Archive for the ‘Organizational Design and Effectiveness’ 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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Rewards That Undermine Performance

Thursday, January 10th, 2013

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic
/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Believe it or not, but some rewards backfire. There is something called a psychological contract between an employer and their employees. In an ideal world, both parties feel they get equal value from the arrangement. Employees “sell” their knowledge, skills, and time to the employer, who “purchases” these services – simple labour economics and exchange of value. However, when employees feel they are giving more value than they are receiving, they have a tendency of making up for the difference by withdrawing their efforts.

Here are a couple of things to consider when developing a Reward Program for staff:
What gets rewarded gets done

Regardless of whether the reward is a fat pay raise, or an extra day off with pay, rewarding good behaviour is always a good idea. But, there are three huge variables that impact the reward program’s effectiveness: how much, how often, and in what manner should rewards be given?

There is also the factor of intrinsic versus extrinsic rewards. Intrinsic rewards are those that are intangible, and matter to each individual worker. Having challenging work, getting support by upper management, enjoying the team you work with – these are all rewards that many people look for in their jobs. Without these intrinsic motivators, the workplace would be less enjoyable and the work would be unbearable.

Extrinsic rewards are those that can be given by someone else – such as a pay raise, a promotion, or a trip away. Someone else is giving the employee the reward, in hopes that the employee will be grateful enough to come on board with the company agenda.

Is rewarding performance important? Absolutely, but equally important is the type of reward that is delivered, and the value the individual employee places on that reward. One thing is for sure, the old “carrot and the stick” approach has long outgrown its usefulness in today’s workplace.

You get more of the behaviours you reward
There is a saying, “things that get measured, get done.” Simple logic. If I want my dog to sit and stay, a little treat each time my dogs sits and stays goes a long way. However, employees are not dogs needing to be trained, and they may not be nearly as loyal to their trainer.

There is nothing wrong with rewarding people who do their jobs. They do not need to walk on water, or jump tall buildings. Just doing their job can be a reason to reward behaviour, because reality is, that is all you are paying them for. AND, you want them to continue to do their job, and not slack off.
If you want to encourage positive performance, make sure that the rewards recognize specific behaviours you want to enforce. For example, if you want to enforce a high level of ethical decision-making, recognize those who put ethics in motion. If you want to encourage respect in the workplace, let staff choose the person they believe is the most respectful at all times.

It is easy to inadvertently reward unwanted behaviour
Just as important as rewarding behaviour, is the acknowledgement that the wrong reward can be devastating to the company.
Here are a few simple things to think about when creating an impactful reward program:

Lepper, Mark R.; Greene, David; Nisbett, Richard E. Undermining children’s intrinsic interest with extrinsic reward: A test of the “overjustification” hypothesis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 28(1), Oct 1973, 129-137. doi: 10.1037/h0035519

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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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Bullying and the Bottom Line

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012
Much attention has been placed on bullying and its impact on the lives of its victims. It is so important that the Ministry of Labour introduced anti-harassment laws to protect workers from being bullied at work. Yet, many companies overlook the negative bottom-line impact bullying produces. If they did, perhaps more managers would focus on creating a more harmonious workplace rather than one that is merely focused on the numbers.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In a study conducted by the Workplace Bullying Institute in 2007:

  • 37% of workers have been bullied: 13% currently and 24% previously
  • Most bullies are bosses (72%)
  • More perpetrators are men (60%) than are women(40%)
  • Most Targets (57%) are women
  • Women bullies target women (71%); men target men (54%)
  • Bullying is 4 times more prevalent than illegal discriminatory harassment
  • 62% of employers ignore the problem
  • 45% of Targets suffer stress-related health problems
  • 40% of bullied individuals never tell their employers
  • Only 3% of bullied people file lawsuits

It does not take a rocket scientist to know that a worker who feels bullied at work is apt to quit. But has your company calculated the costs associated with the exit of this worker?

First, there are the inevitable sick days; those days when the worker cannot bear to come to work. In addition, there is the increased usage of medical benefits for prescription drugs for depression and/or anxiety, medical tests to investigate headaches and chest palpitations, and other decreased brain function. Some workers self medicate by drinking more or using recreational drugs. These could leave them groggy and less able to concentrate during the day.

Not only are the workers who are the prey of bullies affected. Data from research from the Sauders School of Business at the University of British Columbia, Canada that “the results also indicate that people who experienced it as bystanders in their units or with less frequency reported wanting to quit in even greater numbers.” Not only is the apparent victim psychologically leaving the workplace due to the mental and physical stress caused by being bullied, but so is the rest of the workforce who witnesses it.

In a report written by Think of all the lost productivity a company may encounter if 20% or 30% of their entire workforce became less productive all at once. At $14.00 per hour, that means that the company is actually losing up to $8,200 in lost production for each employee. To a company with 10 workers, that means that the company is losing approximately $16,400 each year because of workers who are too stressed to perform their jobs properly. And this does not even take into account the increased sick time silent observers take during the year.

Of course, when the worker finally makes the decision to leave, there cost to replace them. This entails having staff cover job duties while searching for a qualified candidate, something that further decreases their productivity as they “fill the shoes” of the vacant role. It also entails management’s time to recruit, interview, and select the successful candidate. This process can take weeks or even months, depending on the role, all the while current staff are overburdened and not fully functional.

According to the Studer Group, “A survey of 610 CEOs by Harvard Business School estimates that typical mid-level managers require 6.2 months to reach their break-even point.” Further to this, Eric Koester of MyHighTechStart-Up, “estimates range from 1.5x to 3x of salary for the ‘fully-baked’ cost of an employee – the cost including things like benefits, taxes, equipment, training, rent, etc.”

http://www.investopedia.com/financial-edge/0711/The-Cost-Of-Hiring-A-New-Employee.aspx#ixzz24mPN7Bh0

For a front line worker, even at the lowest end of the scale of minimum wage and entry level would cost a company over $28,000 to get a new worker completely trained and fully productive. Multiply that by the number of staff who quit during any given year, and you can see how the financial toll of bullying takes on the bottom line.

To find out if your company has a problem with workplace bullying read our blog “Diagnosing a Toxic Workplace”. Then call us to find out how we can help you to identify the undercurrent of your organization and its cost impact on your bottom line.

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Cups Over Customers

Tuesday, December 11th, 2012
Customer service training

Image courtesy of Carlos Porto / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We’ve all experienced it: we walk into a store and the clerk is busy doing some menial task such as sorting bags or stocking a shelf. As a customer, we want to be polite, so we wait for the clerk to recognize us. Instead, the clerk ignores our presence until they are finished with their task…

This happened to me the other day. I was at our local grocery store picking up a ready-made salad to bring to a pot luck lunch. In a rush as usual I ran in, picked up the salad, and headed to the “meals-to-go” section to pay. The clerk was stacking cups for the hot soup. After several attempts to get her attention (“uhm, can I pay for this here?”, “hello, is it all right if I pay here?”, “hi, are you on this cash?”), the clerk looked up from her cups. “Yes, you can pay for that here. I’ll be a few minutes.” She returned to stacking her cups and again ignored me standing at the cash register. I thought “a few minutes” was just a figure of speech, but obviously not!

A second clerk came out of the stock room, saw me standing at the cash, looked at her fellow worker, and proceeded to ring me out. All the while the other clerk continued to stack her cups to get them ready for the lunch rush. Now here is a worker who is destroying the company’s brand and not fulfilling her role as a brand ambassador.

What’s wrong with this picture? We see it all the time. When we do, our first thought is normally, “Wow, there is a person who hates his/her job”. Our second thought is “how rude”. I won’t even mention the third thought that runs through one’s mind.

Whatever happened to customer service? Where did courtesy at work go? When did the worker begin to place a higher emphasis on cups over customers? Is it because management places a higher value of stacking cups rather than providing exceptional customer service? I highly doubt that. However, somehow management has forgotten some critical factors of creating a shopping experience for the customer that draws them back time after time.

1. Employees must understand that their entire job revolves around satisfying the customer. The mundane tasks they are doing is a means to an end – and that end is a delighted customer. Employees may do things to please their managers, but lest we not forget, our entire job is centered around a paying customer. THEY are the ones who pay our paycheque. The manager just signs off on the hours.
2. Make customers feel important (and yes, that means NOT ignoring them Ms. Cup Lady). Our customers are not there to serve our needs, we are there to serve theirs. Customers are not “pieces of work” and deserve a little respect. Customers are individuals, each with their unique personality and reason for being in the market for your particular product or service.
3. Listen to the customer – they can give an employee clues to what they want. Customers are not merely buying our products or services, they are buying the entire experience. Just because we sell the best ice cream this side of the Mississippi or the strongest glue ever made, our employees can lose customers by failing to fulfil the customer needs and expectations along the path from prospective shopping, to sale, to delivery, to after sale experience.
4. Give more than expected. Had the cup stacking lady acknowledged me right away, it would have been a start. Making me more important than her cups would have been appreciated. Coming over and offering me a smile and pleasant attitude would have put me over the top.
5. Even if she had stacked a few more cups after acknowledging me, Ms. Cup Lady could have explained why stacking the cups was so important. Maybe they were a bit behind and she had to get them out quickly because staff would be coming for lunch in a minute. Maybe she was in the middle of a count, and didn’t want to lose where she was. Maybe… Trust the customer, if they know the system and how it works at your company, they will probably understand and cut you some slack. Who hasn’t been in the middle of counting something, or adding along list of numbers, only to be interrupted and lose our place? Help the customer understand where you are coming from, instead of sticking to a regimen that may end up frustrating, annoying, or upsetting the customer. Customers give feedback by going somewhere else when they don’t get good service or the quality of care they deserve.

Why did Ms. Cup Lady place more priority to stacking cups over customers? My gut tells me that she feels underappreciated or unimportant. Employees are the company’s ambassadors to the world. I believe that both managers and workers alike often forget that simple yet powerful fact.

If we want our employees to be exceptional ambassadors, managers need to remember that the staff are management’s internal customers. Give the workforce a reason to be happy at work. Their smiles will be infectious to our customers. Respect the workforce, and they will respect the customer in kind.

Giving good customer service is not hard. It takes no more time to be courteous as it does to be cranky. According to the blog “getsatisfied.com” (http://blog.getsatisfaction.com/2010/10/04/fastest-way-to-lose-customers/?view=socialstudies), 68% of customers leave a company because of poor customer service.

Will I be back to that local grocery store again? Not any time soon. In fact, since I have choices (do you hear that Ms. Cup Lady? CHOICES!!), I’ll be taking my business elsewhere. Yes, it was only a salad. But I too do not just buy products or services. I buy the experience of spending my money where I feel appreciated, cared for, and recognized as the person who makes the company’s sustainability in business possible. Take that Ms. Cup Lady, AND your manager!

We work with clients to develop a culture of exceptional customer service, one where the customer experience is always top-of-mind – at all levels of the organization. Call us today to learn about our training and coaching programs that deliver practical tools and techniques to enhance awareness of how best to delight your customers.

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Finding Fault or Correcting Problems?

Monday, December 3rd, 2012
Workplace investigations

Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Have you ever been chastised by someone? A parent, a teacher, a boss… It feels terrible, and it undermines the confidence and willingness to work hard for that person, doesn’t it? It is embarrassing to be called out for something we did wrong, especially if the person calling us out treats our mistake as if it were incompetence.

Mistakes happen. That is a fact. It is also a fact that many managers and business owners find it hard to fathom that anyone could be so “stupid.” These are the people who want to find out who is to blame; to figure out who is at “fault” and then put their heads on the chopping block. Especially if those mistakes cost the company a lot of money.

 

Before you push forward with conducting a forensic inquisition, ask yourself a few simple questions:

  1. Is there a procedure in place to avoid this sort of mistake? If there is, and the worker failed to follow the procedure either through laziness or carelessness, this may be a good counselling moment to emphasize the reasons companies have procedures in place. If there is no procedure, perhaps it is time to put one in place. If this sort of mistake happened once, chances are good that there it could happen again. This then becomes an excellent coaching moment where a manager can develop critical thinking skills within the workplace.
  2. Were clear instructions given to the worker? Just because the person sending the message believes they were clear, communication is a two-way process. And the receiver cannot look into the sender’s mind to figure out critical nuances or missing details. Often companies develop their own sort of “lingo”. Procedures get shortened names, like “non-con” for non-conformance problems. Or “cred test” for credibility and reliability testing. We all know what a “non-con” is, right? Or do we? Before we can point the finger at someone, it is important that everyone has a shared understanding of the message. They also need the full information in order to do their jobs properly. In our hurried workday, we habitually give sketchy messages with too little information. Then, when things go wrong, we look for heads to roll. Perhaps we should be looking into the mirror first.
  3. What circumstance allowed the problem to go unnoticed until it was too late? When processing orders or entering data, it is vital that companies have a system of checks and balances along the path. Mistakes that get to the end of the process without detection demonstrates that there are insufficient quality control measures along the process. “Just-in-time” does not mean “push-it-through”. “Streamlining procedures” does not mean “steamrolling the process”. “Lean manufacturing” does not mean “starving the line.”
  4. What can we learn from this mistake? If we only look for blame, we are looking backwards to find fault and punish the person. When we ask what we can learn, we enable ourselves to make improvements on a regular and continuous basis. This is what “continuous improvement” is all about. It is how we help prevent the same or similar mistakes from happening in the future. Unfortunately, it is like that companies will never know how many problems it avoided. Seeking lessons from mistakes is sort of like eating healthy – we will never know what illnesses or disease our healthy eating has avoided. But most would agree, that is not a reason to eat unhealthy, because the risk is far too great.

This is not to imply that mistakes should not be taken seriously. Nor is it to imply that discipline should not happen. Discipline in its true form is a behaviour modification process. It is designed to encourage a worker to start or stop something that is getting in the way of good performance. From experience, it seems that managers and business owners still cannot separate a mistake from incompetence, and their first reaction is to find fault and blame. In our experience, this is most often is the least effective thing to do.

To find out more effective ways to handle mistakes, and knowing when to discipline and when to coach, give us a call. We have leadership development and supervisory skills training that helps managers increase their comfort level and competency when dealing with performance issues.

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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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Building a Culture of Workplace Safety

Monday, November 19th, 2012

What does it take to get everyone on board and working towards making the workplace safe? Putting it another way, WHY won’t staff wear their safety glasses the way they are supposed to?

As a consultant, I am always amazed, but never surprised when I tour a manufacturing facility or construction work site and see workers not wearing safety glasses. The manager who is showing me around awkwardly reminds the worker that he or she needs her safety glasses, and the work obediently put them on. But almost always, when we are safely out of visual range, the worker removes the glasses and begins to work again.

They know it is unsafe. They know accidents can happen. So why don’t they wear their safety equipment. Worse, why do some staff still remove safety guards from machines? Or enter into horseplay that can create terribly unsafe work conditions?

Strict enforcement is one reason. Managers often find it uncomfortable to discipline over something as small as not wearing safety glasses. The act just does not seem to merit a written warning. So managers keep reminding staff during their walk-around, and staff keep doing what they always do. SOME staff, that is: because not everyone ignores safety rules. Most staff are good at following the rules; it seems to always be core number of the same people who just do not consider safety important.
How can managers reach those staff? Here are a few thoughts on how to develop a culture of safety at work:

• Enforce the rules. Things that get measured get done. If managers allow frequent offenders to continue with unsafe work habits (i.e. removing guards or not wearing safety glasses), what does that say about how seriously the manager him or herself take safety?

• Be a role model. If the manager does not wear safety glasses, hard hats, or hair nets, how can they expect their staff to follow the rules. Supervisors seem to follow the rules, but their managers sometimes feel exempt. Managers may just need to enter a restricted area to ask a “quick” question, and putting on safety shoes, goggles, etc seems, well, unnecessary. At one food facility, staff had to wear hair nets for their own protection and for quality assurance reasons. Senior managers would come for the occasional tour of the plant, however, rather than wearing hair nets, they insisted on baseball caps. Hmmm…. What message were they sending there? That they didn’t want to “look funny” in a hair net?

• Safety takes consistent and persistent effort. Regular safety talks that emphasize not only the hazard, but also the reason for the safety rule, must be held. Companies can prepare a database of safety talks that they can plan out a year in advance. Daily scrums can be a great communication technique to keep safety fresh in everyone’s minds. Some supervisors believe safety talks are uncomfortable, because they feel like they are telling their crew something that they already know. They feel like what they say falls on deaf (or bored) ears. If done right, safety talks can keep safety top-of-mind; and isn’t this the ultimate goal?

• Including health and safety on performance appraisals, and rewarding those with good safety records and not rewarding those with poor records, is essential. Paying a bonus to workers who hold exemplary safety records encourages more of the same sort of behaviour. Rewards such as gift certificates to local restaurants, movies, or a day off with pay, go a long way to showing staff you take safety seriously and are prepared to say a personal thank you to those who are “caught” doing something safely.

• The Joint Health and Safety Committee (JHSC) can be active advocates for safety. Get them involved in doing safety rounds on a daily basis, not just for the once-a-month or quarterly safety audit. Committee members are part of the workforce, and are there to be the company’s safety ambassadors. Ask them how to improve safety, and then really (and I mean REALLY) listen to them. Worker reps know what happens on shop floors, and they have the best inside scoop on what it will take to improve safety records.

In today’s work environment, health and safety should be easier, not harder. Yet some companies seem to have trouble navigating troubling safety waters. I hear supervisors complain that they “tell them over and over” to do something right. I hear managers complain that “they (shop floor workers) refuse to follow the rules”. I hear accountants state “the safety fines are killing us, if only the staff would stop causing accidents.”
What this tells me is that there is a divide between management and workers in regards to safety. Managers see themselves as the ones who make the rules, and workers as those who follow the rules. Workers on the other hand, see management as out of touch with practicality, and believe “it” (a serious injury) will never happen to them. Until management and its workforce come together in a shared and cohesive safety philosophy, building a true culture of safety will be unobtainable.
If your company is having a difficult time getting its managers, supervisors, and workers to fully commit to safety, and if you are finding yourself buried in fines and accident costs, it might be time to call in outside help. Workforce Acceleration has training programs that can coach all levels of the organization to recognize and address safety culture issues. We also conduct audits, employee safety surveys, and offer consultation regarding your safety program and documentation. Give us a call to see if we can help reduce costs associated with a diminished or poor safety focus.

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