Archive for November, 2012

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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Diagnosing a Toxic Workplace

Monday, November 26th, 2012

It’s a phrase we are hearing more and more. Toxic Workplace: also referred to as a Poisonous Workplace. What is it and more importantly, how can you tell if your workplace is toxic?

The first clue to diagnosing a toxic workplace is the attitudes of co-workers and managers. Are they friendly, or are they cranky? How do you feel? Are you happy to go to work everyday, or do you silently hope that the flu hits you at night just so you can miss a day?

Toxic work environments zap the lifeblood of its workforce, destroys productivity, and undermines corporate performance. It is a “top down” problem; created, fostered, and allowed to flourish by upper management in the pursuit of the holy bottom-line. Companies that ignore people in favour of profits are likely to suffer the long-term consequences of poor staff relations and underperformance. The following are some common signs that your workplace could be toxic:

High absenteeism – do people seem to call in sick more frequently than normal? People may not necessarily be sick, but instead, could just be “sick of work”. Even if companies do not pay for time off because of illness, there are hidden costs: lost productivity, increased stress and annoyance of co-workers who have to cover, and of course, inconsistent ability to meet customer expectations.

Internal conflicts – not everyone can get alone all the time. But when staff conflicts threaten to derail the work getting done, it’s high time to take a closer look. Toxic people breed toxic workplaces. So if there is an office bully, or someone who makes others walk on eggshells, deal with the problem quickly and decisively.
Lack of commitment – either to the work, quality, or going the extra mile. People who do not enjoy their work or the workplace are less willing to work overtime, attend company functions, or participate in staff events. They see the job as a place to earn money, but nothing more. These people are not willing to pitch in to get a major project done on time, and refuse to help co-workers when needed.

Inappropriate language, behaviour, or attire – making sexist comments, poking fun of someone or name calling, publicly announcing other people’s mistakes: these are all inappropriate behaviour at work. We may have freedom of speech, but that does not give people free range on what they can say. Negative gossip, overly critical attention, or down-right rudeness create a work environment where nobody can flourish.

We spend approximately 1/3 of our lives at work. It makes sense that employees want to feel good about going to work. It is management’s responsibility to make sure that the workplace places a balanced approach to profits AND people. Gone are the days when bean-counters could dictate what a company could expect from its workforce. Younger generations are demanding a kinder, gentler approach to work. They will not work for companies who place value only on the bottom line. They also may not tell you why they leave; they just will.

So if you’d like to get a snapshot of your work culture, give us a call. We conduct assessments, employee surveys, and third party investigations into allegations of toxic or poisonous work environments. From there, we can help you strategize the best way to make positive changes at all levels of the organization: top-down and bottom-up change that lasts!

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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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Unionization Rumours are in the Wind

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

Unionization rumors are in the wind, how to avoid unionization

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A good client of mine recently called saying they had just heard that there were staff trying to get other staff to sign unions cards. YIKES! How should they respond to these rumours? What should they do?

Like most companies, the first and most spontaneous reaction was to get their supervisors to go around and speak with their staff to find out what is really going on. Supervisors were asking their staff who was behind the union campaign, and who was supportive and who was not…

The company also met with their entire staff to let them know they’d heard the rumours and made it clear if anyone felt pressured into signing cards they did not have to sign. They reminded their workforce that nobody should feel harassed in the workplace, and that meant union organizers could not force or intimidate anyone into agreeing to sign a card.

DON’T DO THAT!! Your company could be accused of something called “Unfair Labour Practices” and this could create a whole menu of problems moving forward. So what should a company do when they get wind of “union talk”?

The first thing to do is BREATHE, and try to avoid PANICKING…

The second thing to do is to pick up the phone and get expert help. There are two people you want on your team: a really good (and I mean REALLY good) Leadership Consultant who can help your management team learn effective ways to identify and respond to situations that are certain to arise. The second person you want on your team is a good Labour Relations expert. This could be a lawyer or paralegal who specializes in Labour Relations (not someone who dabbles in LR, but someone whose sole focus in LR).

As the Leadership Consultant, my role is to help develop communication strategies to get the company’s message across to its workforce. One key message is why the company believes they (the workforce and management team) are better off without a union. Another key message is to remind staff of all the good things the company has done for them – without union involvement. For example, many companies provide investment plans or health plans to their staff. Companies may have a “Promote From Within” policy and offer training to help workers develop skills so they can advance.

As a skilled Leadership Consultant I offer advice and ideas to help the management and supervisory team know what to say, and perhaps even more importantly, what NOT to say. Together we position your company in a more realistic light so the staff can make an informed decision, one that is not based on union rhetoric or empty promises.

The union is telling your workforce that their managers don’t care about them. They are telling your workers that it is ONLY through union representation that they will get big, fat pay raises, more benefits, or better working conditions. Their message is LOUD and LOUDER… It is up to the company to bring some balance to the messaging – without using unfair labour practices. This takes expertise that most managers or supervisors simply do not have. In all honesty, how many management teams have actually worked through a union-organizing campaign? Not many, so it is reasonable to accept that your managers and supervisors simply do not have the knowledge to make good decisions during a time when the union “has eyes and ears within the workplace that are watching your every move” (yes, that is a quote from a union letter alleging unfair labour practices to one of the companies I’ve worked with!).

Once we have a good communication plan in place, and the entire management and supervisory team has been trained on what to expect, how to react and respond, and what they can or cannot say, the company is a much better position to manage through the process.

If there are issues with the union, for example you receive letters alleging unfair labour practices, the Labour Relations expert can be the front person to respond. It demonstrates that the company knows what it is doing, and puts the union on notice that it has retained experts to help.

Most companies do not deserve a union, but some do. During the Industrial Revolution, unions were necessary to protect workers from unsafe and unacceptable working conditions. That was then, this is now… Today we have legislation that governs the workplace and how employees should be treated. Unions are like any other business, they rely on the revenues generated by union dues to stay in operation. Union members rarely know what percentage of their dues goes towards their own benefit, versus how much is used to keep the union “in business”.

Studies have shown that 75% of union dues are spent by unions to run organizing campaigns at new companies – this leave little of the union dues that the workers pay going towards negotiating on their behalf.

Hmmmm…. Maybe the workers and their managers could work together and get the same results – for less money and with less animosity…

One thing is for sure: it is much easier to avoid a union if your company treats its workforce with courtesy, respect, and are attentive to their needs. This means paying reasonable wages, offering a variety of rewards and recognition for good performance, and investing in the workers’ mental and physical health at work. In other words, being a good Employer who applies Workplace Best Practices.

So when the Union is knocking on your door, give us a call. We’ll help put your company in the best position possible to remain union-free. We will also offer you strategies to keep your workforce committed and happy to be on your team.

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Knowing when to get help

Monday, November 12th, 2012

Most of the calls I get are from business owners or managers who are frantic because something very unexpected has just happened. It’s urgent. It’s an emergency. It’s critical… Simply put, they are in a state of shock, and don’t know what to do about the situation.

More often than not, there were early warning signs that were either ignored or went unrecognized. Why is it that companies often do nothing until the “you know what” is hitting the fan?

“I’ve only got four staff, so I don’t need HR yet…” “I can do all of that myself…” “I don’t want to spend the money on a big employee manual or job descriptions…” How many times have I heard these statement? AND, how many times have I received phone calls from those very same small business owners when something goes wrong? Plus, how many times have I heard their stories, only to think that the problem could have been easily avoided if the business owner or manager had taken one or two actions ahead of time?

Every business that employs workers needs some form of Human Resource Management. Yes, you DO need an Employee Manual, a few of the compliance-related Policies, Job Profiles, and Employment Contracts. It does not need to cost an arm and a leg, but it can save a lot of heart ache in the long run.

The Workforce Acceleration Human Resource Foundation Package contains over 20 necessary policies, a basic employee handbook, up to three job profiles, compliance checklists, and more… The time to make the investment into your workforce’s efficiency and effectiveness is at the start, NOT after the fact, when there are problems and bad habits are entrenched.

Isn’t your company worth the time and investment to make sure your staff work the best they can? Isn’t it worth it to gain long-term peace of mind, so you can concentrate better on running your business instead of putting out staffing fires?

One of the keys to business success is knowing when to get help. Managers work with accountants on a regular basis to keep their finances in good shape. They work with lawyers to develop contracts so they can avoid legal woes down the road. They work with graphic designers to help brand their companies.

Yet, small business owners often overlook one very important aspect of their company – one that is critical to their success. THEIR HUMAN RESOURCES NEEDS! Don’t let this happen to you! Call us today to discuss how our Foundation package can get your company on the road to success!

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