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Building Employee Confidence

What is the number one personality trait of individuals who deal effectively with change? It’s confidence. Confident people are self-motivated, have high self-esteem and are willing to take risks. But even the most confident employee may suffer a crisis of self-doubt in times of radical change. That’s when leadership becomes a critical factor.

Here are seven ways that managers/leaders can help build employee confidence:

1. Acknowledge weaknesses, but play to people's strengths.
Todd Mansfield, the executive vice president of Disney Development Company, found that his company had been spending too much time dwelling on employee weaknesses. He said, "When we'd sit down to evaluate associates, we'd spend 20% of our time talking about the things they did well and 80% on what needed to be improved. That is just not effective. We ought to spend and energy helping people determine what they are gifted at doing and then align their responsibilities with those capabilities."

2. Don't assume people know how good they are.
I gave a speech for the top management team of a software company in Northern California that was relocating out of state. A few days later the president of the company telephoned me to say, "I have an administrative assistant who is probably the brightest, most creative person I've worked with. The problem is, she's married and can't move her family out of the Bay Area. I was wondering if you would see her for a private counseling session, so that when she applies for a new job, she will come across just as terrific as she really is. I'll even pay for the session."

Of course, I agreed, and looked forward to meeting this talented woman. When she came into my office I said, "This is a real pleasure. I've heard so many nice things about you. Tell me about yourself. What is it that you do exceptionally well? What would you most want a prospective employer to know about you?" The woman was silent for several seconds. Finally she sighed and said, "I really don't know. I do a lot of things well, but when I do them, I don't notice."

3. When people do something very well, acknowledge it immediately.
Timing is everything when it comes to building confidence. Get in the habit of commenting on outstanding employee behavior as soon as you notice it. When managers at El Torito Restaurants in Irvine, California, catch a worker doing something exceptional, they immediately give the employee a "Star Buck." Each restaurant has a monthly drawing from the pool of "stars" for prizes (cash, TVs, etc.) and each region then has a drawing for $1,000 cash.

4. Encourage people to “go public” about their achievements.
One manager I know came up with a creative solution to her employees' lament that, although she did a pretty good job overall, there were many times when she was too preoccupied to notice her people’s accomplishments. She put a hand-painted sign in her office and jokingly encouraged employees to display it whenever they had a significant achievement. What started out as an office gag is now a favorite employee ritual. The sign reads, "I just did something wonderful. Ask me about it!"

5. Help people identify their strengths and then find ways to capitalize on them.
Everyone has unique talents and abilities that are not always used in their present jobs. Paula Banks, a former Human Resources director at Sears, once had a secretary who was doing an adequate but mediocre job. Paula talked to the woman and found out that, in her spare time, she was a top salesperson for Mary Kay Cosmetics. In Paula's words: "I found out she had great sales skills, so I changed her duties to include more of what she was really good at—organizing, follow-through and closing deals. She had this tremendous ability. My job was to figure out how to use it."

6. Create small victories.
Managers need to design "small wins" to encourage people along the way to achieving goals of exceptional performance. One manager put it this way: "A stretch goal can scare people to death. I always begin with a mini-goal that I know my staff can achieve, and then I use that victory as a confidence-builder for reaching the larger objective."

7. Plan for the future.
An oil company was at the beginning of a reengineering effort, and during a meeting I was facilitating, members of the change task force began to discuss the drop in confidence the work force was experiencing. One of the managers shook her head. "Not my staff," she said. "Everyone in my department is doing just fine." When we asked her why they were doing so well, the manager said that every week she brought her team together and spent an hour or more going over strategy for various organizational contingencies. "We look at the current changes going on in the business and the changes we anticipate in the future, and then we plan how best to position ourselves for all outcomes," she said. "We plan our personal financial and career strategies, we share information and leads about open positions throughout the company, we've even planned a response if our entire function is eliminated. My staff feels that there isn't anything that we can't handle."

Now that's confidence!

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