I've been in leadership positions long enough to know no one hands you a leadership manual (unless you're in the Army). Common blind spots can derail a leader's career, self-awareness is a never-ending quest, and figuring out what makes employees tick can be puzzling.

Unfortunately (but fortunately), new research from Gallup reveals still more you may not know as a leader but should--a series of inconvenient truths in the form of a set of alarming statistics.

These are six numbers that won't add up if you want to have a high-performing, happy organization. So let's be aware and take action.

1. 78 percent of employees don't believe their leaders have a clear direction for the organization.

Thought everyone was rowing together? Think again.

What's going on here? First, too many leaders develop their vision in a vacuum. They don't enroll the broader organization in the vision along the way, opting instead to come down from the mountain with the vision written on a tablet. People need to weigh in before they can buy in.

And the written-in-stone part is problematic too, because visions need to be more flexible and adjustable because of marketplace realities that might arise. Visions also need to be built on company and employee strengths (not just based on a future state that assumes all disadvantages have disintegrated). Finally, visions have to be communicated repeatedly. Lack of clarity in direction may simply be due to a lack of leaders reinforcing it over time.

2. 74 percent of employees don't believe their organization delivers on promises to customers.

Paying customers are happy customers, right? Not necessarily.

Companies that delight customers fully enroll and empower employees to act in the customer's best interest at all times. At places like the Waldorf Astoria, Nordstrom, and even Chick-fil-A, employees are rewarded and recognized for staying close to what customers want and acting on it.

You can never be too close to your customer, something that depends on positive word of mouth and referrals. What if you acted as if 100 percent of your business came from referrals?  

3. 88 percent of employees think their company mishandled their onboarding.

Is there anything more "out of sight, out of mind" for leaders than the minutiae of onboarding a new employee?

But it matters.

Most companies treat onboardings as paperwork, processing, and providing Post-it notes. The Gallup research (and my own experience) indicates onboarding should include giving the new employee a chance to experience your company's unique culture and to spend some time with key leaders. It should garner an understanding of how their work fits into the bigger picture and an appreciation for why their work matters. And it should help them be able to picture a long-term career path.

Otherwise, it's a huge missed opportunity to shape critical early employee impressions.

4. 86 percent of employees don't think their performance review inspired them to improve.

This is an easy one to miss, as many leaders naturally think reviews are about reviewing, ranking, and rating--when they can be so much more. In Make It Matter, I share that performance reviews are excellent opportunities to imbue an employee's work plan with more meaning. Instead of just reviewing the numbers, strengths, and weaknesses, consider discussing these kinds of questions with employees:

  • How fulfilled are you? What's getting in the way if you're not very fulfilled?
  • Have you identified the higher-order purpose to your work, and what legacy you want to leave behind?
  • Do you feel challenged, and that you're learning and growing?
  • Do you feel empowered, valued, and appreciated?

You get the idea.

It's not just about measuring, it's also about meaning.

5. Over two-thirds of employees are experiencing burnout.

And you thought the hard-working culture was just that. The negative add-on effects of employee burnout are too many to mention. Instead, let's focus on what causes burnout, so you can help avoid it altogether.

Gallup says employee burnout comes from unfair treatment at work (causing some to feel like they have to work harder than others to gain favor), a lack of role clarity, an unmanageable workload, lack of support from the manager, and unrealistic time pressures. A nasty stew, but you can influence the ingredients.

6. Half of all employees are looking for another job.

Whoa. Since we're in the midst of the Great Talent Wars, you don't want your employees on the open market. Leaders need to be in tune with what today's workers want. Things like flexible work arrangements, leaders who give meaningful feedback and encourage development, and efforts to reverse all the stats in this article are a great place to start.

They call it insight for a reason--you now have in sight things you didn't see before. Time for action.

Published on: Jan 10, 2019
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