Archive for January, 2013

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 //

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

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 /

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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