The Psychology of Painting Part 2 – With Employees: Empowering them to be Successful

By Mario Guertin – President, PDCA Craftsmanship Forum
President, Painting in Partnership, Inc.

This series of articles is designed around the premise that every human being is born with a natural ability to operate in the psychological realm. All it takes is AWARENESS and a WILLINGNESS to enter the arena. The first part of this series was devoted to Customers. We discussed the importance of being attuned to the expectations of clients, as well as their needs, concerns and moods, so that our interactions and the services we deliver can be of true benefit to the clients’ lives, in a much broader way. The second part of this series will be devoted to Employees and how our interactions, as a company, can benefit them in a much broader way as well.

Defining Empowerment

My definition of Empowerment is simple: equipping people with the tools and awareness they need to be successful in their work and lives! The basic premise is that people have all the raw materials necessary to be successful. They simply need a supportive structure around them and some coaching to improve their effectiveness. In the end, empowerment is about helping people to recognize that they have a voice and they have what it takes to make a substantial contribution to the mission of the organization, and then some! From that empowerment grows Self-Confidence. From self-confidence grows Extraordinary Performance! Does that sound like something you desire for your organization?

Structure and Systems

Do you ever feel frustrated that your people are not performing at the level you are expecting them to? I often felt that way in the past and I sometimes still do today, although in a much reduced way. What I have come to realize is this: I can get mad about people not performing up to my standards or I can design Systems that empower them to be Brilliant at what they do! It is one or the other; not both! Let me give you an example.

One of my greatest areas of frustrations used to be in the hiring process. How do I decide who is ‘a good fit’ before I am stuck with a misfit? How many of you can relate to this? The cost of a ‘misfit’ can be huge, as you well know: stress, time, useless coaching, money, time, more money, more stress! How do you solve this problem when YOU are not there to make the observations? How do you make those assessments? In the ‘Building a Team of Craftsmen’ series, published earlier in the PDCA e-newsletters (click ‘Articles’ on the Forum’s website), you can learn about a system I developed to empower my employees to make assessments on who is a ‘good fit on the Team’; it is called the ‘Probation Assessment System’. Some of the criteria are technical and some focus more on attitude. This system empowers my employees to make those critical assessments before the end of probation. What used to be a source of great frustration and stress in my company, was transformed into an area where I felt a measure of control I never had! More importantly, my employees feel more in control and valued for their input to this critical process.

How does this culture shift occur? First of all, by realizing and accepting the fact that ‘scaring’ people into behaving ‘properly’ simply does not work. What works are systems that empower them! What must one give up to get there: the notion that ‘I am the Boss and therefore, do as I say’! What does it mean? It means that it is up to me, as the BOSS, to roll up my sleeves and ask myself: what do my people need from me in order to produce the result I expect of them? It takes a while for that shift to occur and ‘stick’. Whenever I see myself get frustrated with an outcome, I more and more quickly catch myself and shift to my system design mode. However, I must admit that sometimes it takes a poke in the ribs by one of my employees for me to snap out of my ‘scare mode’!

The Search for Significance

What is it that motivates people? Ultimately, I believe that it is: Being Noticed, Appreciated and ‘Contributed to as a Person’! In other words, people want to feel Significant. We will now examine what each of these statements mean.

a) Being Noticed

People are ‘individuals’; they like to be affirmed as such! Being ‘individual’ means being ‘different’ from ‘any one else’! In what ways might you say? That is the question! What is it that makes this person unique? That is the question! ‘Noticing’ someone means Recognizing the special qualities someone possesses. It also means Telling the person involved what it is that ‘you notice’! ‘Noticing’ falls short of the mark if you do not tell! People need to hear or ‘get’ in some other way that ‘you’ notice who they are. I will use the example of my Office Manager. Daina has an uncanny ability to focus on a problem and not let go until the problem is solved! She becomes like a ‘pit bull with a pork chop’! Wow! What a talent! When I tell her that, she feels gotten and affirmed in her abilities; we usually have a good laugh as well!

b) Being Appreciated

What does ‘Being Appreciated’ mean? Many books have been written on this subject. One book in particular is Gary Chapman’s book entitled ‘The Five Love Languages’. The book’s premise is that people experience love and appreciation in 5 basic ways:

  • Words of Affirmation
  • Acts of Service
  • Touch (hugs, hand shakes and taps on the back are OK here)
  • Gifts
  • Offerings of Opportunities

Not everyone has the same love language; not everyone experiences appreciation the same way. The point is that, to be effective in reaching the target, one must become adept at recognizing someone’s love language and versed at speaking those languages. This has been an area of struggle for me. I like formulas; I like systems; yes, I like the predictable! Do you also? The bad news is that, to be effective in this area, one has to learn to put those preferences aside and focus on what is at hand: a person uniquely made! One secret: if you wonder about someone’s favorite love language, observe how he/she most easily expresses their love and appreciation to others. One of my employees has offered small gifts, on many occasions, to colleagues and to myself, for no particular reasons. This is a strong clue that his major love language is Gifts. So when I want to show him appreciation, a gift is a good way reach the target. Also, almost everyone has a secondary language as well. So you have a 40% change of hitting the bulls-eye, just by trying! For me, words of affirmation are big. Guess what: I love to give words of affirmation. So it goes!

c) Being Contributed To

Being Contributed To means receiving help or assistance in achieving one’s worthwhile career and life goals. What this is about is creating an environment where everyone is inspired and supported to be their best and, over time, fulfill their potential as human beings. That may seem like a lofty goal, perhaps even idealistic. However, a corporate culture can be created, supported by appropriate systems, to achieve such a result. In my ‘Building a Team of Craftsmen’ series, I described several systems that can be implemented from Hiring, to Culture Building, to Employee Development to create such a culture. You can gain access to the series by simply going to the ‘Article’ section of this Forum’s web site.

At this point, you might be thinking: ‘My people are not interested in this Potential Stuff; they want a pay check and that is it’! That may be true. However, is this the kind of climate you want in your company? If not, you have some house cleaning to do and you will need new systems around hiring the right kind of person! Also, you may need to examine your motives as a business owner. Ask yourself whether you are interested and committed to your people being able to develop their talents and fulfill, over time, their full potential while at your employ. In our society, the ‘Pursuit of Profit’ can easily dominate the scene; our employees can simply be a ‘means to an end’. In Part 1, we raised a similar issue regarding Customers: are you more interested in ‘Being of Service’ or ‘making the most money possible’ in the moment? Experience shows me that ‘doing the right thing’ for Customers and Employees can lead to Extraordinary Performance, as well as providing everyone involved with a high level of Personal Satisfaction and Significance. Is this what you want to accomplish with your company and employees?

If you are interested in building such a company, you need to be designing systems to help in the development of your people. Part 3 of that series on ‘Building a Team of Craftsmen’ was devoted to building such a system. This system should help identify areas that represent growth opportunities for each employee. Most areas will be workrelated; some may not. As an example, in one of the Employee Development Meetings I held last year, I discovered that one of my employees loves to write. This meeting resulted in a series of 3 articles published in this Craftsman Corner newsletter entitled ‘How a Painter Becomes a Craftsman’. What do you think writing this series did for Steve Scanlan’s self-esteem and overall performance in my company?

Going Deeper; the Ultimate Opportunity

When we go about our day and interact with our employees, we constantly make observations about them, that we are aware of it or not. Some of these observations may lead us, over time, to gain valuable insights into them as people. In the previous section, we discussed the critical importance of identifying our employees’ main ‘Assets’ and ‘Gems’ and the necessity of sharing that information with them. We all know that the observations we make on a day-today basis are at times not so positive. In fact, some of these areas can be a source of great frustration, irritation and pain. Right? A lot of emotion gets wrapped up around such issues. Such issues can grow into full size wars. How do we diffuse the tension? How do we address these issues with our employees in a positive, constructive way?

a) Diffusing the Tension

In my 50+ years of living, the most effective way I have learned to relieve the tension described above is this: ‘If I have a judgment about someone, it is a judgment I have about myself as well’! Wow, that is some heavy pill to swallow! Yes it is! Why do you think it took me over 50 years to start taking that medicine? Having judgments feels so ‘right’ somehow! The question to ask yourself is this: ‘How is this judgment true about me’? You may not have an answer right away; you may even think that it is totally ridiculous and that there is no possible way that this judgment applies to you. Hang in there with the question. If you are willing to be honest and go deep enough within yourself, the answer always comes. It always reveals a part of me I have ‘great difficulty accepting’ (this is why it is a lot easier to judge others)! When I am able to get there, there is always a release of the tension I felt towards the person I was judging. Three main benefits are gained from being willing to ask this basic question:

  • I learn something important about myself.
  • I learn to accept my ‘imperfect/broken parts’!
  • The reduced tension allows me to have a positive, constructive conversation about the matter at hand.

b) Contributing to Someone’s Life

Reducing the tension, as described above, is most desirable for the success of addressing one of those loaded issues. However, what is most critical to the success of your attempt to address a difficult issue between you and one of your employees is this:

  • Your ‘Intent’ must be centered on ‘Contribution’.
  • You must follow a few basic steps.

In 2002, I wrote an article entitled: ‘The Key to 360 Degree Leadership’. The article was published in the July-August. 2002 issue of the PWC Magazine (it is currently available by going to the Forum’s web site under ‘Articles’). This article goes into a lot of detail about this approach. For the purpose of this article, I will just give you the highlights.

Your ‘Intent’ must be Focused on Contribution

This is the most critical step! Why? Human nature is such that one’s Self-Interest can easily drive the conversation. In other words, my desire to ‘feel better’ and be more ‘comfortable’ can easily take center stage. After all, some of these issues can be the source of significant discomfort, fear, irritation and pain. However justified or right you feel about ‘your’ position, you must resist the temptation to act from that place: AT ALL COSTS! It is absolutely critical that your Intent be set on Contributing to your employee. Otherwise, do not bother; failure awaits you! You would be better off waiting a while until you can create a shift in your attitude. The reason I know that is this: I have made that mistake a lot! The steps listed below will guide you to the goal line.

Steps to Follow

    1. ‘Setting the Table! You must attempt to select an appropriate time for the conversation. You must ask if this is a good time to talk. You also need to announce that ‘there is something you would like to discuss that you feel could be of benefit to this person’. Without going into specifics, you must announce why you want to have this talk. You must then ask if the person is OPEN to having this conversation. If the answer is no, wait for a better time!
    1. Acknowledge the Person: This person must get that you understand and appreciate who they are. How is this accomplished? By stating some heart-felt outstanding aspects of this person and going into specifics about how you see the potential of this person.
  1. Proceed to the ‘Delivery’: You must first share your Facts and Observations regarding the issue at hand. You must then share your ‘opinion’ of how this behavior hinders this employee’s performance and opportunities for growth. This is not a ploy to ‘manipulate’. It must be genuine or it will fail!

When you successfully complete the steps above, you are likely going be blown away by how willing and open people are to be contributed to in this way! The final part of this series will be devoted to the BOSS! So long for now.