work on institutional healthcare improvement.

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