Archive for the ‘Leadership Development’ Category

The Domineering Executive

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

Many executives are busy, and some obviously are too busy for good manners. As discussed in a recent article by Gillian Livingstone in the November 23, 2012 Globe and Mail, Play nice or get kicked out of the sandbox, “being a domineering manager is no longer the sure route to promotion – or retention.”

It is more important than ever for our corporate leaders to not only play fair, but to lead by example, and that means being able to get along with others. Simply put, to PLAY NICE IN THE SANDBOX.

Gone are the days when managers can lose their temper, or leave workers in a wake of fear and tears in order to bulldoze their way through the workplace. Gone are the days when threats could be made to someone’s livelihood, or when staff were shown the door if they disagreed with their boss.

Executives are no longer judged, or retained, solely on their bottom-line impact. As the article explains, “… being a heavy-handed leader doesn’t work in the fast-moving tech industry.” It would be hard to believe that being heavy-handed and plain outright nasty would be acceptable in any industry in today’s world.

Small business owners should take note. Just because they are not involved in managing publicly traded giants, business owners still have to live up to the expectations for fair and humane treatment by their workers. How many times have business owners rolled their eyes in exasperation when mistakes are made?  How many times do they raise their voices over others, drowning out any chance of hearing what their workers have to say?

Small business owners need their entire workforce to be operating at full speed. There is less fat in smaller organizations. So when managers or executives lose their temper, openly express their frustration that things are not moving as quickly as the business owner wants, or raise their voice in authority, the workforce sit up and pay attention.

But it might not be the type of attention the business owner needs or wants. Nobody likes to work for a jerk, and nobody likes being made to be afraid at work. If business owners make it unsafe to disagree, or to express alternate opinions, business owners will soon find themselves making decisions from the only opinion that matters – their own. However, the best ideas come from the synergy that healthy dialog and challenging perspectives that getting along inspires.

If business owners fail to make it safe, truly safe, to make mistakes, they are missing opportunities to grow and become stronger. They are the company’s shareholders, and money wasted is money taken right out of their own pockets. Business owners often believe that mistakes are somehow done “to” them, rather than done “with” them. They take it personally, and thus, let their emotions get in the way of creativity, idea sharing, and calculated risk taking.

If a worker knows that they will be subject to harsh criticism, or a victim to acerbic reactions, why put their neck on the line? Why not just shut up, keep all the good ideas hidden, and let the caustic boss make all the decisions?

When managers understand that mistakes are a natural part of life, and when the employee understands that careless mistakes are not acceptable, companies can gain an advantage through building capacity to think things through more thoroughly, learn from failures, and grow risk management capabilities.

Risk management should be the key here. The reason bosses often become exasperated is because many mistakes could have been avoided through a little extra time, attention to detail, and thinking things through. Thinking two or even three steps out from a problem can provide depth of understanding into the consequences of a certain action. Yet so many of us feel the need to fix the problem immediately, and so we jump in with what we believe to be a viable solution, only to find out that the cure was worse than the illness.

 

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Twittering the Day Away…

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

Image courtesy of Tanatat // FreeDigitalPhotos.net

One of my clients recently called to ask how to handle the following situation:

Greg (not his real name) had been caught spending a lot of time for personal on-line stuff. One day he sent 60 (yes, 60) emails back and forth to his real estate agent while he was buying his house. Another day, he sent a screen shot to his manager to show her something on the company site. Unfortunately for Greg, his screen shot also captured an open kijiji page, showing that he was once again surfing the net for his own purposes rather than working. When Greg’s manager sent a message back commenting on the open kijiji page, Greg took it upon himself to barge into her office complaining that she had no right to question him about how he spent his time…

Ah, the sense of entitlement was thick in the air; as it is in a lot of other organizations.

Twitter is here to stay, at least until the next tech tool comes along… But what can managers do to make sure their staff are not twittering, or facebooking, or tumblr-ing, the day away? Let’s face it, in today’s electronic  age, where we are plugged in 24/7, there is going to be some time spent during the work day when staff are sending or receiving text  messages, checking for bargains online, or just plain old “surfing the net” for something interesting to read.

 

And is this really a problem? In years gone by, workers used to refresh their brains by looking out the window, or doodling. If a manager walked past a desk and saw the worker staring aimlessly into space, day dreaming in other words, the manager would probably speak up and remind the worker that they were paid to work, not daydream.

Today, management styles have changed, and it is no longer acceptable or wise to come down too hard on staff who abuse the rules: unless they are for safety reasons, then it is prudent to take a strong stance. Instead, it is somehow expected that managers find a way to motivate staff to work throughout the day. Easier said than done. How can managers highlight the importance of self-restraint when using the internet, texting, etc. for personal purposes while being paid by the employer to produce results?

  1. First off, companies have to anticipate that their workforce will surf the net during the day if they have access to any electronic device. The company must also decide in advance how strictly they wish to control non-work related surfing. Of course, policies should be in place regarding what they can surf: internet porn, violence, anti-religious rhetoric, etc. should all be prohibited on company equipment. But what about the staff who uses their computer at work to search the MLS listings? Or goes onto ebay to buy new guitar strings? Or texts their kids several times a day? What is the message they want to send employees about this sort of behaviour?

 

  1. Secondly, companies have to find a way to communicate their philosophy on using electronic devices during company time. Are managers willing to tell staff they know that there will be times when staff jump online to check their facebook status or to post a picture? And equally important, how do managers communicate that while staff may feel entitled to surf the new on company time, there has to be integrity in the number of times they log-on or the amount of time they spend on personal business.

I think one of the main reasons companies do not want to acknowledge that staff are surfing on company time is because there is a real fear that the workforce may interpret that acknowledgement as tacit approval for the behaviour. It is vital for managers put a time parameter around what they would be willing to tolerate: half an hour a day, fifteen minutes, an hour… Without guidelines, workers can easily rely on the fact that they simply did not realize what they were doing was against the rules. Since “everyone else” surfs the net, they thought it was acceptable.

 

In the case of Greg, he threw his colleagues under the bus by saying that they are online WAY more than him. When we meet with him, there are three main issues we need to address:

  1. It is inappropriate to feel entitled to storm into your manager’s office to argue that the manager has no right to ask about how he spends his time at work. What part of “manager” does not involve monitoring performance?
  1. We will be setting clear performance parameters to help Greg understand that if he is failing to meet targets (i.e. making his quota of outbound sales calls or following up with client requests), then he should perhaps focus on getting his work done and THEN use his free time the way he feels is productive to his mental and emotional health at work.
  1. Greg needs to hold his own integrity, and accept accountability for his actions. Rather than pointing out the faults of his co-workers, something that undermines the work culture, he should focus on his own behaviour and make sure it is impeccable before he calls others’ into question.

Companies today are coming up against issues that never existed in previous decades. And, they need to anticipate those issues so they can avert problems before they arise. And where the internet, social media, texting, and personal cell phones and emails are concerned, companies must know what they expect from their workforce and communicate clearly on the expectations. Otherwise, they will continue to bump up against the new challenges of having a 24/7 plugged in workforce.

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Managing Telecommuters

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013
Managing Telecommuters

Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When I was completing my MBA, I got asked a question from an IT manager: “If my company allows me to work from home, why is my senior manager so against it?”

Many companies have a “work-from-home” program or allow workers to telecommute. Yet managers often have a difficult time wrapping their heads around the idea that people who are at home are actually working.

It could be because some workers who do not come into the office are not actually working. In one of my client’s companies, there was a logistics manager who “worked from home” every time he was sick, or his son was sick. This only happened after his five sick days had been used. He did this so he could get paid instead of taking a day off without pay. Needless to say, his privileges to work from home were taken away when he started to work from home more often than in the office.

This sort of abuse is not the norm. But because we all know someone who pushes the limits and takes advantage of things, it gives tele-workers a bad rap.

So what does it take for a manager to believe that their staff are actually working, when they are not working in the office?

First off, consider whether the worker is getting their work done. Delivering expected results is part of the employment contract, regardless of where that work gets done. So if the worker performs according to plan, you can be fairly sure they are doing the work.
Is the worker available to take calls? Workers who work from home should be available during core business hours to discuss business-related issues that may pop up. This does not mean that the manager should fabricate reasons to call, but if there is a bone fide reason, the worker should be available to take the call.

If when you call you hear a baby crying in the background, the television blaring, or sounds of the shopping mall, there may be reason to question whether the employee is actually giving work their full, undivided attention, and you may need to address the need to make acceptable daycare arrangements, keeping distractions to a minimum, or not taking business calls when the employee is out on the town.
That being said, just because the worker may be at the grocery store at 2:00 in the afternoon when their manager calls does not mean the worker is not taking care of business. One of the perks of working from home is the ability for the employee to flex their time. Depending on the nature of the work being done, there are a lot of things that can be done off the normal business workday.

I have worked from home for over 15 years, and I can guarantee that I have rarely worked a straight 9:00 to 5:00 workday. I may be writing policies at 6:00 am, or finishing off a report at 11:00 pm, after having enjoyed a refreshing nap in the early afternoon. The work I do as a management consultant allows me that luxury. But if I need to be on an important telephone call, then I am there. And so should your employees working out of the office. Personal errands should never take precedence over business during the business workday.

So here are a few tips for managers who have staff who work from home:
Insist that the worker has adequate day care arrangements for small children. It is difficult to get work done when children think that mommy or daddy are there for them. Older children, from about the age of 8, can normally occupy themselves, so allow for some lenience in your policy.

Monitor the output, not the timing. Working from home can really boost productivity if staff are allowed to flex their work times according to their personal rhythm. As I stated earlier, I am not worth too much mid-afternoon, but early in the day or in the evening, I’m totally “on”.

If you need workers to be “working” during critical times, set that out in the agreement. There can be core hours (perhaps from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm) that the worker must be available, but let them decide the flow for the rest of their day. Your staff will appreciate it, and the company will get more “bang” for their buck.

If you have reason to believe that a worker is not actually doing the work, meet with them to discuss your concerns. Do not wait until you are frustrated because Bob does not pick up the phone at 2:00 in the afternoon, or that he is sending emails to you at 10:00 at night. Communication is vital to the success of any telecommuting relationship.

Trust is also vital. Employees know when their manager is fabricating a reason to call them when working from home. Nobody likes to be checked up on by an untrusting manager – and it will hurt their productivity more than it is worth.

Make sure you have a “Working From Home” policy and agreement, one that telecommuters read and sign, before allowing staff to work from home. There are many benefits to both the worker and the company when staff are given the opportunity to cut down on their commute or to work when they are at their best. But a well laid-out policy makes sure that everyone is aware of the priorities, responsibilities, and accountabilities from the start.
For more information on how we can help you manage your entire workforce, both in the office and off-site, give us a call!

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Problem Personalities that Undermine Productivity

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

Every workplace has them: the few staff members who make it miserable for everyone else. Left unchecked, these select few can spoil your company’s productivity, undermine progress, and derail even the best laid plans. We all know who they are, but for some reason, most of us never find the courage to confront them for their bad behaviour.

Take Fussy Fanny for example. Fussy Fanny believes that she has all the right answers and that only her way of doing something is right. Anyone who has another way of doing something is “wrong” in Bossy Betty’s eyes, and she is not afraid to let them know. Like when the admin assistant started and put the client information in the blue files instead of the yellow files… Fussy Fanny made it her mission to correct the poor girl in front of everyone in the office; at the same time, Fussy Fanny also made it clear that because of the “incompetence”, Fussy Fanny had to work extra hard to change the files from blue to yellow. Boy, what would we do without Bossy Betty’s single-minded focus on getting things done right – aka – her way.

Another workplace personality that leaves tears in his wake is Domineering Dan. Domineering Dan likes to tell everyone how to do things, in a loud, assertive voice. Domineering Dan struts around the workplace like he owns it, scrutinizing everyone else’s job to make sure they are doing it right. Of course, Domineering Dan never makes a mistake – primarily because he is too busy dictating the work for others. Domineering Dan considers his treatment of his co-workers as “making sure everyone is doing their job”. But what he is really doing, is bullying everyone with his loud voice and aggressive manner.

Then there is Meek Molly. Meek Molly just wants everyone to get along. She never stands up for herself, so both Fussy Fanny and Domineering Dan push her around. The entire staff sees it, but they figure it is better Meek Molly than them. And Meek Molly just does what everyone wants – even if it means doing something that is not in the best interest of the company. Like the time she let Tardy Tom submit his inventory replacement order three days late, leading to a shortage of one part that had to be couriered overnight at a cost of $250… Meek Molly lets everyone push her around and everyone knows it. Because of this, there is a general attitude that procedures do not need to be followed, because Meek Molly will take it upon herself to go behind the scenes to make everything all right so nobody gets into trouble.

And let’s look at Tardy Tom while we are at it. Tardy Tom is always late: the last to arrive at work, the last to arrive at a meeting (normally after it has already started), and he is always that last one to get his paperwork in. This not only disrupts other peoples’ workflow, but also has people wondering why they should be on time for anything. The trouble is, Tardy Tom is a good worker. He has a great sales record, and is likeable. So nobody seems to want to challenge Tardy Tom or to hold him accountable. Tardy Tom’s been allowed to be late for everything ever since he started several years ago, so his manager is at a loss of how to introduce this performance issue now; so he just sits back and ignores it.
There are others too: Critical Carole, Negative Ned, Avoidance Alan, Gossipy Gail…
If we all recognize these people as having a negative impact on our work environment, why do we allow them to get away with it for so long? The truth is, most people (managers included) are not comfortable with telling people their personalities are toxic. Most people (managers included) would rather let things slide than create conflict. Why? Because most people (managers included) simply do not know how address personality traits that need to be improved.

Our training and coaching programs are designed to help everyone in the workplace learn how to address problem behaviour and hold others accountable in a professional and meaningful way. Let our team of highly trained experts deliver training that is powerful and lasting; giving lasting solutions to the seemingly never-ending problems created by personalities at work.

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Opening Communications and Transparency

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

Years ago, managers were the keepers of all secrets a company had. They knew the plans, but only told the workforce just enough information to make sure the job got done. Workers did not question, they just worked and did what they were told. Ah, the good ol’ days… Many mangers in today’s world still believe that knowledge is power, and holding onto knowledge gives them power over the staff.
How ARCHAIC! Retire already, will you? Get out of the workforce, and stop clogging up the works…
Today’s leaders share information readily and often. They give workers the reasons the company needs something done a certain way. They listen to ideas, and consider communication a two-way process: not the top-down information flow that “dinosaur managers” use as their primary communication style.

There are several myths that managers have that tell them it is “unsafe” or “unwise” to share information freely, or to be transparent. This gets in the way of fully engaging the workforce, and creates an environment founded upon the inherent struggle for power and control:

Myth #1: Transparency and information-sharing is NOT a sign of weakness
To the contrary, being willing to be transparent and show both confidence and concern helps build joint commitment to improvements. Being courageous enough to be transparent and to ask for input earns respect, and it builds collective problem-solving. Today’s workforce is well-educated. They can handle a little information without falling to pieces. Trust them enough to know this is true.

Myth #2: Noboby has all the answers
Nobody can have all the answers, so why hide it when a manager is at a loss for a solution. It does not mean the manager is incompetent (unless they truly have no idea of how to fix ANY problem). It does not lessen the manager’s role or scope of authority. Open up the lines of communication and ask questions. Somewhere the solution is out there, and it may come from the most unexpected source.

Myth #3: Being open will lead to a lack of confidentiality
Guess what, if someone really wants to breach confidentiality rules, they will – no matter what. So is it better to keep all information tightly held within the board room, or to remove workers who do not support the company fully? When managers do not trust that their staff can handle certain information, what they are really saying is that they have untrustworthy people on their payroll. Untrustworthy people live at all levels of the operation, and even senior managers can use secret information for their own advantage – just look at Enron and Worldcom. Rather than holding cards close to the vest, get rid of people who expose themselves as gossips, negative commentators, or braggarts who cannot keep their mouths shut in the pursuit of praise and attention. It is not a problem with confidentiality that is the problem: it is the problem of people who fail to respect their company enough to use information they are given for their own personal gain instead of the company’s.

Myth #4: The best answers come from the top
False. The best answers come from a mix of the top and the bottom. Managers often look at a problem from a dollars and cents perspective, while front-line workers view problems as obstacles to getting their work done. Companies who ask for input from a top-down and bottom-up viewpoint gain the advantage of synergies. Top-down decision-making undermines morale, performance, loyalty (both employee and client); it increases turnover and distrust. All this leads to decreased profits. Is this REALLY the end goal? Of course, not every decision can be made be consensus; sometimes the best place to decide is at the top. However, if this is the primary decision-making protocol, management teams are losing valuable information that could negatively impact the long-term consequences of decisions made in isolation.

Myth #5: People won’t understand our finances
That’s true, if the company’s accountants make them so convoluted that they are clear as mud. When finances are handled incorrectly (i.e. Enron’s penchant for mark-to-market accounting, whereby the company posted profits for projects as they were approved, not completed.

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Winter Driving and Employee Safety

Monday, December 6th, 2010

You know you live in Canada when you begin to think about winter driving in mid-October. Snow tires replace summer tires, boots replace sandals, and winter driving conditions replace summer time activites in the minds of workers.

We all know some employees who will drive through a blizzard to get to work. My husband is one of those die hard drivers. Others, like me, set out on the roads with a pit in my stomach, wondering what lies beneath the snow and ice, and how much extra time I will need to make it there safely.

Employers need to consider how they handle employee absenteeism on days of bad weather. And given that areas across Ontario seem to be hit differently, managers need to consider the local weather conditions WHERE THEIR EMPLOYEES LIVE rather than where they work. There have been many instances where companies have disciplined workers (or not paid them) because it was sunny in Toronto, but highways were closed along the commute of their workers.

How does this affect employee morale, and what is the message managers send workers during bad weather. If companies do not repsect and care for the safety of their workforce in all kinds of weather, can they realistically expect employees to “go the extra mile” when needed?

Good and responsible companies have contingency plans for bad weather. Perhaps workers are allowed to make up lost time by giving an extra hour a day the rest of the week. Or, perhaps they can work from home. Does your company have a policy and best practice for when the weather turns against us?

What message does it send? That you care about the comfort and safetyof your workforce, and trust that they will not take advantage of that understanding? Or, does it tell employees that they are expected at work not matter what?

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