Monday, January 26, 2009

It's Time for Managers to Get Weird


I feel for managers these days, I really do. Or, at least I feel for the good managers. The evil troll managers I don't really think about too much, because they're going to get theirs one day no matter what I think about them.

But the good managers -- those men and women who are trying to hold it together when it feels like the entire workplace is a huge Titanic without Leonardo DiCaprio to at least provide a distraction from the looming iceberg -- I feel for what they're going through.

I know they're losing sleep. They're worried about their job, sure, but they're worried about dozens or even hundreds of others. The good managers know their people really well. They know who has health problems and can't afford to lose insurance coverage. They know who is struggling to pay a mortgage with a kid in college and they know who is a single parent with no help.

So, they go into work every day trying to stay calm and rational and upbeat. They're trying to keep frightened and disillusioned employees on track, trying everything to keep employees feeling creative and productive.

That's why it's time managers got a little weird.

Let me explain. I once interviewed a restaurant manager who needed to make sure employees were cleaning the place thoroughly, but knew that constant nagging would not help. In fact, it would probably just make workers annoyed and angry, or perhaps apathetic. Not a good thing when a health inspector was on the way.

So instead he devised a system where he stuck small colored stickers in various places around the eatery. Employees who cleaned well would soon find these stickers. And, by turning these stickers over to management, they gained a prize — and the restaurant gained quality work and a top-notch health inspection.

While such a practice sounds simple, many managers wouldn't even think of such a different approach to work. They simply keeping nagging employees — and losing morale and motivation in the process.

But if managers these days want to keep their best workers -- and that is another huge worry -- they've got to quit caring what someone else will think of their methods and just focus on getting people to do what they do best.

In other words, give the employees a reason to get out of bed in the morning and not worry about what may be around the corner. Someone else might think your methods are a bit weird, but hey, you're just being a good manager.

So here are some ideas given by other managers as a way to make a job more interesting and fun for a worker, while gaining higher productivity and quality work:

* Let them play.
Everyone knows that employees play solitaire on the computer, or some other kind of game. In fact, studies show that a little “down” time is good for recharging the batteries. So, why not devise internal company games that get employees to solve crosswords or anagrams or puzzles that have to do with company products or history? That way, employees are being educated while having fun.

* Put mentors in reverse:
It’s not only the older employees who have something to teach younger employees. Many younger workers can help older employees master some technology dilemmas through interactive sessions where information is shared in a relaxed way.

* Use training theater.
I learned that one manager feared that some of his younger male employees were being a little too forward with female customers, so instead of lecturing them, the manager had several male managers dress as women (heels, lipstick, dresses) and role-play with other male employees. It soon became apparent after the laughter died down that some behavior was not appropriate, and it brought the message home without pointing fingers.

* Take a road trip.
Take employees to visit a competitor and find out what the other business “does right.” Or, visit businesses known for their customer service, even if it’s not your particular industry. Many retailers are known for top service — ask employees what they noticed about how employees in these stores behaved.

*Put out the welcome mat:
Every month have one department hold an “open house” for others in the company. Handouts should be given telling what the department does, as well as a tour and narrative that gives information about how the department functions, who works there, etc. (It’s always a good idea to offer a little food and beverage — one company found a cotton candy machine to be a big hit.)

What are some other ways managers can help ease the stress and engage employees?



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Friday, October 24, 2008

10 Things Overheard at the Last Management Meeting


As an employee, it's often nerve-wracking to see managers troop into a meeting during these difficult financial times. What are they talking about? Is it good? Is it bad? Are they debating who is going to get laid off? Plans for a big project? What critical decisions are they making that the fate of dozens -- perhaps hundreds -- of employees hinge upon?

It would be interesting to a fly on the wall during these sessions. That's why I thought I would speculate about 10 things overheard at the last management meeting:

1. "I told you we have auditors."

2. "We need to make some decisions about personnel. Anyone got a quarter? OK -- call it. If it's heads, Trish goes. Tails, it's Larry."

3. "We've got to find a way to cut down on distractions around here. All those in favor of moving our next meeting to the golf course, say 'aye.'"

4. "I could have been the next David Hasselhoff, but noooo --I had to get that MBA."

5. "It's unanimous: We use the 'Deal or No Deal' model for payroll this next quarter."

6. "So, no one really batted an eye when I told them to re-use envelopes. But the 'bring your own toilet paper' memo didn't go over so great."

7. "Hey -- I'm hitting the dollar store after work to pickup up a few 'forced early retirement' gifts. Anyone wanna come along?"

8. "It was all I could do to keep a straight face when I told my staff: "Don't panic. Everything's fine."

9. "I just found a great new website to help with performance evaluations. It's called "make-em-squirm.com."

10. "Oh, Lord. Is that the FBI?"

What else might be overheard in a meeting of managers these days?

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Challenge of Handling Multiple Changes

I recently wrote about coping with change, and that prompted an e-mail from Scot Herrick at Cube Rules. The issue, Scot said, was that a lot of people were simply deluged with lots of different issues at one time, and they were struggling with how to handle it all. I urged him to write about it on his blog, so that we could start a conversation.

Scot tells me that his post on the challenges of so many changes at one time in our lives generated a lot of interest, not because he offered a solution, but because he laid out the problem in black and white. He listed several headaches, such as multiple work projects with multiple problems, issues at home and the shrinking amount of time.

I wanted to continue my part in looking at these challenges, so being a journalist, I immediately found an expert to interview in Dr. Noelle Nelson, a psychologist, author and seminar leader.

Her take on the issue of having so many changes to deal with at one time: "The human race is continually expanding. If the people living in the 1800s had to do the number of things we do at one time today without thought -- driving a car, changing the radio, talking on the phone and eating a protein bar -- they'd freak. The human brain is phenomenal, and can assimilate. We may go through a period of not understanding how to deal with something, but the brain slowly starts to create new folders and we begin to find ways of making things work."

Nelson says that it's managers who often have the most balls to juggle, often coping with changes on a daily or hourly basis. She says the key to coping is "prioritizing."

While that may sound simple in theory, but difficult in practice, Nelson says it's really a matter of finding the issues that "have the hottest fires under them," and giving yourself 30 minutes to one hour to deal with one thing, then moving on to the next. "You do what you can do, then you move on," she says.

She also advises:
* Getting past the moaning the groaning. Managers are often the loudest to complain and the worst at delegating work or using technology to help them manage smarter and better.
* Writing it down. Instead of stressing about the tasks, write down everything you must do, from finding care for an aging parent to completing a project on time. Decide what tasks are most urgent, and who can help. "You'd be surprised how you can find help if you'll just ask for it," she says. "You can free a worker up by passing some of her work onto someone else, and get her to help you. You can call a neighbor of your mother and ask them to check on her once a day." She says that writing a task down "keeps us from feeling overwhelmed -- it stops you from thinking about it over and over."
* Knowing yourself. "Understand what keeps you healthy, wealthy and well," she says. "I know that I have to get eight hours of sleep a night. Maybe you know that you've got to spend an hour a day just relaxing with your spouse. Those are invalids. Those are the things that you cannot change in order to maintain yourself."

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Friday, August 10, 2007

The Miserable Job

My oldest son, a teenager, has been a busboy/dishwasher for about two years now, and he recently told my husband and me that he had come to an important realization about his job.

“You get yelled at for doing something wrong, but no one ever says anything to you if you do something right,” he said, in apparent disgust. “And it’s the same thing, every day.”

My husband reached out and shook my son’s hand. “Welcome to the world of work, son.”

Then we laughed while my son scowled at both of us.

Still, part of me was saddened that my son had come to this realization about work so early in his life. He used to enjoy going to work, thrilled with the thought of earning his own money, enjoying the camaraderie of the guys in the kitchen and getting a kick out of being part of a busy family restaurant.

But lately he’s come home from work more tired, more critical of some co-workers (“I worked with dumb and dumber tonight, who are going to get us all fired,” he groused) and more cynical about what it takes to earn money (“Who the heck is FICA and why is he taking all my money?” he complained).

I don’t think it’s what Patrick Lencioni would call a “miserable” job, but it’s headed in that direction. In his book, “The Three Signs of a Miserable Job,” Lencioni outlines what he considers to be a miserable job:

1. The people you work with don’t know you or care about you.
2. You don’t know how your job matters to others.
3. You can’t assess how you’re doing in your job.

Workers who are miserable are less productive, efficient, and more likely to have physical ailments that affect their professional and personal lives. With the increasing focus on remaining competitive in a global marketplace, Lencioni points out that managers should ask themselves what they can do to guard against workers becoming miserable in their jobs. As part of a self-assessment, he suggests managers ask themselves:

• Do I really know my people? Their interests? How they spend their spare time? Where they are in their lives?
• Do they know who their work impacts, and how?
• Do they know how to assess their own progress or success?

Finally, he says bosses should develop a plan to do a better job of getting to know and understand employees. He suggests one-on-one meetings, team sessions and clearly outlining what is trying to be achieved.

While this seems like a simple concept, Lencioni says that many companies and managers miss the boat. He also has a deeper message to impart to those in charge:
“By helping people find fulfillment in their work, and helping them succeed in whatever they’re doing, a manager can have a profound impact on the emotional, financial, physical, and spiritual health of workers and their families,” he says. “That is nothing short of a gift from God.”

Amen to that.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Bully at Work

I remember being the target of a bully when I was in elementary school. I remember everything about the girl...her name, how she used to catch me on the playground when I was jumping rope and make her nasty comments to me.

I can recall with equal clarity the time I was bullied on the job. I remember the continual stress of facing the man every day, the pitying looks from co-workers, the fact that I eventually left the job because I couldn't stand it any more.

Pamela Lutgen-Sandvick, an assistant professor of communication at the University of New Mexico and an expert on workplace bullying, says my recollections and feelings about being bullied are typical of others who have had similar experiences.
"It can remain really fresh in a person's mind for a long, long time," she says. "It's something you don't forget."

Further, she notes that workplace bullying is difficult to cope with "because our identities are inextricably linked to what we do," and bullies are striking at the heart of who we believe ourselves to be.

In her study of workplace bullying, Lutgen-Sandvick found that while bullying can take place anywhere, certain professions seem to have more incidents of the behavior. Included: government/public administration, health care and high-end restaurants.

According to research, both men and women can be bullies. “Bullying is a silent epidemic that affects one in six workers,” says Gary Namie, a workplace-bullying expert. “It is witnessed by nearly 80 percent of workers who don’t do anything about it. It’s a dirty little secret.”

Who is most likely to become the target of a bully? Namie says targets often have a strong sense of equity, justice and integrity and a very strong belief in what they believe to be right and wrong. Bullies are the opposite – they feel inadequate even though they strut around like peacocks. They are secretly intimidated by the target’s intelligence, creativity and confidence. In order to deal with what they perceive to be a threat, bullies begin spreading rumors and innuendo about the target and may try to sabotage work.

As Namie says, bullies often target the most talented in the workplace because “the dolts don’t threaten anybody.”

That’s why if you’re talented and creative and have been bullied once, chances are good it could happen again.

“The targets of bullies often are people who are strong and independent and talented and believe they can tough it out,” Namie says. “But once the bullying starts, most can only stay 16.5 months because it costs them their health.”

What are some behaviors that may prompt a bully to make you a target? Research shows that making statements where you put yourself down such as, “I’m bad with computers – I’m so dumb,” or “You guys should just go on without me because I’m no help and I’ll just slow you down,” put a bully on alert. At the same time, behaviors that may betray a lack of confidence such as talking too slow, (which allows a bully to interrupt) or too fast (betraying nervousness), also attract a bully’s notice.

The non-verbal cues also play a role: Bullies look for those who don’t walk confidently with head held high, or those who fail to use gestures to emphasize a point as if they’re afraid to call attention to themselves. Bullies also will test you by invading your personal space and seeing whether you put them back in their place.

Namie adds that bullies also are lazy and look for easy marks. That’s why they often will try their intimidation on new employees because they know the vulnerabilities that go along with being the new kid on the block. Still, research shows that some 75 percent of the workforce does not tolerate being controlled by another person, and a bully will back off when resistance is shown – even if it’s a new employee.

If you become the target of a bully, Namie says you should:
• Stop listening to the bully’s lies and verbal assaults. You did nothing wrong and don’t need to feel ashamed.
• Break through your fears. Even if you do it for only one week, it’s better to confront your worst fear and stand up to the bully. Procrastination only makes the problem worse.
• Assert your right to be treated with respect regardless of who you are and where you rank.
• Demand respect directly from the bully whenever you interact. You owe it to yourself.
• Document the bully’s misconduct. Report him/her to anyone who will listen. Break the silence.
• Rally witnesses and co-workers to help defend you, to shame the cowardly bully-tyrant.

Bullying – whether it happens when we’re kids or when we’re adults – can be very difficult. If you need help coping, don’t hesitate to ask for professional help. Your company’s employee assistance program (EAP) can offer resources, as well as community mental health organizations. Also, check out www.bullybusters.org for more strategies and information.

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