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The Mountain Climb

The goal of any mountain climb is to reach the summit, but any mountain worth climbing requires an organized and careful approach. You cannot run to the top of the mountain; you must conquer it in stages. You cannot start near the summit, skipping the lower elevations; you need to be exposed to the thinning air in gradual intervals so your body is prepared for the changes ahead. It is the same for an organization preparing to move towards the “summit” of an environment that fully engages top performing employees.

Base Camp (Level 1): “What do I get?”

At this stage your needs are pretty basic. You want to know what is expected of you? How much you will earn?
What will your resources be? Without answers to these questions it will be difficult to focus on any other issues.
Of the twelve questions, these two measure Level 1?

1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?
2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?

Camp 1 (Level 2): “What do I give?”

As you move along, you begin to see things differently and you start to ask different questions. You want to know how you are doing. Do others think you are doing well? Are they willing to help? You become focused on your individual contribution and other people’s perception of it.

These four questions measure Level 2:

3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?
5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?

These questions address the issue of your individual self-esteem and worth. Without a positive answer to these questions, your attempts to move to the next stage will be undermined.

Camp 2 (Level 3): “Do I belong here?”

You continue to climb and you have asked some tough questions. The answers have helped you build strength and momentum to continue your climb. Your perspective has widened and you may begin to question whether or not you fit the organization. Do the things
that drive you also drive those around you? Is your basic value system in line with that of the organization?

These four questions measure Level 3:

7. At work, do my opinions seem to count?
8. Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my job is important?
9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?
10. Do I have a best friend at work?

Camp 3 (Level 4): “How can we all grow?”

This is the most advanced stage of the climb. You become impatient for everyone to improve and grow. The focus is on making things better, learning, growing and innovating. Innovation is possible at this stage largely because of the work done at Level 1,
Level 2 & Level 3. Expectations are clear, your confidence is high, and you are aware of the people around you and their possible reaction to your new ideas. If you have been through all of the stages you are in good position to reach the summit. You have the materials you need, you understand your role, have the confidence and attitude to move forward, and you have teammates who are similarly committed
and prepared for the final stage.

These two questions measure Level 4:

11. In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?
12. This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?

The Summit

When you can answer positively to all of these twelve questions, then you have reached the summit. The focus is clear and you feel a recurring sense of achievement. The best of you is being called upon and you respond with your best every single day. You are surrounded by others who seem to thrill to the challenge of their work. Strengthened by the group’s mutual understanding and a shared sense of purpose you look forward to the challenges ahead. It is difficult to remain on the summit for long due to the changing and shifting ground beneath your feet, but while you are there, it is quite a special feeling.

Mountain Sickness

As a manager, you can see that the metaphorical mountain reveals that the key to building a strong, vibrant workplace lies in meeting employees’ needs at Level 1 and Level 2. This is where you should first focus your time and energy. If your employees’ needs are not met at this first level, then all other efforts may be a waste of time and resources. However, if you can meet those needs successfully, then future initiatives aimed at higher levels will be much easier to implement and will yield more significant results.

It may be difficult for some managers to start at the beginning due to the fact that they have been encouraged to focus much higher up the mountain over the past several years. Popular programs focused on mission statements, diversity training and self-directed work teams are all Level 3 directives and past total quality management, reengineering, continuous improvement, and learning organization
efforts are aimed at Level 4.

All of these ideas are well meaning and many have been well planned and executed, but that has not kept most from withering. They aimed too high, too fast. Without the foundation of Level 1 it does not make sense to start work at higher levels. If an employee does not know what is expected of him as an individual, then how can he become engaged in becoming a better team member. If he remains uncertain of his fit and role, he cannot be expected to be comfortable sharing his ideas for innovation.

There is a great temptation to implement any number of high-level ideas as soon as possible, but it is like helicoptering onto the mountain at seventeen thousand feet. It feels like a good move at first. It quickly puts you closer to the summit, but ultimately provides your group with a smaller chance of reaching your final goal.

The Focus of Great Managers

Great managers take aim at Level 1 and Level 2. They understand that the foundation of a strong and productive workplace is in the first six questions.

1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?
2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?
3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?
5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?

Obtaining 5’s for these first six questions should be among a managers most important responsibilities. In order to accomplish this you have to be able to set consistent expectations for all your people yet at the same time treat each person differently. You have to be able
to make each person feel as though he is in a role that uses his talents, while simultaneously challenging him to grow. You have to care about each person, praise each person, and, if necessary, terminate a person you have cared about and praised. These goals appear to be contradictory, but the great manager finds a way to create a workplace that allows them to be coexisting priorities.

The above is based on:
“Overview of the Gallup Organization’s Q-12 Survey” By Louis R. Forbringer, Ph.D., published 2002