Monthly Archives: October 2013

10 Ways to Become an Expert Communicator

Human Resources prophets like to communicate about Communication—note the capital C.  Employees like to communicate about the lack of Communication.  Leaders like to communicate about how well they Communicate.  Somewhere along the way, the true meaning of this leadership quality became murky.  Communication became an umbrella for multiple leadership skills.  Yet, simply put, communication is the exchange of information between people or an organization by means of speaking, writing, or using a common system of signs or behavior.  Here are 10 simple ways to become an expert communicator:

  1. Meet with your staff on a regular basis
  2. Pass on needed information and share what you can
  3. Have a system in place to ensure proper exchange of information between employees
  4. Ask for feedback on decisions made
  5. Speak in calm and inviting tones and avoid intimidating others
  6. Encourage opposing opinions and questions
  7. Have an open door policy
  8. Promptly return phone calls and emails
  9. Adopt an approachable nature
  10. Write with clarity in mind

Trick or Treat? Should Human Resources Promote Holidays?

This year our Human Resource team dressed up as witches.  Our intranet photo is of us stirring a cauldron full of term files.  In a litigious world with grievances and legal woes, you’d think we’d avoid such a display.  However, the Halloween spirit demands humor and spooky cheer.

What about other holidays?  How involved should Human Resources be for good old-fashioned festivity?  My answer is very.  Some may shirk holidays and equate them with consumerism and stress.  From an organizational perspective, however, holidays are a natural and easy way to do the one thing leaders work hard to achieve every other day of the year, and that is to bring people together.   Plus, holidays are fun.  Good old fashioned fun.  One fun day at work can get you higher productivity for the next month.

Some HR departments have given up “the ghost” and decided the political and religious implications are too difficult to navigate.  But someone solved this problem a long time ago by calling Christmas/Hanukah/Kwanza “the holiday season.”  Of course, avoiding holidays with deep religious meaning like Easter and Yom Kippur are a given.  But I say make your other holidays work for you.  Make Halloween and Valentine’s Day count.  Give more and thank more on Thanksgiving.  If you’re up to it, you can find a number of other special days throughout the year to tap into.  There’s National Spaghetti Day, Umbrella Day, Draw-a-Picture-of-a-Bird Day, Popcorn Day, Bike to Work Day, and many more.

We take our work very seriously and need some lighthearted days to get us through the tougher ones.  If Human Resources commits to festivity, their reputation as HR Witches won’t last long.

 

 

Try a Little Tenderness

Having compassion doesn’t mean you’re soft.  It doesn’t mean you’re weak.

It’s the opposite, really.  A compassionate leader is a strong leader.  Moreover, compassion is key in inspiring your staff toward high performance and brand loyalty.

So, are you a compassionate leader?  Answer the following questions with a yes or no.  If you answer no, consider how you can shift your behavior toward a definitive yes.

  • Do you care about your employees’ work experience and environment and work toward creating good ones?
  • Do you understand the vagaries of your employees’ duties?
  • Do you care about safety and put measures in place to ensure a safe workplace?
  • Do you strive to give requested days off unless business needs prevent it?
  • Do you know your employees’ names and broad details about their lives?
  • Do you greet your employees, ask about their weekends, and say goodnight?
  • Do you provide reasonable deadlines?
  • Do you offer incentives and recognition to your employees?
  • Do you ensure your employees have proper supplies and tools in order to do their jobs efficiently and correctly?
  • When dealing with a difficult employee, do you make sure to come up with an entrance rather than an exit strategy?
  • Most of all, are you committed to developing your employees?  Do you care about their growth and success?

The Credibility Factor

Ask yourself, does your staff trust you?  Why or why not?  Be honest and shift any behaviors that might undermine your “credibility factor.”

Dishonesty (in any form) 

Have you ever been late and lied about the reasons to your staff?  Have you ever been at lunch with a friend and told them you were at a business lunch?  Have you ever told an employee you’d look into something knowing you never would?  Have you ever promised someone a promotion or increase and not followed through?

Unreliability

Do you show up to work on time?  Do you plan for your days off, just as you require your staff to do?  Do you come to staff meetings?  Meetings planned by you?  Do you keep appointments with your staff?  Do you do what you say and say what you do?  Do you break your own rules or company policy?

Lack of Integrity

Do you take from the company you work for in any way?  Do you use your credit card for personal purchases and pass them off as business?  Do you take home something as basic as office supplies?  Do you make deals with vendors for personal gain?  Do you accept gifts from customers or vendors?

Lacking Authority

Do you present yourself in a professional manner?  Do you reveal too much personal information?  Do you quickly address issues with your employees?  Are you thoughtful and decisive?  Do you know what you’re talking about?  Do you lead an embarrassing personal life?  Do you socialize outside of work with certain employees?  Do you favor employees?  Do you have a temper?  Do you stay calm in stressful situations?  Do you cry in front of your employees?  Do you gossip about your employees to other employees?  Do you borrow money or carpool with subordinate staff?

Lack of Believability

Do you follow through?  Do you remember directives you give?  Do you blame others for mistakes? Are you loyal to your staff?  Do you seek out knowledge in your field and understand every component of the business you lead?

How to Avoid the “Under the Bus” Syndrome in the Workplace

These days, it’s common—especially in the workplace—to say, “He threw me under the bus.”  But what does this really mean?  According to the Internet’s Urban Dictionary, it can mean three things:

  • To reject or betray (someone)
  • To treat someone as a scapegoat
  • To put someone out of favor or at a disadvantage 

Very few consider this a healthy activity in the workplace, and yet even the best employees do it.  And almost everyone has had it done to them.  But why?  Why, when it’s damaging to the overall effectiveness of a team and ultimately drags down the bottom line?  And if it’s so common, how can we avoid it? 

The first step is to recognize the complexity and human element of the action.  We must deny that anyone who’s tossing others “under buses” is inherently evil or has deep character flaws.  This won’t fix the problem.  We must instead decide on a workplace culture of ownership and honesty, developing a fear-free zone of acceptance and forgiveness in order to fix problems rather than treating them like hot potatoes.  The second step is to understand why and when people strike out in passive-aggressive ways.  Often enough, they have been mistreated somewhere down the line and have no open means of communicating their needs and having those needs met. 

So let’s ask ourselves why this is such a pervasive problem in the workplace.  First, it’s entirely natural that we, as human beings, feel compelled to save ourselves when cornered or in danger.  Certain chemicals kick in, and that’s when we might start tossing co-workers “under the bus.”  We might deny saying something we indeed said.  We might blame others.  We might agree with negative observations when, in fact, we’ve witnessed opposite behavior.  This self preservation behavior is almost always followed with an immediate residual of regret or shame once the danger has subsided. 

 We’ve determined the human element (self-preservation), so how can we prevent this from kicking in? 

  •  Instead of cornering co-workers and employees, demanding information on the fly, thereby inadvertently creating a culture of danger, meet peacefully and ask questions without judging.  Let employees know that mistakes are made and encourage ownership by asking the person to now solve the problem at hand.  
  • Avoid speaker phones, which also illicit fear in the form of uncertainty (Who’s listening?  Will my reputation be damaged?), when inquiring about a problem, mistake, or situation. 
  • Create a culture of honest communication with zero punishment for “owning up to mistakes.”  Encourage each other to confess mistakes even if no one will ever find out about them.  Hold monthly “mistake” meetings so that everyone can learn from each other’s mistakes. 

Now that we’ve discussed self-preservation, we must acknowledge that this isn’t always the root of dragging someone under those giant rubber wheels.  We must admit that this occurs in our casual conversations or in sudden actions.  You’ve probably been insulted, slammed, or spoken about in a pejorative manner, generally “behind your back.”  That said, you’ve certainly insulted, slammed, or jabbed at someone else.  Or maybe you wrote something in a memo or email?  Or maybe you undercut someone’s ability to do their job in one form or another, making it twice as difficult as it should have been?  Maybe you’ve just made an off-hand yet damaging comment or snitched on someone?  Or maybe you’ve slyly broken policy or insulted policy to co-workers or worse, to subordinates? Passive-aggressive behavior is common.  But there are ways to prevent it in yourself and others. 

The first step in prevention is to understand why it happens.  Mainly, passive-aggressive behavior occurs when someone feels hurt, ignored, irritated, or angry with another and feels as though he or she has little or no recourse to address these feelings.  Simply put, these negative human reactions need to be addressed proactively and often.  Though hashing out “feelings” might seem like a waste of time to company leaders, providing opportunities for employees to work through their feelings in a positive manner prevents passive aggressive behavior that slows productivity. 

Ultimately, workplaces need to wake up and understand that it is human beings who are making businesses run, and human beings are complex entities who think and feelIf you want robots, get on the phone with a company in Japan and try to see if you can custom order all the qualities that make for a great employee.  If you examine these qualities, loyalty, enthusiasm, dedication, the ability to synthesize and create, the ability to manage people, energy, and innovation, you will quickly determine that these qualities can only reside in a feeling person. 

Finally, here are some tried and true methods to prevent the “under the bus” syndrome from dragging down your business: 

  • Insist upon open lines of positive communication, allowing for concerns.  To clarify, everyone needs to be heard without the fear of being terminated.  Have several official ways to communicate as well as an open-door policy.  One way could be an anonymous suggestion box; another could be a monthly meeting in which everyone in the department is asked to write one concern up for discussion.  Using modern methods, a departmental Blog (with standards and limitations) could also be a helpful way for employees to express themselves.
  • Understand that people will feel things based on perception alone, so we must address these feelings rather than telling someone “you shouldn’t feel that way.”  People are going to feel the way they feel based on perception, not necessarily the truth.   And no matter how hard you try, you can’t tell someone else how to feel.  You can’t even tell yourself how to feel. 
  • Train people to communicate effectively.  Train them to listen to each other and give full attention when that attention’s needed.  People tend to de-prioritize their relationships with co-workers in favor of running reports and finishing projects when, in fact, relationships are the most important aspect in running a company smoothly. 
  •  Create a compassionate culture by assuming GOODWILL.  Assume that someone unintentionally made a mistake if a mistake is made.  Don’t assume they are attempting to sabotage the business and yourself.  Discuss any problems with an assumption of goodwill, and you will go a long way in avoiding passive aggressive behavior.
  •  If someone does communicate something to you that makes you angry or irritated, don’t fly off the handle.  Stay calm and professional and focus on the good things.  If you fly off the handle, they will most likely never communicate with you again.   And this inability to communicate will almost certainly lead to passive-aggressive behavior
  • Encourage assertive behavior and never shoot down someone’s ideas without explaining why something might not work or be difficult to implement. 
  • Be consistent in your behavior toward co-workers, leaders, and subordinates, so they always know where they stand. 

Even with all of the above implemented, blaming, scapegoating, denying, and betraying will continue to some degree.   But teams that commit to fixing this problem will experience fewer occurrences, and the bus will be more careful when it makes its wide turns on busy streets, avoiding the many pedestrians who are simply trying to make it to work on time.

Aspire to Inspire in the 21st Century Workplace: Part One

Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is most important that you do it. –Gandhi

 

 Whatever you are, be a good one. –Abraham Lincoln

 In~spire:  to breathe or blow upon or into; to infuse (life, etc. into) by breathing; to draw air into the lungs; to inhale; to have an animating effect upon; to influence with idea or purpose

PART ONE:  WHISTLE WHILE YOU WORK

Just the word inspire makes company cynics—borderline and otherwise—cringe.  Bandied about for decades by “motivational” speakers and writers, it is no wonder employees shudder and roll their eyes upon hearing it. 

Yet, I am asking company leaders to travel back to the word’s original meaning:  to inhale; to draw air into the lungs.  I am asking leaders to consider that without this air, it’s impossible for employees to whistle.  Without air, they can’t accept or be content with their current positions and the companies they work for.  That is not to say that leaders shouldn’t mine potential and urge and provide opportunities for those who would like to learn and grow within a company.  In-house development of employees is a given.  However, business trends focusing on development alone ignore the immediate problem of employee dissatisfaction with the job at hand.  This series of articles will address how to breathe life into even the most apathetic employees, resuscitating their commitment, enthusiasm, energy, and—dare I say—pride. 

Now, more than ever, we need to focus on employee happiness.  What sounds simple is perhaps the most difficult thing to achieve.  However, if you consider how much the workforce has changed in the last decade, you will begin to understand the need for a new trend, not just a sidelong glance, at employee happiness.   

Think about how different it is today.  Fifty-six percent of jobs are held by women.  Unions are viewed as specious.  Diversity is the norm.  Nor should anyone ignore the global recession that’s either improving or not, given the newscast.  Simply put, the economy left many workers, tatty briefcases and outdated resumes in tow, no option but to change careers.  It left this demographic—many lacking technical savvy—searching for a new career in a new world of at-will employment.  How, indeed, do we regain the trust of these individuals?  How do we make them happy?  How do we inspire them?

When my mother was a child, she loved to swim.  Once summer started, her brothers, all older, took her every day to the town’s public pool.  She told me she was a good swimmer back then, even though she’d never had a lesson.  Then one day she was swimming underwater, holding her breath, weaving around the legs of other children and adults, willing herself to make it from one end of the pool to the other.  And it was on this day she drowned.

She doesn’t remember drowning, only that the next thing she remembered was lying flat on her back and breathing again after the lifeguard performed CPR.  She described to me the breath she took, that first one after not being able to breathe at all.  That breath is remembered not as the ordinary breathing we take for granted every minute of our lives, but as something she’d never forget.  

If you are amongst the lucky few who found and are employed in work you love, you might not understand what it’s like to stop breathing.  People who love their work, people like me, sometimes take for granted those who aren’t so lucky, just as we take our own breathing for granted.  Even those of us who have experienced work that wasn’t particularly fun forget those “bad jobs” once we’ve achieved our goals.  We worked hard to get where we are, didn’t we?  We collectively say, “Those others can, too!”  We forget the amount of luck, timing, and sometimes money (tuition!) involved in securing a career we love.  We forget that others have needs and limitations that prevent them from finding a job they might like better. 

In addition to needs and limitations, some employees choose to work less-fulfilling jobs.  Knowing the reasons for these choices is important if we are to keep these employees happy.  From my observation, these are the reasons people work at less than fulfilling jobs:   

NEEDS 

  • They need health benefits
  • They need to support families and can’t risk returning to school or accepting a job they might like better for less pay
  • They need to work certain hours in order to accomplish other goals or take care of their children or family members

 LIMITATIONS

  •  They are living in an area or town where no other jobs are available despite their skills or talent
  • They are limited as far as skills and ability
  • They are limited as far as language (either they don’t speak the native language or struggle with basic spoken grammar)
  • They are limited by image or social status
  • They are not ambitious and easily contented

 BY CHOICE

  •  They like the people they work with
  • They feel loyalty to the company they work for
  • They enjoy the social aspects and events offered by the company
  • They like working a task-oriented job, as to save their mental facilities for artistic endeavors:  writing, music, the visual arts, and dance.
  • They like routine and feel comfortable
  • They feel respected
  • They feel a certain amount of independence
  • They feel trusted
  • They feel like they are treated like human beings
  • They feel like no one’s looking over their shoulder
  • They feel like they know how to do their job well
  •  They like the company’s management
  •  They like their pay and feel valued
  •  They feel like they’re helping other people
  • They feel like their company needs them
  • They feel that they know what to expect from the company and its leaders
  • They like that they are communicated with and included, appreciated, and acknowledged as the company grows and moves forward

 It’s the last category (BY CHOICE) that can directly impact happiness.  Everyone’s heard the quote that happiness comes from within.  In some situations, I’m sure there’s some truth to that.  But, at work, happiness needs to be cultivated by company leaders. 

If needs and limitations are the only aspects that human resources, managers, and supervisors focus on, real happiness cannot be achieved among employees.  A sincere belief, however, in addressing the last category could serve up miracles—both in creating a true esprit de corps and ultimately in the bottom line. 

Notice the verbs used above: 

  • NEEDS:  NEED
  • LIMITATIONS: ARE
  • BY CHOICE:  FEEL & LIKE

Let’s mull this over.  I need to eat every day.  I need to drive 50 miles in order to get to work.  Neither makes me happy, though eating can sometimes be fun.  Often, however, I’m so busy, eating’s more like stuffing my gob and swallowing just to keep from tipping over.  But these are needs.  I can name fifty needs.  What do you actually need?  Think about it. 

 Now, ask yourself:  If I focused solely on my needs, would I be happy?  Most likely not.  Employees aren’t happy either with companies focusing primarily on benefits, money, and flexible shifts.  It’s certainly a component, but there’s much more to it. 

Limitations are even tougher if not impossible to address.  Steps can be taken, to be sure, in improvement of image, skills, and language barriers.  And staff development is key to a company’s success.  Yet some things are just what they are.  For instance, I don’t snow ski and am a forty-seven-year-old woman who’s afraid of heights and lives in the desert and finds cold weather alarming.  No matter how much I might want to be ski instructor or work at a ski resort, it’s not going to happen.  I am limited.  Could I dedicate several years of my life to learning to ski?  Could I ever really get over my fear of heights?  Could I adjust to bitter cold?  With therapy, perhaps.    But I don’t really have the time.  And let’s be realistic, at the same moment acknowledging discrimination laws, if I were to learn how to ski, conquer my fear of heights, buy some sturdy long johns and a wool hat, I would by then be in my fifties.  My glasses get thicker each year, and my right knee every so often mysteriously gives out. 

Picture me interviewing against young and sun-kissed athletes, kids who have probably been snow-skiing their entire lives.  Their teeth would be white; their bodies nearly indestructible.  Face it, folks, they would definitely get the job over me.

What I’m trying to say is that certain limitations are insurmountable.  That’s a sad, sad truth, especially in America, the land of dreams and opportunity.  But we are limited.  Everyone is limited in a different way. 

The next category is the one to get excited about.  This category can almost always be addressed, built upon, bolstered, and tapped into.  If Human Resources decided to address all that employees were feeling and liking, happiness and thereby profits would soar.